1. For the past four years, I have always remained more or less an outsider, someone who stands on the side and watches the social current flows. Of course there were moments when I felt so comfortable and relaxed I didn’t think much, but it was on the back of my mind all the time. And although I didn’t always say it out loud, for most of the time, I thought, or at least assumed, that once I returned home, I would feel a complete sense of belonging. After all, that’s what home is, isn’t it? My world, my place, my house, my family, my friends, everything that I confidently put a possessive adjective in the front should bring me comfort.
But sadly, it doesn’t turn out so. I still feel more or less an outsider, watching the world goes by. The assumption which sounds so natural and so right doesn’t seem easy to prove. I should enjoy myself at home. I should hang out with a lot of friends; have so many social contacts, so much fun, abundant laughs. Yet I continue to retain a distance, some kind of an observer to the very dear world I used to long for. At first I thought the distance is good, only being away for a long time can afford such a luxury. But gradually, it becomes disconcerting, as I try but can’t never really lose myself in the carefree-ness people feel when they are truly relaxed.
So is the problem mine? Is it my personality? Does the fact that I have lived in Canada for 4 years matter? Would it turn out the same even if I had stayed home and went to the Academy of Journalism? Was I wrong when I blamed my lack of social interactions all through those 4 years for my being in another culture, because I should have blamed myself instead? If I had stayed, would I still feel lonely from time to time and struggle to be in a group of strangers, even when those strangers are no different from me in terms of skin, language and mind?
Or does the problem lie outside my reach, namely it is the troublesome nature of the notion of “home”? On the one hand, “home”’s definition has opened up broader than a physical place. It no longer means one and only one location of birth and family. On the other hand, its boundary gets so far and wide apart and as a result, become blurry. The dilemma a global soul must face with is not new. Home is everywhere and feeling home at nowhere.
Probably, the question is a crisis common to all most all travelers, having returned from a long journey: what is home?
2. My sister and her daughter spend their weekends in my house, which is also hers in a sense, but not totally since she is now married. Many times, my parents, grandparents, aunts have told her she should stay at her husband’s house instead, because she is at work for weekdays already, weekends should be spent with her mother in law, decorate and clean the house, cook some special food, time for family bonding, in general. In other words, my family feel guilty to have their daughter come back home when she has some free time, because you know, a married Vietnamese woman belongs to her husband’s family, not her own. Once or twice, my sister gets into a fight with her mother in law, which is to me absolutely understandable, but when she tells my family, she would get advices, critique, sometimes cold words, everything but support and protection.
If she comes to my house after a fight with her husband, she won’t be welcomed. Though it has never happened, I know if she does so after a fight with her mother in law, she will be forced to return to where she “belongs”. A daughter who dares to leave her husband’s house brings shame to her family, according to the tradition. Well, maybe it’s not that serious, but I can be sure no one is glad or supportive of that sort of action.
So, I have watched my sister, and fear for my own future. I am afraid after getting married, for I will have no home, no place I can feel truly mine, just like her. Of course you can say you have two homes, your own and your husband’s, but for me it’s none, because I don’t believe in a total integration to a family I didn’t grow up in, I don’t think they can embrace and treat me as their own, while my family will charge me with responsibility for another household. Or you can say you will have a family you build up, with a husband and your children, but it’s so fragile. How can you trust one person with something so important as the most crucial sense of self, the foundation of a “home”? What about fights, arguments, conflicts and break-up? Does it mean if it doesn’t work out with that person, I will be truly lost and totally crack up?
In a fleeting moment, I can see the future in which this house will belong to my brother and his wife, who is after all, a strange woman. The house I grew up in, with my dearest pieces of selves lying here and there will occupied by people I don’t know well, such as his children. I think of them as strangers. They will use my room, my place, my memory. I won’t be able to come in without feeling of going to someone else’s place. And for myself, I will spend my life in someone else’s family, live according to their rules, try to please them, or at least to live in peace with them. If I can afford a house of my own, I will have to share it with a man I will call husband, who is after all just a man, and may walk away from me anytime as he pleases.
In the end, I see a future of ultimate loneliness. No home, no where truly mine.
3. The desire to belong to a greater whole is ever present. Last week I attended a business meeting of about 500 people. I saw in them the spirit of a religious cult. Every face I looked at reflect a yearn for belonging to the group. They talked about faith, about believe, about better future. They revealed good news, they encouraged each other and urged each other to bring people to the “truth”. Their sacred words were freedom, money, happiness, travelling instead of salvation, heaven, hell and God. They bowed before a fatherly figure of the founder, a heroic stature of a saint-like successful businessman. They were drunk in the fantasy and high with the collective conviction of the inevitable triumph in the end. Loud music, enthusiastic applause, risen excitement, glowing smiles and an unshakable faith in a good future lying ahead, I saw all the elements of a well structured community in the ecstasy of a religious rite. That makes people feel good, I guess, because it assures them they belong to somewhere in this scattered world.
I, of course, remain an outsider. About one or two years ago, I wrote in a note that people turn to religion because they are too lonely, as no human can fulfill the need for company like a supernatural figure. The thoughts for sure, not only still lingers but indeed has deepened in my mind.
But the problem is, for those who read and analyze, it’s not easy to just let loose and fall into an easy catch. I see loneliness everywhere I turn, but I can’t find comfort in anywhere, physical home, emotional home, or religious home.
A society’s structure and cohesiveness is best observed from an outsider’s point of view. It’s good for a sociologist or any kind of social theorists to be able to remain a distance, my very first lesson in sociology, but really now I don’t know whether it’s a gift or a condemnation.