Where are you from? vs. Where were you last?

Where are you from? is a question I am often asked, and to which I am getting more uneasy to answer. It feels redundant. Or sometimes, bureaucratic. Is home where my passport was processed? Is it where I was educated? Where my views were formed? Where most of my friends live? Some of these questions have one, many, or no answers at all.

In Pico Iyer’s TED talk on Where is Home?, he says,

And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.

He goes on,

“[M]ovement was only as good as the sense of stillness that you could bring to it to put it into perspective.”

When one “becomes himself” in many different places, and has had some time to reflect on each past “life,” knowing how that past place figured in one’s present, the notion of home seems less of a spatial question. Home does not need a permanent address.

I left my cities (Manila, New York, Barcelona, Seoul, and I suppose eventually, Singapore) with significant pieces of myself. Reciprocally, these cities have altered me as well. If I ever return to any of them, I will find them changed, without me, and I will then have to rediscover my way through them. In this sense, the idea of home is a temporal one.

I prefer the question, What was your last stop before this? It implies a potential difference in scale that the recipient of the question is in charge of—it can easily be just that one last city, or many cities before that. Memories of what just passed are easier to recall.

Or better still, ask me where I am going, to which I will have an even less definite answer, but it’s still a more interesting one that both of us can speculate on. The best questions are the ones where you can exercise a bit of imagination.

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