Thursday, 7 February 2013

A ticket to nowhere: Airports & Home

On airports, and feeling at home 25 000ft up in the air.

© Suzanne Zhang

As human beings, we are programmed to find a nest and call it home. At first we are born into a house that we learn to call home, but just like birds who have to leave the nest, we are forced to leave it too. What follows then is a quest to find our own home. Some people find a home in a city, an apartment, a café, or a group of friends. Others are left to wander because nothing feels like 'it' yet. High standards or doomed wanderers?

I often feel like I belong to a group of nomads, changing homes every now and then, building new houses for the heart and then leaving it for others to find it. But I don't want to. As a person who was constantly rejected by all the places I have wanted to call home, I want to find roots. Create my own roots, actually. I find beauty in calling a person home, but I have learnt recently that you should never make homes out of human beings. Home is the one place where you know it's just 'it'. Is it so awful to want to belong to a place?

I was born Chinese in Switzerland, and my whole identity is built on this dichotomy. Not asian, not swiss. I can never fully belong to either of these two, no matter how hard I try. A heart in exile, a person on the verge of belonging someplace. And so over the years I have learnt to call places home, but none of them warm my heart as much as airports. I have a fascination for airports, it is the only place where I feel it is acceptable to feel what I feel. Airports are sacred places. Liminal places like airports are places that are nowhere in particular, and yet everywhere. No one belongs there, everyone is a stranger in exile, everyone far away from home -and yet, so close.

No one belongs anywhere in airports. People come and go. Everyone in an airport is either about to embark on an adventure, or have come back with a bag that still smells of exotic flowers and home. You don't carry your past in a luggage, you carry white shirts and linen skirts. You don't carry your troubles and your past homes in your luggage, you carry excitement and a sense of belonging. Airports are places that move, no one stays there permanently, everyone goes somewhere. They are home to no one, except the nomads. Airports have no rules, no traditions. They smell of nothing and resemble nothing. Just large white corridors with large white areas of seating space. 

Embarking on the plane is the best part. You are finally free, free from geographical space, from the limits that your 'home' impose on you, free from yourself. Up in the air, it's simply you and the peach-colored sky, you and your books under the anesthetized light, you and your apple juice that tastes like clouds and freedom. No one is there to remind you that you haven't found home yet, no one is there to remind you that you are a nomad. It is simply you and the silence of the sky. 25 000ft up, you feel like you belong somewhere, finally.

Watch this: A very good short film called "Where's home? A film about third culture kid identity" for more on airports and finding home.


  1. it's not ''it'', you're always in exile Suzanne. Congratulations for this post, so far my favourite

  2. That - airports - really took me by surprise. Great stuff. Why don't you enter for the Vogue talent comp 2013? You need the March issue for the info. Nicola

    1. I'm glad you like it! I've been meaning to enter the competition forever, and I think I'll do it this year. I'm going to buy the march issue today !

  3. Beautiful post. I think sometimes I look forward to waiting in the airport almost as much as the trip itself. Now I want to start planning my next vacation...

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I feel the same, waiting in the airport is almost better than the trip itself sometimes... If you liked this you should probably watch this video, it's quite relatable and well shot :