A few months ago before our trip began, I had said to my Company, “Well, get ready for us to feel like we’ve got no home for a year.”
He had replied, “Home is where the husband is.”
At the time we had laughed about it, but he’d repeat it to me as a reminder every few weeks while we were on the trip: “What street is our Airbnb on again?”
“Home is where the husband is.”
“What’s the name of the hotel?”
“Home is where the husband is.”
* * * * *
As funny as that initial comment was, I chewed on it more deeply this week. Three weeks into staying in the same Airbnb in Tokyo and a little over 3 months into our trip, and I have felt settled despite the multiple moves. In Lorrach and Basel, I got to spend more quality time with my mom and sister than I have in years; In Berlin and Munich, we met up with close friends from the Bay Area; In London, I caught up with friends that stayed by my side through tough times. Even in hotels, friends’ gracious homes or apartment rentals and whether or not I spoke the language, I rarely — if ever — felt uprooted. My Company was right: home is where the husband is (or, insert whatever person or item or furry companion meaning of stability to you is).
To be fair, I of course missed my friends and old colleagues. The isolation of not speaking Japanese in our neighborhood wore on me in recent days; some days you just wanted to hear some English speakers shooting the shit as background noise while you read or work. Even just a week ago, a cyclist blew by me during a morning run and shouted “Hello!” in English. I kept waving and shouting “Hello!” back like an enthusiastic parrot until he slowly disappeared up the road.
On the day-to-day, though, things weren’t much different than how I had felt living in the US. In California, I had missed my London, New York, and Connecticut friends. In London, I had missed my family. After visiting my extended family in China every few years, I’d always leave with a feeling of longing for larger dinners and family holidays, more aunts meddling in my life and the stories of old childhood friends I had had and lost. As an adult who has moved 10 times in my life so far, I’ve learned what it feels like to have bits and pieces of your past, identity and heart spread across time zones, continents and language barriers. In so many ways, physical permanence is just a reminder of some distant longing for a far away friend or family’s voice.
* * * * *
I’ve been told a few times by friends and family that before I have kids, I need to buy a home. Or that I’ll change my mind magically about wanting to purchase a large house when I turn 40. Every time I hear this, I think it’s funny and I wholeheartedly disagree. I also notice that this is usually coming from people in a different generation, who (they themselves!) usually haven’t grown up in the same house. We put this emphasis on setting up the mantle, kick up our feet, and call it home. Yet I don’t think it’s our nature to stop. Every indication shows that people will move where they need to be for a better life – from the early prehistoric humans, to nomadic tribes of the last few thousand years, to today’s hardworking immigrants, or East Coaster’s sick of winter in April. I just go back often to my theory that people are meant to be nomadic in some form, whether that means physically moving, spiritually growing, or finding new intellectual challenges. We may disagree on the pace, but I’ve never met a person who willingly wants to sit still forever – in the same house, with the same routine, at the same job, day after day. The real trick, though, is to find that tribe to be nomads with, the people who will walk that physical, spiritual or intellectual journey together with you.
Even in our travels so far, we love picking one neighborhood to try and build a short but meaningful community in – the old city of an Andalusian town, the hipster neighborhood of Brixton London, the quirky but busy and tourist-less neighborhood of Setagaya Tokyo — and spending a lot of time in that neighborhood. I used to get made fun of for not taking advantage of vacations because I never liked going down the “list of must-dos”, competing with other tourists for tickets or space. Instead I would park myself at a local coffee shop to listen to the foreign words, watch people interact, and read my book for a full immersion in a new place, with the people who live and thrive there versus just other visitors.
* * * * *
Social media has gotten a lot of bad attention recently. While I whole-heartedly agree the kinks still need to be ironed out about privacy and that trust needs to be rebuilt, I’m grateful for it on the road. It’s my way of connecting to friends and old contacts when my time zone is 16 hours shifted. I love photos of people’s kids, and I like reminders of how much we’ve all grown up from elementary, middle or high school. I love seeing photos of my favorite cycling routes, especially of the fog coming in over the mountains on Skyline from the Pacific. Sometimes I think I should let go of reminders of certain contacts, old connections who are distant enough that when their photo pops up in my news feed, it feels just short of voyeurism. But then I think about how nice it would be to reconnect with them at a reunion, how I’d want to share the same things, and I feel less badly about indulging my guilty pleasure of scrolling through Strava, Facebook or Instagram (Twitter is a bit beyond me; it succeeds in providing the irony of information overload without any information at all).
The world has transformed since I took a flight at age 4 to move from Beijing to Potsdam. The tribe has grown not because I’ve made more connections as I’ve aged, but because it’s easier to stay in touch. The age of travel agencies and plane tickets coming in through the mail is over. Booking a flight takes 15 minutes; finding an apartment with a fully stocked kitchen takes a few clicks; and the best signal for texting I’ve found in the last 3 months is on top of Mt. Takao in Japan. So now in this super connected, easily reached world we live in, what is home? The answer is still the same: home is where our heart, not our feet, rests – amongst our closest family and friends.