Do you know where home is?
AUG 13 — Eight years ago, I left my home in Kuching to pursue higher education. After they finally let me walk up the stage in a fancy robe for a very expensive piece of paper, I quickly found a job and my career has kept me on this side of the South China Sea ever since, only going back home for the occasional visit, and special occasions like my engagement and wedding, and of course Raya.
Having been away from home for so long, family and home comforts are two things I miss the most. For us east Malaysians living and working in the west, homesick is like a tooth abscess; acutely painful yet expensive to treat. So whenever I can, flying back home during semester breaks and later for time off work is something I always look forward to.
But sometimes — often while idling away hours waiting for delayed flights at the airport — I wonder: what is home, really?
That question to me is not as simple as it appears to be. Beyond its literal meaning, the subjective nature of the concept necessarily means that what defines my home would differ from what is yours. The fact that everyone has a place they call home, however, hints at a common denominator.
Is home where we are born? A quick consideration dispels the notion. While I grew up in Kuching, I was born in my mother’s hometown Limbang and, while I feel some affection for the place as one where most of my family on my mother’s side is, it is incomparable to how I feel about the city I grew up in, in which I also have much family. To me, Kuching is my hometown.
But that does not necessarily mean that home is where we grew up — a lot of people move and migrate before putting down roots in an entirely new place. Over time they would call that new place their home, and it would be the only home their children know. So perhaps home is defined by somewhere we have family to return to. After all, for many of us home is still our parents’ house, perhaps where our siblings still reside. Familiarity is an essential component of the very concept of a “home” and there is no bigger source of familiarity than family.
Yet if my parents and siblings were to move to Papua New Guinea and settle down permanently there, I could hardly call that my home.
Without a clear answer presenting itself, this question continued to bother me for some time. After some years being away I got used to not being home, and then I began to realise that whenever I did return, home did not feel quite like what it used to be before I left. While it was still the same place with the same people I know and love, something was off.
I realised that whenever I was home, a sense of not belonging gnawed at the back of my mind. Perhaps it was because I knew I would be leaving again soon; that diminished the feeling of being home to the extent that I began to wonder if I even have a home anymore. It was depressing to think that I cannot even fully feel at home during what little time I can spend at home.
But in recent years I came to understand why.
It comes down to where we belong beyond sentimental reasons. When I was studying I belonged in my college and my university and today, my career means I belong in Kuala Lumpur. Whenever I went back home, there was always a reason to leave it again.
And until the day I am home for good, without something else to return to elsewhere, I would never truly feel at home in the house I grew up in.
Home is where we live our current life, and we live many lives within our lifespan. My current life is unfortunately on this side of the South China Sea; until this life ends and I begin the next (hopefully in Kuching), I will content myself with coming back to a semi-home and look forward to the day I return for good.
But that’s me. Where is your home?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.