I am a prodigal daughter.

Photo by Dyan Khor
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
— Luke 15:11–32

“Why do you always run off for some other place whenever you come back home?” my father asks, a disappointed frown on his face.

There are so many answers I could give to that. I don’t want to be at home for very long. I don’t want to be stuck in this stagnant town, living this stagnant life. I want to explore, to wander, to live. I want to breathe every fragment of the world and have it breathe back at me.

Those, of course, were none of the answers I gave him. None of them were satisfactory, because his question was valid — every time I come home for break, I’m always jetting off to travel, from two months backpacking in Europe, to a study abroad in England, to a road trip up to Northern California, to quick flight to Seattle, and now, a month in Southeast Asia.

After fighting, pleading, crying, and cajoling, I’m in Hanoi, land of the million mopeds. I take in the culture, in the fast Vietnamese of the locals, of sitting on plastic blue stools eating pig testicles.

And then I’m in Hoi An, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Chiang Rai… a whirlwind of rain, mosquitoes, humidity, and new languages, but while sitting in a coffeeshop in Chiang Mai, I start crying.

Because somewhere along the way, somewhere along living in places where education was a prized opportunity, where getting to leave for America was a prized opportunity, where life was so vastly different from anything I had ever known, I realized the significance of what my parents had achieved by leaving China for America.

My father used to tell me stories of how his PhD professor paid for his ticket to Canada, how he used to live off McDonald’s and cup ramen to save money, how he didn’t love what he was doing (but what else can you do in China’s communist system?).

I pieced together from my family’s stories how my mother left her home country to marry my father, learned to cook and take care of a child on her own, and attended night school to learn English, virtually alone in a foreign country.

I never realized just how hard my parents had worked to provide for me and my sister, just how much they left behind and how much they needed to leave behind to find new beginnings and a better life.

The thing is — while I’m cognizant of this, I can’t even begin to understand the magnitude of it. I can’t imagine starting over with little money, little grasp of the language, and no friends. I grew up solidly upper middle class, with no worries in the world. We live in a life of comfort now, in a big house and a seemingly endless pool of money.

But I wanted to try. I wanted to begin to understand by showing my gratitude towards my parents, and that began with coming home. So I email my dad (because phone plans don’t work in Southeast Asia), crying, asking if I can change my ticket, skip Malaysia, and come home.

It was money down the drain, but there was nothing more than I wanted to be home with my family, the family I had neglected and ran away for far too long.

I expected him to say no, to just suck it up, that in life you can’t just leave and run away when you don’t want to do something.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe… Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
— Luke 15:11–32

But my family welcomed me back with open arms; I, the prodigal daughter, had finally come home.