The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Tag Archives: Expat interviews

RANDOM NOMAD: Mark Wiens, Traveling Entrepreneur and Street Food Addict

Place of birth: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Passport: USA
Overseas history: France (Albertville): 1990–91); Democratic Republic of Congo (Tandala): 1991–94; Kenya (Nairobi): 1995–2004; Thailand (Bangkok): 2009 – present.
Occupation: Freelance writer, blogger, video blogger, and food lover.
Cyberspace coordinates: Migrationology — Cultural Travel and Street Food Around the World (blog); Eating Thai Food (blog); @migrationology (Twitter handle); Migrationology (Facebook); and Migrationology (YouTube channel).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I grew up traveling and living overseas with my parents, who are Christian missionaries. So after returning to the United States to attend university, I was ready to get back to traveling again.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My parents are now residing in Tanzania. My father is now in leadership so he ventures into remote parts of Africa frequently and gets to see some pretty cool things!

As a Third Culture Kid, you’ve grown up living in several different countries. Tell me about the moment when you felt the most displaced.
What makes me feel out of place? Showing up at the airport, train station or bus station of a new city and not knowing how to get to the city center. That happened a lot when I first began solo traveling. I didn’t do enough initial research before arriving in a country.

One time I flew into Clark Airport in the Philippines thinking it was in Manila, but in reality it’s located about three hours from the city, and there’s no easy way to get to Manila center. I should have known this before arriving and getting lost!

I now still don’t do a lot of planning, but I always do a bit of research to figure out the best way to get from the airport (or station) to the city center!

Wow, you sound pretty comfortable in the big wide world out there, if you don’t even bother doing research before a trip. When have you felt the most comfortable?
Whenever I’m eating delicious food cooked by a local — that’s when I feel the least displaced. In Sri Lanka, for instance, I got into the habit of stopping to eat food along the side of the road. I would always be greeted by genuinely friendly and hospitable people. So in addition to delicious food, I would be connecting with others. That’s how I feel at home in a foreign place.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your travels into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Durian from Southeast Asia — the most amazing fruit in the world! It makes me very happy!

And now you are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

Appetizer: Poke, the Hawaiian sashimi: cubed pieces of raw fish marinated in onions, soy sauce, and sea salt.
Main: Sichuan fish hot pot, known as Shuizhuyu. It’s the signature dish in Sichuan cooking.
Dessert: Either Thai-style sticky rice with durian, or just plain durian fruit.
Drink: Stoney, a strong ginger soda from East Africa that burns going down.

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one or more of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot.
From Kenya: Sema boss, a slang term for greeting the person who is in charge. It’s a good way to connect.
From Thailand: Mai pen rai, how Thais say “don’t worry about it” or “no problem.” It’s a polite phrase.
From Mexico: Pansa llena, corazón contento: “Stomach full, heart is happy.” When I lived in the US, I had many friends from Mexico who would use that expression with me as they knew I loved to eat. I also have visited northern Mexico a number of times.

This month we’ve been exploring the idea of organizing one’s travels around the wish to try particular foods. I understand that many of your travels are motivated by food interests?
Yes, nowadays just about all my travels are motivated by food. I do travel to see other countries and meet new people, but my main passion is food and that’s what I enjoy searching for. I would be very happy to fly to a destination and not do any of the normal tourist attractions, but just eat. A few months ago I took just a short 24-hour trip to Malaysia with a strict mission to eat. It was an amazing food binge!

Are you more motivated by the idea of trying new foods or by finding the very best of particular foods?
I’d say I’m equally motivated to try new foods and to find the very best foods that I’ve already eaten previously. I’m always excited to try something I’ve never seen or heard of before, but at the same time if I hear about the best bowl of Thai boat noodles, or the most amazing seafood restaurant, I’m quite tempted too!

If you were to design a world tour based on food, what would be your top five stops/foods to try?
I couldn’t narrow it down to five, so here are six:
1) Thailand — try the gaeng som (sour spicy soup), som tam (green papaya salad), and boo pad pongali (crab yellow curry).
2) Malaysia — try the nasi campur (mixed curry and rice), nasi lemak (rice and toppings), and roti canai (roti bread with curry).
3) China — try the Sichuan hot pot and all kinds of exotic delicacies.
4) India — try the thali (rice with a variety of curries), dhosa (pancake with curries) and home-cooked curries.
5) Mexico — try the tacos, burritos, mole (chocolate curry), carne asada (grilled meat), and ceviche (seafood salad).
6) Ethiopia — try the mahaberawi, a platter that includes injera (white spongy bread) topped with a variety of spicy curries.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Mark Wiens into The Displaced Nation? He’s an adventuresome eater, that’s for sure, but can you stand the smell of what’s in his suitcase? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Mark — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Mark Wiens in the act of trying, for the first time, to cut open a durian fruit, on his balcony in Bangkok.

RANDOM NOMAD: Liv Gaunt, Accidental Serial Expat and Feeder of Sharks

Place of birth: Luxembourg
Passport: UK
Overseas history: England (Sevenoaks, Kent): 1981–98); Turkey (Fethiye, Ölüdeniz, Fethiye again): 1998–99, 2001–02, 2004; Kenya (Watamu): 1999–2000; Egypt (Dahab): 2000-01, Bahamas (Nassau and Family Islands): 2002–03; Barbados (Bridgetown): 2004–05; England (London): 2006–10; Australia (Cairns, Brisbane, Esperance): 2011 – present. (Gosh, I feel like a serial expat listing so many places!)
Occupation: Journalist and scuba instructor
Cyberspace coordinates: The World is Waiting — Expat humour, travel tips, handy hints, photos and inspiration for travellers (site); @worldswaiting (Twitter handle); The World is Waiting (Facebook); WorldsWaiting (Pinterest); and Liv G (foursquare).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Though I am fond of Britain, I left because I was seeking work as a scuba diving instructor and underwater photographer. The jobs available overseas offered a better diving experience and a better lifestyle. Photographing sharks, filming turtles, and teaching people to dive in an island paradise conditions are not things you can do in Britain.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My parents were expats in Luxembourg, which is where I was born. For a few years my father was based in Barbados for work, so I guess it runs in the family — but nobody other than me is displaced at this moment.

Your chosen profession of diving and underwater photography has led you to settling, at least for a time, in quite a few different countries. Tell me about the moment when you felt the most displaced.
I believe it is the people who make the place. I feel most displaced when I am surrounded by people who do not treat others with what I consider to be the most basic level of respect — basically, as they would wish to be treated. Discovering cultural differences can be fascinating; but living with discrimination day in day out is frustrating and awful. Living in Egypt I found it really frustrating that men would not take me seriously simply because I am female. They completely disregarded the fact that I had more experience and was more qualified than they were. Of course I understand there are significant differences between Arab and Western culture. But being in a male-dominated industry (scuba diving) in a paternal society (Egypt) was simply not for me.

Was there one specific moment during your time in Egypt that catalyzed this feeling for you?
No, I think it was more the growing realization that I would never be taken seriously.

Describe the moment when you felt your least displaced — i.e., when you felt more or less at home in one of your adopted countries.
The first time I lived somewhere other than with my parents, was in Turkey in my late teens. I took on the responsibility of earning enough to pay rent, bills and to feed myself — and it was all in Turkish. It was a classic example of me diving in at the deep end, so to speak. As a result, I quickly gained a working knowledge of the Turkish language as well as an understanding of the country, culture and its people. Initially I thought that my Turkish friends would be horrified by my near constant butchering of their language. But they only ever encouraged me — and even nicknamed me “the Turkish-English girl.” Nowadays, whenever I visit Turkey I feel very at home there. I don’t have the normal visitor’s questioning of things. I still have quite a few Turkish habits like always removing my shoes indoors, being quick to hit the horn whilst driving, and showing hospitality to visitors.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Turkey: An evil eye. Evil eyes are so-called, rather misleadingly, as they are believed to ward off evil. They are usually made from glass or ceramics and are often seen hanging over entrances to offices and people’s homes.
From Kenya: Some beaded sandals made from leather and old car tyres. They are the most comfortable sandals I ever had.
From Egypt: Egyptian hibiscus tea. They serve it warm with a classy piece of foil over the top of the glass!
From the Bahamas: Pink sand from Harbour Island. All Bahamian sand is silky soft and impressive frankly but on Harbour Island it is even more beautiful for being a dusky pink.
From Barbados: An amazing reggae soundtrack.
From Australia: Can I bring a quokka? They are small marsupials, a bit like a large-bottomed mini-kangaroo. I find them endlessly amusing.

And now you are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Starters: A huge plate of Turkish meze including filled filo pastries, various dips, Turkish bread, olives, cheese and some köfte.
Main: Bahamian conch fritters — the conch will be fresh from the sea and delicately fried — served with lime coconut dip and salad.
Dessert: An Australian pavlova, covered in fresh fruit.
Drinks: To include Caribbean piña coladas and mojitos, and Turkish cherry juice.

It would be a strange meal perhaps, but very tasty!

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot.
Ubuntu, which is an African ethical philosophy. Nelson Mandela explained it thus:

A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

Your life thus far has been quite an odyssey. You’ve traveled to 42 countries and lived in six. Do you think of yourself as a travel pro?
I don’t consider myself a professional traveler. To me, that term implies that I am paid to travel, which is certainly not the case. I am inspired to continue traveling to new places because I enjoy learning about people’s lives and cultures, and seeing the world through their eyes. I find the different foods interesting as well. Travel also allows you to see where you have come from in a whole new light.

What’s still on your bucket list?
Oh, it’s endlessly growing! Top of the list currently are the Philippines and the Galápagos.

But you are a professional scuba diver. Did you watch the diving events in the London Olympics?
I wasn’t able to watch most of the Olympics because of the time difference between Australia and Britain and a recent spate of overtime at my job. However, to answer your question, no, I have little interest in competition diving. I am not a competitive person generally and rather believe that at the end of the day the only person you ever truly compete with is yourself.

What made you so certain you wanted to be a scuba diver?
I enjoy interacting with the creatures of the deep. Watching as a shark cruises out of the blue towards you, having a curious manta ray investigate you, or sharing a moment with a cheeky turtle is far more fun to me than being faster or more coordinated than someone else. I also enjoy the challenge of capturing the underwater critters on camera.

As it happens, this week marks the 25th anniversary of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s longest-running programming event. The purpose is to draw the attention to the shark species, one third of which is at risk for extinction. (We must all stop eating shark fin soup — up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins!) I understand that you love to video and photograph sharks. Is that the riskiest thing you’ve done under water?
Most people would say the riskiest thing I have done underwater is feed sharks. It’s not about thrill-seeking, though, but about providing divers with an up-close encounter, which I think is the best way to educate people about and ultimately protect the sharks.

But while you are a shark lover, you have an aversion for sea urchins. Why is that?
If you ask me that question, I have to assume you have never accidentally brushed past one and received an ankle full of their bloody painful spines?!

But have you ever eaten uni in a Japanese restaurant?
No. I love sushi but haven’t managed any sea urchin yet. Have you, is it good?!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Liv Gaunt into The Displaced Nation? Is she above water or is there something fishy about her application? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Liv — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s compendium of books on travel to Tuscany.

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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img: Liv Gaunt videoing a shark feed in the Bahamas.

RANDOM NOMAD: Brian MacDuckston, American Expat in Tokyo & Expert Ramen Slurper

Place of birth: San Francisco, California USA
Passport: USA
Overseas history: Japan (Saitama, Hiroshima, Tokyo): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Food consultant and freelance English teacher (available for high school classes, after-school programs, private lessons, children’s events…)
Cyberspace coordinates: Ramen Adventures (blog); @macduckston (Twitter handle); and Ramen Adventures (Facebook).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Around 2004 I took a colloquial Mandarin Chinese class, hoping to learn a bit to help with the massive amounts of Kung Fu movies I was into at the time — I soon learned that Cantonese, not Mandarin, is used in these flicks. One of my classmates was going to China for a year to teach English. I did some Internet searching and decided I really wanted to check this out. I was stressed with my computer job, and a year abroad seemed like a good idea. Opportunities abound in China, Korea, and Japan. Japan just seemed like a good choice to me.

You’ve now lived in Japan for more than five years. Tell me about the moment when you felt the most displaced.
My first day of work in Saitama, I somehow managed to get on an empty train that had reached its last stop. A minute later and I was in the depot storage yard with an attendant yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand. I was late to my very first English lesson. I wanted to quit right away. Things got better, obviously.

Is there any particular moment or moments that stand out as your least displaced?
Whenever I’m on the road here in Japan. I ride a motorcycle — very few foreigners do that. Something about being able to navigate across mountain ranges on poorly marked roads fills me with a great sense of accomplishment.

Hmmm…are you sure it’s safe? And now you may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A curiosity? I am actually quite a minimalist, collecting only photos. My Nikon camera is technically a Japanese thing. I guess I would choose that. Or perhaps I should consider bringing a few of my Japanese cooking knives. Beautifully crafted and razor sharp, they are amazing things.

Ah, cooking! I’m glad you mentioned that. You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Ramen of course! Let’s go ahead and serve it after the drinks. After many drinks. Ramen is one of the best hangover prevention foods. All that fat and all those carbs do wonders for the next morning.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Umai is a great food word in Japanese. Most people first learn oishii to mean delicious, but umai is a bit stronger, a bit more cool. It’s mostly a guy word, though. I hope that’s okay with the female occupants of the Displaced Nation?

Perfectly okay! This summer, thanks to the London Olympics, all of us Displaced Nation residents, whether male or female, have become obsessed with displays of machismo and strength. In fact, this may be a good time to bring up your hobby of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible. How did you get launched in such a curious culinary sport — and become so accomplished that you and your blog were featured in the Travel section of the New York Times?
After living in Hiroshima for a bit, I knew that I needed to live in the big city.  So I finished my contract, signed up for unemployment insurance, and moved to Tokyo. Suddenly I found myself with a massive amount of time on my hands — and not a lot of money in my pockets. I decided to wait in the ridiculously long ramen shop line that I had seen many times across the street from a massive bookstore in Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s multiple city centers.

I was shocked how good it was. Completely worth the hour wait outside in the cold. A bit of research later, and I had a list of the 30 best shops in Tokyo…a nice place to start.

Thirty shops sounds rather daunting, particularly if each one involves standing in line for hours! What keeps you going, and do you still like ramen after the upteempth bowl of it?
What keeps me going? A job that doesn’t pay much! In fact, it’s the kind of random fun that comes with this obsession that keeps me going. When I can somehow influence someone to have the best bowl of ramen they have ever had, I feel like it is worth it.

Would you say that you’ve now graduated from amateur to pro?
Becoming a pro in such a niche corner of the food world is tough, but I suppose the few guidebook articles or magazine pieces I have worked on would put me up there.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Brian MacDuckston into The Displaced Nation once he’s finished slurping up his latest bowl of noodles? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Brian — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Displaced Q, about nationalism and the Olympics.

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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img: Brian at a ramen-ya in Tokyo, pursuing his favorite “sport.”

Trying — but failing — to keep up with Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Olympic e-book author and karaoke star

**Announcing a giveaway of one of Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s Kindle e-books. open to DISPLACED DISPATCH SUBSCRIBERS  & ANYONE WHO COMMENTS. And guess what? You get to take your pick! Woo hoo!!**

During this summer’s London Olympics there will be endless displays of speed grace, strength, masochism, endurance, pain, and perseverance.

Just the the thought of it makes me feel exhausted and a little bit nauseous.

But I don’t necessarily have to look toward the Orbit (I refer to the “eyeful tower” that looms over London’s Olympic Stadium) to feel that way. Instead I can direct my weary gaze towards the Golden Gate Bridge, near to where the once-displaced Wendy Nelson Tokunaga resides.

Tokunaga was a special guest at The Displaced Nation before as one of our 12 Nomads of Christmas. We have invited her back today to showcase what it means to be an “Olympian author.” She has just completed the marathon-like feat of publishing three e-books — two novels and one work of nonfiction — in a period of 12 months.

Has she tired you out yet?

I ask because that’s not the whole story. A talented writer, Tokunaga is what the Japanese call a talento: she can sing jazz as well as j-pop and enka (a type of sentimental ballad). Put it this way: you do not want to compete with her in a karaoke contest!

If you don’t believe me, listen to her singing this enka she composed for one of her novels — you would never know that Tokunaga is a native-born Californian who’d spent time in Japan!

Just one of the many reasons why you’ll never keep up with her…or if you dare to try, you’ll be huffing and puffing, just as I am. (Why oh why did I agree to sing a few bars of “My Way” with her?)

* * *

[Catching my breath…] Thank you, Wendy, for agreeing to this interview with The Displaced Nation. While I rest for a bit, can you tell me a little more about yourself — where you were born and how you ended up living in Japan?
I was born in San Francisco and have lived in the Bay Area all my life except for when I lived in Tokyo during the early 1980s. I had been studying Japanese language and culture at San Francisco State University when I won a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by Japan Victor Records. It allowed me to perform my song at Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo. After that I moved to Japan to pursue music, teach English and do narration work.

While I’m still catching my breath — let’s hope I don’t have a heart attack here — why don’t you tell us about all your books? I understand you’ve published eight of them in the past 12 years, of which three of them came out in the past 12 months?
I self-published my first novel, No Kidding, in 2000 with iUniverse. Then I wrote two books for elementary-school students with Kid Haven Press: Famous People: Christine Aguilera (2003) and Wonders of the World: Niagra Falls (2004). Next came two novels that featured Japan, both of which were published by St. Martin’s Griffin: Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation. And then I self-published three Kindle e-books within the past 12 months: Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband, in 2011; Falling Uphill and His Wife and Daughters, both in 2012.

I suppose you’re working on another book right now?
Yes, a mystery/thriller.

Crossing publishing platforms…

Turning to your three recent books: what made you decide to join the Kindle e-book world?
Falling Uphill was a “trunk novel” I wrote in 2004 that never got published. With the popularity of e-books I decided to revise it a bit and put it out instead of having it gather dust on my hard drive. My agent at the time came close to selling His Wife and Daughters to a major publisher in 2011, but in the end things didn’t work out. I still wanted to bring the book out, so making it available as an e-book seemed like a great idea. I’d gotten a few bites from publishers regarding Marriage in Translation, which was based on a series of blog interviews I’d done of Western women married to Japanese men. But dealing with a publisher would mean the book would take at least a year to come out and would probably need to be longer. I just wanted to get it out as soon as I could to take advantage of the momentum of the blog. Coincidentally, when I was in the finishing stages, the disastrous earthquake and tsunami occurred in Japan. I brought out the book shortly after and for a time gave 50 percent of the proceeds to Japan relief.

Do you think you can reach a different audience through self-publishing?
What’s exciting about e-books is that I can reach an audience! For various reasons, these books wouldn’t have seen the light of day, so I’m happy to continually find readers for them. And, yes, I think I’m reaching a wider geographical audience. And another bonus is that in the e-book world, unlike in the traditional publishing world, the pub date is irrelevant — people can continue to discover my books and I can promote them as summer reads, fall reads or whatever. And e-books don’t ever go “out of print.” I couldn’t be happier with this platform, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still appreciate traditional publishing and don’t rule out traditional publishing in the future.

Crossing genres…

You got your MFA in creative writing. You also teach and consult on creative writing. What was it like trying your hand at a nonfiction book Marriage in Translation?
These days, non-fiction written in the manner of creative non-fiction and/or narrative non-fiction has lots in common with novels. I think it can be easier for fiction writers to tackle non-fiction, but there might be more challenges for the strictly non-fiction writer to undertake writing fiction.

Why is it so challenging for nonfiction writers to switch over to fiction?
Some — not all — non-fiction writers find it difficult to “make things up” and use their imagination after being so ingrained at using “just the facts.” And, for journalists, I think it can be a challenge to structure a novel that doesn’t reveal everything at once and fight the tendency to go about verifying each point.

Crossing cultures…

Turning to Japan and its influence on your writing. For a while there, Japan was your lodestar. Both Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation had strong Japanese themes, as does Marriage in Translation. But in your two latest novels your protagonists are all Americans. I’ve read His Wife and Daughters — and enjoyed it very much. There was a scene set in Japan — involving one of the daughters, Phoebe — but otherwise it’s about an American politician who has an affair that causes him to lose his job. I haven’t read Falling Uphill — does it have any Japanese references?
Falling Uphill doesn’t have any Japanese references, at least that I can recall! And in His Wife and Daughters, I thought that for the particular purpose of depicting a certain time in Phoebe’s life that setting it in Tokyo made sense because of the bar hostess culture there. Otherwise, Japan really wouldn’t have played any part in that novel.

Are you moving away from Japan, or will it always be something you write about?
There have been times when I’ve felt that I’ve said all I can say about Japan and need to move on, though it will always be a part of me. I’ve enjoyed writing about Japan and Japanese culture and I even had a Japan-themed short story published in the recent Tomo anthology published by Stone Bridge Press, but I do enjoy writing about topics other than Japan. Yet I am careful to “never say never” about most things.

That said, I think Japanese might enjoy His Wife and Daughters. They have plenty of sex scandals, the most recent one involving the political kingpin Ichiro Ozawa. But in that case, the wife has spoken out — and is trying to poison his career. What was the inspiration behind the book —  do you like politics?
I don’t see His Wife and Daughters as a particularly political book. I was more attracted to the theme of exploring why some women stand by their men in these situations and withstand the humiliation, as well as the fascinating dynamics of a dysfunctional family affected by serial adultery and public scandal.

Crossing art forms…

And now I’ve just got to ask you about your musical career. Are you still pursuing music alongside all this writing?
I’ve been singing and playing music for longer than I’ve been writing. And music is what originally got me to Japan so it’s very important to me. But I don’t have as much time to devote to music right now. My husband and I occasionally play together at home for fun (he plays keyboards), but we haven’t done any gigs for several years. And I wish I had time to keep up with J-pop and enka and go to karaoke! I do manage to catch some music shows via the TV-Japan satellite service, but that’s about it.

Didn’t you and your husband collaborate on a theme song for your book Love in Translation?
Yes we did. That was our last major musical project.

Do you listen to music when you’re writing?
Not usually, but I often have Pandora playing quietly downstairs from my office (the cat likes it!) on a variety of eclectic stations: piano jazz, trip hop, ambient, etc.

Last but not least, I’d like to quiz you about your reading and writing habits:
Last truly great book you read: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Favorite literary genre: Books that are well written, fast paced and full of surprises.
Reading habits on a plane: I read on my iPad.
The one book you’d require the president to read: He’s so well read that I think he’s way ahead of me.
Favorite books as a child: I especially liked the Edward Eager Magic Series (Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Seven Day Magic, etc.) as well as The Borrowers series by Mary Norton and The Summer Birds by Penelope Farmer.
Favorite heroine: I always liked books about girls who had special magical powers or mysterious backgrounds.
The writer, dead or alive, you’d most like to meet: I’m constantly networking with fellow writers and have gotten the opportunity to meet with many that I admire, but I suppose it would be quite fascinating to talk with Joan Didion, a writer who definitely excels at both fiction and non-fiction.
Your reading habits: I’m a pretty fast reader. I sometimes take notes and I am mainly reading electronically now. I do find myself constantly analyzing the books I read for craft and structure so it’s sometimes hard to get lost in a good book like I used to be able to back in those Edward Eager days.
Your favorite of your own books: Always the latest one: His Wife and Daughters.
The book of yours you’d most like to see as a film: Any of them!!!
The book you plan to read next: The Expats, by Chris Pavone.

Say, would you do a review for The Displaced Nation on what you think of Chris Pavone’s book?
I’m happy to do a review, but I can’t promise any time soon. I’m in the midst of some very big projects right now. So if there’s not a firm deadline, then I can say yes. 🙂

(See what I mean about how you just can’t keep up with her?) Okay, one final question before I let you go. Since you’ve been so prolific of late, I wonder if you have any advice to impart to other writers who struggle to wrap up their books?
I wish I knew the secret! I’m struggling with my current book and don’t know when the heck I’ll finish it. Writing takes discipline and there’s no magic formula, I’m afraid. And some books come quicker than others.

* * *

Readers, any more questions for Wendy? Please put them in the comments. To reiterate, we are doing a giveaway of one of Wendy’s Kindle e-books to Displaced Dispatch subscribers and to ANYONE WHO COMMENTS! As I can assure you from my own experience, you WANT TO WIN one of these books — they are THE PERFECT SUMMER READS!!!

STAY TUNED for some more fiction tomorrow, with another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Wendy Nelson Tokunaga throwing her considerable energy into yet another round of karaoke…

RANDOM NOMAD: Antrese Wood, American Expat in Argentina and Artist on an Epic Expedition

Place of birth: Pomona Valley Hospital. I grew up in Claremont, California — in fact, my mother still lives in the house she brought me home to.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: Honduras (San Pedro Sula): 1986; Argentina (San Antonio de Arredondo + Villa Carlos Paz), 2010-11 + 2011 – present.
Occupation: Artist (painter).
Cyberspace coordinates: (art site + blog); @antresewood (Twitter handle);  Antrese Wood Artist Page (Facebook); and Antrese Wood (Pinterest) — see “A Portrait of Argentina” board.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
A friend of mine in high school asked me to go with her to an American Field Service (AFS) meeting. I went because she didn’t want to go alone. I had no idea what it was, but after the meeting I thought, “Awesome! I’m in!!” I ended up going to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for six months. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish when I left. I memorized the three questions I thought I would get asked most: What is your name, where are you from & how old are you? Unfortunately, I got them mixed up. When someone asked “What is your name?,” with a huge smile I would answer: “I’m 15 years old!” By the time I left, my Spanish was pretty good.

I didn’t travel much until after college, and I didn’t practice my Spanish, so I lost most of it. After college, I got bit by the travel bug again. I would go anywhere if I had the chance. I worked in the video game department at Disney for years, and got to travel a lot with them — all over the US, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris, even to the South of France. On my own, I went to South Korea. I also lived in Alaska for a short while (not a foreign country but compared to the Los Angeles culture, it might as well be). At one point I decided I wanted to do a semester with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). I choose their semester in Patagonia, and thinking this was my last chance to see South America, I spent a few months exploring Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.

Indirectly, that is how I met my husband. A friend was worried about my traveling alone, so she introduced me to her friend from Argentina (“even though she doesn’t live there, she can at least give you a few phone numbers just in case…”). Years later, my new Argentine friend introduced me to my future husband.

Which brings me to why I left Los Angeles to live in Argentina: I fell in love.

Wow — that’s some wanderlust! So is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
No one else in my family is displaced. My mother and I both travel as much as possible, but my brothers and sisters are happy where they are.

Can you describe the moment in your Argentinian life when you felt the most displaced?
My husband and I first lived in a tiny town called San Antonio de Arredondo. It’s in el campo — literally, the countryside. But when you move from Los Angeles to a town of barely 5,000…you call it the boondocks. Some friends rented us their quincho (guest house) while they were out of the country. It was in a new neighborhood with few other houses and lots of empty lots. Green and beautiful, but no natural gas, no phone lines…and worst of all, no Internet!

I was used to 24-hour access to everything. The Internet, grocery stores, restaurants…everything. Another thing: San Antonio and Carlos Paz (where we currently live), both honor the siesta. Everything closes between 1:30 and 5:00 p.m.

It was quaint and beautiful at first, but I got tired of riding my bike to the next town to check my email. I’m completely dependent on the Internet. It was in those moments when I admittedly thought “Oh my god, what have I done!?” When we moved to Carlos Paz, the first question I had about the apartment was: “Does it have high-speed Internet?”

And does it?
YES IT DOES!!!….yay!

Now that you have Internet access and are feeling more at home, is there any particular moment that stands out as your least displaced?
As I contemplate this question, a series of images and moments flashes through my head: our house filled with friends for an impromptu dinner; the huge smile on my husband’s face when he cooks for a crowd (he loves it!); looking at the clock and being surprised that it’s already 4:00 a.m…. A big cultural difference is that you can call friends for a dinner, and within an hour or two, your house is filled with all your friends and all their kids. There is always room for just one more.

If I had to pick one event where I didn’t feel displaced, it would definitely be our wedding. It was the best of both worlds. Friends and family from the US, along with about 200 of our “closest” friends from Argentina, came to celebrate. We had a huge asado (barbecue), lots of wine, dancing until 6:30 a.m.

Sounds amazing. And now you may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Really? only one!?

I’m tempted to pack some fernet, but I’ll bring my mate instead.

Drinking mate is a national pastime in Argentina. The mate is a hollowed out gourd that you fill with tea leaves called yerba. You add hot water and drink the tea from a bombilla (a kind of straw with a filter at the bottom). Typically, it’s shared with other people — one person serves the mate to the circle. Drinking mate plays an important social role; it’s the preferred excuse to get together and hang out. “Let’s have a mate” really means “Let’s hang out and chat for a while.” Most gas stations have a hot water dispenser at exactly the right temperature, and almost any restaurant will fill your thermos regardless of whether you eat there. They understand the importance.

There are various subtleties to preparing mate (sugar, no sugar, with mint, water temperature, etc.), and the opinions on how to properly prepare mate are strong and sometimes fiercely debated. When a person drinks mate alone for the first time, its like a right of passage into adulthood. When my husband came home and found me drinking mate by myself, he said: “AHA!! now you are an Argentine!!”

Let’s move on to food. You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Now we’re talking! This one is pretty easy:

Appetizer: Empanadas — dough filled with just about anything and then baked or fried. They’re a staple here. A common filling is ground beef, olives, hard boiled egg, paprika, cumin and salt. My favorite is the árabes, which is ground beef “cooked” with lemon and aromatic spices.

Main: Definitely an asado: various cuts of Argentine beef, and lamb. The meat here is so good, people are surprised how much flavor it has. Typically the only condiment used is salt. (Argentina would be a difficult place for vegetarians!)

Dessert: We could have ice cream — call and have it delivered (yes, they do!!); but I think I’d prefer to introduce you to alfajores from Las delicias de Mamushka. An alfajor is like a cookie sandwich: two cookies made from cornmeal, filled with dulce de leche. I never liked them until I tried Mamushka’s. Now I’m addicted.

Wine & after-dinner drinks: A nice Malbec wine. I like Trapiche. A few hours later, after dessert and coffee, an ice-cold Fernet con Coka.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
There are so many — again, hard to choose.

Che and “más vale!” are among my favorites.

Che is used all the time here, especially in the province of Córdoba. Depending on the context, it means “hey…” or “umm…” Sometimes, it seems to be used in the same way we Californians use the word “like.” Che Guevara is from this area. He is actually called Che because when he went to Cuba, he used the word so frequently, people just started calling him “Che.”

Más vale is equivalent to “Hell, yeah!!” — and also has a bit of “Let’s do this!!”

This summer we’ve been doing some posts with an Olympics theme. Are you planning to watch the Summer Olympics in London? If so, who will you be rooting for: Americans, Argentines, both, or neither?
I’ll be rooting for them both. In the event that the U.S. squares off against Argentina in a soccer match, I will be wearing a helmet and full body armor — and cheering for the US!

Are Agentines excited about the Games?
In general, Argentines are fanatical about sports. Especially soccer. Messi is a God. During the World Cup, It seemed like every man, woman and child in this country was wearing a blue-and-white striped #10 jersey. We went to a  friend’s house to watch a game. Normally busy streets were completely deserted. The city had literally shut down. There was an eerie silence occasionally broken by simultaneous cheers erupting from the houses and (closed) shops. During national playoffs, you see grown men sobbing uncontrollably after their local team has lost. The first time I saw this, I was flipping channels on TV. As the camera switched from one sobbing man to another, I thought there had been a national disaster. So, yes, I think it’s safe to say that there will be plenty of excitement about the Games!

The Olympics gives me a segue way into your 8-month project to paint Argentina. That strikes me as being an Olympian feat. Can you say a little bit more about it?
Now that you mention it, it is an Olympian feat! The project is called “A Portrait of Argentina.” I will spend eight months visiting the country’s 23 provinces, traversing something like 15,600 miles, painting portraits of the people I meet. I’ll listen to their stories and then paint en plein-aire, the scenes from their daily life. I’m hoping to deliver a cultural portrait of my adopted home.

When did you first conceive of the project?
The idea came out of a period of misery after I left Los Angeles to live in Argentina. The first year I lived here, I saw everything from a touristic point of view. It was quaint, beautiful and…a little quirky. But the second year was more difficult. It was no longer cute and quirky; the honeymoon was over. I made unfair comparisons and was judging everything. My normally optimistic and upbeat attitude shifted to “This sucks.”

I had two obvious choices: go back to California — or change my outlook, appreciate all that is good, and stay. My husband (fiancé at the time) left it up to me (no pressure, eh?). We could pack everything up and head back to Los Angeles, or I could give Argentina another try.

I realized that much of my misery was self imposed. It came from the fact that I had not integrated and was spending the majority of my time alone, working out of the house. You can’t love anything until you take the time to develop a relationship with, and really get to know, it. Here I was, on an adventure of living in another country, and I wasn’t even willing to give it the time of day. What a wasted opportunity!

As I integrated myself more and became determined to learn as much as I could about Argentina, I started taking classes at the university and began developing this idea about painting my way across the country. Painting has always been my way of making sense out of the world. It forces me to pause and really look at my subject.

Is the project having the effect that you’d hoped — is it improving your attitude?
Just by researching the project, looking for “known” and “unknown” people and places, I have a new-found appreciation for this country. I’m realizing how easy it would be to say I know Argentina because I’ve lived here for two years. The fact is, I know a lot about one region in one province of a very large country, and a little bit about a dozen other places. A native New Yorker and a native Alaskan may live in the same country, but they are culturally worlds apart. The same can be said for a Porteño (a person from Buenos Aires) and a person from La Quiaca near the Bolivian border. Same country, worlds apart.

I’m also overjoyed that so many people here seem excited about my project. Obviously, I’m super excited about it (it’s my baby, after all), but when I share my vision with Argentines and their response is equally enthusiastic, it’s just amazing.

I’ve barely started, and already my outlook has changed. I’m owning the project in a way I didn’t at the start.

What do you hope the project will ultimately accomplish?
“A Portrait of Argentina” is both a personal and a professional journey. I expect to be surprised, challenged, and profoundly affected by it. I’ll be seeking out people from diverse backgrounds, looking to honor those who have dedicated their lives to their passion and whose work positively impacts others: scientists, athletes, artists, musicians, teachers, even the abuelita (little old lady) on the street corner. It’s a collaborative project, and I hope to involve as many people as possible. Luckily, the people I’m meeting are quick to offer help and introduce me to others who might want to participate.

Do you ever feel daunted by the scale of the project?
Argentina is a huge country so I’ve set myself a very ambitious goal to cover this much ground in just eight months. When I break it down into small chunks, it feels manageable. When I think about its entirety, it’s overwhelming.

Finance was another daunting prospect. When I first thought about the funds it would take to get me to and from so many places, it seemed completely insane and impossible. I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign with a $25k goal. Kickstarter is all or nothing, so if I didn’t hit the goal, my five-week campaign would end with $0.

There were days when I did let the campaign get to me and was sure it would fail. To keep going, I would sometimes just think, okay, how can I raise just $100?

In addition to a herculean effort by family and friends, I was fortunate to have some key influencers get excited about the project and promote it. In the end, with just 17 hours to spare, I made my goal!

I’m sure I will have some of these same feelings on the road, but I’ve developed a number of tactics to deal with it. I don’t give up easily. Besides, there are too many people supporting me and cheering me on. I know it will be hard, but am I ready for it? Más vale!!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Antrese Wood into The Displaced Nation once she’s finished her travels for her project? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Antrese — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in Libby’s Life, our fictional expat series set in small town New England. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures and/or check out “Who’s Who in Libby’s Life.”)

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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img: Antrese Wood displaying her intrepid travel skills on the Machu Picchu trail in Peru. Her comment: “I thought the Follow the Arrow sign was hilarious because 1) the trail is so well marked I cant imagine anyone getting lost; and 2) this was the one and only sign on the trail and it was near the end of the four-day hike. The other hilarious thing about the photo, at least to me, is that if you look closely, you can see my knee is bleeding. I had just spent 80 days carrying a backpack two-three times as heavy in seriously remote back country, no trails, no markers, nothing. We had to sign a waiver acknowledging the understanding that if something should happen, it could take a helicopter up to a week to arrive. I made it through without a scratch. Here, on this comparative cake-walk, on a perfectly even trail, I fell for no apparent reason and totally skinned up my knee.”

RANDOM NOMAD: Isabelle Bryer, French Expat in the City of Angels

Place of birth: Bourgoin, France — a small town between Lyon and Grenoble.
Passport: France and now USA*
Overseas history: USA (New York City): 1990; USA (Los Angeles): 1991 – present.
Occupation: Artist and art instructor
Cyberspace coordinates: Isabelle Bryer Paintings (artist site and blog); Isabelle Bryer Paintings (Facebook page); and @IsaBryerArt (Twitter handle).
*I decided to become a US citizen after I had my first baby. Since she was an American, I thought it would be prudent to be a citizen, too — I’m not sure what I was afraid of! To this day, I can remember swearing allegiance to the American flag in a giant room full of 6,000 immigrants with the song “God Bless the USA” blasting through loudspeakers. It felt surreal but I found it hard not to get emotional with people crying all around me. Some of them had waited many, many years for this moment and were escaping countries where they had few rights and even less opportunities. It made me feel spoiled, coming from France and seeing this process simply as an administrative hurdle.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left because I couldn’t wait to start living my own life. In France I always felt “the daughter of” or “the sister of” (I have three older brothers). I felt that everything I was doing was dictated by what was expected of me by everyone else. When I arrived in New York, I felt as though I could reinvent myself. Of course my new identity was that of “the French girl” — but at least it felt exotic! I loved that everything was odd, new and exciting.

It took me three months to be able to speak English efficiently, and still I was constantly making mistakes! To this day, I make some mistakes, which never cease to make my husband and two kids laugh! Mainly, I put accents on the wrong part of some words — in French everything is pronounced “flat” with no emphasis on any particular syllable.

During that year in New York, I worked as a fashion consultant. I went back and forth between New York and Europe about five times within the year. I would visit European cities — Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Florence — and act as a “fashion spy,” taking photos and sketches of trendy designs that might inspire American designers. Then I would go back to NYC and compile everything in books that were sold to clothing manufacturers. The job was very badly paid, but it was way more exciting than my old life!

I met my husband when he was in New York on business. A few months later, I moved with him to Los Angeles.

So your husband is an American. Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
I was the first and only one of my family to leave my town. They all still live there, which is good because I can easily see everyone when I go for a visit.

Can you describe the moment when you felt the most displaced?
When I was living in New York, I was going home late from work by subway. There was a homeless guy in the car trying to eat his hand and screaming. It really terrified me, but I didn’t want to exit before my stop because I was afraid of I’d get lost in the wrong neighborhood. That was the moment when I realized “I’m definitely not in Bourgoin anymore!”

That said, I also remember walking alone down one of the avenues on the west side of New York on a sunny Sunday morning. I felt like a French country girl who’d been dropped in the middle of West Side Story. Everywhere I looked seemed like a movie set. I felt entirely displaced while also having the sense of floating on air. I just loved it.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
When I’m alone and painting in my art studio, I have the feeling of being in the exact right place. I am not sure that I would have found in France what I was supposed to do in life. Sometimes you have to leave your familiar surroundings to start over and become who you were meant to be.

Can you describe the kind of art you do?
I guess the closest description might be “naive surrealism.” My work is very much inspired by folktales.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
I’d like to carry in a couple of memories of curious times.

From New York: A night at the wild nightclub Copacabana. In the early 1990s it was the place to be: beautiful people, drag queens and transsexuals, with everyone dancing to disco music. You could see Madonna’s dancers practicing “voguing” in the back room. One night I also found myself starstruck — I was going down the stairs behind Iggy Pop.

From L.A.: A typical afternoon at my favorite place, Cafe Mimosa in Topanga Canyon, which I think must have been the birthplace of the peace and love culture. Mimosa is owned by Claire, also a French native. The most amazing crowds assemble there, making you feel as though you’re a character in a hippie revival play. It’s not uncommon to see barefoot people, a man with a huge cockatoo on his shoulder, another one carrying a baby goat. You might run into someone who wants to read your aura for free. The ads on the cafe’s bulletin board offer the services of horse or dog whisperers, dream interpreters, or people ready to loan you their herd of goat to mow your lawn in an environmentally friendly way. It is one of the best places in the world to sip your vanilla chai and people watch. I would love for you all to experience it.

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Appetizer: Lemon rolls (spicy tuna on the inside, fresh tuna on the outside, topped with thin lemon slices and pine nuts in a delicious sauce) and Asian rolls from my favorite sushi place in LA, Kushiyu.
Main course: Baked sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Watching my mother-in-law serve this dish for the first time was an absolute culture shock. I couldn’t wait to call my family in France to tell them that these crazy Americans put rows of chamallows on top of sweet potatoes to bake in the oven and serve with turkey. To this day, I refuse to eat these baked sweet potatoes with meat but love to have them for dessert.
Dessert: A Galette des Rois that I would make myself. It’s a French cake made of puffed pastry stuffed with frangipane (a mix of sugar, almond powder and eggs). You hide little figurines of a queen and a king inside the galette before you serve it, and whoever finds one in their slice gets to wear a crown for the day. I have successfully introduced this tradition to my family and friends in the United States.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
One of the first expressions I learned when living in New York was “That’s how the cookie crumbles” — basically the American equivalent of “C’est la vie!

This month we are looking at the concept of “la dolce vita” — by that we mean living with an open heart and soul, indulging in life with all your senses. Can you tell me about a recent instance when you felt you were living la dolce vita?
I remember floating on my back in my swimming pool on a perfect warm April morning, watching hummingbirds fluttering by (and also a few helicopters since it’s Los Angeles, after all!). Living in California is still exotic to me. I feel like I’m on a permanent vacation, which I love.

If you were to take the adult equivalent of a “gap year” now or in the near future, where would you go and what would you do?
If I could take a year off, I would take my family to visit a few far-away places like India, China and Japan. I would pack drawing pads and a digital camera and keep a record of all the beautiful things we encountered on our travels. I would use it for inspiration when back in my studio.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Isabelle Bryer into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Isa — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode of “Libby’s Life”, with another bulletin from Kate — who seems to be regretting her rash promise to “stay with Libby for a while.” (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Isabelle Bryer and four of her paintings.

RANDOM NOMAD: Suzanne Kamata, American Expat in Japan

Place of birth: Grand Haven, Michigan, a charming tourist town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: France (Avignon): 1985; Japan (various towns + now Aizumi, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island): 1988 – present.
Occupation: Author* and TEFL teacher
Cyberspace coordinates: Suzanne Kamata (author site); @shikokusue (Twitter handle)
*Suzanne Kamata is the author of a novel, Losing Kei; a short story anthology, The Beautiful One Has Come (listed on The Displaced Nation’s top books for, by and about expats in 2011); and a picture book, Playing for Papa — all of which concern bicultural relationships and/or families. She is the editor of several anthologies — the most recent being Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
A sense of adventure! I wanted to see the world, which I’d glimpsed through reading novels set in other countries, and I wanted to gather up interesting, exotic experiences for the stories and books I would one day write.

Toward the end of my college career, I planned on going into the Peace Corps to teach English in Cameroon. As a fallback, my brother suggested a new program he’d read about in the newspaper. The Japanese government had set up the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme to get native English speakers into public schools. I’d studied Asian history in college, and had an interest in Japan (especially the Heian Age, when nobles communicated via poetry), so I applied. After rigorous interviews for both, I was accepted into both the Peace Corps and the JET Program. I decided to go to Japan first, because the JET Program was a one-year program. I figured I’d do a two-year stint in the Peace Corps later, but then I wound up meeting a Japanese guy…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My brother spent a year in Germany as an exchange student during high school. I think I was influenced a bit by his experience.

You’ve lived in Japan for a long time. Does any one moment stand out as your “most displaced”?
When I was about to give birth to my twins via C-section. My mother and father were on the other side of the world, and my husband was out in the waiting room. I was surrounded by Japanese-speaking strangers. I wondered if I would be able to remember how to speak Japanese during the operation. I think entering motherhood is like going into another country for everyone, but it’s especially surreal in a foreign hospital.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
No one moment but all the moments when I’m with my children. Whenever I spend time with them, I feel completely at home. My children have never lived in my native country, and they have Japanese passports. When I’m away from them I feel a little bit lost.

Do your kids ever go to the United States for visits?
My kids have been to the States numerous times. Most recently, my son went on a school trip to Hawaii, where, for once in his life, he blended in perfectly. There are many mixed race kids in Hawaii. I think my kids feel pretty comfortable in the States, but being on vacation is different from actually living there.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A furoshiki — a Japanese wrapping cloth — dyed with locally grown indigo. It will be easy to tuck into my suitcase, and I’m sure I’ll find ways to use it during my stay at The Displaced Nation. In Japan, I use wrapping cloths to carry books, covered dishes, and oddly shaped parcels. They’re durable and more attractive and ecological than paper or plastic bags. The color will remind me of the area where I’ve lived for over twenty years. The name of the town where I now live is Aizumi, which means “indigo dwelling place.”

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Starter: A few slices of sea bream sashimi from the straits of Naruto, with a squeeze of sudachi and soy sauce mixed with wasabi on the side for dipping.
Main course: Cubes of grilled Kobe beef strewn with fresh herbs (julienned shiso leaves, coriander, parsley, slivers of ginger root), steamed barley and rice, and miso soup made with fresh wakame — served with a nice Côtes du Rhône wine.
Dessert: Sudachi pie (my own creation: it’s Key lime pie made with sudachi juice instead of lime), served with espresso. I’d also put a plate of sliced Asian pears on the table.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I like the Japanese word natsukashii, which refers to nostalgia or a longing for things of the past. I don’t think there’s a perfect equivalent in English. At any rate, Americans don’t go around saying “I’m feeling nostalgic!” whereas natsukashii is frequently used in Japan. If someone brings up a memory from the past, another person, filled with nostalgia, might say, “Natsukashii!”

Today, appropriately enough, is “East Meets West Day.” can you tell us about any parties or celebrations you’ve held since you becoming displaced from your native land, that in some way illustrate this theme?
In Japan, only children’s birthdays are celebrated, usually with a store-bought cake. In our family, everyone, including the adults, gets a birthday party. Typically, we have a meal with celebratory dishes such as rice with red beans, or everybody’s favorite sushi, with a homemade birthday cake for dessert. We sing “Happy Birthday to You” in English, and the birthday person makes a wish before blowing out the candles on the cake. (The Japanese have adopted the custom of candles on a child’s birthday cake, but not the making of wishes.)

The Displaced Nation has just turned one year old. Can you give us some advice on themes to cover in our second year — anything you think should be on our radar?
You might consider interviewing Edward Sumoto, who runs a variety of events for Mixed Race/Third Culture individuals in Japan, and the filmmakers/photograhers/writers involved in the Hafu Project. I believe their long-awaited documentary will debut this year.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Suzanne Kamata into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Suzanne — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for a diversion from the usual updates from life in Woodhaven. In tomorrow’s post, Kate Allison will be reporting on her latest meeting with Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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!

Related posts:

img: Suzanne Kamata standing inside a pumpkin sculpture on the Japanese island of Naoshima (March 2011). The sculpture was created by the well-known artist Yayoi Kusama, who was herself an expat for awhile. (She lived in New York City in the 1960s.)

Is there a common theme — or better yet meme — for the expat life?

After writing, planning, commissioning, and editing posts for this site for just over a year — many of which were centered on the keyword “expat” — I have become rather fixated on that word of late.

Yes, we’re back to that old chestnut, but kindly indulge me while I rake it over the coals again and crack it open to take another look.

Back when I myself could have been considered an expat — first in England and then in Japan — I assiduously avoided describing myself in that way. It made me think of the kinds of people who go into a siege mentality, circle the wagons and say: “Right, it’s just us now.” I’m sure you know the kind of expats I mean, the ones who live in a colony or compound, or socialize as if they do. They hang out at the pool drinking G&Ts, exuding a sense of cultural superiority — along with great pride in having remained unassimilated.

After all, if you’re an expat, it means you come from the richer part of the world; otherwise, you’d be an immigrant.

Nowadays, I’m an American living in America, but I simply tell people that I used to live abroad. If I use the word “expat” at all to refer to myself, it’s in inverted commas: “Yes, I suppose I was an ‘expat’ for all those years. And now I’m a ‘repat.’ Hahaha…”

What about you? If you are reading this, chances are you are (or have been) someone who has ventured across borders to travel and/or live. How do you refer to your predicament? (BTW, my choice of “predicament” is the result of cultivating a British sense of humor over many years of living on that sceptered isle — no, not as an expat, but as an international resident!!!)

Maybe unlike me, you don’t have any hang-ups about calling yourself an expat — and think that people of my sort are inverse snobs for rejecting the label?

As the blogger Tabitha Carvan (The City That Never Sleeps In) has written:

To the Vietnamese who live around me, it’s clear where I fit in here: I don’t. The differences between us are as plain as the enormous nose on my big fat face.

So is it fair to say we’re all “displaced”?

One of the other founders of The Displaced Nation, Kate Allison, is an Englishwoman who has lived in the United States for more than 15 years. I sometimes think of her as an immigrant, except that she tells me she keeps a foot on each side of the Atlantic.

Strangely, I did not wince at all when Kate Allison proposed the word “displaced” as a descriptor for our common situation, when she and I were first chatting about starting up this site.

Well, perhaps I winced just slightly. I know from my studies of international affairs that “displaced” is often used for people who are forcibly removed from their homes by natural disaster, famine, civil wars and other tragedies.

In this narrow sense, “displaced” in no way applies to me, Kate or others of our ilk, who have led privileged lives.

But in a broader sense, I had to agree with Kate that “displaced” seems a good fit. As the Italian poet Cesare Pavese once said:

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

If there is any common theme that applies to all of us, surely it’s that sense of being “constantly off balance,” as Pavese so aptly puts it. By trotting off to investigate — and live in — far-flung corners of the globe, we are casting off the balance of our lives and choosing a life where, for a while, the only things we have in common with anyone else are the basics: air, sea, sky, sleep, dreams — a life of displacement, in other words…

And in some cases — Kate’s would be an example — we are trailing others who have made this choice on our behalf, or on behalf of family and kids. (See her “Libby’s Life” series.)

Always look on the bright side of life!

In an article last month for the FT, Edwin Heathcote had this to say about what he called “a life less ordinary”:

The expat experience combines a cocktail of the thrill of the new and the ennui of global alienation, of displacement and dislocation.

Readers may wonder why the founders of The Displaced Nation have chosen to emphasize the negative ingredients of this cocktail. After all, the meaning of “displaced” is only a shade or two away from “misplaced” or “out of place.”

Why not look at the bright side instead — the allure and the thrill of a life overseas?

Well, the fact is, the founders of The Displaced Nation don’t necessarily see displacement as a negative. As shown in numerous ways on this site over the past 12 months, it’s a necessary first step in making the leap beyond the known to the unknown — to feeding what for many of us is, or soon becomes, an insatiable hunger for new ways to knowledge.

By becoming displaced, we open up our minds to new forms of

Now if that isn’t the bright side, we don’t know what is!

Keep ’em laughing as you go

As far as our site stats go, readers have most enjoyed the series of posts where we’ve explored the good and the bad, the yin and the yang, of the displaced life, with a large helping of humor thrown into the mix.

1. Alice in Wonderland

Top of the charts is the month that we dedicated to the “curious, unreal” aspects of the displaced life with the help of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

When you stop to think of it, barging into other people’s countries is rather like falling down a rabbit hole: full of adventure but also misadventure, of curious — and sometimes scary (because so incomprehensible) — encounters.

Kate Allison produced two brilliant posts illustrating just how unreal things can sometimes get: “5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice,” and “How many of these 5 expat Alice characters do you recognize?”

Meanwhile, Guest blogger Carole Hallett Mobbs kept us in stitches when describing the scenes of young adults dressed up in furry romper suits, “doormice folk,” and flying potatoes that formed the backdrop to her everyday life in Japan.

2. Pocahontas

Readers also appreciated the month when we recruited the legendary Pocahontas to help us understand, from a native’s point of view, what it’s like to be bombarded with clueless nomads.

In particular, we focused on the cases when displaced types befriend, or even marry, the natives, causing them to lead displaced lives (sometimes to tragic effect — I’m thinking not so much of Pocahontas, but of her tribe!).

I weighed in with a post that was partly based on my own experiences: “Cross-cultural marriage: Four good reasons not to rush into it.” Somewhat to my bemusement, the post proved extremely popular — that is, until it was surpassed by new TDN writer Tony James Slater’s hilarious (but with a hard kernel of truth) “Does love conquer all, even language barriers?”

Counterbalancing Tony’s and my cautious take on such matters was a two-part interview series with two cross-cultural couples — all of whom seemed to find their situation “no big deal.”

That blasé sentiment would later be echoed by Wendy Williams, author of the new work, The Globalisation of Love. In a guest post in honor of Valentine’s Day, she pointed out that in an era of increased international travel, multicultural unions are an inevitability — and even deserve their own label: “GloLo.”

3. Global philanthropy

Another monthly theme that earned high marks from readers was “global philanthropy” — the idea of displacing oneself on behalf of the forcibly displaced.

Readers responded with high praise for Kate Allison’s interview of Robin Wiszowaty, who immersed herself in Maasai culture and now runs development programs in Kenya on behalf of the Canada-based charity Free the Children.

Also popular was a feature on international aid worker and consultant Jennifer Lentfer. (Lentfer has received the most hits of any of the 40 Random Nomads who’ve been featured in the site’s first year.)

But even when covering this seemingly sacrosanct topic, we were hard pressed to prevent a note of skepticism, verging on irreverence, from creeping into the site. Guest blogger Lawrence Hunt stirred things up with his well-received post making fun of gap-year students who think they can save the world in just six months. And I wasn’t far behind with this one, still getting many hits: “7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls.” (Hey, the current generation isn’t the first to perform good works on behalf of those less fortunate!)

But is it a meme?

First, what is a meme exactly? My dictionary tells me it’s an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Memes are the cultural analogues to genes that get selected and then self-replicate.

Is the kind of “displacement” we talk about on this site a meme? Not in the Internet sense — it hasn’t spread like wild fire throughout social media.

But has it been a meme within our community? You tell us — does “displaced” work for you, or is there some other organizing principle we should be using on this site? Expat, perhaps? (Groan…)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a roundup of recent displaced reads by Kate Allison.

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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RANDOM NOMAD: Wendy Williams, Canadian Expat in Austria

Place of birth: Northern Ontario, Canada
Passport: Canadian, and apparently I can live in Austria forever now with my unlimited Aufenhaltsbewilligung.
Overseas history: Austria (present), Germany, Switzerland, Slovak Republic, UK. I have also worked on a project basis for extended periods in Sweden, Tunisia, Holland and Estonia.
Occupation: Author*
Cyberspace coordinates: The Glolo Blog; The Globalisation of Love (Facebook page); and @WilliamsGloLo (Twitter handle)
*Wendy Williams is the author of The Globalisation of Love, one of the top books for expats in 2011.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Burning curiosity! I just love to know what is around the next corner — and the corner after that, too. My grandparents are all immigrants to Canada from Europe, and I guess listening to their stories about their homelands got me thinking that “home” can be very different and it can be anywhere.

Is anyone else in your family “displaced” besides your grandparents?
I am the only of my siblings who went back across the pond, as my grandmother would say — though they certainly come to visit me in Austria (and to ski!).

You’ve lived in quite a few places in Europe before moving to Vienna with your Austrian husband. Does any one moment of that time abroad stand out as your “most displaced”?
While vacationing on one of the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain, I fell ill and required an injection in my, ahem, gluteus maximus. It was 1995, when the so-called Turbot War took place between Canada and Spain — a dispute over fishing rights along the coast of Canada that challenged international diplomatic relations between the two countries. The doctor held up the rather long needle and said, “So, you’re from Canada are you? You like to fish?” I remember thinking, “Uh-oh, this is going to hurt!” It may be conjecture, but I felt the jab of the needle was particularly forceful.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
It happens all the time while skiing in Austria. I grew up skiing on a tiny little bump of a hill and always dreamed about the long alpine slopes of Austria. I was lucky enough to marry an Austrian who is also a passionate skier, and we ski frequently throughout the winter. I feel right at home as I swish, swish down the slopes. I enjoy the après ski, too!

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Georgia in the Caucasus: Antique brass candle holders
From Murano, a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon: A red Murano chandelier
From Morocco: An onyx stone bathroom sink
From Austria: An 18th-century Tyrolean kitchen table
From France: A yellow ceramic Pernot jug
My house is a diary of my travels through life, and as you can see, I plan to continue living that way on The Displaced Nation — even though it will entail dragging in a rather large and heavy suitcase!

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Appetizer: My husband’s pumpkin soup with 100% pure Austrian pumpkin seed oil
Salad: Arugula mixed salad with blue cheese, grapes, cranberries, pear and pistachios — as served at the Loriot in Washington, D.C.
Main course: Viennese Schnitzel with potato salad … of course!
Dessert: My mom’s lemon meringue pie
Drinks: Bubbly to start — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favourites; and for the main course, red wine from Burgenland in Austria.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Actually, I would like to loan you an expression that my husband picked it up while living in Australia: Happy as Larry. (I picked it up from him while living in Austria.)

This month we are looking into parties and celebrations abroad. What has been your most memorable party or celebration since you became “displaced” from your native land?
The celebration of my 10th wedding anniversary, in 2008! My husband and I had about 50 friends in a small restaurant in Vienna that served elegant, locally-sourced organic food. An opera singer sang “‘O Sole Mio” so beautifully we thought the wine glasses would burst like in a cartoon. We gave a speech about our 10 years together and then announced what we had planned for the upcoming years — I was four months pregnant. The crowd went wild with excitement and gave a 10-minute standing ovation amongst congratulatory hugs, tears and high fives. It was total kitsch and corny Hollywood romance — and we loved every minute of it!

The Displaced Nation has just turned one year old. Can you give us some advice on themes to cover in our second year — anything you think should be on our radar?
Multicultural couples — what I call GloLo couples — usually meet in interesting ways. Chance and coincidence often conspire to bring two people together. It would be fun if The Displaced Nation could feature some stories from GloLo couples about how they met — and whether their displaced lives brought them together — and how they worked things out so they can stay together.

Editor’s note: In February Wendy Williams contributed a post to The Displaced Nation that has remained very popular: Why “expat” is a misleading term for multicultural couples.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Wendy William into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Wendy — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, as she discovers that Oliver’s mum and her own mother have more in common than she’d realized. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Wendy wrapped up against the elements — but is she in Austria, her adopted home, or Northern Ontario, her birthplace? (Hint: It was minus 25 degrees Celsius.)

RANDOM NOMAD: Annabel Kantaria, British Expat in Dubai

Place of birth: London, UK
Passport: UK
Overseas travel history: United Arab Emirates (Dubai): 1998 – present.
Occupation: Former journalist and one of four official expat bloggers for The Weekly Telegraph
Cyberspace coordinates: Telegraph Expat blog (Annabel Kantaria) and @BellaKay (Twitter handle)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Despite being 100 percent British, I never felt at home in England. As young as six years old I used to wake up feeling “displaced.” I was unable to identify that feeling until I moved to Dubai and realized that the feeling had gone. To be honest, I think “home” could be anywhere that has a positive attitude, hot sun, blue sky and a glittering sea.

Was anyone else in your family “displaced”?
My father grew up in India as the child of expat parents and so my own childhood in England was full of stories of hill retreats, jungles, hot sun, ayas and curries. My mother was born to expat parents in Romania. My aunt emigrated from the UK to Canada.

My husband, whom I met at university in the UK, is also displaced — I don’t think it’s a coincidence we ended up together. Of Indian origin, he grew up largely in Kenya and did his secondary schooling and university in the UK. We were married in Nairobi and then lived in the UK for one year. My husband went to Dubai on business, brought me back a book about Dubai and said “Let’s move there!” I didn’t need any convincing. We sold our house and cars, and shipped all our possessions over and have, so far, never looked back. 🙂

So you’ve felt the most displaced in your homeland?
Yes. Growing up in England, I felt like an alien. Throughout my teenage years I plotted my escape. I knew I would leave as soon as I could. It was just a matter of when, where and with whom. Even now, when I go back, I feel like a foreigner.

Is there any particular moment in Dubai that stands out as your “least displaced”?
Probably the first weekend after my husband and I moved to Dubai — when we sitting on the public beach watching the sun go down and the sand turn from white to pink and listening to the azaan (call to prayer) echo across the beach. I had that first flutter of “This is home! We’re not on holiday!” excitement, which still continues, even after 14 years.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A plastic mosque alarm clock that wakes you with the azaan [see photo inset].

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Emirati food revolves largely around meat and I am a vegetarian, so I would have to broaden it to include other Middle Eastern cuisines. Rather than three courses, I’d offer you a selection of mezze (small dishes):

We’d wash it down with a rich red wine from Lebanon’s Château Musar, Ksara or Kefraya.

For dessert I would offer you a delicious Umm Ali — an Egyptian version of hot, bread pudding, served with a little vanilla sauce. And, of course, a cardamom-laced Arabic coffee to finish.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Inshallah (If it’s God’s will) — it’s the word you hear the most when you want to get something done and you’re begging for a commitment that it will be. It’s also a word that UAE expats use, in their transient lives, to acknowledge that they aren’t entirely sure of what may happen next. “We’ll be staying here for two years, Inshallah.”

This month we are looking into beauty and fashion. What are the best Emirati beauty secrets you’ve discovered?
From observing highly groomed Arab ladies, I’ve learned the value of the perfectly shaped eyebrow – something to which I’d barely paid any attention in England. I’ve also discovered the joys of a good scrub in the hammam. It’s not Emirati per se, but does have a long history here. And although you don’t often see a UAE national lady without her shayla (rectangular headscarf), the beauty salons are full of Emirati ladies having their hair blow-dried — I’ve learned to get my hair professionally “blown” before any major social event. It gives you an instant polish that makes all the difference.

What about fashion — any beloved outfits, jewelry, or other accessories you’ve collected in the UAE?
Emirati ladies put a lot of thought into accessories such as sunglasses, handbags and shoes, given that the rest of them is covered by the abaya (robe-like dress or cloak) when out in public. I’ve picked up their habit of using a great handbag to pull a look together. I also have a beautiful, jewelled black thobe (ankle-length garment traditionally worn by Arab men) that doubles up as a great evening dress.

Editor’s note: Annabel Kantaria was awarded one of The Displaced Nation’s “Alices” for a post she composed about the need for “behavior lessons” before working in the UAE.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Annabel Kantaria into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Annabel — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is once again on her own while her feckless husband clocks up more hotel points and air miles — perhaps he intends to be present at the birth of their twins via Skype? (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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!

Related posts:

img: Annabel Kantaria at a polo match in Dubai; inset: her plastic mosque alarm clock, which she proposes to bring into The Displaced Nation.

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