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TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa’s fringe fest dance performance immortalized on the big screen

One year later (August 2014), Alaine Handa finds herself dancing in Spain. (Photo credit: Alaine Handa)

One year after her Edinburgh Fringe adventure, Alaine Handa finds herself in the land of flamenco: Valencia, Spain to be precise. (Photo credit: Eveline Chang, July 2014)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang started up this column in summer 2013 with a two-part conversation with today’s guest, fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. By the end, I for one had come to believe in the truth of Martha Graham’s assertion: “The body says what words cannot.”

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! It’s a pleasure to have choreographer/dancer and adult third culture kid Alaine Handa back with us at the Displaced Nation. As ML says, Alaine was my very first interviewee when this column made its debut last year.

I am circling back to Alaine to see what happened with her dance performance at the Edinburgh Fringe and also because, rumor has it, one of the performers has made a short documentary about this artistic adventure.

Dance and film: that’s quite a pas de deux!

* * *

Welcome back, Alaine! When we spoke to you last year you were about to premiere your newest show, Habitat, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The piece “shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.” How was it received at the fest?
The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, so we worked very hard to get the word out about our production. We blasted out press releases, distributed physical flyers everywhere (and befriended some local shopkeepers!), and performed excerpts at the venue. All of these promotional efforts starting paying off in audience numbers as the festival progressed. The feedback from audience members was mostly positive—the stories portrayed on stage were relatable. Our negative feedback was that the performance should be longer! I guess that isn’t really a bad thing: to have the audience wanting to see more.

As I recall, the members of your multicultural ensemble lived in different countries during rehearsals, so you relied on Skype, YouTube, and email a lot. What was it like to finally rehearse and perform the piece together at Edinburgh?
I rented a studio from Dance Base in Edinburgh a week before we opened for intensive rehearsals. We also lived together for the duration of the festival run so got more comfortable with each other. The rehearsal process through the 2-D medium of video was frustrating, to be quite honest. The time difference of 12 hours between New York and Singapore meant that feedback via email would be received hours later. The rare moments when we Skyped during rehearsal, we would run into problems with connectivity. I rehearsed weekly with another dancer based in Singapore and videotaped everything to send to the other dancers in New York. By the time we came together physically, it was a dream come true but also a whirlwind. We had to fit together all the puzzle pieces and find the missing links. It proved a bit of a challenge.

One of your dancers, Laura Lamp, is also a filmmaker who made a documentary short, Dreaming to Escape, about taking Habitat to Edinburgh while also exploring your philosophical and aesthetic approach to dance. Please tell us what it was like to be the subject of a documentary when you were in the middle of premiering a new work.
Laura partnered with Kevin Tadge, who runs the film company Nesby Darbfield, to make the film. They shot a lot of their material on stage, backstage, in rehearsal, at warm-ups before the performances, during dinners, in taped interviews, and everything in between. I was a bit self-conscious at first, but after a while, I just learnt to ignore the camera like a reality TV star! Upon seeing the short, I realized I should’ve cared a bit more about my appearance during rehearsals!

Where is Dreaming to Escape being screened?
Here’s what Laura reports:

“We hope to take it to documentary and dance film festivals around the world. It would be great if it screens at the Singapore Film Festival later this year. We’ve really only begun to send it out… It’s a bit of a slow process, but we’re excited to share it with everyone.”

Alaine, I understand you have relocated back to Singapore, where you were born and spent your adolescence. What has been the best part, the worst part, and the biggest surprise about living in Singapore again?
Reverse culture shock has been hitting me hard, living back in Southeast Asia. It’s been a little over two years now and I still go through culture shock every single day I am here. Singapore has changed so much in the 2000s. I barely recognized the country when I returned. The biggest surprise is how expensive it’s gotten to live here. The cost of living has gone up tremendously!

I know one of the things you’ve been doing in Singapore is teaching dance. Please tell us where prospective students can find your classes.
Yes, I’ve been teaching at multiple locations around the island. The best way to learn more is to join my mailing list by sending me an email at ahdancecompany@gmail.com and/or join my Facebook group.

Thanks, Alaine! Readers, here is a tiny taste of what you might see in Laura Lamp’s short documentary, the trailer created last year for Habitat:

Questions or comments for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s fab post.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Fran Pickering, London-based crime writer and Japanophile

Fran PickeringIn this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Fran Pickering, a London-based crime and mystery writer who has lived and travelled extensively in Japan. Her experiences there provide the inspiration for her Josie Clark in Japan mystery series. She also writes about London art and events with a Japanese connection on her blog, Sequins and Cherry Blossom. Her latest Josie Clark book, The Haiku Murder, has just come out, on 13th October. Find out more at franpickering.com.

Which came first, story or location?

Location. I wanted to share my love of Japan in a way that would be interesting and non-academic, so I started writing murder mysteries about an expat Londoner in Tokyo.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

I know Japan so well now, I have to think myself back into the mind of a person encountering it for the first time and remember how strange and foreign it seemed to me originally. I go for the little, easily forgotten details – the smell of the drains in Tokyo, the sound of the mechanical cuckoo on the pedestrian crossings in Takarazuka, the complexities of different shoes and socks for different surfaces in a traditional inn. It’s the small things that bring a place alive.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

Food is very big for me. Japanese people are obsessed with food – they talk about it all the time – but so many people in the West think sushi and noodles is all there is to Japanese cuisine. As Josie investigates the latest murder she needs to ask a lot of questions, and the easiest way to do that is in cafes (she spends a lot of time in Starbucks) or over meals. The sort of meals people eat and where they eat them gives a clue to their character too.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Here’s an excerpt from The Cherry Blossom Murder:

It was just after nine o’clock. The streets of Akasaka were crowded and noisy. A gaudily decorated pachinko parlour blasted out an advertisement for their new pinball machines, accompanied by an irritating advertising jingle; inside the parlour Josie could see people staring zombie-like at the pachinko machines as the tiny silver balls spun and fell, spun and fell, endlessly fed from the bowl beside each player.The Cherry Blossom Murder

A group of young men and women passed her, the girls in short skirts, one of them loping along drunkenly as the boys held her upright. Behind them came a group of salarymen, still in their work suits, noisily discussing their golf handicaps. They barged Josie unthinkingly off the pavement.

A fortune teller sitting on the pavement behind a table plastered with pictures of hands called to Josie to come and have her future read. For a moment she was tempted, but then she walked on, past Denny’s and Johnny’s and Cozy Corner, all brightly lit and full of people, to the familiar yellow sign of Doutor’s coffee house.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

If it’s a real place, then you need to have been there and looked at it carefully. I try and revisit places I write about to make sure I’ve got it absolutely right, and to pick up on aspects I may have overlooked the first time. It’s remarkable how memory can play you tricks, or leave you with a superficial impression. I take photographs of key settings to refer to later.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Lee Child. He’s an English writer whose books are set in the States with an American protagonist. He really nails it; the flavour of the country leaps off the page. And Ben Aaronovitch, whose Rivers of London series takes you into every nook and cranny of Covent Garden and makes you almost believe that a building on the south side of Russell Square actually does contain the Folly.

* * *

Next month’s Location, Locution: Clare Flynn, whose books are set in Australia and India.

_(75_of_75)

 

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Lawrence Osborne’s haunting tale of expats and travel in the Moroccan desert

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing recent book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Thanks, M.L.! And, hello again, Displaced Nationers. With the arrival of fall in the Northern hemisphere, I find myself in the mood to dig into some darker, heavier—more Halloweeny, shall we say?—material.

As a long-term traveler, third-culture kid, current expat, or all of the above in some cases, each of us has at some point or another faced a cultural divide we’ve found it difficult, if not impossible, to cross. Maybe it came down to a clash of religious or political beliefs. Or was it something to do with wealth? There are privileges that come with being an expat—and that, ironically, can cause discomfort.

But perhaps one of the most harrowing breaches of trust occurs when people possess differing concepts of justice.
TheForgiven_colorcoverLawrence Osborne’s novel, The Forgiven, wraps all three of these tough-to-tackle subjects into a compelling tale centered around one darkly beautiful “what if”:

What if you accidentally committed a crime in another country?

Every traveler’s worst nightmare

Osborne’s protagonists, David and Jo Henniger, are a wealthy middle-aged London couple who have grown frustrated with each other and jaded about life in general. David is a society doctor in Chelsea who has just lost a malpractice suit and is also beginning to lose patients. Jo is a children’s book writer who hasn’t written a book in some time.

To get a change of scene, and perhaps a new lease on life, the couple sets off to attend a lavish party being thrown by one of David’s school friends, Richard, and his partner, Dally, at their ritzy retreat in the Moroccan desert. It’s a wild weekend-long affair tony enough to have photographers from the New York society pages chronicling it.

Now, that doesn’t sound like my travel scene, but Osborne makes it clear that what happens to Henningers could happen to any of us who dare to venture into unknown lands, where the inhabitants have different religious beliefs to ours, are poorer, and possess an unfamiliar sense of justice.

Jo to David: “I shouldn’t let you, Stumblebum.”

Overriding Jo’s objections, David decides to do the drive from Tangier through the desert in the night even though he has just consumed a bottle of wine.

Jo sulks but lets him drive.

Long after dark, while the Hennigers are trying to navigate the unfamiliar desert terrain, two Moroccan boys leap into the road ostensibly selling fossils though possibly intending to highjack the vehicle. David runs in to one of the young men, killing him. The other boy runs away.

Osborne sets up an unforgettable scene as David and Jo make their entrance to an extravagant expat party with a dead body on the back seat of their car. Not knowing what to do or how the Moroccan police will respond, the Hennigers have taken the corpse with them.

For the hosts, the situation is an embarrassment and a source of annoyance. For their Western guests, it’s a rude interruption and a source of gossip. For Moroccans like Hamid, the head servant of Richard and Dally’s estate, it’s a tragedy that brings out his deep loathing of Western values. For the family of the boy, who arrive the following day to collect the body, it’s both tragedy and crime.

But for David and Jo, it will prove life changing.

Jo to Day (another guest): “It’s like going through the Looking Glass.”

This story, rather than showing how travel erases our differences, puts the notion of “otherness” into high relief. The couple who host the party and many of their friends see Moroccans as as objects of curiosity, wisdom, servitude, and lust. David, less cosmopolitan than his hosts, falls back on traditional colonial values, regarding Morocco and Moroccans as inscrutable and inferior.

By the same token, the Moroccans in the story can’t fathom the Westerners’ lifestyles or motives. They are “unimaginable human beings,” infidels—people who don’t eat with their fingers, who don’t believe in God.

Driss, the young man who is struck and killed by David, wants desperately to break away from the life his father had. He comes from a Berber family that lives in a remote outpost of the Sahara, where children must slave away hacking out Trilobites all day long, with the hope of selling them to Western millionaires.

Driss’s father, Abdellah, more than anything else wants to avenge “the fact that he simply had never known his son at all.”

When Abdellah and his brothers arrive to pick the body up for burial, they demand to meet David. They ask that he travel with them to make atonement. Richard and Dally, keen to get on with the party, assure him that it will be for the best.

Jo to herself: “Who knew what here was artificial and what was indigenous?”

The Forgiven is a tribute to Osborne’s roots as a world-class travel writer and chronicler of the expat life. He takes us behind the scenes and into the inner lives of Moroccans as well as of the expats who choose to live in that part of the world.

Take, for instance, Osborne’s account of Moroccan versus British pessimism:

“The men of the desert know everything,” Hamid said once, like a quote out of Lawrence of Arabia. But they didn’t, really. They were just efficient pessimists, and therefore astute readers of human nature. They always assumed the worst, and that made them correct nine times out of ten. Their pessimism, however, was not like David’s. David was someone who believed that the past was superior to the present, and that was a different sort of pessimist. It was not the entire past that was superior, of course; it was mostly just the British nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

Or this passage about how the Moroccan villagers tend to regard Richard and Dally and their wild parties:

It was admitted that they were wealthy and that they spent their money in an exceedingly unwise and profligate way, and that this was much to the advantage of the people.

Jo to Richard: “I dare say I won’t be the same again…”

The story maintains momentum by swinging between Western and Moroccan cultures, leaving the reader almost breathless, not always sure of their footing.

As readers, we guess but aren’t sure if the lumpish David, who is clearly an alcoholic, is still drunk on his midnight drive. Did he mean to hit the young man? And, the victim of the accident—can we say he’s a victim? Flashbacks to the youth’s bravado-filled conversations with a younger, impressionable friend paint him as an unstable character, full of hatred, with a shady past…

Jo, David’s long-suffering wife, is also an enigma. An aging beauty, she feels isolated from the young, frivolous women at the party. Does she love David, or want to leave him? Does she care if justice is exacted? Or does she care only that she be, as the title suggests, forgiven?

* * *

Not wishing to give away any more of the plot, I’ll end by reiterating: Displaced Nationers, in your own experience, which topics tend to open up the widest cultural divides?

Let me also leave you with the epigraph from the novel:

“Many roads do not lead to the heart.” —Moroccan Proverb

Until next time—oh and please drive safely!

* * *

Thanks, Beth! I’ve read The Forgiven and am still haunted by it. Lawrence Osborne is a contemporary writer with a deep understanding of what it means to feel “displaced” by one’s travels. Reading the book gave me thrills and chills, not just for the story but for the beauty and precision of his prose. Readers, does this sound like a book for you?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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And the September 2014 Alices go to … these 2 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post hono(u)rs September’s two Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) DANIEL ROUSE, Shropshire-born expat living in Toronto, Canada, and Telegraph Expat blogger

For his post: “Class doesn’t matter in Toronto,” for Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 19 September 2014
Snippet:

Back in Shropshire…it wasn’t uncommon to have friends with nicknames deriving from their occupation; that’s how they are identified. It can be to the extent where a job is married with a first name without pause for breath: “you know my mate Ronnie-the-plumber.” I am guilty of this….

Over here it doesn’t matter what people do for a living, so people from all walks of life socialise together. Being worth a decent conversation is all that matters.

Citation: Daniel, we had rather assumed that the British class obsession would be fading by now. It’s been quite a few years since Maggie-the-Grocer’s-Daughter assumed power, followed by John-the-Circus-Performer’s-Son. Then there was Tony-the-Grandson-of-Actors-&-Grocers. And let’s not forget Kate-the-Party-Planners’-Daughter. But it seems that with the ascendance of David-the-Descendant-of-William IV (albeit via an illegitimate line), class considerations are permeating the land again—having now reached Shropshire. Some may say it’s a good thing—long may class distinctions flourish! A society can’t function if people don’t know their place. And besides, as Downtown Abbey has taught us, upper and lower classes have always been the best of friends. We must confess, however, that we do not find this very sensible. Rather, we think that names, rather than being associated with professions or parents’ professions (and therefore educations, incomes, and class profiles), should be reminders of what a person looks like. The source of our wisdom is the redoubtable Humpty Dumpty, in this exchange with Alice:

“MUST a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.

“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: “MY name means the shape I am—and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

Now some may think Humpty Dumpty has prosopagnosia, but surely he’s just being practical? We also believe that expats would do well to employ this kind of mnemonic device when they first go abroad and are immersed in a phantasmagoria of new faces, body shapes, clothing, hair styles… In your part of the world, for instance, we could imagine epithets like “Big-Boots-xxx” or “Bushy-Beard-xxx” coming in handy. (Listen, you say you know your Canadian friends really well, but we still don’t advise using these nicknames to their faces, just in case…) Congrats on this fine post, Daniel, and we look forward to re-encountering some of this material in your short stories!

2) LINDA RUBRIGHT, former expat in Europe and the Caribbean, and founder of the travel and lifestyle blog the delicious day

For her post: “8 Secrets No One Tells You about Being an Expat,” for Sherry Ott’s new career break site, Meet Plan Go
Posted on: 25 September 2014
Snippet:

Secret #4: You are the punch line to a lot of jokes.
…The tiny differences are enormous differences, and what can you do about it? Expect a lot of laughs—in your direction.

Citation: Linda, you are so right, and have such a good way of putting it: how truly strange a culture can look when you are stuck in its “deep catacombs” (see Secret #2). For sure, “catacombs” are a telltale sign of having fallen down a rabbit hole. And we agree with your premise that exploring said catacombs without a compass can induce “profound loneliness and feelings of complete incompetence” (#2 again) not to mention homesickness (#8). We’d further like to point out that even on Alice’s through-the-looking glass adventure, when she stays above ground, such feelings of discombobulation continue, especially when she repeatedly tries to climb the hill near the house to the beautiful garden—only to find herself back at the house. Did an encounter with the Red Queen shed light on her frustrations? Hardly:

“Well, in OUR country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Still, at least the Red Queen was kind enough to attempt an explanation of basic cultural differences. She didn’t laugh at Alice. Which is more than we can say for you that time when you witnessed your Spanish boyfriend’s first attempt to pump gas in the United States and apparently found it uncontrollably funny that, being from Spain, which is 100% full service, he was also not used to gallons, credit cards, or zip codes, and kept fumbling with the machine. But we have news for you, Linda: the joke may be on you in the end. Little did you realize that the most successful expats are gluttons for punishment, and the eight points you list as drawbacks to the expat life in fact don’t perturb us all that much. Why do you think your BF is now your husband, living with you in Colorado? He loves being the object of your humor! In any case, thanks for this great post, and good luck to the pair of you with your travel advice site.

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

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For this TEFL teacher with a strong Cornish identity but a compulsion for travel and the expat life, a picture says…

Cornish Kylie Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Kylie Millar (self portrait).

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 27-year-old Kylie Millar who was born and bred in Cornwall, England, and, though she now finds herself in Thailand, just like me, she remains proud of her Cornish heritage, having branded herself on her travel blog as Cornish Kylie.

Not only that but Kylie informs me that the Cornish were granted official minority status earlier this year. Being born and bred in Cornwall now means, technically, that a person is identified as Cornish first, British secondwith the latter identity being confined largely to one’s passport. Well, it is true that Cornwall was its own Celtic nation before the Norman Conquest, and they have their own language, Kernewek, which is distinct from Welsh.

After the Scottish vote for independence, can a bid by the Independent Republic of Kernow be far behind?

How times have changed!

* * *

Hi Kylie. It’s good to see you at the Displaced Nation. As the name of your blog implies, you are a proud Cornish lass—rightly so! You have also travelled a fair bit. But since Cornwall is a place close to my heart, can you reminisce for a bit about your childhood in that part of the world?
I was born in Truro, the main hub of Cornwall, which has a cathedral and is therefore designated a city as opposed to a town. But I was raised in the hilly seaside town of Falmouth, known for its lovely beaches, fishing port and docks. To some, it may seem like an aging coastal town, but the recent influx of art students to its expanding university has given it a new lease on life and a nice arty vibe. My dad is a fisherman so I grew up living a typical Cornish life: summers on the beaches, the smell of a crab being boiled on the stove top (which to this day I cannot abide—the curse of being a fisherman’s daughter and not liking fish or seafood!). But I really do appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in such a wonderful place and fully intend to return one day.

Gwrys yn Kernow (made in Cornwall)

As you know I spent my last year in the UK before emigrating to South Africa (1994/5) in Falmouth, so it’s interesting to hear about the changes. How long after I left did you spread your wings and start travelling abroad?
I actually didn’t spread my wings all that much growing up. Family holidays consisted of trips to Butlin’s holiday camps and a few package holidays to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I didn’t even move away from Cornwall to go to university, I just commuted the 75 miles east to Plymouth. Why would I want to move away from somewhere like Cornwall?

I agree. It’s a magnetic place even for those of who weren’t born there. Carry on, please.
As part of my degree I had the opportunity to go to China for a few weeks to do a little bit of English teaching and a cultural exchange with Chinese university students. This was my first time to experience a culture completely different from my own. I was only 19 and in a constant state of “culture shock”. It wasn’t until after I completed my degree and had a few years’ work under my belt that the urge to explore really kicked in.

Please tell me a little more about your travels.
Aside from the trip to China, I have holidayed in Egypt and Morocco. Then my next big trip was a month backpacking around Thailand with one of my best friends. That’s how I first caught the Thailand bug.

You certainly don’t intend to let the grass grow under your feet, Kylie. I foresee you becoming a seasoned traveller before long. I know there is a lot more to your story, but let’s start with the reasons that drove you to travel.
I’m not a fan of people traveling purely to “find themselves” or even to “make the world a better place”. Actually, I have changed a lot since coming to Thailand, and I’m sure that, as a TEFL teacher, I’m contributing in some small way to the education of Thailand’s future leaders. But that’s not the sole reason I came here. I had a job in the UK that I loved, but I sensed I was stagnating. So I followed my instincts (very scary but it felt right) and quit, upped sticks and came to Thailand, got a TEFL certificate and started teaching English to Thais.

“Life is so short, you must move very slowly” – Thai proverb

You say you’ve got the Thailand bug, which in my experience can be difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived here. So let’s leave it at that and talk about where, precisely, are you right now and what are you up to.
I spent my first 18 months living in the city of Hat Yai, in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border. I was teaching English at a government high school, with classes of fifty students and few resources apart from those I conjured up myself. Later I went to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, to work as a teaching assistant in an international school. The two posts and their locations were poles apart.

Can you say a little about that for the sake of readers who don’t know Thailand?
In Hat Yai I was one of a handful of farangs (Caucasian foreigners) living in a village on the outskirts of the city. On my daily commute to the school, I would meander through rubber plantations, passing water buffalo. At first people would stare, but their stares quickly turned into smiles and shouts of “hello!”. Nobody spoke English beyond that one word, so I had to learn to speak Thai very quickly to be able to order food. In Phuket, by contrast, I am one of thousands of farangs and when Thai people see me they assume that I am a tourist and treat me accordingly. It’s harder to win over the locals here because tourists are their meal ticket. You have to convince them that you aren’t a tourist; you live here like they do. That said, life in Phuket is a lot easier. It has familiar things like pizza and sandwiches (I haven’t got used to eating rice three times a day yet). And of course the island’s beaches are stunning, which reminds me of Cornwall and makes me feel at home.

Ah, I think I detect something of the home bird in you, alongside the intrepid traveller… And now let’s see some of your favorite photos and hear the stories behind them.
When I was in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the many beautifully decorated doorways. This picture was accidental as the boy emerged from the doorway just as I pressed the shutter release. Then I realised how people can add an extra dimension and started to include people in more of my photographs. This trip to Morocco was special: it opened my eyes to a very different part of the world.

Kylie_BoyinMoroccanDoor

A boy in a Moorish door; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I love this. Dirty, dusty, old and full of intrigue. A great shot. What else do you have for us?
Songkran is the festival held in mid-April to celebrate traditional Thai new year’s. It’s probably the most famous of all the Thai festivals because it’s the scene of the world’s biggest water fight. Determined to join the festivities, I locked away my main camera and went out to the streets. I got this shot when the water fighting stopped to let a convoy of vehicles, carrying Buddha statues, pass to the temple. Songkran is absolutely insane, and if you ever find yourself in Thailand at this time of year, prepare to get wet—or hide!

Kylie_ThaiNewYear

Happy New Year, Chiang Mai style; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

And here’s one more of Thailand. As you know, anti-government protests took place from November 2013 through May of this year. I live close enough to Bangkok that I was able to come in and take photos. Having a big camera was useful as it made it obvious I was an observer, not a participant. Foreign involvement in the protests was a big no-no. On the day I took this shot, anti-government protesters had made progress, spirits were high and the atmosphere was unlike any other I have experienced. People were happy to have their picture taken, and this lady was my favourite, standing proudly in traditional yellow to signal her support for the King. For some reason, the scene made me think of the crowd around the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in England—not what you’d expect at an anti-governmental protest. I’m glad I was able to see it all firsthand.

Kylie_yellowlady

A sunny presence at the Bangkok protests; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Getting to the zuggans (Cornish for “the essence”)

Now could you show us the kinds of places that tend to bring out your shutterbug instincts?
One of those places was Jemaa el-Fnaa, a bustling square in Marrakesh that offends all of the senses. Said to be the busiest square in Africa, it is hot and dusty, and the air is full of the smell of tagine spices and roasting meats. The sounds of hawkers and snake charmers mix with the buzz of the crowd, punctuated by the call to prayer that reaches every corner of the souks—it’s the largest traditional market in Morocco. Rugs, lamps, cushions and fabrics in deep oranges, luscious reds and striking purple line the narrow lanes of the souks. Rusty tin roofs let in shards of light that make this a photographer’s dream. But cameras can only capture so much…

Kylie_souk

The wonders of the Marrakesh souks; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

You captured the smells as well as the intrigue. Well done. What’s next?
I visited George Town, in the northeast corner of Penang island, twice recently. It’s famous for being one of the main destinations for visa runners and backpackers alike. I was drawn to its hodgepodge of cultures: mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples all sandwiched together. Ethnic Chinese and Indian communities live alongside each other, and traditional clan families can still be found living on stilt houses on the jetties. In this photo I tried to capture some of that:

Kylie_bikeforrent

The back streets of George Town, Penang; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I’m not generally a fan of black-and-white photos but this subject lends itself so well. And finally?
Many of the things that make Thailand unusual are seeming more normal the longer I live here—like the bright orange monk’s robes in this picture, the turquoise sea, the towering Buddha statues, multicolored long boats, the outrageously decorated temples and colourful tuk tuks. It’s home now but, as I think this photo shows, I still like to play the tourist and explore:

Kyli_ThaiOfferings

A novice Thai monk and spirit house; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I like the way you captured Thailand’s vibrancy. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Actually, I like to try and get natural photographs without the person knowing at all. I want to capture moments and events not someone posing. People generally enjoy having their picture taken, so if they spot a camera they will smile or pull a face and the obligatory peace signs come out. Not quite what I’m looking for… Driving an old banger of a car helps because Thais will sometimes take our picture—because we farangs are assumed to be rich and usually drive smart cars.

“Today I’m going to shoot someone…and they will love me for it!”

It can be annoying, this Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich, but I guess we all get used to it in time. So you don’t ask permission unless you need to before taking people’s photographs—but how do you get around any problem of language?
If I am unable to be stealthy, then I use the universal “can I take a picture?” sign consisting of pointing to my camera. I have learned how to ask in Thai but the words sometimes escape me. The big camera is usually a clue! When I was in a mountain village in Morocco, getting some shots of the decorative doors as mentioned above, an old lady smiled at me and gestured that she’d like to have her photograph taken. As I released the shutter button, she held out her hand, demanding payment. Not wanting to cause a scene, I forked out some change. Although not too happy with my offering she took it—if only she knew I only wanted a picture of her back door, not her face!

Kylie_Atlas Mountain lady

People shots for a price; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique that will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
My mum always says that I take so many photographs but I am hardly ever in them. And that is very true. I know that when I am older I will wish I had more pictures of myself having adventures. But for now photography is a means of capturing what I see and feel. If I think the photos are worth sharing, they will end up on my blog. Photography is changing with the times, though. When I studied A-level photography we used film, processed by hand after spending hours in the darkroom. Filters had to be slotted into the machine; now they are just options on an iPhone app. When my mum was younger she went on a trip to Israel and Jerusalem, and she has two rolls of film from that trip—around fifty photographs. Nowadays people will take more than fifty photographs on a single night out. The technology has evolved so much that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket on their phone, which is great. It makes photography more accessible to all, with no wasted film. But it does mean that photos are not so special and precious as they once were.

Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, as well as any post-processing software.
I’ve got a Canon 600D with standard lens, and a 75-300mm telephoto lens (perfect for those stealthy pictures of people, and for animal shots). I’ve also got a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot for the days when a bigger camera isn’t practical. If I am going to edit, I use Adobe Lightroom, which I am still finding my way around. Having never been taught how to use digital post-production software, I have to rely on trial and error—but that was also what it was like in the darkroom. It’s more fun that way!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Take more pictures than you think you need. Bring spare SD cards and back them up—you will lose one or one will break. Don’t keep your camera locked away in a bag, keep it to hand, it needs to become a natural extension of yourself, not this big cumbersome thing you have to get out every time you want to take a picture.

Even though we are more than 40 years apart, we both left Falmouth and ended up in Phuket with the same camera (Canon T3i 600D). No wonder your pics are so good! Thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Kylie’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her about her photos or her travels? Please leave them in the comments! And don’t forget you can follow Kylie on her blog, Cornish Kylie. You can contact her by email at info@cornishkylie.com, and you can also find her on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Curiosity leads Elizabeth Gilbert’s Victorian heroine to international travel

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Since I last wrote, summer has slipped by us. The gradual wicking away of days and weeks puts me in mind of the protagonist of the book I have chosen to review this month: The Signature of All Things, a scientific and historical novel by Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame).

The story’s heroine, Alma Whittaker, an early Victorian botanist living in North America, thinks of time as running on three concurrent tracks:
1) Human Time, which goes by as quickly and flittingly as a summer’s day.
2) Geological Time, in which the Earth moves.
3) Moss Time, which reflects the events of both Human and Geological time but moves at its own pace, expanding rapidly.

signature_coverAlma regrets that her life is stuck on the track of Human Time in an era that doesn’t favor women of character, intelligence and strength (but not looks). I found her fascinating and think that you international creatives will find her that way as well for these three reasons:

1) She is a Third Culture Kid and a polyglot.

As the daughter of English and Dutch botanists who eloped to start an empire on stolen seeds in the New World, Alma is a delightful fictional example of a Third Culture Kid. She has an unconventional upbringing at a time when most young ladies of her class were strictly bound by convention.

Gilbert writes:

She learned that walking carefully in the mud to save one’s boots or the hems of one’s skirts never rewarded one’s search. She was never scolded for returning home with muddied boots and hems.

At home, Alma speaks English with her British-born father, an old rascal who sailed with Captain Cook and turned himself into a rare plants and pharmaceuticals baron, one of the richest and most powerful men in Philadelphia; and a mix of classical languages with her highly educated mother. As for her nurse:

[The nurse] always spoke Dutch to Alma, and Dutch, to Alma’s ears would forever be the language of comfort and bank vaults and salted ham and safety.

Alma spends her childhood wandering in the breathtaking gardens and fields of her father’s estate, working on French and Latin, and being regaled with tales of far-flung expeditions at her parents’ dinner parties. She grows into a young woman with a wide breadth of knowledge but a constricted life experience.

2) Alma chooses to expand her horizons through international travel, rather like Gilbert herself.

Many novelists would slow down the narrative at this point, bring in a love interest (and a rival or two), and make the story all about the broadening of Alma’s horizons through a courtship followed by marriage. But Gilbert, who first made herself known to the world through the memoir of her solo travels to Italy (to eat), India (to pray) and Bali (where she found love), isn’t the right author for such conventions.

True, Alma’s youth, measured in Human Time, speeds by, but in the world Gilbert creates, one need not be young to have adventures. Indeed, Alma’s true adventures begin only after she believes she’s past her prime, when she enters Moss Time.

The spark that ignites those adventures is a surprise even to her. While contemplating the passage of her middle years, Alma discovers her passion for researching moss and its evolution. Moss, of course, knows no national boundaries. As Gilbert writes:

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones.

After Alma’s marriage fails, she sets sail for Tahiti.

As she takes off, so does the book—at least for me: Alma’s voyage across the Atlantic and Pacific was one of my favorite parts of the novel. Experiencing the long, slow sea voyage through the eyes of someone educated but who, at age 48, had barely left the confines of the family estate made for a compelling read.

“The ocean both stunned and disturbed her. Nothing had ever put more of an impression upon her being,” writes Gilbert. “It seemed to her the very distillation of matter, the very masterpiece of mysteries.”

There are also moments when her innocence clashes with her surroundings, as we see in this passage:

Alma offered payment in American coins, but the man attempted to make change for her from a handful of dirty Spanish piastres and Bolivian pesos. Alma could not figure out how he was possibly calculating his currency exchange, until she realized hew as trading in his dull old coins for her shiny new ones.

3) Alma’s insatiable curiosity is the driving force behind her travels.

It is tempting to see Alma as an extension of Gilbert: abandoning a marriage to travel recalls Gilbert’s break-out memoir Eat, Pray, Love. But in that book, along with its sequel Committed: A Love Story, Gilbert’s primary concern is with her ongoing personal evolution as writer, person, friend and romantic partner. In Signature, by contrast, Gilbert has created a character who as a young girl has already surpassed society’s expectations of what she can become. Alma is an intellectual whiz—fluent in languages, adept at math and strategy, precise in science and research—and a sensitive, caring friend. She’s strong. She’s healthy. But most of all, she’s curious—something I think she has in common with those of us who’ve chosen to live in other cultures.

When Alma reaches 16, she is faced with the decision to throw away a pornographic book or hide it. Gilbert writes:

But what about the cankerworm of curiosity that lived within Alma’s belly? What about its desire to feed daily upon the novel, the extraordinary, the true?

Then when Alma is approaching 60, she finally meets the special someone she has been searching for for years and says:

Allow me to tell you something about myself, for it might help you to speak more freely. Implanted in my very disposition—though I do not always consider it either a virtue or a blessing—is a desire to understand the nature of things.

Interestingly, curiosity seems to have become a mantra for Gilbert these days. On recent speaking tours (with Oprah, for example), she has been offering writers this advice:

Foster your curiosity even more than your passion.

To sum up: The Signature of All Things is not always a page-turner and Alma is not always a likable character, but the book held my attention to the end, in large part because I wanted to find out what happened to Alma. Gilbert’s writing, too, is impressive. Certain scenes in the book—the docks and a moss cave in Tahiti, the Spartan kitchen Alma’s abolitionist sister keeps, the crude sea tales of Alma’s father—are portrayed with such cinematic clarity I will never forget them.

Those who have read the book may know that readers have criticized Gilbert for focusing too much attention on Alma’s (mostly unfulfilled) sexual desires. I did not feel that way. Through the force of her sheer intelligence, Alma takes us closer to a period of our history that wasn’t so long ago, at least in Geological Time, when scientific findings were beginning to challenge traditional beliefs. As the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said:

Curiosity is the lust of the mind.

What say you, Displaced Nationers? Are you curious about Gilbert’s latest? Until we meet again, may Human Time roll by slowly for a change. (And if it doesn’t, plant some moss on it!)

* * *

Thanks, Beth! Until I read this review, I hadn’t realized that Elizabeth Gilbert, a member of our Displaced Hall of Fame for her travel memoir, had moved on to fiction. Readers, are you familiar with Signature and Alma Whittaker? If so, were you just as smitten as Beth was?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: A new series based on Alain de Botton’s strange and wonderful notions

expat_art_as_therapy introGreetings, Displaced Nationers. While countries in Asia are celebrating harvest and moon festivals, we are marking the occasion with the start of a new series: EXPAT ART AS THERAPY. The series owes its provenance to the fertile and somewhat loony imagination of the young Swiss-English philosopher Alain de Botton. Today and over the next few months, we’ll cover some of the same ground as de Botton in his “Art as Therapy” lecture, in which he demonstrates how art can shed light on life’s big themes.

Except our topic will be the work of international creatives, a subset of artists more generally. Can the art people produce as a result of living among cultures in other parts of the world—and feeling, at times, displaced—shed light on life’s big questions?

Haven’t yet heard of de Botton? Here is (more than) you need to know:

  • Having grown up in both Switzerland and the UK, he’s an Adult Third Culture Kid who comes across as European, English, both and neither.
  • He’s a prolific pop philosopher, with a shelf-full of books and two very popular TED talks to his name.
  • He also has his critics, who call him a “high-brow self-help guru.”
  • Regardless, he hasn’t looked back since his 1997 essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life became an unlikely blockbuster in the “self-help” category.
  • As explained in a recent Displaced Dispatch—what, not a subscriber yet? get on with it!—de Botton has set up a cultural enterprise in Bloomsbury, London, called The School of Life, which aims to “teach ideas to live by” and “inspire people to change their lives through culture.”

Returning to the aforementioned “art as therapy” lecture, De Botton lists six ways that art can respond to human needs, and in this series I’ll be attempting to apply this scheme to the works of international creatives. Does the art produced by expats, rexpats, TCKS, ATCKs repats, and other international creatives have something to contribute to the good of humanity at large and if so, in what ways?

It all sounds rather grand, doesn’t it—or would grandiose be more accurate? In any event, not to worry, you won’t remember any of this by the time the column starts up properly next month.

That said, perhaps it would help if I left you with a couple of examples of the kinds of questions we’ll be examining, enough to whet your appetite for more.

Here goes:

1) How does it benefit the world that Alan Parker has written a best-selling indie book about what it’s like to be a Brit man trying to raise alpacas in Spain? I’ll warrant that many of us, myself included, have no wish to live in Spain or raise alpacas—yet I did feel moved by the account of his adventures as reported on this blog, and presume that others have as well. What are we all getting out of it?

2) Likewise, are there pleasures for all to be reaped from long-term expat Kathleen Saville’s description of the acacia trees on the island in Zamalek, Gezira Island, where she lives in Cairo? (NOTE: Saville, who blogs at Water Meditations, is a contender for a September Alice Award, which you’d know if you read our most recent Dispatch.) Take me for example. The thought of living in Egypt scares me, and I’ve been avoiding most trees ever since Hurricane Sandy, but after reading Saville’s description of Egyptian acacias—

I see folds and twists in the trunks like nothing I have ever seen in another tree. Each tree looks like a long thin body or leg covered with support hose. It’s odd because the appearance is almost human like.

—I was blown away. Why, and would others with no special interest in Egypt feel the same?

* * *

At this point I hope I’ve said enough for you to make a mental note about checking out next month’s column!

In closing, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon/Up in the sky…” (Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about or can’t remember the words.) Yes, I know it’s not high art; it’s a Tin Pan Alley stuff. But it’s seasonal and makes me smile—and our mentor, Alain de Botton, would give me a pat on the back for that!

STAY TUNED for Beth Green’s book review column.

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And the August 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honours August’s three Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) JESSICA WRAY, overthinking Californian, serial expat (currently in Madrid), and blogger

For her post: Seven Reasons Why English Food Doesn’t Actually Suck on her blog, Curiosity Travels
Posted on: 13 August 2014
Snippet:

3. Yorkshire Pudding
Not the pudding we are used to, this version doesn’t come from a powdered Jello packet. Instead, the Yorkshire pudding is actually referring to the pastry-like cooked dough which holds an assortment of heart attack inducing savory foods.

This specific Yorkshire pudding came with mashed potatoes, sausage and smothered in gravy. Accompanied by an ale, it was great for my soul but horrible for my waistline.

Citation: Jessica, the title of your post goes down in the annals. If that isn’t damning with faint praise, we don’t know what is. Your British hosts would be impressed. And it’s rather too literally gutsy of you to champion the cause of as many as 10 stogy foods merely because of “having dated a Brit for an extended period of time” and after having visited the country only twice. And while we don’t wish to stop you from acquiring a taste for stodge (British victuals need all the support they can get!), we worry you’ve become too focused on the gravy that’s smothering the Yorkshire pud and what it’s doing to your waistline to take in the protocol surrounding the British Sunday roast tradition. Alice, too, forgot her manners after stepping through the looking glass. We refer to the faux pas she committed when attempting to carve the leg of mutton just after having been introduced to it—only to be informed by the Red Queen:

“It isn’t etiquette to cut any one you’ve been introduced to. Remove the joint!”

Should you be possessed by a similar urge to seize the carving knife, don’t be surprised if your hosts are less than appreciative. You may wish to say something cheeky just as Alice did, i.e.:

“I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please, or we shall get no dinner at all.”

Then again, you could always utter an Americanism like: “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” After all, the Brits have a comparable expression about getting their knickers in a twist. (What’s the worst that can happen—you don’t get invited back and have to make do with the food in Madrid?)

2) KEN SEEROI, American expat in Japan and professional writer, photographer and blogger

For his post: How to Stop Learning Japanese on his blog, Japanese Rule of 7
Posted on: 2 August 2014
Snippet:

Who knew languages had so many components? It’s all those words—that’s the real problem. First, I only wanted to know enough Japanese to order a beer. I figured I’d be happy with one word. But then I wanted another beer, so I needed another word. See, I told you I don’t think about the future.

Citation: We can empathize, Ken. How beautiful life in Japan would be if we foreigners didn’t have to grapple with the “devil’s tongue”. One minute you’re ordering a beer, and the next you find you’ve been captured and hooked: condemned to the life of an eternal student. And the struggle to learn vocabulary that doesn’t resemble Latin in any way is only the half of it. You also have to get into the mode of thinking that what isn’t said is usually far more important than what is said—the (in)famous wa factor. Indeed, if you have wa going, then your listeners should be able to finish your sentences for you—which is great if you’ve forgotten the verb, but not so great if they fill in the blank in the wrong way and you find you’ve agreed to something like tutoring their child in English for the rest of his born days when you were actually trying to say you’re giving up tutoring because you’re writing a book. Another challenging aspect of wa is the tendency to allow emotion to take over in favor of clarity. After all, stating something clearly may mean that that the speaker commits to something and thus would get the blame if the situation goes awry. Should you become the victim of this, you could always do a Humpty Dumpty—we refer to the (in)famous exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty over semantics, in Through the Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

All things considered, though, you may be better off floating in a sea of vagueness. You had the right instincts, Ken, when ordering that beer and realizing one might not be enough. Well done!

3) DR. KATE EVANS, British zoologist, founder of Elephants for Africa (based in Botswana), and expat in Germany

For her remarks in an interview, The Expat that African Elephants Will Never Forget, with Claire Bolden McGill in Global Living Magazine (July/August 2014)
Posted on: 18 August 2014
Snippet:

The sounds we wake up to at night are very different. In Botswana my nights are disturbed by the roaring of a lion, the cackle of hyena or the rumble of an elephant, and I wake up to the sounds of the local franklin (a small chicken-like bird that is common throughout Southern Africa and very funny to watch running).

Citation: Dr. Kate, first of all we must congratulate you on heading up an organization that is doing one of the most noble deeds on the planet—attempting to save the African elephant from extinction. And although we know you have a list of degrees as long as an arm for doing such important work, we also suspect it’s your Alice-like curiosity that makes you so suited to the task. It is not at all surprising to us when you tell Claire (who btw was an Alice winner back in June and has also guest posted for our “New vs. Olde Worlds” series), that you feel more at home in the bush than you do in “hectic lifestyle of the West”. Your comfort level among African wildlife brings to mind this passage from Through the Looking-Glass:

…[Alice] found herself sitting quietly under a tree—while the Gnat (for that was the insect she had been talking to) was balancing itself on a twig just over her head, and fanning her with its wings.

It certainly was a VERY large Gnat: “about the size of a chicken,” Alice thought. Still, she couldn’t feel nervous with it, after they had been talking together so long.

You go on to tell Claire that your expat life owes to a promise you made to an elephant at the age of seven. Were you aware you were channeling Alice?!

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography of the passionate nomad (but displaced expat) Freya Stark

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Hasn’t the summer gone by fast? How’s your progress on that reading list you made back in the day when it seemed like the dog days would go on forever?

Well, if you abide by the rule that summer ends with the equinox, then you still have a few more weeks. And if you’re searching for one last read to feed your wanderlust, I would recommend the volume I just now finished: a biography of Dame Freya Stark, one of the most amazing travelers and travel writers of the last century. Called Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark, it’s by former New York Times journalist Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

Passionate_Nomad_coverDays after reading, I’m still in a daze (so to speak), transported by Geniesse’s tale of this intrepid British war-time adventurer.

Stark is one of those people—we’ve all met them on our travels, haven’t we?—who seems to have crammed many lives’ worth of living into one single walk on Earth.

Born to Anglo-Italian-German parents who made their living painting, growing flowers, and managing textile factories (among other pursuits) across Europe, Stark was the original Third Culture Kid. As she traipsed with her parents across Britain, France and Italy, she had no real place to call home. She was further burdened by her parents’ separation and an emotionally manipulative mother, along with numerous illnesses and financial troubles.

A late bloomer

Though she would eventually achieve renown as a witty speaker who could always be counted on to liven up a party, as a young woman Stark despaired of being able to have her own life. She did not make her first trip to the Orient (as it was known in those days) until age 33.

Perhaps because Stark herself told the stories of her travels in the 25 books she published, Geniesse gives most of her attention to the adventures Stark had before being lionized for her travel exploits and writings. (Geniesse covers the last 40 years of Stark’s life—Stark lived to age 100!—in just one chapter.)

For me, Geniesse’s portrait is most brilliant when recreating the straitened times that preceded the period when Stark became fluent in Arabic, gained a reputation for bravery abroad and published her first articles and books on her Middle Eastern travels.

Geniesse relies on her intuition as well as meticulous research to highlight the details of Stark’s upbringing that help to explain her transformation from a penny-pinching flower farmer in Italy to a voracious student of classical literature, a free-spirited wanderer (she was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts), and an internationally respected author, speaker, ethnologist and political consultant.

A misfit in the expat community

In tracing Stark’s life journey, Geniesse provides some sense of her struggle to find a place in the expat communities of the interwar years. On the one hand, she had trouble relating to the other Europeans she encountered on her travels, writing in one of her letters:

[The British missionaries in Lebanon] suffer from stagnation of the brain, and that surely produces stagnation of the soul in time. To feel, and think, and learn—learn always: surely that is being alive and young and the real sense. And most people seem to want to stagnate when they reach middle age. I hope I shall not become so, resenting ideas that are not my ideas, and seeing the world with all its changes and growth as a series of congealed formulas.

But during the period she spent within the expat community in Baghdad while researching her next trip, it was clear her fellow expats weren’t clear what to make of her either. As Geniesse writes:

Freya, now 37, was feeling her earlier despair give way to expanding hope. She could change her life; she had watched herself do it—although precisely to what purpose remained as much a mystery to her as the question of what Miss Stark was doing in their midst intrigued the Baghdad community. Freya enjoyed being directionless, learning purely for learning’s sake—and adjusting, if that was her fate, to a spinster’s life.

Geniesse concludes it may have been easier for Stark to explain herself to the tribes and villagers she encountered during her travels as they had no expectations of how she should be behaving. As a European, Christian woman traveling in remote areas of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Persia, Iraq and Iran, she was accepted as a foreigner, while in the expatriate communities there was some expectation that she should conduct herself as a proper unmarried lady.

(In fact she did eventually marry, in her fifties, to a good friend—but the couple separated soon afterwards, when her husband told her he was gay.)

Warts and all

Like all good biographers, Geniesse also highlights Stark’s less flattering qualities. From Stark’s petty rivalry with archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, to her sharp attitude toward women she felt were prettier than herself, to her irresponsible attitude to money and certain friends, Geniesse shows us the other side of this larger-than-life character. I liked Stark all the more for this mix of traits.

As I got to the end of Genisse’s work, I felt a little bereft. I missed Freya. There is something irresistible about a woman who not only writes her own script for her life but also gives herself a series of challenging parts. As Geniesse says, at the end of her life

Freya had followed her own genius. She had imagined herself as the star in many roles over the years—explorer in Persia and Luristan, Mata Hari at the imam’s court, English plenipotentiary during the war, and humble pilgrim, wandering through Turkey’s ancient ruins.

Next up on my reading list will have to be one of Stark’s own stories, several of which are still in print.

And now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Freya Stark herself, excerpted from a letter to her mother, listing the “7 cardinal virtues for a traveller”:
1. To admit standards that are not one’s own standards and discriminate the values that are not one’s own values.
2. To know how to use stupid men and inadequate tools with equanimity.
3. To be able to disassociate oneself from one’s bodily sensations.
4. To be able to take rest and nourishment as and when they come.
5. To love not only nature but human nature also.
6. To have an unpreoccupied, observant and uncensorious mind—in other words, to be unselfish.
7. To be as calmly good-tempered at the end of the day as at the beginning.”

* * *

Thanks, Beth, for bringing Dame Freya Stark to our attention! And now I would like to offically nominate her for our Displaced Hall of Fame. Readers, had you heard of Freya Stark before reading Beth’s column? What do you make of her? Have you encountered an eccentric like her on your own travels, or does she seem like a product of a previous age?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Get over yourself, and start promoting that novel!

LadyWhoWrites_brandThe Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez, is back today: we’ve missed her! Once again, she’ll be doling out practical advice based on her own experience for expats and other international creatives who are engaged in writing novels using some of the material gathered from their novel, shall we say, life stories. Meagan is a repeat expat in the UK (last time Bristol, this time London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging, and crafting ads for social media.

—ML Awanohara

So—you’ve written the book, you’ve got the editor, your friends and family love it, you’ve done the Kickstarter to raise the money and your blog has a steady readership.

(Even if you have just written the book and don’t have the rest in that list, you’re a million times ahead of anyone who has just spoken about writing a book. You’ve DONE something.)

Don’t you think you deserve—no, the WORLD deserves—to get a chance to know it exists?

The fact is, most of us writers are a little afraid of self-promotion. But by the time you finish reading today’s column, I hope you will have gotten over that fear and are full of determination to plug your Great Work like crazy.

Excuses, excuses

You don’t have a manager? You don’t have a PR team? You don’t know a graphic designer?

All good! Even if you had all those things, you’d still be expected to do as much, if not more than, the promotional team, who are working on other books as well as yours. Obviously, having a group of PR professionals around you wouldn’t hurt. But c’mon! You’ve been preparing for this your entire life. You got this!

To quote Eminem—just because the song Lose Yourself never fails to get me pumped up to do really GREAT things:

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip, yo

Facebook’s (literal) wall

Now I want to tell you about the time when I took a walk through Facebook headquarters to pitch to Walmart and Facebook about why my team was worth their investment of millions of dollars. I noticed many inspiring quotes on their (literal!) walls, one of which really lept out at me:

"Done is better then..." on Facebook's literal wall, by Meagan Adele Lopez

“Done is better then…” on Facebook’s literal wall. Photo credit: Meagan Adele Lopez

Notice the misspelling and the comma in a weird place? It certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great idea to comb through the final manuscript, edit the spelling mistakes and make sure your character arcs are outlined appropriately.

But how long have you been working on this novel? One year? Two years? Ten?!

Get it out there. Done is better than perfect. Done is even better than good—or as Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame says:

I want to make as many things as I can, taking on as many projects as I can possibly tackle. Each one exciting. Each one good enough. Each one DONE, to make room for the next, and the next, and the next…

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live?

Take me, for instance…

This article is a perfect example, actually. I have written and re-written it about five times. Twice because my computer crashed, and three times in my head because I didn’t feel like I had anything relevant to add to this topic.

Wait, did I just say I have nothing to add? I work in ADVERTISING and MARKETING for God’s sake. How could I not have something to say?

All of our heads get in the way sometimes, and that’s OK as long as you don’t let it run you. I know this article is supposed to be about promoting your novel, but I think the most useful thing I can tell you is to get over yourself and realize that you are damn good enough to have other people read your book, now that it’s finished.

Regardless of what other writers on writing would have you believe, there are no secret tips to marketing and promoting your novel. Yes, there are the basics—advertising campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc. But the most important thing is to refuel that passion you had when you were dining with your characters, when you were rehearsing your book trailer and reading every other author’s done works, and use it to drive your promotional efforts.

Set some goals

Thus I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to promote your novel. There are plenty of other google-able articles out there—for example:

But I will tell you to have goals. Do you want to sell 50 copies or tens of thousands? Do you want to make the New York Times Bestseller list, or do you just want your entire family to read it? Do you want to write articles or be interviewed for great sites like The Displaced Nation?

Once you’ve set some goals, how you go about achieving them becomes a lot easier.

What I can also say is that everything you write after you finish your book will be a promotion for that book. For example, at the end of this article is a little blurb about who I am and what I’ve written. Same for this interview I did in 2011 about publishing on Kindle, this article I wrote about taking the time to make change happen, and this article I wrote just recently for BBC America about combining British and American weddings (a version of which appeared two years ago on the Displaced Nation).

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 6 for International Creatives:

Once you write a book—everything you do will help promote it. So finish with the finishing touches, get out there and start talking about it!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this final piece of advice of Meagan’s, which I take to be a kind of a kick in the pants (or trousers, if you prefer)? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, before she leaves us? Please share in the comments…

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her Web site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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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