Where are you from?

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"Where are you from?'

Often, when people first meet, they ask this simple question, albeit one with no easy answer.

Just half an hour ago, I held the door open for an exchange student. In the claustrophobic environment of the lift, with only the two of us, we looked at each other and made small talk. "Where are you from?" I asked, forgetting all my reservations about questions of this nature.

"Che-pa-sa-ke." Or something which sounded like this. She grinned before exiting the lift.

I smiled to myself, recalling the foolishness of asking this question.

Strangers had probably asked you this question before. They certainly asked me before. Each time, I would pause and think: where am I from?

From Singapore?
From NUS?
From USP?
From Science? From Chemistry?
From Kovan, that little known place near Hougang?
From the North-East? From Xinmin?
From Victoria?
From Jurong? From Signals?
From KRC?

We're from many different places at one time. We carry layers of identity according to our spatial contexts, according to our relative social standing. And I suspect that we'll carry more as time passes. Employee of XYZ Company. Ex-employee of XYZ. Father. Uncle. Grandfather. Godfather. Great-grandfather. And so on.

Sometimes, when someone unexpectedly pops this question, I'll recyle my old joke:
Me? I'm from my mother's womb.

If you ever encounter such a question, try the above response. That's guaranteed to earn you some uncomfortable laughter.

Now, where are you from?
Photo credits: okdork.com

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