Merantau Cino

Photo of a window in a restaurant in East Java Indonesia with sunlight streaming in

Tretes, Indonesia (link to some photos I took)

  1. I have been struggling with my feelings on and about immigration.
  2. Some time in mid 2023, a woman at a bus stop in San Francisco pointed a blow torch flame at me and threatened, I'm going to burn you, because you're Chinese!
  3. Number 1 is possibly related to number 2.
  4. A theme I keep coming back to: why does it feel like this?
  5. The feelings: neither here nor there, a deep sense of longing for 'home', uncertain what 'home' really means, feeling like I'm in two or three places at once, feeling stuck, feeling like I don't know where I fit, feeling like I am two people at once.
  6. That the 'home' I return to, I no longer fully fit into. I left five years ago, and in that time: obviously, it's moved on without me. I no longer know how to exist here in Singapore. I don't have any routines, I don't have places to go, things to do. I'm no different from a tourist. Just that I'm a tourist who knows a lot of details about this country, and who has an intimate knowledge about its food and its politics.
  7. That the 'home' I now exist in: where I have work, family, contemporary friends, hobbies, a home, feels on some days like it's real and solid, and on other days that idea of solidity is completely unraveled, especially when things like number 2 happen.
  8. I've spent the past week in Singapore and Indonesia. It's been splendid to be around friends, food, the weather, environment and culture that I know and love.
  9. A big part of why I suffer from number 1 is that I feel completely estranged from the Southeast Asian bits of my life when I am in California. I can probably fix that by going to do things like, I don't know, play gamelan or learn Balinese dance in Berkeley (both activities that are very popular and established, led by East Bay Indonesians).
  10. Living in the heart of the imperial superpower, I do not hear, see, learn about anything about the outside world outside the US at any time. TVs don't play world news, they play sports: sports that only Americans play. Online discussions tend to veer towards only domestic politics. I feel like I'm at the heart of the world, and totally cut off from it, at the same time.
  11. I've fought it for a while, but I feel the semblance of a nascent Asian American identity forming. Ever since I learned about the Hyphenated Americans discussion, I've been far more open to the idea that without the hyphen, I can be both Asian and American (without necessarily needing citizenship).
  12. As number 11 strengthens and solidifies, number 1 also waxes and wanes. Some days, I am convinced that coming to California was the best idea I ever had. On other days, I cry myself to bed missing tropical weather, my family back in Asia, immigration stability (not having immigration challenges at all), and maybe a romanticized idea of what Singapore means to me.
  13. The past week in Indonesia was transformational. Not only did I get to wake up the part of my brain that had been dormant for a long time, the one that speaks, understands, and exists in Bahasa Indonesia as well as Bahasa Gaul, I also got to reconnect with my friend of 25 years.
  14. Beyond the food, which was amazing (East Java has my favorite Indonesian cuisine and dishes), it also sent me down a rabbit hole of listening to Indonesian music and reading in Indonesian.
  15. I was reading something today that referenced the idea of merantau cino.
  16. I know about merantau: it's the Minang rite of passage where men leave their homes in Sumatra to pursue careers and experiences outside their village. There was even a martial arts movie made about this.
  17. In merantau, the idea is that you leave and then you return to your home.
  18. However, in merantau cino, you leave your home and you never return. Not permanently, anyway.
  19. The term is based on the idea that the southern Chinese diaspora left China, many of them never returning.
  20. Therefore, a person who does merantau cino is doing a rite of passage, embarking on a migration story, where it's unlikely that they will return to their original homes.
  21. I'm not sure whether I am a perantau cino or a merantau cino yet (difference explained here; article in Indonesian), but I'll be damned if this hasn't been a more relevant and insightful observation about my personal immigration journey than anything I have read about in English, in an American context.
  22. When I get 'home' to San Francisco next week, a couple of milestones will happen; things that will set us up for a different phase in our lives there.
  23. I will probably always see myself as someone split down the middle.
  24. Two lives: one here, one there.
  25. But at least I know now that there's a name for it. And maybe it feels a little less lonely, since merantau cino was exactly what my grandfather did, as a teenager.
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