Born in: Houston, Texas
States/countries lived in: Pennsylvania (Philadelphia): 1989-1990, 1993-1997, 1999-2004, 2006-2010; Louisiana (New Orleans): 1990-1993; Washington (Seattle): 1997-1999; Arizona (Scottsdale): 2004-2006; Japan (Tokyo): 2010-present
Cyber coordinates: Hey from Japan — Notes on Moving (blog)
What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
My husband’s company offered him a job in Japan. We were living near Philadelphia at the time, our fourth “tour of duty” in that city. We jumped at the chance to go somewhere new — location wasn’t that important. Unlike most citizens of the Displaced Nation, I’d never lived overseas. I should point out, though, that in the American vernacular “expat” is often used to describe a person who moves beyond a 50-mile radius from where they were born. By that standard, I’ve long been considered an expat, with Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Washington state on my resume. At one point, back in the days when I was working as a jack-of-all-trades in the pharmaceuticals industry, I commuted to New Jersey — which in dog years counts as exile in Siberia.
Is anyone else in your immediate family a “displaced” person?
My father is a displaced Canadian living in the US. Does that count? Seriously, he was born in Edmonton, Alberta. After attending medical school, he left to do his residency, internship, and fellowships in the US, which had more cutting-edge techniques and offered more advanced studies than the Canadian system. Eventually, he became too involved in academia to return to Canada, although he still goes back and forth.
Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
It probably won’t surprise you when I say that the earthquake on March 11th produced one of the worst feelings of displacement — literal as well as psychological — I’ve ever experienced. I was in a small grocery store in Tokyo at the time, trying to read the back of a ready-mix pancake box. The rest of the boxes on the shelves started falling on me, and I could hear glass breaking as wine bottles fell to the floor. The other shoppers, who were mostly Japanese housewives, and I made a beeline for the door. As we reached the street, I saw a man holding on to a street lamp that was swaying back and forth, the top almost touching the ground at my feet. I remember thinking: “These 40-year-old buildings are going to fall on top of me. Where do I go to stay alive?” I headed toward the intersection, stumbling as I went — it was like running on a trampoline with someone else jumping on it. Once I reached the middle of the intersection, I stood there watching and saying nothing while vending machines crashed down, plants fell off balconies, and bikes toppled over. In that moment, I wondered how my biggest worry went from driving car pool on time, to staying alive so I could find my family — alive or dead. (Fortunately, they were all safe.)
Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
One activity that remains consistent no matter where we live is the kids’ participation in track. Since track meets are an all-day event, my husband and I pitch tent and settle in as though we were on a campsite. This year, just like every other, we hammered in the stakes, opened the cooler, and fed or watered every kid on the track team. And our kids referred to us as “Mr. and Mrs. Noddin’” — not our real names.
You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing a ninja for their home security value, but once gunpowder was introduced to Japan, the profession went into decline. Besides, the poor man might suffocate if he had to be packed in my suitcase. So instead I’ll carry in these wonderful carved wooden fish I discovered in a Tokyo antique shop. Two fish are looped together with ropes to which big hooks are attached — ideal for hanging pots in the kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen: you’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I can make a mean plate of fried green tomatoes, fried okra, collards, corn bread, fried chicken, and black eyed peas. To that I’ll add two dishes that are popular in the Western U.S.: 1) grilled salmon on a plank and 2) fajitas with homemade guacamole. For starters, there will be a choice of Louisiana gumbo (for which I’m famous) and tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce — yes, I’m learning how to “cook” Japanese! Please note that I haven’t chosen to include any of the traditional Amish-country foods despite my many years as a Pennsylvania resident. I can’t make any of the good stuff, and the bad stuff — especially scrapple (pon haus) — is really bad. Residents of The Displaced Nation should not be eating pork scraps if they can avoid it — though I understand your numbers include a dog named Fergus? But dogs are rather spoiled nowadays, and I suspect Fergus may turn his nose up, too.
You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to the Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From the South: Hey. It’s the most common greeting. By adopting this term, you’ll have an easy way of knowing if someone is an outsider. Do they say “hello” or “hi”? Then they’re not from these parts.
From Pennsylvania: Goomba, meaning a male friend. Use it often, and it will detract the kinds of visitors you don’t want.
From the Southwest: Ride ‘em hard and put ‘em away wet — referring, of course, to how one rides a horse. My husband and I approach parenting in a similar manner.
From Louisiana: Le bon ton roule! Cajun for “Let the good times roll!”
From Washington state: Chinook — a type of salmon. You gotta know your salmon (also true in Japan, of course).
From Japan: So desu ne — meaning “Oh, is that so?” It’s a way of showing that you’re listening when the other person is talking — and I suspect that some Displaced Nation citizens could use some help in that department. I mean, all of us expats want to tell our stories, but how much do we want to listen?
Question: Readers, tell us what you think: should we welcome Emily Cannell to The Displaced Nation and if so, why? (Note: It’s fine to vote “no” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — Emily included — find amusing.)
img: Emily Cannell deciding whether to put her carrier bags down and use the facilities in Tokyo’s Harajuku station.
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