So, just in case you didn't know, I love words. Not only books and such, but just plain words. I think they are often beautiful, potentially powerful, and generally fascinating.
I have a favorite Chinese word (Mandarin Chinese, in case you are curious). The word is 家. In pinyin its jia, pronounced with the first tone, a somewhat high, clear, singing tone. It's beautiful spoken and easy to say. It's gorgeous written as well. You can trace this character back 3,000 years to a depiction of a pig in a house. May not sound glamorous, but let me tie it to the meaning of the word, then maybe you will get it. 家 means home. So back when this character started, the practices of animal husbandry meant people kept their pigs in the house. So a pig in a house was indicative of the home.
Now that's already awesome, but it gets better. The reason why this word is my favorite is because in those 3,000 years, it has taken on more meaning. 家 means "home" and at the same time "family." For me, it is completely perfect that home and family are not just synonymous but inextricable. I have been blessed with an upbringing that has left me with a healthy set of roots. Growing up we would fly to CA every year to visit the family, spending a week living in Grandma's house on Oakland Ave. The aunts and uncles and cousins would come stay and we would fill the house with all the laughter, games, food, bickering, companionship, and chatter of a healthy family. I know virtually nothing of CA beyond the few blocks on my running route from that house. That place was family. When we sold the house, we were afraid we would lose that. But we needn't have feared. A home is not the same as a house.
My immediate family has the same chemistry, the ability to create a new kind of space by being together in it. I think many families do. It has created me and others just like me: deeply rooted homebodies with wanderlust.
But getting back to the word itself, this symbiosis of meaning creates an interesting phenomenon for me. When I tell people that I will 回家 (hui jia, return home) my Chinese friends understand far better than my foreigner friends. I have had almost all my foriegner friends object, thinking they can produce the perfect argument to make us change our mind and stay in China. My Chinese friends are sad, but they awknowledge the importance of family and don't imagine that this (wonderful, fabulous, inspiring) place could be 家 just because they say it is. 家 is not just a place. I listen to the forgieners' arguments and my restless wings ache. But my roots are calling me back.
At least, for now.