We all hear stories of migrants from war-torn countries from time to time. We hear about the statistics, finances and the social problems arriving form their migration and so on. What we often don’t hear, however, is the human side of things. The difficulty of having to start your life anew. The confusion of having lost your identity. The longing towards something deeply rooted, that is no longer there. The powerlessness towards it all.
When I visited Taiwan for the first time in 2019, to visit my in-laws, I was deeply mesmerized by the sight of the Taiwanese landscape I had been staring at from the car window on the highway; the graves, mountains and the cities that dwelled inside. It somehow strongly reminded of the stories my parents had told me about Yugoslavia, before they fled. A place that had everything, where you could leave your door unlocked overnight; no-one would take anything from you. A country where different people of different nations could live together in peace. I started to wonder if Taiwan would be the utopia my parents told me about – what Yugoslavia could have been if it weren’t for that damn war? Visiting Taiwan for the first time, there was something nostalgic about all of that.
Being in Taiwan, I quickly realized I was in a place where my knowledge of people, culture and language were not necessarily relevant. In this place the things I adhered to and associated with were not necessarily inherently shared by others. This was a place where things had taken a different course. I realized here that if I would want to participate in this society, I would have to re-learn a lot of things. In this stage I would be severely dependent on others, like being a kid again. Being there voluntarily, visiting on a tourist visa, I couldn’t imagine what this situation would be like for those who fled from a place where all hell broke loose. Be it physical or non-physical; they didn’t have a place to return to.
When there is no place to return to, and one strifes to adjust and adapt to a new environment there is a space in between these states of being. A state of so-called liminality that is characterized by struggle, loneliness and suffering. And while usually periods of transition might be short periods in life – with an end in sight. The shock of a regime change-induced state of liminality, however, carries no definite end. Some, by the shock of all that has happened might never even re-define their sense of home, identity and belonging. They fall in a limbo where what they hold dear is no longer there, where what lies before them is too foreign for them. Ultimately not belonging anywhere anymore.
In 2021, on my return trip to Taiwan I was confronted by this idea of liminality. As before I entered the country, as a mandatory quarantine measure, I had to lock myself in a no-window-box-hotel-room for the duration of two-weeks. Although I was in Taiwan, for two weeks I lived in a space that was somewhere in between my country of departure and Taiwan. Being present in Taiwan, while in a way not being there – unable to participate. But, even after I was allowed to exit, and participate, I went on to the next hotel room and the next, even ending up living in a hotel. I started wondering; even if we leave this period of transition, if we can’t seem to belong somewhere, if we can’t ground our feet in something familiar. Do we ever escape this liminality? This thought became the driving motivation for this book: ‘‘Tomorrow Hotel’’.
Having no place to return to, while searching for a ‘utopia’ – the place we feel we belong to. From this view the journey of moving from hotel to hotel becomes ironically symbolical for those that have been traversing regimes. Just like the nostalgic stories of my parents, in Taiwan I listened to stories about different utopias. About a recent history that seemed to have faded from the surface of the earth. If you would look at them from the highway, the mountains and cities, they might be invisible. But if you look closer, maybe, on the streets, but surely in peoples homes you might still see that these old utopias are more than alive.