Room of Requirement


Karen en Playa de Miraflores, photo: @stevesnotlost

I explore between the spaces that take up space. I left a place I pinned as Home. The “to” and “from” on the plane tickets mirror each other, but the place I left is not the place I am going to. The sun at the beginning of summer that set on the left of the island now sets to the right. A center has shifted. The modern world seems more foreign to me than ever.

<space>    I   <space> *

Travel used to define a temporary distance from home. Return would greet me with: water left in the tea kettle, books bookmarked for a quick erasure of time, a pantry of salts from travels, plants cared for by friends, wines aging until the next celebratory gathering. They say travel opens the mind, the palate, creativity, understanding of the world—that it changes you. You return with an expanded self.

I set aside a year for exploration and I am at the reflection of leaving and the opposite of leaving.

There would be no returning. The Lima Project has erased the concept of return. I dream to enter a place that bathes me with familiarity. I remember the name of the Houston streets, how the rain showers the Blacksmith windows, the people, and the erratic weather, but knowing is a distant thought compared to crawling under the sheets as you left it and laying your head on a pillow that knows how you want to be cradled. Houston—a defined location—always there, but its quality, unfamiliar, like Lima, guised under the desert humidity.

Lima Horizon_foggy Malecon

Desert humidity. Lima, Peru

I never thought about what it was like for my parents to leave their everything behind, move to a new country, and adopt new customs and beliefs, new food, new language, and new rituals. It must still not be familiar. They live separated from both of their families and foods that feel familiar to their bellies. Their daughters do not behave like their nieces or nephews. My sister and I are either too American or not American enough. At least I like stinky tofu and thousand year old eggs, my aunt in Hong Kong tells me. She says this means I truly am a 香港人 (“Hong Kong person”).

Lima has accentuated my even more introverted self. The people I work with don’t live in the same district as me, so often just go home after work. Lima erased dining out from my list of things to leave the house for. The Peruvian diet of potatoes, dairy, corn, and meat do not agree with my body. The MSG in the ceviche gives me deep thirst and headaches. My body would need more than a year to adapt. I would need new gut flora. I would need a different set of genetics. The traffic makes everything close seem really far away and I don’t find comfort in break-and-accelerate cab driving. My idea of travel shifted. I spend time learning dance and music and cooking at home, without shoes. I joined a gym. (I have to wear shoes there.) I fill my time with things that help me express more of me. As a 香港人 with an American passport, living in Lima, I had a lot of self-studying to do.

Lima is a beautiful place that I will never forget, never attempt permanent residence, but always hold dear, and cherish it for the gift that is has been to my life. Its chaos is without order, pattern, or repeated experiences. Expected outcomes is not a concept here. The Lima Project would become a practice of self-care—the only way to survive, to emerge with a strength, resilient against the mind. It is hard to remain present here. One honk and you forget you were mid-breath.

Breathe would be my Maashang. I won’t hurry it.

“Maashang is a unit of time you can swim in. It’s not like the seconds we count out on a U.S. clock, each yielding some new headline or digital update. It’s more elastic. It expands, then compresses.” – Emma Goldberg


Karen en Playa de Chorillos, photo: @coraimavr

The Lima life has been many of the emotions: Difícil, Demasiado, Toto bien.

I do not know how to verbalize how I am feeling. You call to tell me you missed my voice, that everyone’s sound is unique, but that it was mine you missed. For a moment, this provided me warmth against the morning breeze, but like everything else in Lima, I let it move past me, without attachment. I must. I’m at the mirror of no return.

My heart space aches—the front of it, the back of it, around it. The breaking of past patterns have opened me to vulnerable strength. I could cry, smile, be sad, be happy, be grateful, be a space-cadet, be clear together in the same breath.

When I fly to the States later this year, I will travel to a country that claims my nationality, that is written on my birth certificate, that converses the language I am most fluent in, but it will not feel familiar. I have gotten accustomed to the greeting of kisses on the cheek so any other greetings will feel distant. Quantifying time here is just a suggestion of space. I fear my change will loosen our ties, but I do not fear change. I find comfort in letting things be. It’s my reflection in the Mirror of Erised that I see. Dumbledore would be proud.


*I am between spaces.

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