The immigration officer was getting more and more agitated. “Why didn’t you list the flight you left Canada on?” he growled. A vein bulged in his toady forehead, and I tried to will it to burst through telekinesis. I was coming back for a funeral and had been on a plane for 13 hours, my butt ached, and was not really capable of overwhelming him with charm and pleasantness.
“Because I don’t remember. It was about 7 months ago.”
“Well, what have you been doing for 7 months?!” he asked testily. He seemed to be implying that I must have been running drugs or had packed several Korean orphans into the depths of my suitcase. I told him that I had been living in Korea, and he practically screamed to the heavens, castigating me as to why I had dared to write my Canadian address instead of my Korean one. Was I dumb? Did I not understand my own country’s notions of home and which one to write down on immigration form 38-C?!
One of the problems with deciding to shove your life into a suitcase and flounce off into the world is the paperwork. People everywhere are incredibly unprepared for the prospect of someone else electing to leave one place and going to another really far away unless they are running from the law. Deciding to just be without one real home, in the affluent way afforded to people who can find work in far-flung places, is not an available tick-box.
For the government of Korea, I’m a resident on an Alien visa, and most of the time they care only for my Korean address, unless I need to deal with immigration or something related to my visa, and then suddenly my address in Canada becomes The Place Where I Live. For Canada, I have just enough junk still remaining in the country that I’m technically a resident–just someone they consider on a really, really long vacation. Someone who still owes taxes. I am not a resident enough, however, to remain covered by the provincial health insurance: my foreign address supersedes my local one.
It’s understandable: picking up and fleeing the country isn’t something that everyone does. Or if they do, they have an actual, real, singular address to refer back to at some point, a locus to record on all the forms, a place they can say that they’re concretely, always from. They have a homebase. They have a home.
I have a home, in the wishy-washy metaphorical sense: a place where everybody knows my name, where I can rest, where I can find solace and comfort and a big warm bed and a home-cooked meal and love and cookies and family. But in the sense that I have one address, one solid, physical location that’s just for me, that I’ve got for good–I’ve kind of left the concept behind me.
I am thoroughly housed. I’ve got addresses and locations, cities and districts and provinces and streetnames, workplaces and universities and contact numbers and banks. But the problem is the number – I have just a few more than most people have, and most people aren’t particularly adept at dealing with others that have them in this number. Could you perhaps stay still? they ask. And maybe have all your addresses in the same language. That’d be swell.
When travelling, too, it grows difficult to properly introduce yourself. Where are you from? some unassuming, be-backpacked interlocutor inquires. Well, that’s a surprisingly difficult question, and I might need to draw you a few diagrams. I know where I’m from originally, and where I’m from now, and some of the wheres I’ve been from in between, but I’m not sure which one you want, so I guess you’re going to hear all of them.
Even in Canada, the question proves surprisingly difficult. I know where my family lives – I’ve had the address etched into my brain since the time I was a child. But I don’t really live there anymore, although I might again one day, and the place where I’m living now is on another continent, and also I won’t be there for much longer, but I probably won’t be here for terribly long, also.
I am comfortable and happy in the place that I have now. But knowing, as I do, its temporariness – the distinctly temporal nature of my connection to this apartment – makes it hard to connect with it very much. It’s a place where I keep my stuff, and it does that very well. It’s an address I can write down on a page when it comes down to it. But it won’t be for long.
Being a person who takes to the road pretty often, and plans on doing it for a long time very soon, it’s a weird concept to try to bring across. I have houses to go back to – family and friends and acquaintances and colleagues upon whose generosity I can surely impose and already do with my surplus furniture, books, and clothing. For most people, these places are usually also their homes: home is where your heart is, and also all of your crap.
But being a person who is kind of homeless, thoroughly housed though I might be, means not really having a distinct idea of this anymore. My junk is in a lot of places, and as the years pass I plan on scattering even more of it to the four winds. I’ll leave behind books and shirts, pictures and mementos, words in ink and voice in every place I come to rest, but none of them are really going to be the place I’m going to stay.
Each of these places is a place for my things. But I don’t really know that they’re places for me, yet.