To Pass, or Nobody Passes

Almost happy, but not quite;
almost happy, but not white.

— Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, p. 130

Hej there. I am Wu, an architecture and urbanism student pursuing a master degree at MIT, United States. Today, I want to tell you my story of (u)hygge and home.

August 24, 2016. The airport is packed with people, mixed with the sounds of different messages in Danish accents broadcasting at the same time. Someone is going to miss their flight. As I pass by a line of Chinese passengers at the tax refund window, I look into the mirror thinking that I look quite normal in the mix of European travellers. It is like, I am one of them. The cool ones. The ones that you never see under the sign of Global Blue.

It was then that I moved to Copenhagen for the Royal Danish Academy for a master degree. A week later, I biked into my first accident. As apologetic as one could possibly be, I found myself on the receiving end of a racist tirade shaming me as a foreigner, a tourist, and a terrorist. Quickly enough, I got myself kicked out of my first home – the white gays with blue eyes said they knew “Asians like you” are all the same.

In this happiness mecca, still, I am unhappy. In an instant, I see myself in Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied: an alien, unseen, seen, unwanted. I feel little comfort, security, or warmth. I am the enemy of hygge. I am the uhygge.

Two months and five AirBnBs later, I finally found myself ending up in a cozy apartment with scented candles, woven throws, blond wood, and a nostalgic fireplace. This Danish fairytale came into my life and lasted only a month before I quit. I quit school because my student visa was revoked, and I am forced to realize that Copenhagen was no longer my home, never was, and never would be where I belong. I couldn’t help but wonder, if home is where a person belongs, how do people of color and Danish-wannabees like me build home here and live in hygge?

My uhyggelig living experience in Denmark becomes my own wounds of passion. In my thesis, I use them as orientation devices to follow you, those who come to “audition,” to write my/our own account of (u)hygge that is alternative, spatial, and emotion-charged. I want to map the lines of our desires, create our stories, our dreams, our ideas of hygge, and images of home.

If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me by email, wyhli@mit.edu.