The ongoing Cannes Film Festival got me thinking about my trip to Cannes recently. It was so interesting to see pictures of stars on the red carpet, near the streets that I walked in Cannes! It’s one of the most magical things about traveling the world—the feeling that the world becomes smaller somehow because you’ve set foot on those once-foreign paths.
I was talking to a friend recently who asked me if I felt somehow homeless because I’ve been traveling the world for the past two and a half years. At first glance, it seemed that not having deep roots in a particular place would have that effect on a person. But the situation was different for me because my stays were usually at least a couple of months in a single location. This allowed me to make new friends and experience a place like a local. Instead of just visiting all the tourist traps, I got to experience a sliver of life as lived in places like the South of France, South Korea, Tokyo, Germany, and now Taiwan.
The most amazing thing that happened to me since I started traveling abroad was the feeling that I now have multiple places to call home. It was a long way from the sense of rootlessness that I had felt in my teenage years.
I was born in central Vietnam and lived there for the first seven and a half years of my life. Then I immigrated to the States with my family to begin a new life there. But growing up, I never felt like I belonged to either the Vietnamese or the American culture. It was a limbo between the two worlds as I integrated into life as an American while still grappling with the Vietnamese cultural expectations of my parents.
The feeling of rootlessness was further crystallized when I came back to visit Vietnam as a teenager. It became clear to me that I didn’t quite belong there because I was too American with my Western ideals. But when I went back home, things also felt out of place because of my Asian-influenced upbringing.
I don’t know when the shift began for me, but what I did remember was having a conversation when I was in Vietnam last year. A person I’d just met at a mixer was telling me about how a friend of hers got reverse culture shock when she came back to Vietnam after studying overseas. She asked me if I felt the same way, and it reminded me of my dilemma growing up in a bicultural upbringing.
“No, I used to feel that way, but I don’t anymore. And I don’t know when it changed,” I said to her.
I still cannot pinpoint the exact moment when the switch in mentality happened for me. But after having lived in so many different places, I now feel as if I have multiple homes instead of one. I feel just as comfortable walking the noisy streets of Hanoi as I do traversing the ritzy boulevards of Cannes and walking the Promenade of Nice.
Perhaps it was less a function of my travels or of the places I’ve been as much as it was a function of time and changing expectations. I don’t know if travel had changed me, or if I was changing anyway, and my travels just happened to be the backdrop to those changes.
I am sitting in my apartment in Taipei, Taiwan, chamomile tea by my side as I write this article. It had rained today, as it frequently does in Taipei. The rain had brought out a more reflective state from which I contemplated the journeys I’ve taken and how they’ve changed me. I had not expected to find myself feeling connected to so many different places, but am very glad that it turned out that way. Where I’ll go after my stay in Taipei, I still don’t know. What I do know is that it will be yet another place to call home.