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THE DISPLACED Q: How many of these Olympic travelers do you recognize?

It’s a strange thing about high-profile sporting events. They bring out the athlete in even the most unathletic of us. During Wimbledon fortnight, the normally deserted tennis courts in the local park are packed with Federer wannabes; driving back from a Grand Prix, drivers of Ford Fiestas morph into Jenson Button; and while the World Cup is on, everyone kicks random household objects around the kitchen and becomes temporarily expert on the offside rule.

During the Olympics, of course, there’s a much bigger menu of sports to choose from, and during those 16 days, not to mention the previous 70 days of torch relay, it becomes impossible not to see everybody in an Olympic (torch)light.

Especially — since this is our particular mindset– travelers.

So, how many of these Olympic travelers do you recognize?

The Greco-Roman Wrestler

Greco-Roman Wrestling — so-called because of its purported similarity to the wrestling at the ancient Greek Olympics, which lends dignity to an otherwise extremely undignified sport.

Greco-Roman Wrestling Travelers, while not engaging in unseemly public bear hugs and takedowns, are often found at locations of ancient ruins, fighting to hold down folding maps, and heaving around 30-pound guide books. Instead of wrestling headgear and ear guards, they wear sets of headphones, plugged into their audio tour devices.

Matches with other GRWTs are strictly intellectual, based on the Intellectual One-Upmanship system, and wins are determined only by Technical Superiority.

The Synchro Swimmer

Synchro swimming is the only sport where it’s obligatory to wear quantities of makeup that make Dame Edna Everage‘s layers of face paint seem subtle. While regular makeup is dubiously acceptable in  figure skating, this caked-on paint job is ridiculous in an aquatic sport.

The Synchro Traveler is invariably female, and insists on dressing up to the nines no matter how unsuitable for the circumstances.

Hiking boots and backpack for an all-day trek along the Great Wall of China?

No thank you, darling. Louboutins and this divine little Prada clutch will be just fine.

The Rugby Player

Rugby needs no introduction, unless it’s to spout that old joke about it being a game played by men with funny-shaped…but never mind.

The Rugby Traveler — actually, what am I talking about? There is no such thing as a Rugby Traveler Singular. They travel in packs. They also drink lots of beer, sing patriotic songs (out of tune, at 1 a.m.) and do manly guy-things together.

Usually found in their natural habitats of Ibiza and Cancun, hunting for females.

The Pentathlete

The Modern Pentathlon is a series of five events: pistol shooting, fencing, freestyle swimming, show jumping, and cross-country running. It’s athletics for the overachiever.

In traveling terms, the Pentathlete Traveler is the vacationer who will bore you for hours with their elaborate plans to see everything in Fodor’s Guide to Europe in ten days, traveling variously by airplane, train, helicopter, ferry, and pack mule.

Upon their return from said vacation, be prepared to sit through interminable soirees of home videos, accompanied by some marvelous duty-free Chianti Riserva all the way from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport.

Don’t spoil their fun by telling them the same stuff was on special offer at the local wine shop while they were away.

The Archer

Archery: the art of firing arrows from a bow. Requires great concentration and accuracy if you don’t want to poke someone’s eye out (see: King Harold, Hastings, 14th October 1066.)

As far as traveling goes, The Archer knows what he wants, where he wants to go, and how to get there. Easily spotted in airports, Archers are the ones pushing past you on the moving walkway so they get to the end before anyone else does.

They are expert, seasoned travelers and know the layout of every major international airport. Because of this, they are blasé about the arrive-two-hours-before-flight-time rule.

When the flight attendant at the boarding gate pages them by name — that’s more than time enough for The Archer.

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Image: “Athletics On The Line” by hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s Question and Answer session with Mary-Sue!

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Culture collision: How American is England?

Last week’s Random Nomad interview with Melissa Stoey spawned a lively discussion on the subject of loving the romantic image of a country — namely England — rather than loving that country “as it is.”

However,  the definition of “as it is” deserves its own debate. During the comments discussion, Melissa pointed us toward two posts on her site, Smitten By Britain: the first, “England Would Not Be England” by British gardening celebrity Alan Titchmarsh, and the second, “What England Is Really Like” by guest poster Tim Gillett, founder of Tourist Tracks.

They make interesting reading. Both are lists of items which in the authors’ opinions are representative of England, and yet, comparing the two lists, you could be forgiven for thinking they referred to different countries on opposite sides of the globe.

Titchmarsh’s version conjured up a gentle, genteel picture of eating cucumber sandwiches by a croquet lawn; indeed, his list included cucumber sandwiches (although not croquet.)  Gillett’s list brought to mind a less poetic image of England: a picture of stuffing your face with doner kebabs in the High Street on Saturday nights, while stepping over puddles of lager-infused vomit.

Perception — or memory — of a country?

The thing is, though, there’s little I’d disagree with on either list. Maybe the “knotted hankies” on Titchmarsh’s list belong to the seaside excursions of fifty years ago, when Titchmarsh himself was a youngster. Then again — how many Ford Cortinas, an item on Gillett’s list, are still driving around in the UK? 1,317, according to the data on howmanyleft.co.uk., so they’re not such an everyday sight as they were twenty years ago.

No doubt age plays a part. I don’t know how old Mr Gillett is, but I’m hazarding a wild guess that he’s younger than Alan Titchmarsh, who turned 63 in May. From my own experience of reverse culture shock, I know that current perception is often confused by past recollection — my fond imaginings of England are rooted somewhere around the time when people wore Walkmans and acid-wash jeans.

But what really is “Typically English”?

What really struck me about the list by Tim Gillett, however, was the number of items that, while English, could also typify other countries. Titchmarsh’s list, for the main part, was stoically English, with the inclusion of Jane Austen, The National Trust, The Beano, Chatsworth, and Blackpool rock. Whether or not you agree that they are important or representative of England, they are nevertheless unique to that country.

Gillett’s list, on the other hand, had items such as “Misogyny”, “Reality TV”,  and “Appalling public transport” — all of which could be placed on a list to typify America, when you consider the current abortion rights battles, the Kardashians, and the lack of buses everywhere. “‘Baby on Board‘ and other pointless car stickers”? Yes; and try the little stick figure families stuck on the rear window of every soccer mom’s SUV. “Almost everyone believing what they read in the papers”? Fox News. “Visible thongs”? OK, you’ve got me there — I’m hoping they will soon be a thing of the American past thanks to this tasteful little invention being sold on TV.

Coloring outside the cultural lines

What I’m saying here is not that Tim Gillett, in his funny, wry list, has come up with suggestions that are too general to be exclusively English (he also includes “EastEnders“, “Local pubs and real ale”, “Wayne Rooney“, and something so obviously English and cringeworthy I can’t believe I’ve never thought about it: “Ill-fitting brassieres”) but that cultural borders are gradually smudging.

I would love to know what a similar list would look like in another twenty years — so, please, let’s have your suggestions for how the American and English cultures will differ or be the same when the 2032 Olympics roll around!

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STAY TUNED for Monday’s Displaced Q!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

THE DISPLACED POLL: Which of these 4 travel champions deserves an Olympic gold medal?

Hi there, folks! In keeping with our summer theme — we’ve been talking up the Olympics, in case you haven’t noticed — today I’ll be taking a look at some travely-types who have performed what can only be described as Herculean endeavors.

Which one of these travel worthies would you vote onto the gold medal podium for their efforts? Register your choice in our poll below.

1) THE SPRINTER: Gunnar Garfors

The 30-something Norwegian Gunnar Garfors (he’s a tech and new media guy as well as an avid traveler and former footballer) will never forget where he was on June 18th, 2012. Because he was in Istanbul (Asia), Casablanca (Africa), Paris (Europe), Punta Cana (North America) and Caracas (South America). Yup — all of ’em! He managed to create a new world record by visiting five different continents in one day!

Although the “day” was quite a long one, as Gunnar used the advancing dateline to squeeze a few more hours into his schedule.

It’s hard to believe that something like this is possible… I’m guessing he didn’t use Qantas for any of the flights. (Okay, that little dig was meant for Australians!)

Seriously, he makes me tired just thinking about it! Can you remember what you did on Monday? I think I got a hair cut…

Definitely an Olympian achievement.

2) THE MARATHONER: Jean Béliveau (no, not the ice hockey icon; we’re talking summer Olympics!)

Montrealer Jean Béliveau took a little longer to accomplish his feat than Gunnar Garfors — because Jean walked all the way around the word. No, really! 47,000 miles… It took him 11 years — and 53 pairs of shoes!

At 45, Jean went through a mid-life crisis with the failure of his neon sign business. In his own words:

“I played the game. It left me empty.”

Jean liked the idea of sailing around the world, but ocean-going yachts cost too much. Instead, he began to imagine running away as far as he could.  He started jogging and working out but told no one of his plans — not even his life partner, Luce Archambault. When he finally told Luce, she gave him her blessing — but insisted that he do it for a cause. Jean chose world peace and the safety of children, something no one could disagree with (at that point, he was after some peace of mind).

He began by running south, but by the time he’d reached Atlanta, his knees had started bothering him, so he switched to walking. He waked through the rest of America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia — six continents and 64 countries.

His interest in promoting peace didn’t stop him from being mugged, as well as imprisoned (the latter in Ethiopia). But he carried on and eventually even came to embrace his cause, telling people that to achieve peace, we must see the world through “eyes of love.”

It’s an achievement so staggering it begs the question: what can he possibly do next? Where do you go from there?

“Hey honey, let’s celebrate with a holiday…”

“NO! Already been there.”

Another record, of course, belongs to Luce, who has remained loyal to Jean despite his absence of 11 years from their home in Montreal and his falling for a woman in Mexico. Once a year, she would come to him and they would spend three weeks together, in one place.

Jean walked back into Montreal in October of last year. How does the couple find it being under one roof again? Rumor has it, they’re writing a book together! Talk about Olympian challenges…

3) THE PREPOSTEROUS POLYGLOT: Benny Lewis

Brendan (Benny) Lewis is a polyglot who hails from Cavan County in Ireland. (No, “polyglot” isn’t a type of glue; it’s a person who speaks four or more languages fluently.) Benny earned this title — he is also a vegetarian and a teetotaler — after nine years on the road, during which he taught himself to speak eight languages fluently (with more than a smattering of half a dozen more).

I know nothing about Benny’s musculature, but it’s clear his tongue has gotten plenty of exercise.

Benny now considers himself to be a “technomad” — a full-time technology-enabled globe-trotter. His Web site, Fluent in Three Months, is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for picking up languages (called “language hacks”), as well as a tribute to his mind-boggling achievement. (I’m actually surprised that his head hasn’t exploded from the pressure of all that knowledge.)

According to him, it is no big deal — anyone can do what he has done. All they need is dedication, hard work…and more of the same. (Times a million!)

You know, I have to hand it to Benny, he’s the very essence of — sorry, I can’t resist — a cunning linguist. (Well, I said I was sorry! Please stop throwing things at me.)

4) THE MASTER OF EXTREME ENDURANCE: Ben Hatch

The British novelist and travel writer Ben Hatch is the author of a hugely popular (and very entertaining) book about a recent adventure of his: driving 8,000 miles around Britain in a cramped Vauxhall Astra, while researching a guidebook for Frommers.

“But why is that worthy of an Olympics gold medal?” I hear you ask. “Novelists usually aren’t athletes. And he only traveled around his own neck of the woods, Britain.”

Well, there are lots of reasons I could pick: because he practically lived in his car for five months, because he purposefully inflicted dozens of tourist attractions on himself every week, because he had a car crash en route, or because he stayed in a haunted Scottish castle.

But the one I like best is the fact that he did all this with his wife and two children — aged four and two! — in tow.

Can you imagine? While the family was attempting fine dining in a posh hotel restaurant, his children engaged in food fights and eating mashed potatoes with their bare hands. There were tears and tantrums in the car — every single day. For months. It sounds like my worst nightmare! And I don’t even have kids…

The resulting trauma became his best-selling book Are We Nearly There Yet? 8,000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra — which I can only assume was written cathartically, in a desperate attempt to cling on to what remained of his sanity after such a grueling experience. I think he deserves a medal just for surviving the first week. And of course, once the kids are old enough to read what he’s written about them, he’ll be in for a whole new world of trouble…

* * *

Right! There’s my suggestions. What do think. folks? I just know there are loads of people out there making epic journeys, achieving the unachievable, and generally making the rest of us look like couch potatoes in comparison. Do you know of any? (Olympians, I mean, not couch potatoes — I’ve got enough of the latter in my house.) BTW, I toyed with the idea of including an older traveler, as unlike sport, there seems to be no real age limit on world travel, especially with all the recent growth in the international cruise-ship industry (see photo above).

In any event, I’d love to hear from you — let me know in the comments, or hit us up on Twitter: @DisplacedNation and/or @TonyJamesSlater

And don’t forget to vote in our poll!

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post on a historical traveler worthy of a gold medal or two.

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

THE DISPLACED POLL: Who will win the Ladies’ Grunt Championship at Wimbledon?

Ah, the start of Wimbledon Fortnight. Two weeks of tennis whites, polite applause, Royalty, and strawberries and cream.

And grunts. Don’t forget the grunts. Especially the ladies’ grunts.

If some of the newspapers this week are to believed, that’s what modern tennis is all about.

The history of the grunt

Men’s tennis grunts started back in the 1970s with Jimmy Connors, and the popularity soon spread among the guys. In the 1988 US Open, Ivan Lendl complained about opponent Andre Agassi‘s grunts, saying they threw him, Lendl, off his timing.

Women’s tennis took a little longer to catch on, starting with Monica Seles‘s guttural shrieks in the 1990s. Once started, though, the women soon raised grunting to an art form, or at least another sport, putting the men’s feeble efforts to shame.

Serve in silence

Fans and media, however, are not amused by Centre Court’s soundtrack, and Martina Navratilova, a champion when women’s tennis was played in dignified silence, also disapproves. Her view is that the grunt masks the sound of the ball leaving the grunter’s racquet, putting the non-grunting opponent at a disadvantage.

“The grunting has reached an unacceptable level. It is cheating, pure and simple. It is time for something to be done.”

World Tennis Association chairman and chief executive, Stacey Allaster, agrees:

“It’s time for us to drive excessive grunting out of the game for future generations.”

Quite how this will be achieved, though, is rather vague. A fine for noisy players. perhaps? It would have to be a big one to have any effect. Michelle Larcher de Brito, the Portuguese player, and rumoured to be the next Maria Sharapova as far as grunt volume goes, reportedly said:

 “I’d rather get fined than lose a match because I had to stop grunting.”

The WTA is quick to point out that current players will not have to curb their on-court vocal emissions. The ban on grunts will be phased in after a period of educating up-and-coming players in grunt etiquette.

In the mean time, however, perhaps the solution would be to make Grunting an official Olympic sport, permissible only at Olympics (i.e. every four years) and not at Grand Slam tournaments.

With grunt decibel readings at similar levels to pneumatic drills, that would be music to everyone’s ears.

Judge for yourself:

Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka

Maria Sharapova – Russia

And vote for the Gold Medal Winner in our poll!

Image: MorgueFile

THE DISPLACED POLL: Which of these 4 exotic sports should be part of the Olympics?

One thing everyone in Britain knows at the moment — if not everyone in the world — is that the Games of the XXX Olympiad (July 27 – August 12, 2012) are coming to London!

Although this grandest of international sporting events is still a ways off, we’re already starting to get into the mood at The Displaced Nation.

So I’ve decided to review some of the sports I’ve observed in my travels around the world that I’d like to see making an appearance at the Summer Olympic Games. And I’ll need your help with deciding on the most suitable candidate, which I’ll of course put forward to the International Olympic Committee — which will of course guarantee its inclusion if not this year then in four years’ time. Well, maybe. 🙂

Because I’m a recent addition to the population of the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve picked some of the more interesting and praiseworthy activities from my part of the world, which, I believe, have been under-represented at a set of games that had their origins in ancient Greece.

I know there’s loads of candidates in the UK, in Europe and the US — we’ve all heard about cheese-rolling and bog snorkeling and beard-growing…haven’t we? Ah well, maybe we’ll get to those crazy sports next week.

I’ll open with an oddly appropriate quote from the American sports journalist Robert Strauss, on how success is achieved:

It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired; you quit when the gorilla is tired.

With that in mind, let’s get down to the voting for the Next Olympic Sport. Here are your four candidates:

1) From Australia: SHEEP SHEARING

It’s a job; it’s a sport; it’s a hobby…the Aussies even hold a world championship of their own! Apparently seasoned shearers (or “guns”) can have the complete fleece off a medium-sized sheep is as little as two minutes. The current champion is Aussie Brendan Boyle, who in 2007 singlehandedly deprived 841 sheep of their coats in 24 hours! Hell, I think he deserves a medal just for wanting to. Or perhaps something more akin to a straight-jacket…

2) From South Africa: OSTRICH RACING

Yes, it’s true. It’s a sport and everything! They have jockeys and racetracks and…well, everything else you would expect, though it certainly isn’t sponsored by Goodyear. There are ostrich farms that occasionally let tourists have a go — but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Not only are ostriches damn hard to get on, harder to stay on and capable of doing over 40 mph — they’re also quite dangerous. Near Oudtshoorn, where the sport is most famously practiced, there are two or three people killed every year by ostriches — and up to a hundred world-wide! Brilliant. Kicked to death by an ostrich is going on my list of all-time weirdest ways to die!

Amazingly enough, this sport is on the increase. If you happen to live in New Jersey, you might get chance to see some — there’s a camel and ostrich race coming to the Meadowlands Racetrack in four days’ time!

3) From India: ROLLER SKATING LIMBO

I know, not exactly Southern Hemisphere — but this sport is so amazing it has to be given a chance! Check it out:

Like most sports, this probably goes on in other places too. Other, equally crazy places… But for the feat of flexibility this activity requires, you really can’t beat the Birthplace of Yoga when it comes to training. In India, when roller-skating under bars and beams ceases to be enough of a challenge, they try skating under cars! And when that’s no enough — under LOTS of cars!

In October of last year, an 11-year-old boy Rohan Ajit Kokane took advantage of the 35cm ground clearance and skated, blindfolded, underneath 20 cars in a row — a new Guinness World Record! If asked how he’d felt during the challenge, I’m sure he’d have replied “a little low…”

4) From New Zealand: ZORBING

Well, it’s hard to see how rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball could become competitive enough for a spot in the Olympics —  unless the challenge was to see how many times you could do it without being violently sick all over yourself, whilst still inside…! (Oh yeah, that would take some cleaning up!)

As an athletic activity though, you can’t beat zorbing. Trust the New Zealanders to come up with such an immensely fun sport! I can foresee zorbing obstacle courses coming into vogue in the not-distant future — after all, you can literally walk on water in one of these things. Or, wait — is that the next Olympic sport? White-water zorbing! Now surely there’s something medal-worthy in that? As for an athlete who would like to compete? Me. I’ll do it! Please…?

So what do you think, Displaced Nation-ers?

Which of these four is worthy of being the next Olympic sport?

Cast your votes in our poll — and if you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear ‘em! Comment below, or hit us up on Twitter: @DisplacedNation and/or @TonyJamesSlater

Img: Tony James Slater celebrates his zorbing success (2009).

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s Random Nomad interview with a champion linguist.

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THE DISPLACED Q: Does living abroad make you more or less patriotic?

Now then, this IS an interesting question. Very topical, especially for me, as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is still being televised ad infinitum here in Australia. It’s almost like the networks can’t get enough of it. At one point this week it was on three channels simultaneously!

I’m not normally very patriotic — my opinions on the state of England and the UK are…well, let’s just say, that’s why I moved to Australia!

And yet — as I watch the parades, listen to the crowds shrieking, and imagine the atmosphere outside Buckingham Palace, part of me thinks: maybe I should be there? It is my home after all…and whatever else I end up being, I will always be British as well. I can’t imagine giving it up completely — it’s my history, man! And there are still things I do love about the old country. It’s an awfully pretty place, for one thing! It’s not England’s fault it’s being run into the ground by a bunch of idiots.

Mark Twain said:

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

Transferred loyalties

Oddly enough, I sometimes transfer my loyalties to wherever I call home, at least temporarily. It helps me to feel more involved with the local culture when I’m in a place, and I’m the kind of guy who’s more than happy celebrate whatever makes their country great as well.

In Thailand, for the King’s birthday, I kidnapped a gigantic yellow flag and fastened it to the back of my scooter. I saw nothing wrong with committing a minor offense to display my support for their monarch. And neither did the local police — they stopped me to applaud my efforts!

In Australia it goes without saying that I celebrate their national holiday, Australia Day. I do it for two reasons: first, I genuinely love Australia and all it stands for — it’s why I moved here as soon as I could! I really believe in their attitude to government, their national traits and their value system. Australia IS great, and it works. I think that’s quite rare in the world, and deserves recognition.

Oh and the second reason? Well, you celebrate Australia Day by going out in the sunshine, down to the river, and getting drunk. It’s not like it’s much of a hardship to get involved. 😉

But Britain is “great” — isn’t it?

Back to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I hear stirring speeches from celebrities and Royal Family members, and feel…I dunno. Uplifted? Triumphant? It’s hard not to feel a tickle of pride when the eyes of the whole world are on the monarch of my tiny island.

But is it rose-tinted glasses that make me tear just a little, as the cameras zoom in on the Queen smiling at a joke from the commentator? Am I just caught up in the fever of the moment? The rest of England is going crazy for this. It’s hard not to feel just a little infected by it. But what exactly is it that I’m feeling? Mere nostalgia? Fond memories and a touch of homesickness?

As already mentioned, there’s plenty of reason not to feel pride in the country of my birth. There’s also plenty going wrong in England at the moment. The wages are terrible, unemployment is rampant, the economy is in the dumps. In my humble opinion, the UK is falling apart.

But the Jubilee itself was quite stirring, inspiring even, a reminder of all that was Great about Britain, and perhaps could be again.

Then again, I can’t help but remember that the Ancient Romans had the same idea: when the masses are starving in the streets, give them GAMES! A spectacle to take their mind off the hunger, to remind them of what a glorious empire they belong to — give them a taste of grandeur whilst they’re dying in the gutters.

Okay, so that’s a pretty cynical view to take. Hey, I’m here to play the Devil’s Advocate too, right?

So here’s my question to you kind folks: does being displaced — or out of your “home” country for any reason — make you feel MORE or LESS patriotic? And why is that?

Tell me what you think in the comments, or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @TonyJamesSlater.

STAY TUNED for our next post, which will be on Monday.

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Image: MorgueFile

THE DISPLACED Q: On your travels, what’s the most memorable chance encounter that brought you closer to The Sweet Life?

Since the beginning of May, I’ve been posing weekly questions as a way of getting at how we travelers experience La Dolce Vita, or The Sweet Life.

Seeking truths by your own lights — that’s what’s known as the Socratic method!

But while my questions thus far have focused on the sensory delights that travel offers — heart-stopping sights, delightful sounds, intoxicating scents, delicate flavors — today’s question is a little different. I want to know about the people you’ve encountered by chance on your travels, who’ve opened your heart and mind to the possibility of living The Sweet Life.

I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve met quite a few individuals who have inspired me in one way or another. Perhaps it’s because I’m a big believer in fate; I’ve always thought that everything will play out according to plan, if I just let it.

Not that I sit around and do nothing. Rather, I try to do as much as I possibly can, in the hope that I’ll end up doing enough of the Right Things to shape my life to come. Some of those things will reveal their hidden meaning only years later, in hindsight…

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

— American cartoonist Allen Saunders, 1957 (later featured in a John Lennon song)

A couple of early mentors

I owe this philosophy in part to something that happened to me when I was still living in the UK, thinking I was going to become an actor. In order to help my sister, Gillian, integrate into university life, I took her to a kung-fu class. The teacher (or sifu) became more than just a friend to her, he became a spiritual mentor.

What Gill learned passed through to me, and eventually we both attended a personal development seminar that changed our whole worldview. I became more open and generous, rejecting the lessons I’d learned at acting school about clawing my way to the top over the bodies of those less fortunate. My epiphany led me to see that acting was an every-man-for-himself type industry — not exactly good for my soul.

So I gave it up. I went traveling instead. When volunteering in Ecuador, I met Toby, who also helped shape the course of my life. Toby was my boss at the Ecuadorian animal shelter; and, as I recount in my book, That Bear Ate My Pants!, he was confident and capable, at ease in his own skin — just the way I wanted to be.

Toby told me all about his adventures as a professional diver in Thailand, and I began to crave that life as though it was the answer to all my heart’s desires.

He also tricked me into getting my head shaved, the bugger.

A Sheila who suddenly showed up in my life

After three months in Ecuador, I suffered some pretty severe reverse culture shock when I got back to England. I got quite depressed, and wanted nothing more than to leave again. Well, it’s England — can you blame me? (No offense to those who are enjoying the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations while reading this…)

Around that same time, Gillian was traveling in the USA with a bunch of friends she’d met while working for Camp America. I decided to fly out and meet up with them, in the hope that a few more adventures would dispel my unhappiness.

By the time I got there, she only had two companions left, a young Kiwi-Aussie couple called Richie and Krista. We hung out together for a couple of weeks and had fun, and one by one they, and then the two of us, left for home.

Back in England again, I busied myself trying to recapture the combination of excitement and contentment I’d found in Ecuador, but to no avail. In the end I left for Thailand, following Toby’s advice, hoping that another stint of volunteering would sort my head out.

By pure chance, Gill had invited Krista to come and explore England with her; I flew out the same day she flew in, and we met briefly at the bus station. I said my good-byes and was gone. Though my original plan was to stay away for three months, I got kind of caught up in things and didn’t come back for over two years.

The two girls meanwhile, roamed around the UK until their money ran out, and Krista flew back to Australia. Gill promised to return the visit as soon as she could afford to.

In Thailand, I neither knew nor cared about such things! I was having a great time, diving for a living and partying every opportunity I got.

Toby would be proud, I thought.

Until one day I woke up broke. I’d lost a lot of money to fraud and then had what was left stolen from my bungalow. I realized I would never survive on my meager diving wages. My friends supported me for a while, but I knew I couldn’t ask this of them for long.

It was time to face facts; I was going to have to go home.

Hang on, there’s that Sheila again!

By this time, Gill was in Australia, exploring the country with Krista in a knackered van covered in multi-colored handprints. In a series of tearful emails to my sis, I poured my heart out — telling her how much I hated the idea of abandoning all my hopes and dreams and going home.

She wrote back with an offer from Krista: I could come over to Perth and stay with her family! Krista had even lined up an interview for me with a local job agency — I could hardly believe it! I still didn’t want to leave Thailand, but at least this way I could carry on traveling. (Krista and Gill also pointed out that there were plenty of spare seats in their van…)

I flew to Australia without the price of a cup of coffee. I didn’t even own enough clothing to fill a bag. The girls met me in the airport with their crumbling van (nicknamed Rusty!), and I immediately learned a few things about Krista:

  1. She was prettier than I remembered.
  2. She was now single.
  3. She was a whole lot of fun to be around!

Six years later, after many adventures together, Krista and I were married in the grounds of Taunton Castle, in Somerset in England. Her whole family flew out to join in the medieval-themed celebration, and not long after they flew back, we followed them, back to Perth, where we now live.

Of course, it was a LOT more complicated than that.

But as chance encounters go — and in terms of the ones that influence your life the most — well, that one, for me, takes the biscuit!

What about you? I want to know what chance encounters have affected you the most during your travels — leading to new experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise had. And did they ultimately take you closer to The Sweet Life, as in my case?

Spill the beans in the comments below. (You know you want to!)

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, a tribute to Queen Elizabeth for lasting 60 years on the throne, despite a period of displacedness.

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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Images from Tony James Slater’s personal collection: Touring the Grand Canyon with Krista (she is in the green tee shirt), her boyfriend and his sister, Gill; his reunion with Krista and Gill in Perth, Australia, some years later (Tony is driving Rusty); all of this leading to Tony and Krista’s medieval-themed wedding in the UK (this is their “hand fasting”).

Displaced Poll: Which one of these celebs should take a gap year, and where?

A couple of weeks ago, we interviewed Random Nomad Jeff Jung, a specialist in career break travel. For anyone who is considering taking time out of the cubicle — or even just daydreaming about taking a baseball bat to the printerhis site is a good place to start looking for inspiration.

But what about people who aren’t in a cubicle? What about those who already lead charmed lives that, frankly, turn the rest of us a delicate shade of pea-green?

Naturally, it depends who they are, and what they want out of a gap year.

Another career breaks website recommends you “think about what effect you want your career break to have on your career. Do you want to develop your teamwork ability, or leadership skills?” It lists ideas that will have a “positive professional impact”, such as volunteering in an orphanage, or participating” in a community development project teaching your professional skill to underprivileged people”.

The Princes William and Harry obviously took this advice to heart, and picked activities that would further their careers of following in their parents’ footsteps. Prince William volunteered in Chile with Raleigh International during his gap year, while Prince Harry worked on a cattle farm in Australia and with orphaned children in Lesotho. Similarly electing to follow her own parents’ chosen paths, their cousin Princess Eugenie furthered her career by sunbathing on the Goan Coast and slumming it in Mumbai’s five-star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

Nevertheless, I think we can agree that the purpose of a career break is to do something out of the ordinary.  Something that you would not otherwise do, and something that will further your professional life when you come back.

With that in mind, I have some individualized suggestions for various celebs, should they decide their present ways of life lack meaning.

Snooki: Star of Jersey Shore, and now a devoted mother-to-be. Once she has birthed Little Pumpkin, though, Snooki might find it hard to remember that she was once the bestselling author of three books. (That old saying about leaving half your brain cells in the maternity ward is unfortunately true.) So a stint  of being Writer-in-Residence at Princeton University might be just what the doctor ordered. What better way for Princeton to support the state of New Jersey than to select a successful home-grown author?

Russell Brand: A bit of an unknown on the west side of the Pond until he married singer Katy Perry, Brand is again single after he filed for divorce at Christmas. Once a hard-partying bachelor and self-confessed sex addict, Brand is said to have disapproved of his wife’s party animal lifestyle. For him, I suggest a stint in a monastery, or failing that, in an ironware factory painting the bases of pots and kettles with black paint.

The Kardashian clan: A complete retreat, for everyone’s mental wellbeing, far away from the reaches of paparazzi, TV, and Twitter. However, until the Virgin Galactic program becomes more adventurous and has destinations further afield — like Saturn or Alpha Centauri, for example — this will remain merely a pleasant fantasy.

Gwyneth Paltrow: No, I like Gwyneth, really. She was great in Shakespeare in Love. I just wish she’d stop pretending to be ordinary when she isn’t. Reading her blog on how to be a regular working mum is like reading a Google translation of a Martian website, she’s so much on another planet. Her credibility as Ordinary Mum would be greatly enhanced if she did something…well, ordinary. As she lives in England, where in summer every third vehicle is pulling a mobile dwelling, and her English husband’s parents made their fortune out of selling caravans, Gwyneth should raise her Ordinary profile by spending some time going back to hubby’s roots. Might I suggest a few weeks on a stationary camp site — this one near Clacton offers an 8-berth caravan from £171 per week, so plenty of room for hubby and two kids, plus a hair stylist if she’s desperate.

Take our poll here!

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THE DISPLACED Q: What’s the most delicate flavor you’ve sampled on your travels?

In a month where many of our posts have explored La Dolce Vita, I’ve been posing a series of questions to nomadic types on the sensory delights the wider world has to offer.

Week after week, we’ve seen that if there’s such a thing as a formula for The Sweet Life — La Dolce Vita — it lies in learning how to take pleasure in simple things.

And, bless my little cotton socks, I happen to be a very simple sort.

Confession: I’m a bit taste-bud challenged!

As this is our week for taste, I was tempted to make a rather tasteless joke — but then thought better of it. Instead I will quote from displaced Chinese writer Lin Yutang, author of The Importance of Living (aptly titled, given our theme):

What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?

As much as I love travel, I’m one of those who finds it challenging to sample new tastes. It does not help matters that people seem to detect this about me right away and like to take the mickey by tricking me into trying new things.

The worst instance of that was in an Egyptian bazaar. One of the vendors encouraged me to taste the bright blue powder that was piled up enticingly in bowls identical to the cumin and crushed garlic you see on every spice stall in virtually every Middle Eastern bazaar. He pantomimed that I should wet the tip of my finger and dip it in for a sample…then chortled like mad as my face screwed up and my tongue shot out in disgust. It tasted like soap! Indeed, it was soap — laundry detergent, to be precise, which they sell by weight.  (Well, you’ve got to get your kicks from something! Actually, I think if I had to work all day long in a spice stall, I’d be playing tricks on tourists, too.)

Nothing like a Big Mac fix…

And now let us turn to the words of another wise man, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates:

The best seasoning for food is hunger.

For me this is borne out every time I hit the supermarket whilst hungry. Everything on the shelves sounds so delicious…far more so than when I discover it weeks later mouldering in the back of my cupboard, wondering why on earth I bought it.

It’s taught me never to go shopping on an empty stomach — a luxury that, for millions of people around the world, isn’t an option…

But back to Socrates. Hunger can certainly make anything taste better. After one particularly long (two-month) hike in Australia, where I lived almost exclusively on instant noodles, two-minute pasta packets, bread and water (and okay, a fair bit of chocolate!), I craved nothing so much as the rich, additive-laden satisfaction of a Big Mac. Even my wife agreed! The moment we reached Albany, Western Australia, the town the end of the trail, we didn’t even stop to rest our feet — just hiked straight through into McDonalds, and ordered about a thousand calories of heart-attack in a paper bag for each of us.

You know something? That burger tasted better than anything has ever tasted in any restaurant anywhere, ever. I mean it! I only wish I could have eaten more, but after a thousand kilometers on fairly limited rations, neither of us could finish more than half the meal. (For which I’m sure our arteries are still thanking us!)

…or a simple Thai stir-fry

In Thailand I was always at my hungriest after a full day’s diving. Diving seems like such a relaxing sport, but leading two dives a day gave me the most voracious appetite I’d ever known. I’d blast through the jungle on my little blue scooter with just one thought in mind: get to the market NOW!

Though I’d acquired a taste for quite spicy food, I always made a beeline for the same stall: a friendly old bloke with a wok and burner fastened to the sidecar of his motorbike. He served up thinly-sliced chicken on fried rice, with a small bowl of flavored water that I thought must be soup or tea, but was never quite sure which.

Whatever.

His stir-fries were plain, fresh, and SO delicious — I almost always went back for another serving! After I’d been going there for a couple of weeks, I didn’t even have to ask; the stall holder had a second portion ready for me as soon as I’d finished the first! I dread to think what happened to his takings when I left.

But the most delicate flavor of them all…

But there was something even more simple that attracted my taste buds while I was living in Thailand — so simple that it didn’t even involve cooking! I refer to the fruit salad I used to have for breakfast (on the rare mornings when I wasn’t diving) at the Thai resort where I lived. The resort owner, who was also the chef, was one of those people who whip up anything, and it was all fantastic. Pad Thai with crushed peanuts, various other noodle dishes, and deep-fried dumpling what-nots even the Thais can’t describe — so call them “no-names”!

But this woman’s fruit salad outdid them all — even though I had no idea what most of the fruits were! You can honestly taste the difference when you’re eating something that’s been picked less than fifty meters away. That fruit was so juicy, moist and colorful, it’s ruined me for fruit from anywhere else!

It just doesn’t taste the same when it comes from a supermarket down the road. Or maybe it did, before it was flash-frozen for transport and crossed an ocean or two.

It’s nothing to do with my carbon-footprint conscience, or a decision to support local industries. It Just Tastes Better.

Does that make me a snob?

It certainly makes me borderline malnourished.

Because I don’t get my 5 A Day. Not regularly. I just wait until my next trip to Thailand, where I try and eat my year’s supply of fresh fruit in two weeks.

As for what that does to my system…well, it’s not exactly delicate!

So tell me: what is the most delicate (or delicious) flavor(s) you’ve encountered on your travels? You can tell me in the comments, or jump on Twitter and drop a line to me @TonyJamesSlater +/or @DisplacedNation. And if you happen to have a mouthwatering photo to accompany your story, be sure to send it to me at tony@thedisplacednation.com. I’m working on the promised “la dolce vita” slideshow! 🙂

Bon appétit!

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, an entertaining poll asking you to vote on which celebrities are most in need of a mid-life gap year! (Something fun for the holiday weekend…)

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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I

THE DISPLACED Q: What’s the most intoxicating scent you’ve encountered on your travels?

It’s Friday here at the Displaced Nation — La Dolce Vita time!

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a series of posts in aid of living the sweet life — even if you’re feeling displaced! The key, of course, lies in cultivating an approach to travel involving the five senses.

We began with the eyes and the ears, and we’re now moving on to the nose. Have you ever had the experience of catching a whiff of something and instantly being transported back to a specific moment in time — to a memory so sharp and clear you can picture it exactly? And then it’s gone, almost as quickly, as the smell wafts away and your other senses take over again, feeding the real world back into the loop…

Smell is the oldest sense, it touches the most emotional part of the brain.

– Roja Dove, the world’s sole Professeur de Parfums

Smell, like taste, is tied very closely to memory. Actually smell and taste are almost the same sense, but we won’t get into that right now — largely because we’d be talking about how in order to smell something, you have to get tiny particles of it up your nose. And that particular conversation rarely ends well…

Because smells create such strong associations with individual memories, your ideas and my ideas of an intoxicating smell are probably rather different.

Ah, the smell of…Thai petrol?!

For example, everyone loves the smell of freshly mown grass; but how many of you like the smell of petrol (gasoline, for those of you across the pond)?

I love it. I associate it with long, busy days in Thailand, running errands for the animal clinic where I was volunteering, driving around looking for stray dogs in need of vaccinating — on my tiny little Yamaha motor scooter.

I could always smell the petrol when filling up the scooter tank — because most of the gas stations had only one barrel of the stuff, with a hand-pump and a rubber hose just long enough to reach your tank.

So that smell always brings back happy memories…even though it’s not widely considered a delicate fragrance!

The most noxious of odors — bread?!

Here’s another odd one. I’ll say it slow, in case anyone is likely to faint from pure, unadulterated, lust: Freshly. Baked. Bread.

Mmmmmm! Right?

Wrong. For me, anyway! To afford my trip to Thailand (and Fiji), I had a job working shifts in a bread factory in Australia, where that gorgeous smell permeated the whole building 24 hours a day. Perhaps because I was the only guy, and therefore resilient (or expendable?), I got to be in charge of the enormous, stainless-steel walk-in ovens. I put the bread trolleys in and, twenty minutes later, took them out again. It’s a process that has to be done quickly, or else the oven loses too much heat — but the trolleys themselves get rather warm in the process, and of the four of them, two had broken wheels.

You know how hard it is to steer a supermarket shopping trolley with a jammed wheel, right? Now imagine trying to do it fast — very fast — with a trolley approaching 200 degrees Celsius…and for 12 hours straight. Even my burns had burns.

I survived a whole two weeks in that job, and then as soon as my paycheck hit the bank, I fled straight to Bali to spend it!

To this day I can’t smell baking bread without thinking that pain — the kind that accompanies searing, scorching flesh — is about to follow…

Another smell to avoid: live jaguar!

Now I’ll tell you something you don’t ever want to smell: anywhere a jaguar is living! When a jaguar is confined in, say, a remote mountain-top rescue centre in Ecuador (such as the one I worked in and on which my book is based), you have to clean the enclosure out pretty regularly. Now what goes into a jaguar — especially when you’re doing this on behalf of a nonprofit that’s operating on a shoe-string budget — isn’t particularly wholesome.

To begin with, the jaguar’s body odor isn’t noted for its appeal, unless perhaps you’re another jaguar. And of course they scent-mark everything.

But what comes out of them? Bearing in mind they are pure carnivores, living exclusively (in captivity) on carrion. It’s not…I mean, it’s just…. Look. Just don’t ever go there. Trust me on this!

And now for some winners!

Okay, back to the good. Toward the top of my list of intoxicating smells is that of the traditional Australian Sausage Sizzle. Usually held as a fund-raiser for some charity or other, they never fail to rake in the dough because the smell — of frying meat and frying onions — is utterly delicious, utterly irresistible, and carries for miles.

Now that I’m living as an expat in Perth, I get to experience this smell on a regular basis, as there’s a Sausage Sizzle held directly opposite the entrance to my gym every Saturday morning.

The moment I finish my hard-core workout, I come outside and walk full-tilt into that heavenly smell…at just the point when my body is starting to crave sustenance.

It’s almost as though those cooks are waging a personal crusade against my willpower. And my waistline.

And you know what? They win every bloomin’ time.

But my absolute favorite? I’ve got to tell you mine, right? Then you can tell me yours… It’s food again (of course!): the aroma of fresh donuts!

This dense, cakey scent takes me right back to one small stand in Morecambe Bay, in the north of England, where I went on holiday as a child. Yes, to one of my very earliest trips with my parents. I loved that I could get three donuts for £1! And, if I ate them quickly enough, I could pretend as thought I’d never had them, and convince my parents to give me another pound to buy three more! Ah, happy days indeed.

So there you have it. Now it’s your turn to describe the most delicious smells you’ve encountered on your travels — meadows, Himalayan incense, sunlight on rainbows…? Tell us in the comments! And if you happen to have a photo to illustrate this intoxicating scent, send it to me at tony@thedisplacednation.com. Yes, I may make that “la dolce vita” slideshow I’ve been promising before too long…

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, when expat Anthony Windram recalls some chance encounters with “locals” that have enhanced his sense of the bittersweetness of life in his adopted home.

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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Images: photos of the gas pump and the jaguar are from Tony James Slater’s personal collection.

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