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.