The Displaced Nation

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THE DISPLACED Q: What’s the most delightful sound you’ve heard on your travels?

Have you ever just stopped and listened — really listened, I mean? Yes, of course you have! Because you’re Displaced Nation readers, which automatically means you’re closely in touch with all five senses. After all, that’s what travel is all about!

But just in case those ears of yours have been missing some vital input — of the kind that would help you to appreciate life’s sweetness — let’s do an exercise in aural comprehension and memory.

Yes, it’s time to pay some attention to those great big flappy things on the sides of your head — you know, the ones that help cartoon elephants to fly? Yes, friends (Romans and countrymen), I’m asking you to lend me your ears. Don’t worry — I’ll give them back. And, by the time I do, you will understand why there’s a photo of wet grapes on this page!

Today, in the service of living a fuller Dolce Vita, our question is: What is the dreamiest, most beautiful sound you’ve heard in the course of your travels?

Beauty in serendipity

Now, because La Dolce Vita is all about finding beauty in unexpected things, I won’t wax lyrical about waves lapping on foreign shores, morning birdsong in uninhabited fields, or other somewhat clichéd ideas of a “dreamy sounds.”

True, it was incredibly sweet to hear my girlfriend say “yes” when I asked her to marry me; I’m sure the same is true for everyone who’s been through this stage in their life. In fact, I hardly heard her at all because she was crying so much. (I was crying too as it happens, but that was because I was kneeling in an ants’ nest at the time and Australian ants really hurt when they bite! Damn them!)

Now, I’m the sort of person who takes great delight in discovering life’s hidden treasures in the moments you’d least expect them. And I take even greater delight in pointing them out to everyone else, which apparently is one of the most annoying qualities a person can have. Especially if you’re having a bad day.

So, what’s the most delightful sound you’ve heard recently? Is it some gentle-voiced stranger, mentioning how bright and sunny the day is, even though the train is making you horribly late for work? Or is it the sound of someone telling that well-spring of positivity to shut the f@&8 up and p*$$ off?!

I apologize in advance for being that guy. I should try to keep my happy-happy joy-joy observations to myself more often!

But in terms of the most wondrous sounds I have come across, I’ve decided not to opt for the obvious — the soft harp music at my wedding in England; the sound my footstep makes in deep, fresh snow at 10,000 feet; or the poignant jingling of a Spanish music box, dearly remembered from my childhood, which I inherited from my granddad when he passed last month.

Instead I’ll go for the unexpected: the sound of rain on my tent.

Raindrops are falling on my tent!

After three months of living under canvas, doing agricultural work in the hope of extending my Australian Working Holiday visa, hearing that particular sound would fill my entire being with joy. Why did it have such an effect on me, you may ask? Was I looking forward to soggy clothes on the washing line or to a cold, wet sprint to the block of toilets? No, even a cheerful person like me isn’t that much of a glutton for punishment.

For me, the sound of raindrops simply meant…FREEDOM!

Because as any budding grape-picker knows, you can’t pick ’em when they’re wet — so any downpour of sufficient strength to wake me meant a day off work, for sure! No hours of bending over in the scorching summer sun; no cuts and prickles of delicate fingertips; no hauling of endless buckets, boredom, drudgery and indelible purple juice on everything. (Trust me, there are parts of you that just shouldn’t be purple — ever.)

Most of all it meant 6:00 a.m. was not the time to be wriggling out of bed, out of a nice warm sleeping bag into the miserable grey dawn — and into a set of filthy work clothes. No! 6:00 a.m., when the rain fell, rattling the flysheet and threatening to overwhelm its scant moisture resistance, meant only one thing: time to go back to sleep.

For me, that hard, driving rain was the world’s most blissful lullaby!

So there you have it. No magnificent concertos, no first cries of your first-born baby — even though no one will dispute the loveliness of those sounds.

My challenge to you today is to think of a sound that holds an interesting story about your travels abroad. What’s a sound that struck you as the dreamiest and most beautiful, but that’s unique to your own wanderings?

Let me know in the comments! And if you have a photo that accompanies that sound, send it to me at As mentioned in last week’s post, I hope to be staging a “la dolce vita slideshow” before too long!

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post — a contrarian view of La Dolce Vita by none other than Anthony Windram!

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THE DISPLACED Q: What’s the most heart-stopping view you’ve seen on your travels?

It was the perfect day. The weather was incredible. We’d looked beyond the ski area boundary signs before, of course, but this — the crystal clear visibility — meant we could see for hundreds of miles.

From this high up — the very pinnacle of Mount Hutt, in the New Zealand Alps — we could actually see the curvature of the earth. And it looked like the snow-wrapped mountains extended the whole way there.

The photo at right can’t come close to doing the view justice — especially as some idiot couldn’t resist parking himself in the frame! (Sorry, folks!)

Every time I look at this picture I well up, not because it’s good but because the memory — of unspoilt nature at its most breathtaking — is so special. I was living what The Displaced Nation likes to call la dolce vita.

Today and for the remainder of the month, I’ll be urging you to live la dolce vita as well, by conjuring up the sensory aspects of travel.

This week, I’m talking up the need to train your eyes to see the beauty all around you when you travel. In my case, in fact, this requirement of la dolce vita comes rather naturally. I see beauty everywhere I go — in nature, in ancient structures, even in the occasional female of the species(!). In 1878, the Irish writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford coined the following phrase in her novel Molly Bawm:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One of the meanings I take from it is that you see what you look for; so, look for beauty and you’ll find it almost everywhere. (The reverse, of course, is also true.)

But that’s just my tin-pot philosophy, and this week we’re asking you to come up with the most heart-stopping view from your travels. Now that narrows it down considerably, because for me a “view” means a landscape — and I find there are elements a landscape has to have for me to really put it up on that pedestal:

1) It has to be isolated. Maybe that’s just me, but I love the wilderness, that connection to nature, that feeling that this view may not have changed for a thousand years or more.

2) It has it be high-up. I love to be high (no double entendre intended!). A bit of altitude can reveal the magnificence of even a tortured landscape. How peaceful does the Earth look from space, eh?

3) It has to be dramatic. What separates one pretty landscape from another? In my humble opinion, there needs to be some drama, something visually astounding: the scale of the place; the way color dominates it; the patterns of light and dark; the capture of elemental forces at work… Drama is in most places if you look for it.

I very rarely take pictures — which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to a life of writing and blogging. I’d been in Thailand for six months and taken only one photo when my parents (in despair!) sent me a camera for Christmas. It was great! I gave it to a friend.

Luckily, I am now married to one of the afore-mentioned beautiful women — and the pictures I don’t take, she makes up for in spades. Seriously. She has been known to take over a hundred pictures just to ensure having one good one (but she keeps them all). She takes photos of flowers! Of swans! Of cows! And of yours truly! Thank goodness — otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to share with you the above alpine view, except with words.

So, please — tell us about your favorite views! Where is the most beautiful, jaw-dropping place you’ve seen with your own two eyes? I’d especially love to know, as I plan on visiting a few of them :0)

Please tell all in the comments! In addition, I urge you to send me a photo of that view: With the help of my better half, I may be staging a “la dolce vita slideshow” before long!

STAY TUNED…for Monday when The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue Wallace, will be addressing cross-cultural quandaries and travel-related confusion.

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Img: Tony James Slater in the New Zealand Alps, taken at the top of Mount Hutt (December 2009).

THE DISPLACED Q: What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?

So here’s today’s Displaced Question: “What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?”

Now, when two or more cultures collide you’re bound to get some strange combinations. Nowhere is this more apparent than at gatherings or celebrations, especially if they’re traditionally part of one culture as opposed to the others… and boy can they lead to friction! It’s that old traveller’s saw; do you eat all the food because it’s delicious, or do you leave some to show they served you enough?

I’ve drunk kava in Fiji in a very uncomfortable situation – invited by a  worker at our resort, we met the Chief to hear his legendary tales of the arrival of White Man. Of course, he can’t talk to us – he has to tell his right-hand man, who can then lean over and tell us. Or rather – he can tell me. Not the two women who are with me – not even the second-in-command can stoop low enough to talk to a woman whilst drinking kava!

And let’s not even get started on the two French girls that were also invited by the same worker. They were on a bit of a party holiday, and neither of them seemed to have brought anything less revealing than hot pants and bikinis… Yes, that was a tense evening. I wouldn’t have minded, if I’d been drunk – but kava, a rather bitter brown liquid, pounded (in a sock!) from roots, has only a mildly narcotic effect. So mild, I was painfully aware of every awkward glance – and the intense silence – which dominated that gathering. I’ve never wished so hard for a bottle of vodka in my life!

Perhaps stranger though, was a ceremony I got invited to by a Native American man, whilst checking out the artefacts in his store in Sedona, Arizona. He described it as a mass, much like I would have attended during my Christian upbringing. I was intrigued, and couldn’t really pass up the chance, so I went along on Sunday morning to a small room above his shop. There, the proprietor led us in chants and prayers offered up to Allah, Shiva, Buddha, The Earth Goddess, Jesus, Mary and the Spirits of the Dreamtime – all simultaneously! The small crowd, people from all walks of life, all colours and clearly all creeds, all seemed delighted with the equality shown to the reigning deities. If only the rest of the world could be like this, I thought!

And whilst I’m on the topic of Native American celebrations, I once took part in a ‘sweat lodge’. This is an awesome shamanic tradition, involving the building of a special domed hut of logs and sticks – kind of like an igloo. It’s then covered over with mud to fill in all the gaps. A fire pit is dug in the centre and lit, and all the participants – enough to completely fill the structure – squeeze in… naked.

Yup – I said it! Naked you go in, and the drumming and chanting begins… it’s like a sauna in there, incredibly hot and sweaty, with the chanting and the previously consumed herbal tea helping to turn your ears into wings! It was an incredible experience. Slightly odd, in that it was the only time I’ve sat naked next to my Mum and my sister – but the reality of the ceremony was so far beyond that, beyond such earthly concepts as clothing and embarrassment. It was… well, spiritual. I felt so pure, so cleansed, so in touch with the divine. If I ever get the chance again, I will go for it without reservation. But probably not with my family present  :0)

SO! The time has come for you all to spill the beans – what is the strangest experience you’ve had with a celebration of some kind? Where have the cultural boundaries blurred unexpectedly – or come sharply into focus? It’s a weird, weird world out there – what have YOU seen? Tell us in the comments!


STAY TUNED…for tomorrow’s post, where we introduce the new theme for May: La Dolce Vita!

Image: Tony drinking Kava in Fiji, 2009

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THE DISPLACED Q: What’s your most memorable birthday abroad?

Hi everyone!

Now, since it’s our one-year birthday here at the Displaced Nation — okay, let’s hear some crazy party horns <|8-P~ <|8-P~ — I thought I’d ask you about your most memorable birthday experiences whilst traveling. Crazy drunken escapades? Chance meetings with exotic strangers?

Everyone has a tale inside them, so it’s said.

Here’s mine… 🙂

It is better to wear out than to rust out.
Bishop Richard Cumberland

It was cold. Chillingly, bone-achingly cold — and wet. Rain drenched the outside of me, remorselessly overpowering every chink in my defenses. Neckline, accidentally exposed cuffs — all were soaking wet in spite of my otherwise impenetrable Gore-Tex-clad outline.

My fingers and toes were freezing. My feet were blistered. The bag on my back was so heavy I could barely breathe beneath its crushing weight, and the effort of carrying it was causing me to sweat profusely. It was very nearly as moist inside my clothes as it was outside them.

It was my birthday, and I was utterly, utterly miserable.

Now, spending a birthday hiking through the vast Australian wilderness can sound like a dream to some — whereas other people, more sensible than I, might think of it as more of a nightmare.

I was torn between the two. On the one hand, I was out there, achieving something awesome with the people I loved most in the world — my girlfriend and my sister. On the other hand…well, did I mention the rain?

It hadn’t stopped for two weeks straight.

So far the three of us had hiked over 150 miles in it, and to be honest my enthusiasm was getting a little damp.

I remember wondering what kind of idiot hikes nearly twenty miles in the filthiest weather known to man, with his only goal being to reach a three-sided wooden shelter where he could collapse exhausted? I would then go to sleep — on a bed made of planks — only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again!

Apparently, I am just that kind of idiot.

But extremes of hardship give you more than a feeling of triumph just for surviving; they also make you appreciate the little things.

On that particular evening, as I stripped off my sopping trousers and unrolled my sleeping bag, I had all but forgotten about my birthday. Back home I might have hoped for a novel the size of a house-brick or some awesome piece of electronic gadgetry; here, with no power, the light failing rapidly and a rucksack already verging on the spine-snapping, all I wanted was sleep.

But my girlfriend, Roo, was determined to celebrate. And she was nothing if not resourceful. It had been three days since we’d seen another human soul (unless you count my sister; I usually don’t) — yet somehow Roo had acquired and carefully preserved my present until now.

She unveiled it with a flourish: a marshmallow!

Unbeknownst to me, she’d carried it all the way from home unsquashed, in some hidden corner of her bag. In the top she stuck a tiny candle which she must have begged off the last group of hikers we met. The plan had been to use a match in lieu of a candle, she said, until by pure chance she’d met an old lady who’d been carrying this. Amazing!

I blew it out and made a wish. Actually I made two. “Please, God,” I thought, “let me be in a better place this time next year. Or, ideally, tomorrow morning. And more than anything, tonight, let me sleep…”

The marshmallow I would save for breakfast.

I slept remarkably well that night.

In the morning I woke up in the same place — but the sun was shining, a phenomenon I’d started to think I’d never see again! I stood outside in my underwear and luxuriated in the warmth, safe in the knowledge that no one would see me. Something was going right for a change, and that by itself was a minor miracle.

A pity the same couldn’t be said for my marshmallow.

I’d placed it next to my tiny travel pillow as I slept; mere inches from my nostrils (which were the only part of me that dared protrude from the sleeping bag).

Now, the bright sunlight revealed the damage; my marshmallow was half eaten, having been thoroughly enjoyed in the middle of the night by some kind of rodent. I could only be grateful that the tip of my nose hadn’t shared the same fate.

Did I eat the rest of it though? That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it?

Well, you know what? There are some things better left unsaid…

“I’ll do better next year,” Roo promised as we shouldered our rucksacks for the hike ahead.

“Ipad?” I asked.

“Hm. We’ll work up to that. Next year you can have two marshmallows…”

I’ve had birthdays on four different continents, but this one has always stood out for me. So what I’d like to know from you kind folks is this:

What is YOUR most memorable birthday abroad?

Tell me about ’em in the comments!

I’m looking forward to reading… <l:0

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, a virtual celebration with all of our Random Nomads of the past year!

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THE DISPLACED Q: What fashion souvenirs find their way into your rucksack? (Or: Fashion for the Illiterati)

So one of this month’s themes is… Fashion!

I don’t know much about fashion – at all in fact! That’s one of the main reasons I emigrated to Australia, where there are exactly two options for guys; shorts and a vest top,  or a sleeveless t-shirt and ‘boardies’. (And yes, for those of you who don’t get the lingo – those are the same outfit.

However, I do travel with clothes – even if I don’t get to wear very many of them. I’ve got a few key ‘essentials’ that I never leave home without. Not because America’s Next Top Model instructed me to always have them with me in case of an emergency photo shoot (though this does factor heavily in my decision about what make-up to carry), but for one particular reason: they are my souvenirs.

Souvenirs should be useful…

Some people collect magnets. My sister had a thing for sew-on patches once; she bought one in every city and tourist attraction she visited. She filled two bed sheets with the things. The only problem, from my perspective, was this: I travel more or less constantly. While it would be great to tuck myself into bed each night with all the mementos of my travels, it just isn’t practical to carry something like that around. The same  goes for magnets – much as I wish my rucksack was a fridge (and ideally was well stocked with bottles of crisp English cider), it isn’t. I’ve never even owned a fridge. (That was my call for sympathy! What, no takers? Ah well.)

What I mean is, if you want to carry your souvenirs with you as you travel, they really have to earn their place in your rucksack. This is why I chose clothing as the ideal collectible! It’s useful – well, perhaps the grass skirts from Bali have fairly limited potential, but the rest is pretty handy; it’s light; and I’d have to have a bag full of clothes with me anyway. Might as well give them some significance.

…and tell a story

So whenever I go out I can usually tell a fistful of travel stories based solely on what I’m wearing. Jeans from Thailand – cost less than a loaf of bread in Australia, but as I’m a bit bigger than the average Thai, they’re tight in some… interesting places.

I have a technical t-shirt, one of those expensive trekking type ones – only this one is covered in sponsor’s logos. I was given it as a thank-you by the organisers of the very first ‘Rat Race’ – an adventure race in England, where teams of contestants run, canoe, bike, climb and problem solve their way around a major UK city each year. I didn’t compete in the Rat Race, because I have no friends. (Ahhhh…! No?) But I DID dress up in a giant fur rat suit – and roller-skates – and skated around Bristol city centre for a week, trying to draw attention to the race. Oh, and I did a bungee jump in the same outfit (but that was an accident and was entirely due to the cavernous size of my mouth). I LOVE that t-shirt – I wear to the gym at least once a week, and every time I put it on I remember that bungee jump. Even the memory of it loosens my bowels.

…and keep you toasty in Australian summers

I have a fleece jacket I ‘forgot’ to return after finishing my contract as a ski lift operator in New Zealand – while I was working there I wore four complete layers, and this was one of the middle ones. It is so warm that at any altitude less than a thousand meters I can only wear it for a few minutes, before I start to leak profusely from every part of my body. I have it with me now, but it doesn’t come out of the bag much – it’s 39 degrees centigrade here in Perth at the moment – that’s 102 F!

…and repel killer insects.

I also have a bright red Gore-Tex jacket which I got in England – no, wait! There’s a story, I promise! See, I bought one similar just before setting off on my first Grand Voyage Around The World™. You know – the one where I only got as far as France.  The jacket had been a birthday present, but I’d never needed it to repel water – just insects. One fine afternoon, hiking without direction or purpose, I sat on a strange wooden structure to take a rest.

Now, in hindsight, any strange wooden structure in the middle of a field is bound to be a beehive – but I was young and… stupid. Okay, stupider.

The bees swarmed to the attack and I fled across the field – to safety, I thought. One tenacious little devil wasn’t giving up though. He dived at me as I tried to climb the stone boundary wall. For the first time in my life I was faster than something – I lashed out with the Gore-tex jacket, catching the bee mid-air and dashing him against the wall. Two things died in that moment; my insect assailant, and my jacket. The zipper hit the stone wall squarely and disintegrated, leaving me with a 100% waterproof jacket that was impossible to fasten. Which meant that when the inevitable downpour came a day later, I got soaked in a wide stripe from neck to navel. I gave up and went home soon afterwards; not because of the jacket, but because I was terrified of being locked in a prune furnace and roasted alive by my boss, a plum farmer in Bordeaux (long story).

I put in an insurance claim for the jacket, saying it had been damaged in transit, then I returned it to the shop as defective. Between the store credit and the insurance pay-out I was able to buy a much better jacket – and I carry it with me to this day. In the last ten years I have never once tried to use it to kill anything – I’ve learnt my Karmic lesson!

What’s your traveling fashion story?

So, this is where I open the floor to you lovely people!
Have you got a favourite bit of clothing you travel with?
A special shirt you can’t leave home without?
Or a bit of gear with a story behind it…? Share, please, we’d love to hear about it!
You know the drill – do it in the comments  :0)

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Img: Traditional Australian dress, as modeled by Tony James Slater

THE DISPLACED Q: Does love conquer all — even language barriers?

Last week Tony James Slater, the newest addition to the TDN team, reported on his success with finding love abroad. But it wasn’t always that easy for him. He may be an incurable adventureholic, but when Cupid’s arrow led to a romance with a woman who didn’t speak English, even he had to wonder if there were limits…

Here’s the scenario:

You’re minding your own business in a friendly sort of bar, enjoying the heady mix of cultures as foreigners — a mix of holiday-makers, transients and expats — rub shoulders with the locals.

Suddenly you see him — or her — across the crowded room. This gorgeous individual is staring right at you, smiling seductively. You make contact with those smoldering eyes…and that’s where it ends.

Because she doesn’t speak your language, and you speak none of hers.

So really, what are you going to say to her?

Can romance transcend the language barrier?

It’s a tricky one.

No lo entiendo, mi amor

I have a little experience in this area; once upon a time, when I doing a three-month stint of volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, I fell madly in lust with a gorgeous Latino woman.

Of course she didn’t speak English — there was no one who could for miles in any direction. I spoke no Spanish, because until that moment there had never seemed enough reasons to learn it.

I was captivated by her — she was the kind of exotic beauty you read about in well, the kind of books that I don’t read. Ahem.

So what do you do?

Two obvious tactics spring to mind.

The first is what I did: get horribly drunk and throw yourself at the poor woman, in the hope that you’ll never remember the embarrassment in the morning, if she laughs in your face.

As it happens, this tactic worked — but it should be noted that this is the first time ever, in the history of mankind, that this has been the case. As a rule, I cannot endorse extreme inebriation as a successful method of flirtation; truly, this must have been Cupid himself in action.

The second tactic is to get a friend who does speak both languages to make some kind of introduction. This can help you get over that incredibly awkward initial stage when neither of you is really sure if the other is genuinely interested.

This is the tactic I should have used, as I had a perfectly good friend with the requisite language skills. Of course by the time I’d thought of that, I was already too drunk to pronounce even English words. It was quite a way down the road when I finally got to communicate in words with my new lover, through an interpreter.

At that point, it was great to have it confirmed that she felt the same way about me as I felt about her!

It was slightly less great to discover that she was already married and had two children. But then, that’s the chance you take when you practice tactic no.1.

Thankfully, she was separated from her husband — although as our relationship progressed, I did hear some disturbing rumors that her husband was looking for me…with a machete. I fervently hoped that was just my boss trying to wind me up. (If it was, he succeeded!)

Pidgin Spanish and pantomime…are there limits?

Although she was beautiful, the thought of meeting her again terrified me anew each time. I felt like such an idiot, struggling to express myself in pidgin Spanish and pantomime. I lived in fear of those awkward moments, when neither of us could make the other understand some fundamental issue.

That said, it definitely motivated me to learn Spanish! After every date I’d come back fired up with the desire to study. I never did any studying, of course — my day job (mucking out animal cages) kept me way too busy for that — but the desire was there. The desire, in fact, had never been a problem!

But how far can a relationship really go, when you don’t even have a language in common? Think how close you can get to someone in a long-term relationship; a connection bordering on the psychic, where you’re almost reading each other’s minds — it just doesn’t work when you’re constantly guessing at what the other person is saying.

The Austrian-British language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once remarked:

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

If he is right, then isn’t the lack of a shared language the very essence of incompatibility?

Relationship experts the world over agree that couples must work hard to bridge communication gaps. Well, when the gaps of linguistic understanding are wide enough to fly a 747 through — and it can feel like a long-distance relationship even when you’re standing next to each other — bridge-building can be something of a challenge.

My Ecuadorian love and I were together three months, after which I left to fly back home. Ironically, we’d each learned just enough of each other’s languages to really get to know each other’s thoughts, hopes, fears and frustrations — the day before my flight to England.

I’d like to open it up to the floor at this point!

Has anyone got any experience of this that they wouldn’t mind sharing? Or an opinion, on whether or not it’s possible?

Can love really conquer all — including that ultimate bad guy of cross-cultural barriers, linguistics?

What do you think?

I’d love to know!

TONY JAMES SLATER is a self-confessed adventureholic. For the last six years he’s been traveling nonstop around the world, working at a variety of jobs including yacht deliverer in the Mediterranean, professional diver in Thailand and snow boarder in New Zealand. Last year, Slater published his first book, That Bear Ate My Pants!, an account of his misadventures while volunteering at the animal refuge in Ecuador. (The book was featured in The Displaced Nation’s list of 2011 expat books.) He is currently working on a second book set in Thailand, while exploring his new home in Perth, Australia.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, a review of Matt Krause’s memoir recounting how he met a woman on a plane — and followed her all the way to Turkey! NOTE: Subscribers to our weekly DISPLACED DISPATCH are eligible to win a free, autographed copy!

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THE DISPLACED Q: Where did you meet your honey abroad?

It can be hard to make new friends abroad — let alone find a significant other. Thus it’s always inspiring to hear from nomads who’ve found that special someone hiding under a shamrock drinking green beer, or in other such fanciful locales. One such lucky fellow is Tony James Slater, the newest addition to the TDN team. Here is his story — can’t wait to hear yours!

There’s always a great story behind a travel romance, I find, often running the full gamut of emotions, from anguish to bliss. From experiencing a breathless holiday whirlwind romance to finding a soul mate in a distant land, nothing beats a tale of love — true and requited, tragically unrequited or trapped agonizingly somewhere in between.

And today I would very much like to hear yours!

Because our February theme is LOVE — and because it’s rapidly approaching That Day, when you should have bought something a bit special for your other half — I would like to invite EVERYONE to share their tale of passion and/or romance abroad!

Now, I can’t ask you folks to do something I wouldn’t do myself — so here’s an interesting tale of my own…

Once upon a time, in a faraway land…

I first met my wife in America. I know, right? Fascinating! But wait, I’m English — and the young lady in question, Krista, is from Australia, as evidenced by her nickname: Roo.

Roo had been working for Camp America, which supports summer work adventures in the United States. She was teaching kids how to ride horses at a summer school in Maine. And, as fate would have it, that was where she met…my sister!

My sis, whose name is Gillian, was doing Camp America at the same time, and was the only other staff member who wasn’t scared of horses!

Roo and Gill got to know each other quite well — so much so that the pair of them went traveling around the US after the job finished, which is where they met…Richie! An awesome, Kung-Fu kicking dude, muscle-bound and handsome, Roo fell for him immediately and the two became an item.

Which could have turned out rather differently for me, except this unexpected romance kept the couple in America for much longer than expected. You see, at the time some of this was happening, I was in Ecuador volunteering at an animal shelter. On my way home to the UK, I called in to the States to visit my sister, when I also met Roo and Richie. We traveled together for a couple of weeks and had a lot of fun.

Then Richie left, Roo left, and I followed my sister back to the UK, where, as explained in a previous post, I grew bored and dissatisfied with my hollow, consumer-led lifestyle.

(In other words, I was broke.)

Twists and turns worthy of Shakespearean comedy

So Gill remained close friends with Roo, inviting her over to England the following summer. She arrived just in time to be part of my farewell party — I’d finally scraped together enough cash to go to Thailand, where I planned to volunteer at an animal clinic and learn to dive. I would be gone for three months — exactly the same length of time that Roo would be in England.

Which was a pity, as she’s recently broken up with Richie and I rather liked her.

Gill and Roo explored every corner of my native country together, and Roo went back to Australia having elicited a promise from my sister that she would travel to Oz as soon as she could afford it.

I, meanwhile, had missed my flight home. It was accidentally on purpose — my subconscious clearly didn’t want me to leave Thailand just then. My regular conscious didn’t want me to leave either, being rather more aware of my income — or at least, the lack.

Volunteering for a living is notoriously unprofitable, and I couldn’t earn money from diving until I could afford to get qualified. A bit of a Catch 22!

But then — we came into some money. Both my sister and I profited from the sale of a house we’d helped renovate since getting back from America. I used the money to become a Divemaster (and for just a little bit of partying!), while Gillian, rather more sensibly, used hers to buy a ticket to Australia. She stopped off in Thailand on her way through, found me drunk in a bar and gave me such a talking to that I promised to come to Australia just to get her off my back. She was determined to save me from myself, which was probably for the best (I had very little intention of saving myself!).

I dallied for another three months while Gill met up with Roo in Oz and started to explore. They bought a beat-up old van between them and called it Rusty because, well, it was. Seriously — you could see daylight through bits of it.

To the ends of the earth — well, the Great Southern Land

That’s when I showed up. Penniless again, I arrived in Perth airport without the price of a cup of coffee to my name. I’d been living in Thailand for a year by this point, and all I owned was a bulging bag full of dive gear. It was winter in Australia and I didn’t even own a pair of shoes, or anything at all with sleeves.

Not in the least bit phased by me looking like a homeless person, Roo found me work with a local temp agency and within a few weeks I had enough money to travel.

The three of us piled into that crumbling van and set off for horizons unknown…and somewhere along the line, Roo and I fell in love.

Which thrilled my sister of course, as we were all sharing a tent. (But don’t worry — we got our own tent before long!)

Poor Gill left us, in disgust, in Sydney. She’d always hated being around couples in love — romance just wasn’t her thing. I still feel a little guilty for this…well, almost. But not quite!


Since then, Roo and I have visited more than a dozen countries together. We married last July — in England because only Roo’s immediate family is in Oz. (She’s of Dutch descent, so all her rellies from Holland came over — including some she’s never met before! Her Aussie family — all four of them — flew over to the UK for the ceremony. ) And we now live in Perth — for a while in Roo’s family home but we now have a flat of our own. People always ask where we met — out of politeness more than interest, I feel — but it usually surprises them when we both say “America!”.

And as for Gill…well, she lingered in Sydney long after Roo and I left. Then she grew bored and flew to New Zealand, to a job in the ski fields, where she met a short blonde ski technician from Hampshire, UK, called Chris. They hit it off rather well as it happens — Gill had always liked short men — and four years later, the pair of them were married, a month before us and less than fifty miles away.

Roo got to be my sister’s Maid of Honor!

And because I’d been out of the country for so long that I’d lost touch with all my male friends, Gill — poor, suffering Gill — had to be my Best Man!

* * *

Your turn!

So. Let me hear it! Tales of love in far-flung and exotic locations: the triumphs, the failures and the ones that got away! We want to hear them all — post them in the comments section please, so everyone can read ’em and weep! (They don’t have to be as long and waffley as mine — I’ve been told I can be verbose.)

Oh, and keep it clean — some of these expat love stories lasted long enough to have children, and even grandchildren.

Tony xo

TONY JAMES SLATER is a self-confessed adventureholic. For the last six years he’s been traveling nonstop around the world, working at a variety of jobs including yacht deliverer in the Mediterranean, professional diver in Thailand and snow boarder in New Zealand. Last year, Slater published his first book, That Bear Ate My Pants!, an account of his misadventures while volunteering at the animal refuge in Ecuador. (The book was featured in The Displaced Nation’s list of 2011 expat books.) He is currently working on a second book set in Thailand, while exploring his new home in Perth, Australia.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, on 7 of the world’s most seductive foods — for seducing that valentine of yours.

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: Tony Slater and Krista (Roo) participating in the traditional European ceremony of handfasting where the couple’s hands are tied together (in their case, with a garland of flowers), at their medieval-themed wedding last summer.

The Displaced Q: Can travel and the expat life lead to a healthier diet?

Part of the formula for feeling better about oneself — TDN’s theme this month — is eating a healthier diet. Today Tony James Slater, the newest addition to our team, poses a Displaced Q on the eating habits of travelers and expats.

I’m not sure what qualifies me to pose a question about food, since my idea of healthy eating is using low-fat mayonnaise on a full English breakfast — but hey, I’d love to hear your side of the story…

I think I have what you might consider to be a rather controversial point of view, which is that traveling and leading an expat lifestyle can lead to a healthier diet — but for the most part do not.

WAIT! Before you hit the comments with that vitriolic reply — hear me out. I may be wrong (my past wrongness is legendary), but I believe I have a point. Tell you what — I’ll lay out my opinion (which I’ve put a lot of thought into), and then you can tell me if I’m talking out of my asparagus.

Chopping veggies: too much like hard work?

Plenty of people see travel as a way to reinvent themselves. I should know, I did exactly that, as explained in my last post about volunteering in Ecuador.

But reinventing your lifestyle is one thing — your diet is something else. I think statistically speaking (and I’m no expert) 99.9% of us have struggled with our diet at some point or other.

It’s not a change like deciding to make more “me time,” or adding the beach into your daily itinerary. We struggle because changing our diet requires that dreaded thing: commitment.

And the enemy of commitment is convenience.

Ah, convenience…the single biggest factor driving the fast-food phenomenon worldwide. Is it easier to swing past KFC on your way home from work than it is to get home and start chopping vegetables?

You bet it is.

What’s more, this instant gratification factor appeals not just to the terminally lazy — like me — but to an awful lot of people in a world where free time is increasingly under pressure.

The food you know…

So you’re in a new country. You tour the neighborhood. What’s the first thing you’ll recognize — whether in Cairo, Bangkok, Buenos Aires or Paris? Chances are it’ll be a fast-food joint. It’s just so easy. Nothing new to challenge you — either your palette or your linguistic skills. Just point and grunt, to be rewarded with something you could have bought within five minute’s drive of the last place you lived.

Don’t get me wrong. As I travel I make an effort to eat everything — including, on occasion, things I shouldn’t. (Apparently, the wings stay on the locust, even if they have got most of the soy sauce on them — who knew?)

Still, there is the part of me that, after a few days dining from street vendors, really craves a burger. Or a pizza. Something Western, that tastes of home.

As British writer George Miller once remarked:

The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.

Asia — the exception?

There are certain countries with a deserved reputation as a mecca for healthy eating — yes, I’m talking about Japan here. In fact, most Asian countries are considered to have a healthy yet appealing diet, with an emphasis on seafood and simplicity.

For the better part of a year in Thailand I lived like a king. Fresh fruit for breakfast every morning, compared with jam on toast, bacon and sausage back home — score one for healthier eating!

Simple meals of chicken and rice, or noodles from street vendors were my staples. They were as cheap as they were delicious!

And yet… It was all fried. The rice was fried. The chicken was fried. The noodles… Is it possible to overdose on MSG?

I had no control over how my food was cooked and no kitchen to prepare it myself. Back home I fry things occasionally, but I’m a path-of-least-resistance kinda guy. My food isn’t always healthy (burgers, schnitzels, chips) — but I’d stick it in the oven or grill it. So the score…is tricky to say on this one.

And then there’s the booze…

Thailand is famous — at least amongst the 18-35 age group — less for its culinary marvels than for its parties. Score one (a large ONE) + a whisky chaser for the unhealthy diet.

Do you drink more when you travel? Cocktail by the pool? Glass of wine or two in the evening, because why not — you feel so free? Yeah, you do. Don’t worry — so does everyone else. But that’s another nail in the coffin of a healthier diet…

(And yes, I know all about anti-oxidants. That’s how I justify red wine too.)

* * *

In my experience, to eat anything decent, you have to work for it. The easier food is to find, and the more recognizable, the less healthy it tends to be.

If you’re prepared to experiment with different recipes and ingredients, different cooking apparatus and utensils, to learn a few words in the local language and risk using them in the market — then you can manage it.

But if you’re prepared to do all that for the sake of eating healthy, chances are you do it at home too, in which case you’ll eat healthily wherever you are. And probably outlive me by at least a decade.

So, as I said at the beginning: can travel encourage one to adopt a healthier diet? Well, I think it can…but doesn’t.

Am I full of carp? Am I talking sushi? What do you think?

TONY JAMES SLATER is a self-confessed adventureholic. For the last six years he’s been traveling nonstop around the world, working at a variety of jobs including yacht deliverer in the Mediterranean, professional diver in Thailand and snow boarder in New Zealand. He even deprived the world of sandalwood one tree at a time in Australia (though he still maintains it was an accident). Last year, Slater published his first book, That Bear Ate My Pants!, an account of his misadventures while volunteering at the animal refuge in Ecuador. (The book was featured in The Displaced Nation’s list of 2011 expat books.) He is currently working on a second book set in Thailand, while exploring his new home in Perth, Australia.

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an opinion piece by Lawrence Hunt on what drives today’s young people to seek spiritual enlightenment abroad.

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: Tony Slater with his girlfriend (now wife), Krista, in an open shack-style cafe in Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia. Krista is eating nasi goreng, a Balinese veggie curry (over fried rice), whereas Tony has ordered a burger (but will it be too Asianized for his tastes?).

DISPLACED Q: Where and how would you spend your ideal Christmas?


For the last 14 years, we have spent Christmas in Connecticut. It sounds ideal – it’s the name of a classic Christmas film, for goodness’ sake – yet recently, more and more, I’ve wished to spend the festive season elsewhere.

By ‘elsewhere’ I don’t necessarily mean Olde England. Although I may be overtaken by the occasional yearning to spend a foggy afternoon in a pub while Slade and Wizzard bellow Christmas songs in the background, the feeling usually passes after two aspirin and ten minutes in a darkened room.

No; now that youngest child is healthily skeptical and I don’t have to invent elaborate fibs about how Santa Claus is going to track us down at another location, more and more I would prefer to spend Christmas somewhere — well, warmer. Much warmer. Maybe in another hemisphere, even.

But (someone is bound to say) you’re in New England! You have White Christmases!

It’s cold, certainly. But white? Not really. Of the fourteen Christmases here, only one has been properly white. While we have snow, and lots of it, the timing is always spectacularly bad. In any case, any aesthetic pleasure in snow is dimmed by the worry of whether the power lines will collapse before or after the beef comes out of the electric oven, and if it will be necessary to raid the kids’ Christmas toys for batteries for flashlights.

Speaking of my kids, they’re a traditional lot. They like Mum’s roast beef and Yorkshire puddings (the British roast turkey was shelved long ago when it became apparent that you can have turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but not both) and my last suggestion of being anywhere but Smalltown, Connecticut on December 25th was met with howls of distress.

Christmas in Aruba? Barbados? Cancun? You’d think I’d suggested Christmas In The Workhouse.

I showed the kids a photo of Santa-hatted people frolicking in the waves at Bondi Beach.

“Doesn’t this look great?” I pleaded.

One of them sniffed. “Christmas is meant to be cold,” he said.

Cold outside with the central heating turned up to 75 degrees, that is.

“How about Disney World?” suggested another. “It’s supposed to be really nice at Disney at Christmas.”

OK, I can see a couple of advantages: above-frigid temperatures, and fake snow that won’t cut your electricity off. The disadvantages: too many to enumerate, but enduring a Disney Character Christmas Dinner would come top of the list and make me wish that either we or Mickey and friends were, indeed, spending Christmas In The Workhouse.

So, in the absence of family enthusiasm for an alternative location, I guess visions of sugar-plums will stay in Connecticut, while my own visions of barbecued shrimp under waving palm trees will just have to stay hold for a little longer.

I’ll keep working on it. Maybe next year.

QUESTION: Where would you spend your ideal Christmas?

STAY TUNED…for Tuesday’s Classic Displaced Writing, when Anthony discusses — who else, at this time of year? — Charles Dickens.

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!

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DISPLACED Q: When traveling to developing countries, are you conscious of how you photograph people?

On July 13, 1985, I sat down in front of the TV at noon and scarcely moved for the rest of the day. Millions of people around the world did exactly the same.

It was the day of Live Aid, of course – the brain child of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, who organized this worldwide concert to raise money for the starving in Ethiopia.

While news reports the following day stated that around £50m had been raised (and this figure eventually turned out to be much higher), seven hours into the UK concert, reputedly only £1.2m had been raised. Bob Geldof’s reaction to this information spawned what was, for me, the second most memorable moment of that day – his impassioned, four-letter outburst on live BBC TV, in which he begged the public to send in their money.

Note that I said “second most memorable moment.” The image of Live Aid that most clearly remains with me 26 years later – apart from Queen’s rendition of “Radio Ga Ga” – is the montage of film and photographs of suffering Ethiopians, set to the song “Drive” by The Cars.

After Geldof’s outburst, it is said that donations increased to £300 per second, and after The Cars’ video, the rate increased even more. While I can’t verify those facts, I do know my own checkbook came out as the last note of “Drive” died away.

A surprising legacy

One would think this global event, born from pure and altruistic motives, could only leave a trail of good in its wake. However, a 2002 report by the British VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) called “The Live Aid Legacy” highlighted some unexpected side effects regarding the way Westerners (Britons) now saw the developing world.

Its first key finding was:

Starving children with flies around their eyes: 80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche.

Given my own memories of Live Aid, I can believe that.

Victims are seen as less human: Stereotypes of deprivation and poverty, together with images of Western aid, can lead to an impression that people in the developing world are helpless victims. 74% of the British public believe that these countries ‘depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress.’

– which disturbingly leads to:

False sense of superiority and inferiority: The danger of stereotypes of this depth and magnitude is the psychological relationship they create between the developed and the developing world, which revolves around an implicit sense of superiority and inferiority.

Probably not what Bob Geldof had in mind when he wrote the first lines of “Do they know it’s Christmas?”

A picturesque plea for help, or poverty porn?

Matt Collin, author of the blog Aid Thoughts and our Random Nomad tomorrow, is in no doubt that too many photographs in the media cross the line into “poverty porn.”

In his recent post, Guardians of poverty porn, Matt takes The Guardian newspaper to task for printing a photograph which, he feels, has all the checks in boxes to qualify as Poverty Porn.

  • Very cute, if impoverished, Haitian child? Check
  • No shirt? Check
  • Other cute, impoverished children, for context? Check
  • Longing gazes upward (where you look down upon them and consider yourself gracious and merciful donor). Check
  • Hands outstretched to receive help. Check

In other words, the photo falls rather neatly under the category of stereotypical images to which the VSO report referred — nearly ten years later after the report was written.

A fuller picture – or photograph

No one is denying that humanitarian crises exist in the developing world.

Ashley Jonathan Clements, photographer of the picture above, is “a nomadic aid worker with a passion for photography.” Although he must have witnessed more devastating scenes than most of us will ever do, his photographs on his website show a more balanced picture. (Do head over to his site and take a look.)

While Ashley is not a professional photographer, his photographs show a wider perspective of humanitarian situations.

The picture of the boy with a camera, for example, was taken in Haiti, at one of Port-au-Prince’s displacement camps – as was the picture in the Guardian article.

Everyone’s responsibility

An uplifting key point from the VSO report:

More than half want the whole story: The strongest call is to media, particularly television. 55% of British people say they want to see more of the everyday life, history and culture of the developing world on television. They want to see the positives as well as the negatives, and they want context and background to a news story.

With today’s proliferation of travel blogs, it is important to remember that we are now all “media”.

So, the question is — are you conscious of how you photograph people?


STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad, Matt Collin!

Img: A Budding Photographer in the Midst of Camp Chaos by Ashley Jonathan Clements

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7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls

RANDOM NOMAD: Vilma Ilie, Research Associate for Sub-Saharan Africa

All hail Sir Richard Branson, along with global nomads who delve into global misery

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