27 October 2015

Strangers in our Homeland

Going back to the country of your birth after years away has to be the weirdest feeling ever. That trip home in 2008 was a very long one for my family--they stayed all summer and fall and left a few days after Christmas, because my parents wanted to experience a good old-fashioned American Christmas after so many years away.

The funny thing was, after experiencing all of our old American Christmas traditions for the first time in so long...we realized how much we missed our new Malaysian holiday traditions. The fact is that Christmas in Malaysia and Christmas in America don't really look or feel anything alike--neither one is better, but they are so completely not alike that even while celebrating one version, you miss all the good stuff about the new version. Sure, there's something to be said for turkey and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie made by grandma...but there's also something to be said for a traditional 8-course Chinese banquet shared with your neighbors.

Our reaction upon re-entering America was to wander supermarkets in awe of the sheer size and variety and take photographs of really large food.

 Could anyone possibly even drink all of this cocoa?

Just look at the size of these monstrous eggs! And they're white. That's scary.

We used a lot of power tools, as any homeowners know that if you leave your 100+ year old house alone for a couple years, it's probably going to need a lot of work done the minute you get back. This meant that even though we'd lived in the tropics for years, we all got incredibly tanned from working outdoors for most of the summer. We had to go to Michigan to get tan, obviously.

Seriously, I have never been this tan either before or since. Of course, I'm a little more proactive about using sunscreen these days.

We threw ourselves into all sorts of activities that were "normal" to us prior to our move. Tractor shows and 4th of July parades and car shows. For us kids, it felt a like a very interesting cultural education. We visited several of our old homes, including Kentucky. Much of what we did was very fun, but this trip back to the USA definitely left us realizing that there was not a place left on earth where we fit in completely. When growing up in Malaysia, whenever things were confusing, or everyone else was speaking a language we didn't understand, we blamed it on the fact that we were American, we were naturally outsiders, and because of that, there would always be times when we felt like we were on the "outside." 

The problem is, by the time you go back, you realize you're an outsider once more because your face turns red after you accidentally say "Uncle" instead of "Sir" to a man who you're asking for help at the grocery store. You can't understand why your cousins are confused when you're telling a funny story about a cicak because you've forgotten that cicak isn't an English word.

And while everyone's telling you "Welcome Home!" and expecting you to be nothing other than happy and relieved about can't help but silently think...I miss my other home.

Visits to America have come to mean, in my world, family reunions and shopping trips for clothing that's hard to find in Southeast Asia and long evenings of telling stories and hooking up the computer to the TV to show pictures of our life here. I'm spoiled rotten to have family on opposite sides of the globe. Some parts of this expat life will always be tough--but there's something really precious about being connected by love to places thousands of miles apart.

{This is Day 28 in my 31 Days Series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}
Bethany Carson said...

Really enjoyed reading about your experiences! (And I'm almost sad to see this series coming to an end in the next few days! I'll enjoy these last three stories of the series!)

Ali Hval said...

Ahahaha, the sheer size of food... that made me laugh, because it's true: everything over here does seem to be super sized or to the extreme. I really love how you appreciate both ways of celebrating Christmas, though. I think that's wonderful.

Tayler Morrell said...

Many of my friends who have served 2 year LDS missions in foreign countries feel the same way when they return home--it is kind of like a reverse cultural shock.

Unknown said...

I am going home for the holidays this year for my first time since I've been in Australia (only after 1.5 years) and I'm even worried about a culture shock!

Suzanne said...

I think that culture shock only lasts about a year though. I've lived overseas quite a bit and even took on an English accent for a while after living there so long. In the end though if you decide to plant your feet firmly in one spot you will be surprised how quickly old memories fade and new ones take hold.


Unknown said...

So interesting! I feel like you know so much about so much! Every time I come here I read a story that allows me to feel like I was there when it happened. Your family seems extremely practical and not lazy at all. I need some of your genes, haha. Malaysian Christmas sounds...different lol. And I've never seen smaller eggs ;)

Charlene Maugeri said...

I can only imagine how difficult it would be to come back after being immersed in another culture for so long. Yes you are blessed to have family on opposite sides of the world! In fact, I'm a little jealous!

Jozizbazi said...

That feeling goes away once you settled in and remember what was it like, I know :) And yea, sometimes you even miss your new traditions! That`s the true weird feeling right there :)

Lisa said...

ha that is a huge amount of hot cocoa! Have you written more about the Christmas differences? I'd love to hear more about that.

Jsmexico said...

Very true. How about how fast the toilets flush? Or that you have to drive everywhere instead of walking or public trans?