Suddenly, I felt as if I had come home. I can see the town of the Tang people even now in the late afternoon sun – not as it is now, full of souvenir shops and neon signs, but as it was then. The houses and the stores had all the right colors and shapes, for they had been built not by demons but by the Tang people. It looked much like the streets in Canton, the city in the Middle kingdom from which I had sailed. (2.31)
In the beginning of the novel, Moon Shadow identifies home according to its physical appearance and likeness to the only home he has ever known in the Middle Kingdom. Home is a collection of familiarities to him.
Upon my bed
Lies the bright moonlight
Like frost upon the earth.
Lifting my eyes,
I see the bright moon.
Closing my eyes,
I see home. (2.43-49)
The poem that Lefty has drawn of the famous Chinese poet Li Po shows us that Windrider is not the only man in the Company who longs for a sense of home. In this poem, home is a sense that can be accessed in the mind.
Father cupped his hands about his mouth. "Give it more string," he shouted to her. "Give it more string. It smells its home." (8.37)
Windrider likens the sky as the glider model's home, raising questions of where he believes his home to be. Committed as he is to his destiny as a dragon, we understand that he is fascinated with flying machines because he too senses that his home is in the sky.
Lefty let out a low whistle when he saw the window. "Surely it is the very jewel of heaven," he said. We did not need to translate that. Miss Whitlaw beamed. We wrapped it carefully in newspaper and then in a second layer of blankets before we put it in the wagon in the little nest. Miss Whitlaw turned then and took the door key out of her purse. "Oh, dear, I feel so silly" […] She walked quickly back up the path to her door and locked it. Then she put the key back into her purse. It was the last time she would be able to do that. (9.179-182)
Through this moment with Miss Whitlaw, we see how soul-crushing the earthquake's damage was. The role of the earthquake in the novel functions as a further reminder of the instability of physical homes and the need to be able to create home wherever one is.
It was kind of scary. One day we were living in a law-abiding community and the next day the city and the community had both dissolved, with every person for himself. It struck me that Father and I had probably walked by this house, feeling as safe as we could feel in a demon street, many times, and now here we were hiding behind what was left of it, trying to keep from getting shot. (10.6)
Moon Shadow's sense of place and security is disrupted by the earthquake, suggesting that a sense of space can change too quickly for home to be dependent on spatial coordinates alone.
Uncle planted his feet firmly on the ground and folded his arms across his chest. "I'm staying."
Hand Clap planted his feet just as firmly. "Then I'm staying too," he announced.
"So am I," Lefty said.
"Yes, we'll all stay," Father said.
Uncle glared around at all of us. He was not used to being disobeyed. He scratched his jaw then angrily for some time. Finally he grumbled. "Well, someone with sense better nursemaid the lot of you young rascals. Put my chair on the wagon, but mind you don't scratch it." (10.31-35)
At first, Uncle refuses to leave the building he has called home for so long. It is not until all of his best friends stand with him that he realizes that the people, relationships, and sense of home he's developed in the building are more valuable than the building itself.
The Tang people had tried to gather into a group. I saw some tents here and there – for the most part, old ones with patches on them, or tents improvised out of sheets. There was a particularly dazzling one with bright purple silk sheets. Father and I both recognized them as sheets that we used to pick up from a demon millionaire. I suppose Hand Clap had picked them up a few days ago and they had been cleaned but not returned. Out of some perverse pride, Uncle had told them to use those sheets for the tent. (10.38)
Uncle Bright Star makes the most out of a bad situation by boldly using luxurious fabric when they create a temporary home space in Golden Gate Park. His action shows a sense of respect and propriety for any home he inhabits.
Eventually I wound up running our household, or maybe our barnhold is a better word. Among other things, I planned our meals, washed our clothes, kept the barn as clean as I could under the circumstances, and oversaw the budget once Father showed me how to do it. That left Father all his free time to work on flying. (11.16)
Moon Shadow takes on the role of homemaker in order for his father to pursue the dream. This could suggest that Moon Shadow and Father consider flying a contribution to homemaking. This could also suggest that Father does not consider the project of flying as related to that of homemaking and leaves the housework for Moon Shadow to do.
"Houses don't mean much. It's the people inside them that are important," I said.
Father grinned sardonically. "Yes, and you no sooner get to like those people than they're dead, or they move away. Like the Whitlaws." (10.132-133)
Windrider bitterly reminds us that home may be where the heart is, but it still hard to lose places and people.