You Can Never Go Home

As I run around New Jersey for a few weeks, a quote from the 2004 film “Garden State” keeps running through my head:

“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.”

1693389_3e95cdd45d_oThe character who said it, Andrew Largeman, is a New Jersean living in California who has come home due to a death in the family. A struggling actor in Los Angeles, he had not come back to New Jersey for several years, and during that time, much had changed including the house where he grew up.

It is such a familiar topic that it is probably very easy to strike a chord with people who have felt similar. You grew up in a place that you still refer to as home, although that place that you knew, is no longer what it was. Some never look back and therefore that place remains in tact but only as an idea that appears in dreams or thoughts. Others, like myself, go back to see what has changed, even try to hit up the old familiar places that were part of that era when home was home. Sometimes these visits serve to satisfy that need for nostalgia and to forget that time has passed and life is different now. Other times it is a big flop, leaving a deeper feeling of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. That undeniable feeling that the place you call home is in fact not home anymore.

Does it matter? Is something lost if the feeling of home is lost? Is this a long resolved topic that people have by and large agreed is perfectly natural and not important? Probably. There often isn’t time enough for people to run around trying to recapture the past. We leave that to hollywood and the occasional clever website.

There’s a second part to Largeman’s quote:

“Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”

At some point over the last few years, I realized that is part of what I’ve been busy doing. Creating my home. That it happens to be across an ocean and in a different culture is besides the point. For me, home in the present day wasn’t just something that appeared out of thin air, it took work. It took building. It is a process that continues. It is a process that I enjoy very much.

As for New Jersey, I’m always happy to be back among my fellow people who miss the same imaginary place (and bygone era).

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CTRP480 From the Mountains in São Miguel, Azores

avatar Mark Fonseca Rendeiro Moderator Amazon Wishlist Icon

19285488051_ab8c1879de_zSão Miguel, the main island of the breathtaking Azores has been an adventure this summer, traveling in circles around the island from the highest peaks to the sea and back again. It is a place of incomparable beauty and beyond that, a people who have such a good hearted caring nature you dare not ask a small question unless you’re ready for the extensive information and help they’re going to insist on giving you. While the world watches as society changes in interesting and sometimes very painful ways in different parts of the world, here on the island things are as they have surely always been. Cows are grazing. Fish are jumping. Tourists taking pictures. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I recorded this podcast on one of our last nights in the Azores on a trip that has taught me a lot and inspired some future journeys in the effort to experience and learn even more.

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Back in Dubai. Briefly.

Just over one year since the Dubai Taxi Project, I found myself back in Dubai as a supporter of my partner and her teammates on the Dutch National Beach Ultimate Frisbee Team competing at the World Championships. A far different occasion than trying to record stories with taxi drivers and others who are pursuing some goal in Dubai. But nonetheless, a chance to reconnect with the city that left a lasting impression on me, that I have no shame in saying – I like.

IMG_8089One year later Dubai is as busy and bustling as I left it, with many buildings having been completed that were well underway some months ago. As a fan of urban planning, one very interesting development I got to experience regularly was a new tram line down at the Marina. First they impressed the world with their shiny efficient metro, now they’ve gotten into the tram game. And while some locals joked with me that you could walk faster than the tram goes and that you’ll feel rather lonely as no one uses it, I found the tram to be comfortable and good for getting me to places that the metro can’t. But yes it was a bit lonely in there.

The news tells us that the UAE is involved with the joint military operations against ISIS, which sounds heavy yet in Dubai, a very abstract idea. Here it is still what it has long been about- the projects, the work, the business opportunities. Money and development are the priority, later for all that talk about war, poverty, and the rise of the fundamentalist state.

I took far fewer taxi’s this year, both because my budget is small and public transport meets my needs when it comes to getting to a beach frisbee tournament on a daily basis. But when I did get into a taxi, it was very much a continuation of the podcast… minus the microphone.

“Best job I ever had was working for the metro. Good salary, steady work, and we built this beautiful line you see over us. It was a joint venture with a Japanese firm and they employed so many people,” Mo the driver explains as we drive down the busy Sheik Zayed highway which cuts through the middle of the city. “But now its finished. No more big projects like that. Now I just drive a cab. It’s no good.” In his almost 10 years in Dubai, Mo, who hails originally from the troubled city of Peshawar, Pakistan, has done a long list of odd jobs. Mostly as a driver; cars, trucks, loading vehicles, you name it. His story is a familiar one. Last year I drove with a gentleman from Kerala who had worked on the Burj Khalifa. Once the building was completed in 2010, he too was out of work and back to the low paying, long hours of driving a taxi.

Back to my man Mo and our conversation about life, he began to talk about things back home in Pakistan. “Some years ago, when money was better, I moved my family out of Peshawar to Islamabad. It was expensive to move but for the good of my children I did it. In Peshawar it is very difficult for girls to go to school, and we want our daughter to attend school, which now she does in the capital. It is sad but our home region is in a terrible state…” Mo’s voice trails off as he looks over the long line of traffic that has come to a standstill in front of us.

What followed was a very familiar and pleasant exchange about the evils of corruption and the importance of planning for a country or city. He complimented Dubai, despite his own disillusionment with his job, as a place that is not held back by the perils of corruption or lack of initiative. By the end of the taxi ride we were discussing a better world where people are honest and help one another. Again as I so often did in the past, I paid the fare with a generous tip and we shook hands and exchanged well wishes for family members and the future.

Some might say, there is nothing new here under the sun, we knew there were good people in this city, trying hard to make a better life for their loved ones doing work that is neither easy nor well compensated. For me there doesn’t have to be anything new in these stories. I’m happy to hear the voices of those who rarely get a chance to speak, to let them know they are not invisible or alone in wishing and working for a better future. It is brief. It is fleeting. But I still feel it is worth something.

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Live from Shanghai: In the Land of China

avatar Mark Fonseca Rendeiro
In Shanghai, China
Moderator Amazon Wishlist Icon

ctrp473_141128“Fate also plays a role, ” says the middle aged head of an investment group in the sky lobby of the world financial center as we look out over Shanghai, “just imagine the odds that you and I would be here in this building in this city at the same time and have this conversation.”  — Whether it is the result of fate or some of the most genius moves in recent history, I find myself in the world’s largest city, seemingly in the epicenter of the most important place in the world. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” has long been New York City’s motto, but while they were busy singing the same ol tune in the empire state, Shanghai kept chugging right along and one day the world awoke to find that it is now Shanghai where if you make it here, you can definitely make it anywhere. Sorry Frank, somewhere along the way Mao stole your thunder.

The following is a podcast of my reflections and things I have learned during my educational visit to Shanghai this week.  Have a listen!

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