The Nexus: (Movie) Nostalgia and the Third Culture Kid

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“I was pulled away. I didn’t want to leave; none of us did. I felt like I’d left a part of myself behind. All I could think about was getting back… I didn’t care what I had to do.” – Guinan, Star Trek Generations

The experience of Third Culture Kids is something akin to Guinan’s explanation of the Nexus in Star Trek Generations: pulled away from a familiar and perhaps happy life in one place, the TCK is thrust into an unfamiliar environment that compels a process of trying to recapture the comfort of the old, acclimate to the new, or – in my case – some intangible and unsatisfying combination of both.

My family moved to Hong Kong from the suburbs of New York in the summer of 1977. At that time, I had little more than a passing familiarity with New York City, born of the occasional outing that routed us through Grand Central Station, and it was the station that became New York for me: the smells, the sounds, the long incline down to the New Haven Line tracks and the towering Kodak Colorama

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were synonymous with the circus, my father’s office, Broadway – riding the train as we snacked on Chicken Biskits, chatting happily together. And when we moved to Hong Kong, these memories came to represent more than just one place or time; they were all of my American childhood distilled into the warm afternoon light of Grand Central Station.

Prior to moving to Hong Kong, I had only ever seen children’s movies at the theater – Disney live-action features like Escape to Witch Mountain and The Love Bug, in the main. I was nearly eleven years old when we moved, ready for something a little more adult, so when I saw this,

broadcast during the few hours of English language programming we enjoyed on TVB Pearl and RTV (Rediffusion Television), I knew I had to see that movie at the end of the montage. Star Wars had only opened three weeks before we left the US, and then only in a handful of theaters, so I hadn’t heard of it before we left. But it tantalized me every week in the opening credits of That’s Hollywood; and so it was that one cold January morning, my father pulled four theater tickets out of his briefcase and announced that we were going to the movies.

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Our outing to Park Theatre was, incidentally, my first visit to a Hong Kong theater and, sweet popcorn and chicken feet notwithstanding, I was immediately besotted – with both the film and Hong Kong theater-going. I became a full-fledged Star Wars fan, collecting anything I could get my hands on – which was precious little until I inadvertently stumbled upon Japanese movie magazines at Daimaru Department Store in Causeway Bay (just around the corner from the Shaw Brothers-circuit Jade and Pearl Theatres), and discovered that they were a veritable cornucopia of stuff like this

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and this.

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Star Wars went a long way towards alleviating any lingering homesickness for the United States; but it wasn’t until the following summer that Hong Kong sort-of merged the US – and, specifically, New York – in my mind, fixing itself as a site of nostalgic longing years before we actually returned ‘home’. The summer of 1979 was the summer of Superman The Movie, which I saw at what would become my favorite Hong Kong movie theatre, Ocean Theatre, just off the Kowloon-side Star Ferry Pier.

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And it was there, in the damp, air-conditioned chill of a darkened hall, on one of the largest movie screens I’d ever seen, that past met present in one short shot:

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When I left the theater that first time and returned to the sweltering summer heat of Hong Kong, that mellow afternoon light streaming between the skyscrapers had become for me both Hong Kong and the cinematic memory of a New York I would never see again in quite the same way, blurred together in a moment of déjà disparu.

So that now, whenever I see (or hear) this,

I experience a kind of ineffable longing to return to the Nexus.

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