Monday, June 22, 2009

'Where you from?'

'Where you from?'

It's a question asked here by the kids who wander the temples and streets of tourist areas plying their goods. It's asked to lead you into a short conversation that is meant to show you how good their English is and butter you up with their sweetness.

'Hello. Where you from?'

New Zealand'

'The capital of New Zealand -Wellington'

'Wow thats pretty good. Your English is pretty good too'

'Yes I go school in morning/evening (depending on what time of day you have run into them). It costs lot of money to go to school. I have to pay teacher. You buy book/bracelet from me money for school.'

Of course most don't go to school at all. As I think I've said before in another post, they are much too valuable as cute little income generators to their parents or minders.

But that really isn't what this post is about.

That question: 'Where you from?' is a loaded question for someone like me.

Where am I from?

When it has been asked by a grubby half pint totting books in a basket half his size I sometimes answer, 'You mean where was I born or where do I live?' I usually get a cheeky grin as they try, 'Where you live?'

Phnom Penh', I say.

Yeah right! Is the look I get, accompanied by a nervous giggle.

'True' I say 'I've lived in Phnom Penh for a year. Maybe you mean where was I born?'

'Yes', they try again.

'England', I say.

'The capital England-London', in a triumphant tone.

And thats where the conversation ends because the answer to that question, 'Where you from?' is - well- it's a bit complicated.

An American friend asked me the same question at the gym the other day. She had just worked out I was a kiwi not an Aussie, as she had previously assumed.

'So, where abouts in New Zealand are you from?'

The answer goes something like this:

I was born in Birmingham, England just as my father finished his PhD at Birmingham University.

But thats not where I'm from.

I was 6 weeks old when we moved to Makassar, Indonesia.

But thats not where I'm from.

I started school in Singapore.

But thats still not where I'm from.

I spent my formative years in Asia before my parents moved us 'home' to New Zealand.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Both my parents are Kiwis, one from the middle of the North Island and one from the deep South. We moved to Wellington where I went to high school. Where I expected I would feel like I was where I belonged, where I fit in, 'home' but instead felt different, an outsider. A typical feeling for a third culture kid but noone used that term back then.

When I'd finished high school I moved to Palmerston North to go to Massey University where I met J and we had B and later M. We eventually bought a house in 'Palmy' which we still own but will almost certainly never live in again. In fact, although Palmerston North, New Zealand, is the place I have lived in for the longest period in my life and although it was once 'home', it is still not where I come from.

The house we lived in in Wellington isn't 'home' either, mum and dad moved over the hill to Masterton more than 10 years now- to a house I have never lived in, a house with no childhood memories, a house that is theirs-but not mine. Our old house became 'our old house', home to someone else.

I am a Kiwi. No doubt about that. I am a New Zealander. I carry a New Zealand passport (although I could carry a British passport too if I ever wanted/ needed to).

Where am I from?
Definately here (in the picture above) - but where is 'home'? Well, its New Zealand too. All of New Zealand. And 'home' is also here- Phnom Penh- where my family are (yes we even have a room for B although he hasnt actually used it yet it is refered to as B's room). And when we move on, well that will become 'home' too in a remarkably short period of time.


Connie said...

Hello fellow Earthling! :) I know what you mean... I've run into distant (not close) relatives and been asked "Where you from?" too. At least I can point to a common ancestor, but that's only a little bit of the answer! I don't feel 'from' anyplace specific.

Leone said...

"spot on" posting ......

it does takes time to realise that where you are from - is just a figment of your imagination!!

You could just say that you are a "child of the universe".

We are at that point of trying to decide where we may end up retiring. Australia's capitol cities are out of the question and bank book too!!

Anonymous said...

LOVE your answers to that question!! Great post.

Anonymous said...

btw - I can't find an email address for you ... would you shoot yours to me at gemgem76 (at) gmail (dot) com?

Donna said...

I, on the other hand, grew up in one place for the first almost 30 years of my life. So it's odd to me that my own kids can't answer that question. Odd, but kind of cool.

Shalini said...

How very interesting! Yes, the "where are you from" can have such a complicated answer! But in essence, you are from the place where you feel most at home.