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Xu Xi

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You must live somewhere. So that is home for now, you say. Wherever you lay your head. Wherever an intimacy of persons, places or possessions compels.

Home sweet home, if only for a few nights of a business trip or other command appearance (family; friends; fearless adventure; f-f-f u I don’t care I have to be there, wherever there is come hell or high watermark, waterline, water being still a source of life). A contract to work and live as far away as you never anticipated from the place that used to be home. A war zone or Chinese economic miracle zone perhaps, or, less melodramatically, the city where Mother still lives and grows older, alone in her Alzheimer’s home, and even you who are neither the most loving nor filial child could deny a need so negatively culpable that the only course of action was to say, yes I'll “go home.” You are the flexible one, after all and the siblings, the only “we,” agree. Those intimate persons of the spirit of home.

To live “at home.” For now (or for as long as it takes because life is bracketed now, forcibly placed between two curvaceous pillars of an aside). There used to be a home you lived in on the other side of the Pacific across a vast and empty land. In the Adirondacks. The comfortable home with no mortgage that stores your lifetime’s possessions, the one that is the wrong color (but not so obnoxiously wrong you couldn’t wait a year or two to repaint. Or five or forever and then, time to sell, the market rises up after a long slump and you will not have lived there for, oh(!) maybe so long you set off the alarm because you accidentally punch the wrong code). The home that is becoming merely a house. For who knows how long now that the space called home is a comfortless, barren, rooftop squat in an upwardly cramped city?

Not the space but home as life. Is it imperative to call some space home whether a cardboard box on a hospitable city street where a warm enough climate prevails or this raised ranch on an inhospitable but gorgeous country road where autumn is season of mellow fruitfulness and the wardrobe changes for trees on project runway?

Blink and another year passes.

So here, “at home” in Hong Kong when you thought you lived in New York. The City. The State. Okay, both, but only a train ride or puddle jump apart. On TVB Pearl a giant panda puppet repeatedly squeaks “who is Benjameenn?” in a Chinese-English voice, this Zoo of Talking Pandas a brand image for a “National Treasures” program. Pandas are precious in our Motherland-home, although there were no pandas in your Hong Kong childhood. Nor was there land occupied by persons, places, possessions where once there was only water in that deep, deep harbor Charles Elliot considered strategic and thus conquered this city for England, my England, when Colony was Queen (but today the repeatable squeak is Content is King for media content that is just believable or desirable enough to regularly consume despite the distraction of ursine speech or animated brands sauntering across the laptop, tablet, berry, cell of whatever connection is the home that blinds).

Is home “home” only by default, almost defunct? You stare at the harbor from a treadmill at your gym, counting four-plus minutes for the ferry to traverse from Kowloon to the island. The journey used to take ten – a mile across – when Hong Kong really felt like home back in ’66 (19 not 10 as accidental history does not a home make despite our once-upon-a-British- colonial-time) and the harbor was your yard, the vista from a seventeenth floor flat. When water was clean enough to buoy swimmers for an annual cross-harbor race. Who would swim the cesspool now of this disappearing sea? Would Elliot cringe at this cultivation or was this his vision too, that the barren rock would, like Chinese Monkey, burst into life, to become home for millions (seven and counting) stacked higher and higher on land stolen from the sea, raising Atlantis to the heavens for, oh(!) a blink of the eye, until we sink from the weight of too many persons, places, possessions, and return to our native home, a barren rock again?