Over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time combing through the stuff I left behind. Opening long-closed boxes and marveling at objects I didn’t remember owning. Weighing whether things are meaningful or useful enough to travel across the world to a new home. The physical and emotional work of this sort of excavation is considerable, but it was also a rewarding process because of the moments of surprise.
I had no memory of once wanting to become a naturalist when I grew up. Or of conducting a survey of my Gr. 7 classmates and teachers regarding how much homework is enough and what the purpose of homework should be. But it was fascinating to realize just how much I have stayed the same since I was very young.
For instance, I uncovered many old notebooks filled with quotations. At some point in my teenage years I developed a love for other people’s words. Not just any words, of course, but those that managed to eloquently capture some reality I had just started to become aware of. And so I took to collecting. I found an old school notebook and copied out these phrases by hand, in no particular order. While this project eventually became a chore, with the compulsion to archive weighing down the joy of finding new quotations, I kept the notebooks, and periodically re-read them. Though I didn’t have time to consider their contents during this most recent visit, I realized that in a way I have grown up and taken on a professionalized version of the same process. Instead of just combing through existing wisdom, I now interview people to prompt new insights as well. I’m still fascinated by the captivating things people say, or occasionally don’t say.
Here then is one gem from the project I have been wrapping up on Hong Kong return migrants and changes in everyday life. It came at the end of our last interview and managed to bring together themes that many participants had been expressing:
For me, human beings are animals of habits, patterns. So as life goes on, we do things calling the routine; I eat the same breakfast. Especially we look at most of us who come from a modernized educational system and we look at our schooling. Physically, that’s fitting us into a certain kind of a pattern, certain kind of a routine, everyone is roughly the same. You get a little different choice here and there but roughly, it’s the same.
That being said, different cultures can have very different ways of setting these routines and I was very fortunate to be able to experience tertiary education within another cultural setting. This cultural setting is very different to the one that I had grown up with. And going back to what I said about life processes being cyclical. I mean, I’m in Hong Kong, I eat, I play, I sleep, I do things like that. I’m in the US, same. I’m in Australia, same. However, when I do it in a different space, in a different time, in a different cultural context, I cannot help but look more and clearly, oh, so what it is that I’m doing. Oh, I’m eating because I’m eating something that I don’t usually eat, I am forced to go out of my pattern. Oh, so this is a burrito, I mean, I never had a burrito in Hong Kong prior to my stay in the States. Oh, so this is your sweet and sour pork in the States, well, it’s noting like the sweet and sour pork I’ve ever had in my life. So you call this sweet and sour pork, okay, fine. Things like that.
And looking at life like that is just, first of all, for me, it gave me question marks, sparks of question marks to help me look at my life. What exactly am I doing?
And I dare say, for all of us, it boils down to very simple things. Doing things that you enjoy doing, pursuing it. Whether professionally or not, do it just as a habit or do something that you enjoy doing repeatedly over and over again. Hanging out with people you like hanging out with. Again, professionally or not, just go on with that.
– Daniel, Single, 35-39 Years Old