Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Before I left the shores of home, everything I knew about the lives of new migrants was based on an article I read in a National Geographic magazine that I sneaked out of my grandfather’s old book shelf for some light reading over a dull weekend. Until I saw that article, I had never even spared a moment’s thought about it, little knowing that I was only a couple of years away from actually living through it myself.

When I did finally migrate across the oceans as a student, it was to the officially most liveable city in the world. Of course those over-paid UN observers who made that claim weren’t “international students” but Melbourne is indeed a wonderfully accommodating city. I was just blissfully unaware however that there was a limit as to how ‘accommodating’ any place other than ‘home’ could ever be, especially when I was suddenly surrounded by terrestrial beings that nevertheless seemed alien – not because of their accent or the colour of their skin, but because I was yet to find friends among them.

Perhaps the harshest aspect of the life of a migrant is that it almost makes you forget what it feels like to be recognized by others, as their son, sibling, cousin, nephew or friend. Life, especially in big cities, becomes a touch more difficult to cope with sometimes, when you don’t easily find any familiar faces in the crowd. It’s a feeling of alienation rather than of helplessness. In all fairness though, it’s not a bad thing to be insignificant and invisible in society – it can be a lot of fun too – but it is not something that a person can be expected to live with for too long.

Perhaps one of the first lessons that new migrants learn – often in their painful isolation in the midst of a multitude of strangers – is that our lives are weaved into a mesh of family and friends – whether we like it or not. We can’t survive without knowing that somewhere not so far away, perhaps lost in the crowd, are people who care about us, and we care about. I have since made many friends from many shores, some of whom also share my own experience as a migrant - of sudden isolation among a multitude - in my new home away from home. It makes me wonder whether my story is actually unique to migrants alone. Perhaps all of humanity is bound by this secret knowledge that lies unexposed within each of us, that one of the fundamental desires of life is to be recognised, known, cared for and loved.