Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sunday Salon: Home and books

Home. Where is home? What is home? For a good deal of folks, this question is too obvious to even give much consideration to but for those of us who have chosen the expatriate life this can be a bit of a tricky one.

St Austell, ©2003, Myra Davey
I was born in Cornwall, England and lived the first (almost) thirteen years of my life there. I lived in the same town the whole time, went to school with pretty much the same people the whole time and had all of my extended family within shouting distance. It was comfortable. I loved Cornwall. I felt connected to the place that included but went beyond the ties of family and comfort and Cornish pasties. Even now, if I see a picture of a Cornish coastline I get a little lump in my throat - it's not only the people who were important it was also the land that I felt connected to in a way that's hard to really put into words.

Auckland's Sky Tower
© Kath Liu, 2008
Then, three months before my thirteenth birthday, life got flipped on its head and we moved to New Zealand. We spent the first few months wandering around, seeing where we would settle. This involved me going to three different schools within six months. Luckily, by the third school, my family had decided where we would be and I ended up staying at that school for five years. As soon as I knew we were staying there I was gripped by the desire to settle again, to grow myself the roots I no longer had. To grow a history with people - I had known all of my friends in Cornwall since I was seven years old, sometimes younger - became my primary objective. Here I wasn't sure yet where I belonged, whom I could call 'friend' and this left me feeling incredibly unmoored. I felt like a tiny boat, bobbing around in the sea with nothing to anchor me down. It didn't help that my parents were going through exactly the same thing as I was and were a touch pre-occupied with how they were dealing with settling in a new country to see how it was affecting me or my brother.

Soon enough though, I started to feel settled in New Zealand. I found connections and started to grow back those roots, little by little, into the soil of my new home. My confidence level was not what it was in Cornwall and so I shied away from clubs and school plays (something I had always been involved in before) and I retreated more into the world of books. Reading became a major source of comfort for me and even though what I was reading wasn't anything of literary note (Sweet Valley High, anyone?) it helped me navigate the treacherous waters of becoming a teenager in a new country. Without anyone to guide me on the intricacies of female interaction, I devoured this sort of book and took mental notes on what sort of things were expected and which sort of things were not. Reading almost became the replacement Aunties I no longer had access to (remember this was the late 90's and email and Skype and Facebook were not there to help me out!)

Me in front of Taipei 101
© Art Liu, 2008
Sixteen years and another move to a different country (Taiwan) after that I am finally going back to Cornwall. Ever since the day I left, I have not been back. I planned to on a couple of occasions but family circumstances held me back. Now, these circumstances no longer exist and I am returning to England.  I left as a 13 year old not knowing I would not return for such a long time, not realising I would never see some much loved family members ever again, unaware of the life and adventures that lay ahead of me. I return as a 28 year old, knowing what I've missed and what I have lost, but also what I have gained from being in NZ and Taiwan. It's going to be a very emotional trip but one I just cannot wait for.

So the concept of 'home' for me is a very fluid thing. It is the place I was born and spent my childhood, it is also where I grew up and became a woman and it is the place where I currently live. All of these vastly different places, Cornwall, New Zealand and Taiwan, are all 'home' to me. The 'why' and 'how' changes but the fact that they are all home doesn't. I feel a strong connection to each and every place. This makes me sound splintered but actually I feel enriched. There's something from everywhere that makes me who I am and I'm really grateful to have had the life I have and through it all, I have had books by my side, providing an escape, providing guidance and being at times the one thing I could rely on.

Where is 'home' for you and how have books helped you through some of life's challenging times?


  1. Wow. You are a traveling girl, aren't you? And three such diverse locations. Glad books have always been there for comfort.

    Here's my Sunday Salon post for this week. Hope you will stop by and chat.

  2. This is such a lovely post, and one I can empathise with completely. I grew up all over the world, went to nine different schools, was always the new girl. Sometimes there was a new language thrown in too, at a non-English speaking school.

    And yes, home was England - in theory, and sometime I yearned for it, though after a year or two back there, I wanted the excitement of foreign-ness again - but real home was what was contained in all those packing cases: the plates, and pictures and books.

  3. What a great post! I can definitely relate to what you've written about today. Being a part of a military family, we always moved every 3 years or so to a new location. I started out in Wyoming and have found myself setting some permanent roots here in northern Virginia.

    Having moved every 3 or 4 years, when we finally relocated to Oklahoma City, OK, I decided to get into reading. Reading became that constant home for me that was portable and would never change. Today I read in both happy and bad times, it allows me to get away from it all.

    Essentially, books have become my home away from home. :-) What a great post, thanks for sharing! Here's my Sunday Salon post:

  4. I have always been drawn to coastal towns, but so far, the closest I came to living on the coast was San Francisco, CA. For my whole life, I've lived in California, but traveled throughout the US.

    My eldest son is a true expatriate, having lived in England, Ireland, The Czech Republic (Prague), and now Berlin.

    I think I can safely say his "home" is somewhere in Europe, although he does come back here every few years. Not often enough.

    I would love to move to a coastal town someday, though; despite the coastal turbulence from the recent Pacific tsunamis.


  5. I can definitely relate. When I got asked the home question I never quite know how to answer. I was born and grew up in Hong Kong (almost 14 years), then lived in Australia for 13 years. A few years ago I came to the US. When I was in HK I mostly read Chinese books, and in Australia I started reading novels in English which definitely helped me adapt the new language - I read mostly Christopher Pike and RL Stine to start with :) Then onto a lot of murder / mystery type of books. Now I read about half non-fiction and half fiction, and had expended my fiction genre. It doesn't matter where I live though, books seem to be a constant.

  6. Deb - I am! Not as much as some but working on it! Sorry I'm late to come over to your SS (bit more travelling going on), will be there soon! :)

    Deborah - Thanks! Wow, 9 different schools. It's tough but it makes you really adaptable and flexible, right? That's one thing I'm glad about. And yep, got to agree. Any place feels like home once the boxes arrive and you have your familiar things around you.

    Jeremy - Thanks for stopping by! It's really fun to hear about other people's moving experiences and books as a retreat. I'm late but I will be over to read your TSS post asap. I've just been away this weekend :)

    Laurel-Rain - I love coastal towns. This is the first time in my life I have lived so far from the sea and it feels a little odd but instead of pining I have replaced it with a love of the mountains around me. I can't wait to get a dose of the Cornish Coast soon!

    Christa - Thanks for commenting! It is weird trying to answer the question where home is when you've become attached to two (or more) places and identify with both! Especially when some folks can get a bit off about you not firmly choosing the place where they identify with - do you ever get that? I got told off for calling myself a British Kiwi once by a NZer who said I should call myself a Kiwi Brit if I was serious about being a NZer! I claimed alphabetical order to keep the peace ;)

  7. Great post. I love talking about and thinking about what "home" means to different folks. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house in Kentucky in the same area where my family goes back for generations, so I will always think of myself as being "from" Kentucky. But now I have my own family in southern Indiana, and a community there, and I'm just beginning to think of Madison as "home."

  8. I have never moved very far, just one move about 150 miles when I was about 20, and I am not sure that counts. Not much cultural

  9. I never know where to call home either, but, at least most of my life has been spent in the same country. (I found you from Cathy's Scene of the Blog post.)

  10. Caite - I'd guess there wouldn't be much of a cultural difference within 150 miles! Mind you, there sometimes can be depending on where you are, so you never know! Thanks for commenting!

    Bermudaonion - Thanks for coming by!! I think home becomes a far more theoretical concept once you've lived overseas for a while. It's wherever the people and things you love happen to be - which really could be anywhere in the world :)

  11. Home is Bristol, where I live now. I've only been here four and a half years, but it's where Tim and I chose to "settle", buy a house, create a community of friends. I have a fondness for the town I came from and I visit because my parents are still there. We also go to Tim's old haunts because he has friends and family in those places. But then all those places are not just in the same country but in the same half of the country, so we have it easy.

    I always thought I'd like to live all over the world, a year here, a couple of years there, but by my mid-20s I realised that just wasn't me. I'm a homebody. I can go on holidays to all those places instead!