There's no place like home

Updated: 2014-07-03 07:20

By Clare Buchanan (China Daily)

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Where are you from?

It should be an easy question, right? Wrong!

As a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, I was asked this question more times in my first month of living in China than ever before.

Each time I still struggle. This may seem odd, but it's a question I've found tricky to navigate ever since I understood its meaning.

An awkward silence usually ensues while I try and gauge the person asking me - do they want to know where I was born? Where I live? Which place I consider home? Where I am technically from? Or do they not really care and just want a quick, polite response?

I normally start by telling people I am British (not just English), but for many people, especially those who come from or have visited the United Kingdom, they want to know exactly where.

I understand why, and am guilty of it myself. When we meet new people, we like to see if we have any common ground. Maybe their cousin lives in the same place or perhaps they visited your hometown last summer.

People also like to figure out new acquaintances according to where they are from and sometimes categorize them as a certain type of person.

There's no place like home

However, as people move around more and more, marry across cultures and continents and have children who speak several languages and hold multiple passports, it is getting harder to pigeonhole people to one place.

My story is simple compared to many so-called third-culture kids.

A friend I grew up with in Hong Kong took pleasure in the thoroughly confused expressions people would give her when she reeled off a detailed description of her family tree, which included her Jamaican-Chinese mother, Scottish father, English step-father and various half-brothers and half-sisters scattered around the world.

An easy option for me is to say I am from London. Everyone has heard of it and before coming to Beijing I lived and worked there for three years, so it isn't a complete lie but I am not proud of saying it (sorry Londoners).

My issue is, like many people who have lived, worked and moved around the world, I have never lived in the place I originally and technically come from - Scotland.

I would happily say I am Scottish but the barrage of questions that routinely follows (Where did you live? Why don't you have an accent?) leave me feeling like a fraud.

Another go-to answer for me is Chichester in the south of England where my parents returned to and set up home after the first 18 years of my life in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Don't get me wrong. I love the quaint countryside town next to the sea, but except for my parents and their dog and cat, I have no other ties there.

In China, I have been pleasantly surprised by the reactions to the jumble of answers I give to my least favorite question. People here get it. They understand the baggage that is part and parcel of expat life and seem generally more open-minded.

I think for these reasons during my short time in Beijing I have been made to feel very much at home and perhaps it will always be easier for me to live abroad than in my "home" country.

I am often asked about my experience growing up in foreign countries by expat parents, whose voices are tinged with angst, guilt and worry over their decision to uproot their family and bring up their children in a foreign country.

In my mind the positives far outweigh the negatives. I just warn parents that their children are likely to have caught the travel bug for life, and their itchy feet could see them follow in their parents' footsteps in years to come.

 There's no place like home

Li Min / China Daily

(China Daily 07/03/2014 page20)