I’ve been experiencing this nagging feeling the past few weeks.
It started the day my mom, Paa, and Loung Facetimed me from the Korean airport, en route to Laos. We bought Mom an iPad so that she could “see” us when we couldn’t come home from wherever we are. And apparently, since she is more of a world traveler than I am these days, we need it to keep up with her.
A few days later she called from Dongpalane, the town I haven’t seen since 2006. She knows the time difference all too well and yet somehow manages to call me at the most inconvenient times – running late for work, phone in one hand, coffee mug tucked under my chin, fumbling for keys with my other hand, tripping over the dog who is strategically sitting behind my knees; or at 7 a.m. on a Saturday when I’ve been working 12-hour days all week.
When she calls, the whole village is in the background. The past few days, they have been celebrating Pii Mai Lao, the Buddhist new year. It’s the last day and they are going out with gusto. Everyone asks, Goong Nang, why do you look like you’ve just woken up? I reply, I’m actually still asleep. They laugh and invite me to join them for pho and kao niew. They want to know when I will visit again.
My cousin, Lan, just got out of the hospital after experiencing some inner ear issues. They gave her a shot for the nausea and vomiting. What else can we do for her? Mom asks. I must know what to do because I wear scrubs to work.
Most everyone has had a little too much Beer Lao and lao Lao. The kids I knew as babies have grown up, shy teenagers who smile and address me as an elder. All of my cousins are now on Facebook. I know because they all sent me friend requests. They have smart phones and wifi, a vast difference from 10 years ago. It is strange to see them so technologically advanced. Mom goes from room to room, making sure everyone has a chance to wish me a happy new year.
The aroma of nostalgia is so strong, I can’t get out of bed when the call is over. I look at old photographs. I crave homemade sausages (even though I have not eaten pork since 1999) and sour pickled fruits. I remind myself to call my dad. I hug my dog extra tight (until he grunts and squirms away) because I already miss him in the unforseeable future when he is no longer with me. I get a tightness in my chest as I realize this is the first New Year without my mother taking me to the temple near the town where I grew up. This new year was a quiet affair with just me, Singh, B, and the turtles.
I realize the nagging feeling is called homesickness.
In the silence, I think about how fast life moves and how easily I am fooled into thinking that time stopped after 2006 in the town of Dongpalane. I realize that I can’t describe “home” as one particular place anymore and that when I say I’m homesick, it’s not just the Shire that I miss. I suppose, in truth, my family has been dispersed all over the place for decades but it’s not until I reflect on moments like this that I recognize the passing of time so profoundly.