The lost privilege of being homesick

The other day my brother sent me this site of photos taken back in 1981 at our hometown in Chengdu, China. It was taken by a San Franciscan named Bill Hocker.

It’s a long-gone era of our childhood memory.

I wrote an email to Bill Hocker. First, I thanked him for taking and posting these pictures that meant so much for us. Then I asked for his approval to post some of this collection and make a whining about it.

Bill replied with his blessing and asked a favor if I could mark some of these photos’ exact address.

I did not tell him that there is no way to mark these pictures with geolocation anymore. In the last four decades, China went through the most aggressive transformation of urban development in its five thousand years of history. Chengdu is among the pioneer cities of this progress, and it tore down almost every building, especially those old shabby ones in the center of the town. It was not until two decades later the city started to realize they have overdone the demolishment and some very previous old structures should have had been preserved.

But the damage was already done.

While our left-behind loved ones and friends were happily moving on with their daily lives in our hometown’s newer and shinier city landscape, my brother and I found we no longer could recognize the town anymore.

We did not feel sad, as we were so busy traveling in time and playing catch up on the other side of the world.

We were so busy moving forward that I forgot what a homesick is after relocating to three countries and five cities.

Then, one day early this year, sitting in the beautiful kitchen areas of the company where I just started my new job, sipping coffee, and one co-worker began to talk about the color of the ocean seashore in his hometown.

“It is the translucent color of turquoise.”

He pulled up a few pictures, and the color deeply moved me.

When I lifted my eyes from the photos back to my co-worker, I saw that his facial expression changed and softened. His voice became dreamy and airy. His eyes gazed into a very distant void.

It resonated with me of a full length of “homesick.”

To me, homesick is such an ancient melancholy mood to possess, haunting and poetic.

In the ancient times, it was a long tradition for the Chinese intellectuals to periodically travel around the country. The purpose was to meet other scholars and to visit well-known places. The trip usually took months and sometimes years to finish.

They wrote poems on the trip; half of them were about homesickness.

I grew up with those poems, and I also happened to grow up with a dozen of Scottish, Irish, and American centuries-old folk songs of homesickness, like “Loch Lomond,” “Dany Boy,” “Green Green Grass at Home,” “The Swanee River” and “Home on the Range,” thanks to my parents.

I did not know that I lost that privilege of being homesick till that day sitting in the kitchen watching my co-worker’s facial expression change.

And it was not until I saw Bill Hocker’s 1981 photos of my childhood hometown that I understood why I lost that ancient poetic feeling.

Because my childhood hometown has been long gone, vanished with almost no trace left.


几周前,弟弟给我传来他刚刚发现的一个博客,上面有作者1981年在成都拍摄的各种生活场景的照片。作者是一个旧金山人,名叫Bill Hocker。



我立刻给Bill Hocker写了一封电邮,首先我感谢他拍的这些于我和我弟弟弥足珍贵的于当年我们成长时期的成都照片,并且在网络上分享。其次我征求他的许可来转发一些他的照片, 因为他的照片的观察角度我们只有在曾经沧海之后才能倍感其深厚凝重。

Bill 很快回信,说他很高兴他的照片可以在近四十年后觅得知音,转发完全没问题,如果我能帮他确认他的那些照片的地理位置就更完美了。
















然后,直到我浏览了Bill Houker镜头下我们青少年时代的成都风情特写照片,我才明白我为什么已经失去了那份其实是非常奢侈的,古老的诗情画意一般的情怀。


It all started with the 2020 SIP