| 1020 words

I write this today as I'm sitting on a train returning home from a short weekend trip. I very much enjoy these quick little trips - not only because they save on both money and vacation, but also because one or two days is a nice bite-sized amount of time. It's just lets you go somewhere a little different and experience a change of place and people without taking you away from home for too long.

I read something once that talked about how the biggest cities in the world were all very similar. The big cosmopolitan urban centers like New York, London, Paris, Shanghai; all have a strong global culture catering to a small group of wealthy travelers. They offer roughly the same big name fancy restaurants, the same access to newest fashions, the same luxurious accomodations filled with staff who always treat you with the same refined respect. I'm not sure how true this is - I've been to New York but nowhere as exotic as Shanghai - but I can certainly see it being at least partially true.

As someone who likes living in big cities, with access to plentiful public transit and multicultural societies, this is not great news for me. Such a lifestyle usually necessitates living in these big urban hubs because that's where all the opportunities and bike lanes are. However sometimes an abundance of multiculturalism can calcify into a culture of its own. The strongly spiced Latin American food, the classical European music drifting out into the street, the southeast Asian rituals and symbols adorning the storefront - the multicultural hub transforms into something that is all of these and none of these. It doesn't tell you much about what it's like to live in Mexico or Vietnam or Germany as much as it does about what this new place full of immigrants is like, greater than the sum of its parts.

I do love multiculturalism, and I don't know if I would want to live somewhere without it. At least not for very long. But I don't think multiculturalism is any replacement for homogenous, single-culturalism experience. At least that's what I've been slowly learning from my travels.

All that is to say that going to rural, random, even relatively backwater places around me in the United States has been really illuminating. Sometimes you forget that there are a whole world of unique English accents that you're unlikely to find in Hollywood or elsewhere on the world stage. You find people who have very different ways of life, with unique and interesting value systems. There is lots of unexpected happiness as well hidden in these quaint towns.

This kind of touches on another point I was pondering, about the value of place. If you're like me, you've probably moved a few times in your life. Maybe you went somewhere different for university, or your parents got a job in another city so you had to leave. Maybe you were even fortunate enough to get an education and 'escape' the small town your grew up in search of economic opportunities. Whatever the reason, I think being someone who has moved around a lot in their life gives you a very different relationship to the place you live than someone who has stayed put.

I wish I could draw on firsthand experience here, but I'll have to do my best to extrapolate. I imagine growing up somewhere and then staying there for decades. Playing in the same parks and forests as a kid that you'd explore as a teenager and relax in as an adult. Tending the house or the neighbourhood your parents grew up in and knowing your kids will build a life there too. Making friends (and maybe enemies) in elementary school that will literally last you a lifetime.

I've read enough stories with a setting like this to know such a life can be very claustrophobic, and I'm sure that's why many people do eventually leave. But also, living a life with such deep bonds to a people and a place can imbue you with a deep love for it. You can find a sense of belonging and purpose stemming from who you are and where you are - knowing that your roots stretch both into the ground and back through time. Being deeply, intimately connected to the land and the people you've spent your whole life with. My amateur understand is that for a lot of history most people used to live exactly like this - would live and die in roughly the same 100km radius.

That's why it's such a tragedy when communities are forcefully relocated to other places, like after the partition of Pakistan and India, or the forced resettlement forced upon the Native American's by the fledgeling US government. I don't doubt that in the both cases the proponents believed that they were doing what was best for the people involved, moving them somewhere where they could live in peace amongst their own people. But when this happens you tear up and destroy the very things that give people meaning. You take them away from what they love.

With all of this said, it makes me wonder what it means for the rest of us, who have no particular ties to where they are. Who move somewhere for work or school with the knowledge that everything around them is temoporary, and soon they will again be whisked away by whatever economic winds catch their sails. So called 'third culture kids', perhaps.

Are we missing anything from shuttling ourselves from city to city and country to country every few years? Certainly the internet helps to form long-lasting friendships despite constantly moving around, but I doubt it's an adequate replacement for seeing people everyday. Is there a hole inside us where a love for the place that we live is supposed to go? And if there is, what will replace it for those of us who have none?