For a long time, I never really got patriotism. It seemed mostly like being proud about things that I had no particular involvement in, which is one of the major reasons I still can’t get particularly amped about most sporting events on television. Why would I be especially invested in the documents signed by people that weren’t actually me, or in the boundaries of landform delineated from other landforms by white dudes several centuries ago? Mind you, I like Canadian beer, fireworks, and a holiday as much as everyone else, so I’m more than happy to celebrate when the occasion arises, but it never made sense to feel anything on a personal level.
On Canada day, I would assemble playlists of Canadian music, drink horrific concoctions of Canadian-made liquor products (Canadian car bombs, I’m looking at you), and run around enjoying the day. There would be all the usual posturing. I would drape myself in red to fit in, and we would remark that Canada is great, yes, indeed, sure is, tut tut, how true. The summer heat would blast, and a full day bestowed upon you to celebrate was really all the motivation necessary to put on the face of pride for your country.
Living back home, it’s easy to ignore everything prideworthy or special about your country, because you’re still in it. Every day, I was surrounded by Canadianness and other Canadians, and so I couldn’t really assess what, if anything, was so great. Canada was just how life was supposed to be… why would the natural state of the universe be anything to take pride in? On a theoretical level, I knew my rights were pretty well-secured, and living in an incredibly rich nation afforded me uncountable advantages and opportunities beyond the rest of the world, but if anything, this engendered in me more of a sheepish, Canadian-ingrained apologetic embarrassment. I wouldn’t be proud because I didn’t think about it, and I couldn’t be proud because if I did, I felt bad, like a good Canadian should.
Canada was just Canada. I lived there, and I lived it the same way every day. I saw the same trees, rode the same subway, ate the same food. Sure, I could be proud of it, I guess, in the same way I was proud of the sun for rising, or the tides for coming in. I just couldn’t find the will to get amped about the natural state of life.
Even before leaving, when I went across country, things seemed just naturally as they should be. Sure, Canada was astoundingly beautiful: vast, shimmering expanses of trembling corn trailing across the prairies under August sun. Water and cliffs and interlocking boughs zig-zagging into one another in a collage of foliage and grandeur. Mountains that pierce the sky, and in between, valleys filled with crystalline mirror-sheen lakes. Majesty, majesty, majesty. Well, that’s just how it’s supposed to be. I liked it, I just wasn’t in love with it.
Then I moved to South Korea. It’s taken a long time to adjust, to adapt my brain to everything. When I first arrived, the greatest leap was dealing with the issue that people simply did things differently. That my way of life was not actually the way of everyone else’s lives. Sure, before I could academically believe that people showered at night, or ate rice for breakfast, or had completely different schooling. But they didn’t really really do that stuff, right? That was just a weird way of joshing with the other countries?
I’ve grown to love South Korea, and to love the life and how I live it here. But at the same time, my love for where I came from has only grown greater in absence. I get it.
When I talk with Canadians here, I get them. We have the same frame of reference. We have the same life stories, the same music, the same children’s television shows. We remember Heritage Moments on TV, and can sing the Logdriver’s Waltz, and recite the lyrics to O Canada in two languages. We all desperately want to be on a patio as soon as May begins. We miss poutine and maple syrup and Canadian beer. We all want to go and get bowls of pho and eat shwarma, and hear dozens of different languages from hundreds of different mouths all around us. To go into our favourite dives and hear live music in glorious English. To wander our streets and simply get it.
Come Canada Day, I realized that I actually missed my home. And not just my actual home, the one with the people who raised me. But I missed the land that raised me, that made me into who I am and gave me all the chances and opportunities to even be able to leave it in the first place.
As the day approached, my friends and I grew dizzy with excitement. We assembled our playlists, and fetched our red face paint. With my friend Thanh, we assembled our own flag out of felt and safety pins, and slathered ourselves in red and white.
We are lucky, in that Canadian patriotism doesn’t read as particularly threatening. It’s a bunch of weirdoes dressed in red singing along to Shania Twain and hoping the bars have Moosehead. Many Koreans also just have no particular ideas about Canada in the first place, and so our waltz down the street with flag in tow just read as “foreigners sure are weird” rather than any sort of nationalistic fist-raising. (Further, in the bar hosting a Canada Day party, a Korean sincerely asked me what “CANADA” scrawled across my headband meant. I gestured around at the various flags, and the dozens of people covered in red and white and similarly bandying the word around. No one can find your patriotism dangerous when they don’t even know what your country is.)
I found the other Canadians, and the people who regularly associate with us enough to have a vague fondness for the country. We raised our glasses, and remarked how Canada is great, yes, indeed, sure is, tut tut, how true. And it meant a lot more to me, in a crappy basement level bar under a parking lot in South Korea, than it really ever has before. Only by leaving it, by leaving everything about Canada behind, did I come to actually appreciate it.. Half-way around the world, I came to love my country.