“Oh hi, we haven’t seen you in a while.”
This was not the greeting I was expecting when I returned to my favourite local beef noodle restaurant in the back alley behind my old apartment in Taipei. Seeing as I hadn’t lived there for three years, I assumed I would be forgotten. Just another foreign face among many. But I was wrong. They hadn’t forgotten me. They smiled at me like I was an old friend and they remembered my precise order. As the old tattooed Taiwanese guy went over to slice some noodles into my bowl, I sat there feeling amazed. Most of the time, nothing changes. We assume because we’ve changed, that everything will have changed. But these people who run successful restaurants, they are still there. And what keeps people coming back is this kind of attitude. He could have just been pretending, but it seemed pretty genuine. It felt good to be ‘home’. And that broth! No one can make beef noodle soup as good as that place. I walked back to the apartment in a state of awe.
My smile remained as I noticed the amount of letters lying in the basket of my bicycle under the stairs. Yes, my bicycle still sits there, waiting for my return one day. She may be covered in rust, with love-heart shaped dust, but she is as loyal as ever. The fact that my old roommate has let it sit there for years, and that no one else has dared throw it out too, makes me feel overjoyed. Returning to Taiwan is really like returning home. The streets still sparkle, still smell of the same deliciousness. The same old men play cards in the park, nestled deep under the trees where squirrels and butterflies frolic by day and bats by night. Everyone in Taiwan looks happy.
Anyway, enough about how much I love Taiwan. That’s not something I need to annoy you all with. I just wanted to write about the feeling of coming home, even if it’s not your ‘actual’ home. I tend to feel that way in a lot of places, especially Scotland and Taiwan, and South Africa of course. But even in places like Luang Prabang too. When I visited there for the first time in February this year, I instantly fell in love. As I walked the streets dotted with monks flitting in and out of temples, I felt like I’d been there before, like I had lived there once upon a time. I didn’t need to use a map. The streets felt familiar, the people like family.
Perhaps it’s a mindset. A way to instantly feel comfortable in a place. Just let it assume the role of ‘home’ and you’re instantly on the path to a wonderful experience. As the saying goes ‘home is where the heart is’. And if we break this down into simple terms, the heart is wherever you are. And thus, everywhere you go is technically ‘home’. I like that. Of course there will be some places that just don’t float your boat, and that’s OK. You don’t need to give your heart to everywhere. But if you feel at ease, please open your heart and accept a place with wide open arms and a curious hunger for everything that place encompasses. Don’t be afraid to let it crawl under your skin, burrowing there forever more. That’s what makes us human. The fact we can let things, people, places affect us. The fact we are able to open ourselves up and say “yes, here I am, here’s my heart, I am vulnerable.” We should want to be moved, want our hearts and our world to be rocked on a daily basis. Why settle for anything less? Find the place, the person, the job, the book…whatever it is that makes you feel at ‘home’, makes your heart feel like it’s right where it’s supposed to be in that moment.
And if you think you haven’t found ‘home’ yet, maybe you just need to open yourself up a bit and start collecting things around you to build your ‘home’ in all its metaphorical glory. Live a life that blows your mind everyday.