Sip a bit of the soup that makes up this nomad’s mind and journey!
Perhaps it’s more noticeable to someone like me, but the bombardment of news stories about refugees and immigrants from all around the world continues to break my heart.
A few days ago, I was invited by a dear friend and fellow nomad to write something for a presentation she would be sharing this week as part of her doctoral research on migration in Montreal. As she put it, “I want to show them that refugees, migrants have families, feelings, that is what my research is about, for in the literature we often are statistics.”
So, I wanted to share my attempts to do so, which has been a welcome break from my current full-time occupation of changing diapers (nappies) …and to update my sadly neglected blog. This second foray into motherhood has given me a few ideas to tie into culture and travel that I plan on writing up soon as well.
So, thanks to my friend for giving me the opportunity to dust off my fingers and keyboard and put my writer’s cap back on!
Dear friend whom I’ve not yet met,
I am writing to you now by invitation of another friend who will be presenting on a very important topic to you. I have not only met her, but have shared a special part of my journey with her when our paths intersected, and we both temporarily resided in London, Ontario, Canada for a few years when I was at university there.
In fact, London, Ontario has been the longest place I have lived anywhere with the exception of my childhood hometown of Sarnia, Ontario which is about 300 km southwest of Toronto. Before that and since then, I have lived in five countries and about 14 different cities, towns and villages. You’re naturally probably wondering how someone in her mid-30s has spent so much time in migration without being in the military or diplomatic corps.
Well, I actually didn’t have any choice about the first three countries I’d lived in. Incidentally, my life began when I was born in Vietnam, a war-torn country whose new government had stripped its citizens of all their rights and freedoms.
Significantly, I was born to parents who were determined to not let these dismal factors prevent their daughter from experiencing the very best that life could offer — even if that meant risking their lives, leaving their friends and family, and fleeing from the only home they had ever known.
Thus, at the age of three months, I became one of the youngest boat refugees to escape Vietnam.
The only photo of my parents and I taken at the Kowloon refugee camp.
After a harrowing 10 days at sea, we drifted into the harbour of Hong Kong where its British governor granted us asylum. So, I spent the next six months of my life in one of Kowloon’s refugee camps until that fateful day when our camp was paid a visit by a young man who turned out to be the Canadian ambassador at the time.
Many countries had started pushing us refugees away by closing their shores or their borders by capping asylum quotas. World leaders, however, were forced to take notice when thousands of citizens in countries across the globe began to cry out on behalf of refugees like me. Together, they petitioned their governments to take in more boat refugees, and they privately sponsored those whom their government could not aid.
I’m grateful to say that this is what happened in Canada. Ottawa claimed it had met its intended intake quota at the time, but it agreed to take in more when various groups like churches, and individuals across the country wanted to do more. My parents had never even heard of this country, but agreed to go once they learned it was a democracy and that we could begin our new lives immediately (versus having to wait in the camp indefinitely to seek asylum elsewhere such as the US). We were then sponsored by a group of families from a little known Canadian city named Sarnia. Thus, I moved to my third country by the time I was 10 months-old.
I am a very proud Canuck and will always consider Canada to be my “home.” But, for the past 10 years, I have become nomadic again, and have moved several times between the United States and the United Kingdom. At least these times have been by choice and, thankfully, without such desperate motivating forces such as war to prompt them. Nope, nowadays, I am no longer a “refugee” or “immigrant,” but a “migrant,” I suppose, if you want to get technical (or “resident alien” as the Americans so unglamorously put it). And now I have the privilege of choosing the destinations of my relocation, based on less life or death reasons; to be where I feel my heart and soul beckon.
The first time I left Canada, I moved to Texas for a spell because my immediate family had relocated there after my dad got a lucrative job transfer with his work at the time. I had just returned after doing a post-grad internship year in Vancouver, BC, without any success of landing a job. So, figured I would go as well to see what all the fuss was about (and because I really didn’t like the idea of being left behind in Canada on my own at the time).
Unfortunately, I never quite felt like I fit in no matter how hard I tried and even after finding a good job that included an opportunity to attend law school locally, meeting some wonderful friends, and being with my family. Something just felt like it was missing. And for me, I knew that “something” was on the other side of the proverbial “Pond” in England.
Growing up, I quickly established a love for English literature and always hoped that I could someday journey to the
The Inklings Corner at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to hang out and chat about their writing.
land of my favourite writers like C.S. Lewis, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen. Perhaps this childhood wish grew stronger as I grew more disenchanted with my Texan life. Life paled even after I returned to Canada eventually when I couldn’t bear it any longer “down South,” family or not, to the point where my physical and mental health began to suffer.
To make a long story short, I decided to quit moping and to chase my dreams instead of waiting for them to happen. So even without knowing anyone, without any job offers and without knowing where I was going to live, I bought a one-way flight to London Gatwick Airport in the UK. I packed up what I had brought back from Texas, successfully applied for a working holidaymaker visa, and off I flew.
That was just over 10 years ago.
Since then, I have met and married my British hubby, given birth to two beautiful children, and started a career working for an international development and humanitarian organization. In fact, it was because of my work that we relocated to Seattle, Washington for nearly three years before more recently returning to live again in England.
It was a difficult decision because I really wanted to live closer to my parents and siblings who had since returned to Canada. But this time, I had to make the best decision for my own family, and this resulted in us deciding to return to the UK. The bulk of our reasons were based on affordable healthcare, being closer to my husband’s family, and various social and cultural options (for example, I’ll take five weeks vacation over two weeks any day!). Most of all, we wanted to be back on Europe’s doorstep to fulfil both mine and my husband’s passion for travel.
Also, due to my nomadic lifestyle, my family had long ago learned to keep connected with me via the wonderful technological tools available to us nowadays via the internet. Things like Skype, social media like FaceBook, and using FaceTime and iMessage on our Apple devices have been life lines for me to stay in touch with my family and friends abroad. No, it’s definitely not been the same as being together in person. But, it’s definitely been the next best thing that has helped to sustain me and help keep me in the loop without actually being there.
And it has been worth it because as much as I miss being able to spend live time with my family and loved ones back “home,” I can still be where I feel my heart and soul can be fed as well. I know that living like this isn’t for everyone. For me though, life is too short to miss out on the opportunity to continue experiencing the ways and places of how others live.
St Mary’s Abbey in York, Yorkshire
As my above mentioned friend once remarked to me, perhaps, I will continue wandering until I find that place that I just can’t bear to leave. Once I do find it, I’ll be sure to send you a postcard!
Wish you were here,
The Bok Choy Nomad