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Homeward Bond

Blast San Francisco Bureau

For as long as I can recall, perhaps since the day I moved to college, I have had trouble defining the word "home." It is one of those vague terms that lead people to create metaphors or clichés of their own to define. You've heard it all before: "Home is where the heart is," or "A house is not a home without love."

Webster Dictionary defines it as the region in which something is common or native. A friend of mine, when he chooses to visit his family on weekends, always says "I'm going home-home for the weekend." The place he stays at college is simply called "home."

Almost every weekend now, since I have returned to Northern California from a one-year hiatus in France, I go "home-home." After a week of study at school, I go back to visit my family and hang out with friends in San Francisco - basically doing a lot of catching up. Indeed, many things have changed since I've been away and I'm often struck by the oddities that should be familiar to me.

One Saturday, for example, I went over to my cousin May's house to help put together some cards. She rolled to the door, opened it and greeted me. "Daisy! Hurry up and come in here. I've been waiting all week to show you these cards!"

I am now getting used to seeing her look up at me when she opens the door. It didn't use to be that way. May and I used to ride our bikes around Golden Gate Park on Sundays when we were little girls, and as teeny boppers we sashayed through downtown's hippest streets in our best skirts.

Now she stays home more often and she is putting together a small business: selling homemade greeting cards. They include beautiful photos that her father has taken throughout his extensive travels around Asia and North America. We sat in the kitchen pasting photos onto countless cards, while gossiping about family affairs. May also told me her future plans and outlook on life, now that she is in a wheelchair.

This is a new reality, one I did not expect to face when I came "home-home." Still, I call this place home because my family treats me as one of them when I am there. They share their world with me, even when they are sometimes harsh realities. It is something I am not exposed to behind the safe confines of the university.

At home-home, they don't demand me to analyze every problem nor do they demand a brilliant response to every question. At home-home, mom just asks me how I have spent my week and how I like her soup. At home-home, I just sit around and listen to the radio with May, recounting stories of our adventures in life and love.

Sometimes, May's mom passes by, in her loud voice, and asks "Is the show on yet?"

"It's time! It's time! Jelly Spring-uh is on! Come and see!"

"Jelly Spring-uh?" I asked myself. "How can she like that awful show?" Here is a woman who has lived in the United States for almost 20 years, who does not understand much English, yet she enjoys the Jerry Springer show. Guess I can't comprehend it all, not everything is familiar to me at home-home.

Andric, the son of my oldest cousin, is the most observant little two-year-old I have ever seen. When May and I sat by the radio chatting, he ran around the kitchen chasing a beach ball and giggling to himself. Occasionally, he came to us and looked inquisitively, wondering what we were doing. When he wanted an apple, he would lift his tiny hand and make a fist, then put it to his cheek, making a sign for "apple." May gave him the apple and lifted him up to her lap. Celine Dion's hit from the "Titanic" soundtrack, "My Heart Will Go On," played on the radio, once again.

"I love this song!" May squealed. We listened to the haunting melodies and May hugged Andric. "I love music," she sighed. "I don't think I can live without it in my life, and when I think about how Andric can't hear music, it makes me love him so much more."

I looked into his smiling eyes and understood even more the reason the whole family adores him, and will do everything to protect him. His big round eyes, with long feathery eyelashes, are so bright you can clearly see life happening inside of him. It was a moment so heartbreaking and so inexplicable, even I couldn't describe it in words.

Now on Sundays, many members of my family go to the Buddhist temple to meditate and pray. There's a nice temple on Van Ness Avenue that my grandma and aunts frequent, so does May and Andric. One rainy morning, I hopped into my aunt's van and tagged along with her and my grandma to the temple.

On the way, grandma told me her worries for everyone in the family and asked about my life. We were driving up Van Ness, a very congested street even on Sunday mornings, when the van stopped at a red light. We waited a moment and my grandma saw a homeless man in crutches standing at the island, asking for money. She quickly grabbed a dollar from her purse and told my aunt, at the drivers' seat, to give the money to him.

I looked at the light about to change, the huge distance between the van and the island, and the helpless man who couldn't reach to grab the dollar bill. "No, no, Grandma!" I panicked. "You can't do that! He can't reach for it and we must go."

The light turned green long ago, and cars behind us were honking incessantly. My aunt also panicked and she tossed the bill out the window, hoping he'd catch it. The van sped off. I turned around, and saw through the back window the dollar bill flying away, disappearing in the sea of cars.

To my grandma's dismay, all she could say was "Ay-yah, in America it is even hard to give bums some money when you want to." I knew right then her remark couldn't have been more profound nor appropriate.

When we arrived at the temple, my grandma's face brightened as she saw the crowd sitting there peacefully, chanting ancient songs. Most of all, her daughters, grandchildren and great grandchild, Andric, were there too.

We sat down, I crossed my legs and positioned myself for the upcoming meditation exercise. One of the monks came by, gave me a book and turned to the page where I followed the songs. Of course, I hardly understood the characters on the page, and mimicked to my grandma's singing instead.

After a while, the singing stopped and we sat in a long moment of silence. I was told that during meditation, you're supposed to not think about anything at all. How radical of an idea! It was so strange to me, but I didn't mind. While everyone else were attempting to put this theory into practice, I was happy to listen to the rain drops on the roof and think about how wonderful it was to sit in a room with my family in complete silence.