Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 04 December 2008
Friday, 05 December 2008 00:00

Down With Zugunruhe

Aimless travelling has always been a fixation of mine. At the age of four and from my first toddler steps away from the land where I was born- small town Hualien, home to predominantly aboriginals in the East of Taiwan- I have been moving relentlessly and joyously, further and further away from my natal home. From a blissful childhood in the heart of Namibia, to colourful teenage years in the island countries of Singapore and New Zealand, I grew to be able to effortlessly adapt to diverse cultures and surroundings. My graduation from high school was followed by numerous years in Europe where the meaning of nomadism was taken to a whole new level.
Growing up in three different continents I have become incapable of passing more than two years in one place without the slightest hint of restlessness. Many friends I have made along the way have been puzzled by my avian migratory restlessness (or Zugunruhe as behaviourists would call it) and questioned if I lacked a sense of belonging. Years ago, my answer would’ve been a yes. Though faithful as I may be in keeping contact with people I care about, I’ve always found it difficult to leave all behind and start anew, particularly in my younger years, when networks of friends were formed and meant to linger till marriage and decades after.


You might also say, constant migration has disrupted my ‘train of life’. With each place I move to I left lifelong friends, but friendships that have endured nonetheless, and strayed further away from my roots. My apparent identity crisis has never occurred to me as problematic, yet it has distressed my parents. Why the sudden need to be subjected to a title of people, race, religion and nation when one was meant to be from all over? I had little memory of Taiwan and even less so of Oklahoma where I entered Kindergarten. With each place I discover, I would take on a befitting identity and consequently turning the previous one obsolete.


It leads me to ask: In the earliest days of the Palaeolithic era, hadn’t humans migrated endlessly? Be it voluntary or involuntary migration, anthropologist David Haines has described migration as a ‘vital part of society’, and especially crucial to the economy and the social future of America. I think his hypothesis might very well apply to everywhere else, though it is often an oversimplified challenge.


Travelling as recklessly as I have may not have all the positive markings of a swift path to early academic achievement, but it has taught me one of the most valuable lessons I can ever ask for: the inability to see the language and cultural barrier that separates the locals from the foreigners and the children of immigrants. In Southern Africa I sing and dance to the slow-tempo of kwaito beats, speak Afrikaans (albeit broken) and trudge through the lands of stark contrast. In Europe I live and breathe the languages and way of life, finding refuge on the squalid banks of Die Maas. In Northern Africa I let what Arabic dialect words I know roll off my tongue with ardour, and in Taiwan I stress each and every intonation of my newly regained Mandarin, chortling at my own mistakes and revelling in the moment.

Recently I have decided to make a detour of my pilgrimage, and found my feet set on the tar roads of Taipei, which I might add, appear to be constantly under construction. One wonders how long it might last before that irking feeling of Zugunruhe kicks in again.

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