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Kate Thompson

Illustration by Kate Thompson

It wasn’t societal pressure, marriage, entering my 30s, financial security or a steady job that made me want to buy a house. It was a question posed to me by a little old Chinese lady on a rickety train bound for Beijing.

“Where is your home?” She asked me, as we slowly chugged our way from inner Mongolia to China’s capital a year ago.

The query floored me. Fact was, I wasn’t quite sure anymore.

The past four years of my life had been steeped in Asia. I’d just left Mongolia, a magical place where I’d lived for a year, teaching local reporters a little bit about American journalism (and learning a lot from them about how to enjoy life). Before that, I’d spent two years living and working in Hong Kong as a journalist. The remaining year I had traveled through Asia for two- to six-month chunks at a time.

I was slowly, after Beijing, meandering my way back to Seattle, where I’d been raised. But it had been so long since I’d been here, I wasn’t sure if it felt like home anymore.

I continued to ponder the question upon my return. But even seeing old friends and family and getting a full-time job didn’t help clarify matters — the job was temporary, and while my friends and family are wonderful, they’re also generally around whether I stay or go. I couldn’t imagine settling down, so I tacked up a map of South America on the wall of the room I rented, bought the Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador, and prepared to go South.

Just an Investment

Then I found her.

She’s a three-bedroom, two-bath 1912 house smack in the middle of Rainier Valley. She’s got ugly tan vinyl siding and a rotting front and back porch and has been burnt down and cheaply rebuilt twice. When I first saw her, the kitchen plumbing was held up in one place with a Pepsi can and piece of wire. The carpet was so dirty it squished under foot and clouds of gnats flew up at each step. The inside paint job was peeling, moldy, and covered with crayon drawings. And there was enough wildlife living behind the oven to fill an entire National Geographic episode.

She was perfect.

I had to ease into home ownership. At first, I bought the place as an investment, and planned to rent it out as soon as it was fixed up while I traveled in South America. Then I decided to move in and rent out three rooms, putting off my South American sojourn for a couple months. I finally gave in, moved in, and took a one-month “consolation trip” to Europe.

When I get nostalgic for the international life, I just hop on the #7 bus — where I can soak up some Vietnamese, Cantonese, Somalian, Ethiopian, and Spanish on a single ride.

Well Maybe a Sabbatical
What I’m leading up to is that I love the house. As any homeowner would understand.

Rats, exposed insulation, bad drainage and all. I’ve hauled nearly two tons of trash from the house to the dump. It took more than three months after I moved in to get a kitchen and full bathroom installed. I’m handling tools I’ve never even cradled in my palms before, with sometimes disastrous results: I cracked my head open with a crow bar, for example, while trying to pry off desiccated floorboards. And my painting trim line is mighty shaky.

But dozens of people have put more than the usual blood sweat and tears into the place ­from the real estate agent who knew me when I was four years old, to the one-day painting party in which friends and family managed to paint the entire house. I live here, now, with rotating roommates and a cat. Sans a bathroom or two, depending upon the vigor of my remodeling urges.

And it is home. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the end of my wandering days — I’m just taking a sabbatical. I figured out that knowing when to stay is just as important as knowing when to go. And I have the feeling a great adventure awaits here on my home turf. 

Destinations: Home Turf


A Place to Hang Your Pack

"Where is your home?" The query floored me.

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