"These are the colourful, immortalised memories I stare at late at night when I miss home, and the essay I’m working on is gnawing at the remaining morsels of my sanity and energy"Dan Bui

There are 59 photographs, 12 ticket stubs, and eight postcards on the pinboard of my bedroom at Girton College. Those 59 retro prints depict the scenes of last summer spent with friends, sunsets at Greenwich park and tiles in Lisbon. There is a print of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa. These are the colourful, immortalised memories I stare at late at night when I miss home, and the essay I’m working on is gnawing at the remaining morsels of my sanity and energy. Similarly, photographs of freshers’ week and the most special moments of Michaelmas adorn the walls of my bedroom at home.

The very concept of a home is stasis. The immovable walls of bricks and stone that give you warmth define your range of motion. And yet, I never fully occupy the space I inhabit. My two bedrooms, both of which I consider to be home, are interlinked by those parallel photo displays, allowing me to escape from one to the other. It is my imagination, not the long-buried architects and builders of my Victorian house, that decides where the true walls of my house are situated.

I often try to self-diagnose the reasons for my spatial restlessness. Perhaps it’s in my DNA, with two parents who emigrated from Vietnam in 1999. In Vietnamese we say “về” to refer to going to Vietnam on holiday, but that verb also means to go home, even though it is only home for my mum. The verb describes going back to a place you have left: possibly explaining my chronic nostalgia. Perhaps, as an MMLer, it’s my nature to travel, imagining settling down in Bologna, Lisbon, or Berlin. Being stuck at home has led me to imagine escaping it more vividly, with regular Google searches for holiday destinations and even property abroad.

"In this unfamiliar home, I yearn for my other home."

Or perhaps my tendency for escapism is because my family recently moved house while I was still in Cambridge. My home at Girton and my new home in Kent are almost equally unfamiliar to me. The house filled with my formative memories is now a relic, encapsulated in a photo of one particular vibrant sunset in the old garden on the evening before I moved to Cambridge, and the Hokusai print, which used to hang in the hallway of our old house. The small bedroom in which I grew from a self-conscious adolescent to a confident adult has been replaced by a new cavernous space, twice the size, with twice the furniture, but none of the sentimentality.

'The house filled with my formative memories is now a relic, encapsulated in a photo of one particular vibrant sunset in the old garden on the evening before I moved to Cambridge'Dan Bui

So then, with this lockdown being the longest time I have spent in this house, filling the space with memories was my first task. Photos were ordered, printed, and displayed. I bought new decorations and things to occupy myself with: a 1951 Olympia SM2 typewriter, antique books for my mantlepiece, and a new lamp. I dusted off an old bike that I hadn’t properly ridden in years, and I spend hours cycling, discovering my new Kentish surroundings. There is nothing more Girtonian than an insatiable thirst for cycling and my long countryside rides in the blazing sun remind me of my never realised plans with friends at Girton to leave our work behind for an afternoon and cycle far away. In this unfamiliar home, I yearn for my other home: not just the four walls of my room at Girton, but the memories I created in my short time in Cambridge with people who are now my best friends.


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Mountain View

Why I still love the night

Both my attachment to the homes I have made for myself and my adamant refusal to be constrained by walls, physical or figurative, are why I detest being placed into homes to which I do not belong. As a gay man of colour, I am often automatically placed into the communities of my identities: I am expected to be at home in the East Asian community and the gay community, but the expectation that my home is dictated by my ethnic and sexual identity cages me and reeks of stereotyping. Some people are surprised when they learn that gay pride parades are not my thing or that I study MML, when they expect that my parents would have coerced me into doing science or law. I am uncomfortable as an Asian in the Eurocentric gay community and as a gay man in the Asian community. One identity conflicts with the other. My independence of expression is stifled when I am reduced to stereotypes; on the one hand, quiet and meek for my skin tone, and, on the other, flamboyant and promiscuous for the way I speak. It is exhausting to be judged in the first few seconds of a conversation and to battle to forge my own identity against the forces that want to create one for me.

So then, I have created my own homes, of nostalgia, photo displays, and bike rides. I look back on my many homes with pride, but I don’t know if I will ever stop thinking of other homes, far and near, past and future. But then I think, life would be boring if I stayed in the same place forever, wouldn’t it?

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