Pondering: Where are you from?

Where are you from?

This is the trickiest question that I can get when meeting new people while moving and travelling. And I do get this question all the time! I guess mainly because it’s hard to guess where I’m from from my messed up English accent – the result of moving around. I even got this question all the time when I moved to Singapore, which is the neighbouring country of Indonesia and there are god knows how many Indonesians there (too many).

So where am I from?

It always takes me a few seconds (or what feels like a few seconds) before giving an answer.

The answers vary.

If I think the person shows a slight interest then I go with the long answer: I was born in Indonesia but my family and I have migrated to Australia many many years ago.

(Now even the migration timing is a bit confusing, because I went to Australia ahead of my family by a few years, as an international student in year 2000. But officially I (re)entered Australia as a migrant in 2001, my parents physically migrated in 2002, and I became a citizen in 2004.)

If I’m traveling to somewhere else other than my current residence I will add: And now I’m living in …. (e.g. London)

If I think the person doesn’t really care, I go with the short answer: either my current residence or Australia.

the three flags

The proof of my identity crisis in Prague. Every table gets a flag of the country they're from. When asked, I went with the long answer and ended up with three flags: England, Australia, Indonesia. I didn't expect them to give me three. Aaaw how nice!

In some rare cases when I think I have more advantages being an Indonesian than an Australian, I go with Indonesia. Example of this was when I moved to Singapore, looking for a flat. In Singapore, like most Asian countries, there’s still perception that anyone from Western countries are rich (they’re not that far off). Although I’m not an ang-moh, there could still be possibility that they thought I could be as rich and gave inflated price as a result. At the same time Indonesians have pretty good reputation in Singapore as good tenants (the worst are mainland Chinese – according to them). So I was Indonesian in that period of time.

But most times I am Australian. (Really, I am. As Indonesian you can’t have two nationalities, though as Australian you can. So when I pledged loyalty to Australia, essentially I forfeited my Indonesian citizenship.)

Some people don’t like the short Australia answer. Maybe it’s how I look.

Notable reactions include:

“Yes, but where are you originally from?” (very common and mildly annoying)

“Are you a citizen or just a permanent resident?” (why would I say I’m Australian if I’m a permanent resident?)

(Both by Australians by the way. I guess it’s still hard to get their head around this whole migration thing.)

But even after giving the long answer, some people still don’t let me get away easily.

“You’re born in Indonesia, so you’re Indonesian then! You can’t change your nationality!” (uum yes you can!)

I get it! People like to put people in boxes. When they can’t figure out which box I should be in, it disturbs them.

 

The second most common question often came right after the first.

Do you miss home?

This question also takes me a few seconds to answer.

Because I’m not sure what they mean by home.

The last time the question came up, I blurted out,

“No… I left home a long time ago.” (which is a bit of an exception, because I usually dodge the question by saying Yes! – the easy expected answer)

That kinda confused my landlord, since it was only my first week in London, and to be honest confused me a bit as well.

So I fell into deep pondering for a while.

Where is home?

Is it the place I came before this one? Is it my parents’ house in Sydney? (my stuff is there, but I have only lived there for 2.5 years, and my parents move around between Australia and Indonesia anyway – together and separately.) Is it my where my husband is? (He’s in a confused stage and I don’t think he even feels like home where he is right now.)

I guess in that moment of simple honesty, what I think as home was the childhood home I lived in for the first 17 years of my life. Before I left the nest. Before I fled the country. Before moving around.

Since then everywhere and nowhere is really home. Home is where I am. I can feel at home practically anywhere, I’m so highly adaptable.

And I’m really happy to be this way. I’m not tied down to any one place. I don’t have deep attachment to a place to the point of crippling myself.

I’m loving where I am, but if the wind calls and the next epiphany appears before me, I can leave.