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Dipika Kohli on world community art, defining a future, and why “wait and see” won’t cut it

tumblr_m7b7kmftdt1qaqyfmToday TDN welcomes Dipika Kohli, author of The Elopement, which we reviewed in September last year. Raised in America by Indian parents, Dipika now lives with her Japanese husband, Akira, in Durham, North Carolina, where the couple run a design company

Together, they are the driving force behind Stitch, a community art project for which they are currently raising funds on Kickstarter in order to take the project around the globe. 

Dipika, who has channeled her own feelings of displacedness into writing and art, joins us today to tell us more about this exciting project, the first in a series.

We begin with an intro to what Stitch is all about…

Stitch 101

Stitch is about supporting local artists and the art scene; it’s about a community defining the fabric of itself and its future. It’s community art, and an exercise in word-driven intention-setting at the same time.

Dipika and Akira say:

Now, we’re bombarded by images we never chose for ourselves—we let brands and labels do the work to define and express who we are. It doesn’t have to be that way. What if we could choose what we see? In simple, uplifting, people-nominated and people-chosen words and images? Would we, as a community, behave differently? Would we know who we are?

5d4954b68a302fd6081cb8f67e904ad2_large-1

The 276 words representing Durham, NC, in a word-cloud indicating frequency/popularity

For two months, Dipika and Akira talked to hundreds of people in their town of Durham, North Carolina, asking them one question:

What would you like to see Durham become, in one word?

After collecting many words, the residents of Durham voted for those that described their vision of the future Durham — the Durham they would like to be part of.

The resultant 276 words were passed onto two dozen local artists, who created work inspired by these words. Collectively, these pieces create a vision for the town, while money raised from the selling of these pieces will take Stitch to other communities in the world,

“connecting disparate communities with a common thread of art and collective visions.”

And now — over to Dipika:

Insane…or brilliant?

You have to either be insane or brilliant. To do it, I mean. To get up and do the crazy thing that no one believes will ever work. Everyone who says they care about you and your future likes to say, “Just wait, and see.” See if you can save enough. See if you still feel like doing something wild and crazy. Wait. See.

I’m done with that approach.

You see, I’ve been “waiting and seeing” for about a year now. I’ve been wanting to get back on the road, but why? How? What would that accomplish? A little Descartes reincarnation was sitting on my shoulder, niggling.

March, I said, was when I’d pull the trigger. Whether it made “sense” or not to jump ship and move out of my apartment for some unknown adventure ahead.

Taking Flight

March 16. My birthday. The day I launched the book that took me 13 years to get the nerve up to actually publish. So romantic, I thought, to finally upload Flight of Pisces and then move out of my apartment, and “away.” Wherever that might be.

Flight of Pisces was about the time I left Durham, NC, to trek about in India. Footloose and in search of “identity,” I wanted to see the place where my parents originally come from. New Delhi, and Old Delhi. I went solo, and I did it big, culminating in something that all these years later, I shake my head about, thinking, “Did I have some kind of death wish?”

Maybe I did.

Maybe it was survivor’s guilt. Or more, or less. Who knows.

What I do know, and what I can say, is that it had to be the way it was. I had to go and try something that seemed like it was the most absurd and off-the-track kind of thing in the world, in the universe, even, because without having gone and done it, I wouldn’t have ever gotten it. “The glimpse.” A feeling that the world was shifting beneath my feet. And, indeed, it was.

Now, the same feeling is resurfacing.

On the road again

I’m getting lost in the world, again, and on purpose one more time. It’s okay with me that I have a four year-old who’ll be my classmate on this new tour as we go on an educational field trip together to someplace new. I can’t disclose all the details (yet), but I’m trusting it’s going to be okay.

We’ll have just one text with us, in our imaginations. A book that’s got a bunch of blank pages inside, and one image. It’s the cover, and it looks like this:

It’s the drawing I made back in 1994, when I met my husband, Akira Morita. He’s from Japan, and I’m Indian-American, and we eloped to Ireland in 2000. You could say we like to mix it up. Or just trust that we’ll find something wherever we go. One thing’s for sure, we’re always getting to know a bunch of people well, and anyone who’s into the displaced feeling of being elsewhere knows what I mean.

I held a roundtable last year called EXPAT at a place in town called Mad Hatter’s. It’s a little cafe, and about a dozen of us got together to talk about our experiences in places like Ghana, Madagascar, and all parts of Europe, too. Conversations like that made me feel like I was on the road again.

From T-shirt designs to Stitch concept

Now, Akira and I are 18 years older than we were when we met, and we’ve evolved a lot from those days when we thought printing a T-shirt design on a shirt was cool. Our style has gone conceptual, and now we’re doing our biggest art project together yet. It’s called STITCH, and it’s on Kickstarter now through April 28.

Part of the reason we’re doing this is to shape the community for the place where we both have spent the biggest chunks of our life: Durham, North Carolina. But there’s more, too. Lots of things I want to talk about with you in upcoming posts from this new series. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

Find out more about STITCH here at the Kickstarter website!

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STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Born to run the Shikoku Pilgrimage—and write a book about it (which we’re giving away!)

AMY ChavezWe dedicate today’s interview with distance runner Amy Chavez to those affected by the Boston marathon bombings. Our hopes and prayers and encouragement are with you.

When it comes to long-distance running, I couldn’t put it better than the American cowboy Will Rogers once did:

We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

I simply haven’t got the necessary strength, both physical and mental, for that kind of endurance test.

Is it any wonder, then, that I’m feeling intimidated by the prospect of talking to Japan-based expat Amy Chavez about her 900-mile run around Shikoku Island? We’re talking ultramarathon here.

The redoubtable Amy hails from Ohio but has lived in Japan for many years, where she is a well-known writer and columnist for the leading English-language newspaper, the Japan Times.

In 1998, she spent five weeks during March and April running the traditional pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. In essence she ran a marathon per day (sometimes more). And although the weather and conditions were pleasant enough—it was cherry blossom season—it was cold at night, and there were many mountains, though the roads were the worst part “because pavement is hard on the feet, knees, etc.”

Last month Amy published a book with Volcano Press about her record-breaking adventure (almost needless to say, she was the first person to accomplish this feat), Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Englightenment—a copy of which we are giving away!!! (Details below.)

But first I want to find out more about what motivated her on her epic—and energetic—journey, including any challenges she faced in writing her book.

* * *

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmSo, Amy, I understand you decided to run the 900-mile-long Shikoku Pilgrimage after being laid off by the university where you were teaching in Japan. What made you think that running vast distances might be the answer?
Physical challenges have a certain appeal. I was interested in the physical journey, as I think most foreigners are when they walk the pilgrimage the first time.

But you didn’t walk it; you ran it!
For some reason I have never discovered the joy of walking. I dreaded the thought of walking 900 miles, the distance from San Diego to Oregon. But running is somehow different. When people go running, it’s not unusual to run 10 km or more, three or four times a week. People hardly ever do that walking. Instead, they walk around the block and come back. Runners don’t do that. We’re in for the long haul.

Did making this journey allow you to see Japan in a new way?
I was able to see Japan much more objectively. I went from being in my own little world where everything was centered around me—thus when my world crashed, so did I—to being an observer of Japanese culture in the framework of the pilgrimage. So there was a fundamental shift from being a part of the university, where the students and the university relied on me, my teaching skills, and my commitment, to being part of the pilgrimage that didn’t really care whether I did those things or not. The pilgrimage doesn’t care whether you show up or not, whether you complete it or not, whether you understand how it works. In other words, it’s not about you at all. So suddenly you’re on the other end, trying to understand what it is that the pilgrimage is trying to give you, on its own terms, and what you can learn and take away from it.

What was your most displaced moment on the journey?
I’d never felt displaced in Japan until I lost my job. It was a very big thing for me because I had put so much time, effort and love into that job. Suddenly, without warning, I was let go, all because I was a foreigner. I just couldn’t get my head around that. So the journey started as a result of this unnatural feeling of being displaced. The people who had treated me like family had suddenly tossed me out on the street. I was searching for ways to deal with my feelings toward Japan and Japanese people.

“The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race.” [Marathon sign]

How did your feelings toward Japan evolve once the journey got underway?
I was able to see the pilgrimage as this microcosm of Japanese culture. If you’re ever wondered why the Japanese do things or act a certain way, you can find out through this historical context of Buddhism, and the Shikoku Pilgrimage which has been walked for over a thousand years. The purpose of the pilgrimage—to reach enlightenment—has never wavered over the centuries.

You became less and less displaced?
Doing the pilgrimage is often referred to as entering a mandala. You have to leave your safe, secure world and cross over into an unknown world where you are no longer in control. Once you accept this, and surrender yourself to the pilgrimage, you will no longer feel displaced.

Wise words! How long did it take before you surrendered?
It happens for different people at various parts of their pilgrimage but for me, this happened about one third of the way through, or two weeks into, the pilgrimage. Suddenly everything fell into place. I had finally learned to go with the flow and let things happen to me rather than trying to control things that happened to me. We are so used to taking control of our lives: we plan our trips down to the finest detail, we budget monthly, weekly and even daily, we get the right job. But life doesn’t care how much you’ve planned. Life continues to throw us curve balls—your car dies, you come down with an illness, you lose your job. Despite our steadfast planning, that’s not how life works.

It’s is not how the pilgrimage works either. Despite your intentions to do something a certain way, the pilgrimage will constantly present you with challenges—things you’d never planned on. Once you surrender to the ways of the pilgrimage, you no longer feel displaced. You no longer struggle with the elements, the terrain or nature. Instead, you become one with them.

Not surprisingly, this is one of Buddhism’s life metaphors as well.

Another ultramarathon—writing the book

I believe you chronicled your Shikoku adventure in the Japan Times?
Actually, I wrote six columns for the Japan Times. I also kept a diary, but that was separate from the columns.

Once you’d decided to write a book about the experience, what was the greatest challenge?
Time. It takes an enormous amount of time to write a good book. It’s all consuming, a full-time job. On top of that, I still had my weekly deadlines for the newspaper and other publications I write for.

Your book is coming out 15 years after you made the pilgrimage. Why the delay?
It’s not unusual to have so many years between a story and a published book. There’s the year (or longer) it takes to write, there’s the year-long (or longer) search for a publisher, the six months negotiation with the publisher(s), and then the two-year process from book contract to published book. So already five years has passed, and that’s with no bumps along the way.

Then there’s also timing. No one was really interested in my story at the time I did it. But things have changed drastically since then. NHK has had a popular TV series about the pilgrimage, previous books about the pilgrimage have run their course and gone out of print (thus creating a demand for something new), and ultra-running has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

Did you derive any new insights from revisiting the adventure?
That’s another reason I think you see so many books that are published a decade or so after they happened is because people often need distance before they can really understand their own journey. How can you talk about how an experience has changed you, or changed your life, if you haven’t had time to prove that it really has? Time gives one perspective. And with time comes wisdom. I was just reading a book the other day and couldn’t help but think it would have been so much better if the writer had waited a decade or so tell his story. He, nor his writing, had matured yet; his book had no arc, it offered no wisdom.

So while I wish my book could have been published a long time ago, I know it’s a much better book because I waited.

What audiences do you intend for the book?
There are three: those interested in Japan, those interested in Buddhism, and those interested in running. The book was officially released in March, and the reviews are just beginning to come out, so it’s too early to tell if those are the audiences the book will attract.

How about people who don’t know Japan—would they enjoy it, or would you be running circles around them?
You would have to have some innate interest in other cultures to get the most enjoyment out of the book—which I think most Displaced Nation readers have. But even if you are only interested in people’s amazing feats and accomplishments, you should enjoy the story, too. It is an adventure travel story about a girl who ran 900 miles that happens to take place in Japan.

Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage sounds like a hard act to follow. Are you working on any other ambitious travel projects that will one day be books?
I have an original hand-written diary of my great-great grandfather’s journey through Japan’s Inland Sea to the Philippines on a ship in 1900. In 2004 I decided to trace his journey in a sailboat. Unfortunately, the trip was cut short when we had to be rescued at sea, and we lost the boat. Determined to finish the trip, however, we bought another sailboat and set out again in 2012. This time we finished the trip despite dodging four typhoons, two tropical storms and running into a reef. I haven’t decided whether the title of the book should be Little Titanic or Storm Girl.

What do you think?

Love it! (Hmmm … the limb doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

10 Questions for Amy

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
Last truly great book you read: Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It’s always the last great book I read.
Favorite literary genre: Adventure travel, memoirs.
Reading habits on a plane: E-books only. Whatever is stacked up still waiting to be read. I also read tons of magazines.
The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Any book on the current farming industry and feedlots. Save the cows!
Favorite books as a child: Anything about horses.
Favorite heroine: I admire Nora Ephron.
The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: I’d like to go fishing with Ernest Hemingway.
Your reading habits: Mostly non-fiction. More and more creative non-fiction. A little bit of fiction.
The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I’ve learned that books and film are completely different genres, so don’t dare compare them.
The book you plan to read next: Right now I’m reading The Annotated Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn. Next I’m going to read Strength Training Past 50. (Hey, you asked!) Oh, I might read Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young, before the strength training one, but I haven’t decided yet. Oh, I just remembered, my Dad wants me to read A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, by Thomas Sowell, so I better read that one next.

* * *

Readers, now it’s your chance to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Amy Chavez’s book. Please leave a comment telling us about a physical challenge you’ve set for yourself, preferably in an international setting, and what it taught you. Extra points if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!!!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on May 2, 2013.

Readers lucky enough to live in the LA area: Amy will be signing books and meeting readers at the LA Times Festival of Books April 20 held on the USC campus, Los Angeles. Look for her in the Kinokuniya booth from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. Copies of her book also available for purchase. April 21, she will be speaking at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo from 1:00 p.m. Public welcome.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post and for a post on Friday about our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: Amy Chavez; Meditating Cat (a character in the book); and Daruma Doll (drawing by Deborah Davidson)—all supplied by Amy Chavez, with permission granted by Davidson. The other two images—of the running feet and the cherry blossoms—are from morguefiles.

LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 6) Keep Calm and Run a Bath

I didn’t think seriously about fashion and beauty until I, an American East Coaster, became a resident of two small islands: Britain and then Japan.

Both London and Tokyo are fashion capitals, and living in each of these cities, I found that every so often I really enjoy thinking about striking clothing combinations, make-up, and self-pampering.

Would I have discovered this love of what America’s Puritan founders would call frivolity had I stayed in this country? It’s conceivable, especially if I’d moved to New York City, where I now live as a repatriate. (NOTE: While I do not have Puritan ancestry, I was raised to be a bluestocking, not a girl in rhinestone-studded pantyhose.)

But in the event, I discovered fashion and beauty through my travels — and from learning about how women in other countries clothe and groom themselves.

So what, you may ask, were my key take-aways from this relatively speaking decadent period of my life? No specific beauty products or fashions, but these five guiding principles:

1) To get an English rose (or any other perfect) complexion, you have to be born with it. Nevertheless, skin care is worth it.

As a Caucasian woman, one of my beauty ideals was that of the English rose: a woman with flawless porcelain skin and rosy cheeks that look as though they’ve been produced by good bracing walks in the countryside wearing sensible shoes and tweed skirts.

When I first moved to England and encountered some actual English Roses, I wondered: is it because of the climate, the cosmetics from Boots the Chemist, the diet? (How do I get me one of those?)

My research soon revealed that diet has nothing to do with it. Not in a country where people grow up eating chips and crisps.

And as nice as the No7 products are, they can’t work miracles.

So maybe a glowing appearance is the result of England’s unique climatic conditions: a paucity of direct sunlight and the moisturizing drizzle that almost always seems to be in the air?

I hardly think that can be the case, as there are plenty of Britons with problem skin…

Trying not to turn pea green with envy (hardly a flattering shade!), I could come to only one conclusion: you have to be born with it.

But, not to despair! Once I reached Japan, where women are obsessed with their skin — some even use whitening lotions to obtain a creamier complexion — I learned that of all the things you can do for beauty, skin care is the most worthwhile.

Ladies, if you protect your skin, you might find yourself turning into an English Rose when you get a bit older — the Last Rose of Summer, so to speak.  While some may swear by Crème de la Mer, I go with the regime I picked up in Japan: sunscreen, a hat and a parasol.

I’d also recommend befriending your dermatologist, who knows a lot more about skin care and sun protection than the woman behind the cosmetics counter…

2) Don’t be afraid of experimenting with your hair: it can add some spice and life to your image.

In the UK one of my English rose-complexioned friends favored a chic bob — but with a streak of blue, green or red in it.

As an American fresh off the boat, I was rather scandalized. Why was she ruining a perfectly good hairstyle?

Over time, however, I came to realize that when you live in a country where skies are often the color of lead, adding a bright color to a strand of hair can brighten up your day.

By the time I left England, I could no longer understand why any woman, once she reached maturity, wouldn’t dye or highlight her hair. She doesn’t know the fun she’s missing out on! And, even though I have yet to streak my hair in an outrageous color, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

In Japan, too, I got some kicks from playing with my hair — this time, by adorning it with the kinds of hair ornaments that have been popular since the times when women wore kimono and kanzashi: combs, hair sticks and pins, hair bands, and fancy barrettes.

I did not have particularly long hair when I first reached Japan, but as long hair is the signature of Japanese ladies — and they were my new role models — I soon had locks long enough to make the most of such accessories. My favorite was the snood — I had one that was attached to a barrette covered with a bow. What a great way to keep long hair out of one’s face.

3) Gemstones and pearls are a girl’s best friend.

Sorry, Marilyn dear, but after living in the UK and Japan, my BFFs are gemstones and pearls. Is this because I went to England in the era of Princess Diana, with her (now Kate Middleton’s) 18-carat sapphire ring?

My relationship with colored gemstones only deepened after I moved to Japan and went on several sojourns into Southeast Asia, land of rubies and sapphires, among others.

My engagement ring is a ruby (purchased by my hubby in Tokyo!).

In Japan itself, I fell for pearls and now have quite the collection of necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, mostly from Wally Yonamine’s in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. The owner, Jane, wife of  Wally (a professional baseball player who played with the Yomiuri Giants) is a displaced Japanese Hawaiian.

4) Youth is the time to have fun with fashion.

In the UK, I was taken in by the spectacle of punk and post-punk kids and their strange fashions, while in Japan I found it mesmerizing to watch the Lolita fashions of the Harajuku kids, on a Sunday afternoon.

Eventually, instead of thinking they were weird, I regretted never having had my own equivalent of wearing Doc Martens with a Laura Ashley dresses … sporting long, back-combed hair, pale skin, dark eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, black nail varnish, along with a spiked bracelet and dog-collar … dressing up like a Victorian boy …

It just wasn’t the done thing, in my stiff, conservative American circles, to wear outlandish garb. And now it’s too late, of course. Youth is the time when you can get away with it. After that, you have to wait for Halloween. (Unless, of course, you want to come across as “mutton dressed as lamb,” as the English say…)

5) Last but not least, my top beauty tip, reinforced by both of these countries: A bath is much preferable to a shower.

At the beginning of living in England, I missed the American shower so much. I was convinced I would never be clean again. But then one day I woke up and realized I’d been brainwashed into believing I needed to have a shower every day. In fact, daily showers dry out the skin. As one dermatologist puts it:

Most people wash far too much. Using piping-hot water combined with harsh soaps can strip the skin of its oils, resulting in dryness, cracking and even infection.

That was around the same time I opened my mind to the possibility that baths — which tend to be favored over showers in the UK (at least in my day) — might actually be preferable. Nothing like a long hot bath with a glass of wine and a book, my English friends would say. Or, as one British beauty site puts it:

A nice bubble bath is the closest you can come to having a spa-like relaxing experience in your own home, without much effort or without spending a lot of money.

Too true! Plus the English shops sell such wonderful bubble bath creams. My favorite was the Perlier Honey Miel (actually from Italy).

Still, I didn’t mind giving all of that up once I reached Tokyo — not the bathing but the bubbles. In the land of the communal bath, you scrub the skin first and then have a long soak in clean hot water, in a tub (ofuro) that is deep rather than long.

Indeed, Japan was where I learned the benefits of exfoliation: I ended up sloughing off dry skin from parts of my body I didn’t know existed. And then the immersion in clean hot water: bliss! Like returning to the womb…

For a Japanese who works long hours, bathing is a sacred time, a ritual. While I haven’t quite converted that far, I have a Pavlovian reaction every time I hear bath water running. Time to go into Total Relax Mode!

I even have a Japanese bath here in my apartment in NYC, and the thought of sitting in it is what keeps me going … That said, I must confess that I sometimes put bubbles in. What can I say? I’m displaced.

* * *

So, readers, what do you make of my five beauty principles? Have you picked up any of your own in the countries where you live? I’m all ears — only please excuse me for a minute while I make sure the bath water isn’t running over. (I don’t want my downstairs neighbors knocking on my door at 3:00 a.m.!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Image: MorgueFile

5 movies for expats and world travelers looking to stir up romance this Valentine’s Day

Editor’s note: Today we are happy to welcome a new member to the Displaced Nation team, Andy Martin. His debut post introduces our two favorite February’s themes: Valentine’s Day (aka expat love) and displaced movies (in honor of Oscar season). For those who haven’t read Andy’s Random Nomad interview with us, it’s worth knowing that he’s a UK-qualified social worker who now lives in Brazil with his Brazilian wife, and a self-professed football geek.

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Brazil is that Valentine’s Day is not actually celebrated here until 12th June, where it is instead known as Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day). The reasoning for this is that 12th June is the eve of St. Anthony’s Day, the saint otherwise known as “the marriage saint.”

Additionally, what the rest of us know as Valentine’s Day (14th February) typically falls during or around the time of Carnaval, and anyone who knows anything about the excesses of Carnaval knows that a holiday to celebrate fidelity may probably be best left until later in the year — say, June time.

Anyhow, seeing as my wife has lived in the UK and now openly embraces British culture she’s suggested that it would only be proper to celebrate both the British and Brazilian holidays — she’s a clever one! And what more traditional way to celebrate than a trip to the cinema?

Bearing this in mind, I’ve made a list of 5 films that couples like us — multicultural, expat, glolo and/or nomadic — might like to watch this coming Valentine’s Day, to stir up the romance of travel that brought you together in the first place…

The one about adventure

IndianaJones_small1) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg
An action-adventure drama that pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible.

Why I like it: The original Indiana Jones trilogy was released between 1981 and 1989, and despite the pointless release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, it will forever remain, for my generation at least, what introduced us to the potential excitement of exploring the unknown.

Personal note: I love my in-laws but they neglected their parenting duties in one pretty big way: their failure to introduce my wife to Indiana Jones (a situation that has, thankfully, now been rectified).

Most stunning aspect: Let’s face it, any film that can make archaeology seem like the coolest profession in the world has got to be doing something right hasn’t it?

The ones with the romantic clichés

The traveler is often accused of being a romantic, an idealist and of someone who is running away from life and all the problems and commitments that go with it. The alternative argument is that the traveler is actually taking life by the scruff of the neck and living it to the full.

Either way, two films that best capture this dialectic are the two that often most lionized by today’s generation of travelers:

IntotheWild_small2) Into the Wild (2007), dir. Sean Penn
An adaptation (also by Penn) of the book of the same name, by Jon Krakauer, depicting the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year-old American and persistent wanderer whom believed that there was more to life than settling for the 9-5 grind in an office.

Why I like it: My wife introduced me to it (her riposte to my Indiana Jones exasperation). She had watched it early on in our relationship, when she was in Brazil and I was in London — a genuinely long distance relationship.

Personal note: She said that the film’s protagonist, Chris McCandless, reminded her of me — although fortunately our story has had a bit of a happier ending than his (I’ll say no more in order not to ruin it for you).

No half-measures: Boy did McCandless walk the walk, giving away his $24,000 college fund to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska and plunging into the wilderness, gradually seeking the means to remove himself from the “real world. “

TheMotorcyleDiaries_small3) The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) (2004), dir. Walter Salles
A biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a young man, representing an adaptation of Che’s memoir of the same name, recounting the trip he made around South America with his best friend, Alberto Granado.

Why I like it: Whatever you view of Che is, there is actually relatively little politics in the film, although one is introduced to some of the experiences that started to inform what he later became in life. Instead, for the most part, this is a film which perfectly captures what is to be young and curious of the world outside your own town or city. Che and Alberto chase beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, but also volunteer their time to those less fortunate than themselves.

Personal note: This film was the tipping point in inspiring me to travel around South America.

Memorable scene: There’s a great scene that highlights the dichotomy between the travel romanticized by “travelers” and that which is driven by the needs of most other migrants around the world — the topic of my guest post last month for The Displaced Nation. In it Che and Alberto meet an indigenous couple who have been forced from their lands and who are traveling in order to find work. When the couple ask Alberto and Che why they are traveling, they reply: “We travel just to travel.” Confused, the wife replies: “God bless you.”

The one about being displaced

Lost_in_Translation_small4) Lost in Translation (2003), dir. Sofia Coppola
The story of the unlikely bond between an aging movie star, played by the awesome Bill Murray, and a trailing spouse (Scarlett Johansson), after they meet in the bar of their five star hotel in Tokyo.

Why I like it: Life as a nomad is not all about romantic adventures and life-changing experiences — there are also just as many challenges and struggles: homesickness, culture shock and loss being just some of them. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, one of the films that best explores some of these issues.

Additional benefits: The story is poignant, and the film is beautifully shot.

The one that’s not actually about travel or expats

Blood_into_Wine_small5) Blood Into Wine (2010), dirs. Ryan Page & Christopher Pomerenke
A documentary about the Northern Arizona wine industry focusing on the musician Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and their winery, Caduceus Cellers.

Why I like it: This film doesn’t really have anything to do with either travel or expat life, but I’m including it here because it’s about one of my favorite artists: Maynard James Keenan. A slightly biased choice perhaps, but I think it deserves a merit for the way it encapsulates the spirit of those people who have dreams and then act upon them to make them happen — a spirit which, I think, drives many of us travelers and expats.

Maynard’s dream: Maynard dreams of starting a vineyard in Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Despite the doubts and concerns of the experts he consulted Maynard invested almost his entire fortune, made from working with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, to start a vineyard in Arizona — a state entirely unknown for growing wine.

Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch it, I guess… And don’t forget to invite a date!

* * *

Readers, what do you think of Andy’s suggestions? Are these the sorts of films that make you feel romantic, or do you think he’s bonkers? We’re open to any and all comments…as well as to further recommendations of films likely to bring out the romantic side in us glomads!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our monthly columnist, James Murray, who right now can be found in front of his fireplace in Boston — and not because he’s in a romantic mood! Far from it…

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The 10 Muses of Expat & International Adventure Writing and their 5 most popular tunes

10 muses collageGreetings, Displaced Nation-ers! Ready for a little more intellectual stimulation?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Great Thinkers who can help with task of embracing the well-traveled life and teasing out its deeper meaning, in the new year.

And today I will address the needs of those who have resolved to tackle a major writing project in 2013.

It’s a well-known fact that many of us who live in foreign lands aspire to write novels, memoirs and travelogues about our overseas adventures. But many of us also live in isolated situations (by definition).

So who can aid us, provide our inspiration?

Why, the muses of course!

Tell us, O muses, how to tell our stories…

And we don’t even have to look heavenwards to invoke them! The 10 Muses (that’s one more than the ancients got!) of Expat and International Travel Writing are right in our midst. They have already shared the joys, wonders and value of writing with Displaced Nation readers:

  1. Barbara Conelli, author of the Chique Travel Book series, filled with the charm, beauty, secrets and passion of Italy…
  2. Martin Crosbie, who is writing a trilogy entitled My Temporary Life; in December of last year, he published Book Two: My Name Is Hardly.
  3. Helena Halme, author of the novel The Englishman (2012)
  4. Laura Graham, author of the novel Down a Tuscan Alley (2011)
  5. Matt Krause, author of the memoir A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding love in a Muslim land (2011)
  6. Meagan Adele Lopez, author of the novel Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers (2011)
  7. Edith McClintock, author of the mystery novel Monkey Love and Murder (2013)
  8. Alexander McNabb, who is writing the Levant Cycle, a trilogy of books about the Middle East; he released the second book, Beirut — An Explosive Thriller, last September.
  9. Tony James Slater, erstwhile regular at the Displaced Nation and author of a two-book series: The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a real idiot abroad (2011) and Don’t Need the Whole Dog!, which came out in December.
  10. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, author of Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband (2011) and of several novels that explore cross-cultural themes between the United States and Japan.

Over the past year on our site, if you were listening closely, these heaven-sent muses were singing a number of tunes. Here are their five top hits:

SONG #1: “Yes, it’s hard; yes it’s uphill. But you’re living the dream, which makes writing a thrill!”

In one of the Displaced Nation’s most popular posts of the past year, Tony James Slater tried to make it out that the life of an expat writer is far from glamorous. Don’t believe him. He was pulling your leg, as usual — or singing off key, to continue the metaphor.

Alexander McNabb has the more accurate rendition. Here’s his account of the prep for his latest thriller, Beirut:

While writing it, I spent hours walking around the city, along the curving corniche and up into the busy streets that cling to the foothills rising from the coast up to the snow-capped mountains. Walking with friends, walking alone — day and night, spring and summer. From the maze of funky little bars of Hamra to the boutiques of Verdun, from the spicy Armenian groceries of Bourj Hammoud to the cafés overlooking the famous rocks at Raouché…

Barbara Conelli is another inspirational example. She explores every nook and cranny of Milan so as to take the reader on an armchair journey. And now she is doing the same with Rome, which will be the subject of her third book in the Chique Travel series.

Great work, if you can get it!

SONG #2: “It’s time to make your creative debut — so why not make it all about you?”

These days it’s hard to tell the difference between a heavily autobiographical novel and a memoir, though one of our muses, Helena Halme, insists that there is a distinction. When questioned about her decision to write The Englishman as a novel — it’s about a young Finnish woman, Kaisa, who meets a dashing British naval officer, a plot that echoes very closely her own life story — she had the following to say:

I tried to write a memoir, but couldn’t! Much of this story is, however, true — but I didn’t think I could call it a memoir as some things were pure fiction. I am a novelist and just keep making stories up.

Hmmm… By that reckoning, perhaps Tony James Slater should be a novelist, too? As regular readers of this blog will know, his favorite topic consists of his own, rather daring but also bumbling, world adventures.

But did a bear really eat his pants, or is he exaggerating for comic effect?

The mind boggles…

But whatever the form, the point is that quite a few of our muses have found plenty of material in their own life experiences. Besides Halme and Slater, we have

  • Martin Crosbie: His protagonist, Malcolm, leaves Scotland for Canada at a formative age, just as he did.
  • Laura Graham: Her protagonist, Lorri, arrives in Italy as a forty-something single and finds a younger Italian man, just as she did.
  • Matt Krause: He has written a memoir on the portion of his life that involved meeting a Turkish woman on a plane and following her back to Turkey. (Reader, he married her!)
  • Meagan Adele Lopez: The protagonist of her debut novel, Del, is offered three questions by her British fiancé (just as Lopez was offered three questions by hers).
  • Edith McClintock: Her protagonist, Emma, works as a researcher in the very Amazonian rainforest where she once conducted her own research.

To conclude, the old adage is alive and well, even (especially?) in expat and travel writing: “Write about what you know and care for…”

SONG #3: “Looking for inspiration from above? The answer lies in cross-cultural love.”

Another theme running through the works of several of our muses is the love that takes place across cultures, usually resulting in marriage. I just now referred to the cross-cultural love stories at the heart of the books produced by Helena Halme (Finnish woman, English man), Laura Graham (Englishwoman, Italian man), Matt Krause (American man, Turkish woman) and Meagan Adele Lopez (American woman, Scotsman).

To this list should be added Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, who has written about Western women getting involved with Japanese men — one of the stranger of all possible unions, to be sure! ;) — in both fiction and nonfiction (the latter being a bit of a self-help book).

SONG #4: “As your brainstorming proceeds apace, never forget the appeal of place.”

Since travel is a constant for all of us, it should come as no surprise that particular places can become a pull for certain expat writers. They cannot rest until they’ve depicted a place they’ve experienced so that others can live vicariously. Several of our muses represent this principle:

  • Barbara Conelli and her love for “capricious, unpredictable” Milan. To quote from her book: “When the streets of Milan ask you to dance, there’s nothing else to do but put on your ballet shoes and surrender…”
  • Alexander McNabb and his obsession with Beirut. “There can be few places on earth so sexy, dark, cosmopolitan and brittle…,” he writes in his Displaced Nation post.
  • Edith McClintock and her preoccupation with the rainforest and a place called Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. As her main character, Emma, says:

    I fell completely and irretrievably in love with the rainforest that week — the deep rich smells of dirt and decay and teeming, thriving life; the warm soft light of the rocky moss-covered paths hidden beneath layers of climbing and tumbling lianas and roots; soaring tree trunks wrapped in colorful bromeliads, orchids, moss, and lichens; and the canopy of leaves of every conceivable size and shape….

SONG #5: “Growing weary of fruitless writing sessions? Time to take some acting lessons!”

Four of our ten muses could double as the muses of acting and entertainment:

  • Tony James Slater and Meagan Adele Lopez trained as actors (Lopez actually starred in a bad horror film!) before embarking on their world travels.
  • Laura Graham enjoyed a long career as a stage actress in Britain, working for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Young Vic, and on television, before setting herself up as an expat in Tuscany.
  • Wendy Nelson Tokunaga first went to Japan because she won a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by Japan Victor Records. She is an accomplished karaoke artist who can sing jazz as well as j-pop and enka, a type of sentimental ballad.

Why are so many of the Muses of Expat Writing multi-talented, you may ask? Does a former acting/singing career work to one’s advantage when it comes to overseas travel and writing? I like to think so.

Just as Dickens used to act out the dialogue of his characters, I like to think of Tony James Slater reenacting his wild adventures on the road, in the confines of his flat in Perth…

And sometimes this versatility can add a further dimension to the writing. Last we heard from Lopez, she had created a trailer for her book and was trying to convert it to a screenplay. Tokunaga composed and sang an enka to accompany her novel Love in Translation. (It’s impressive!)

Plus these four could always hew to the tradition of wandering minstrel, one of the oldest careers in the book, if their works don’t sell. (Hey, it’s never a bad idea to have a fallback option when you’re a long ways away from family and friends…)

* * *

So, writers out there, did our 10 Muses sing to you? And will you listen to some of their songs again as you face the blank page in 2013? Let me know in the comments. (Only, be careful of criticizing the Muses — they have been known to be vengeful!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Our Ten Muses (left to right, top to bottom) — Edith McClintock, Barbara Conelli, Tony James Slater; Laura Graham, Martin Crosbie, Helena Halme, Alexander McNabb; Meagan Adele Lopez, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Matt Krause.

Expats, here’s how to enrich your lives in 2013: Choose a mentor or a muse!

Expats and other world adventurers, let me guess. You have you spent the past week making resolutions about

  • staying positive about your new life in Country X;
  • indulging in less of the local stodge;
  • giving up the smoking habit that no one is nagging you about now that you’re so far away from home;
  • and/or taking advantage of travel opportunities within the region that may never come your way again

– while also knowing full well that at some point in the not-distant future, you’ll end up stuffing your face with marshmallows (metaphorically speaking).

Never mind, it happens to the best of us, as psychologist Walter Mischel — he of the marshmallow experimentrecently told Abby Hunstman of the Huffington Post. Apparently, it has something to do with the way impulses work in the brain. The key is to trick the brain by coming up with strategies to avoid the marshmallow or treat it as something else.

Today I’d like to propose something I found to be one of the most effective strategies for turning away from the marshmallows you’ve discovered in your new home abroad or, for more veteran expats, turning these marshmallows into something new and exotic. My advice is to find a mentor or a muse in your adopted land — someone who can teach you something new, or who inspires you by their example to try new things…

Trust me, if you choose the right mentor +/or muse, benefits like the following will soon accrue:

1) More exotic looks — and a book deal.

Back when I lived abroad, first in England and then in Japan, I was always studying other women for style and beauty tips. I made a muse of everyone from Princess Diana (I could hardly help it as her image was being constantly thrust in front of me) to the stewardesses I encountered on All Nippon Airways. Have you ever seen the film Fear and Trembling, based on the autobiographical novel of that name, by the oft-displaced Amélie Nothomb? On ANA flights, I behaved a little like the film’s young Belgian protagonist, Amélie, who secretly adulates her supervisor Miss Fubuki. I simply couldn’t believe the world contained such attractive women…

The pay-off came upon my repatriation to the US. With such a wide array of fashion and beauty influences, I’d begun to resemble Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence — with my Laura Ashley dresses, hair ornaments, strings of (real) pearls, and habit of bowing to everyone.

Is it any wonder my (Japanese) husband-to-be nicknamed me the Duchess? (Better than being the sheltered May Welland, surely?)

My one regret is that I didn’t parlay these style tips into a best-seller — unlike Jennifer Scott, one of the authors who was featured on TDN this past year. While studying in Paris, Scott was in a mentoring relationship with Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne. (The former was the matriarch in her host family; the latter, in her boyfriend’s host family.) Mme C & Mme B took her under their wing and taught her everything she knows about personal style, preparation of food, home decor, entertaining, make-up, you name it…and is now imparting to others in her Simon & Schuster-published book.

2) More memorable dinner parties.

As mentioned in a previous post, I adopted actress and Indian cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey as my muse shortly after settling down in the UK. I was (still am) madly in love with her, her cookbooks, even her writing style.

And her recipes do me proud to this day.

Right before Christmas I threw a dinner party for 10 featuring beef cooked in yogurt and black pepper, black cod in a coriander marinade, and several of her vegetable dishes.

It was divine — if I say so myself! To be fair, the guests liked it, too…

3) Improved language skills.

Now the ideal mentor for an adult seeking to pick up a new foreign language is a boyfriend or girlfriend in the local culture — preferably one with gobs of patience. The Japanese have the perfect expression for it: iki jibiki, or walking dictionary.

Just one caveat: If you’re as language challenged as Tony James Slater, it could prove a headache and, ultimately, a heartache.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

(Married people, you might want to give up on this goal. I’m serious…)

4) A fondness for angels who dance on pinheads.

After seeing the film Lost in Translation, I became an advocate for expats giving themselves intellectual challenges. Really, there’s no excuse for ennui of the sort displayed by Scarlett Johansson character, in a well-traveled life.

It was while living in the UK as a grad student that I discovered the extraordinary scholar-writer Marina Warner, who remains an inspiration to this day. Warner, who grew up in Brussels and Cambridge and was educated at convent school and Oxford University, is best known for her books on feminism and myth.

After reading her book Monuments and Maidens, I could never look at a statue in the same way again!

In her person, too, she is something of a goddess. Though I’d encountered women of formidable intellect before, I found her more appealing than most, I think because she wears her learning lightly and has an ethereal presence, like one of the original Muses.

Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes has written of her “incandescent intelligence and Apulian beauty” (she is half Italian, half English). The one time I met her — I asked her to sign my copy of her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Lost Father — I could see what he meant.

I was gobsmacked.

Major girl crush!

(Don’t have a girl crush? Get one! It will enrich your life immeasurably.)

5) Greater powers of mindfulness — and a book deal.

Third Culture Kid Maria Konnikova was born in Moscow but grew up and was educated in the US. She has started the new year by putting out a book with Viking entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Who would guess that a young Russian-born woman would use Conan Doyle’s fictional creations, Holmes and Watson, as her muses? But, as she explains in a recent article in Slate, she has learned everything she knows about the art of mindfulness from that master British sleuth:

Mindfulness allows Holmes to observe those details that most of us don’t even realize we don’t see.

So moved is she by Holmes’s example — and so frustrated by her own, much more limited observational powers — Konnikova does the boldest of all thought experiments: she gives up the Internet…

So does her physiological and emotional well-being improve as a result? Does her mind stop wandering away from the present? Does she become happier? I won’t give it away lest you would like to make Konnikova this year’s muse and invest in her book. Hint: If you do, we may not see you here for a while. :(

6) The confidence to travel on your own.

We expats tend to be a little less intrepid than the average global wanderer: we’re a little too attached to our creature comforts and may need a kick to become more adventuresome. But even avid travelers sometimes lose their courage, as Amy Baker recently reported in a post for Vagabondish. She recounts the first time she met a Swedish solo traveler in Morocco, who had lived on her own in Zimbabwe for 10 years. This Swede is now her friend — and muse:

She was level-headed, organized and fiercely independent — all characteristics that I aim to embody as a female traveler.

With this “fearless Swedish warrior woman” in mind, Amy started venturing out on her lonesome — and hasn’t looked back.

* * *

Readers, the above is not intended as an exhaustive list as I’m hoping you can contribute your own experiences with mentors and muses abroad: What do you do to avoid the “marshmallows” of the (too?) well-traveled life? Who have you met that has inspired you to new creative, intellectual, or travel heights? Please let us know in the comments. In the meantime, I wish you a happy, healthy — and most of all, intellectually stimulating — new year!

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (3/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportIt’s Christmas Day and the holiday party continues for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on the Displaced Nation’s shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Third in a three-part series (see also Part One and Part Two).

During the final third of 2012, we met some expats and intrepid world travelers who, I think it’s fair to say, have developed some rather unusual hobbies and eating habits. The two are one and the same in the case of Brian MacDuckston, who was featured on our site this past August. He has made a habit of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible — a hobby that was quirky enough to attract the attention of the New York Times. In addition to Brian — a San Franciscan who originally went to Japan to teach English — we encountered:

  • Liv Gaunt, an Englishwoman who became an expat accidentally, while pursuing her love of scuba diving and underwater photography. Now based in Australia, she told us she has a passion for sharks but would happily do without sea urchins.
  • Mark Wiens, an American third culture kid who now lives in Thailand and travels all over — he feels least displaced when sampling other countries’ street foods.
  • Jessica Festa, an American traveler who loves to venture off the beaten track and eat locally — she did not hesitate to eat cuy in Ecuador (even though it reminded her of her pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush).
  • Larissa Reinhart, a small-town Midwesterner who lived in Japan for several years and, since repatriating, has taken up the pen as a crime novelist. She is now living in small-town Georgia but hopes to go abroad again. She provides recipes for Asian fried chicken, among other delicacies, on her blog about life as an ex-expat.
  • Patricia Winton, an American who responded to 9/11 by giving up her comfortable life in Washington to become an expat crime writer in Rome. She also invested in a pasta-making machine…
  • Bart Schaneman, a Nebraskan who wanted to see the world and has made his home in Seoul, where he is an editor for an English-language newspaper and author of a travelogue on the Trans-Siberian railway. He is a huge fan of kimchi.

Three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since a few months ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays, besides chatting with us?

Brian with Ramen_Xmas1) BRIAN MACDUCKSTON

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I’ve been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched my first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. A start! I also started a ramen class aimed at non-Japanese speakers. Check it out!

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
A nice staycation in Tokyo.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating, dare I ask?
I’m trying to eat more high-class sushi, but I’ll probably just stick to a lot of ramen for the next few weeks.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I really enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the most revered sushi chef in the world. [Editor's note: The film has been available on Netflix since last August.]

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I want to train myself to stop using double spaces after periods when I write. Not a big goal, but important for someone who has an interest in being paid for my writing.

A worthy goal, imho! (I’ve had to correct quite a few in my time…) So, any upcoming travel plans?
My father will visit Japan, so I am planning a luxury week-long trip of eating and relaxing in hot springs. Two things I’m good at!

LarissaReinhart&Reinhart2) LARISSA REINHART

Any big developments in your life since we last spoke?
My second Cherry Tucker Mystery, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has a release date of May 21, 2013. [Editor's note: As mentioned in Larissa's interview, the first in her Cherry Tucker series, Portrait of a Dead Guy, came out this year.]

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
We travel to visit my family in Illinois and St. Louis after Christmas through New Year’s.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
There’s this Italian grocery, Viviano’s, in the Italian district of St. Louis, called The Hill in St. Louis, that I really look forward to visiting. I’ll stock up on cheap wine and Italian staples for the coming year.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Yes, two Japanese films:

  1. The fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I highly recommend — even for non-sushi fans. The film is beautifully shot and reveals what it takes to be a true master at something. Incredible.
  2. The gorgeous The Secret World of Arrietty (aka The Borrower Arrietty), scripted by Hayao Miyazaki. We were excited to see Arrietty because we saw the ads for the movie when we were still living in Japan (and I’m a big fan of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, on which the film is based, as well as of Miyazaki).

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To spend less time on social media and more time writing. I love chatting online, but I need to be more disciplined about getting away from the “water cooler” and back to work.

Any upcoming travel plans?
Disney World for spring break! Woot! And we’re hoping to get back overseas soon, but no definite plans yet.

PatriciaWintonwithholly3) PATRICIA WINTON

Any big changes in your life since we last spoke a couple of months ago?
The month after you featured me, I put my long-time WIP in the bottom drawer for a while and started a new one. I’ve written about 30,000 words. This one, also a mystery, is set in Florence. It takes place during the 500th anniversary celebration of the world’s first culinary society.

Meanwhile, my blog partners at Novel Adventurers are working on an anthology of long short stories. We are an adventurous group comprising (besides me):

  • an Australian who has lived in South America
  • an American of Swiss-German origin who is married to a man from Iran, where they frequently travel
  • an American with close family ties in India, where she frequently travels
  • an American specializing in things Russian, who is married to a Kyrgyz
  • a former Peace Corps volunteer who writes about the Caribbean
  • an American who grew up on a sailboat traveling the world and has lived as an adult in many countries.

We’ll be writing about travel and adventure from international perspectives. It will be some time before it sees publication, but I’ll keep you posted. I think it will interest the Displaced Nation!

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
I’m spending the holidays quietly at home. I plan to visit a friend in the country for New Year’s weekend. The holidays here last almost three weeks, ending on January 6. Nativity scenes are a big deal here, and I plan to visit various churches to view, and photograph, them as I usually do. I’ll write about them on my blog, Italian Intrigues, on January 3rd.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Christmas Eve in Italy is devoted to eating fish — usually seven fish dishes from antipasto onward. I’m trying out a new recipe for sea bass stuffed with frutta del mare (non-fin fish). I’m using clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and baby octopus, all well laced with garlic. And I always make the holiday custard that comes from my Tennessee childhood.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. While it was published in 2010, I didn’t read it until this year, and I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s about a man with one foot in Mexico and the other in the US — but that’s a vast oversimplification. After the young man’s Mexican mother dies, he works for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera while Leon Trotsky is staying with them. He later moves to the US to join his American father. He eventually becomes a successful writer caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt. I don’t want to include spoilers here, but it’s fabulous. The boy/man is a foreigner in both countries and speaks both languages with an accent.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Not that I want to share.

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
No concrete travel plans at the moment. While composing these answers, I received an email about a tour of Uzbekistan that sounds really alluring. And I will probably go to the US to attend a mystery writers conference.

* * *

Readers, any questions for this rather motley (one former expat and two current ones) but highly creative bunch?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post — expat Anthony Windram’s musings on spending Boxing Day in a country that associates boxing with punching, not (Christmas) punch.

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads (Larissa Reinhart’s shows her family in front of one of their favorite Japanese manga characters, Shin-chan, a sort of Bart Simpson of Japan — the creator, Yoshito Usui, had recently died).

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 5) Keep calm and pour some tea

Teatime CollageDecember greetings, everyone! Can you see us twinkling? The Displaced Nation wants to be part of your Festival of Lights this December — a source of brightness and enLIGHTenment during the dark days of winter. (Unless, of course, you reside in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case, you should be helping all of us to feel brighter!)

But before we get to that — Kate Allison will be delivering some tips tomorrow on generating holiday cheer regardless of location — do you fancy what the Brits would call a cuppa?

If you said no, that you’d prefer coffee or cold beverage, I suspect you may be a compatriot of mine. Once upon a time, I was an American like you — I didn’t drink any caffeinated beverages apart from Diet Coke. But then I traveled to Europe and Asia, and now I can’t imagine a life without tea. As the Chinese lady who owns Ching Ching Cha, a traditional Chinese tea house in Georgetown, DC, once remarked to me, when I told her how much I’d grown to like tea from my travels: “For me, tea is a way of life.”

Those who already know what I’m talking about may read no further. But for the unconvinced, here are 10 lessons I learned while living in two major tea-drinking nations, Britain and Japan, for many years. (If you’re the bucket-list-keeping type, think of it is as 10 reasons to develop a tea-drinking habit before you die!)

1) Even if coffee is more your cup of tea, so to speak, give tea a chance.

Coffee is great for that jolt to the system. One of its most effective uses, apart from first thing in the morning when you’re going to work, is for the jet lag that occurs after a really long international flight — say between the United States and Japan. (Japanese, btw, love coffee as much as the English do — and perhaps thanks to German influence, can make an even better cup than anyone in the UK or the USA.) But unlike coffee, tea is what keeps you going day in day out, putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the sustenance beverage for the marathon known as life.

2) I mean tea, not tisanes.

I apologize to those expats who’ve spent their formative years in France. I have nothing against those herbal drinks with medicinal qualities. I just think it would be a shame to miss out on the kind of caffeine that tea has to offer — the kind that produces sustained mental alertness. Not to mention tea’s own medicinal qualities — all of those lovely antioxidants. Why do you think the Japanese live so long, with all their bad habits of smoking, drinking to excess and overwork? Likewise, the English writer, George Orwell, was able to sustain himself on cups of tea when living “down and out” in Paris and London.

3) Tea has a special role to play in the holiday season.

It’s the perfect libation to help you recover when your feet are aching after a full day of shopping and wrapping gifts (surely, the bane of any adult female’s existence this time of year!) or when you think your hand will drop off if you have to write one more Christmas card. It’s also the perfect drink to serve, because so convivial and relaxing, when meeting up with friends or family you haven’t seen in a long time.

4) Tea is a primary aid for developing a more stoical attitude towards life.

As explained in the very first post in this series, I found it a bit of a challenge to adapt to the brand of stoicism-cum-fatalism both of these small islands, England and Japan, have cultivated over the centuries. But the day I worked out the connection between tea-drinking and stoicism marked the beginning of the end of my struggle. If only I’d paid closer attention to Orwell, who said:

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.

5) Tea may also be the key to a philosophical approach to life.

The process of drinking a cuppa slows you down for long enough to clear your head of pressing thoughts and work out what is important. Strangely, I found Brits to be almost as insistent on the importance of a regular tea-drinking habit as the Japanese — even though it’s the latter who are renowned for their Zen approach to tea. Take these words of Rudyard Kipling’s, for example:

We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe

It reads like a haiku, doesn’t it? Certainly, his sentiments are not far removed from the Japanese proverb:

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.

6) The rituals are just as important as the tea itself.

After nearly a decade of living in Britain, I had it all down to a fine art: boiling water to serve tea, heating the pot, putting the milk in the cup first, and pouring the tea without spilling. To this day, I cannot imagine making a pot of tea without pouring hot water in it first to heat the pot. The water and the pot need to be at the right temperature to brew the tea properly. Imagine the affront I experienced upon returning to this country and being served a cup of either semi-warm water or boiling water with a Lipton’s tea bag on the side. And though I found some of the Japanese tea-drinking rituals a bit obscure, especially those related to the tea ceremony — twirl the cup around three times, really? — I still took delight in the spectacle.

7) Tea should be served with something sweet.

“Tea and biccies, anyone?” as they say in England — usually meaning the chocolate-coated digestive biscuits. And the perfect way to offset the super bitter green tea (macha) of the Japanese tea ceremony is with the almost sickeningly sweet kashi and wagashi — confections that are usually served beforehand. A tad of sugar helps this most medicinal of teas go down. Not only that but it’s a beautiful combination, as anyone who has sampled green tea ice cream, by now a classic flavor, will attest.

8) Tea should be served in an aesthetically pleasing cup — never paper or plastic!

Part of the pleasure of taking tea at Fortnum & Mason’s or the Ritz is the bone china it is served in. If the world had a treasure chest, surely it would contain a full set of Wedgwood or Royal Doulton? In Japan, by contrast, it is the roughness and imperfection of the tea cup that provides aesthetic pleasure, or, if you’re drinking Western tea (usually served with lemon, not milk), the sheen of a fine china tea cup — either English (Wedgwood Wild Strawberry is very popular there) or a Japanese version (eg, Noritake). Can’t be bothered with china? At the very least, make your tea in a proper mug.

9) Tea is the ultimate social drink.

Perhaps the British writer known as Saki (yes, he was born in the Far East) put it best when he wrote:

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.

Japanese may not be as fond of having a natter when they take tea; nevertheless, they see it as a custom that fosters social harmony.

10) No one should ever be too busy for a tea break.

My fellow Americans, are you still with me? This pointer is particularly for you — particularly those of you who are always crazy busy — although as Tim Kreider pointed out on the New York Times‘s Opinionator blog, it’s often not clear why what you’re doing is so important. Perhaps if you took time out for a regular tea break, you would slow down a bit — see 5) — and find an escape from your self-imposed “busy trap.”

****

And now I must leave you as the clock says ten to three — only, is there still honey for my tea?

Readers, do you agree that tea may be the answer? Or is this just another of my moonbat pronouncements that’s put you in need of a strong cup of Joe?!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from Kate Allison.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Img: Collage made of two photos available on Flickr via Creative Commons: (left) “High tea,” by John Heaven, and “Japanese tea ceremony,” by JoshBerglund19.

DEAR MARY-SUE: 6 jolly holiday tips for expats (& other global wanderers)

Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com

Woo! That’s Thanksgiving over and I am still full to busting. Oh readers, your Mary-Sue has been one greedy piggy, she is one stuffed turkey — but it was all worth it as she had a lovely time with her family. Yes, she is one mucho happy Mary-Sue.

My oldest child and middle child were back home for the holidays and so I got to feed them and my three lovely grandkids — bliss. Even my youngest was able to extract himself from World of Warcraft and his basement room to join us for dinner.

We had a great time watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on NBC. Other than the Kermit balloon, my favorite part was watching those delightful Kidz Bop Kids sing on a float. Don’t you just want to feed their adorable little faces full of cranberries and mashed potatoes? I do!

And then there’s Matt Lauer hosting the parade. Mmmmh, mmmmh. I know what I am giving thanks for this year. . . Matt’s dreamy eyes. After watching SkyFall this weekend, I think that when Daniel Craig hangs up his tux, Matt’s the guy to replace him. Not only has he got the looks, but you believe he can kill a man. . . with his bare arms!

Anyhoo, enough with my wild thoughts and on with all your problems!

Based on the thousands of similar questions I receive this time of year, this time I am doing something a little different, spicing things up, by issuing a list of six tips for any of you expats and others out there who find the holidays befuddling.

Here we go! Mary-Sue’s top 6 tips for having an amazing holiday!

1) FOOD — BE CREATIVE WITH YOUR LEFTOVERS

Dear Mary-Sue,

We are still trying to work out what to do with all this leftover turkey from our first American Thanksgiving. We’ve got turkey sandwiches coming out of our ears at this point. Can you think of anything more creative?

– A Swedish family in New England

Yes, nothing gets you out of the holiday spirit than eating dreary leftovers. Try and think outside the box. Why just have the leftovers for food? That’s the sort of dreary thinking of a Rachel Ray. Sandwiches, curry, it’s all boring. What you could do with your leftover turkey is use it to make an arts and craft project. It’s a great way of getting the kids or grandkids involved in the holidays, too. Think of the turkey carcass as your canvas and really go to town on it with some acrylic paint. Or why not take that turkey and make a seasonal ottoman with it — the perfect way to put your feet up while watching Hallmark Christmas movies!  

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2) WEATHER — HOW TO GET THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m finally in the Northern hemisphere for Christmas, and it doesn’t feel much different than this time of year in Perth, where I come from in Australia. Temps have yet to get below freezing; and as I’m sure you know, we had a hurricane in late October.

Sigh! Will I ever be able to have a white Christmas?

- Aussie in Baltimore

Living in Oklahoma, I can relate to this. To really get that fun, cosy Christmas feeling when temps aren’t as low as you would like, do what I do: wear tops that expose your midriff. When you get a kidney chill, that’s when you know you’re doing things right.

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3) ROMANCE — FOR A TRULY GREAT HOLIDAY, KEEP THINGS ROMANTIC

Dear Mary-Sue,

My Japanese girlfriend keeps hinting that I should give her a ring on Christmas Eve. By that I don’t mean a telephone call but a diamond. I told her I’m not Japanese (they have a thing about getting engaged at the end of the year), but she says Christmas engagements are also popular in the West.

Actually I always thought of her as my iki jibiki (walking dictionary — Japanese is an extremely difficult language), but if I do decide to get engaged, should I be using their cultural norms? What’s wrong with her learning ours?

Then again, there is the Cold Stone Christmas Cake I could get…

- American in Tokyo

Ah, nothing like getting pressurized into a proposal — that always works out for all involved. I like this Cold Stone Christmas cake idea, but I suggest you do an old-school version of it. I know that it is traditional in England to hide coins in the Christmas pudding and then a child eating the pudding either chokes to death, cuts open their mouth or ends up a penny richer. I suggest you do something like that and hide the ring deep into a seasonal, suet-y pudding. If she chokes, breaks any teeth or cuts her mouth, then you’ll know it wasn’t meant to be, and can renege on the proposal.

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4) GIFTS — DON’T BE A SCROOGE McDUCK

Dear Mary-Sue,

I was looking forward to being in the US instead of the UK for Christmas as I thought it might mean buying fewer gifts for friends and relations, but now I learn that everyone expects a hand-out in New York City, from the doorman to the garage guy to the hairdresser. Who knew? And how much do I owe all these people I don’t know?

- Newbie British expat in New York

You can give them an actual gift instead of money. I find signed copies of my book (“Treat Every Day Like It Counts. . .because it does” by Mary-Sue Wallace, published by PublishAmerica) and a signed, framed photograph does the trick. Don’t have your own book published? That’s okay, you can just give them a copy of mine.  

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5) TRAVEL — USE THE HOLIDAYS TO VISIT FAMILY

Dear Mary-Sue,

We are expats in Singapore, and my husband thinks we should use the week off between Christmas and New Year’s to travel within Southeast Asia, instead of going home to the United States to be with our families. But isn’t that what Christmas is about — family? And how can we possibly celebrate Christmas in a non-Christian country?

- The better half of an American exec in Singapore (we’re originally from Georgia)

Actually, it’s about baby Jesus, not your family in Georgia. However, I begrudgingly take your point that it’s nice to be with your family when thinking about baby J.C. You can travel to your family over the holidays, not away from them.  

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6) HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT — WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE WORLD, CONSULT YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m an American in the UK and would like to experience the best of Christmas/New Year’s traditions here. Besides Scrooge, what are they?

- Linda of London

I live in Tulsa, OK. Do they not have Time Out in London? They probably have some tradition with those Beefeaters at the Tower. Yeah, they eat beef at the Tower every Christmas Eve. It’s a very quaint ceremony — be sure to go to it — or, whatever.

* * *

That’s your dose of Mary-Sue for November. God bless y’all!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad, a chap who is ever-thankful for his expat lifestyle.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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