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LIBBY’S LIFE #91/#92 – The Stepfordization of Maggie

Maggie’s house used to feel like my second home. Every part of it was an extension of her, my “other” mother: the black wood-stove, the teapot-cats she didn’t have the heart to throw away, the colourful patchwork quilts draped over rocking chairs and love-seats.

I loved the stove’s smoky smell that wound through the house, even in summer, and clung to my clothes after every visit. So similar to cigar smoke, which I cannot bear, but so comforting in a way that tobacco residue never is.

I loved the china cats, gathering dust on the shelf above the kitchen window. They were as ugly as they were useless; cats of any material were never designed to hold hot liquids, and during afternoon tea, as Maggie tipped them over to pour, they would dribble incontinently over her plates of digestive biscuits and slices of Victoria sandwich.

And the quilts? I loved, simply adored, the stories that each quilt told.

“Now this white taffeta here, that’s from my wedding dress. Well, I say ‘dress’, but there wasn’t much of it. You couldn’t get more than a couple of patches out of it. It was the Sixties, and the skirt was noticeable more by its absence than presence. The blue seersucker, though, is from a party dress that Sara wore when she was five. It had a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves, and she looked like Miss Pears in it. And see this lime green? That’s part of the shirt I was wearing when I decided, just like that, that I’d had enough of Derek. I packed a bag for me and Sara and we left at midnight, like a pair of Cinderellas, while he was on night shift.”

The last story, about a patch of lime-green cotton commemorating her independence, is the one that keeps coming back to me as I sit with Maggie now in her living room.

Correction. This is not Maggie’s living room. Not anymore. It belongs to someone else who lives here now.

It’s as if the lime-green shirt lost its life in vain.

Gone is the wood-stove, replaced by a wall fire resembling a plasma TV.

Gone are the ceramic cats in the kitchen. The shelf where they used to sit has also gone, and in its place is a calico Roman blind. The countertops, which used to be barely visible for all the bric-a-brac — half-opened letters, a basket of middle-aged Golden Delicious, assorted supermarket receipts and special offer coupons — are clear of paraphernalia and smell faintly of lemon and ammonia. Only a coffeemaker and a toaster grace the surfaces.

And gone are the worn wooden rocking chairs and threadbare love seats, usurped by two cream, leather sofas, the type with angular seats that dig into the backs of your knees, and backrests that are too low to lean your head on.

Naturally, the life-history patchwork quilts are nowhere to be seen.

It’s like an “after” picture on a home makeover program.

Very sleek, very chic, very neutral. Devoid of personality.

Devoid of Maggie.

Well — devoid of the old Maggie, the Maggie who lived here a few months ago, the one whose personality was too big for this little cottage.

Since her ex has been living with her, though, her personality has been on a starvation diet.

The new Maggie twists slightly on her unforgiving sofa, and asks in a too-bright tone if I would like some tea. The old Maggie would have simply put the kettle on with nothing being said. Her Miss Manners style of etiquette is infectious, though, and I find myself answering:

“That would be perfectly lovely, thank you.”

She rejects my offer of help in the kitchen — something else the Maggie of old would not have done — so I stay seated and watch her walk into the kitchen. Even her dress code has changed: no more dirndl skirts or hippy kaftans, no more peasant blouses or wooden beads. I remember, when we first met, my impression of her was “Biba meets Miss Havisham of Great Expectations.”  Today, a first impression might be “Botox meets Liz Claiborne of Stepford Wives.”

What, I ask myself, can make a strong woman like Maggie turn into a drone?

It’s a rhetorical question. When you take into account the variables of Maggie’s life, only one has changed: her companion. Her ex-ex who, even when absent from the room as he is at present, keeps Maggie in a zombie-like trance by remote control.

Maggie’s personality started to alter quite a while ago, of course. My own diary pinpointed the moment as early as last September:

I have no idea what witchcraft Maggie’s ex has spun on my friend, but in the four weeks she was in the Keys, Maggie changed. She’s never been one to show or act her age — “Age is but a number” she is fond of saying — but since she came back, she’s been nearer in mental age and outlook to Jack than to me.

I did wonder if she was becoming prematurely senile, until I saw Maggie and Derek together one afternoon. Then I realised what had happened.

They’ve teleported themselves back forty years. She is behaving as she did when she was nineteen, and he thinks he’s the dashing young state trooper who stopped a redheaded English woman for speeding in a borrowed Corvette.

And it won’t work. You can’t be teenagers when you’re drawing a pension — at least, you can’t be the same teenagers that you used to be. By all means, have a second youth; but the key word there is “second”.

Reliving their first one will end in a pool of tears, I’m sure of it.

Ignoring Miss Manners’ probable advice to stay put on the sofa as my hostess had indicated I should, I follow Maggie into the kitchen.

She looks up as I approach, and I could swear that her expression is one of alarm.

“Let’s have a nice chat while the tea’s brewing,” I say, leaning cosily against the counter. “I haven’t seen you for ages. Not even in the shops, although I’ve seen Derek there a few times. How are you doing?”

Maggie’s alarmed expression returns to one more bland. She smiles and nods once to acknowledge her satisfactory wellbeing, and counts out spoonfuls of looseleaf tea into an angular, stainless-steel teapot that resembles not a tabby cat but part of a car engine.

I stare at the stainless steel monstrosity — no doubt an example of engineering perfection that it wouldn’t dream of dribbling over teatime cake and biscuits — and rage quietly to myself. How dare it decide that Maggie’s old china teapots weren’t good enough?

The answer to that is: it didn’t. Something else did.

Someone else did.

“And how is Derek?” I ask. “You haven’t kicked him out yet?”

Maggie’s eyes widen. She looks around furtively before replying.

“Of course not. Why would I do that?” she says. “We’re just getting to know each other again.”

She pours boiling water on the tea leaves, lets it brew for exactly two minutes, then pours me a cup. It’s not her usual brand of bright orange PG Tips. This stuff is pale grey with a slice of lemon floating in it, and it smells of lavender potpourri.

“The house looks beautiful,” I lie, after I’ve taken a sip. Not only does the tea smell like potpourri, but it tastes like it too. “Very tidy. Very clean. Very…” I can’t think how to describe the new, angular, clinical style that is so out of place in Maggie’s cosy home.

“Very not me, I think you’re trying to say.” Her voice is barely audible.

It’s the first sighting I’ve had of the real Maggie for several months, and in my surprise, I almost drop my cup.

“So why did you do it?” I ask.

Maggie purses her lips: Shush. Then she jerks her head slightly towards the door in the kitchen that leads to the den.

“Can you talk?” I whisper.

She shakes her head.

In a louder voice that will carry to the den where her ex-ex presumably is, she says, “Derek and I have plans to go out very soon, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to stay long. But before you leave, remind me to give you the CD you lent me last summer. I do apologise for keeping it so long.”

Again, a pursing of lips to silence any bemused reaction on my part. I’ve never lent Maggie any CDs. Ever.

I swig back the remnants of my lavender-flavoured tea and Maggie hustles me towards the front door. As I step out onto the porch, she thrusts a CD case at me. I shove it in my handbag without looking at it, get in the car, and head off home to see the children who have been tormenting a local high schooler who was foolish enough to volunteer to babysit.

Later, after dinner, I tell a slightly bored Oliver about the mysterious changes in our old neighbour. “And then, just before I left, she gave me a CD she says I lent her…but I’ve never lent her any CDs.”

“What was it?” Oliver asks.

I rummage in my handbag, which is a large sack-like affair in which everything falls to the bottom in a jumble of loose change, gas receipts, and Happy Meal toys, and pull out the CD case that Maggie had given me.

“A Beatles album,” I tell him, and hold the case up for him to see.

He squints. “I can’t see without my glasses. Which one?”

John, Paul, George, and Ringo; dressed in blue uniforms, holding their arms in various semaphore positions.

“‘Help’,” I say.

 

.

Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #93

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #90 – The Other Woman

Read Libby’s Life from the first episode.

Want to read more? Head on over to Kate Allison’s own site, where you can find out more about Libby and the characters of Woodhaven, and where you can buy Taking Flight, the first year of Libby’s Life — now available as an ebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts!

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10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

summerhacks_US

The summer ideal, so rarely achieved (apart from the cocktail), Public Domain CC0 via Pixar.

New York City, where I now live after years of being an expat on two small islands, the UK and Japan, had a particularly brutal winter in 2014. You would think I’d now be in the mood for summer.

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

The moment the temperature and humidity levels skyrocketed here in the city, I realized my feelings about summer haven’t changed. Basically, and as expressed in this space before, I can’t stand it. Or, in the somewhat more poetic words of Swedish black metal trio Woods of Infinity:

Summer is not my friend. Satan, let it end.
Sunshine, hurting my eyes. Making my skin look like…argh.

Which brings me to today’s topic: summer hacks. What hacks have I picked up from the three countries where I’ve lived—Japan, the US and the UK—that can help me through summer’s doggiest days?

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

Japanese women seem to have been the first to get the memo about avoiding sun damage. During the summer, which in Tokyo can be particularly brutal, most would not venture out in the heat of the day without a hat or a UV parasol, sometimes both. (Note: A regular umbrella will do in lieu a proper parasol.)

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

If the heat becomes unbearably hot, say, when standing on the subway platform or getting into a car, one of the easiest ways to get cool is via a simple fan, either the kind that folds or an uchiwa. And if you find yourself perspiring profusely in a public place, try dabbing your face and neck with a handkerchief folded into a neat square. (When living in Japan, I used to find it entertaining to go into a department store and look at the vast array of handkerchiefs on display in the ground floor accessories. Every major Western designer has done one, meaning they’ve all had to struggle with translating their unique look into a small square of cloth. Who knew?)

3) Eat sparingly (cold soba) or else for energy (grilled eel).

On a hot and humid day, one of the healthiest meals is the simplest: a plate of cold buckwheat noodles, or soba, which have been cooked al dente. The noodles are dipped into a cup containing a special sauce (consisting of dashi, sweetened soy sauce and mirin), to which has been added fresh wasabi and sliced spring onions. Alternatively, if your body feels depleted during a heat wave, you can go to the other extreme and have a meal of unagi kabayaki, freshwater eel that has been glaze-grilled: it is served over white rice, typically with a cold beer to accompany. (By tradition, Japanese favor this meal from mid-July through early August, to counteract the lethargy and debilitation that occurs mid-way through their blistering summers.)

4) Drink plenty of cold tea and, for short bursts of energy, iced coffee with milk and a shot of gum syrup.

In Japan you can buy, at every convenience store, huge plastic bottles of green tea or oolong cha (my fave) to refrigerate so that cold tea (most people don’t ice it) is always on hand. You can also make mugicha: a caffeine-free barley infusion, said to be the “flavor of summer” in Japan and always served a room temperature. Before moving to Japan, I had never before tried iced coffee , where apparently the Japanese have been drinking it since the 1920s. Usually, it’s served in a glass to accompany or finish a restaurant meal—not in a plastic disposable cup (it’s impolite to eat and drink on the streets in that part of the world). Although hesitant at first, I became an immediate fan and was pleased to see it had caught on in the West by the time I returned. Now you can even get iced coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts. And, whereas I don’t usually add sugar to coffee, I will sometimes add to the iced version as I find my body needs that extra bit of energy to get from A to B. (In Japan, one always adds gum syrup, which dissolves much better than sugar, but it’s hard to find that here.)

FROM THE US:

5) If you can’t stand the heat, move to a cold dark box, aka a movie theatre.

Maybe it’s a New York City thing, but I’m thinking of Michael Maslin’s New Yorker cartoon showing a movie theatre with a marquee that says:

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

One or two scoops of freshly made ice cream in a dish or a regular sugar cone (nothing heavier or fancier) is one of life’s simple pleasures. Many people die in heat waves (no joke), so this is one to have, and keep, on your bucket list.

7) Seek invites to places where you can swim—in a pool, a lake, the ocean.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into some cool water. Another tip is to put on a shirt or dress that is slightly damp—it will be dry by the time you reach the subway.

8) No opportunity to escape to a house in the Hamptons or equivalent? Have a cocktail.

See my still-relevant post of three summers ago on cocktails as mini-summer escapes to exotic locales, entitled Some enchanted drinking…

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

British summer tends to be short and sweet—and blissful (not too humid). Should you have a day where the heat breaks and temperatures and humidity levels are bearable, EMBRACE SUMMER AS YOUR FRIEND. Now, British people go to extremes by stripping down, as noted in this recent post by Annabel Kantaria in her Telegraph Expat blog, hence risking sunburn and melanoma. (As an aside: Did you know we once did an interview with Annabel? Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) At the very least, perhaps you could pull off an impromptu picnic or bike ride, or else try to score an outdoor table at a popular restaurant or pub.

10) Have a cuppa.

Contrary to the Japanese and American customs, tea is drunk hot in Britain because it makes you sweat and therefore cool down. This hack is one of the more practical legacies from the days when the Brits occupied India. To this day, I will sometimes make a cuppa when I’m boiling hot. Think the science sounds dubious? Listen to this NPR story. In any event, tea is an important summer drink in all three cultures, for good reason. It sustains you. See my post on the virtues of tea-drinking.

* * *

Readers, it’s your turn. What can you add to my list before that Woods of Infinity song starts haunting me again:

Awake at night again. No tears to weep and too restless to sleep. Thinking of all and nothing and got stuck in between.

Hurry, please! Any foods, drinks, rituals, Bacchanalian festivities or other hacks you’ve picked up from your lives of displacement? How about current films you’d recommend? SOS, I’m melting over here…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the June 2014 Alices go to … these 4 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 honors June’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) ANDREW CREELMAN, British expat in São Paulo, blogger and author of the memoir Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture

For his post: What It’s Like to Watch World Cup Games on the Streets of São Paulo, on his blog, What About São Paulo?
Posted on: 19 June 2014
Snippet:

Watching England vs Italy
The day I’d been waiting for had arrived! I’d managed to recruit a Dane, an American and a couple of Brazilians to support England with me, and we all headed over to the Fan fest area just in time for the English national anthem. I belted this out with gusto, and I noticed I wasn’t alone; there were at least 100 other Brits I could almost hear singing too.

Then the Italian anthem started, and things took an unexpected turn. It was as if EVERYONE else was singing along to this, waving their Italian flags. But then São Paulo is home to a huge number of Brazilians of Italian descent, and for some reason, I hadn’t even thought about this before arriving. To make things worse, there was a group of big, burly Italians stood by us, clearly very passionate about this song and the team.

Citation: Andrew, we’re surprised you didn’t perfect your capoeira kicks before venturing into the FIFA Fan Fest area of São Paulo to watch England play Italy. But it seems you were that clueless. Your story in fact puts us in mind of Alice when she was handed a flamingo and gopher and told to play croquet. She was “in such confusion that she never knew whether it was her turn or not.” Likewise, we note that you were jumping up and down when you imagined England had scored a goal when in fact the ball had hit the outside of the net. Still, it’s a good thing you were mistaken or else those “big, burly” Brazilians of Italian descent might have screamed “Off with his head!”. As it was, their smirks must have made you feel a right wally. Welcome to the Fédération Internationale de Alice (FIA). And, yes, it’s time to invest in the Brazilian equivalent of Spec Savers.

2) CLAIRE BOLDEN MCGILL, British expat in Maryland and blogger at UKDesperateHousewifeUSA

For her post: Brazil 2014: The World Cup Widow’s Guide to Surviving It Stateside, to Lawrence Brown’s blog, Lost in the Pond
Posted on: 12 June 2014
Snippet:

List of activities for making World Cup widowhood fun

3. Buy a big hat and pretend you’re a rich British aristocrat. There is no other reason to do this, other than it’s something fun to do when the game is on.

Really go to town on the British accent. Order or make tea and be all lah-dee-dah, and poo-poo lemon and sweetener, get a proper milk jug and dunk in a Custard Cream. Keep being posh and drink tea and say posh British things during the game.

Citation: Love it, love it, love it, Claire! Only can we make just one wee suggestion, that while outfitted in this rather outlandish garb, you borrow a line from the March Hare and say to your husband, very earnestly: “Take some more tea.” Then when he says he hasn’t had any tea yet so can hardly take more, you can say:

“You mean you can’t take LESS. It’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.”

Just think, he may look away from the screen for an instant, wondering whether you’ve gone totally barking. Mmmmm… Okay, probably not. Still, a Mad Hatter Tea Party would be marginally more entertaining than playing World Cup bingo with yourself (No 6).

3) JANE DEAN, blogger, editor, writer; English-born global resident (but currently in the Netherlands)

For her post: The Non-Expat Expat: Not Fitting The Box to her blog, Wordgeyser
Posted on: 28 May 2014
Snippet:

Today we have no concept of “home” in a geographic sense. This used to worry me and I know it caused consternation for our families that we no longer felt, or identified ourselves as, “British”. I used to feel wholly American, now not so much. I find I can’t identify with any given nationality, but am most comfortable surrounded by people like me, who are from everywhere.

Citation: Jane, at a time when America is about to celebrate its independence from Britain, we find it refreshing to encounter your “nothing is permanent, not even nationality” perspective. British one day and “wholly American” the next—it’s a pivot that can only be rivaled by the German football players on Team USA. What’s more, it’s impressive that you’ve renounced expat-hood as an alternative identity. We, too, have never identified with the expat label and, upon reading your post, suddenly understood why: it’s because we’ve all been “local” (only one of us has had an expat package, in Japan). Like you, we would advise others who feel they are “from everywhere” not to spend too much time on the Alice-in-Wonderland puzzle of “Who in the world am I?” The sooner one can get over the feeling of having arms and feet poking out of the windows and doors of the White Rabbit’s house—or, as you would put it, Jane, “not fitting the box”—the better. To echo your words: “The worst disasters make the best stories down the years.”

4) BRITTANY JORDT, diehard Wisconsinite, “almost expat” in New Zealand and travel blogger

For her post: Reflections on a year and a half abroad, from an almost expat on her blog, Today I’m 20-Something
Posted on: 13 May 2014
Snippet:

Which brings me to my point: anyone who tells you they don’t miss home is either lying or doesn’t have a home worth missing. In the first case, you can hardly blame a person for denying how much they long for the land of their birth, especially when (as is often the case) it’s not feasible to go back. The second scenario is one I don’t envy, even if the homesickness sometimes drags me down.

Citation: Well said, Brittany! Listen, a rainy day in Auckland, the kind that makes you wear socks with your slippers and huddle around the propane heater, would bring out the homesick in anyone, even those of us who don’t have homes worth missing. But your point is well taken. You’re not in Wisconsin any more. To return to Alice (don’t you imagine she and Dorothy would be friends?), a person who is living abroad, particularly on the other side of the world, in the Land of Feijoas no less, would be lying if they didn’t occasionally admit to having a moment like this:

“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

We also love that you refer to yourself as an “almost expat—a person who still feels the tug of home on her heart”. It’s the perfect way to describe the existential ambivalence that goes hand in hand with a life of displacement, that persistent feeling of: “There’s no place like home…There’s no place…” Is it any wonder that the Kiwi granny thought you were a keeper? :-)

*  *  *

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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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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TCK TALENT: Alice Shu-Hsien Wu, Cultural Bridge Builder and Global Nomad Videographer

Alice Wu TCK TALENT Collage

Alice Shu-Hsien Wu (her own photo).

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference.

—ML Awanohara

Happy summer/winter/rainy season, international readers! As some of you may recall, last month I talked to Cathleen Hadley, a fellow ATCK contributor to the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, dedicated to telling the stories of those of us who grew up among different countries. Today I’m interviewing another Limbo contributor, Alice Shu-Hsien Wu. An intercultural communication consultant and lecturer at Cornell University, Alice is particularly interested in intercultural adjustment and in internationally mobile families. She has produced two acclaimed videos about college students who have led internationally mobile, nomadic lives, in which the students themselves discuss such challenges as transition, cultural identity, and rootlessness.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Alice. I understand that you were internationally mobile while growing up, living in England, Finland and Sweden in addition to the United States.
Yes, my father was a biochemistry professor and had sabbaticals in various places. We went from New York City to Palo Alto, California, when I was 6 and to Upstate New York when I was 7, and then to England when I was 11 and back to New York State when I was 12. We also sometimes traveled to various countries where my father had meetings. I was a Rotary exchange student in Finland when I was 17; went to college and grad school in New York; and then, at age 26, went to Sweden to study and work, returning two years later to Ithaca, New York, where I still live.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I’ve been happy in many places—one of my favorites was California because of the sunny weather, fruit trees and flowers in my yard, and sand in the playgrounds (I was 6 then, remember). This was a welcome change from living in NYC—where the playgrounds were concrete and you weren’t allowed to walk on the small amounts of grass.

“Then when I got here it was a big adjustment identity thing: I didn’t feel American…” – Lynn, US

How did you find your various “repatriation” experiences?
My repatriation from Sweden was probably the most challenging—since I had lived there longer and gotten more immersed in the culture through school, work, and friends. I remember thinking American TV newscasters smiled and laughed too much compared to Swedish commentators and that college and grad students in the United States dressed very informally compared to students in Stockholm. Everything in the U.S. seemed bigger than I had become accustomed to in Sweden—gigantic tableware and portions in restaurants (especially in California), huge shopping carts and vast numbers of products in supermarkets. Also, I was surprised by the general lack of discussion about current world events in the U.S., compared to the amount and frequency of these discussions in Europe.

Now you sound like the other Alice: in Wonderland! (I mention because she’s the Displaced Nation’s mascot.) As an instructor at Cornell, you’ve made two important documentaries about global nomads/TCKs, Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the Future (1994) and Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the New Millennium (2001). What did you like best about the creative process?
Meeting the students and getting to know them—they were fascinating, honest, and articulate. I screened the first global nomads video for the student interviewees at the end of the school year, and they liked it so much they decided to form a global nomads club. They asked me to be their advisor and I ended up working with them for the next three years. They were amazingly creative, active, and energetic and brought a lot to the campus community.

“Global Nomads have the ability to educate others…” – Liliona, Ghana

What attracted you to the documentary format? I have talked to other ATCK actors like myself and to novelists and artists, but you are my first videographer.
Clearly, there are many effective ways to portray the GN/TCK experience, but I was more familiar with the documentary format since I’d used it in teaching. For example, I’d used videos during intercultural training sessions for students and staff at Cornell to introduce topics like cultural adjustment, culture shock, and reentry shock. I also videoed international students as well as first-generation Americans who were participating in panels about aspects of American culture, as well as some international students who were teaching and doing role-plays. So I was very comfortable with the format. I really like being able to feature students’ own words and impressions—especially when I can capture them interacting with other students. In the first video, all of the students were from Cornell. In the second video, the students were from six different schools across the United States: San Diego State University, Colorado State University, The College of Wooster, George Mason University, Syracuse University, and Cornell.

Limbo_coverIn your essay in Writing Out of Limbo, you describe the impact of the videos not only on the college students who participated in them but also on the TCKs in your audiences. You produced these two documentaries in the era before social media. How did the news spread?
I showed the videos to as many groups at Cornell as I could: students, including Resident Advisors in dorms and the members of an international student discussion group, as well as groups of staff. I also screened them at international and intercultural conferences. Also, the students who appeared in the first video were great with promotions. They showed it to their dorm-mates to help them understand the GN experience, as well as at an initial meeting of their global nomads club to introduce prospective members to the concept. And they traveled together to a Global Nomads International (GNI) collegiate conference in Virginia where they screened it for GNs and TCKs from other colleges. Audience members who’d been TCKs/GNs could really relate to the students on screen, and word soon spread.

“I never wanted to put down roots…”- Brian, US

Did making these videos help you to better understand yourself as an ATCK?
I could relate to many things that the students talked about, and making the videos helped me think about some of my own experiences such as leaving my friends many times and having friends in many different places.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them!)
I identify with some aspects of Nordic cultures like Sweden and Finland, some aspects of Chinese culture (due to my family background), and some aspects of American culture. I always seem to meet global nomads and Third Culture Kids wherever I go: I really enjoy it. After learning about the concept of global nomads and Third Culture Kids at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and from the late, great David Pollock, I realized that a lot of the friends I’d made at college were global nomads (and they were very interested in learning more once I’d informed them).

As an ATCK, do you want to move frequently, or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
My suitcase is always partly packed so it is easy to go on the next trip. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was thinking about how much I love seeing all the gates listing flights to various parts of the world. I like to imagine what it would be like to jump on one of these planes and end up in a new part of the world. That said, I also enjoy having a home base, especially since I have kids who are quite rooted and don’t like me to be away for very long.

Are you working on a new TCK video project?
Yes. This spring I filmed three panels of Cornell students at Cornell’s Language House. This time I am looking at the influence of technology on the global nomad/TCK experience and how this compares to the experiences of GN/TCK students in my previous two videos. In addition, I am making a video that follows up on some of the students who participated in my first two films, and am planning to use social media tools.

* * *

Thank you, Alice! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about Alice’s work or obtaining a copy of either of her documentaries, you can go to the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) website. And, to reiterate, you can read her chapter describing her work in Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. The subheds above are all quotes from the students featured in her second documentary. Please leave any questions or comments for Alice below.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Summer in a bottle…we’re jammin’

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

* * *

“I heard that wine makers in the Napa Valley have found that picking grapes at night yields better wine,” I said to my husband as we walked the dog around our little neighbourhood.

He followed my line of vision to an apricot tree, which, every June, heaves with the luscious yellow fruit.

“I still think it would be a stretch for that snippet of hearsay to justify nicking the neighbour’s apricots to make jam,” he said.

“As if I would think of it,” I snapped.

But of course, I have thought of it, and often. After three years of living in France, I realize that I have entered into the kind of seasonal cooking that would make the hearts of certain editors of food magazines sing. Preserving has become a huge part of my life. Whenever I see a tree bursting with fruit, I am mentally pulling my preserving pan out of the pantry. Indeed, no tree is safe. My own cherry tree has been stripped bare of its rich dark cherries, which are now satisfyingly preserved in jars with wide red and white checked lids and little fruit decorated labels. Kitsch? Twee? Call it what you will.

Preserving the past

Seasonal preserving not only makes me feel smugly capable, it also provides a connection with a past where preserving was a necessity and not a lifestyle choice. In France the changing seasons are very clear and marked by the varieties of available produce. This is not always the case in other countries where I have lived. Sometimes seasons are blurred due to imports for those able to pay, while in others there is a shortage of actual seasons.  I have always thought we should be grateful Vivaldi was not born in Malaysia.

Jo's strawberrys and raspberrys

At the market

Here in Aix I buy my fruit and vegetables in a large farm shop. As the year progresses, the produce changes. Strawberries come in around April or May and I watch the prices drop and drop until 4 Euros buys you 2 kilos and you are happy to macerate and preserve to your heart’s content. As the supply of strawberries peaks and peters out, in come the apricots, at jaw-droppingly low prices. In England I would feel guilty to pay that much and make jam, preferring instead to use fewer and to put them where they are visible. So the season goes on with harvests of figs, walnuts, grapes and avocados. Even after years of living overseas, it still amazes me that something as special to a Brit as artichokes or avocados can be displayed in barrels as if they were as common as potatoes in Ireland.

I hope I never lose the delight in this aspect of expat life.

Gorgeous Cheddar, where seasonal quality trumps year-round quantity

I can get quite upset thinking of the English strawberry. The best of the best, produced in the county of my birth, Somerset, in the little village of Cheddar. Poor Cheddar, famous for its wonderful cheese, which has been knocked off and plasticized the world over until most people outside the UK don’t even know what real Cheddar is. On top of this, the reduction of its strawberry industry too. The problem was that for all its well-drained and optimal facing slopes, the season was only weeks long. It couldn’t produce enough fruit to satisfy the appetite of the nation which stamped its foot and demanded more and cheaper strawberries, and a longer season to boot.

The nation should be careful what it wishes for. Fruit varieties have been tampered with and grown under plastic so that we can enjoy strawberries for longer than the two weeks of Wimbledon. Flavor has been compromised — of that there can be no doubt. But you can still buy the real thing in Cheddar, or grow your own, and it’s well worth doing if only to see what this fruit should actually taste like: strawberry, if you are interested, and not water.

Then there are the imports. I am all for world travel, but not for soft fruit on which an indefinite travel ban should be imposed. The waxy Spanish strawberry is not only nearly devoid of the flavor of strawberry, but its texture is decidedly unappealing, being as coarse and waxy as an ageing fruit-pickers cheeks.

How much do I love a good strawberry? A bushel and a peck and some in a gourd.

Having said all that, I am (somewhat surprisingly) delighted to see the vast quantities of Spanish strawberries in my French market. There are two points in my rather shifty defense. Firstly, they are cheap, which justifies their use in jam. Turning a perfectly grown, traditional Cheddar strawberry into jam would be a crime, but boiling the heck out of the Spanish and adding sugar can only act to improve the flavor they lack. Secondly, the presence of the Carpentras strawberry gives a taste of how things should be.

The village of Carpentras, in the Vaucluse region of Southern France, hosts a strawberry festival in April each year. I like to think of this village as Soft Fruit Soul Sister to Cheddar. Yet, unlike Cheddar, Carpentras has been successful, in that typically French way, of protecting its strawberry: as fiercely as Champagne growers have protected their name under a registered trademark since 1987. We have much to learn from them.

Several varieties are grown. 90% of production is given over to the parajo, while its posher cousins, the ciflorette and the garriguette, are favored respectively by patissieres and those who like their fruit as it comes. These elite strawberries have retained their, well, strawberrishness with a deeper, fuller flavor. Price is higher but it is a price that locals and fancy restaurants alike are willing to pay for flavor. My favorite is the garriguette which, at 3.90 Euros this morning for 250g (16 strawberries), is nearly double the price of the regular Carpentras, but so well worth it.

This is the taste of the homegrown strawberries I remember from my youth, complete with that rich, almost caramel-like flavour. Heaven, and worth every centime.

Joanna's jam

Joanna’s jam

Bottling summer sunshine for winter days ahead

So here in France I can enjoy quality in my tarts and quantity for my preserves, and that, I think, is a perfect combination. In England it is less of a clear cut and easy situation. Most of my local Pick Your Own farms have closed in recent years and, outside of two or three beloved greengrocers, everything is plastic punneted mediocrity. Not awful, but not good and definitely not strawberry.

Back in France, as the year progresses, so my level of stress rises. Two batches of strawberry, one of cherry, brined olives rinsed and now bottled in olive oil, and apricot in the making, have placed considerable strain on my supply of jars. Yet I am always thinking greedily ahead. Figs are already on my mind, yet here I am in the throes of moving house. Somehow, the making of that Fig Confit must happen. I can’t miss figs at those sorts of prices. They must be preserved before my pans are packed. Or immediately after arriving at the new place before my boxes are fully unloaded. Will I be able to do it? I feel the panic rising. No amount of telling myself that I don’t actually have to do it this year has any effect. I have to. I must. It’s just the rhythm of the year and I can’t bear to miss the joy of opening a jar at Christmas in the midst of an English winter. Just a little ray of Provence sunshine from my other home on a cold, cold day. A little fig confit to serve with the foie gras adds a French touch to the festive season.

The stress is intensive by that Apricot tree which still preys on my mind. Those wasted golden globes are just asking for my attention. It really would be a crime to let them wither on the tree. Wouldn’t it?

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

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Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is made in the shade for expats and Third Culture Kids

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

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

Today we welcome brand new columnist Beth Green to the Displaced Nation. An American who lives in Prague, Beth is an intrepid traveler and voracious reader, who mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures. In other words, she has the perfect background for reviewing recent book releases on behalf of international creatives. Hmmm…but will we enjoy her reviews more than the actual works?

—ML Awanohara

Thanks, ML! Displaced Nationers, for my first column we’ll be plunging into the world of crime fiction in which a city plays a major role. As I’m sure you know, many popular crime novels are set in Los Angeles, New York, London, or Chicago, where that setting is as important as the crimes committed there.

So, let me introduce another city with an underbelly you might enjoy: Dublin.

In contrast to the shamrock-and-Guinness tourist propaganda, Dublin can have a grittier, noir aspect, at least in the hands of skilled writer Tana French.

If you’re looking for a nice read where setting bolsters plot, and where some of the themes related to the experiences of those who lead the international creative life, French’s series about the Dublin Murder Squad is a fine place to start. The series, currently consisting of four books, features the members of Ireland’s fictional homicide unit, each of whom is given narration duties for one of the books—a device by which we constantly get new perspectives on the other detectives in the team as well as a chance to see the Irish Republic’s capital city through a new pair of eyes.

Various Dublins

For example, when the narrator is an experienced cop who was born to a poor family, the city doesn’t get a glossy treatment. He describes, with equal honesty, the run-down parts of town where members of his family live and the middle-class suburb where his ex-wife now resides.

Another detective, who has lived abroad, describes Dublin with more of a tourist’s eye when it’s her turn to narrate a novel.

Yet another is obsessed with appearances; and the fourth alternately seems to love and hate the city.

Cultural challenges

Though born in the USA, Tana French grew up as a Third Culture Kid. Her father was a development economist, and she spent her childhood in Ireland, Italy, the USA, and Malawi. She went to university, and ultimately chose to settle, in Ireland. Perhaps reflecting this early experience, French has each of her main characters navigate some kind of cultural shift in addition to playing his or her role in the solving (or making) of a murder.

IntheWoods_cover_pmIn the Woods is French’s debut, Edgar-winning novel. The action centers on homicide detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, both of whom feel culturally conflicted. Ryan, who grew up in the same village he must now investigate, was sent away to school after a horrifying childhood experience. He returns to Ireland as an adult but retains a carefully learned prep-school accent and manner of dress that marks him as an outsider even while standing in front of his childhood home.

Maddox, on the other hand, spent part of her childhood with relatives in France. She speaks French fluently and readily adapts to new surroundings and diverse situations. While this chameleon-like quality often comes in handy, it also gives her a sense of alienation in her home country. As Maddox says in The Likeness, the next book in the series:

I take after the French side. Nobody thinks I’m Irish, till I open my mouth.

Love of disguises

TheLikeness_cover_pmIn The Likeness, Maddox narrates the story of how she must go undercover impersonating someone—a foreigner, it turns out, who in turn is impersonating an undercover role (that of a college student) Maddox had previously assumed.

Controlling these layers of identity becomes intoxicating to Maddox (and to the reader, I might add) while also putting her career, and that of her superior officer, Frank Mackey, at risk.

Reading The Likeness, I was impressed by how much detail French provides to show that Maddox undergoes a believable transformation.

The domestic expat

In French’s third book, Faithful Place, Maddox’s boss, Mackey, gets his chance to prove himself in navigating the shifting subtleties of Irish culture and society.

Set in an area of Dublin known as The Liberties— not far from the tourist highlights in terms of distance but miles away in terms of economic progress and commitment to law and order—Faithful Place requires Mackey to return to the home he grew up in and attempt to solve the disappearance of his high school sweetheart, who he had always thought simply dumped him.

FaithfulPlace_cover_pmThough Mackey is thought of as down-to-earth and street-smart by his colleagues (one of the joys of the Dublin Murder Squad books is seeing different characters from inside and out over the course of several books), his time as a cop has not endeared him to his family or neighbors. He also married “up”, and there’s a great minor plot line concerning his decision to introduce his young daughter, Holly, to his “lower-class” relations.

At the beginning of the novel, Mackey says:

Both Jackie and Olivia have tried hinting, occasionally, that Holly should get to know her dad’s family. Sinister suitcases aside, over my dead body does Holly dip a toe in the bubbling cauldron of crazy that is the Mackeys at their finest.

No safe harbors

Broken Harbor_cover_pmIn the latest book in the series, Broken Harbor, a minor character from Faithful Place, Mike “Scorcher” Kennedy, takes the lead in investigating a gruesome crime committed in a rundown (yet half-finished) housing development on the same site his family used to vacation when he was a child.

Kennedy introduces the housing site to us as follows:

I used to know Broken Harbor like the back of my hand, when I was a skinny little guy with home-cut hair and mended jeans. Kids nowadays grew up on sun holidays during the boom, two weeks in the Costa del Sol is their bare minimum. But I’m forty-two and our generation had low expectations.

Why French speaks to international creatives

Though common plot and character threads hold a detective series together, there’s always a danger the author will fall back on the same formula to help her main characters solve the crimes in question. French succeeds in weaving common themes throughout the four books while also treating these themes afresh in each work. Most excitingly for us expats, she visits and revisits the feeling of being out-of-place in a culture (or subculture) not your own as well as the clashes that can occur when working with someone from a different background. Another favorite theme of hers, which also aligns with some expat experiences, is the stress of being evaluated on one’s exterior appearance.

But one of the most important common themes in Broken, Faithful and Woods is the power that a special place from one’s childhood can have—to which French’s fellow ATCK readers can surely relate. In Woods, Ryan must solve a crime in the very forest a crime was committed against him as a child—a crime he cannot remember but desperately wishes he could. In Faithful, Mackey discovers the ties to the past can last fast and strong, even years after he thought he’d broken them. And, in Broken, Kennedy’s memories from his childhood make the seaside scenery both delightful and sad, while the importance of the spot to the victims is equally powerful and alluring albeit for different reasons.

Moreover in Likeness, perhaps my favorite of the series so far, the main character doesn’t return to a place that’s important to her, but it’s just as important for her to realize that she—like the victim—doesn’t have a particular place on Earth to call her own in memory or deed.

French’s next novel, The Secret Place, will continue the Murder Squad series but with a new set of protagonist detectives drawn from the supporting characters of the first four novels. It comes out in August.

* * *

Thanks, Beth, for such a fascinating column! I felt completely transported to the noir underbelly of Dublin. BTW, I noticed that in an interview with French that is posted on Amazon, she says she can’t imagine herself setting her books anywhere other than Dublin as she knows the city like the back of her hand. Hard to imagine she started life as an American! And I must say, her crime series sounds like perfect summer reading. What do others think? Have you read French, and if so, do you concur that her books would suit expats and TCKs?

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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From soccer hater to World Cup fanatic: A most peculiar expat tale

FIFA World Cup Collage

The Brazilian player Edmilson Santos, by AK Bijuraj; CocaCola FIFA World Cup Soccer, by Mike Mozart; FIFA World Cup trophy, by Warrenski (all CC).

To mark the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I have updated a post I wrote four years ago, in time for 2010 World Cup, in South Africa. I wrote it for the now-defunct Pond Parleys, the brainchild of esteemed writers Toni Hargis (a British expat in the US, with an American husband) and Mike Harling (an American expat in the UK, with an English wife).

In America, of course, we call it soccer. But I am content to say “football.” If there’s one thing I learned from living in England for nearly ten years, it’s to use the English language with precision (in which case, shouldn’t it be “foot-and-head ball”?).

So, herewith, an attempt to tell the rather twisted tale of my conversion to football fandom, though part of me will always wonder: is my story more typical than one imagines? Surely, a taste for football isn’t easily acquired by those who don’t have it in their national DNA?

PART I: Why I Never Liked Football Whilst Living in England

This little tale of mine begins on a dark and stormy night in the latter years of the 20th century. I am living in football-mad England but am rapidly developing an aversion to the sport, squandering my first real opportunity to see it played at a professional level.

Chalk it up to my contrarian nature. I’m not one to throw myself into chanting, banner waving, and other tribal behaviors before I’ve had a chance to study what’s going on and make a full appraisal. And it did not take me long to find things I was less than enamored of, including:

1) The game itself—the endless running up and down the pitch with hardly any scoring. The few times I watched a football match, I inevitably got up to make a cup of tea, or dozed off, just as the one goal of the match was being made.

2) The fans—mostly male, many of them yobbos (some of whom are now chavs?). But even if we leave social class out of the equation, a good number of the UK’s football fans appeared to be hooligans, not exactly the most appealing lot—especially to a grad student like me, whose images of England had been formed from a steady diet of Jane Austen novels and Merchant-Ivory period movies. Occasionally violent male bonding rituals weren’t on the agenda. (I’m sure it didn’t help that my arrival in England coincided with football hooliganism reaching new levels of hysteria.)

3) The jingoistic tabloid coverage—which reaches its height whenever England plays Germany. I happened to be living in London in 2006, when the semifinals of the European finals, between England and Germany, took place at Wembley Stadium. What a palaver! The British mass-circulation paper The Daily Mirror ran a front-page headline “Achtung! Surrender!” over a photo of two England stars wearing World War II helmets. Years later, when England met Germany in the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, John F. Burns contributed an article to the New York Times contending that such “rib-poking” has provided catharsis for England and Germany over the years. Who am I to contradict Burns, the Times‘s London bureau chief and an expert on interpreting his native culture? Still, I couldn’t help but think of the late American historian Howard Zinn‘s warning that harmless pride can become an “arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.” Red card!

It’s perhaps worth noting that of all the reasons I came up with not to like football, none of them included the argument that occasionally surfaces in right-wing circles in the United States, which is that football is collectivist and carries the threat of “socializing” Americans’ taste in sports.

As an expat, I had a choice: keep skating along the surface and pretend football doesn’t exist, or else try and go closer to the beating heart of my adopted culture and see what makes it tick.

So I gave football a miss and moved back to pursuing a life of cream teas, theatre performances, cricket…wait did I just say “cricket”? I must be getting batty… (hahaha)

PART II: How I Came to Change My Mind About Football, or At Least the World Cup

Am I looking forward to this year’s World Cup championship games in Brazil? Why soitenly! Numbskull that I am, I’ve finally gotten with the program!!

Herewith, the second part of my most peculiar tale. As explained in Part I, I never paid much attention to the sport despite nearly a decade of exposure; on the contrary, I developed an abhorrence for it.

But four years ago all of that changed. Having settled back in the United States, I found myself powerfully drawn to the championship that took place in South Africa, and I expect it will be no different this time around, with the World Cup being hosted by Brazil. (While I’m sad that Paul the Octopus is no longer with us, I take comfort in the thought of Nelly the Elephant taking his place—her punditry is apparently on a similar level.)

I can’t pinpoint the precise moment when my conversion happened, especially as football still has all the same drawbacks I’d once noted: goals are few and far between, the fans are predominantly male, and jingoism reigns, particularly between the English and the Germans.

All I know is that it wasn’t until I was back in my own culture that I felt comfortable giving the sport a chance. Yes, I know this is ironic considering that the UK is considered to be the cradle of the game (the English have been kicking balls competitively since at least 1314), whereas we Yanks still aren’t quite there.

My top three reasons for fanning football are:

1) It’s the World Cup, stupid. Living in England, I couldn’t see the World Cup forest from the local English football club trees. But when watching the very best players in the world compete, even a hardened skeptic like me can start to appreciate why they call it The Beautiful Game. Those feet of theirs—they are using them like hands! That Messi fellow: it looks as though the ball is glued to his feet; how extraordinary! Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta: it’s incredible how they can pass the ball through the midfields! And let’s not forget Yaya Touré and the way he switches gears. Robin van Persie has a left foot to die for! And so on…

2) It’s a much-needed distraction from other kinds of world events. There’s nothing quite like a soaring soccer ball to lift the spirits, not to mention the vicarious pleasure of seeing a team, and a nation, carry off the trophy. I can still recall the thrill of watching the first European team win outside Europe, at the tournament in South Africa. ‪Viva España!‬

3) It’s on a par with, or perhaps even better than, the Olympics. Ironically, even though there is nothing quite like football to arouse nationalistic urges, the World Cup is, as the name suggests, a world competition, with 32 nations competing. (Compare that to America’s World Series—now that’s a misnomer!) Repeat expats like me, who are a hybrid of nationalities, are the ideal supporters of such sporting events. I think it also helps that I don’t really have a dog in the race. Though America competes, we aren’t yet a serious contender for the cup. This leaves me free to throw my support behind almost any athlete or team that I think are the world’s best. The Olympics of course provide many such opportunities; but that’s the problem: there’s too much choice. What I love about the FIFA World Cup is that it’s a singular occasion. There can be no bigger stage, literally as well as figuratively, than the vast pitch on which this ultimate sporting drama takes

*  *  *

It’s time to hear from you, dear reader. Is my conversion complete, or should I be bending the case for football still more, by stressing its potential for opening up intergalactic communication and fostering truly universal harmony? And even if you don’t share this new-found enthusiasm of mine, can you at least relate to the experience of getting to know and love a sport outside the ones you grew up playing and watching? Do tell!

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And the May 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 honors May’s three Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) CHRISTINE GILBERT, blogger, American traveling mom & expat in Barcelona

For her post:  “Why it must suck to be a parent in the US,” on her blog, Almost Fearless
Posted on: 16 May 2014
Snippet:

So we’re traveling across the US after living in Mexico for nearly a year and half, on our way to Europe. … [W]hen we drive to New Orleans it starts. Suddenly I am a bad parent.

… I admit, I am a permissive parent. My basic rules are this: it has to be safe and it can’t infringe on other people. … In short, my children are feral beasties but if required they can sit nicely and say “Please and Thank You” (or at least I try to get them to do that).

But I’m an American, so I have strong opinions about the idea that I have the RED WHITE AND BLUE, PATRIOTIC RIGHT to raise my children however I see fit, whether that’s homeschooling them and teaching them to speak in Klingon or letting them climb trees and juggle knives. Back off.

Citation: Christine, we never cease to enjoy a good round of the old debate about moral relativism (because no parenting method is objectively right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of all parents) versus moral universalism (a universal parenting norm applies to ALL parents regardless of age, background, ethnicity, etc.)—especially when relayed from the perspective of an expat, and one that writes as entertainingly as you do. While our own inclination is towards tolerance, we would ask you to bear in mind Alice’s “agony of terror” when she first meets the Duchess and her pig-baby. An “unusually large” saucepan flies by the baby’s head and almost take its ear off. “Oh, PLEASE mind what you’re doing!” Alice cries, to which the Duchess responds, in a hoarse growl:

“If everybody minded their own business, the world would go round a deal faster than it does.”

Now, do you identify with Alice or the Duchess? It’s a bit of a moral quandary, correct? What’s more, we’d be curious to hear if your views change at all after living with your family in Barcelona, Spain, for a while. One of us has learned firsthand of a case of an American who is bilingual in Spanish. She brought her two young daughters to Spain last summer to learn Spanish, only to discover, to her considerable consternation, that they were less obedient than Spanish kids in the playground. (No saucepans, please! We’re simply trying to make the world go round faster…)

2) Jon Langford, blogger at BBC America’s “Mind The Gap” and British expat in Manhattan

For his post: Are You Australian?: A British Expat Discusses Mistaken Nationality in America
Posted on: 5 May 2014
Snippet:

Communicating effectively with Americans through a thick Yorkshire accent on a daily basis can be both confusing and traumatizing.

Even though my life would be made significantly easier if I adapted my speech a little, I simply can’t bring myself to say things like war-der, toe-may-do and vie-dah-min. Not that there’s anything wrong with speaking this way, it’s just I’d rather wade through the conversational swamp than surrender my Yorkshire tongue for the sake of convenience.

Citation: Jon, your take-no-prisoners attitude towards preserving your Yorkshire accent, even at the expense of being misunderstood, strikes us as being a trifle, if we may be so bold, bloody minded. (Hey, they don’t call it Yorkshire-stubborn for nothing!) While we can appreciate your need to hold up the side for God’s Own Country, we wonder if you are coming across almost like the Hatter does in Alice in Wonderland. As you may recall, Alice feels “dreadfully puzzled” when he makes a remark that seems “to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.” But while her response is to say, as politely as she can, “I don’t quite understand you,” our fear is that New Yorkers may dispense with such courtesies and simply blurt out: “You talkin’ to me?” As you have no doubt discovered by now, they take pride in being found the rudest of all rude peoples of America. (Hmmm….has the Yorkshireman met his match?)

3) NIENKE KROOK, blogger and Dutch expat in London

For her post: Bologna Italy: Why you don’t need a map to explore this city, on her blog, The Travel Tester
Posted on: 29 April 2014
Snippet:

Ditch the map in Bologna. Like any classic Italian city, the whole joy of a visit to Bologna is getting lost and losing track of time and space.

Citation: Nienke, we congratulate you for being so willing to let go of your Type A personality while traveling in Italy. especially when exploring a city of Bologna’s ample charms. We would, however, suggest just one small addition to your declaration: “Ditch the map and the watch in Bologna.” If one must carry a timepiece in Italy, let it be the Hatter’s, not the White Rabbit’s! As you may recall from reading Alice in Wonderland as a kid (they read it in Holland, right?), the Hatter and Time do not get along. His watch is frozen at six o’clock. Fascinated by this revelation, Alice says: “Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?” Yes, indeed, it is, Alice. In Wonderland you can always have tea and cakes, while in Italy you can always feast on a bit of the sweet life, or la dolce vita, just as long as all five senses are open to the possibility. To repeat (which we think may be necessary for a Type A person), pleasure and indulgence do not come from checking one’s watch!

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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.

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Your novel finished, it’s down, down, down into KDP Select Freebie Land

LadyWhoWrites_brandThe Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez, is paying us her monthly visit today. Once again, she’ll be doling out some practical advice, based on her own experience, for expats and other international creatives who are engaged in writing novels using 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

Okay, Displaced Nation-ers who are also wannabe novelists. Let’s say you’ve followed all my advice up to this point. You’ve gone through the work of reading similar genres before you start writing—perhaps even started up your own book club. You’ve dined on a daily basis with your characters. You’ve rehearsed your book trailer and have opted to publish your novel yourself. (I will go through the steps of the self-publishing process in the next post.)

So now, what about marketing that baby to the masses?

At the top of your list should be a free e-book promotion.

Only, don’t follow my example.

Do what I say, not what I did!

I was told to plan 30 days in advance—I started planning the giveaway of the novel I wrote based on my own expat adventures, Three Questions, the night before.

Once you sign up with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select, giving Amazon exclusive rights to publish the electronic version of your book for 90 days, you have five days to promote your book for free over that period. Most people tell you to use just two or three days at most, your first time. I used four.

Some things I did right: I waited until I had some strong reviews of the book posted before offering it for free. And after the promotion started, I tracked the book’s rankings and didn’t give up until I’d reached my two goals:

  1. Earn a spot on the coveted Amazon Best Sellers in Kindle Store, Top 100 Free list.
  2. Break five figures (XX,XXX) in downloads.

But, to reiterate, I didn’t plan the freebie promotion; I did it by the seat of my pants. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure about the benefits of giving away my book for free. I was afraid the freebie would “devalue” my book—which was silly because it wasn’t selling more than a few a day anyway.

I also had to overcome my fear that I was giving Amazon too much power. However, my Barnes and Noble Nook e-book wasn’t selling at all, so in the end I figured I might as well enroll in KDP Select for three months, even if that meant I couldn’t make it available through any other outlets, including publishing extracts on my blog.

How to get that new novel of yours noticed

First, the hard facts: Amazon has 3,000+ new titles going for free nearly every day. The competition is tough.

As I fell down, down, down into KDP Select Freebie Land, I obsessively read every post I could find with tips on how to make it a success. (Hey, A for effort!) FYI: One of the best articles I found was on Novel Publicity & Co.: “KDP Select free days: Targeted advertising is the key to success; here’s a list of resources.”

Besides learning that I should have been planning the promotion a month in advance—giving “free Kindle ebook” websites at least three weeks’ notice about my intention to offer a freebie for a few days—I quickly realized that I would need to dedicate a LOT OF TIME peddling it over that period through every available avenue: my social media networks, family and friends, and some of the dozens of sites that announce free e-books.

I had missed out on the top site, Pixel of Ink, which requires at least 30 days’ notice. But I did manage to get listed on some of the heavy hitter free e-book blogs, with thousands and tens of thousands of followers—the ones that the majority of free Kindle seekers go to (they come up first in Google searches).

Here’s where I submitted FOR FREE:

  • Digital Book Today: They have paid and free promotional opportunities. I submitted my novel for free via the form on this page, which requires you have at least 10+ reviews with an average of 4+ stars rating. They posted my novel, but the site’s founder, book industry veteran Anthony Wessel, wasn’t too happy at my last-minute submission—again, please don’t do what I did!
  • eReader News Today: I was supposed to submit three days before the beginning of the promo, and in order to be considered, you have to have a high rating in your reviews for them to post it. My mom happened to notice it was up—as she subscribes to their Facebook page—and mine was the first on their daily listing!
  • Freebies4Mom: This site is under the radar compared to the others. It’s run by stay-at-home mom Heather Fernandez. She has over 300k fans on Facebook. That’s A LOT of mommy fans. I believe her site pushed my novel over the five-digit download mark.
  • Kindle Nation Daily (PAID): They offer a Free Book Highlighter Service (scroll down to the bottom). I took $30 out of my Kickstarter money to participate. It was worth it.

Here’s a few more sites that picked me up, which you might consider submitting to (should you follow my advice and plan well in advance):

  • BookGorilla.com: This is another site that sends daily email bulletins to subscribers listing free e-books in categories of interest.

Last but not least, these sites tweeted about my novel and might also be useful to you as indie authors:

  • The aforementioned Digital Ink Today (@DIGITALInkToday): This popular site has 30.2k Twitter followers.
  • Masquerade Crew (@MasqCrew): Site founder Mark Lee currently has 34.6k Twitter followers.

The all-important numbers

Before the book promotion, I was selling at my peak three e-books per day. I never reached higher than #300,000 on Kindle’s bestsellers list. The night before I launched the book, I was ranked about 1,500,000 in Amazon’s e-books—insignificant.

During the promotion, my book gained in momentum each day. Though conventional wisdom advises giving up after two days, I just couldn’t do it. The way I saw it, the more days I was ranking, the more exposure I was getting. To start again from ZERO in a few weeks seemed pointless.

At the end of the first day, I was already #57 in the Kindle store’s free Contemporary Fiction, but hadn’t yet ranked anywhere in the entire Kindle store.

The end of the second day, I was getting closer! I was now just under the top 200 within the entire Kindle store, and had climbed to #16 in Contemporary Fiction.

Over 3,000 people had downloaded the book so far.

But it wasn’t until the third day (a Friday) that extraordinary stuff started happening. This is when the websites started posting about my book, and the downloads became fast and furious.

When I hit #8 in Contemporary Fiction, and saw my name next to THE John Grisham—it was certainly a shock, and made me realize just how many people now had their hands on my novel.

I finally ended the promotion on Saturday night—with over 11,000 downloads just in the United States (the UK hit didn’t garner nearly as many). At its peak, my novel hit #28 in the entire Kindle Books and #6 in Contemporary Fiction—I had accomplished my goal!

The immediate aftermath—any sales?

The big question was, would I make any money after the promotion was over? I was, after all, giving the book away for free.

My ranking disappeared for a few hours, and when it reappeared, my novel was certainly higher than it had ever been. Three days after the promotion ended my novel remained within the top 3,000-5,000 paid Kindles. I sold more in those three days than I’d ever sold before in the same time frame.

On a side note, the day after the promo ended, I received my first negative review and a second great review. Unfortunately, the first reviewer didn’t take the time to read the entire book (that’s another blog post altogether—ouch, it hurt!); and the second reviewer pleaded with people to finish the book. YES, PLEASE!

Time to recap: What would I do differently?

With the benefit of hindsight, I would have

  • taken more time to plan, and put more thought into the audiences to reach out to.
  • jacked up the price the day before the promotion (value would have seemed better to those getting the free download).
  • seeded the community with teasers.

But overall, I was extremely happy with how it turned out, and highly recommend it to other indie authors. Hey, you never know, you might be able to turn those downloads into a book deal!

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 4 for International Creatives:

Heed (at least some of) the wisdom of writers who have gone before you and plan a freebie promotion campaign for Kindle a few weeks in advance, not the the night before; commit to working hard on the promotions, and tracking your numbers, for the duration.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this latest advise of Meagan’s? Did you ever imagine you’d be giving away your precious novel for free? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, any topics you wish she would cover in future columns? 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 tomorrow’s announcement of our March “Alice” winners!

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For this globe drifter and Adult Third Culture Kid, a picture says…

Rachel Kanev Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles; Rachel (right) with her friend Sara experimenting with make-up and photography with the help of a bottle of wine (or two?) and some props (photo credit: Rachel Kanev).

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 24-year-old Rachel Kanev. She has a Bulgarian father and German Jewish mother but grew up in England, where she studied French and Chinese languages. She feels she got “…caught somewhere in between” these many cultures:

With my Jewish nose, Bulgarian skin and English accent, I at once belong to British, East German, Bulgarian, Jewish, French and Chinese cultures and yet to none of them at all.

Her grandmother, by contrast, lived in Berlin for decades but was more English than Tetley tea.

Indications of Rachel’s escalating identity crisis are borne out in the images that bombard you upon reaching her engaging blog, Global Drifting, in which she says she is drifting across the globe in hopes of stumbling upon enlightenment…

* * *

Hi, Rachel. I’m pleased your globe-drifting has taken you to the shores of the Displaced Nation, which gives us the opportunity to discuss your photo-travel experiences. For one so young you’ve travelled a fair bit, but where were you actually born?
I was born in my mother’s hometown of Berlin, at the traffic lights on the way to hospital. My mother said I looked like a hedgehog that day, and my family still calls me Igel (“Hedgehog” in German). A few months later, the Berlin Wall came down and one year after that, we all moved to England.

So you were a Third Culture Kid in Britain. When did you spread your wings to start travelling?
My nursery and primary school classes were filled with international children. Eugenia—a Spanish girl from Madrid with long black hair and a passion for witchcraft and the Greek goddess Athena—soon became my best friend. In the momentary way that often strikes a child, I was devastated when she left me to return home for good. So, at the tender age of nine, I boarded a plane alone, in my size 1 shoes, to visit Eugenia in Spain. As I began my first solo journey, I experienced a thirst for discovery, which, as yet, has not been quenched. Since that first adventure, I have visited Italy, Holland, France, Austria, Switzerland, Réunion Island and China. I plan to step (in my now size 5 shoes) into Morocco and perhaps Israel this coming summer.

What do you love so much about travel?
I love travel because everything is new and unknown; we share no past and perhaps no future with the things we see and people we meet. The errant wanderer therefore has no choice but to revel in the present.

Will I ever get over the pull I feel to both of these places?

Despite your age, I think I can put you in the category of seasoned traveller. Tell me, what inspires your decision to travel to particular places?
My inspiration comes partly from a love of languages and partly from the idealistic images of France I painted in my head when watching French films and listening to French music, which I did while revising for my exams at university. Aided by the amazing Erasmus, that towering figure of the Renaissance, I had taken a university year abroad in the island paradise of Réunion, near Africa. It’s a French overseas department so qualifies for the European Union’s Erasmus Programme, which finances students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country. But it wasn’t until after finishing university that I had a chance to visit France itself. I meandered through southern French villages like an aimless hippie, reveling in its rural chic.

I understand you also have a passion for China?
Chinese was my third language at university. After graduating, I remained in England saving pennies as a waitress to finance spending a year in the land of silk. I lived in a city about an hour from Beijing.

I’m curious: where are you right now and what are you up to?
Right now I’m back living in my English hometown of Cambridge, selling nutritional products to vitamin-mad French and German customers—and saving up for my next Chinese/Moroccan/Spanish/Israeli adventure this summer. As I look out of the window, I am visualizing being there already, far from the Land of Vitamins C and D!

RK_SouthofFrance

No use crying over spilled wine! Rachel in the cellar of a now-defunct winery near Perpignan, France; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Hmmm… I think I detect something of the entrepreneur in you, alongside your intrepid traveller’s spirit! And now let’s have a look at a few of your favorite photos from your travels to France and China.
Sure! I took this first photo in a wine cellar in a small hamlet near Perpignan, some way off the coast of southern France. I’d been helping out, but it was late December, and there was very little work left. Besides, the winemaker, whose name was Bernard, had gone bankrupt due to the stresses of organic farming. Our main task for the day, as his helpers, was to pour bottle upon bottle of wine down the drain as he looked on bemoaning the demise of the modern world. It proved a good way to get skillful with a corkscrew!! And I think poor Bernard appreciated our efforts quite a lot. Just think if he’d drunk all that wine in his cellar, it would have sent him spiraling into an even deeper fit of depression…

RK_dragonriceterraces

China’s Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields are so named because of their resemblance to a dragon’s scales; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

The next photo provides a glimpse of the glorious Dragon rice terraces of Longshen, in China’s Guangxi province. Amazing terraces stretch as far as the eye can see. I visited some years ago and remember being in awe at the combination of nature’s beauty and the skillfulness of the human hand. I had quite an adventure ambling through the fields with two of my Chinese friends. We got lost and at one point envisaged spending a cold night cuddled up to the cows. In the end we reached our hostel, at the top of the terraces, by nightfall. I returned again last year and was saddened to see that the beauty of the fields has been marred by the greedy hand of tourism. Huge plastic cable cars now transport visitors to the top, and the local villagers are paid to dress in traditional clothes.

RK_AnotherBernard

A French farmer, another Barnard; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Last in this series we have another Bernard who stumbled into my traveller’s path. This Bernard is an 80-year-old farmer with whom I lived on my own for a week. His farm is an hour away from the nearest town and is completely self-sufficient. He grows his own organic vegetables and was fit enough to hack up the ground with a pickaxe when the underwater pipes burst (ironically, I had left the home of Bernard number 1 because his pipes had burst and the water system needed to be repaired, only to be faced with more burst pipes at the home of Bernard number 2!).

I love the first photo just because it looks as though you’ve broken into someone’s cellar and are drinking all the wine!! The dragon terraces appear so surreal to me because they are so different to the flat rice fields of Thailand, where I live. I wish I could see them one day. I know you take a lot of photos and these next four, I believe, have a special significance for you. Can you explain?

Not all who wander are lost…

The following is a photo I took of a photo of Bernard number 2, which was taken some fifty years ago, when his newly polished army boots took their very first steps away from the small village on the outskirts of the Pyrenees, where he was born. He bid farewell to the farm he’d grown up on and to the parents who’d raised both him and the thriving trees and crops that had formed the backdrop to his childhood. By the time I encountered Bernard, nature had outlived his parents but their legacy remained. He is now a beekeeper and organic vegetable farmer, tending to the very same trees and plants that his father and his father’s father had cared for. Though he has no human family, the trees you see in my other photo of Bernard (above) appear to me to be his forefathers; they are equally his children.

Bernard as a young man

The French farmer Bernard as a young soldier; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

The next photo was a fluke as I managed to capture an ad for Longines watches showing Kate Winslet just as the sun was setting. In that fleeting instant, one can see Shanghai’s varied transportation, high-rise buildings and red lanterns—that curious amalgamation of Western modernity and Chinese traditionalism that is everywhere around you in the city.

RK_ShanghaiSunset

A British beauty, a Swiss watch and a Shanghai sunset; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Cambridge is my home town and I think of it much like a family member, having watched it age and evolve just as it has silently witnessed me grow and change. I love its grandiose architecture, endless greenery, and the way winter and spring intertwine in front of the University’s palace-like structures that are fit for if not a queen then the rulers of academia, to which I never belonged.

RK_CambridgeUK

The dreaming spires of Cambridge; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Here my sister explores the labyrinth-like forestry of a park near where we live in Cambridge. It has amazing multi-coloured plants I have never seen anywhere else before and huge trees that watch over you like silent giants. I like this photo because she looks like Alice in Wonderland with her long, thick flowing locks!

RK_SisterinPark

The great outdoors near Cambridge, UK; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Is photography sometimes a moral decision?

I love your explanations as they show us the profound effects a picture can have on its creator, something the viewer can never fully appreciate. Tell me, do you ever feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
For me, the morality of taking photos of strangers has always been ambiguous. I think of it whenever I see photos of human suffering. I believe I have the right to use my camera to record the world but without intruding on it. At what point does the power of images and the need for education and understanding through the push of a button and flash of a light become intrusive and affect the lives of others in a negative way? I’ll give you an example from my own experience. The Western media has focused almost exclusively on China’s explosive economic growth when in fact 1.6 million people (11.8 percent of the population) still live below the poverty line. When taking the train, part of me would like to photograph the dirt-covered, barefooted children asleep on newspapers or the train door frozen from the inside as passengers are left to deal with the icy temperatures of the North (-37°C). But feeling intrusive, I refrain.

Do you also feel self-conscious in Asia?
It’s difficult being subtle, given the colour of my hair and skin, and the stamp on my passport. Noticing me walking the streets of China, many Chinese will assume, quite rightly, that I am Western but quite wrongly that I must therefore have dollar bills rolling from my body like a central bank printing press. Often I do not wish to fuel their prejudices by whipping out a digital camera, however small, before their eyes.

As a resident in Thailand, I can empathize with those views, especially the general Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich. Although this can be annoying, I do believe these views are changing for the better, as the younger generation becomes more socially aware through travel and better education. Now let’s turn to the technical stuff. Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I have a small Samsung camera that fits neatly in the palm of my hand. It’s nothing fancy and often leaves something to be desired in terms of quality, but it was a birthday gift years ago and has sentimental value, having been my only travel partner across unknown lands. Whatever it lacks in lens quality, Windows Photo Gallery makes up for in magical editing power!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Wander through villages, peel garlic with a farmer, shake hands with a prince, run through jungles, leap into waterfalls, swing across the rainforest wilderness and lose a leg to the marble rocks—see the world and allow the world to be seen. Travel, live, eternalize what you see with a photo.

Great non-technical advice, Rachel, that’s right up my street! I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story in this interview.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Rachel’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos or her travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Rachel Kanev, don’t forget to visit her blog, Globe Drifting. You can also follow her on Twitter or even shoot her an email.

(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!

 

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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