I lived in a lot of "exotic" places in my childhood - Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan. Growing up, water buffaloes routinely wandered into our front yard, poinsettia bushes grew six feet high and pale green luna moths floated through them. It wasn't all ineffable beauty, though. You could find your way to market with your eyes closed by following the smell of dead fish. Birds nested in the venetian blinds. Termites swarmed in through the windows. Wild, and sometimes rabid, dogs roamed the streets in packs. There were coup d'etats every so often and gunfire sometimes at night. And all of it - the beauty, the wildness - was entirely normal to me. It was just the place that I lived, the place that everyone I knew lived. In retrospect my time there seems amazing, but when I was little it was just home.
There was one place I lived, however, that was entirely different and, to me, wildly exotic. It was a place straight out of the storybooks and fairytales I read. It was ... Michigan. We lived there for one year, when I was five, when my father was at the University of Michigan getting a masters degree. We lived in a stone house. Stone! Like castles were made of. We had a stone fireplace - or "chimney corner" as I called it - like the one Cinderella got her cinders from. I used to pose by it and imagine myself as an oppressed heroine of my own fairy tale involving ogerish older brothers. Me at play in Wonderland.
There was a field behind our house where I used to wander, with my four-year-old boyfriend Keithie, and pick wildflowers, and we never once had to run away from rabid dogs. Instead, there were tadpoles and frogs in a pond. In winter, the pond froze and I was thrilled at the prospect of ice skating. I went to that pond, got my wide learner skates on, and posed, one foot on the ice, one leg bent at the knee, like all the pictures that I'd seen of ice skaters. I expected to simply start floating across the ice because I'd never actually seen a person skating so I didn't know you actually had to move your legs to make it work. It was all so thrillingly new and strange.
After my father finished his masters, we moved back to the tropics - to seasons that went from hot and dry to hot and rainy; to mango and tamarind trees in the back yard; to running wild on dirt roads and getting every parasite known to man - to what was home for me.
I've lived in the States for thirty years now. I bitch about the cold, never ice skate because of a bum knee, and grumble when it snows. I've even been back to a place called Michigan. But it wasn't my Michigan - that place between the world that was home but wasn't mine, and the place that was mine but has never really felt like home - that Wonderland.