On June 1, Handshake 302 celebrated Children’s Day with a Singleton Lunch. Kiki Mager cooked up well-seasoned veggie-dishes for eight guests. The peripatetic German chose the topic “community” for the meal, inviting guests to share stories about themselves, how they ended up in Shenzhen and elsewhere, and what the experience of moving around had been. “Where,” one of the guests pointedly asked, “is home?”
This, of course, is the question that most of us in Shenzhen face. It is not simply the case that most of the guests were first generation immigrants to the city, but rather that many second generation Shenzheners have lived abroad and discovered other cultures and other ways of life. Home, it would seem is a choice?
To give the occasion hometown taste, there were zongzi from Shuiwei in honor of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival, eggs and tomatoes, cucumber salad, stir-fried carrots, and a plate of bananas and dried fungus. We ate slowly and steadily, trying to get our minds around the question of how communities get remade as we lurch form one place to another our connections to a particular place as secure as we make them.
Indeed, that may have been one of the important takeaways from the conversation. This was a group of people who were determined to make something else of their lives and a first step toward those goals was—in fact—a step outside our birth town. Some of those steps were involuntary because we followed our parents, but over time those steps became paths toward personal destinations; we were simultaneously heading away from one life and toward another. And so it should come as no surprise that foreigners were setting up residence in Shenzhen, even as Shenzhen residents were planning their foreign sojourn.
This formal commonality may be what brought us together. Here, similarity of experience is not so much of content, but of direction. We all know what it is like to start over, to make new friends even as we figure out how to keep in touch with elementary school classmates, to walk in strange lands and then return “home” and find that we have become strangers to those who once knew us well. We listen to these stories, hear echoes of our own experience, and turn toward each other in the hope that (for the moment at least) we have arrived where we belong.