Culture | Where we belong

A short story of a child who grew up across oceans

For children who grew up in between transient spans of cultures, we hold our experiences in suspension, in wonderment of pure nostalgia. However, only having been exposed to bits and pieces of them, we are left scrapping for reconnections that would tie us back to what we’ve known and imagined. To anchor us in a deeply moving ocean. Despite my dismissals for such overindulgences of nonsense and spectacles of childhood experiences, I have still come to the end, having returned to my earlier recollections, it was living for food.

I am an Immigrant. Even though the whole parent-child generation gap idea set me apart from them, classifying me as a second generation, my dreams and memories are still lucid enough to consider a life lived outside Canada. I was never able to accept being part of what some may call the ‘New World.’

My Story:
I am Chinese. Born in Nanjing, China. However, I moved away right after I was legal to board a plane. My new home was Singapore, but this place didn’t feel much like home. During those 5 years, especially the later years, my mind was fixed on one specific moment: a toddler stumbling around the streets of my hometown. This felt was a moment of distress. A crying out to be reunited with my grandmother who played peek-a-boo play amongst the busy streets. Since then, what must have been a memory that any typical one-year-old would have forgotten, stayed with me ever since. Came with, were the dirt and the dusty road, chickens, loud salespeople yelling across an open market, the scents of the cooking I pictured when I thought of my hometown. It was a memory buried deep inside.

This memory resurfaced when my parents told my sister and I that we were returning home. Having lived in Canada for a few years by then, I was ecstatic, and mentally prepared for the event. However, the more I anticipated this visit, the more I was set up for another unfortunate round of peek-a-boo. While I was leading this relatively peaceful life in Canada, things were rapidly shifting in China. For everything that I missed living the slow-paced lifestyle of Canada, I got to experience in full shellshock when I went back to my hometown.

It was midnight when our family finally arrived by car. Weary and sleep-deprived from the long flight, I was awakened by my mother. What hit me was an unrecognizable scene that still felt familiar in a sentimental, yet eerie, way. What used to be a dusty road was now smooth, and the dust I remembered was replaced by a blackened paste blanketing the entire road. The markets that used to be here were replaced by cars and machines. Nothing was left of the home I remembered. Distress called and abandonment set in, again – this time, a whole culture seemed to have left me behind.

The more I searched, the less I found. And as time created distance between my childhood and I, the more the memories felt disconnected: cut away from the Canadian life that had been handed down to me. I made attempts to connect with my Chinese peers. They seemed to have moved on, morphed and reshaped another reality – one that I was unable to follow, nor understand. What I tried to draw upon were only bits and pieces of memory, of yearned connections, barely coherent enough to be pieced together as a whole. Have I become an outsider to my own people, culture? Just a few weeks ago however, I was caught off guard by a miracle.

I watched this movie called “Lion.” It was a native Indian boy’s journey to find home after having lost it for 25 years whilst living an adopted life in Australia. To so many, this was indeed an experience, filled with heartaches. For me, it was one that reopened an old wound.

The chickens, the cows and the livestock treading along a dusted road filling the streets of an open, smoky marketplace. Then there, my own imagery came flooding back to me in excruciating livid details.

After more than twenty years spent, deprived, I knew right then, what my life meant to me. “Lion” showed me this living breathing life in India. And I was bridged to my past. Shakened up, this thought that had never crossed my mind. What I saw in the end, was absolutely stunning. Such a drastically different culture. And yet, I felt this connection. The idea of ‘belonging,’ so central to an immigrant’s life yet so universally touching, transcends even the logical of human conception. It is an unsolvable mystery.

Thus, I’ve come to understand a part of how it feels to be self-identified in an international experience, for it’s a mindset that becomes more and more a part of my Canadian heritage. And I know for a fact, out of the bottom of my heart, that my new citizenship will never leave me behind, nor will it ever abandon me.