by Marcus Tan on his stay in Hiroshima.
When you think of ‘homecoming’, you think of all the comforts that define a home – your family, of warmth, maybe a pet corgi bounding over to sit in your lap. A friend once told me: Home is where you can be at ease while taking a poo – the sheer ridiculousness of it made me laugh, and yet, there was a tinge of truth beneath it all.
After all, the idea of home has you at ease in more ways than one, doesn’t it?
Toilet humor aside, the idea of homecoming has this sense of dropping your weariness at the door, to be welcomed home by a loving, supporting family, doesn’t it? That’s usually the case, but for someone who has to take off one mask and put on another, to be responsible for the upkeep of the house… what is homecoming, really, but the assumption of old responsibilities once left behind, seeing the same set of dishes left unwashed, the resuming of old grudges, of seeing strangers under the same roof?
It wasn’t ‘homecoming’ – for me, each weekend was just ‘coming to a house.’
I went on a homestay programme organized by NUS’ Japanese Studies department to Hiroshima last December. The Singapore-Hiroshima Association served as our liaison on the other end, and while our days were spent doing guided tours around Hiroshima, our ‘free time’ was spent with our host families.
The day tours were amazing, definitely, but I think if there was one – and only one – thing I could commit to memory, I’d choose to remember the kindness that my host mum showed me, in the six days that I spent under her roof.
There were quite a few incidents (hilarious, on hindsight) that characterized my trip, like my silly assumption that all airports were open 24 hours – spoilt by Changi Airport, of course. I had planned to sleep in Hiroshima Airport, but no, I was thrust into the cold with halting phrases of “No. Here, closed. 24 hour, no.” from a security guard who could not believe that there was someone stupid enough to try to sleep in his airport. I ended up seeking refuge at a nearby hotel, and lived out of my suitcase until the next day (I think I had it down to an art form, actually), when I finally met my host family.
After dinner, my host mum took a photo of me when I was helping to wash the dishes. She was showing off to her friends on Facebook that for the first time ever, she had a guest who could help with the housework. I later told her that it was my pleasure, and that I’m just glad to have a bed for the night – and after she heard my spiel about sleeping in a hotel lobby, she just kept laughing.
I think it was that point where I felt like I wasn’t just a guest anymore – they felt like family to me.
My homestay family stayed in Hesaka, a suburb area two stops away from Hiroshima City. Naturally, the suburbs were full of little streets and inroads that were impregnable to the outsider; again, I made a terrible assumption – this time, that I could remember the way back. I attribute this partially to my groggy self in the morning, and partially due to the sun setting early in winter – the way back looked starkly different to the route which I took in the morning. With the falling snow threatening to cleave my nose right off my face, I figured I had no time to hesitate; I did not want to trouble my host mum to walk ten minutes in the snow to come and get me, so I headed out into the cold with only the directions I took down earlier in the day to guide me.
I have made some very questionable life decisions over the course of 21 years, but this one took the cake. After fifteen minutes of walking, I could finally be honest to myself – I was lost, cold, and my nose felt like it would be cleaved off my face any minute now. All the houses and streets looked the same by night, and I could not figure out the appropriate street or how to read a Japanese address! After some searching, I managed to duck into a barber shop to borrow a phone from a friendly おじいさん (ojiisan – old man). Three-or-so minutes later, my host mother came to fetch me, and after a few sheepish apologies and thank-yous, we were home.
Finally getting out of the cold, saying だだいま (tadaima – I’m home) and hearing my host mom say おかえり、マーカスくん (okaeri – welcome back, with my name in Katakana) felt like the end of a long adventure. I felt like a fool, because I knew that what I did made her worry. Through it all, though, she was all smiles and laughs; hearing neither irritation nor anger in her voice is something I’ll keep with me for life.
She was just glad I was safe, and I was just glad I was home.
Homecoming means something very, very different to me, because in a way, I’m not quite home yet. We have had other adventures since that day (one of which includes the two of us acting in a comedy skit, with a wig on) and all of it built up to the one Christmas present that I never knew I needed – what some may call the gift of ‘family’.
Homecoming, huh? I would like to go back, to see my host family again, and to hear her say おかえり once more. I guess that is what it means to me.