Monday, 29 January 2007

sense of belonging

What does it mean to belong? Every one of us was born with an instinct to be part of a community, that's human nature; or we could call it natural instinct. We belong to our family, to our community, to our circle of friends, to our culture and society... and this sense of belonging even extend to something less intrinsic, such as clubs and associations.

Why do you feel the need to belong? In this sense, we are not very different from other animal. We derived our identity through this sense of belonging. By belonging to a group, a community, it tells us who we are. If I belong to an Asian society, then my identity is an Asian, it completes me as I have got to feed this psychological, mental and emotional needs of mine. We are who we are by definition of the people we surround ourselves with; we see this clearly in some of the Hollywood movies: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, etc.

Let's bring this idea home a little. Our identity is intrinsically tied to our family. It seems that there is no way to escape this bloodline; for example, my surname is my father's surname, in some culture, for example, the latin ones, the children also takes on the mother's surname. How many times have we heard "so, you are so and so's daughter/son! You look so much like your father/mother." As we grow up, we build our identity through belonging to every aspects of society and humanity on the blank pages of ourselves, and after 20 or so odd years, we become who we are today. The question I want to ask at this point is, are we happy about who we are?

Growing up with mix parentage, and in a society where it practice preferencial treatment to a race that I don't belong to help me to cultivate this sense of "never quite belong". And on top of that, being gay and catholic. I was pretty involved in the church activity and that really gave me a sense of belonging. But at night, when I switched off the light and the rest of the goody feeling, when it was just me and the very inner self of me, I felt really empty, because that is this part of me that wants to be recognised and released but my belief, or "my belonging" did not allow me to do so because by acknowledging my sexuality, it defied my belief. These 2 parts of me cannot coexist. So, for a long time, I was in perpetual conflict and denial. This as time goes by, feed and strengthen this sense of "not belonging".

So when I decided to leave my home, my country and my family. It is with an unconscious effort to find myself. Not to belong to any society, but rather, to find out who am I by not belonging to any. To find this intrinsic me, this me that isn't defined by the culture that I grew up in, by the family that nurtured and fostered me, and by the society that told me what to and what not to do. But, you know what? This is actually a paradox. Because we as a human being, living in this relative world, our meaning are defined by others. Who we are are define by who they are not.

Once, I walked through a park in Lisbon and saw old people sitting around and family strolling, I was strucked by a sudden sense of alienation. I felt that this "picture" in front of me doesn't belong to me; or should I say, I can never belong to this picture; the perfect example of human society.

From that day on, I accepted my identity of a traveller, a wanderer, a nomad. An outsider within this lonely planet, an alien among humanity.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

life as movie

10 or 11 years ago, I watched a very interesting and relatively unknown movie, "Before Sunrise". It was a very simple movie about a backpacker who met a stranger on a train and they started chatting and decided to stop in Vienna and spend the night walking through the its enchanted streets before they had to go on their own way the next day. There wasn't anything spectacular, but the simplicity and exotic setting has imprinted very deeply in my heart and mind. As an adolence, I had wished for this kind of intense and passionate experience in a foreign land meeting someone who capture my heart and my imagination. Something magial.

Last summer, I was backpacking in Easter Europe for 2 months; it was an intense and awesome experience. And in the unspoiled and edgy land of Romania, I met someone. We spent 3 intense days together, the day I had to leave was one of the hardest thing I have had to do. As my bus pulled away and seeing the person I 'love' slowly disappearing from my sight and the uncertainty of whether we would meet again, tore through my heart. In the movie, the 2 protagonists made a pack to meet again in a year's time, but one of them didn't turn up. Life is like a movie, after I left Romania and we started chatting on the net and things grew from mere infactuation to something more serious; promises were made, expectations were born. Instead of waiting 1 year, like the movie, I have only to wait 4 months. When the day got closer, the anxiety grew stronger. The days leading up to it, I felt the distance. Nothing like the physical distance that seperate us; but a distance that could not be cross with any boat, nor traverse through by any vehicle, nor reach by any plane; a distance that chill the heart and warm the cheeks. The date approached and he wasn't there...

Devastated? That is an understatement. I know well enough never to put expectation on a night of passion and a long distance relationship. But I've never been the one to conform and I try to believe that there is 'hope', there is always hope. But non-conformity doesn't guarantee love.

What is love? It is just mere feeling? How is it possible that a feeling could evoke such extreme reaction? At one moment, it sends you heavenwards, through the clouds, to mingle with the stars and bath in the moonlight. And the next moment, you go through hell, heart rip out with red stingy tears.

9 years after "Before Sunrise", the director and the 2 actors decided to make a sequel, and so "Before Sunset" was born. In the movie, the 2 protagonists chanced upon each other in Paris 9 years after they first met. And walking through the Bohemian streets of Paris, they chatted and chatted, and love was reignited.

I wonder if, like the movie, I have to wait 9 years to continue this love. Is there such thing as "true love waits"?

As I wander through this land of nowhere, I wonder if this Chinese saying "Life as movie, movie as life" is true...

Saturday, 13 January 2007

wander to nowhere

I went home after 3 years of travelling and living abroad. Weeks leading up to my departure, I was anxious: what would it be like? how would I greet my parents? should I hug them and kiss them? I am sure they will not go for that. My western mind and my eastern heritage came into frequent conflict. I have forgotten how to behave "accordingly" in my own home.

How much can a person change in 3 years? I guess that depend on how badly that person wants to change. I was desperate for changes. I grew up wanting stability and seeking to belong but I was disappointed again and again until I learn to see that the only constant in life is 'change'. So change I did, so much so that I hardly recognise myself when I was home looking at myself through the eyes of my friends and family.

However, I love who I have become. I am contented with the structureless, unconforming life that I am carving for myself; the simplicity and intensity of living for today. I have learn to appreciate what I have and not dwell on what I have not. I have also learnt to appreciate my past, for it makes me who I am today.

I am by no means perfect nor complete, but life is a constant growth. Having an aim does not discount the essence of now. A journey is a spiritual quest and it is not so much about arriving but rather, to be at and to appreciate every moment of the journey.

So, arriving home with a contented outlook on my life, I was depressed by the frequently unhappy lives of those who are burdened by the need to live up to societal expectation, the conditioning that one cannot break away from the norm, that life has to be structured and uniform. That we have become human doing and not being. Day in and day out, we have forgotten to 'be' but constantly busied our lives with all the 'do's.

The familiarity of home had a strange flavour to it when the person itself is no longer who he was. I am no longer who I was. And therefore home is no longer a 'home' for me. The 3 years of nomadic life has shifted my sense of home from a fix geographical location, biological ties and old familiarity to a shifting reality.

And so the journey continue as I wander to nowhere...