The Song of the Familiar

I remember hearing in a psychology class that familiarity brings joy. They said that it has been studied that when you show someone something they recognize, they feel better. I don’t recognize anything here. When in the U.S., I didn’t notice it, but familiarity was all around me: an idiom used in class, a billboard with an old saying on it, the tinkle of an ice cream truck in the summer, the smell of eggs frying in the morning, the drum of a guitar. This barrage of culture swirled around me, but I didn’t pay attention. All of the sounds, images, colors, bits of language were the background singers to my American life. They constantly threw one message in my ear: “You are home”.

Now I’ve moved to a new and foreign place, devoid of familiarity. This new place is home to someone. In the streets I hear the clink of chopsticks against porcelain and the slurp of noodles. I hear the songs of the garbage truck calling out the residence to bring out their trash, I smell the smells of stinky tofu from the night market that stays in my hair. I see the quick bows of deference from salespeople, and I see 7-Elevens on every corner. All of this must be a relaxing soundtrack to a Taiwanese person during their day. But to me – to me who is startled by each sound, jolted by each smell, and confused by each word, to me this is not a song of the familiar, but a cacophony of confusion, a riotous roar in my ear, a continuos chanted chorus: “You do not belong, you do not belong”, that follows me all the way home.

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One thought on “The Song of the Familiar

  1. A familiar quote from C.S. Lewis comes to mind when reading this post: .”The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” One day there will be a flower whose scent is utterly satisfying and more enduring than these fading roses, a song that thrills us beyond today’s great chorales, and the news of a true and lasting king of which we will never tire. The flower, the song, the news, will not be American nor Taiwanese. It will be of an eternal kingdom, and it will be perfect. Beautiful thoughts Kate.

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