Other TCKs may declare, with varying degrees of bravado, how an almost insatiable wanderlust propels them to exotic locations around the globe. In my case, the impetus was a critical need to flee the scene and rebuild.
Considering my eight years growing up in Asia were characterized by a feeling of foreignness, it is ironic that returns to the region are characterized by a deep feeling of homecoming. It seems like something akin to Stockholm Syndrome – you adore the very presence that hurt you so much at the time.
A terse U.S. immigration officer informs me of a mistake on my form – after a year and a half studying in China, my country of residence is no longer the USA. I apologize as she grunts and waves me through. I feel very welcomed.
Foreigner! I am in Shanghai, 12-years-old, the only white person on a Chinese basketball team, the subject of hilarity as I run the wrong way on the court, having misunderstood the instructions, related in speedy Shanghainese. Bun dan! the coach shouts at me, and my teammates giggle shrilly.
I’ve avoided doing this for so long and for good reason. But here I am, saying goodbye at an airport, breaking my cardinal rule because I can’t help but use up every second I’ve got with her. We get off the bus and walk hand-in-hand into the terminal, luggage in tow. She checks in, her eyes starting to water. I can feel mine moisten, but I get it together as the ticket agent looks taken aback. I take a few breaths, trying my best to be steady even though the realization of what this moment means starts settling in, the anxiousness gathering momentum. Airports have never been complicated for me. I’ve always been indifferent about them; the only things worth getting emotional about were flight delays and exceptional (or terrible) food at the gate. I’ve rarely been upset at airports, even when leaving a country that had been home for the past couple of years. If I’d felt anything at all, it was intrigue and excitement over what awaited on the other side — but …
In my fourth sublet in Berlin in the past eight months, I am growing accustomed to another person’s things around me, to her life quietly insinuating itself into my own.