The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Category Archives: Just for Laughs

6 wishes for the Displaced Nation’s birthday number 6

Readers, new and old, I’m thrilled to announce we have just now embarked on our seventh year as a “nation”—the very first Displaced Nation post having been made on April 1, 2011.

Why did we choose April Fool’s Day, you may wonder? The other two founders and I were aware of the irony but thought it appropriate at some level.

Wasn’t it all a bit of a lark?

Since Year Two, I’ve insisted upon doing birthday posts on the site. One of my favorites was the time I likened the Displaced Nation team of writers to a tango of swashbuckling pirates. Or how about the time I proposed a virtual hot air balloon party, toasting the Displaced Nation Thermal Airship while also pointing out our tendency to be full of hot air?

But by our fourth birthday, I’d run out of metaphors (saying a lot!). Since then I’ve settled into the pattern of delivering as many wishes as the number of years being celebrated.

In keeping with this new tradition, allow me to share my six wishes for the coming year:

1) The inspiration to start up a Displaced Nation Instagram account. Hm, what kinds of pix would we post? If you can answer that question, please email me!

2) More followers on Facebook and Twitter. I enjoy the interaction.

3) More Displaced Dispatch subscribers. That way I’ll get more suggestions for content to feature. (By the way, if you like this post, it’s the kind of thing I share with Displaced Dispatchers on a biweekly basis, along with news on new works by international creatives, recent matters of debate in the expat realm and some surprising discoveries global travelers have made.)

4) More poetry on the site. This past year, it’s been fun to showcase a couple of works by displaced American poet Robert Peake.

5) Continued success for all of our columnists. Note: Two new columnists will be making their debut this month; give it up for them!

6) More humo(u)r. The other two founders, both Brits, have since retired, leaving me, a Yank, on my own to hold up the side for self-deprecating humo(u)r, which, according to the Displaced Nation Charter, works well for handling the vicissitudes of the displaced life: “It soothes personal anxieties and can also build bridges.”

Okay, time to wheel out the chocolate cake (chocolate being another necessity for the displaced life) and to thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you, readers, for being part of this year’s celebrations—no foolin’!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, often composes pieces of this kind for the biweekly Displaced Dispatch. Why not subscribe and brighten up your expat life every couple of weeks?

Photo credit: Happy Birthday, by Daniel Lewis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

STAY TUNED for more 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, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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5 lessons from 5 years of running an expat & international travel-themed blog

The Displaced Nation is five years old today, hooray! Who ever dreamed, when we originally formed a more perfect union for expats and other internationals with a creative bent, we’d still be around half-a-decade later?

And no, it’s not an April Fool’s joke—though as I recall, the other two founders and I thought it would be quite a good wheeze, and a bit of a hedge, to start up a collective enterprise on April 1st.

At some level, we regarded our mission of carving out a space in the already overcrowded expat and international travel realm as rather foolhardy. But we persisted because of our belief that expats and other internationals needed a space where they could be free to express both the bad and the good of what it feels like to be displaced, living in someone else’s culture, eating their porridge (okayu, or congee, for those of us who’ve lived in Asia), sitting in their chairs (or on floors, ditto), and sleeping in their beds (or on futons, ditto).

And as the years passed, we wanted to celebrate those who created something out of experience, whether that was a memoir, a novel, a play, or a set of paintings…

Are we any wiser now? Or, I should say: Am I any wiser now, as the other two founders have since retired…

Here are five lessons from the past five years:

1) Even a site that prides itself on encouraging eccentricity and humo(u)r, especially of the self-deprecating variety, isn’t immune to blogging trends.

We blog less frequently than we used to; less interaction happens around our posts than before because of the rise in popularity of social media; visuals have become more important; and our most popular posts are lists. Indeed, one that I wrote in the first year of the Displaced Nation’s life, “7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls,” continues to be one of our most popular to this day. One social media trend we’ve resisted, by the way, is Instagram—but can an Instagram account be far off? We shall see…

2) Changing with the times doesn’t mean letting go of the past.

We’ve had pretty much the same site layout, and banner, since we started. Hm, but will we opt for a fully responsive design, the kind all the big kids are playing with, in 2016?

3) As predicted by the blogging coach we consulted at the beginning of this enterprise, a collective blog can work if one person serves as editor. It helps to have a house style.

That would be me. And, because of that, I post much less often than I used to. As Displaced Dispatch subscribers will note, I tend to show some of my eccentricity and humo(u)r in our weekly e-newsletter. Check out a recent issue here—and get on our subscriber list NOW. A weekly newsletter is a major commitment. Who knows how much longer I’ll be able to keep this up?

4) Friendships and alliances of the nurturant kind can happen through the blogosphere.

In an age when we are becoming obsessed with the ways technology has enabled terrorists to spread their messages of hate and fear, I think it’s worth remembering, as tech journalist Nick Bilton put it in his last New York Times column of yesterday:

[Technology] connects us to people who are not with us, geographically or physically, and make[s] us feel a little less alone in this big confusing world.

At this point in the Displaced Nation’s life, I feel I know all of our columnists quite well, despite having met only one of them in person. Likewise for our frequent commenters. I love the way we’ve connected through our writing about common experiences. The circle we’ve created over the years is precious. On days when I need to know there are others out there who feel as displaced as I do, it keeps me going.

5) When you can pick your blogging launch date, make it a memorable one.

I’m afraid I must disagree with Bruce Feiler, another New York Times columnist, who tweeted today:

Au contraire, my good man, I continue to find it amusing that we started up the Displaced Nation on April 1st. I like that it gives me an annual chance to tweet/say/announce: “No foolin’!”

After all, in a world where too many people have had displacement forced upon them, it can seem incredible that there are people like us who choose to occupy this kind of life. But it makes sense when you realize that for most of us it is, as we indicate on one of our Pinterest boards, an enchanted realm.

* * *

Thanks so much, readers, for staying with us—and if you want to give prezzies, here’s what we’d like:


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, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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The Displaced Nation’s 4 wishes for birthday number 4 (no foolin’!)

Happy 4th Birthday to the Displaced Nation!

Photo credit: “Today I’m 4 years old,” by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Greetings Displaced Nationers, old and new.

How many of you have been with us from the beginning, could I see a show of hands?

Hmmm… Are there one or two hands out there? Thanks for sticking around! We’ve come a long way together since the Displaced Nation’s humble beginnings on April Fool’s Day 2011.

Actually, can you believe it’s been four years and we still haven’t run out of things to say about the displaced life?

We can’t!

Still, today is not for introspection. It’s a special occasion, a day to celebrate with cake!

Photo credit: AlainAudet via Pixabay

Photo credit: AlainAudet via Pixabay.

And, although it’s not customary to do so, I’d like to reveal my four wishes for the coming year:

1) Reach a new milestone of 500 followers on Facebook.

For some reason we never tried very hard during these four years to get FB followers, and our numbers reflect this insouciance: we are now at 467. If any of you can help us find 33 more “likes”, we’d deeply appreciate. Of course we’d like to have even more than 500, but we’d be happy with that milestone for now. (We post on FB twice a day, and always strive to be amusing and/or thought-provoking…)

2) Have more people discover the new and much improved (if we say so ourselves!) Displaced Dispatch.

If you’re a subscriber, you’ll know that we’ve already celebrated our birthday in last Sunday’s issue by sharing the Danish idea of April Fool’s (no fooling’). Seriously (actually, I am serious), the Dispatch is now like chunky ice cream. It goes down smoothly but also contains six tasty morsels:

  • What to celebrate this week: Holidays and other commemorative occasions around the world.
  • While we were all on social media: New book releases and other milestones in the lives of international creatives.
  • TDN updates: Our past week’s posts.
  • Alice Obsession: Our latest discovery about Alice in Wonderland, whom we see as our muse.
  • Matters of debate: Contentious issues raised by various expat and travel bloggers over the past few weeks.
  • Surprising discoveries: Stuff we didn’t know before sifting through said sources. (Turns out: there’s a lot we don’t know!)

3) Deliver a fitting commemoration to Alice in Wonderland on behalf of the 150th birthday of Lewis Carroll’s celebrated book.

One hundred and fifty years, really? That puts our four years in perspective! As long-time readers will know, the Displaced Nation has treated Alice in Wonderland as our special muse from the very start, beginning with Kate Allison’s brilliant “5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice.” For the past three years, we gave out monthly Alice Awards to a number of international creatives. For that matter, we also have a thriving Alice in Wonderland Pinterest board. But for this special year in Alice’s life, we are planning a special “wonderlanded” series, to be rolled out starting this month. (Know anyone who would be game to channel Alice from the perspective of someone leading a life of global residency and travel? We are open to suggestions. Send to

4) Introduce a new look to the site.

Good news: I already have a theme picked out! Not-so-good news: I can’t seem to find the time to transfer the contents, resize the photos, and so on. (Blame the day job!)

* * *

And assuming I get another wish, to grow on, that one will be that we can always have a rich crop of international creatives as columnists.

Speaking of which, I’d like to give the first pieces of our birthday cake to Beth Green, Lisa Liang, JJ Marsh, Joanna Masters-Maggs, HE Rybol, and Shannon Young: The Displaced Nation would have little to celebrate were it not for the seven of you!!!

And if anyone out there is still with me, you deserve some cake as well. Thanks so much for your support.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay.

Bottoms up, cheers, kampai—oh and thanks for all the prezzies! What prezzies, you may ask? Well, I assume that from now you’re going to:

And with that final pitch, I’m off to fetch another glass of champagne. Huzzah!!

STAY TUNED for more 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, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Up, up and away: The Displaced Nation turns three today (no foolin’!)

TDN Birthday CardWal-lah! The Displaced Nation is turning three today. Yes, our birthday is April 1st—no foolin’!

To celebrate, we would like to invite you to a virtual “hot air balloon” party.

Yes, a hot air balloon party—no foolin’ on that score either, though you could have fooled me as I had never heard of such a party until a day or so ago. Back in my day, when I still celebrated birthdays, ordinary balloons would suffice. As Winnie the Pooh once put it:

Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.

But surely they can be even less uncheered with a hot air balloon—or so I’ve come to be persuaded.

What’s more, I’ve come to realize that hot air ballooning represents most of what we’ve been up to on this site over the past three years. Here are the three observations that led to this considerable epiphany:

1) We are full of hot air.

I won’t point the finger at anyone in particular. We are all guilty. But if I had to start somewhere it might be with:

2) But we’ve steadfastly adhered to our goal of putting air under the wings of international travelers and residents.

Just because we’re full of hot air, doesn’t mean everyone else has to be. Tellingly, our most inspirational posts tend to be by our current crop of columnists. They produce monthly tales of international residents who’ve used their time creatively. Who can fail to feel uplifted when reading about individuals like:

And these are just from the past month! Thank you, JJ Marsh, James King, Lisa Liang, Joanna Masters-Magg and Meagan Adele Lopez (her column comes up tomorrow!) for the critical part all of you have played in keeping us afloat.

On this note, Kate Allison deserves special mention for keeping us entertained with her serial expat novel, Libby’s Life, for the entire length of this voyage. She recently posted its 90th episode! The thought of writing that much fiction online is enough to puncture anyone’s balloon, but not Kate’s!

3) We go wherever the wind takes us.

As regular readers will realize by now, we don’t really steer the balloon, because, well, we can’t. And to be honest, we never had any particular destination in mind. We started out with monthly “themes” of global residency and travel, in hopes we would one day land in an island full of great wealth and fantastic inventions, the kind of place where our themes could become memes. Everyone there would say, how right you are, we international travelers are all writing our own versions of the Alice in Wonderland story! Let’s have a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to celebrate. As a matter of fact, let’s turn it into an island-wide holiday!

As it turns out, however, we have yet to share the fate of retired schoolteacher Professor William Waterman Sherman. We have not yet found (or founded?) the utopian displaced community of our dreams. Thus, on our second anniversary, we rebranded ourselves as something a little tamer: a “site for international creatives”: fiction and nonfiction writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and activists.

But we kept two categories that pay tribute to our original concept: Pot Luck and Just for Laughs. And to this day, we enjoy lurching towards the odd (you can say that again!) thematic post. We just can’t help ourselves! As most regular readers know, we still give out monthly “Alices” to those with a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of life as a global resident or voyager. And, just last month, we embraced a new heroine for the repatriate challenge many of us have faced: Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz!

Is it any wonder we are throwing a Hot Air Balloon Party?

* * *

I’ve just now heard that the band has arrived. They’re called The Fifth Dimension—what could be more appropriate for take-off?! Up, up and away!

Hey, even if you’re not a balloonatic yet, we guarantee that this is the most fun you’ll ever have in a wicker basket. (And perhaps the most fear…)

Before leaving, let’s all raise our glasses. Here’s to another good year aboard the Displaced Nation Thermal Airship! Three cheers! Hip, hip, hooray!

Readers, if you have any posts that you particularly enjoyed in the past three years, please let us know in the comments. We can see if we can produce more of the same (depending on which way the wind blows, of course).

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post from The Lady Who Writes.

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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JESS IN JAPAN: Tokyo’s top 6 delights from my newbie expat perch

So is snow the same in Tokyo? Kind of, except everyone carries see-through plastic umbrellas! Jess in Tokyo's first February snowfall. Photo credit: Hiro Awanohara

So is snow the same in Tokyo? Kind of, except everyone carries see-through plastic umbrellas! JESS IN JAPAN in a rare heavy snowfall earlier this month. Photo credit: Hiro Awanohara

Today we welcome a new guest columnist: Jessica Awanohara. Any relation, you may wonder? Yes, she’s the American wife of my nephew by marriage, Hiro. The pair, who’d become dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, surprised us all by announcing they were moving to Tokyo at the end of 2013. Naturally, I was curious: how is Jessica adjusting to life in that “through-the-looking glass” city? Is it different to live there versus just visit (which she’s done many times in the past)?

—ML Awanohara

There are many things to love about moving to a new country and a few things not to love. Most expats eventually strike a balance between the two.

But are there also places where the love-hate continuum doesn’t apply? I’m beginning to think so ever since I moved from New York to Tokyo in late December of last year. A bad mood is impossible to sustain in this city because everything is hilarious. Wherever you turn, there is something riotous laying in wait…and the next thing you know, you are collapsing in fits of laughter.

I’ve been in Tokyo for over a month now, and have delighted endlessly in many things.

Here are six off the top of my head:

1) Trains are in happy colors.

I live on the Keiō Inokashira railway line, the color of which is bright pink. Not the barfy green of the 4/5/6, nor the almost-royal blue of the A/C, nor the vibrantly atrocious orange of the B/D/F, in New York City. Rather, this line is a sparkling and spritely pink mixed with what I imagine to be the color equivalent of delicious farm-fresh milk. It’s the pink of the gods: the Disney Princess Gods.

2) Subway stations are deeply amusing, so to speak.

Think of New York City’s deepest subway platform: the 63rd Street station on the F Line near Hunter College, or the 191st Street Station on the 1 Line. Imagine how long those escalators are, and now double it—no, triple it! Triple it, and add a couple of extra escalators and a brick-and-mortar set of stairs to the street, and now you have an idea how deep the average street to subway platform trip is in Tokyo. Have you ever tried going to Roppongi, or Azabu-Jūban? Try it!! You may feel as though you’ve walked far enough to be back in New York. Good for quite a few laughs!

3) People on the subway may be dressed much better than us, but they smell just as funny.

How could men in suits and overcoats, or women in designer outfits, smell as bad as we much more disheveled Americans do on the subway? Before taking the leap of moving to Tokyo, I dreaded the idea of being taller, sweatier, and worse smelling than the average citizen on a notoriously packed Japanese train car. Rest assured, inquiring minds, curdled humans smell much the same in Tokyo as in New York: like sweat socks… By the time summer arrives—I’ve visited here often enough to know that summer is no joke!—I should blend in perfectly fine, a thought I find immensely entertaining.

4) Furniture delivery can be farcical, especially when it doesn’t fit through doors.

After a month of living out of another person’s apartment, my husband and I moved into our own place a couple weeks ago. We ordered what can aptly be described as the world’s most beautiful bargain basement sofa and had it delivered to our new, completely empty home. No sooner did our large and lovely couch arrive, than it was exchanged for its tiny, two-seater cousin—that is, tiny enough to actually fit through our front door. In Japan, small is beautiful. How could we have overlooked this basic principle? Our hilarity could not be contained…

5) In Tokyo, cost-of-living statistics are a bit of a joke.

Really, I appreciate the cost-of-living data you supply for this great world’s great cities, and am aware that countless magazines and listservs use your data for splashy articles sizing up one city against another. But I’m confused about your aim. On your website it says you want to give people the information “to live as nicely as you live currently.” That means…what exactly? How does one measure the quality of life across cultures? And what about that ideal, which many of us expats hold dear, of “When in Rome…” I can lead the same life materially in Tokyo as I led in New York, but that’s not what makes me happier in this city. Sure, living the luxury life in Tokyo is expensive, but numbers are not the point. The point is, cost-of-living stats are hilarious in a city that gives me such joy!

6) Appliance installation is a riot and a half.

In a related hilarity, it is true that most Tokyo apartments are not outfitted with appliances normally packaged with an apartment in NYC. We had to order our own refrigerator and washing machine (both standard fixtures for the Tokyoite). Our refrigerator, a lovely and highly rated model, cost us all of $500; the washing machine was comparably rated and lower priced. As with anything you buy larger than a shopping bag, you have it delivered to your home for maybe $30 or $50 additional dollars, or oftentimes for free. The hilarity lies in the fact we had two choices when the refrigerator and washing machine were shipped—the delivery men would either leave them at our front door OR huff them up countless flights of stairs and install the machines for the low, low price of…one U.S. dollar. Tough choice, right? Hahaha.

No doubt about it, Japan is a barrel of laughs. Reaching beyond the cruel and unusual TV game shows, the Hello Kitty cafes, the Fruits magazine documenting outlandish clothes in the Harajuku area, and other enduring staples of pop culture in this part of the world, I’ve found countless things to delight me during my first month of residency in Tokyo. My main takeaway is how excited I am to let this town continue to delight me for years to come.

* * *

Readers, what do you think of Jess in Japan’s observations of her new home? I don’t know about you, but I find it ever-so-amusing that so many of her thoughts are focused on subways and apartments: not so different from life here in New York!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the August 2013 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter know, our Displaced Dispatch presents a weekly “Alice Award” to a writer or other kind of creative person who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of the displaced life of global residency and travel. Not only that, but this person likes to use their befuddlement as a spur to creativity.

Today’s post honors August’s three Alice recipients. Beginning with the most recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) CALLISTA FOX, TCK blogger and author of the serial novel Suite Dubai

Source: “Friday Night Lights vs. The Eurotrash Girl on
Posted on: 26 June 2013

Our boarding school offered cheer leading as an afternoon activity… I signed up because it sounded better than typing or drafting and my parents wouldn’t pay for dressage. We knew only a handful of cheers. None of us could name a proper jump, let alone do one. We wore white tennis skirts and blue sweatshirts and any color of hightop Reebok we owned. When we ran out onto the field to do our pathetic cartwheels the audience was quiet, a few laughed. True, the grass was wet and my roommate Samantha slipped and skidded on her chin. We didn’t have our routine perfected.

Citation: Who stole the tarts, Callista? Who stole the tarts? Your account of your bout with cheer leading at a boarding school in Austria suggests that you were in a classic Alice-in-Wonderland situation, perhaps without even realizing it. Because no young American woman in her right mind would cheer an Austrian team playing Australia in American-style football on a field marked for soccer, unless they’d stepped through the looking glass. Indeed, your description is missing some crucial details, for instance:

  1. Were the teams using a koala bear as the ball? Koalas being to Austria what flamingos are to England—namely, more New World than Old. (Notably, koalas like to eat the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, which doesn’t exactly thrive in The Land of Long-needled Pines.)
  2. Did anyone propose a trial for all of those unruly fans in the half-filled stands who were throwing things at you and the other cheerleaders?

All of which brings us back to our original question: was it an Aussie or an Ausie, the Knave who stole the tarts? That’s what we (and presumably your all-American Texan husband) would most like to know.

Still, we did find amusing the tales of ThirdCultureKid-land that you told to your better half. Clearly your quintessentially TCK life had its moments, including the time you watched a guy eat glass in a bar in Nicosia, Cyprus, when you were only 14.

Is it any wonder that when your parents moved you back to Norman, Oklahoma, when you were 20, you felt exactly like Alice, who told her sister: “Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” (You did make a lot of it up, right?)

2) CHRIS ALDEN, British expat; author and journalist

For his book: “101 Reasons to Live Abroad…and 100 Reasons Not To”
Published: March 2013
From the book description:

Do you dream of living abroad? If so, you’re in good company. Tens of thousands of people every year emigrate from the UK—leaving behind the security of work, family and friends for the promise of better weather (hopefully), better prospects (sometimes) and a carefree existence (keep dreaming).

So is now the time to leave Britain and start life as an expat? Or have you already started planning the big move overseas?

101 Reasons to Live Abroad … & 100 Reasons Not To helps you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate—and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.

Citation: Chris, we understand that you’re also the author of 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day, so would encourage you at some point to compare notes with your fellow Alice awardee, Callista Fox. In the post cited above, Callista reports that, when attending boarding school in Nicosia, she and her friends particularly enjoyed hanging out in a bar drinking Carlsberg with UN soldiers (they were there to keep the peace between Cypriots and Turks). We’re genuinely curious: does this particular activity rank in your Top 250? Or perhaps you think it’s better left for a rainy day? (Actually, does Cyprus even have rainy days? Oh, that’s right: it’s only semi-arid.)

Anyway, we’re awarding you an Alice because, like Lewis Carroll’s little heroine, you appear to appreciate both the positive and negative aspects of turning one’s life upside down, with the balance tipped every so slightly towards the positive. We believe Alice would be impressed that you offer a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find themselves dithering. After all, when Alice’s sister urges her to run inside to get her tea, she obliges her “thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.”

3) LINDA JANSSEN, writer, speaker, consultant, global adventurer and cultural enthusiast

For her book: “The Emotionally Resilient Expat”
Published: 22 June 2013
From the book description:

Linda A. Janssen combines candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, with a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices from emotional, social and cultural intelligence, positive psychology, mindfulness, stress management, self-care and related areas.”

Citation: Linda, as you know, we’ve been an avid follower of yours on Adventures in Expatland, which has helped to stimulate many of our own “through the looking glass” insights. And now we see you’ve contributed a tome to the discourse on what to do when you fall through the rabbit hole and feel culturally discombobulated. According to your book, which is sprinkled with expat stories and anecdotes, the answer lies in calling on (or developing) reserves of emotional resilience—a quality Alice had in spades, so to speak. Upon hearing of the Queen of Heart’s intention to have her decapitated, she retorted thus:

You’re nothing but a pack of cards!

At which point

the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

Now if that isn’t resilience, what is?

From now on, we look forward to reading about your Adventures in Repatland, which as we noticed from your last post, are only just beginning:

At long last I’m beginning to surface, coming up for air in a new stage in a new place in a country and culture which seem familiar yet I don’t always recognize.

Hey, if it helps to know, we’ve got your back on this one!

* * *

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 these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for our next post!

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance whether you’re one of our 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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CAPITAL IDEA: Bangkok: A quick guide

bangkokWelcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Bangkok

That reminds me I saw The Hangover Part 2 recently. Great movie. Um, no, it isn’t.

What are you crazy? A chain-smoking capuchin monkey and that guy who is in The Office wakes up to a Mike Tyson-style face tattoowhat’s not to love? Its content? Anyway, why are you blathering on about The Hangover Part 2?

Because dude, it’s set in Bangkok. As is Bangkok Dangerous. What a surprise!

Anyway, you’ve got my attention. Those films have certainly piqued my interest in visiting Thailand’s capital city. Well, that is good to hear.

Yes, I think I could have a fun, hedonistic vacation. Is it as crazy as it seems in those films? It’s a city of over eight million. I’m sure you can find some craziness if you’re so inclined, but there’s far more to this city than some of your preconceptions.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that is the case, and I’m all ears regarding all that culture nonsense that I know you love, but still, I might want to take in a ping pong show in Soi Cowboy. How can you go to Bangkok and not see its seedy underbelly? Fairly easily. This is not a guide for sex tourists.

Oh, you’re such a square! Okay, what would you have me see? Take a ferry to the Old City. There you’ll be able to visit the ornate Grand Palace built in the 18th century for the Thai king and Wat Phra Kaew, where you can find Emerald Buddha. A trip to Wat Arun is also a must.

The Grand Palace, you say? They’re pretty big on their Royal Family, aren’t they? You can say that again. Indeed, you’ll find portraits of the current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as some of his predecessors, in most restaurants.

So jokes about the King probably won’t go down too well? No. In fact, lèse majesté, which is the crime of violating majesty, is enshrined in law, so no, probably not the best idea to make a joke about the Thai King as it could lead to a prison sentence.

Blimey! Kind of appreciate that I can make all those jokes about Prince Charles’s ears with impunity. Absolutely!

Anything else I need to know on this? Yes, Thai nationals have to stand for the national anthem by law.

I think I’m going to regret saying this, but what do you recommend? I’ve got one word for you—puppets.

Oh God, I wished I hadn’t asked. No, hear me out. Traditional Thai puppetry is fascinating. The Aksra Theatre in Bangkok puts on a great introductory show for tourists that also showcase traditional Thai music too. The puppets will depict scenes from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic. Go, you’ll love it, I promise!

Trust this guide to push some weird recommendation on me. What? Me? The very idea! … I think I might rather try my hand at the ping pong show. No!!!! Go with the puppet show.

I’m guessing I’ll eat well in Bangkok? You guess right. Really, you can’t go wrong. You don’t need to find out who the fanciest, trendiest chefs in town are, just take a wander and keep is simple. You’ll be able to eat very well and by spending very little.

Sounds great, and how do I get around the city? The city has three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. They’re all pretty good if you’re going long distances across the city. For shorter distances just take a taxi. I would, however, give one warning on this, based on personal experience. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t have the best of reputationsdon’t allow yourself to be ripped off. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will refuse to put on their meters and will quote you outrageous sums when you first step in their cab to get you to your destination, because they see you’re a farang. If they’re not prepared to negotiate to a sum you feel is reasonable, then don’t feel shy about exiting their cab and searching for another taxi.

What should I read to prepare for the journey? More than any other expat destination, Bangkok seems to have inspired cringe-worthy expat books about crime and sin in the capital or “hard man” accounts from Westerners who’ve ended up in Thai prisons for drug smuggling. They’re for the most part best avoiding. If you must have something that touches on the sin and crime of the city, then John Burdett‘s Bangkok 8 is an entertaining read for a flight over to Thailand. If you’re particularly ambitious you could also try reading The Ramakien (in translation).

What should I watch? You could watch the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous from 1999 if you were interested by the American remake. Also, in recent years a number of Thai films have gained attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady are worth investigating.

STAY TUNED for next week’s Displaced Nation posts.

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Image: awindram

NEW VS OLDE: The Canadian “R”

Libby Collage New&OldFor just over two years, readers of the Displaced Nation have been following a novel-in-progress by Kate Allison called Libby’s Life. It’s the running diary of Libby Patrick, an Englishwoman who has trailed her spouse to a town just outside Boston. Libby’s Life is rich in Kate’s observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when she doesn’t publish an episode, we plan to feature posts by writers who are sensitive to the often-subtle differences between new and old worlds.

This week: Carolyn Steele, a Brit now living in Canada, whose book, Trucking In English, we reviewed last month.

It’s a useful thing, the Canadian R. There are times that I wish my English way of speaking—my inherent BBC accent—could learn to incorporate it. The technique would have helped a lot with a potentially disastrous spot of linguistic difficulty. The discovery that I am still prone to linguistic difficulty is surprising in itself. I have been through the initial culture shock associated with realizing that no-one in Canada knows that Brits speak a different language. I have come to terms with the fact that old episodes of Are You Being Served on TVO don’t help me when I want to buy petrol, crisps or knickers.

Carolyn Steele, TruckingI came through all that and emerged on the other side the sort of wise and whimsical Brit who uses the language barrier for fun but can turn it off at will when there is serious work to be done. I went native vocabulary-wise and thought I knew it all. Well guess what? Vocabulary isn’t always enough. An inability to produce the Canadian R can get you into just as much trouble as a car with a bonnet.

It all began with an email from a friend; another ex-pat from London, transplanted to Ontario. Another mascot with a quaint accent who entertains all and sundry on a regular basis with jolly misunderstandings of a transatlantic nature. After a few years of gags about putting trunks in the boots and boots in the trunks of our cars, asking for tomatoes that don’t rhyme with potatoes just to confuse people, and clinging doggedly to trousers and torches and lorries, we both considered ourselves adept at mangling the language for pleasure; the deliberate, linguistically delicious cabaret.

Light dawns…or should that be “dorns”?

So, what strange alignment of the planets, which unheard of synchronicity of biorhythms, caused us both to discover in the same week that Canadians pronounce ‘pawn’ and ‘porn’ somewhat differently? Of course, I am very grateful to have received the email. Without it (typed amid tears of glee I understand, after what sounds like a classic cabaret day) I would not have known. And that is the big difference between his story and mine, his listeners put him right. There and then. Embarrassment, laughter, beer, funny anecdote.

Mine were polite. Without the anecdotal email I still might not have known quite how I had managed to horrify a couple of guests at my B&B. I would only have known that they appeared to think me a little strange. If my ex-pat pal had not been among work colleagues who consider it their inalienable right to poke fun, and if he had refrained from kindly sharing the joke with me, I would still be none the wiser.

If you’re not using the Canadian R — be specific.

It might have helped if I had told them I was looking for a TV to upgrade one of our bedrooms but I didn’t. They told me all about their day and I told them all about mine. About finding this great little pawn shop where the people were so friendly and helpful. My guests looked a little nonplussed but smiled encouragingly. They appeared to want me to continue with an explanation, so I did. “They have this great scratch and dent section for electrical goods,” I wittered. “All new stuff, nothing used…and I have a 30 day guarantee too.”

If you are reading this, dear guests, I am truly sorry if you thought I was running a brothel out of the room next to yours. I wasn’t you see; I was a landed immigrant who would have been deported for breaking the law. It was a beautiful little TV and I was delighted with it, I am quite normal really.

I have been practicing my diction ever since. I thought I could be relatively Canadian when I chose, after all I could do a really authentic howarya on the telephone sometimes after a beer or two, so this bothered me. I tried really hard to make ‘pawn’ and ‘porn’ sound different just in case I ever needed to use either word again. Different people thought I was mad but I got there in the end. I run little podcasts on my blog these days and when I listen to them back while editing I can hear the BBC accent plus randomly sprinkled Canadian Rs.

Should I ever frequent a pawn shop again it’ll be ok.

* * *

Readers: what linguistic trouble have you unwittingly landed yourself in?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Londoner born and bred, Carolyn Steele is now a Canadian citizen and lives in Kitchener, Ontario, where she ran a Bed & Breakfast for five years before trying her hand at negotiating 18-wheelers. Depending on who is asking,  she “maintains that she is either multi-faceted or easily bored”. Confirming this, her résumé states that, in addition to being a lady trucker, she has also been a psychologist and a London Ambulance Service paramedic, while her hobbies include tatting, a form of lace-making. 

Check out her website, Trucking in English, at, and/or follow her on Twitter:  @Trucking_Lady

STAY TUNED for next week’s fabulous posts!

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Images: Picture of Carolyn from herself.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

6 Alice-in-Wonderland themes for creatives abroad to explore in their works

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

Call us zany, but when we first started this site two years ago, someone (no, not me!) had the bright idea of picking a literary or historical figure and using that person as a source of inspiration for a month-long series of posts.

June 2011, for instance, was Alice in Wonderland month; July, Pocahontas month; September, Robert Persig month; and October, Julia Child month.

You’ll never guess which one of these themes proved most popular: why, Alice of course! What international traveler or expat hasn’t experienced the sensation of stepping through the looking glass or falling down the rabbit hole? Like Alice, those of us who venture beyond borders must furiously navigate the new environments we uncover. Also like Alice, we are prone to feeling lonely and a bit sorry for ourselves on occasion.

Most expats can also relate to Alice’s gradual loss of self-identity. As she confesses to the Caterpillar:

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see.”

In today’s post, I propose to revisit Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece for themes that are worth exploring from a creative angle. Here are six that I find myself thinking about a lot, when trying to parse my own expat experience (an American, I lived first in England and then in Japan). WARNING: Tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat!

1) The old adage about trusting your gut doesn’t always work when it comes to your actual gut.

ALICE PASSAGE: In Alice’s Wonderland, a jar labeled “Orange Marmalade” is not actually a jar full of orange marmalade.
APPLIES TO: Expats in Japan, who are always biting into pastries in the hopes of tasting chocolate and tasting azuki bean paste instead. Indeed, should you ever be in need of an Alice-like culinary experience, Japan has got to be your place. There’s the wasabi Kit Kats, of course. And how about the time when Carole Hallett Mobbs’s friend in Tokyo bought a sandwich with a lumpy filling? As Carole reported in her guest post for us:

A gentle squeeze sent a whole cooked potato shooting across the room.

ANOTHER ALICE FOOD PASSAGE: Fearing the contents of the “Drink Me” bottle may be poison, Alice is pleasantly surprised:

it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.

APPLIES TO: International travelers who venture to remote spots and are pleasantly surprised by the local cuisine. Actually, you don’t even have to be somewhere remote. Tokyo was where I developed a fondness for hirezake (hot sake with fugu fin) — talk about poisonous cocktails! And travel author Janet Brown told us she dreaded trying fried grasshoppers while living in Bangkok,  only to find she liked them as much as popcorn! But even dedicated locavores, such as Jessica Festa, can have an Alice moment from time to time. I’ll never forget the story about her first experience eating cuy (guinea pig) in Ecuador. As she tells it, she saw it on the grill and thought it resembled her childhood pet, Joey. Repressing her better instinct not to eat anything she grew up playing with, she took a bite and said: “Holy crap, this is delicious!”

2) Communications with others and in general are far from satisfactory.

ALICE PASSAGE: When Alice is “opening out like the largest telescope that ever was, saying good-bye to her feet, she cries “Curiouser and curiouser!”—and then feels surprised that “for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English.”
APPLIES TO: Native English speakers living in a non-English speaking country. Their English inevitably morphs into the version the locals speak; spelling, too, deteriorates, and doesn’t come back.

ANOTHER ALICE MISCOMMUNICATION: Alice repeatedly offends the creatures in Wonderland without even trying.
APPLIES TO: Anyone who finds themselves “tone deaf” in Bangkok, as the aforementioned Janet Brown once did. (NOTE: Applies equally to those struggling to learn other Asian tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese.) As she explained in her interview with us:

The most common mistake for foreigners is to tell someone their baby is beautiful, while actually announcing that the infant is bad luck.

3) Committing to another country can sometimes mean altering your body size (or wishing you could).

ALICE PASSAGE: When Alice first lands in Wonderland, she finds herself too large for the doorway out of the dark hall into the beautiful garden.
APPLIES TO: Anyone over 5’5″ living in Japan, Korea or Southeast Asia, who has to keep their head down when entering traditional dwellings for fear of getting a concussion.

ANOTHER BODY-CHANGING ALICE MOMENT: At the instruction of the Caterpillar, Alice tries eating portions of mushroom he’s been sitting on, which make her grow and shrink.
APPLIES TO: Repeat expats, or rex-pats, who find themselves going back and forth between the obesity epidemic in United States and almost anywhere else in the world, where people simply eat less and walk more. While living in Tokyo I soon reached my lowest body weight ever without even trying: all those meals of clear soup, rice, veggies and fish. Now that I’m back in America, I weigh ten pounds more, while in England I was somewhere in between…

4) People in other countries have their own relationships with Father Time.

ALICE PASSAGE: Alice experiences the full gamut: from the White Rabbit dashing about with his stopwatch for fear of being late for an important date, to the slackers at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, who waste time “asking riddles that have no answers.”
APPLIES TO: Repeat expats, or rex-pats, who’ve had the chance to live in Southern Europe, South America, or other places notorious for their laid-back approach to time, as well as in Germany, Switzerland or Japan where people pride themselves on their punctuality. Compared to Japan, I found England a Southern European country. When I was living in Tokyo and visiting the UK during summers, I was always late to appointments because I’d forgotten that trains don’t run on time (or at all). And most of the time, I had their sympathies. Whereas in Japan, I swear a White Rabbit must be in charge of public transport. You can set your watch by the trains! No excuses for lateness…

5) The laws and practices of another land can take some getting used to.


“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

APPLIES TO: Anyone who displaces themselves to a country with a radically different life philosophy. For instance, as an American I found that one of the biggest challenges of getting used to England and then Japan, the two small-island nations where I lived, was that I could never quite accept the natives’ stoicism. As I wrote in the first of my “Lessons from Two Small Islands” posts:

Where the citizens of each of these countries saw grace, strength, endurance, and perseverance, I saw passivity, masochism, fatalism and pain. “Why is everyone bowing so readily to their fates?” I would ask myself repeatedly.

And, though I never committed an act of “queue rage” while standing in line at the post office in the English town where I lived, I came pretty close—especially when watching others who’d come in after I did get served before me.

On those occasions, I felt like crying out: why don’t we try a serpentine line instead?

And what about all those expats living in countries with byzantine immigration laws? Apparently, Alice’s own home, the UK, is among the worst. As we learned from interviewing New Zealander Vicki Jeffels, it essentially tells any wannabe immigrants: “Off with your heads!” Even if you’re from the Commonwealth! Still, at least they no longer discriminate… (Jeffels sorted out her visa problems in the end but has since repatriated.)

6) “Pool of tears” moments eventually build resilience.

ALICE PASSAGES: Alice goes from “shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep” to holding her own in Wonderland (see #5).
APPLIES TO: Well, really all of us. In the previous incarnation of the Displaced Nation, I had a Random Nomads column in which I would interview expats or veterans of international travel and ask them to describe their “most displaced” and “least displaced” moments. Many had difficulty with the former request, I guess because they felt uncomfortable going down the Rabbit Hole and examining their hearts more closely. The American Brian MacDuckston, though, was the rare exception. His “pool of tears” moment was his very first day of work as an English teacher in Japan. He somehow managed to get on the wrong train (every foreigner in Japan’s nightmare) and ended up in a “depot storage yard with an attendant yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand.” He was late for his first class and wanted to quit. Since then, however, he has emerged as one of the leading experts on Japanese ramen. Last we heard, he’d been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched his first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. Way to go, Brian, in treating that screaming railway worker as a Jack of Spades!

* * *

So, are you ready to inject a bit of Alice into your Great Work on the voluntarily displaced life? And can you think of any more inspirational passages from Lewis Carroll? (No doubt there are more, and I will think of some of them as soon as I post this.)

Meantime, the Displaced Nation will continue its tradition of awarding “Alices” to writers who capture the curious, unreal side of the displaced life—only we will now be awarding one per week, via our Displaced Dispatch. What, not a subscriber yet? CLICK HERE NOW—or off with your head! Recommendations of posts (your own, other bloggers’) for Alices are also warmly appreciated. Please send to

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our Old World/New World series.

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Ahoy, mateys! Splice the mainbrace. The Displaced Nation has spotted some treasure!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAhoy me hearties! Two years ago on Monday, The Three Pirateers — how I like to refer to Anthony Windram, Kate Allison and myself, the Displaced Nation’s founding contributors — swashbuckled our way into this site and declared it a home for ourselves and anyone else who has ever felt “displaced”.

Land ho! we cried, thinking we’d finally found a place to settle our poor, restless souls. No foolin’! (Hm, I wish I were sometimes!)

But as time went on, we were less confident about the nomenclature we’d selected:

Our debates always ended with one of us saying: “Let’s drink grog before the fog.” And a bottle of rum would be passed around … after which we’d conclude that even if we couldn’t find a satisfactory descriptor for our state of mind, international travel had changed us into a bunch of scallywags.

By that I mean, people who’ve taken the road less traveled by — which, ironically, means we’ve traveled more than most. Certainly more than our kith and kin. Indeed, a significant number of us come from families where we are the only ones leading the so-called displaced life.

Our not-so-hidden booty

Avast ye!

We were so busy navel (hahaha) gazing for our first two years that we missed the treasure that was right in front of us.

It wasn’t even buried!

Our treasure, of course, consists of those creative geniuses who’ve produced something remarkable out of the displaced life — be it a novel, a travelogue, an artwork, a business or a social enterprise.

Blow me down! We are a site for international creatives, that’s what we are.

Blimey, how come it took so long for us to figure it out?

Our second incarnation

“Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!” I can hear some of you saying. “I don’t give a crusty stocking for your second incarnation. I like the Displaced Nation just the way it is.”

To which I may respond: “It ain’t healthy fer a ship to sail too long without off loadin’ some cargo, lest it start to fester, aye?”

That said, to call this a second incarnation may be going a tad overboard.

Particularly as we still have a category “just for laughs.”

Indeedy deed. We will continue to shelter anyone whose travels have helped them to cultivate a cutlass-sharp sense of humor.

We’ve still got our black pirate hearts…

Besides, we aren’t clearing the deck completely. That wench Libby — and her crawfish! — will still be here. But on the weeks when she isn’t published, we will have posts full of observations on England versus New England (the stuff that matters when navigating the globe!).

And we’ll still have Capital Ideas — only the treasure hunts will be even richer.

And we’ll of course have even more writers and artists on board.

Last but far from least, we’ll be rolling out some new columns. I’m not giving anything away here, but one of our new mateys is the infamous Cap’n Jack! (Now if that isn’t a hook, I don’t know what is!!)

Aye, plenty of booty for ye!

* * *

Okay, I’ve got two pistols, one plank and I’m out of patience. Any questions?! Seriously, if you have comments or suggestions as we proceed into our third year, let us know! And every time you run across a creative work by a displaced person, please email me (or one of my mateys)! I don’t know about the rest of ’em, but I can be reached at ml [at] thedisplacednation [dot] com.

Until then, may fair winds and good grog come yer way — and never forget that from now on, ye know where “home” is!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some musings on the fine art of photography in an international travel setting by Andy Martin.

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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Image: MorgueFile

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