5 suitcases 1 teddy bear


So there I stood at 9:59pm in a nearly empty house staring at my five open suitcases wondering where to put my teddy bear.  With my flight due to leave Honolulu the next day, I could hear the clock ticking as I labored to clear my stuff out of my apartment by midnight.  But my brain felt like Jell-O and this simple decision that I needed to make for approximately 5 dozen more times in the next hour had completely immobilized me.

I’m not new to moving.  I’m a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who learned to fly before she learned to walk. Before I turned one, my parents moved from California (where I was born) to Hong Kong where I spent my first 7 years of life learning to speak British and listening to the jabber of Cantonese in the wet market where they killed the chickens in front of customers so that they were “fresh”. When I turned 8 years old, my family (with a little brother added), moved to Taiwan where I quickly converted to speaking English with an American accent and learned to speak conversational Mandarin. Upon graduating high school, I packed my essentials into a couple of suitcases to attend college in California.  Each of these moves were quite simple—moving stuff from point A to point B.

This was the fourth major move of my life and perhaps the most technically difficult, hence my paralysis over the teddy bear. Timothy Teddy was a gift from my Aunt when I visited her in northern China when I was 17… I decided he would companion me to college and he’d been with me for the 16 years since.  Should I take him to Scotland or not!? I wondered.  Does a 33 year old bring a teddy bear in her suitcase to grad school?

This time I was bound for Scotland where I would spend a year competing a Masters degree at the University of St. Andrews. I romanticized about cozying up in pubs with classmates talking about geopolitics and theology. I dreamed of sitting in the presence of experts in history, ethics, and international relations and gleaning from their wisdom. I pictured myself wrapped up in a woolen blanket, relishing the task of doing nothing else but to finally dive into the texts that would unveil answers to the questions which had pulsated in my mind for the past several years.  I could almost hear the bagpipes and see the tartan…

But today in Honolulu I was sweating from the frenzy of packing on that humid evening at the end of May, heart-heavy with the reality of saying goodbye to the warm island and its beautiful people who had embraced me over the past 5 years. And the decision about the teddy bear was anything but simple. Two of the 5 suitcases before me would travel with me the next day to California where I would spend the month of June at my parents’ house (and deposit many of my sentimental items). Another suitcase would await my return to Hawai’i for the month of July, still another would travel with me to Seattle where I would spend August with my boyfriend, and the remaining bag would make the long journey to my future accommodation in Scotland when I moved there in September. I dropped the teddy bear in a suitcase bound for California and reached across my room to make another impossibly difficult decision.

Moving is hard.  Being in a “state of moving” for 3 months is harder. And so I called a friend, familiar with moving as a military spouse, who came to my rescue 10 minutes later and gently prodded me to make those five dozen decisions.  Miraculously, an hour later, we were hauling my luggage down the stairs to the car and I was leaving behind the palm-tree-shaped housekey I would have need of no longer.

There’s something very unsettling about having no home base and having my stuff scattered across time and space… yet there’s something freeing as well.  My ambition to learn and grow has untangled me from the trappings of stuff that weigh people down, stuck in an endless cycle of protecting, cleaning, collecting, using, storing, and upgrading. I want my life to be like the sailboat instead of the cruise ship… moving swiftly across oceans at the speed that the wind would blow me, rather than weighed down by luxuries that can require an unspeakable amount of fossil fuels to heave across the sea.

Goodbyes are hard, but they’re not forever.  I grew up familiar with saying goodbye in Chinese, “Zai Jien” which literally means “see you again”.  Similarly, the Hawaiian phrase “A Hui Hou” translates to something like “until we gather again”. To the many precious friends and ‘ohana (family) who have become part of my world, “A Hui Hou!”  I will be back.  I go to Scotland with a bit of Hawai’i in my heart, and by God’s grace I will surely return and see you once again.


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