Where is home?
Isn’t the internet simply marvellous? The global communication network has just informed me that as well as being almost exactly the same age as hip hop (I know! Rap is 44 years old!) I have, according to a popular social networking service, also been living in the gorgeous city of Chiang Mai for a decade. To give that a bit of perspective when I first set foot in this city the world was on the verge of learning what a Kardashian is, Harry Potter was making his final appearance in hard-back and the Land of Smiles was yet to be contaminated by the iPhone.
So is Chiang Mai my home? Living here for 10 years surely suggests that it is. But what is a home? The definition is a noun meaning ‘the place where one lives permanently’. As I live nowhere else, and a decade is undeniably a pretty permanent length of time to spend in any one place, this has to be my home.
And home is such a reassuring term. It is a safe place. Home is where the heart is; home sweet home; make yourself at home; she was quite at home discussing the subject; we are home and dry. It’s a place where things flourish — the rainforest is home to half the world’s plants and animals. Yet it also has harsher uses — hammer the message home; her remark was too close to home; his account brought home the tragedy of the situation and, of course, who the hell is Tom, when he’s at home?
Yet, although I can argue that Chiang Mai is my home by definition, I am unlikely ever to be able to call myself anything more than a long-time visitor to Thailand.
There are other ways I could define myself. I could accept the term immigrant — ‘A person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence’. I’m fine with that. After all, most nation-states seem to be categorising larger and larger percentages of their populations in this way. But surely there should be some sort of statute of limitations on the term. Perhaps when the definition of immigrant becomes superseded by the definition of home? Of course I am aware that permanent residency is possible in Thailand through efforts such as investment, ownership of a business, getting hitched or making a baby and that after a decade of residency I could be legible for naturalisation. Realistically none of this is going to happen, so an immigrant I may well remain.
Or perhaps I should try on ‘transnational’ for size. Social anthropologist Prof. Nina Glick-Schiller defines transnational as: “those persons who having migrated from one nation-state to another and live their lives across borders, participating simultaneously in social relations that embed them in more than one nation-state.” Yet this too is sadly not representative of me. I have no particular ties with my country of birth, no dependants waiting for me to send them money and am not interested in any cross-border political, religious, economic or social movements. As interconnectivity increases around the globe, all I want to do is spend my time hidden away selfishly bumbling around my little corner of northern Thailand.
I could refer to myself as a ‘digital nomad’ but, although most of my professional time is expressed as a series of 0s and 1s, a digital nomad I am definitely not. Nomad suggests travelling, and my aged laptop is very much like the sloth victim in the movie Se7en — it would “die right now of shock if you were to [unplug it].” Even if I could move it, sitting down in a coffee-shop (bloody hell, the term ‘coffice’ is actually a thing) or ‘work-space’ with my aged Taiwanese plastic lump of a laptop would make me feel like a kid turning up to his first day at school in hand-me-down clothes next to all those ultra-thin titanium numbers with a fruity logo on them.
Whatever the label I choose for myself the final arbiter is my passport. That little burgundy book informs me of exactly who I am, whether I like it or not, every time I hand it over to be examined, stamped or photocopied.
But, where is home? The answer, I think, should be wherever one feels most at home. And that, for me, is a corner of Thailand called Chiang Mai.