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the map doesn't go away

Being back home is funny. In some ways, I’ve replaced myself in my old context without any real difficulty. The streets are still where they used to be; the stores and restaurants I used to go to are mostly in the same places as ever, and I still know the city like the back of my hand. The map – the one in my head, labelled with things like “good pho” and “decent used books” and “grandmom’s apartment” instead of less personal landmarks – is still there. It doesn’t go away.
But it changes.
There are new buildings and new places. There are new babies in my neighbourhood and new mutations of Sprite (Remix), Coke (Vanilla), and Dr. Pepper (Disgusting Red) on store shelves. Neighbourhoods once marked on my map as being safe to walk through at night are no longer so. It rains more than I remember being normal for a Philadelphia summer, and is cooler.

I’m home.
I know that – I have my bedroom, and all my books, and my futon and my phone and my family to prove it. I can move around with complete ease here, can give directions to strangers. I can speak English – well, what passes for English in South Philly – and be relatively assured of an answer in same.

But it doesn’t feel quite like home anymore, and I can’t put my finger on why that is.


I’m not on hiatus; I’m just being lazy. Expect posts about Harbin, my girlfriand, and my harrowing return at some point in the future. I really do mean to write about them — but for now, there are so many people to see, and places to go, and things to eat.

Have a good summer.

11 Comments

  1. undertree wrote:

    does it feel like you’re in a hotel? even though it’s all familiar, as you described, does it feel like you’re either in a snowglobe or simply getting some sort of Matrix view of “home”? i never could put my finger on it, but i know all expats go through it on reentry.

    Sunday, August 10, 2003 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  2. Todd wrote:

    The thing about just going home for a visit is that one doesn’t actually have time to restart a life there. Unless you’ve got at least a month behind you and a month ahead of you, then it’s like sitting in a car that’s parked in the garage. It looks like a car, but it doesn’t actually feel like a car until the engine in humming and you’re moving along.

    Monday, August 11, 2003 at 4:23 am | Permalink
  3. Adam Morris wrote:

    Peek a boo.

    I see bokane.org.

    From China. Without anonymouse or anything.

    My friend hooked me up.

    Yaaaaayyyyy!!!!

    Monday, August 11, 2003 at 7:41 am | Permalink
  4. Adam Morris wrote:

    Oh yeah, and Brenden, check out this

    http://www.bradf.com/mt/archives/000050.html

    for information on how to do some mogblogging with a mobile phone and mt

    Monday, August 11, 2003 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  5. matt wrote:

    sounds strange being back home. I’ve only been away 4 months, and I am not really thinking about being back home yet. Well not so much anymore. Am getting used to life here. I am even staying longer than planned to mak esome more money, so that when I do return I can come back within a month. It will be weird in 05 when I return to finish my degree for a year.

    Interested to see how it pans out for you.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2003 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  6. Kit wrote:

    I remember when I came back from living for two years in Italy about a year ago, it felt like I was just passing through. I knew there was something a bit ‘off’ when I started referring to Milan as ‘home.’ (I’ve lived in Maine since I was born, and only lived in Milan for 2 years) People seemed to want to hear what you’d been up to,but only up to a point. Friends of mine put it best when they said ‘People want to hear “it was different.”‘ I also found that people didn’t find this [to me] amazing cultural awakening quite so extraordinary: it wasn’t so farfetched to assume that they’d met someone who had lived overseas before, and he/she was completely assimilated back into American culture, and assumed that I would be the same. So as a result, I had to train myself to only make smalltalk, which was semi-traumatic, as I really wanted to be able to talk about my experiences. Good luck to you; I’m sure you’ll fare well. And I’m actually interested to hear about what battles you’ve had with customs, what airline troubles you’ve had, and what nightmares about hooking up the telephones you had.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2003 at 3:23 am | Permalink
  7. Brendan wrote:

    Todd – you’re absolutely right. I’m kind of trying to keep myself occupied between social engagements and academic obligations (I’m not sure whether my university still has me enrolled as a student or not), but I don’t know how well it’s working.

    Undertree – It’s definitely like Bizarro Home – but then again, it’s not. What’s weird, I guess, is just how normal everything is.

    Adam – dude, how? And yeah; I got that email from Brad – I just don’t have the necessary cellphone plan (Quanqiutong, I believe, though who knows; maybe I can get net access through Shenzhouxing in Beijing), and my virtual host will probably not be helpful if I need them to install any libraries on their servers. I’ve still got those plans for my summer (and probably winter) breaks, though.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2003 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  8. Sambo wrote:

    dude we need to hang out and have a beer.

    Friday, August 15, 2003 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  9. Vlad wrote:

    In Odessa I thought of myself as a Philadelphian, in Philadelphia I think of myself as a Russian. The grass is always greener on the other side, and there is something inside of us that drives us to identify with that– with that greener grass.

    Friday, August 22, 2003 at 1:21 am | Permalink
  10. Stephen wrote:

    I hope that you keep your posts coming. I’ve enjoyed reading them. China is one country (of many) that I’ve always wanted to visit. I’m going to live and work in France next year (as an English teacher/assistant), and I’m really looking forward to that. Hope you keep writing…

    Saturday, August 23, 2003 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  11. Meighan wrote:

    back in the states, damn hon. its been a long time. you’ll have ot get a hold of me. i’m going to be out east soon doing the whole, getting out of wisconsin thing.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2003 at 11:54 am | Permalink

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