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A friend recently asked me, “Do you feel at home in Berlin?”.

This question caught me off guard. I am not sure if I ever feel at home in Berlin. I don’t think I have ever felt at home anywhere else in my life.

Don’t Call Me “Cina”

Growing up as a half-Chinese descent in Indonesia during the 90s was not easy. There was a grown resentment among locals towards ethnic Chinese as they were blamed for the economic downturn. This led to bloody riots in 1998.

I still remember that day clearly. When the mob came, my mom needed to hide me inside the house since I have similar features like my Chinese dad: lighter skin and smaller eyes.

In the end, our house was safe because my mom is a native Indonesian. However that month, hundreds of other houses and shops owned by Chinese-Indonesians were raided & burned to the ground and dozens of Chinese-Indonesian women were raped. Until today, no arrests have been made.

I was 10 years old at that time and I already felt so ashamed of my identity. On a daily basis, people often called me “Cina”, a derogatory term for members of Indonesia’s Chinese minority.  Not only I heard this from some of my fellow classmates at school, a few of my teachers and family members said it too.

Often when I met new people, I even pretended that I came from a region in Indonesia where most of the people have lighter skins. I just wanted to be accepted.

This made me feel very conflicted. I saw myself as an Indonesian but I didn’t feel like I belong. Thus, I made a promise at a very early age to leave Indonesia some day.

My First Ticket Out of Indonesia

In 2011, I got my first chance out of the country when I moved to Austria for a cultural exchange program. My identity was crystal clear at that time: I was a foreigner. I didn’t look like locals and I didn’t speak the language. Of course, I didn’t feel at home. However, I also did not feel conflicted.

I was loving my life abroad. When the program ended a year later, I was sad of the idea that I would move back home. This meant that I needed to face my conflicted identity (again!).

Singapore, Okay Lah

When I moved to Singapore in 2013, it was the first time in my life I ever felt okay with my identity. Ethnic Chinese constitutes a majority of Singapore’s population. On top of that, there is a lot of Indonesian-Chinese in Singapore.

Here I felt accepted being myself. I did not feel the need to cover my Chinese ancestry like I used to. It gave me a sense of relief that I had never experienced before. Nevertheless, I knew that it was not home as I was only here as an expat.

Ich bin Ausländer

Now that I have been living in Berlin for 4 years, I haven’t been struggling with my identity so much. I know that I live here as a foreigner. As a matter of fact, Berlin makes it very explicit. When I arrived here in 2016, I needed to register myself to the Ausländerbehörde, which literally means Foreigner’s Office.

Needless to say, Germany still has their shares of anti-semitism and racism. I think it’s a life-long process to eradicate this issue completely from the world.

In the meantime, I embrace my identity fully as forever a foreigner. I am finding home within myself.

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2 thoughts on “Home”

  1. This blog post gives me chills remembering all the hardship I experienced before abroad but then it’s one the happiest moments of my life. Hope you keep writing about living abroad as you experience it, might help someone else in deciding to go or to stay, definitely gave me perspective for my decision making.

    Your take on “forever a foreigner” feels homey.

    1. Thanks for reading, Tista! I will definitely write more about living abroad. I’ve been following your blog too. I have learned so much about crypto trading, I might get back to you with a question or two 😀

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