Can You Ever Go Home Again?

Jakarta, Indonesia

I feel somewhat guilty to use the word ‘home’ to describe the country I was born in, and the house I grew up in. The thing is… I’m not quite sure what ‘coming home’ should feel like.

by Nick Botter

I left this country when I was a teenager. When I talk about “I’m coming home for the holiday”, this is the place I refer to as ‘home’.

Isn’t there something almost romantic about the phrase, “I’m coming home for the holiday” ?

Something that conjures up an image and sound of an eager knock on the front door, a dog barking in the background, mom opening the door and covering her mouth in surprise. This will inevitably followed by a scene of all of us sitting around a fire doing some catching up…

In reality, my reality at least, there’s nothing romantic whatsoever about coming home.

First and foremost, a fireplace in Jakarta? Hah! It’s like expecting a fridge in an Eskimo village.

Then there’s the reverse culture shock thing.

Why are they so many people?

The airport is chaotic. We get pushed around while waiting for our luggage. Porters kept insisting that we needed their help. People approached us for taxis and cars to rent, SIM-cards and other things. This is before we even left the terminal!

Our our drive away from the airport, cars fill up every available lane and more. People selling anything from slice mangos to cigarettes swarm the cars at traffic stops.

There are people driving, selling, walking, yelling at each other… You’re either bumping into people or stepping over them.

Where do all of these people come from?

The omg-why-are-we-so-close traffic

Nothing illustrates the lack of personal space better than driving in Jakarta.

Most of the times you find your car surrounded like a sardine in a can, mere centimeters from each other. If I want to, I can reach over and turn down the volume of the radio in the car next to us. Motorbikes fill in the what little space remaining between the cars.

The fact that accidents don’t happen more common is the fact that traffic is so bad you’re never moving really fast.

The nosy relatives

Indonesians are nosy by nature. A common greeting in Indonesia is, “Apa kabar?“, quickly followed by “Lagi ngapain? Lagi kemana?” that translates to, “How are you? What are you doing? Where are you going?

Then if it is someone who knows you, however remotely connected you are, what usually follows are, “You’ve lost/gained some weight!” or “Are you married? Do you have kids?

Err, what happened to the house?

Even the pets have changed. I lost my dog (the black-and-white one) last year

There’s… new stuff all over the house and furniture has been re-arranged. My bedroom seems much smaller now with all the new furniture inside. Not to mention that my brother has moved in and practically taken over my comic book and mystery novel collection.

The bathroom has been renovated. The backyard has new trees. And they’ve cut down the durian tree we used to have.


All of these experiences are not new to me. But the familiarity isn’t the comforting kind. It’s not like seeing an old friend who’ve gotten a couple of extra wrinkles. Which I don’t mind. We can then compare how many wrinkles each we’ve gained since the last time we saw each other.

No. Coming home to me is like seeing a long lost cousin who has, somehow, grown a third arm on his back.

From one angle you can’t see the new appendage and everything just seems like its old-normal self — ‘Hey, you… nothing much has changed. Just a few additional wrinkles here and there‘, then you catch a glimpse of his third-arm on his back and you’re like, ‘OMG, what happened to this person I used to know so well ?

And it makes me wonder. After spending a long time away, either for traveling or expat living, would coming home ever be like they make them in the movies? All warm and fuzzy feeling and things are exactly the same like you left them?

Or is it true like the say, you can never go home again…

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6 Replies to “Can You Ever Go Home Again?”

  1. היי הידעתם? ריהוט משרדי הינו כולל כסא מחשב ושולחן מחשב וריהוט משרדי

  2. It is definitely something I think most travelers face at one point or another, going home. When I lived in Italy for a year and came home, it did feel different, but it was still home to me. I think certain aspects change, but for me, the sentiments are still there, the people,etc.

  3. I find the place where you grow up always changes when you live away but for me, "home for the holidays" really means being with family (which changes only subtly). I'm born/raised in Hawaii but lived away from for about a decade now and it feels returning to it always feels foreign before I realize how it's familiar. Good luck to you and hope you have a happy holidays!

  4. Hey there! I stumbled across your blog earlier this week. Congratulations on your upcoming travels in 2011! My husband and I went on an 18 month-long RTW trip in 2005/06 and it was absolutely brilliant. (And, of course, we're still travel addicts now that we're home again!) Fingers crossed your travels bring you guys a great amount of joy too. 🙂

    Like Megan commented, I think it is possible to come home again (though "re-entry" can be pretty difficult!), but what makes it difficult is that we change while we're away while much of what's at home feels like it stayed the same. But, I think knowing about that possible difficulty ahead of time can definitely make it easier to adjust/create a new niche when someone returns from extended travel/expat living.

    Good luck with the rest of your planning! I'm looking forward to reading along. 🙂

    P.S. I'm so sorry to hear about your doggy's passing. I know all too well how difficult that can be…. 🙁

  5. I find the same thing happened to me when I went back to Missouri from Maryland. And the first time I was away from home for 14 months, going back to the U.S. was serious culture shock. Even though I'd grown up there and felt most comfortable there, it was still strange, somehow. I think home stays the same, but we change, and that's what makes it difficult.

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