(re)discovering home


Like many people around the world, I enjoy traveling. I have written other articles about my experiences traveling and living abroad, have shared pictures of my travels on my Instagram account, and enjoy speaking with my friends about the travels that we have taken. It’s a hobby of mine and a passion.


For me, traveling is not about seeing landmarks or doing specific things. Rather, it's about connecting with a place. One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to walk around aimlessly. Sometimes I walk through residential areas looking at the homes which look so different from the houses where I grew up in Canada yet are still homes where people live just as they do anywhere else. I can recall doing this on my very first trip overseas without my parents to Hong Kong - looking up at the laundry that hung out of the windows of apartment buildings, seeing the familiar red Chinese calendars on their walls that my own grandparents have on their own. Other times I walk through urban areas looking at small local cafes where people are sitting alone while reading, writing, and working. I liked to do this when I was living in South Korea and visiting other cities, especially those along the coast like Gangneung, where I saw people sitting at windows with laptops or piles of textbooks as they faced the blue sea.


I like to imagine what my life would be like if I lived in whatever city I'm visiting - What would be my favourite local restaurant? Where would I go for walks at night? What kind of neighbourhood would I live in? When I feel myself connecting with a place in that way, it’s like I imagine feeling at home somewhere unfamiliar. My favourite place that I have visited would be the steppes of Mongolia, where this exercise in imagining my own life was extremely difficult. I had never had any experiences living the way that I temporarily did there amongst nomadic families who cared for livestock in remote locations, hours away from any paved roads. Still, despite the strangeness of the experience for me, I found myself connecting to the people like the nomadic man who laughed at my stubbornness when I refused to wear a hat in a blizzard and complimented my horseback riding skills or the woman who made me a tiny model of her own home which I stayed in out of some loose wool from one of her sheep. They made me feel like I belonged through their interactions when I could not find a sense of belonging in the environment.


Despite the considerable time that I’ve spent traveling, I have not dedicated much time traveling domestically within my native country of Canada. It seems so familiar to me and if traveling for me is about making the unfamiliar into something familiar, Canada typically just has not had the same appeal as international travel. However, as it happened to many people, recent world events have halted my hobby of traveling to other countries. But I still have a passion for discovering new places and taking part in new experiences so like many others, I have been taking the time to go on short domestic trips.


The places that I have been aren’t the kinds of special places that I’ve been dreaming of and they’re not world-famous destinations that are recognizable from iconic buildings or sceneries. With the exception of the city of Montreal, the places that I’ve traveled to have been small towns a few hours away from my home located by bodies of waters. In these places, I’ve lounged on freshwater beaches, hiked through forests, and browsed local businesses and farmer’s markets.


When I lived abroad and I would tell people that I was from Canada, many of them would express some desire to visit someday. I never really understood why they wanted to visit or what they saw that was so special about Canada. But traveling to these small towns, experiencing the nature and scenery around me for the very first time, I feel that I am finally experiencing the Canada of tourists. I am finally discovering and appreciating the place where I have lived for most of my life.


Something interesting that has occurred on these travels is that sometimes, I will be looking at some scenery or a building in front of me and I will feel as if I have been momentarily transported to somewhere in the world far away from where I am at that moment. The first time that this happened, I was in a small town called Paris, Ontario. The name itself was amusing to me – Paris, the name of one of the most well-known cities in the world, famous for romance and art, but also the name of a place voted ‘the Prettiest Little Town in Canada.’ A river runs through Paris so after my older sister and I walked around the very small town for a while then walked upon a bridge that crossed the river. We stopped halfway across the bridge and looked back at the town on the other side of the riverbank. The buildings – shops, restaurants, and apartments – were arranged in such a way that it made me experience déjà vu. It reminded me of Kamogawa, a river in Kyoto that I had walked along several times. It was such a strange feeling to be reminded of a place in Japan at the other side of the world that most people would not really think as similar to a small town in Canada but I took a picture because I wanted to be able to show it to someone one day and see if they thought of Kyoto too.


This happened again a few weeks ago when I was traveling around Bruce Peninsula, an area northwest of where I live in Toronto, surrounded by the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. My sister and I stopped in a small town on our way to Tobermory, a town famous for a pretty grotto and a few flowerpot islands, and did a nearby hike along the water of Georgian Bay. The water was shockingly clear and very blue. Looking out at the water in the Bay, it looked like a tropical island somewhere by the ocean. It was so beautiful that we decided to swim in the water for a while, but we were surprised at how cold it was. The shock of the cold was a reminder to us – we weren’t in the tropics, but in Canada. Instead of swimming, we sat on a rock in the sun and watch the waves roll in.


It’s an uncanny experience to be reminded of places that I consider to be foreign while driving through places just a few hours away from where I am from. At once, I feel that I am privileged to be able to recall places so far away with such ease since I know that not everyone has the means to travel as freely as I have in the past but also to be able to live in a place with such natural beauty. I feel that I am finally understanding why Canada appeals to people around the world as a tourist destination and that I am beginning to appreciate the place where I am rather than always thinking of places that I want to be. It seems that I am not alone in this thought. More than ever before, I see my friends and acquaintances in Canada visiting other parts of our country known for their natural beauty. As well, I see my friends that I’ve met abroad that now live in places like the United States, Argentina, England, France, and the Philippines are doing the same and traveling within their countries to places where they can be in a natural environment.


While this pandemic has had many negative effects on mental health, I think that this desire to be in places where one can feel connected to the earth is something very positive to come out of it. Right now, I spend most of my day on my computer, doing research and writing, and I spend most of my free time on my computer too, playing video games or watching Netflix. Being amongst the natural environment of my home country makes me feel grounded and like I am discovering something beautiful even if in my eyes it is ordinary. I hope that after the pandemic is over, I continue to seek out natural environments that make me feel that no matter how close to home that I may be, I am still connecting with the world.


Images by Caitlyn

Japanese Translated by Mia and Hikari

Edited by Eli and Hikari