Saturday, February 1, 2014

Nostos

"Do you miss home?"
"Yeah well, of course I do, I mean... yeah... of course I do."

My voice quivers ever so slightly, lips recoiling almost defensively as I speak the words. I cannot help but feel a pang of guilt. It's a question I am asked often, and short of giving a lengthy explanation, I opt for the much simpler, cookie cutter reply of "Who wouldn't?" and launch into a even lengthier panegyric on the beauty of Malaysian cuisine.

Occasionally though, I cannot bear to hide beneath a flurry of superfluous words.

"Do you miss home?"
"Not really."

Every single time I say this I feel like I am being judged, like I am admitting that I am a horrible person wracked with familial problems, or worse yet, an ungrateful brat who can't be bothered to remember my parents.

What is home anyway?

Sure, I miss my family. I miss driving with my father in one of his old cars, just the road and some Lynyrd Skynyrd playing on the stereo. I miss my mother's cooking, which is the strangest thing, because when I was at home I wanted nothing more than to escape from it. I miss my brother bothering me in the midst of a movie or reading a book to show me his latest cool magic trick or the latest Youtube fad he has discovered.

I miss my bed, my dog, my house. I miss the lonely walks beneath the stars to the abandoned playground, just sitting on the swing and contemplating life in solitude. I miss the colorful and vibrant food, the sweet-as-sin milk tea in the morning and the fragrance of fried rice at 3am at night.

But it's far more complicated than that. With "home", there is also chaos. There are the frantic 2am rushes to get a press statement prepared on time. There are the heart-stopping moments as you look into a riot police officer's visor and see your own reflection staring back at you. There are the speeches that come rolling, one after another, until they all blend and mix and form this amorphous, all-encompassing ball of lies that devours everything in its path. There is that fear, that anger, that disappointment that permeates the air, the front page of the newspapers, the websites, the cyberspace, the conversations at coffeehouses.

For most people, "home" is this place of refuge. This place of shelter, where everything becomes OK and life stands still. Whatever storm, quake, disaster stops at that invisible wall people call "home" and whatever exciting, crazy ups and downs go away for a monotony that most people decry but I crave.

For me, "home" is the storm. Home is the embodiment of chaos, of messiness, of burden. Yale, for all its "stress" and "commitments" and "assignments" is a safe haven for me. At least here I know I can close my eyes, I can fall asleep, I can let go of myself and life goes on. I am not constantly bombarded by an insidious hopelessness, assaulted by the egotism or stupidity of politicians, weighed upon to take upon the mantle of a fighter.

Not all people share my sentiments of course. Many can ignore, forget, forgive what happens on a daily basis in Malaysia. As much as I would like to, I cannot. I feel a sense of responsibility, of duty that does not permit me to pretend like all is fine and good with the system when it is clearly not.

Malaysia is like family to me I suppose. No matter how bad things get, I cannot let go of it.

"Do you miss home?"
"No. I don't."

Perhaps there is a better question to be asked then.

"Do you love home?"
"Yes."

"Lost Home". Taken in New Haven, December 2013. OKJ All rights reserved.
Click for larger image.

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