Perhaps I should have started this years ago, having made the decision to return to my roots, having changed my country of residence several years back. My continent of residence, I should say.
Yes, I’m currently residing in Asia.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
I had a somewhat variegated upbringing, being schooled in both Asia and Australia. This is clearly something quite commonplace in this day and age, but mine wasn’t just foreign exchange – I went back and forth, spending a chunk here and a chunk there.
Was it confusing? Disruptive? Detrimental to my development?
I don’t think so – if anything I got the best of both worlds, in a sense.
Perhaps I’d like to think my experience is unique, having been exposed more thoroughly to both sides of the coin: eastern and western, tropical and temperate, English and Chinese, noodles and spaghetti.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time abroad and had the pleasure of experiencing different cultures and indoctrin-I mean, education systems, can attest to this. By considerable I mean anywhere from six months to a year and beyond.
Different language, different styles of education, different attitudes and mannerisms. The culture shock does make some yearn and fall back on the comforts of home, usually in the form of congregating with those of the same background. Foreign student clubs and unions, study groups, living quarters.
I had that to some extent – I mingled largely with the familiar crowd, the minority, those with the same roots and ethnicity, even if they may not think or speak the same way as my original Asian brethren. It was close enough and as good as it got.
So background aside, I eventually made my way back to where I am now – in Asia. South-East Asia, to be precise (clearly still super vague – I’m being facetious).
What is it like being back here, seeing what you’ve seen? Knowing what you know? For those of you who have lived abroad and come back to your home country or to the same vicinity, how did you feel when you first returned?
Clearly everyone’s experience is non-identical and distinct. Many report feeling disenfranchised, like an outsider, hints of racism, but also feeling warmth and kindness and something they would never have found at home.
Yes, I admit on some level, I always felt like I never truly belonged. Being a minority in a country has its effects, not just in the pervasive racial undertones from external parties, but even internally within our own communities, our Asian gangs and gatherings (I use the term “gang” in a jocular sense – we didn’t actually go around extorting protection money).
I spoke and wrote the language, just as well as any of the born-and-bred locals (I’d like to think). Perhaps not all the way to the local lingo, but if I didn’t provide any indication, just from reading this, you might not immediately guess which country I hail from.
I paid my dues and did my job and didn’t take advantage of the system, a system that hands out freebies to the impoverished and needy, an imperfect system but one that tries to provide a standard level of care for all. It wasn’t a bad or poor system by any means, although rigid and unyielding in some ways. There was support and benefits, and for the most part people tried to be civil and kind toward me and each other.
Being back in Asia I see the disparities, how different things are, a comparison across the board. Some things are better, some are worse, pros and cons.
Recently I visited the equivalent of the slums here in Asia.
Think high density and small living spaces. Like Hong Kong, but not nearly as bad.
The first thing that hits you is the smell.
There was more than rain pouring down from the skies.
Slums exist almost everywhere in the world, I imagine. But seeing it in your own hometown still comes as a shock. Seeing the living conditions and meeting the people there is a sobering wake-up call.
And unlike Australia, the local government here doesn’t give so many handouts to these folk. Not to say they are entirely disregarded – there are institutes that care for the families and senior citizens that reside in these government built apartments.
What struck me (apart from the rubbish raining down) was the way of life of the people staying there, their outlook and attitudes. Almost like a caste system, mentally resigned to their fate, prisoners in their own minds.
For a lot of these people, there is no way out, no escape from their situation, no saviour or redemption or change. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. The only way out is wrapped in a blanket or tarp.
And they will continue to subsist like this, day in day out.
And now in lockdown, they see no way of earning an income. Again, there is no way out. And so they wait – either for handouts, or for the sweet release of death.
Of course there are such places in Australia and other countries in the world, and the way they are treated and regarded is probably not so different.
At the very least, they tend to be more concerned about smells. Or it could just be the climate that enhances it.
Did you know that you smell better in a moister environment?