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THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: As an expat spouse, I had a ticket to explore life’s infinite possibilities

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
With this post, Indra Chopra wraps up her account of life as a privileged expat spouse, which she found just as enriching in Asia as she did in the Middle East. Hm, can a memoir be far off?ML Awanohara

To continue where I left off in my last installment: Expat life in Hong Kong spoiled me. There was such a range of things and experiences to try, whether it was the cuisine, from street food to sumptuous banquets; apparel, from local brands to top designers; or sightseeing, from standard to offbeat adventures.

My one regret was that I was at least a decade late to the party. Hong Kong feels like a young person’s habitat. It’s a land of opportunity and, when it comes to activities, one is spoilt for choice.

My old stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

While I’m not exactly a doddering dowager, over the years my priorities have changed to something more staid. In the initial months following our arrival, I would dawdle away several hours along Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main thoroughfare. I would start at the iconic Peninsula Hotel, which flaunts its large fleet of customized Rolls-Royce Phantoms (painted “Peninsula green”) and an afternoon tea that is served in the aristocratic ambience of colonial times—features that have earned it the epithet “Grande Dame of the Far East”.

I studiously avoided the blatant commercialism of the shopping arcades and new malls, the ubiquitous sellers of “genuine fake” watches, the touristy gift shops, and the crowded dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls).

Instead I would meander towards the quirky neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei and then would move on to Jordan, an area full of countless small shops, which also has a seedier side. One can sometimes glimpse dimly lit stairways to massage parlors or off-limits clubs with bouncers ready to bounce you back into the neon-lit pavement and the dense pedestrian and vehicular traffic, not to mention the continuous projection of entertainment, things for sale, and cultural attractions constantly trying to lure you in.

Indra’s stomping—or is it dawdling?—grounds in Hong Kong

Getting from A to B has never been easier!

We soon acquired our Permanent IDs and Hong Kong driver’s licenses, which provided a feeling of security. Every six months or so, we would review our plans to purchase a car, only to be dissuaded by well-meaning friends, who would point to the traffic and exorbitant parking fees.

As it turned out, our flat didn’t come with a parking space—or maybe it did but the landlord rented it separately.

Another reason for dithering was that Hong Kong’s public transport system is convenient, reliable and always-on time. I still feel embarrassed thinking back to an occasion when I was meeting with some friends for a day out. New to Hong Kong, I gave myself a margin of one hour only to arrive in 20 minutes flat (and that was after a couple of changes, from the hotel shuttle to the Mass Transit Railway, or MTR, and from one subway line to another). My friends were surprised to hear I’d set out so early. I was calculating by Indian Standard Time, a euphemistic expression that acknowledges we Indians are always late.

Another advantage of public transport was that it helped me hone my pronunciation skills, providing a chance to reify such fuzzy place names as Fung Yuen, Ting Kok, Tai Mei Tuk, Sha Tau Kok, Wo Keng Shan, Yuen Po Street, Yuen Ngai Street, Yim Po Fong Street, Hak Po Street, etc. I would jot down these names in my iPhone but the words would soon fade.

For a long time I thought Pok Fu Lam was a pork dish until someone pointed out it is one of Hong Kong’s high-end areas! Landmarks were easier to remember except on the occasions when the store/café/cha chaan teng (tea houses)/dai pai dong/fish stall in question had disappeared overnight.

Knowing that one could rely on the MTR (or other public transport) for my escape was a welcome thought whenever I would become overwhelmed by Hong Kong’s busy cafes, book stores, convenience stores, posh shops, popular hiking spots, beaches…

The joys of riding the MTR

Exploring to my heart’s content

As an expat, I am more inquisitive than acquisitive. I did not want to waste energy in “keeping up with Joneses” and relished my anonymity, a status that permitted me to explore to my heart’s content. I would amble through neighborhoods, mysterious alleys, busy and deserted city streets, temples and pubs, the promenades (Tsim Sha Tsui, West Kowloon), Central Hong Kong, Aberdeen, the outlying islands, mountain paths… I would hop on to ferries/MTR/buses in search of the unfiltered and unlisted.

I never felt self-conscious venturing out on my own, nor did I look over my shoulder. It felt safe and normal to be a solo female in pursuit of my own little adventures.

At the beginning I would seek advice from friends, but in due course I could plan a day’s outing by using guides and maps. I would select a destination that was manageable for my walking level, from the crowded to the remote. Hong Kong is blessed with hundreds of islands, and I wanted to cover as much as I could.

So much territory to cover, so little time!

In the expat life, wonders never cease

Life was a kind of party for me until 2013, when we decided to move back to our home base: Gurgaon, India. After that we had a life of reverse travel, staying in Hong Kong for stretches in furnished apartments. I missed the continuity of expat life and the opportunity it provides for participating in local events and other activities only insiders would hear about.

Some say that a major limitation of expat life is that feeling of dépaysement, the sense of disorientation that can come from being outside of your home country. To be honest, I never experienced this feeling in my long stays in Hong Kong or Oman, simply because to me home is, as my favorite travel chronicler, displaced Indian writer Pico Iyer has said, “not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

In fact I often wonder how my personality would have developed had I stayed at home in the place of my birth/marriage and missed out on interactions with different nationalities and sensibilities, and been denied all the knowledge I obtained from other countries, all the many learning opportunities. There were times when I felt frazzled with the packing and unpacking and would envy friends and family living in their family homes and mansions, going for vacations and shopping abroad for a few months in a year. For them, “worldly possessions” always meant luxury.

But, then I would recall chance encounters I would have missed out on—for instance:

  • My encounters with a fellow walker in the Qurum Natural Park Rose Garden, located in the heart of Muscat (Oman’s capital city). The lady would stop me to gush about my “luck” in speaking English, the idea being that English-speaking Indians were India’s biggest export, and about how she wanted her children to study the English language. After several such encounters, I stopped going to the park as I knew where it was headed…to an invitation to coach her children.
  • The time in Salalah, Oman, when an acquaintance patted my stomach in show of remorse that I have “only two children” when she was expecting her sixth. I felt like telling her: “Lady, I am fortunate”; but desisted as we were her guests. Different countries and different takes…
  • The time in New York when a giant (to me) 6+-feet-tall African American jogger stopped in his tracks and exclaimed: “But you are so small!”
  • Countless times In Hong Kong when the super slim sales girls made me feel fat, even though I am considered “petite” in the western world and my country.

Like many of us expats, Indra sometimes felt as though she’d fallen down the rabbit hole

My husband and I have also encountered hostile reactions to our presence in foreign lands. That has been its own kind of learning process. Those who’ve taught us harsher lessons have included:

  • A churlish waitress in Shanghai who insisted on serving us beef despite our telling her we do not eat beef—my friend even drew a chicken and made flapping sounds.
  • The impassive adults in Mainland China and Hong Kong who refused to sit next to us on public transport.
  • Salespeople in a watch/perfume or brand apparel showrooms in Hong Kong who made sarcastic “no cheepo” comments simply because we happened to be from the subcontinent.
  • Someone in San Francisco who responded to my presence with a racial slur…

We travelers need to have resilience, and I’ve always been able to brush aside these unfriendly receptions. To quote Pico Iyer again:

“…I’ve always felt that the beauty of being surrounded by the foreign is that it slaps you awake.”

Repatriated, for now

For the past five months we have been living in our home city, Gurgaon. The reason: my husband is helping a friend from Mainland China set up a business in India. I am in my own house and can hire full-time help 365 days a year or have an army of part-timers doing specific tasks. I have opted for the latter: they return when they see the doors ajar.

We are back to where we ended/started. I see the shift as an opportunity to conclude my the travelogue I’ve been writing for the past four years. Whenever I tell myself “this is the last entry,” fresh new flashbacks wait to be uploaded.

In spring, the gardens here are in full bloom: mango blossoms and frangipani flowers. It’s also the time when we have the Holi festival of colors. Whenever I hear the warbling of a koel, it transports me to my hometown of Allahabad: I am surrounded by mango trees, taking an early morning dip in the River Ganges.

In short this is the best season to be in India. It is also the season for flu and since I was late in getting my flu shot, I’ve had a scratchy throat, hacking cough and fever these past couple of weeks(!).

Spring has sprung in India

Some parting thoughts

I’ve reconnected with my book club, and somewhat to my surprise, this month’s book is A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, which as you probably know, has been turned into the movie Lion. The story tells of five-year-old Saroo’s harrowing train journey from somewhere in Central India across the plains to end in Kolkata on the Eastern shores. He saves himself from hunger, rape, murder and the adoption home in this story of grit and ingenuity.

I fully empathized with Saroo as I find Kolkata (Calcutta) the filthiest city in India. (I first visited Kolkata in 1979, and that was my last because I refused to set foot in the city despite its historical and literary past.)

Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple and taken to Tasmania. But eventually he is consumed by the desire to find his real family and, using Google Earth, tracks the place of his birth and early childhood. Twenty-five years after his departure from India, he returns to his hometown and is reunited with his biological mother and sister. The story has a fairy-tale ending: the two families are united and everyone lives happily ever after.

Reading this novel has rekindled another memory—of an afternoon spent with a friend in Guangzhou, China, in 2011. My friend had taken me to a city park and I was surprised to see nearly a dozen Caucasian parents with identical prams containing Chinese infants. I had read about the adoption process being a large-scale industry in China; but I found I had mixed emotions at the sight of these innocent babies, oblivious about their soon-to-be-taken journeys to far-away lands. On the one hand, it’s a blessing for these children to find homes where they’ll be loved and cared for. On the other, I wondered whether these children would someday seek closure like Saroo did.

The picture of these prams comes to mind whenever I read about adopted children returning to their “homes” to find their real parents. It must be a good thing that China has now ended its famous one-child policy that made so many parents opt to keep the boys or “Little Buddhas” and give away the girls for adoption or to relatives.

And speaking of adoption, I now look back on the life that I led in my adoptive city, Hong Kong, through the privileged eyes of a global citizen. True, the island country has problems with increasing population, pollution, traffic and rampant materialism. But for me it will always be a rainbow land, where I was able to lead a charmed existence.

Reading about an adopted Indian child in A Long Way Home, Indra’s first association takes her back to her adopted homeland…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! I appreciate your ability to see the bigger picture in all of this. Despite setbacks, despite coming to the party a little late, as you put it, you made the most of your expat opportunities and always understood how privileged you were to have places like Muscat and Hong Kong as your personal playgrounds. I also really appreciate your story about reading A Long Way Home with your book club back in India. It often strikes me that one of the biggest legacies of expat life is having a different set of associations to most people in your homeland! I take these instances as little reminders of the enriched life I have led, and I suspect you do as well… —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

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).

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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

THE PERIPATETIC EXPAT: Against the wind, becoming a repatriate

Displaced creative Sally Rose

When Sally Rose first started this column, her most perplexing issue was where to go next after five years of being based in Santiago, Chile. But then a devastating personal tragedy struck and she had no choice but to return to the United States. In this month’s post, she reports on her transition. —ML Awanohara

I’ve been back in the United States for not quite two months. Back in New Mexico, where I’d lived twice before.

I’ve owned a condo here for the past two years, but I didn’t expect to actually live in it. It was supposed to be my pied-à-terre, my escape hatch, an occasional break from my real life, that of a perpetually perplexed peripatetic expat. Now, everything is topsy-turvy and, at least for the foreseeable future, it will be home.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (mistakenly attributed to John Lennon)

Repatriating wasn’t part of the plan, but circumstances change. In my case, death happened. As I wrote about in my last column, my son, Phillip, passed away in May. Instead of visiting with him, it’s all business now, taking care of whatever has to be done.

It’s a month on and I still haven’t seen Phillip’s fiancee. She’s working at a summer camp for children, out in the New Mexico wilderness. Our reunion will have to wait a while longer.

Am I glad to have a little hidey-hole to come back to? Maybe, but I’m hoping it will be a temporary measure in an otherwise peripatetic life.

Phillip would have understood. “If I wanted to just hang out with ‘Americans,’ I would stay in the United States.” I used to say that often, long before Phillip encouraged me to follow my dream and move to Chile.

In our first conversation about my going overseas, Phillip told me, “I’ve been wondering what’s taking you so long.” He knew, even before I’d decided, that I would become an expat.

The expat life is a kind of calling

A few months ago, I read an article about a woman who’d grown up in Portugal. As an adult, she moved to London and assumed the expat life. As I recall, she didn’t stay there very long, maybe a year, before moving back to Portugal.

She commented that she felt like a failure because her expat life in London didn’t work out.

Maybe failure is the wrong word. Being an expat isn’t for everyone. For me it was a kind of calling. When I went to Chile, I learned Spanish, taught many students, learned from many students, and created a family-like circle of friends.

Before I left Chile, the Universe brought several people, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, back around to say goodbye.

The neighbor, whom I had met in the laundry room when I was a newbie to Chile. She was the one who introduced me to Chilean sopaipillas, which are very different from Mexican sopaipillas.

Even after I moved out of my apartment in the Bellas Artes neighborhood of Santiago, I ran into the drum-and-flute band. In the late afternoons, they used to wander through the neighborhoods of Bellas Artes and LaStarria, busking for donations. I felt like they had come to tell me goodbye.

I ran into my original landlord, the famous Sr. A from my memoir, A Million Sticky Kisses, three times in the two weeks before I left.

Coincidence? Could have been, if you believe in it, which I don’t.

At my despedida, my farewell party before leaving Santiago, I looked at the faces of my guests and realized that two-thirds of them were Chilean faces. I smiled. I had created another life in another part of the world. Mission accomplished.
adios chile

Against the wind, becoming a repatriate

Once I arrived back here in New Mexico, it took two weeks for me to unpack. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and unpacking didn’t seem important.

By now, I’ve tackled everything except the three boxes that I had mailed back to myself. I threw them into my storage locker here at the condo complex. I wonder what’s in them, what part of my other life I considered important enough to save.

I’m struggling to get into a routine, some semblance of normalcy. No exercise regimen, no writing routine, no Pisco Sour debriefs with a bestie once a week. Not yet.

I’ve tried Pilates, my preferred form of exercise, but it’s different here. Instead of being a relaxed, gentle atmosphere of breath-work and stretching, like in Chile, it’s hut-hut-hut, military style. I don’t like it.

Pilates Now and Then

I’m taking the stairs to my fourth floor apartment, whenever I don’t have my hands full. It gives me a little cardio workout once or twice a day, but it’s not the same as doing Pilates. I miss it.

And don’t get me started on how I have to drive everywhere, or how much I dislike hot weather, or how difficult it is to make new friends in an old place.

Sandia Mountains vista

 

As I wrote about on my own blog, I feel like I’ve been yanked out of a familiar and beloved garden, leaving torn roots behind.

Last year, when I visited Scotland, I spotted this graffiti on the side of a building.

“The things I love are not at home.”

I wondered who wrote that and what that meant to them.
What were they thinking
I’m not sure where “home” is, but I know that the things that are most important to me didn’t get packed into those boxes that I shipped back to Albuquerque.

The things I love most aren’t “things.”

Let me leave you with this thought:
TrustthatanEnding

Signed~
Perpetually Perplexed, and Now Grieving

* * *

Sally, Thank you for updating us. I know from personal experience how hard it is to repatriate but your circumstances make it even harder. I’m rooting for you! I’m also imagining that your restless, roaming spirit will not allow you to remain home for very long…but we shall see. —ML Awanohara

Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose has lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City. Then she fell in love with Santiago de Chile and entertained herself (and us) by “telling tall tales” from that long, skinny country, where she made her home for five years. Where will her next act take her? The author of a memoir and a children’s book, Sally has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Writing in Finnish and English, expat novelist Emmi Itäranta creates fantasy worlds that feel palpably real

Location Locution Emmi Itaranta
Tracey Warr is here with a Finnish-born writer Emmi Itäranta, for whom displacement means living in another country (England) and writing dual-language dystopian novels. As a special note to long-time Displaced Nation readers, the book that had the greatest impact on Emmi as a child was Alice in Wonderland—until she discovered science fiction and fantasy.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers. My guest this month is Emmi Itäranta, who grew up in Tampere, a city surrounded by two lakes in southern Finland.

And if her childhood was spent in a territory located between Lakes Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, she has chosen to spend her adulthood afloat between two languages, Finnish and English.

After earning an MA in Drama from the University of Finland and temping for a few years in jobs ranging from scriptwriter to press officer, she challenged herself to do an MA in Creative Writing in English at the University of Kent in the UK. As part of that course, she began writing her first novel, Memory of Water, working in English and Finnish simultaneously. As that title suggests, it’s set in a dystopian future where fresh water is scarce.

MoW US cover

England is now Emmi’s home: she has lived in Canterbury since 2007. But she continues to write fiction in both English and Finnish. (She speaks English at home with her Spanish husband.) Emmi feels that her books would be different altogether if she wrote them in only one language. In answer to an interviewer’s questions about the dual-language process that produced Memory of Water, she had the following to say:

I began writing the book in English because part of it formed my creative writing dissertation at the University of Kent, but early on I realised that drafting it in Finnish at the same time helped me polish the writing. The two languages seemed to support and inform each other. You get very, very close to the text when you work in two languages; translators often spot details that the author and editor may have missed. It is a slow process, and hard work, but ultimately I find it rewarding.

Emmi has now come out with her second novel. Published in Finnish in 2015, it has just now made its English-language debut in the UK with Harper Voyager, under the title The City of Woven Streets. The U.S. edition, to be published later this year, will be called The Weaver.
The Woven Streets The Weaver

The City of Woven Streets / The Weaver is a story about an island that is slowly sinking into the sea (if Emmi’s first book had too little water, this one has too much), and where dreaming is forbidden. It has elements of urban fantasy but its world has a feel of the past, rather than present or future. In a city where human life has little value, you must practice a craft if you want to stay alive.

Now let’s talk to Emmi about she gets her readers to experience these extraordinary settings.

* * *

Welcome, Emmi, to Location, Locution. Which comes first in your novels, story or location?

For my second novel, The Weaver / The City of Woven Streets, the location came first. I saw an imaginary city with its strange own internal laws and spent months writing scenes that simply explored the setting but were not yet connected by a story. This surprised me because in my first book, Memory of Water, the story and location were intertwined from the beginning. For that book, the first image that came to me was a young woman preparing tea in a dry future world. The story called for a specific location—far north, near the Arctic—and the location shaped the story.

For those who haven’t read Emmi’s first novel yet: The main character, Noria, lives near present-day Kuusamo, northern Finland, where she is learning to become a tea master in her father’s footsteps. By then Finland is ruled by an Asian superpower, and water for tea is a rare treasure.

Emmi, your novels have a strong sense of place. Can you tell us what techniques you use for evoking those feelings in your readers?

I try to imagine how the characters would experience the place through their senses. What are the shapes and colours surrounding them? How does the air smell and taste? How does the ground feel under their feet, what sounds does it make as they walk? What do they notice, what is relevant to them individually, but also as part of the community that inhabits this setting?

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

All of those, but I would also add things like weather and seasons. Furthermore, I think a sense of history is important, in fiction just as it is in real life. Even if we don’t know the history of a location in detail, the feeling that there is one helps make it more plausible and gives it depth.

Did you have any real cities in mine when you created the city in The Weaver / The City of Woven Streets?

Yes, The Weaver / The City of Woven Streets is set in a fantasy world but to make it feel tangibly real, I used my knowledge and impressions of old European cities I have visited, mainly Prague, Venice and Dubrovnik.

Cities that inspired The Weaver

Three of the European cities that inspired Emmi Itäranta’s city in her latest novel: Venice (center); Prague (bottom right); and Dubrovnik (other three photos).

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

I’d like to share a passage from the first chapter of The Weaver / The City of Woven Streets. It aims to create a sense of the surroundings my main character, Eliana, lives in, a world that is unfamiliar and recognisable at once:

I like the air gondola port because you cannot see the Tower from there: its tall, dark figure is concealed behind the wall and the buildings of the House of Webs. Here I can imagine for a moment that I am beyond the reach of the Council’s gaze. I like the port best at this hour, when the cables have not yet started creaking. The vessels are still, their weight hanging mid-air, or resting at the dock, or floating in the water of the canals. The gate cracks open without a sound. The wrought iron is cold against my skin, and the humidity gathered on its surface clings to my palms. The cable of the air route dives into the precipice, which begins at the rock landing of the port, and the city opens below. I walk along the landing close to the brink. It is steep as a broken bridge. Far below, the sharp edges of Halfway Canal cut through the guts of the island, outlining waters that always run dark, even in brightest summer light.

The sky has begun to fade into the colours of smoke and roses. The first light already clings to the rooftops and windows, to the glint of the Glass Grove a distance away. The flood has finally ceased to rise, and down in the city the water rests on streets and squares. Its surface is smooth and unbroken in the calm closeness of dawn: a strange mirror, like a dark sheet of glass enclosing a shadow double of the city.
The Weaver_quote

In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

My stories tend to be set in the future or entirely fictional worlds, so you could say the settings are imaginary for the most part. However, I do use real places as inspiration and find that visiting them where possible really helps bring the fictional setting to life. For The Weaver / The City of Woven Streets, I looked at photographs and journals from my visits to different cities, particularly those with a long history. I’m always interested in trying to understand how different eras have shaped a place. So the end result becomes a mixture of imagination, history, memory and subjective experience.

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

There are so many, but the first one that comes to mind is China Miéville and the strange geography of his novel The City and the City. It portrays two fictional cities that overlap, yet are distinct from each other with their own unique and recognisable features, cultures and complex unspoken agreements that define the border between the two. The setting almost becomes a character in its own right.

China Mieville The City and The City

Emmi Itäranta’s pick for a novelist who has mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Emmi, for your answers.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Emmi? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you would like to discover more about her, I suggest that you visit her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey! I loved hearing about the way Emmi’s imagination works, feeding on everything from linguistic differences to her travels within Europe. —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels with Impress Books. She just now published, in English and French, a future fiction novella, Meanda, set on a watery exoplanet, as an Amazon Kindle ebook. Her new historical novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th century Wales and England, will be published by Impress Books in September.

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Photo credits: Top of page: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Emmi’s author bio photo is by Heini Lehväslaiho. All other photos were supplied by the author or downloaded from Pixabay except for 1) in top collage: Cherub (Canterbury, England), by Upupa4me via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and 2) in bottom collage: Author China Mieville at Utopiales 2010 (France), self-photographed, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: Globetrotting between overseas assignments

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
Columnist Indra Chopra is back. Born in India, Indra embraced the life of a trailing spouse to become a globetrotter. She also conforms to the image I have a “lovepat.” Because she is such a curious and creative person, the expat life (both the international and the domestic kind) suits her down to the ground, as I think you will see in this post. ML Awanohara

For an accidental expat like me, adventure is not so much reaching out for unknown as it is changing residences, and countries, every so often.

In my last post, I described my family’s move to Oman for my husband’s job. We returned to India at the end of 2000. Eight years later, we would have another country binge—but in this post I want to share with you what we did from 2000 to 2008, a time when our friends were constantly grumbling about needing an exclusive telephone diary for the Chopras’ constantly changing telephone numbers and area codes.

Within a year of our return to India, we were planning an extended trip to United States. My first visit had been in 1975 when, fresh out of college, I attended summer school in journalism at Stanford University, in Palo Alto. It was the era of the “Fs”: Flower power, Frisbee, Freedom…

Twenty-six years later, I headed to America again at an equally momentous time: the aftermath of the horrendous carnage of 9/11/01. My husband and I were visiting our daughter, who, having completed her undergraduate studies at UMass, Amherst, had enrolled in UMass Medical School, which is located in Worcester.

Grey and gloomy Worcester

Our port of entry was Boston’s Logan Airport. From there we made a two-hour train journey past New England landscapes to an unknown territory whose name is pronounced “Wuss-tur,” as in Worcestershire sauce (which originated in the English midlands town of Worcester).

Our brusque reception by the immigration authorities at Logan Airport had put us in a somber mood, which grey and gloomy Worcester—a “city created by and for the middle class,” as Adam Davidson put it in a recent article for the New York Times Magazine—did little to dispel.

During the late 19th century and after, Worcester had attracted fresh-off-the-boat migrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa who had left behind unwelcoming Boston to look for work in the cotton mills and steel works, some of them starting their own enterprises. The proximity to Boston helped industries to flourish, but World War II and rise of other industrial bases across the country led to the greyness we now saw all around us.

I recalled having read Daoma Winson’s novel The Fall River Line, a 90-year saga about the family of a New England matriarch who owns a Massachusetts-based steamship line running between New York and Boston in the late 19th century. But the city I saw before me was a mix of new and old three-decker rectangular homes alongside newer constructions of colleges and hospitals.

Imagine my surprise when, researching the city further, I discovered that out of its gloom had emerged something pink, lacy and romantic. Esther Howland of Worcester started up a business making valentines in 1857, the success of which earned her the epithet of “the mother of the American valentine”; you can see a large collection of her creations at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

Worcester can also claim the “Smiley” face, created by Worcester-born-and-bred graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball—another seeming contradiction; and there are many other firsts to the city’s credit:

  • the largest female workforce in the USA;
  • the first woman Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins (she served in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cabinet and had grown up in Worcester);
  • the first Bible and first dictionary printed in America (by one Isaiah Thomas, in the 18th century);
  • the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, also by Isaiah Thomas;
  • the first monkey wrench, invented by Loring and Aury Coes in 1840 (just thought I’d throw that in!);
  • the first commercially successful envelope-producing machine, invented by Russell Hawes in 1853; and
  • WORC, the first radio station to play a Beatles song in the United States.

I suppose adversity bred innovation and, as far as the Beatles went, a “thumbs-down” to the Boston Brahmins.

Once settled, we walked around Worcester Commons and past the Burnside Fountain with its Turtle Boy statue; along the crowded downtown streets including Shrewsbury Street (where can be found Little Italy) and the tree-lined avenues where there are many houses dating back to the late 19th-century; all over the “modern” UMass Medical School campus; and even out to the suburban Auburn Mall (I had to shop in Filene’s). We also ventured out to the shores of Quinsigamond and Indian Lakes.

Lake Quinsigamond (or the Long Pond) reflects the sensibilities of the city. Though a favored destination for water sports, rowing and boating regattas, it misses out on aqua “vitality”.

Worcester Mass Collage 2

Bustling Boston (& vicinity)

Worcester’s saving grace, for me, is that it’s only a step away from Boston and its famous landmarks…no, I would not be one of those people who prefers Worcester’s slower pace!

My favorite Boston spots include Faneuil Hall/Marketplace, incorporating Quincy Market, the Freedom Trail, Harvard University, and, further afield: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket the latter two accessible by ferry and good spots for celeb watching. I liked walking down Nantucket’s cobblestoned Main Street and gawking at the tony lifestyle and the boutique shops.

Boston and beach collage

There have been other visits to Worcester since then, in various seasons, as we continue our effort to appreciate small-town living. But on this first occasion, 15 days were sufficient, and from Worcester we jetted across to San Francisco to visit family. In this sense, we were conforming to the distinctive Indian habit of tagging family and friends across the globe to ensure hassle free board and lodging. (Thankfully, at least for the people doing much of the hosting, that concept is changing with Indian tourism opening up and more people traveling on their own.)

San Francisco, here we come!

San Francisco lived up to my “Alice in Wonderland” memories. Our days were devoted dawdling on Fisherman’s Wharf, trundling down Nob Hill in the cable car, watching the sunset from Golden Gate Bridge, driving around Palo Alto.

The quintessential university town had changed: there were more residences and start-up communities, shortening the distance between University and town. The path from Escondido Village (where I lived) to the journalism department (where I studied) did not appear intimidating as when I had first cycled on it.

San Fran Collage

The re-discovery journey had been pleasant except for an interaction with immigration officer on our return to Boston’s Logan International Airport. Having been assured by the travel agent of no extra charges, we had extended our return flight from San Francisco to Boston by two days. Hence our surprise when we were asked to pay $200 and, as we attempted to explain, the airline official countered with a complete dossier of our movements, the number of times we had cancelled our arrival to USA, the change we’d made to our flight schedule from San Francisco, etc., etc.

It was a case of pay the said amount or be barred from boarding the flight back to India. The disbelief came when I told my husband, in Hindi, to ask the name of the official or demand that we speak to her senior. She caught on and told us that we are most welcome, promptly giving us her name and declaring it would not change anything.

Left with no alternative, we promptly paid the contested amount and exited the country. Talk about “parochial” and “paranoid”! I suddenly remembered my Media and Broadcasting Prof. at Stanford, who, upon seeing me sit alone on the patio (I was finishing an assignment), apologised for the “parochial” attitude of my fellow students. (I told him I was fine.)

We did not stop visiting USA but, on the next occasions, we were prepared for the pat downs, security checks and x-rays. No hair sprays, body cremes, etc., and no loose talk. So, now when I am told “You have been selected,” I know it is not for a seat upgrade but for the body scanner.

Becoming Punekars

In 2004 we made another “small city” visit and, this time, a change of residence. There is no connection between Worcester and Pune, except that both are stress busters for concrete jungles: Boston and Mumbai, respectively.

Pune is an emerging “mega-city” said to epitomize the New India. It is also the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, celebrating Maratha arts and crafts, music, and theatre. It has a proud history as the seat of the Peshwas, who were the ruling figures within the Maratha Empire, which was established by the legendary Shivaji, the Hindu leader who challenged the mighty Mughals. He was later held up as a hero during the rebellion against English rule and bid for Indian independence.

But returning to the Pune of today: it is very much a city on the go, with mushrooming high-rises, malls, and hotels. Its already congested labyrinth of shops, roadside stalls, and disintegrating colonial architecture is constantly expanding, with new enterprises such as education centers cropping up, and more and more “steel ants” (mopeds and two wheelers) running along its narrow lanes and arteries. (Public transport leaves something to be desired.)

The one constant between former eras and today are the majestic banyan trees, with their nebbish roots adding a spidery effect.

The city is being invaded by professionals and tourists from neighboring cities and states. A true Punekar (aka Punaite) will argue that, despite the onslaught of so many people, their city has retained its elegance and charm typified by the “dragonfly” energy and the attitude of the female residents who cover their faces with a scarf and slice through the traffic. (For me, this unique sartorial style is a silent tribute to “girl power”!)

Upon our arrival, we visited the famous landmarks including:

Pune is the city for seeing Alphonso mangoes piled high on roadside carts and market stalls. The mango mania does not stop at simply eating the fruit but has invaded thalis (food platters), desserts, ice creams and shakes, literally adding color to the local cuisine.

What I relish most is the ubiquitous Vada Pav, a vegetarian fast food consisting of a potato fritter. I often purchase one from a roadside stall that, according to my friend’s driver, is the “best Vada Pav in town.”

The mesmeric effect of life in this part of the world culminated in our purchasing a property up in the hills, on NIBM Road in Kondhwa, a fast-growing suburb of Pune.

And now here I sit on our lawn, under blue skies, a rarity in the part of India where I’m from. Later I will watch the sun descend deeper into the surrounding hills while dreaming of new places where we might be based in near future.

Pune India Collage

Not surprisingly, the seven-year itch surfaced and in summer of 2008 we jetted our way to Hong Kong, another country and another accidental expat experience. The Sultanate of Oman and Hong Kong are on different trajectories: one a traditional nation and the other a place full of glitz, glamor and restlessness. Hong Kong’s mishmash of lingering British influences and Chinese opportunism must be what lures so many visitors, us included, to its crowded streets.

We came for a year and found ourselves queuing at the Immigration office to get extensions stamped for two, three, seven years—and then permanent residency.

But more on that experience in my next post…

* * *

Thank you, Indra, for sharing this continuation of your story. It was refreshing to hear about the United States from an outsider’s perspective, and to learn all about Pune. And now I am eager to hear what you make of Hong Kong! —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Second visual: (top row) Worcester, Massachusetts, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); photo of the Beatles and of Worcester’s buildings via Pixabay; (bottom row) Turtle Boy, by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Harvey Ball, by Michael Carroll courtesy Worcester Historical Museum; and Daoma Winston book cover. Third visual: Nantucket – Main St, by thisisbossi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Quincy Market, by Smart Destinations via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Boston – Freedom Trail, by David Ohmer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Cape Cod scene via Pixabay. Fourth visual: Cable car, Stanford U & Golden Gate sunset photos all via Pixabay; Fisherman’s Wharf – San Francisco, California, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Last visual: (top row) Mangoes for sale in Crawford Market, Mumbai, by Anuradha Sengupta via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); warrior statue via Pixabay; A Crowd Gathers – Pune, India, by Ian D. Keating via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (same as bottom-row middle photo); Sunset at Sinhagarh, by Abhijit Kar Gupta via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (bottom row) Sukhadia’s open vada pav, by Krista via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); [untitled – Banyan tree in Pune], by ptwo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and Osho Ashram, aka Osho International Meditation Resort, by fraboof via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

THE PERIPATETIC EXPAT: Going home again due to a devastating personal loss

Displaced creative Sally Rose

We expats may sound like we’re living in a dream or fairy tale, but many of us have lived through nightmares, too. Last time we heard from Sally, her story was running along the lines of her wonderlanded interview for this site. Having spent five years in Santiago, Chile, she was in need of new thrills and was trying to figure out where to go next. But then, one day, just as she felt her plans were coming together, her entire world came crashing down. Sally, I commend you for her honesty in telling this part of your story. Readers, I hope you will join me in offering your condolences for Sally’s heart-breaking loss. —ML Awanohara

I went to church today. Just stopped in, as I’ve often done over the past five years. I’m not Catholic, but I like to sit and look at the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Basilica de la Merced in downtown Santiago.

It’s cool and peaceful inside, painted to resemble pink marble. There’s a center aisle and the pews are lined up on either side, in two sections, before and after the hanging pulpit.

The statue of the Virgin Mary is set into a niche behind the altar. The back of the niche is painted royal blue. She’s wearing a flowing, white cape and a silver crown.

I read somewhere that she protects the innocent by bringing them close and covering them with her cape. I love that idea.

Virgin Mary with Cape

The basilica always smells of floor polish and candle wax. The first three years that I lived in Chile, there was a caretaker who, every time I went in, was there, polishing the wooden floor with a buffing machine.

Nowadays, I still see him from time to time. Today he recognizes me and greets me cordially. I find out his name for the first time: Fabián. He agrees to let me take his photo.

Fabian floor polisher

At noon, on weekdays, the church chimes ring out, just after the cañonazo, the firing of the cannon at Cerro Santa Lucia.

For five years, at straight-up twelve o’clock, I heard “Boom!” And then, the sweet notes of a recognizable song. I don’t know what its title is, but like an old friend, it became familiar to me over time. I will miss it.

Everything is falling into place…

I arrived back in Santiago on April 1. My apartment lease was expiring on June 4, and I had decided not to renew it. Since, for the past couple of years, I’ve been traveling a lot and spending as much time outside of Chile as I have in Chile, it no longer makes sense to maintain a year-round apartment here.

My goal was to turn myself into a global nomad and visit several places every year, spending a few months in each one. Hyper-organized nerd that I am, I immediately went to work, selling off furniture and clearing out my apartment. Within two weeks, every stick of furniture had been sold. I felt like Wile E. Coyote in the old cartoons, left spinning around after the roadrunner whizzed by me.

Everything was falling into place, as if the Universe were whispering, “Yes, yes. This is the right move for you.”

Cleared apartment nostalgia

Nostalgia kicked in. And sadness, a sort of grief. I started missing Santiago, even though I’m still here. I started thinking of all the places I’d meant to visit, all the things that I didn’t get around to doing since I’ve been here. Wishing I had more time. Wishing I weren’t leaving. Wondering if I were doing the right thing, wondering where I’m going next, wondering whether I’ll ever be back.

I found an apart-hotel and got halfway moved in, expecting to be in Santiago until my usual “can’t-stand-the-heat” date of mid-September. Then, I would go back to the US to sort out some business and to spend time with my son and his fiancée, before heading out again to Parts Unknown.

…until the phone call no parent should get

That’s when the phone call came. That most horribly personal phone call that no parent should ever have to receive.

My son had died in the early morning of May 4. He was 34 years old. The coroner took his body away for an autopsy because why does a 34-year old die? He hadn’t been sick. Or had he?

He had been, but he had not told me. Because I was so far away, I wasn’t aware of his physical condition. Not that I could have prevented his death had I been closer. But if I had known, I would have tried.

In tribute to Phillip

In tribute to Phillip

So began another grief. Deep, heavy waves of shock and sadness and guilt that left me with almost no energy to continue doing what I needed to do. To finish moving out, packing up, and getting myself back to the States for an indefinite period of time.

Sooner now than I had expected. Not to see my son. The best I’ll be able to do is memorialize him. His fiancée and I will be getting to know each other without him, and I will be a “repat,” at least for awhile.

My suitcases are already bulging, but I will be taking back a small replica of this Virgin Mary, Virgen de la Merced. I hope that she brings me as much comfort from afar as she has in the church that’s named after her.

Signed~
Perpetually Perplexed, and Now Devastated

* * *

Sally, I honestly can’t imagine the grief you must be feeling. You were planning where to go next, only to land on the dark side of the moon. Thank you for taking us on this part of your journey as well. If it helps to know, we are all here for you. We are privileged to share in your heart-felt tribute to your son, whom I feel certain was as remarkable a human being as his mother. —ML Awanohara

Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose has lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City. Then she fell in love with Santiago de Chile and has been “telling tall tales” from that long, skinny country since 2009, and living in that city for the past five years. But where will her next act take her? The author of a memoir and a children’s book, Sally has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Upon moving to UK, American poet Robert Peake sees his verse takes flight


The last time I engaged in poetry—I mean, truly engaged in it, as in reading and trying to write some—was when I lived in Japan. I learned about haiku all over again and even adopted the local custom of composing renga (a chain of haiku poems, from which the stand-alone haiku was born) on New Year’s Day (in English, of course—there are limits!). It made me feel like a kid again.

Thus when American-born UK-based poet Robert Peake sent me a book of his poetry called The Knowledge, I was thrilled 1) to be reading poetry again (a habit I soon dropped upon repatriation) and 2) find it includes a sequence of poems, titled “Smoke Ring,” that reminds me of renga.

When I mentioned this to him, Robert said “Smoke Ring” is in a linked form similar to renga; it borrows loosely from the Western tradition of the crown of sonnets—though in the case of this poem, it’s “not a full crown but more of a tiara.” He added that many cultures have some type of inter-woven speech as a means to perhaps memorize, or at least come to terms with, shared experience.

But while “shared experience” conjures up an image of sitting around a campfire, “Smoke Ring” reports on an experience that is common to people who are living in countries where they might not be welcome at the fire. It begins in the immigration office and then takes us through the Big Smoke from the poet’s displaced perspective.

Thanks so much, Robert, for agreeing to share your work before our virtual campfire of Displaced Nation readers.

Readers, I invite you to be a kid again; as one reader says, Robert’s poems are about things “known in your heart and in your bones as much as in your mind.” Enjoy.

* * *

Smoke Ring

Home Office, Croydon

Beneath the surface, darker matter stirs,
steaming up my third latte this hour,
gasping into the air-conditioned lounge
of what could be an airport terminal.
The man wearing a topi beside me
forgets to breathe, then gasps, repeats,
while his daughters in the play area
build homes from coloured bricks.
The clerks shuffle paperwork cheerfully
red passport, blue passport, green passport,
brown, jobsworth elves who know the list
of who gets Christmas, who gets coal.
My number up, I flash a tight-lipped smile,
Should I stay or should I go? Stuck in my mind.

Should I stay Clapham Junction

Clapham Junction

Should I stay or should I go? stuck in my mind,
the doors tweet shut with a rubbery thud.
I’d beg for forgiveness, but begging’s
not my business as the train glides away,
to float its fanning delta of branch lines.
Too little, too late, in the middle of a place
never meant to be anyone’s final destination.
Here it all comes together, here it splits
wide apart. One more change, explains a dad
to son, tugging him across the platform.
Crowds weave together, and people disappear.
I step back from the edge, into the slipstream.
The train is gone, the moment past, but still
the ghosts remain, black shadows cast.

The ghosts remain

Soho

The ghosts remain, black shadows cast
on brick, mist over neon-lit cobblestones.
Hard Road is playing the bar next door
There must be something in the air…
The exhaust pipe of a Hackney carriage
respires to the beat of its diesel drum.
In from the glowing tip, it lulls
then curls from a working girl’s nostrils.
Visibly at east, the smoke lounges
in all directions, spreading its arms.
Here is the city’s grit-flecked embrace.
…been dying since the day I was born.
Part your lips, and breathe in slowly,
drawing up the sweet, unhealthy air.

Brick Lane Market

Drawing up the sweet, unhealthy air
from sizzling woks, flat bubbling crepes
we ogle falafel, smirk at t-shirt slogans,
finger the dyed silks and leather bags.
Huguenot chapel turned Russian synagogue,
now a Bangladeshi Mosque, the moon and star
wink down at our worldly commerce
from the smokestack of a silver minaret.
Every brick a different shape and shade,
pecked by the acrid air, specked with colour
from a rattling can, even graffiti is for sale—
Street art area: pay up or close your eyes.
Burning ghee and mustard oil, hissing paint.
Close both eyes, and follow the scent.

Close both eyes

Canary Wharf

Close both eyes, and follow the scent
of marsh grass, salt rope, barnacled wood.
Oil lamps puff, pipe down their leaden light.
Tusk-like, whale ribs embrace a building site.
Spire of Narwhal, great barge upended, now
sea monsters rise up smooth, in cubic glass—
the streets scrubbed clean of tidal mud,
the Thames runs clear as lymph without its blood.
New brick, poured cement, tarmac’s dull sheen,
cranes pick the horizon where gulls pocked the sand.
Shoe black, suit cleaners, flower shop for guilt,
security guards aim mops where coffee is spilt.
From a top-story balcony, an underwriter plans his grave
while admiring the skyline, its rich amber haze.

While admiring the skyline

Blackheath

While admiring the skyline, its rich amber haze,
sun scalds the mist in an oil slick of light
reminding us the ocean is never far, reminding us,
like Turner, like Messiaen, in saturated tones.
Street lamps peer over us, considering our gait, where
the gibbet posts once dangled a peepshow of bodies,
betraying flesh to bake and rot its carmelised smell,
the gloaming air turned treacherous, picking rag from bone.
Beneath our dew-spotted feet, the earth grinds its teeth.
Sealed away like embers in the furnace of the heath,
plague pits chew ancestors’ memories to tar,
the pocked bodies smelt, give off obsidian heat.
Over the vale, the mist descends, sherbet and blue.
Beneath the surface, darker matter stirs.

Beneath the surface

Published with the permission of Nine Arches Press.

Robert Peake is an American-born poet living near London. He created the Transatlantic Poetry series, bringing poets together from around the world for live online poetry readings and conversations. He also collaborates with other artists on film-poems, and his work has been widely screened in the US and Europe. His newest collection, The Knowledge, is now available from Nine Arches Press.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Photo credits:
Collage at top of page: (top row) Maggie Taylor – Blue Caterpillar (Alice in Wonderland, 2007), by cea + via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (bottom row) Smoke Rings, by David~O via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). The two photos of Robert Peake at the English Falconry School, supplied, were taken by John Eikenberry. Should I stay…: Clapham Junction yard (2), by Les Chatfield via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “The ghosts remain…”: Soho Smoke, by konstantin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0. “Drawing up the sweet…”: Food stalls at Brick Lane’s Sunday Upmarket, by Brick Lane Food via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “Close both eyes, and…”: Reflections on Canary Wharf, by Gordon Joly via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). “While admiring the skyline…”: Blackheath sunset, by rip via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “Beneath the surface…”: The UK Border at Heathrow Airport, by Danny Howard via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

THE PERIPATETIC EXPAT: Can I go “home” again?

Displaced creative Sally Rose: Is she coming…or going?!

Once upon a time, Sally Rose was happily settled in Santiago, Chile (as described in her wonderlanded interview for this site). But then five years passed, and she got itchy feet. She took a half-year sojourn in Europe trying to figure it out. So, is Santiago still “home”? Let’s see how Sally feels upon her return to Chile. —ML Awanohara

From my spacious flat in Edinburgh to my 16th-floor dollhouse of an apartment in Santiago, I have culture shock all over again.

I arrived back in Santiago last Friday. It’s now Monday and my suitcase is still not unpacked. After living out of it for six months, I haven’t had the energy to face it yet, so I dug out my toiletries and some underwear and have let the rest slide.

The laundry pile is reaching critical mass now. A visit to the 19th-floor laundry room will be in my near future because, unlike in Edinburgh, my little aerie in Santiago doesn’t have a washing machine. My view of the Andes mountains mostly makes up for that.

APARTMENTS WITH A VIEW—of the River of Leith (Edinburgh, top) and the Andes (Santiago). Photos supplied.

APARTMENTS WITH A VIEW—of the Water of Leith (Edinburgh, top) and the Andes (Santiago). Photos supplied.

My swansong, so to speak

From my apartment in Edinburgh, my view was the Water of Leith. I used to watch the birds swimming there. In particular, there was a pair of swans that I saw every day last fall.

When I returned from my holiday trip to Barcelona, one of them was gone. Since swans mate for life, I wondered what had happened to the second one.

Did it die? Did it fly away for the winter? Would it fly alone, leaving its mate behind?

I don’t know anything about bird behaviors, so all I could do was watch as he swam alone, or with the ducks, all winter.

I became nostalgic, seeing that lone swan and thinking of his mate that might have been thousands of miles away. It reminded me of far-flung friends in various places that I’ve lived.

The 1970s Seals and Crofts’ song “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” popped into my head and stayed there. As it repeated itself, like the proverbial broken record, I kept reflecting that a hazard of being a “proper traveler” is that I will always be leaving someone behind.

THE LONE SWAN: A metaphor for the peripatetic expat? Photos supplied.

THE LONE SWAN: A metaphor for the peripatetic expat? Photos supplied.

Am I happy to be back? Yes and no.

Am I happy to be back in Chile? I’m happy to connect with my Chilean friends again, but sad to have left the friends I’d made in Scotland.

I will miss my writing groups. I will miss the dreich weather, the gloom that is actually conducive to my creativity. I will miss my guilty pleasures—salt-and-vinegar potato chips and sticky sweet French cakes.

Of course, in Chile I have other guilty pleasures—cheap, delicious wines and tart, ice cold Pisco Sours, among others; but it’s going to take a bit of adjustment to jump back into Living in Spanish.

For example, everything here gets dialed forward by an hour or more. Dinner will be at 8:00 or 9:00, instead of at 6:00 or 7:00.

No more visits to the pub on Sunday evenings to hear the Jammy Devils at 7 o’clock. Here, in Chile, the music starts by 10:00 or 10:30. Maybe. In Scotland, I was home by 10:00, after the Jammies had finished their second set.

A STUDY IN CONTRASTS: Yet each city has its guilty pleasures... Photos supplied except bottom left: Santiago-196[https://www.flickr.com/photos/33200530@N04/], by CucombreLibre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]

A STUDY IN CONTRASTS: Yet each city has its guilty pleasures… Photos supplied except bottom left: Santiago-196, by CucombreLibre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Tip of the cultural iceberg

Life here starts and ends later. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Living in Spanish not only means living in a country where Spanish is spoken, it means living with different cultural norms.

The Scottish culture is far more similar to my US background than is the Chilean culture. In a given situation, I can tell you what a Chilean might do, but even after five years of living here, I still have no idea why they’d do it.

THE CULTURAL ICEBERG: Hidden depths of misunderstanding are more rife in Chile than in Scotland. Photos from Pixabay or supplied.

THE CULTURAL ICEBERG: Hidden depths of misunderstanding are more rife in Chile than in Scotland. Photos from Pixabay or supplied.

It doesn’t all have to make sense, though, does it? That’s part of the adventure. Time for me to join Answer Seekers Anonymous, giving up on the “why’s,” and working on accepting that it is what it is. Acceptance is not my strong suit, but travel is a persistent teacher.

She’s also an excellent matchmaker. I’m talking about making new friends wherever I go. During my UK odyssey, I made many new friends and I was lucky enough to meet several author friends in person whom I had previously only met “virtually” in Internet writing groups.

I consider having international friendships a confirmation of being a “global nomad.” I didn’t don that mantle lightly, nor willingly, but I’m wearing it more and more comfortably these days.

Yesterday, I met up with my American friend, Cheryl, whom I’d met here in Santiago, when she and her husband lived here. They moved back to the US two years ago, but had returned for a brief visit.

Though great to see her, it felt odd to be meeting a friend from the US, back in Chile, when I’d just returned from Scotland.

Global nomad reunions

Maybe I’d better get used to that “down the rabbit hole” feeling because, in Edinburgh, I had a visit from Anna, a friend from the US, who was my neighbor in Chile. She happened to be bouncing around the UK at the same time that I was.

Then, my BFF from Brooklyn, whom I met at work when I lived in New York, joined me in Barcelona for her vacation.

The reunions didn’t end there. In Ireland, I visited with John, an Irish friend, whom I’d met when he vacationed in Chile two years ago.

Last but not least, in London, I met up with Bob, whom I met in Chile last year. He’s from the UK and lives in New York.

SMALL WORLD: Friends made in one place pop up in another...

SMALL WORLD: Friends made in one place pop up in another… Photos supplied, except for bottom right: It’s a Small World, by HarshLight via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Chileans have a saying, “El mundo es un pañuelo.” Literally translated, it means, “The world is a handkerchief.”

Disney was right. It’s a small world after all.

Signed~
Perpetually Perplexed

* * *

Thank you, Sally, for sharing those reflections. Readers, will Sally settle back down in Santiago? How long will she stay? Like me, I’m sure you look forward to the next installment! —ML Awanohara

Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose has lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City. Then she fell in love with Santiago de Chile and has been “telling tall tales” from that long, skinny country since 2009, and living in that city for the past five years. But where will her next act take her? The author of a memoir and a children’s book, Sally has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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

cake-five-years
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:

Huzzah!!

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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