For the majority of my life, my Indonesian background felt like a distant relative: the annoying aunt that would pry into your life over a family gathering and then ignore you for the rest of the year. Perhaps it was because of the overwhelming shame that I felt when my foreign accent would flicker on and off as I talked. Or maybe it was because my tongue would scream at the sight of black pepper whereas my cousins would practically inhale sambal for every meal. But when I visited my family in Surabaya last February, my initial discomfort was replaced with the familiarity of the tingling heat, both of the sun and of the food. Looking out of a backseat window, I felt a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the juxtaposition of my two homes. The crumbling Surabaya roads contrasted the smooth, bump-less bus ride I experienced every day in Shanghai, where I live.
I am culturally non-binary - I have called so many places “home” that, prior to my visit to Indonesia, it had lost its meaning in my mind. Hong Kong, Taipei, Surabaya, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Providence… beyond “where” is home, what is “home” anyway? The city that I was born in, but now, struggle to find restaurants to eat at? The city that gave me my childhood memories, but one I hadn’t visited in four years?
My trip to Indonesia made me realize that none of my “homes” are better than the others; they all serve to refine my perspective of my identity and my worldview. I realized the powerful role of spirituality in Indonesia when I learned that my family’s Christian neighborhood was just twenty minutes away from a terrorist attack. I reassessed the privilege with which I turned on the air conditioning and turned off the hot water. Taiwan shaped my childhood, and Providence will shape my future. Whereas the Shanghai skyscrapers stand tall with their heads held high, the creaking Indonesian durian stands remind me of the home that awaits my next visit.