We all hear stories of migrants from conflicted nations from time to time. We hear about the statistics, finances, and the social problems arriving from 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 of that same landscape. It somehow strongly reminded me of the stories my parents had told me about Yugoslavia, from 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 wasn’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 was 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. As I adapted, I noticed I was severely being dependent on others – I felt the tragedy of being a kid all over 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 strives 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 redefine their sense of home, identity and belonging. They fall into 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 way back to Taiwan, I was confronted with this idea of liminality: because of a mandatory quarantine measurement upon entry, I found myself locked in a small no-window hotel room for the duration of two weeks. Although this small space was located in Taiwan, I felt like I was inhabiting a space that was in between Taiwan and my country of departure – being present, but at the same time not being there. Looking for a place to live, I felt this duality even after exiting, as I traversed from one hotel, to the next; ending up living in a hotel. When I realized I had secretly begun to long towards the small-no-window hotel room, I started wondering: if we long to belong somewhere, forced to be dwelling in a world where we inherently don’t belong in; don’t we then, suffer a tragic fate that is similar to that of being a tourist? Going trough the sentiment of this thought is what ultimately became ‘‘Tomorrow Hotel.’’
Having no place to return to, while searching for a ‘utopia’ – the place we feel we belong to. From this viewpoint, the journey of moving from hotel to hotel becomes ironically symbolic 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 or 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.