Too foreign for home, too foreign for here…

“So, here you are

Too foreign for home

Too foreign for here.

Never enough for both.”

Ijeoma Umebinyuo

It has been a while that I wrote something on my blog. The last two months in Finland came by with repetitive busy routine with assignments and exams, leaving me with no a really free time for reflect. Actually, I keep reflecting on myself all the time, while waiting for the train, while waiting for the tram, while walking from home to the supermarket, while preparing dinner on my own. However, unlike the last time when I stayed in Taipei, firstly exposed to the totally new life yet getting involved in this new life enthusiastically immediately, and hence, inspired to write almost everything about the new exciting life in Taipei, this time, I have not really get the feel of this Nordic life. In other words, I am still in  a struggle to break into this Finnish society. Every time walking on the street, I see myself more like an outsider of this society, watching people walk by the streets. I don’t really make sense of what they are talking about on the street. I am not quite sure what they are really caring about. I am not patient enough to read the brief history of the place I visit, unlike when I went to any place of Taiwan before.  Recently, I think whether I have not tried hard enough to understand people here or I have not been active enough to make new friends in Finland, which made it difficult for me to get along with this Nordic style. Language barrier is really a big thing that I have expected before but perhaps, not rightly estimated. The pressure of performing well at school is also another formidable thing that somehow keeps me from really enjoying the new life. And I start feeling the invisible pressure from the post-graduate stuff from the Vietnamese friends I know in Finland on how to get jobs in Finland after study or just how to stay there after study. (Even when I am not really sure if I really want to stay here after finishing study here). Some random letters of reject from the recruiters in Finland somehow discouraged me as well. Though it has not been my focus to get a job at this stage, frequent receipts of letters of rejection somehow triggers doubts in me about my capability, and my sense of security. And there were some moments I suddenly missed the life in Asia so much. Most of the time, I missed my family. I missed the busy streets with food stalls around the corners, I suddenly missed the cozy atmosphere, the warm-hearted people. I missed the vacation days between the busy corporate life. I missed the mornings I woke up in Nha Trang, Hoi An of Vietnam or in Tainan, Hualien of Taipei or Bangkok of Thailand. I missed West Lake in Hanoi, where I did not have enough time to come by before going to Finland. I missed all the people I met before I came here. Sometimes I wonder if it is the state of uncertainty that makes me miss my safe life back in Asia, or that this Nordic life is not a right fit for me that makes me miss Asia that bad.

And sometimes, I think about my decision of studying abroad. Studying abroad has been my childhood dream and the idea of studying abroad just haunted me so much after graduating from university. If I still stay in Vietnam, I guess it is nearly impossible for me to get over the idea of studying abroad to move on with other stuffs in life like focusing on career or having a family of my own. Sometimes, I wonder if the idea of getting the ultimate freedom keeps me challenge myself from time to time, enhancing my own border of capacity, and then leading to my desire of studying abroad. Or it is just the desire of mine to find a place that I truly belong to that drives me to try living a life that far away from home.

“So, here you are

Too foreign for home

Too foreign for here.

Never enough for both.”

I read this poem shared on my friend’s Instagram before, sharing about her struggle with study life in Denmark, another Nordic country. Life in these days recalled me the rhythm of the poem. Yesterday, when chitchatting with my housemate, another Vietnamese girl, we talked about our nostalgia for our homeland but we were both unsure whether we would fit the life in Vietnam again. I have been experienced through such re-entry experience with Vietnam when I first come back from Taiwan and I know how it was tougher than before to get along with life in Vietnam again after coming back from abroad.

It made me remember a favourite Taiwanese singer of mine, Cheer Chen (陳綺貞). Cheer Chen is a famous singer, composer and lyricist of Taiwan. She succeeded to build an image of a girl playing guitar, a little bit crazy yet kind and artistic at the same time. Her book was not really excellent, which was mainly a collection of her short and random thoughts on her travel to many places in the world. One thing that links all these fragmented thoughts was her love for Taipei, the place she called “home”. When she wrote about Paris, she mentioned her nostalgia for Zhongshan North Road in Taipei, black tea in Beitou, pork rib rice in Tamsui. When writing about Berlin, she told about her memory of breakfast stalls in Taipei with many small and stylish coffee shops in the small lanes of Taipei.

In her essay named “Are you afraid?” in her book “Placeless place” (不在他方), when getting ill in the faraway land, she wrote: “Apart from feeling regretful for not taking Panadol from my friend’s, I spent the whole night tossing and turning, asking myself about the ultimate meanings of all these journeys of mine. Should it be my burning heart to try to go to the other end of this unknown world, or the fear of the normal life that will soon erase my own self-existence? Lying on the bench at the waiting room of the airport, I got buried deeper and deeper in this thought. On the flight from Berlin to Paris, I just felt my body tortured, feeling uneasy. No matter how this world is even more beautiful, I don’t want to see more but go home.”





Cheer Chen looks calm and a little bit reserved and capricious outside but deep inside her mind, she harbored very simple dreams: “becoming a natural guitarist, writing a book, keeping singing, and getting married.” Her long relationship with her guitarist cum her producer, Tiger Chung (鍾成虎) is among admirable ones in Taiwan.

I read Cheer Chen’s book at the beginning of this year. Her writing style was not really good though but a lot of her thoughts shared in the book strike a chord with mine, especially, with those on Taipei, those on family. Sometimes, I wonder if learning Chinese allowed me to know or actually to wake up another version of mine, a more down-home version, a more family-oriented version, in addition to the capricious and freedom-oriented of mine, which was nurtured during the competitive life at university and at work. I just remembered when I read this book of Cheer Chen, it was the peak season of Big 4 life when I had to travel frequently on the cab in the noisy, crowded and polluted Hanoi. At that time, I just wondered if Cheer Chen were me, if she were a Vietnamese herself, would she be able to write that beautiful about Hanoi as she wrote about Taipei.

Autumn 2018, Helsinki



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