Where the Heart Is: Home is a quantum superposition

I always believed I was someone whose life was in constant motion — at least that’s what I believed when I first left Vancouver in May of last year.

And yet, seeing the familiar Vancouver grid come into view from above, I discovered a discomforting warmth arising with my arrival “home.”

Perhaps my desire to explore some darkish mix of travelgram comes from a naive and foolish belief in clean slates, and ideals of travel as aspirational. But really, I credit my parents.

My mom and dad — like so many who’ve settled here — came in search of greener grass, stability, and an easier life for me and my sisters. By all accounts and measures, they succeeded.

The constant comfort and stability I had growing up made me believe life would always be so, and that this would hold true while travelling West. So when I excitedly made the decision to leave my childhood home in April last year, my mother tentatively approved. In hindsight, there was a moment of hesitation before she let me go, her tacit perception of my naivete perhaps. But, any hesitation she held was papered over for the opportunity of experience.

The iridescent adrenaline of those first few weeks abroad — juggling work, commitments to newly made friends and trying to maneuver in additional mini-trips— soon dimmed into the glaring realization that life in Europe was different.

At work, I realized that the cultural dynamics I was familiar with and the things I took for granted back home were (surprise!) not the same. The culture, while beautiful and rich, was not my own. The background hum of the communities which grounded my identity, dissipated into white noise as their roots didn’t extend out this far.

Three months passed. The lessons learned, memories gained and the sights seen were all so worthwhile, but I returned home.

In August I had an extended layover in London, a city I had wanted to check off my bucket list. Unexpectedly, I was challenged immediately by the fuzzy notion of “home.” On the streets, I heard the textural mosaic of languages I had almost forgotten were a fixture back home. Being witness to the global flurry of activity there mirrored a similar but miniature version I had unknowingly been a part of in Prince Rupert, my hometown. A nostalgia that I had never been aware of.

That week in London passed so quickly, but the kaleidoscope of culture there left a lot for me to toil over. As I paused in Vancouver, I restarted my old routines in a brief process of re-localization. With under 10 days before I left for the second leg of my trip, I checked in with my mom.

“I left my home to come all the way here. And now you’re the one who’s leaving your home. 哎呀.”

Those 10 days flew by and I was boarding the plane. Almost immediately I was embraced by Mandarin. Equipped with the (mostly forgotten) knowledge of a third-year non-heritage Mandarin Chinese class, I mentally prepared for the linguistic environment of my next three months.


Would you like the Western or Chinese breakfast?


And as soon as I clumsily replied, my broken Chinese made it known I was non-local. Like many children of immigrants understand, the awkward superposition of appearing local whilst not speaking to a fluent enough degree, once measured, reveals you to be of somewhere else.

The three months in Taiwan followed an arc I was much less surprised by this time around. That first month and a half was pure energy. Darting around on a bike, riding the MRT and long-distance rail. Only this time round, sprinkle in some language snafus. Then, as novelty faded into normalcy, and my time away from “home” was quickly coming to an end, I began to reflect.

While I felt much less othered in this environment than I did before, I learned of new dynamics there that I was not too fond of.

I had expected that my time East would connect me to a heritage I should have a claim to. That this would feel like “home.” But that preconceived idea I’d spun — like many others over the span of those eight months — was dismantled.

In its place, I found a much messier, less clearly delineated something to the notion of “home.” Much less of a quantitative anything and more of a feeling. Home is a quantum superposition.

Writing from Vancouver, what has stayed with me are the handful of gemstone conversations I had with others about identity and home. Each stone helped me piece together the self-construction of my identity.

A walk through Brussels discussing what it means to be Queer and Asian and Canadian.

An evening park bench talk in Taipei about having Asian heritage whilst growing up outside of Asia. “Home is where you’re local,” a French-Canadian with a globe-trotting childhood told me.

I came to read my own life in its full context: the cultural imprint from my family; the support and strength of my network of friends; the takeaways from conversations with people — both from those still active in my life and others who have branched off into their own paths. The abstract swirl of the above and more is part of what grounds me.

In the last few weeks before returning home, I was on a weekly check-in FaceTime with my parents. I remember feeling burnt out from the course workload. My dad had just passed the phone to my mom and I remarked that learning Chinese was hard. The never-ending homework— the grammar fluency I desired always just out of reach.

After listening, she plainly said, “Yes, learning English was hard for me too.”

And at that moment, her comment created a tether through which I felt just a bit of what my mom had felt all those years ago when she first settled here. I saw that my search for identity through language roughly mirrored her struggle then: to create a new “home” for our family through assimilation.

For now, I feel at home back in Vancouver. But the truth is, “home” shifts and moves with us and it adapts with all of the bits and pieces we acquire along the way.

And while I’m not there yet, I’m becoming settled with the mildly discomforting understanding that “home” will not forever be where it is now.