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10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

summerhacks_US

The summer ideal, so rarely achieved (apart from the cocktail), Public Domain CC0 via Pixar.

New York City, where I now live after years of being an expat on two small islands, the UK and Japan, had a particularly brutal winter in 2014. You would think I’d now be in the mood for summer.

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

The moment the temperature and humidity levels skyrocketed here in the city, I realized my feelings about summer haven’t changed. Basically, and as expressed in this space before, I can’t stand it. Or, in the somewhat more poetic words of Swedish black metal trio Woods of Infinity:

Summer is not my friend. Satan, let it end.
Sunshine, hurting my eyes. Making my skin look like…argh.

Which brings me to today’s topic: summer hacks. What hacks have I picked up from the three countries where I’ve lived—Japan, the US and the UK—that can help me through summer’s doggiest days?

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

Japanese women seem to have been the first to get the memo about avoiding sun damage. During the summer, which in Tokyo can be particularly brutal, most would not venture out in the heat of the day without a hat or a UV parasol, sometimes both. (Note: A regular umbrella will do in lieu a proper parasol.)

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

If the heat becomes unbearably hot, say, when standing on the subway platform or getting into a car, one of the easiest ways to get cool is via a simple fan, either the kind that folds or an uchiwa. And if you find yourself perspiring profusely in a public place, try dabbing your face and neck with a handkerchief folded into a neat square. (When living in Japan, I used to find it entertaining to go into a department store and look at the vast array of handkerchiefs on display in the ground floor accessories. Every major Western designer has done one, meaning they’ve all had to struggle with translating their unique look into a small square of cloth. Who knew?)

3) Eat sparingly (cold soba) or else for energy (grilled eel).

On a hot and humid day, one of the healthiest meals is the simplest: a plate of cold buckwheat noodles, or soba, which have been cooked al dente. The noodles are dipped into a cup containing a special sauce (consisting of dashi, sweetened soy sauce and mirin), to which has been added fresh wasabi and sliced spring onions. Alternatively, if your body feels depleted during a heat wave, you can go to the other extreme and have a meal of unagi kabayaki, freshwater eel that has been glaze-grilled: it is served over white rice, typically with a cold beer to accompany. (By tradition, Japanese favor this meal from mid-July through early August, to counteract the lethargy and debilitation that occurs mid-way through their blistering summers.)

4) Drink plenty of cold tea and, for short bursts of energy, iced coffee with milk and a shot of gum syrup.

In Japan you can buy, at every convenience store, huge plastic bottles of green tea or oolong cha (my fave) to refrigerate so that cold tea (most people don’t ice it) is always on hand. You can also make mugicha: a caffeine-free barley infusion, said to be the “flavor of summer” in Japan and always served a room temperature. Before moving to Japan, I had never before tried iced coffee , where apparently the Japanese have been drinking it since the 1920s. Usually, it’s served in a glass to accompany or finish a restaurant meal—not in a plastic disposable cup (it’s impolite to eat and drink on the streets in that part of the world). Although hesitant at first, I became an immediate fan and was pleased to see it had caught on in the West by the time I returned. Now you can even get iced coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts. And, whereas I don’t usually add sugar to coffee, I will sometimes add to the iced version as I find my body needs that extra bit of energy to get from A to B. (In Japan, one always adds gum syrup, which dissolves much better than sugar, but it’s hard to find that here.)

FROM THE US:

5) If you can’t stand the heat, move to a cold dark box, aka a movie theatre.

Maybe it’s a New York City thing, but I’m thinking of Michael Maslin’s New Yorker cartoon showing a movie theatre with a marquee that says:

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

One or two scoops of freshly made ice cream in a dish or a regular sugar cone (nothing heavier or fancier) is one of life’s simple pleasures. Many people die in heat waves (no joke), so this is one to have, and keep, on your bucket list.

7) Seek invites to places where you can swim—in a pool, a lake, the ocean.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into some cool water. Another tip is to put on a shirt or dress that is slightly damp—it will be dry by the time you reach the subway.

8) No opportunity to escape to a house in the Hamptons or equivalent? Have a cocktail.

See my still-relevant post of three summers ago on cocktails as mini-summer escapes to exotic locales, entitled Some enchanted drinking…

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

British summer tends to be short and sweet—and blissful (not too humid). Should you have a day where the heat breaks and temperatures and humidity levels are bearable, EMBRACE SUMMER AS YOUR FRIEND. Now, British people go to extremes by stripping down, as noted in this recent post by Annabel Kantaria in her Telegraph Expat blog, hence risking sunburn and melanoma. (As an aside: Did you know we once did an interview with Annabel? Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) At the very least, perhaps you could pull off an impromptu picnic or bike ride, or else try to score an outdoor table at a popular restaurant or pub.

10) Have a cuppa.

Contrary to the Japanese and American customs, tea is drunk hot in Britain because it makes you sweat and therefore cool down. This hack is one of the more practical legacies from the days when the Brits occupied India. To this day, I will sometimes make a cuppa when I’m boiling hot. Think the science sounds dubious? Listen to this NPR story. In any event, tea is an important summer drink in all three cultures, for good reason. It sustains you. See my post on the virtues of tea-drinking.

* * *

Readers, it’s your turn. What can you add to my list before that Woods of Infinity song starts haunting me again:

Awake at night again. No tears to weep and too restless to sleep. Thinking of all and nothing and got stuck in between.

Hurry, please! Any foods, drinks, rituals, Bacchanalian festivities or other hacks you’ve picked up from your lives of displacement? How about current films you’d recommend? SOS, I’m melting over here…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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TCK TALENT: Alice Shu-Hsien Wu, Cultural Bridge Builder and Global Nomad Videographer

Alice Wu TCK TALENT Collage

Alice Shu-Hsien Wu (her own photo).

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference.

—ML Awanohara

Happy summer/winter/rainy season, international readers! As some of you may recall, last month I talked to Cathleen Hadley, a fellow ATCK contributor to the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, dedicated to telling the stories of those of us who grew up among different countries. Today I’m interviewing another Limbo contributor, Alice Shu-Hsien Wu. An intercultural communication consultant and lecturer at Cornell University, Alice is particularly interested in intercultural adjustment and in internationally mobile families. She has produced two acclaimed videos about college students who have led internationally mobile, nomadic lives, in which the students themselves discuss such challenges as transition, cultural identity, and rootlessness.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Alice. I understand that you were internationally mobile while growing up, living in England, Finland and Sweden in addition to the United States.
Yes, my father was a biochemistry professor and had sabbaticals in various places. We went from New York City to Palo Alto, California, when I was 6 and to Upstate New York when I was 7, and then to England when I was 11 and back to New York State when I was 12. We also sometimes traveled to various countries where my father had meetings. I was a Rotary exchange student in Finland when I was 17; went to college and grad school in New York; and then, at age 26, went to Sweden to study and work, returning two years later to Ithaca, New York, where I still live.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I’ve been happy in many places—one of my favorites was California because of the sunny weather, fruit trees and flowers in my yard, and sand in the playgrounds (I was 6 then, remember). This was a welcome change from living in NYC—where the playgrounds were concrete and you weren’t allowed to walk on the small amounts of grass.

“Then when I got here it was a big adjustment identity thing: I didn’t feel American…” – Lynn, US

How did you find your various “repatriation” experiences?
My repatriation from Sweden was probably the most challenging—since I had lived there longer and gotten more immersed in the culture through school, work, and friends. I remember thinking American TV newscasters smiled and laughed too much compared to Swedish commentators and that college and grad students in the United States dressed very informally compared to students in Stockholm. Everything in the U.S. seemed bigger than I had become accustomed to in Sweden—gigantic tableware and portions in restaurants (especially in California), huge shopping carts and vast numbers of products in supermarkets. Also, I was surprised by the general lack of discussion about current world events in the U.S., compared to the amount and frequency of these discussions in Europe.

Now you sound like the other Alice: in Wonderland! (I mention because she’s the Displaced Nation’s mascot.) As an instructor at Cornell, you’ve made two important documentaries about global nomads/TCKs, Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the Future (1994) and Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the New Millennium (2001). What did you like best about the creative process?
Meeting the students and getting to know them—they were fascinating, honest, and articulate. I screened the first global nomads video for the student interviewees at the end of the school year, and they liked it so much they decided to form a global nomads club. They asked me to be their advisor and I ended up working with them for the next three years. They were amazingly creative, active, and energetic and brought a lot to the campus community.

“Global Nomads have the ability to educate others…” – Liliona, Ghana

What attracted you to the documentary format? I have talked to other ATCK actors like myself and to novelists and artists, but you are my first videographer.
Clearly, there are many effective ways to portray the GN/TCK experience, but I was more familiar with the documentary format since I’d used it in teaching. For example, I’d used videos during intercultural training sessions for students and staff at Cornell to introduce topics like cultural adjustment, culture shock, and reentry shock. I also videoed international students as well as first-generation Americans who were participating in panels about aspects of American culture, as well as some international students who were teaching and doing role-plays. So I was very comfortable with the format. I really like being able to feature students’ own words and impressions—especially when I can capture them interacting with other students. In the first video, all of the students were from Cornell. In the second video, the students were from six different schools across the United States: San Diego State University, Colorado State University, The College of Wooster, George Mason University, Syracuse University, and Cornell.

Limbo_coverIn your essay in Writing Out of Limbo, you describe the impact of the videos not only on the college students who participated in them but also on the TCKs in your audiences. You produced these two documentaries in the era before social media. How did the news spread?
I showed the videos to as many groups at Cornell as I could: students, including Resident Advisors in dorms and the members of an international student discussion group, as well as groups of staff. I also screened them at international and intercultural conferences. Also, the students who appeared in the first video were great with promotions. They showed it to their dorm-mates to help them understand the GN experience, as well as at an initial meeting of their global nomads club to introduce prospective members to the concept. And they traveled together to a Global Nomads International (GNI) collegiate conference in Virginia where they screened it for GNs and TCKs from other colleges. Audience members who’d been TCKs/GNs could really relate to the students on screen, and word soon spread.

“I never wanted to put down roots…”- Brian, US

Did making these videos help you to better understand yourself as an ATCK?
I could relate to many things that the students talked about, and making the videos helped me think about some of my own experiences such as leaving my friends many times and having friends in many different places.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them!)
I identify with some aspects of Nordic cultures like Sweden and Finland, some aspects of Chinese culture (due to my family background), and some aspects of American culture. I always seem to meet global nomads and Third Culture Kids wherever I go: I really enjoy it. After learning about the concept of global nomads and Third Culture Kids at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and from the late, great David Pollock, I realized that a lot of the friends I’d made at college were global nomads (and they were very interested in learning more once I’d informed them).

As an ATCK, do you want to move frequently, or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
My suitcase is always partly packed so it is easy to go on the next trip. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was thinking about how much I love seeing all the gates listing flights to various parts of the world. I like to imagine what it would be like to jump on one of these planes and end up in a new part of the world. That said, I also enjoy having a home base, especially since I have kids who are quite rooted and don’t like me to be away for very long.

Are you working on a new TCK video project?
Yes. This spring I filmed three panels of Cornell students at Cornell’s Language House. This time I am looking at the influence of technology on the global nomad/TCK experience and how this compares to the experiences of GN/TCK students in my previous two videos. In addition, I am making a video that follows up on some of the students who participated in my first two films, and am planning to use social media tools.

* * *

Thank you, Alice! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about Alice’s work or obtaining a copy of either of her documentaries, you can go to the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) website. And, to reiterate, you can read her chapter describing her work in Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. The subheds above are all quotes from the students featured in her second documentary. Please leave any questions or comments for Alice below.

STAY TUNED for our next fab post!

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Even before you write the last word of your novel, start rehearsing the book trailer!

LadyWhoWrites_brandApril blossoms (and showers) are here, which means it’s time to welcome Meagan Adele Lopez, aka The Lady Who Writes, back to the Displaced Nation. Meagan is a repeat expat in the UK (last time Bristol, this time London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging, and crafting ads for social media. In this monthly column, she is doling out advice to international creatives who are contemplating writing a novel about their novel, shall we say, life experiences.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers. I wonder, how many of you caught ML’s interview with British screenwriter Tim John, posted at the end of last week? Tim spent seven years as an expat in LA chasing the dream of selling scripts to Hollywood studio executives and producers. Reading about his (mis)adventures got me thinking about my own Hollywood days—as well as about book trailers, a pet topic of mine.

Like Tim, I tried to make it in Hollywood for a time: first as an actress and then as a casting agent. I poured what I learned from this experience into creating Dell, the heroine of my first novel, Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers. As anyone who has read it will know, the novel is about the developing love between two young people who have only met each other once, by chance, on a night out in Las Vegas. The love interest, Guy, is from England, while Dell is from America. And the complication is that neither are willing to give up their life plans. Dell is on route to Hollywood to seek her fame and fortune, while Guy is heading to Africa in search of adventure.

Perhaps this portion of my background also explains why, the first time I saw a book trailer, I knew I had to have one for my novel. The trailer was for One Day, by English novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls. By my count, Nicholls actually created a total of four “One Day” book trailers. Here is one of them:

I had never seen a book trailer before, and this one made a strong impression on me. I thought: Gosh, this book I’m about to read is going to be turned into a film—and I’m one of the lucky few who gets to read it before the movie comes out.

In fact, when the movie did come out—with Anne Hathaway playing the female lead—it was a flop, even though Nicholls had also written the screenplay. (The consensus among critics on Rotten Tomatoes is that the movie “lacks the emotion, depth, or insight of its bestselling source material.”)

What the *&%$ is a book trailer?

Good question. A book trailer is akin to a movie trailer. It’s an advertisement for the book in visual form. I saw it as another way to reach my audience—another way to inspire and motivate potential readers to buy the book.

But now that I’m in the position to hand out advice to wannabe novelists, I recommend you start thinking about your book trailer even before you finish writing.

Many writing coaches will tell you to read your book aloud before submitting it to an editor for review. It gives you a sense of where you need to improve the dialogue, shorten sentences, change words, and so on. (See Joanna Penn’s post: “7 Reasons Why You Should Read Your Book Out Loud.”)

But I would add that acting out your book trailer in advance can also be helpful. Book trailers are generally scenes, or splices of scenes acted out from the novel. Preferably, the book trailer will end on a cliff hanger. If no one wants to know more, then what’s the point?

By the way, should you feel a tad peculiar acting out scenes from your novel, be sure to remind yourself that Charles Dickens, who was drawn to the theatre and dabbled in acting, had no qualms about acting out the characters he was writing in the mirror and then describing what he saw in his novels.

Should you actually make a book trailer?

Some of you may be nearly finished with your Great Work and wondering: what’s the ROI (return on investment) for a book trailer? “Investment” is exactly the right word. Your trailer will need to be high quality. If it looks like a cheaply made home video, no one will care to learn more. What’s more, they won’t share it with their friends, which is the way to best way to clock up more sales.

I did a lot of research but never found any studies that make the ROI case for book trailers. Similar to billboard advertisements or TV commercials, there is no solid way to measure why people bought your product or how many took action after seeing an ad. As one of my favorite author bloggers, Allison Winn Scotch, has written:

No one knows what the hell sells books.

In fact, I can’t see any demographic data (besides the country they are from) on the purchases made on my novel. (I wish Amazon would change that.)

In the end, though, I decided to spend $1,500 on my book trailer (used from the money that I raised on Kickstarter for turning my book into a film). I researched how much the big companies were charging compared with the indie companies, and got my number.

Perhaps because of my background in film, I knew that I wanted a book trailer as a marketing tool in addition to everything else I was doing: guest blogging (including on this site!), email marketing, social media marketing, book signings, giveaways (including on this site!), PR, etc.

I had a secondary reason for making one as well—I figured it would be a great way to get the eye of a publishing house or agent. All they have to do is click “Play” and watch for two minutes to see if the story intrigues them.

If I were measuring purely on book sales, I can tell you that my book trailer currently has 921 views so far. If every single person who watched the trailer bought my paperback book, I would have made my money back.

Perhaps it’s just another tool for making a book stand out from the crowd. Or maybe I just really enjoyed making it… But I should let you judge for yourself:

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 3 for International Creatives:

While in the process of writing your novel, ask yourself: Which scenes would go into my book trailer? And don’t be afraid to act them out, even if you have to play all the parts.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this book trailer idea of Meagan’s? Do you see the value in having one, or at least in rehearsing as though you might have one someday? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, any topics you wish she would cover in future columns? Please share in the comments…

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her Web site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s announcement of our March “Alice” winners!

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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Does an expat life in Los Angeles ever go according to script? Read Tim John’s memoir to find out…

Tim John Hollywood CollageFor many of us, the calling to the expat life is not really a calling at all, but more of a vague (albeit rather deep-seated) need to escape our surroundings in search of adventure. We have no idea of what we’re looking for until we’ve arrived at a place and put down roots. Even then, we still have the mentality of drifters, and it take us a while to access our muses.

My guest today, the screenwriter Tim John, does not belong in that mould, as soon becomes clear from the first few pages of his new book, Adventures in LA-LA Land, an account of the seven years he spent in Los Angeles with his wife, Jenny, and their two young daughters.

You see, Tim plunged into his particular expat adventure with the script already written, both literally (he had a project in the works) and figuratively. Heading for Hollywood was Plan B after he lost his job with a London advertising agency during the recession of the early 1990s, and started dabbling in screenwriting.

The late Christopher Hitchens, another English writer who chose to be based in the United States, once described LA as a city “mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania.” But in the script Tim had written for himself and family, it was LA-LA Land—a place where they could have it all, great climate, a house with swimming pool, and (hopefully) big money.

So did Hollywood feed Tim’s creative muses (and fill his coffers) in the manner he expected? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I read it, and found myself surprisingly moved by the story of a man who lives for the movies. In fact, the pace can be likened to that of a roller coaster ride—fun but also harrowing at times.

On that note, it’s time to welcome Tim to the Displaced Nation to talk about his book. And just a heads up: Tim will be “screening” the comments for the person who leaves the best pitch for why they’d like to read it. That lucky individual will be under contract for a free digital copy!!!

* * *

AdventuresinLALALand_coverHi, Tim, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell me why you decided to write a memoir about your years in Hollywood?
I’d read so many books about how to write a Hollywood screenplay, but never found one that also told you what it was like living there, so I decided to write my own, based on the seven years I lived there with my wife and two daughters.

Have you thought about turning it into an actual script for a movie?
I would love to turn it into a screenplay, too.

I understand you lived in LA from 1991 to 1998. I’m curious why you produced the book so long after the fact?
I’m not really sure why I waited so long to write it, possibly because I’ve been doing more and more teaching over the last couple of years and I’m often aware that students often don’t get taught important skills that are crucial to being successful as a screenwriter, such as being able to pitch and how to balance writing life with social life and family life. I thought that relating my experiences could be useful for others. If nothing else, they could learn from my mistakes as well as my successes!

In the end, the movie (of my life) was about…

Has your perspective on the experience deepened with time?
I suppose gaining some distance in time and geographically helped me to see Hollywood from a more objective perspective.

What impact did your writing about the experience have on you?
Definitely part of it was cathartic, to process the bizarre experience.

You worked in advertising for a while. When exactly did you catch the movie-making bug?
I worked a copywriter and then as a creative director—both of which are extremely useful if you want to go into film as they teach you so much about writing for a particular audience and how to write pithy dialogue and how to edit, etc. I always loved film mainly because it was such a great escape. As a kid, The Jungle Book was a big favorite. Mutiny on the Bounty and Lawrence of Arabia got me pretty scared, as did that spider in Doctor No!

Yes, I recall your mentioning in the book your fear of spiders when you found yourself face to face with a black widow at your house in LA. I’m still shuddering at the thought of being bitten by a brown recluse, by the way!

Was there a single epiphanic moment?

Your book is chockerblock with what we like to refer to on this site as “displaced moments” as a result of your encounters with not just deadly spiders but also shrieking peacocks, rats, snakes, and even some neighbors who believed in extraterrestrial burglars—and that’s before we get to the highly venomous creatures who populate the Hollywood film industry. Does any one moment stand out as your most displaced?
Wow. There were many moments when I thought “What on Earth am I doing in this bizarre place?” One that sticks out in my professional life was that time I went to pitch to Disney and the exec said “Great to meet you guys, we’re looking for some comedy writers” and I self-effacingly said: “Then you should meet these guys I play tennis with—they’re hilarious.” None of the execs could see I was joking and at the end of the meeting, the development girl took me aside, discreetly handed me a business card and said: “If you continue to have self-esteem issues, see my shrinkshe’s fabulous!”

That makes me think of Johnny Carson’s line: “In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” And I think the Northridge earthquake of 1994 displaced you and your family rather literally.
Yes, the whole house rattled and creaked for over forty seconds and there were waves in the pool.

Ah, the pool… You also talk about how much you loved the weather, having a pool, and taking drives to some fabulous scenery. Can you pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were born to be in LA-LA Land rather than your native UK?
There were so many great moments. Personally, living in that sunshine, with a pool, a hot tub, etc., along with plenty of money and also plenty of free time (even though you’re constantly thinking of ideas to pitch), seems like a dream for anyone who’s come from the UK climate and ever struggled to make ends meet. It’s like living in a vacationuntil you realize it will all collapse if you don’t sell your next idea, and you’re going to have to sell it far sooner than you expected because the cost of living is very high, especially when you factor in things you’d never had to pay for before, such as earthquake insurance. Never forget that “writer” is only one letter away from “waiter”.

Professionally, when you get to chat with famous stars and talented directors and they take your comments seriouslythat feels unreal but also great. Probably the greatest moment for me was just before I moved to LA, being able to go to the tenth birthday party for George Harrison’s film company, HandMade Films. For anyone English, I think having a chat with a Beatle tops it all.

What did you and George chat about?
I’d worked on two screenplays for his company, so we talked about that. The funniest thing, I thought, at the company’s birthday party, was when George and Ringo joined the band playing on stage. If anyone requested they perform a Beatles’ song, George said: “I don’t know that one.”

In the end, the film was about spirit…

I understand you found LA a culture shock.
Wow, there are so many things that are culturally different about living in the UK and living in America, especially in Hollywood, which many Americans find totally unreal, too. Ones that really stand out: the almost constant sunshine for a start. The smog levels on bad days. The way so many Americans are so welcoming, where so many Brits can be snooty and suspicious. The way so many Americans are optimistic and so many Brits are pessimistic (or maybe more realistic than many film people). I never forgot that Hollywood has been described as “the only town where you can die of encouragement.”

I know you decided to leave LA in part because of your mother’s health and in part because of your daughters’ education. The family, particularly your daughters, didn’t want to go. What were the biggest adjustments?
Tiny parking spaces, terrible weather, high cost of living but a wonderful sense of humor. I did miss my irony in LA. We also hadn’t realized quite how much UK house prices had rocketed during the period when we’d sold ours to live abroad!

What do you think were the chief benefits you and your family derived from being Los Angelenos for a time?
I’m sure that our seven years in LA and coming home taught us all to adapt to change. My elder daughter had enjoyed an ice skating career in the US, which didn’t continue in the UK. But at least she learned that if you set goals and envision yourself achieving those goals, it will seriously boost your chances of success. The rest of us learned that you can probably have all the things you’d like in life—you just can’t have them all at the same time!

Looking back, what was your single most professional achievement during your time in LA?
Not one single thing; rather, it was learning the craft and how to work with industry people sufficiently well to be able get regular work from the studios (but not all the time!).

How do you make a living these days?
Right now, I’m rushing out to give six hours worth of lectures on dialogue to students at Bournemouth University. I also teach on and off about creative writing in general and about writing for advertising, at various universities: Bournemouth Uni, where I teach part of the MA in Advertising, at Southampton Solent, where I do some spots on Advertising and some on Screenwriting, to students at all levels, and at the Arts University in Poole, where I teach adult classes in all sorts of writing. But teaching is just part-time. I also do some freelance copywriting. And most of my time goes into writing screenplays still!

Do you still feel like a Los Angeleno in some respects?
Only in that I have several great friends in LA and I feel totally at home with film industry people. I probably see myself as neither totally British any more or completely Californian. I’m obviously some sort of mongrel.

Writing for publication: A different animal?

Moving back to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process?
The hardest part was the guilt I occasionally feel for what I see as building up all the family’s hopes by showing them a few years of a dream lifestyle, then waking them up from that dream by saying we have to go back to the harsh reality of living back in the UK. BUT, as mentioned, the family all feel really lucky to have had those seven great years and have made all those extra friends without staying away from their old friends and family for so long they felt like strangers. (That’s what they tell me anyway. I have an extremely supportive family!)

Why did you decide to self-publish?
Because I’d had two books published by a big publisher many years ago and never felt they did much to promote them. My agent said most publishers only push big brand names and my wife had a friend who did very well self-publishing a memoir, so I thought I’d give it a go.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people? Is it mainly for wannabe British scriptwriters like yourself, or do you think it has broader appeal—for instance, to any Brit who might be thinking of living in America?
I hope the book will appeal to anyone who likes a laugh, to anyone who is interested in a family fish-out-of-water story and to anyone who wonders how you can make it in the film business. There’s plenty in there about the American school my wife taught in, the ones the kids went to, about my eldest daughter making it as an ice-skating champion… It’s by no means just about the movies, but, as I mentioned earlier, it will show you far more about how to make it as a screenwriter than books that simply tell you about the script, the formats, and nothing else.

Of all the advice you transmit to wannabe Hollywood screenwriters, which is the most important?
Make sure you enjoy the writing process as much as possible. Don’t pin everything on whether you sell it or it gets made. Enjoy the small triumphs, such as writing a great scene or even a great line of dialogue. All the little triumphs can add up into a pretty rewarding experience. And never forget that you may well learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.

What’s next for you in terms of creative projects?
I’ve just finished a UK thriller “Living in Sin”; I’m currently doing a re-write for a sci-fi project for a Californian director, and I have a UK drama that I wrote written with a writing partner, Jon Rolls, for which the producers have just this week started looking for a top director and cast—I’m still going for it!

10 Questions for Tim John

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing—and in your case, also film-watching—habits:
1. Last truly great book you read / film you watched: Paper Towns, by John Green; The Way Way Back (2013), directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
2. Favorite literary / film genre: It varies enormously but I’d say “comedy drama” for both (eg, Little Miss Sunshine).
3. Reading/film watching habits on a plane: I only ever read paper books and magazines. Generally I watch films on long flights—but nothing involving flights in danger. I’m a nervous flyer. I can never sleep.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, or film you’d require him to watch, and why: War and Peace, so he’s fully aware what Russians can do if stirred up. No films to recommend—I’d rather he kept his eye on world news!
5. Favorite books/films as a child: The Secret Garden; The Jungle Book and Bond movies and then Paper Moon when I was slightly older. Also the musical Oliver.
6. Favorite hero/heroine in fiction/film: Heroines: Victoria Wood as a writer; Kathy Bates as an actress. Heroes: No book heroes apart from Bilbo Baggins (when I was ten); in film, the cheeky little boy in Cinema Paradiso and later Léon in the film of that name.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Woody Allen, as I’m nearly always amazed at how inventive he can be and how, against the odds, he so frequently gets cross-genre movies to work, certainly during his Crimes and Misdemeanors period.
8. Your reading/film-watching habits: I don’t read that many books as I find it hard to give authors the benefit of 50 or 60 pages to get into it. I far prefer books that grab me almost immediately, but with their style and outlook on life, not with purely mechanical plot like Dan Brown or John Grisham. I find those stories generally too thin to keep reading. I frequently start books and leave them if they don’t hold my interest. As far as films go, I go to the cinema at least once a week. I also watch endless boxed sets: generally US drama such as Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, House… I really got into The Bridge and Spiral. My worst DVD marathon took place in the early series of 24, when I watched 13 episodes over a single weekend.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: On Mermaid Avenue, a great American novel that I’ve optioned and written a screenplay from.
10. The book you plan to read next / film you plan to watch next: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green; currently, I don’t have any films I’m looking forward to watching.

* * *

Bravo, Tim! If we ever host the Displaced Oscars, something we’ve been threatening to do for some time now, you’ll definitely be receiving a statue.

So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Tim, or PITCHES for why you’d like to read the book? Don’t forget, there’s a free digital copy on offer…

And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Adventures in LA-LA Land is available from Amazon. Be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit Tim’s writer site, like his book’s Facebook page +/or follow him on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s (month’s) fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Beth Geglia’s calling to make films on Central American human rights stories

Beth_Geglia_tdn

Beth Geglia (photo supplied by Beth and used with her permission)

Since the Displaced Nation began billing itself as a “home for international creatives,” we have covered plenty of fiction writers, memoirists, and foodies, as well as a few entrepreneurs (I contributed to the latter with an interview with Alison McGowan about her tourism-related business in Brazil).

But there are also expats whose creativity is expressed in political activism: they work for the causes within (and across) the countries they visit.

Today I talk to one such activist, Beth Geglia, an American who, having dedicated her life to human rights issues in Central America, has now developed filmmaking skills and released a feature-length documentary on the resilience displayed by an extraordinary group of Afro-Hondurans.

* * *

Buenas, Beth, and thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Let’s start by having you tell us a bit about yourself. What first awakened your interest in human rights?
I got involved in high school, after the September 11th attacks. I was adamantly against war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and participated in student walk-outs, teach-ins—all the big mobilizations. Next I volunteered with the Indigenous People’s Council of Oaxaca in Mexico and the Movement of Worker-Occupied Factories in Argentina, which got me working on issues of economic justice and alternative economies as part of the student fair trade movement.

Guatemala has figured large in your life. What led you there in the first place?
As a student activist, I worked closely with a local fair trade coffee-roasting cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin, called Just Coffee. They sent me to Guatemala to do work with a coffee cooperative of former revolutionary combatants and returned refugees from the country’s internal conflict, known as Santa Anita La Unión. Later we organized a delegation of student activists from Wisconsin to meet with Guatemalan producer cooperatives, and I went back a few times.

Making a life in Guatemala

I understand you ended up living in Guatemala?
I became overwhelmed with the history of Guatemala, the U.S.’s interventionist role there, and the movements to restore the memory of the violence that had taken place. I felt I was learning and changing an incredible amount, so I moved there ten days after graduating college. I stayed for two years.

I assume you speak Spanish, but were there any moments when you felt displaced, in the sense of being alienated from your surroundings?
Yes, I spoke Spanish so language was not much of an issue. However, many communities in Guatemala speak their indigenous languages, none of which I was able to learn. There were definitely moments of struggle, but I wouldn’t necessarily relate them to feelings of displacement. After all, I was working with communities who were trying to defend their rights against gold mining and other resource extraction companies—it was they who were facing displacement. Some had been forcibly displaced, while others were threatened with displacement from environmental destruction, militarization, and loss of land. The communities were still healing from the violence of the internal conflict, and some people were experiencing the threat of being locked up or assassinated. Seeing this kind of suffering close up was the hardest, most painful part of my experience. Then there’s always the challenge of understanding your role as a foreigner: what’s appropriate, what’s helpful—fully aware of the privilege of being there by choice and able to leave.

I usually tell people that living in Guatemala was the hardest thing I ever did—and, at the same time, the most important and dearest to my heart. It truly transformed me.

So, for the most part, living in war-torn Guatemala felt right to you?
Things make sense to me whenever I am surrounded by good people doing good work. The people I lived and worked with in Guatemala City, for example, are still some of the people I most respect. Cooking meals with them, hanging out on the roof or patio with a few chelas (beers)—these things really felt like home.

Practicing the filmmaking craft

At what point did you decide to become a filmmaker?
It wasn’t until I moved back to the United States and quit my job with a human rights organization a year later that I began to study documentary filmmaking. Video and film are one of the most useful tools for helping people who are struggling to get their voices heard. It’s an important skill.

RevolutionaryMedicine_poster

Poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work

You have just now released a documentary, Revolutionary Medicine: A Story of the First Garífuna Hospital, a collaboration with journalist Jesse Freeston. The film is set in Honduras and tells the story of the Garífuna people and the community hospital that they built. Can you fill us in a little more?
Sure. Garífuna history has been rife with forced displacement and resistance, from the slave trade to expulsion by the British from the island of St. Vincent. Most Garífunas in Honduras live on the northern coast, on lands their people have occupied for 216 years. They continue to face many pressures, such as a lucrative foreign tourism industry, the expansion of African palm production by the country’s largest landowners, resource extraction, and foreign investors wanting to build charter cities. In addition, they face ongoing discrimination and neglect from the state, which has failed to provide them with medical services. This film is about the community coming together to build their own hospital, while fighting for their human right to health care. It’s a story about self-organization and persistence, but also about a different model of medicine having to do with community survival. According to this model, improving the health of the community is a first step in addressing structural and political issues in need of change.

It really is the “first” Garífuna Hospital?
Yes. It’s the first hospital to exist in the Garífuna’s territory.

“For the health of our people…”

How did the making of the film come about?
I was still in Guatemala when the military coup in Honduras happened in June of 2009. The people around me were remembering Guatemala’s internal conflict, which lasted 36 years and amounted to genocide: it been sparked by a CIA-orchestrated coup. Everyone was feeling the weight of that history, and there was a sense of urgency around what Honduras could suffer as a result of the coup. Upon returning to the U.S., I got involved in local activism that was exposing the DC-based lobbyists who’d been hired by Honduras’s interim coup government to essentially whitewash the coup and restore normal relations with international institutions and the Organization of American States.

That’s when I met Dr. Luther Castillo, one of the founding doctors of the First Garífuna Hospital. He was on a speaking tour denouncing the political violence and repression taking place in Honduras. I took up his invitation to come visit the hospital.

Jesse Freeston and I knew each other from DC. He had been working as a journalist in Honduras and other parts of Central America for a few years and had also gotten to know the story of the Hospital and what Garífuna communities were working to create.

It was great working with Jesse. He had years of documentary experience under his belt and in fact is now finishing up a feature-length film called Resistencia, about land-occupying farmers in the Aguán Valley of Honduras. It should be released in the spring. I think we made a good team, and I learned a lot from the collaboration.

When was the film released, and what has been the reaction amongst the Garífuna people?
We started screening the film in August. Jesse took it down the West coast of the U.S. and I went to screen it in Honduras. The Garífuna community of Ciriboya reacted very positively. You know when you make a film, you can’t cover nearly everything you’d like to, but I think the doctors in particular felt it presented a balanced version of their story. They’re now using it to raise awareness and educate others. Actually, the most gratifying thing was to see the reaction of medical students who attend the public university in the capital city, Tegucigalpa. They were so excited, they ended up organizing their own screening of the film and have entered into a longer-term relationship with the Garífuna Hospital.

What about in the United States?
In the U.S. we’ve screened for lots of different audiences, including activists, organized medical professionals, social work students, med students, and youth. We’ve worked with the Garífuna Health and Education Support Institute in New York to reach Garífuna diaspora audiences, mainly in the Bronx, and the response has been phenomenal. It’s been exciting to help connect diaspora communities with what’s going on back in their homeland. Generally, people seem to come away feeling proud and/or inspired to act. I think the best compliment we received was: “This is a great organizing tool.”

If our readers are interested in watching the film how can they go about it?
Very soon anyone will be able to order a copy of the documentary online. Until then, I suggest you follow our Facebook page to find out about screenings and distribution. You are also welcome to contact Jesse and me directly by email: me@jessefreeston.com or bgeglia@gmail.com.

What further hopes do you have for the film?
Besides the documentary being used as an educational and network-building tool—that’s why we’ve been focusing on community-based and university screenings—we hope it will give ideas to people who are working on related projects. Particularly in the U.S. I would like for it to make people think about our own health care system and what might be possible.

Having already lived in Guatemala, did making the film help you to connect with Central America in any new ways?
I learned a ton about a part of Central America I knew very little about. One thing that continuously inspired me was the resilience of communities—in particular, their ability to construct alternatives that challenge our assumptions of how society can be organized. Also, the idea of doctors playing the role of protagonist in the process wasn’t something I’d anticipated. Now I’m learning that there is a long history of health workers playing a central role in social movements, to which I’d been largely oblivious.

What are your plans for the future, both with the film and your activism?
I’m actually back in school now in DC, studying for a Ph.D. in Public Anthropology. It’s an interesting program because it leaves room to use documentary film as opposed to simply writing academic papers that will have little reach. The program promotes activism as well as embedded and participatory research, so I feel it’s a good home for me. I don’t have much free time, but when I do, I like to volunteer with a local documentary project called Lessons from the ’60s. It’s an oral history project organized by a group of older activists who want to document memories of the movements that took place in DC in the 1960s and ’70s before they are lost forever. Preserving historical memory was one of the reasons I wanted to do documentary film, so it’s great to be able to participate in this kind of a project in my hometown.

10 Questions for Beth Geglia

Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that we’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Golden Gulag, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, on the prison system in California (being in school means I only read non-fiction).
2. Favorite literary genre: Science fiction.
3. Reading habits on a plane: It’s actually really hard for me to stay awake on planes! I’m usually passed out, and when I’m awake I listen to music to calm my nerves because I’m scared of flying.
4. The one book you’d require Barack Obama to read, and why? Am I allowed to say Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillaging of a Continent? Maybe The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander.
5. Favorite books as a child: I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl books when I was a kid. The Witches was my favorite one. I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia.
6. Favorite heroine: Itzá in The Inhabited Woman, by Giaconda Belli.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Audre Lorde.
8. Your reading habits: Since I’m in school, I read all the time and I skim a lot. Coffee in hand is usually a necessity.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: The Inhabited Woman, by Giaconda Belli.
10. The book you plan to read next: Pathologies of Power, by Paul Farmer.

* * *

Readers, did you find Beth’s story as inspiring as I did? Be sure to check out her documentary if you get a chance. And feel free to leave further questions or comments for her below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some species of Halloween confection by Anthony Windram.

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images: Beth Geglia; poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work.

CAPITAL IDEA: Bangkok: A quick guide

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

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

Capital: Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s Displaced Nation posts.

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Image: awindram

RANDOM NOMAD: Russell VJ Ward, A Bloke from Basingstoke with a Bloomin’ Extraordinary Life

Russell Ward Collage_pmPlace of birth: Basingstoke*, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Passports: UK & Australia
Overseas history: Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa): 2003-06; Australia (Sydney, New South Wales): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Civil servant in New South Wales (state) government; blogger; wannabe fiction writer and entrepreneur — currently setting up a corporate writing business.
Cyberspace coordinates: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (2012 finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition); In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (Facebook page); @RussellVJWard (Twitter handle).
*Basingstoke (aka Amazingstoke) is a small commuter town in the south of England that is occasionally voted one of the less preferred towns in Britain — though not by me!

So tell me, how did a bloke from Basingstoke end up in the lovely harbour city of Sydney?
As much as I like Basingstoke, displacement came easy! I always had a burning desire to experience life in a country different to my own. I wanted to explore new environments, opportunities and activities. I was initially drawn to Canada as my grandfather was Canadian, and I had a long-held desire to explore this great country. I left England in 2003 in pursuit of less stress, more emphasis on the greater outdoors, and for a healthier and fuller way of living life. In Canada I lived by mountains and the snow. I blame my Australian wife for the subsequent move to Australia — she wanted to come back home for a while, and knew I was a soft touch for living by the ocean. These days, when spending every available minute doing something, anything, by the beach, I blame her and curse her and blame her some more…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My grandfather is my opposite number. He met my grandmother while serving with the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II and married her while based in the UK. He returned to Canada several times but ultimately lived out the rest of his life in England.

And wasn’t your wife also displaced at some point? Otherwise, the pair of you would never have met…
Yes, my wife was working in England for a year, while also spending time with her English family (her mother is English and moved to Australia when she was 12). We met in my home town at the gym of all places — she always used to go to the same classes as me.

It sounds as though you’re living the dream in Sydney, but I can imagine you’ve had your displaced moments. Which one stands out?
It occurred just after we arrived in Sydney with our two dogs. I was walking them at a small park opposite our rental house. The younger pup was playing under a tree with his ball when I noticed something dangling out of the tree immediately above him. As I got closer, I realized said dangly thing was a humungous python wrapped around a branch, with its head swinging perilously close to my dog’s own. Thankfully, he’s an obedient little guy (my dog, not the snake) so he came to me as soon as I called. I remember standing there muttering over and over to myself: “What have I done? Where have I taken us? Did I just see a python hanging from a tree?” It became even more surreal when an elderly couple strolled past the tree while out for their morning walk. “Watch out for the python!” I called out. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” the white haired gent replied. “He’s just a harmless diamond python.” I knew then that I was truly displaced … and a lonnnnnnng way from Kansas, Dorothy.

When have you felt the least displaced?
The moment last November when our son, Elliot, was born. Australia was now his place of birth and it suddenly had a new, much more personal, meaning for me. This wild and rugged, unashamedly and devastatingly beautiful country will always be his home, wherever we are as a family in the future. He is an Australian first and foremost — and I’m incredibly proud of having provided that for him.

I’ve seen some of Elliott’s baby pix on Facebook and I must say, he’s adorable! No wonder you’re a proud papa! Besides your wife and new baby, you may bring one precious item or curiosity you’ve collected from the country (or each of the countries) you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Canada: A bowl of poutine — a bowl full of french fries coated with brown gravy and topped off with curd cheese (which is a strange thing to be carrying in your suitcase and no doubt illegal to carry on your travels, but there you go). I’ve always had a penchant for the odd hot chip or fry. When I landed in Canada and somebody introduced me to this delightful French-Canadian dish, I knew I’d found my manna from heaven. Poutine. The very word itself makes me salivate.
From Australia: Probably a pair of budgie smugglers, which, though I’ve never worn — I can never quite get my head around the concept of wearing — would remind me of Oz as the majority of Australian men over the age of 40 wear them. FYI, the budgie smuggler — otherwise known as the “tighty-whitey” or “banana hammock” — is Australian slang for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. It’s something I shall never be seen wearing unless on a desert island by myself.

Don’t even think about it once you’re inside The Displaced Nation. We like to keep a sense of decorum. Next question: Can you donate any words or expressions from your travels to our displaced argot?
From Canada: It has to be “eh?”. “Canada, eh?” is something of a legendary sentence! “How’s it going, eh?” Used often and everywhere, it’s cute, quaint and so very Canadian. I also adore the way Canadians say “out”. Next time you’re near a Canadian, ask him or her to say it and you’ll see why.
From Australia: I’m going to avoid the “g’day” and “no worries” stereotypes and go with “ah yeah” — which I’m told I say all the time and which my friends tell me sounds very Australian. I think I probably used to say it in Amazingstoke, but years later, with the Aussie twang, it sounds less Jude Law and more Steve Irwin.

Let’s move on (or back) to food. You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu? No poutine, please, we’re displaced!

Appetizer: From Canada — okay, no poutine but possibly a serving of waffles with Canadian maple syrup. I know, it’s not all that healthy and it’ll fill you up as a starter, but it was either that or the BeaverTails (fried dough pastry that resemble a beaver’s tail).
Main: I’ll revert to my current Australian habitat and chuck a couple of steaks with a few prawns on the barbie. (I know it’s an overused cliche — but one I’ve found to be true of life in the land down under.)
Dessert: I’ll whip up a key lime pie — a taste acquired from my short period of time working in the US. The pie was served on my arrival and, after seven hours of cattle-class airplane food, was quite easily the most delicious thing I’d tasted all day.
Drinks: I could share a few schooners of Australian lager, but instead I’ll opt for a jug of iced tea for the non-alcohol drinkers out there — I used to consume it by the gallon when living in Vancouver.

A theme we’ve been exploring this month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is cross-cultural love. Thanks to your Aussie wife, you qualify! Tell me, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two — and has it changed since the time when you were an unattached male who hadn’t yet left Britain?
It’s quite similar to when I lived in Britain: i.e., dinner for two, flowers, chocolates, a card and so on. In other words, fairly traditional. The difference now is the setting. In Sydney we’ll sit by the water at a local restaurant, maybe at the edge of the sand on one of the Northern Beaches. The sound of the ocean can be quite soothing … but is it an aphrodisiac, I hear you ask? Next time, I’ll order the oysters and let you know!

😀 Our other theme of the month is film, in honor of the Oscars. Can you recommend any films that speak to the situation of expats and their displacement?
A film I watched recently that I’d thoroughly recommend and which completely spoke to the expat situation was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s a British comedy-drama about a group of retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. The most interesting part for me was the way in which the different characters deal with their displacement, especially to such a polar-opposite country to their own. Some cope well, others not so. And the parallels with everyday expat living are apparent throughout.

That’s actually one of the films we nominated for this year’s Displaced Oscars — results to be announced in our Dispatch on Saturday! We’ll be sure to register your vote before then.

So, readers — yay or nay for letting Russell Ward into The Displaced Nation? Among other contradictions, he’s an Aussie citizen but can’t seem to cope with nonpoisonous snakes and refuses to don a budgie smuggler. And he claims to be loyal to Basing/Amazingstoke, but wants to serve us Canadian (sweet) iced tea. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Russell — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a review of Jeff Jung’s new book on mid-life career changes involving travel and the expat 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!

Related posts:

Images (top to bottom): Banner from Russell VJ Ward’s blog; with his wife on Sydney Harbour (2010); photo he uses for his blog — taken in Launceston, Tasmania, in 2011; wearing Canadian mittens on Avalon Beach, Sydney, just before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — his way of showing his Canadian friends that he was supporting their athletes: “You should have seen the looks I got from the locals; it was a 35 degree Celsius day and I looked like a madman!”

And the nominees for best expat/travel film are…seeking your vote! Welcome to the 2013 Displaced Oscars

Don’t miss our 4 polls below! Results to be announced in March 2nd Displaced Dispatch! Enjoy!

When I first repatriated to the United States, I relished the chance to watch the Oscars again. For some reason — I’m not sure why, particularly as I was never a big movie buff — I regretted missing out on the pinnacle of Hollywood glamour during my years of living overseas, first in England and then in Japan.

It did not take long, however, before the novelty wore off. I grew bored with the dresses — they all seemed so same-y. And a tux is a tux is a tux.

I also grew bored with the selection of films. Typically, Oscar-nominated films take place within a single country’s borders — and when people cross these borders, it is in the service of maintaining them (IT’S WAR!!!). Apart from when Sofia Coppola was singled out for her Lost in Translation screenplay, the plots do not exactly speak to me and my prior situation of displacement.

Case-in-point: 2013 Oscar nominees

A great example of what I’m talking about are the two historical — or, more accurately, historically informed — movies that are up for this year’s Oscars:

  1. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln — the quintessential American biographical period piece that the Academy loves (it is predicted to win five Oscars, including best director for Spielberg).
  2. Les Misérables, the film of the musical theatre adaptation — which in turn is based on an historical novel by Victor Hugo (1862), depicting life in the aftermath of the French Revolution. (Les Mis is likely to win for its score, sound mixing, makeup and hair styling, and best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway.)

Actually, make that three historical films, as Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (up for best picture, cinematography and best original screenplay) can come under that rubric as well. The first half is a mock Western and the second, a mock-revenge melodrama about slavery. At least, though, it has one foreign character: German bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Posing as a dentist, he gallivants around Texas, speaking perfect English. And you’ll never guess what? He’s a villain. He does have manners — but does that mitigate or enhance his villainy? One can never tell with Mr Tarantino…

Likewise, Argo (likely to win best picture along with some other prizes) and Zero Dark Thirty (likely to win for best original screenplay) depict epic events in the — albeit much more recent — American past. And although each of these films portrays Americans abroad, it shows them acting in the service of president and country — with the aim of protecting other Americans. Nothing too displaced about that.

The comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook (likely to win Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence) is about two people who bond over shared neuroses — could anything be more American? Not to mention their common love of pro-football (no, Andy, not the soccer kind!).

Perhaps the best of this year’s films for anyone with a proclivity for venturing across borders is Life of Pi (likely to win for best original score and visual effects). The story is about an Indian family that is emigrating to Winnipeg, Canada. Yet, as even those of us who haven’t seen the film know by now, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) gets stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. (That’s after the steamliner carrying his family’s zoo is pulled underwater during a freak storm.)

Over the course of months, the two unlikely castaways must depend on each other to survive — a scenario that provides an occasion for reflecting on cross-spiritualism, not cross-culturalism. (Pi, who was born a Hindu, loves Jesus and practices Islam.)

It also provides an occasion for displaced Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee to try his hand at 3D storytelling.

Why are we trying so hard to fit in when we were born to stand out?

WELCOME TO THE 2013 DISPLACED OSCARS. If we don’t fit into the Hollywood version, we may as well host our own event. We invite you to vote on your favorite films in the four categories we have created below. Preliminary results were announced in the Displaced Dispatch that came out on Saturday, February 23rd. Final results will appear in the Dispatch that comes out on Saturday, March 2nd. Be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

1) Best Film Exploring Themes of Interest to Expats & International Travelers

This category honors the films that put cross-cultural themes right at the center. And the nominees are:

ShanghaiCalling_pm1) Shanghai Calling (2012, dir. by Daniel Hsia)
SUMMARY: Manhattanite Sam (Daniel Henney), an arrogant young lawyer, is transferred to his firm’s Shanghai office. He bungles his first assignment and finds his career in jeopardy. With the help of his beautiful relocation specialist, among others, he just might be able to save his job and learn to appreciate the wonders that Shanghai has to offer.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: How often do we get to see Shanghai on the big screen? That said, the plot is somewhat shallow and fails to make the most of Sam’s background as a Chinese American.

 

TheBestExoticMarigoldHotel_pm2) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, dir. by John Madden)
SUMMARY: A group of British retirees — played by British acting greats like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy — have outsourced their retirement, attracted by the less expensive and seemingly exotic India. They are enticed by advertisements about the newly restored Marigold Hotel and given false dreams of a life with leisure.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: At the 2012 Mumbai Film Festival, the film was honored for showcasing Indian filming locations — a view not necessarily shared by viewers outside the subcontinent. Some of us feel that India was slighted by being treated as the shimmering background to a story about retirement-age self-renewal.

TheImposter_pm3) The Imposter (2012, dir. by Bart Layton)
SUMMARY: Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas, in 1994. Three and a half years later, he is allegedly found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnapping and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? This British documentary concerns the 1997 case of French serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: By common consensus, The Imposter is one of the year’s most provocative pictures. Certainly, Displaced Nation writer Anthony Windram found it that way. In one of our most popular posts of last year, he mused that Bourdin’s story is not entirely unfamiliar to expats, all of whom have chameleon-like qualities.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

2) Best Foreign Displaced Film

This category honors films about displacement that take place in non-English speaking countries and therefore require English speakers to read subtitles while learning about other cultures. And the nominees are:

Tabu_pm1) Tabu (2012, dir. by Portugal’s Miquel Gomes)
SUMMARY: The action in this experimental fiction ranges from contemporary Lisbon to an African colony in the distant past, in what was Portuguese Mozambique. First we are introduced to a cantankerous elderly Portuguese lady with a gambling addition. Then we flashback to her youth as a beautiful young woman living a kind of White Mischief existence at the foot of Mount Tabu, where she falls in love with a handsome adventurer…(Notably, the film’s title references the 1931 German silent film of that name, which took place in the South Seas.)
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: The film shows what happens to expats who live too long — there are no remnants of “paradise” left. But some — e.g., A.O. Scott of the New York Times — have faulted the director for glossing over the issues of colonialism in the film in favor of simple aestheticism.

ClandestineChildhood_pm2) Clandestine Childhood (2011, dir. by Benjamín Ávila)
SUMMARY: A cinematic memoir drawn from Ávila’s own experiences, the film paints an unsettling portrait of families affected by military dictatorships. The year is 1979, five years after Perón’s death, and the family of 12-year-old Juan, who have been living in exile in Cuba, returns secretly to Argentina. Juan’s parents are members of an underground organization and for sake of their cover, he must assume the name of “Ernesto” and pretend to be a newcomer from northern Argentina.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Juan’s parents aren’t fleeing the law because of their past misdeeds but are trying violently to overthrow a current dictatorship. The film therefore raises the question: do urban guerrillas make good parents? After all, they are asking their son, a Third Culture Kid, to act the part of a native in the homeland he never knew, for the sake of their political ideals. But while this question is intriguing, the story is driven almost entirely by clichés. As one critic remarked:

[T]he writing needs to be sharper to avoid feeling like a generic coming-of-ager.

LetMyPeopleGo_pm3) Let My People Go (2011, dir. by Mikael Buch)
SUMMARY: French immigrant Reuben (Nicolas Maury) is living in fairytale Finland — where he got his MA in “Comparative Sauna Cultures” — with his gorgeous Nordic boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). He works as the mailman in a neighborhood whose colorful houses look like Scandinavian Skittles. Then, after a misunderstanding involving a parcel full of Euros, Teemu casts his lover out of Eden, sending him back to where he came from: Paris.
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Ruben’s return to Paris — where he finds his family weathering various crises as well as emotional instability — demonstrates why he left in the first place. (Aren’t most expats escaping something?) However, the scenes with his wacky, feuding family members soon become tedious. As one critic puts it:

The movie’s labored attempt at creating comedy mostly means lots of scenes with Ruben cringing as relatives shout.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

3) Most Displaced Director

This category honors the director who has shown the most chutzpah in raiding the literature of other cultures to make a commercially successful movie (note: they do not cast the natives!). This year’s nominees are:

AnnaKarenina_pm1) Joe Wright for doing a British version of Anna Karenina (2012), casting his muse (Keira Knightly) in the titular role
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Some enjoyed Wright’s bold new interpretation of this classic Russian novel, while others felt that he did Tolstoy a terrible injustice — for instance, New Yorker critic Richard Brody had this to say:

Wright, with flat and flavorless images of an utterly impersonal banality, takes Tolstoy’s plot and translates it into a cinematic language that’s the equivalent of, say, Danielle Steel, simultaneously simplistic and overdone.

LesMiserables_pm2) Tom Hooper for casting a bunch of Aussies, Brits and Americans in Les Misérables
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Since Hooper previously won the Best Director Oscar for the terribly English drama The King’s Speech (historical drama, yay!), many found it odd that he would choose to take on this sprawling French story, and beloved musical, to create what he calls “an oil tanker of a picture.” But for what it’s worth, Hooper had no qualms about directing a film having to do with French history instead of his own. He is persuaded that Victor Hugo’s story speaks to issues of concern today:

Hugo’s story of populist uprising in 1832 Paris resounds in an era of the Arab Spring, the Occupy protests and general frustration over economic inequality.

DangerousLiaisons_pm3) Korean director Hur Jin-ho for making an Asian version of Dangerous Liaisons (2012) — which was originally an 18th-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclosset — and setting it in 1930s Shanghai
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Many have complimented Hur Jin-ho’s decorous adaptation, saying it was clever of him to swap the insular, decadent world of de Laclos’ book, which takes place pre-French Revolution, with the similarly gilded cage of Chinese aristocrats just prior to the Japanese invasion. But the film isn’t particularly sophisticated on a political or historical level. As one critic writes: “It’s all just window-dressing: pretty, but substance-free.”

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

4) Most Displaced Actor/Actress

This category honors the actor who has performed this year’s greatest feat of playing a role that requires them to take on a whole new nationality. We’re talking Versatility Plus! And the nominees are:

Daniel_Day-Lewis_pm1) Daniel Day-Lewis, the Anglo-Irish actor who portrayed Abe Lincoln in Lincoln
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Apparently, there was no American actor good enough to play one of the most exceptional presidents the nation has ever known as critics have had nothing but praise for Day Lewis’s performance. Here is a sampling:

His Lincoln is tall and tousled and bent over with the weight of melancholy responsibility in the fourth year of the Civil War.

[Day-Lewis] manages to inject so much quiet humour into what could have been a very reverential portrait.

[The actor] inhabits the ageing figure of the 16th President of the United States with exquisite poise, intellect and grace.

AnneHathaway_pm2) Anne Hathaway for playing saintly prostitute Fantine in Les Misérables
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Many find it impressive that Hathaway, cast as the tragic Fantine, sings the show-stopping “I Dreamed a Dream” in one take. (Tom Hooper’s contribution to the genre was having the actors sing rather than lip synch.) And some say that her willingness to have her locks shorn off on screen shows her commitment to her craft. That said, her performance is not to everyone’s taste. “Rarely have the movies seen such an embarrassingly naked plea for applause,” writes Australian film critic Jake Wilson — the implication being the Victor Hugo’s Fantine would have had more dignity.

Alicia_Vikander_pm3) Swedish actress Alicia Vikander for taking on two non-Swedish roles: Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (she served as Queen of Denmark and Norway in the 18th century) in A Royal Affair (2012); and Kitty in Anna Karenina (2012)
WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING: Vikander’s “moxie” is apparently what landed her both of these parts. According to A Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel, every actress in Denmark wanted the role of Mathilde, but only Vikander had the requisite “regal quality.” She even went to Copenhagen two months before shooting began to learn to speak Danish fluently. Likewise, Anna Karenina director Joe Wright saw in her the qualities to play Kitty, a flirtatious young woman who believes the dashing Count Vronsky is her Prince Charming, only to find love with a kind-hearted farmer named Levin. It is not uncommon for movie-goers to remark that she outshines Kiera Knightly’s Anna.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

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Are we missing out on any films/categories? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Longing for even more expat and international travel films? Please go to our Displaced Oscars Pinterest board.

As for me, I’m going in search of a displaced after-party! Let’s hope I don’t have to travel too far to find one! 🙂

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment 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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Images: Oscar statuette courtesy Dave_B_ on Flickr; actor pix from Wikimedia.

5 movies for expats and world travelers looking to stir up romance this Valentine’s Day

Editor’s note: Today we are happy to welcome a new member to the Displaced Nation team, Andy Martin. His debut post introduces our two favorite February’s themes: Valentine’s Day (aka expat love) and displaced movies (in honor of Oscar season). For those who haven’t read Andy’s Random Nomad interview with us, it’s worth knowing that he’s a UK-qualified social worker who now lives in Brazil with his Brazilian wife, and a self-professed football geek.

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Brazil is that Valentine’s Day is not actually celebrated here until 12th June, where it is instead known as Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day). The reasoning for this is that 12th June is the eve of St. Anthony’s Day, the saint otherwise known as “the marriage saint.”

Additionally, what the rest of us know as Valentine’s Day (14th February) typically falls during or around the time of Carnaval, and anyone who knows anything about the excesses of Carnaval knows that a holiday to celebrate fidelity may probably be best left until later in the year — say, June time.

Anyhow, seeing as my wife has lived in the UK and now openly embraces British culture she’s suggested that it would only be proper to celebrate both the British and Brazilian holidays — she’s a clever one! And what more traditional way to celebrate than a trip to the cinema?

Bearing this in mind, I’ve made a list of 5 films that couples like us — multicultural, expat, glolo and/or nomadic — might like to watch this coming Valentine’s Day, to stir up the romance of travel that brought you together in the first place…

The one about adventure

IndianaJones_small1) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg
An action-adventure drama that pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible.

Why I like it: The original Indiana Jones trilogy was released between 1981 and 1989, and despite the pointless release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, it will forever remain, for my generation at least, what introduced us to the potential excitement of exploring the unknown.

Personal note: I love my in-laws but they neglected their parenting duties in one pretty big way: their failure to introduce my wife to Indiana Jones (a situation that has, thankfully, now been rectified).

Most stunning aspect: Let’s face it, any film that can make archaeology seem like the coolest profession in the world has got to be doing something right hasn’t it?

The ones with the romantic clichés

The traveler is often accused of being a romantic, an idealist and of someone who is running away from life and all the problems and commitments that go with it. The alternative argument is that the traveler is actually taking life by the scruff of the neck and living it to the full.

Either way, two films that best capture this dialectic are the two that often most lionized by today’s generation of travelers:

IntotheWild_small2) Into the Wild (2007), dir. Sean Penn
An adaptation (also by Penn) of the book of the same name, by Jon Krakauer, depicting the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year-old American and persistent wanderer whom believed that there was more to life than settling for the 9-5 grind in an office.

Why I like it: My wife introduced me to it (her riposte to my Indiana Jones exasperation). She had watched it early on in our relationship, when she was in Brazil and I was in London — a genuinely long distance relationship.

Personal note: She said that the film’s protagonist, Chris McCandless, reminded her of me — although fortunately our story has had a bit of a happier ending than his (I’ll say no more in order not to ruin it for you).

No half-measures: Boy did McCandless walk the walk, giving away his $24,000 college fund to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska and plunging into the wilderness, gradually seeking the means to remove himself from the “real world. ”

TheMotorcyleDiaries_small3) The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) (2004), dir. Walter Salles
A biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a young man, representing an adaptation of Che’s memoir of the same name, recounting the trip he made around South America with his best friend, Alberto Granado.

Why I like it: Whatever you view of Che is, there is actually relatively little politics in the film, although one is introduced to some of the experiences that started to inform what he later became in life. Instead, for the most part, this is a film which perfectly captures what is to be young and curious of the world outside your own town or city. Che and Alberto chase beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, but also volunteer their time to those less fortunate than themselves.

Personal note: This film was the tipping point in inspiring me to travel around South America.

Memorable scene: There’s a great scene that highlights the dichotomy between the travel romanticized by “travelers” and that which is driven by the needs of most other migrants around the world — the topic of my guest post last month for The Displaced Nation. In it Che and Alberto meet an indigenous couple who have been forced from their lands and who are traveling in order to find work. When the couple ask Alberto and Che why they are traveling, they reply: “We travel just to travel.” Confused, the wife replies: “God bless you.”

The one about being displaced

Lost_in_Translation_small4) Lost in Translation (2003), dir. Sofia Coppola
The story of the unlikely bond between an aging movie star, played by the awesome Bill Murray, and a trailing spouse (Scarlett Johansson), after they meet in the bar of their five star hotel in Tokyo.

Why I like it: Life as a nomad is not all about romantic adventures and life-changing experiences — there are also just as many challenges and struggles: homesickness, culture shock and loss being just some of them. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, one of the films that best explores some of these issues.

Additional benefits: The story is poignant, and the film is beautifully shot.

The one that’s not actually about travel or expats

Blood_into_Wine_small5) Blood Into Wine (2010), dirs. Ryan Page & Christopher Pomerenke
A documentary about the Northern Arizona wine industry focusing on the musician Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and their winery, Caduceus Cellers.

Why I like it: This film doesn’t really have anything to do with either travel or expat life, but I’m including it here because it’s about one of my favorite artists: Maynard James Keenan. A slightly biased choice perhaps, but I think it deserves a merit for the way it encapsulates the spirit of those people who have dreams and then act upon them to make them happen — a spirit which, I think, drives many of us travelers and expats.

Maynard’s dream: Maynard dreams of starting a vineyard in Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Despite the doubts and concerns of the experts he consulted Maynard invested almost his entire fortune, made from working with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, to start a vineyard in Arizona — a state entirely unknown for growing wine.

Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch it, I guess… And don’t forget to invite a date!

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Readers, what do you think of Andy’s suggestions? Are these the sorts of films that make you feel romantic, or do you think he’s bonkers? We’re open to any and all comments…as well as to further recommendations of films likely to bring out the romantic side in us glomads!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our monthly columnist, James Murray, who right now can be found in front of his fireplace in Boston — and not because he’s in a romantic mood! Far from it…

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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Expats, here’s how to enrich your lives in 2013: Choose a mentor or a muse!

Expats and other world adventurers, let me guess. You have you spent the past week making resolutions about

  • staying positive about your new life in Country X;
  • indulging in less of the local stodge;
  • giving up the smoking habit that no one is nagging you about now that you’re so far away from home;
  • and/or taking advantage of travel opportunities within the region that may never come your way again

— while also knowing full well that at some point in the not-distant future, you’ll end up stuffing your face with marshmallows (metaphorically speaking).

Never mind, it happens to the best of us, as psychologist Walter Mischel — he of the marshmallow experimentrecently told Abby Hunstman of the Huffington Post. Apparently, it has something to do with the way impulses work in the brain. The key is to trick the brain by coming up with strategies to avoid the marshmallow or treat it as something else.

Today I’d like to propose something I found to be one of the most effective strategies for turning away from the marshmallows you’ve discovered in your new home abroad or, for more veteran expats, turning these marshmallows into something new and exotic. My advice is to find a mentor or a muse in your adopted land — someone who can teach you something new, or who inspires you by their example to try new things…

Trust me, if you choose the right mentor +/or muse, benefits like the following will soon accrue:

1) More exotic looks — and a book deal.

Back when I lived abroad, first in England and then in Japan, I was always studying other women for style and beauty tips. I made a muse of everyone from Princess Diana (I could hardly help it as her image was being constantly thrust in front of me) to the stewardesses I encountered on All Nippon Airways. Have you ever seen the film Fear and Trembling, based on the autobiographical novel of that name, by the oft-displaced Amélie Nothomb? On ANA flights, I behaved a little like the film’s young Belgian protagonist, Amélie, who secretly adulates her supervisor Miss Fubuki. I simply couldn’t believe the world contained such attractive women…

The pay-off came upon my repatriation to the US. With such a wide array of fashion and beauty influences, I’d begun to resemble Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence — with my Laura Ashley dresses, hair ornaments, strings of (real) pearls, and habit of bowing to everyone.

Is it any wonder my (Japanese) husband-to-be nicknamed me the Duchess? (Better than being the sheltered May Welland, surely?)

My one regret is that I didn’t parlay these style tips into a best-seller — unlike Jennifer Scott, one of the authors who was featured on TDN this past year. While studying in Paris, Scott was in a mentoring relationship with Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne. (The former was the matriarch in her host family; the latter, in her boyfriend’s host family.) Mme C & Mme B took her under their wing and taught her everything she knows about personal style, preparation of food, home decor, entertaining, make-up, you name it…and is now imparting to others in her Simon & Schuster-published book.

2) More memorable dinner parties.

As mentioned in a previous post, I adopted actress and Indian cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey as my muse shortly after settling down in the UK. I was (still am) madly in love with her, her cookbooks, even her writing style.

And her recipes do me proud to this day.

Right before Christmas I threw a dinner party for 10 featuring beef cooked in yogurt and black pepper, black cod in a coriander marinade, and several of her vegetable dishes.

It was divine — if I say so myself! To be fair, the guests liked it, too…

3) Improved language skills.

Now the ideal mentor for an adult seeking to pick up a new foreign language is a boyfriend or girlfriend in the local culture — preferably one with gobs of patience. The Japanese have the perfect expression for it: iki jibiki, or walking dictionary.

Just one caveat: If you’re as language challenged as Tony James Slater, it could prove a headache and, ultimately, a heartache.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

(Married people, you might want to give up on this goal. I’m serious…)

4) A fondness for angels who dance on pinheads.

After seeing the film Lost in Translation, I became an advocate for expats giving themselves intellectual challenges. Really, there’s no excuse for ennui of the sort displayed by Scarlett Johansson character, in a well-traveled life.

It was while living in the UK as a grad student that I discovered the extraordinary scholar-writer Marina Warner, who remains an inspiration to this day. Warner, who grew up in Brussels and Cambridge and was educated at convent school and Oxford University, is best known for her books on feminism and myth.

After reading her book Monuments and Maidens, I could never look at a statue in the same way again!

In her person, too, she is something of a goddess. Though I’d encountered women of formidable intellect before, I found her more appealing than most, I think because she wears her learning lightly and has an ethereal presence, like one of the original Muses.

Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes has written of her “incandescent intelligence and Apulian beauty” (she is half Italian, half English). The one time I met her — I asked her to sign my copy of her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Lost Father — I could see what he meant.

I was gobsmacked.

Major girl crush!

(Don’t have a girl crush? Get one! It will enrich your life immeasurably.)

5) Greater powers of mindfulness — and a book deal.

Third Culture Kid Maria Konnikova was born in Moscow but grew up and was educated in the US. She has started the new year by putting out a book with Viking entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Who would guess that a young Russian-born woman would use Conan Doyle’s fictional creations, Holmes and Watson, as her muses? But, as she explains in a recent article in Slate, she has learned everything she knows about the art of mindfulness from that master British sleuth:

Mindfulness allows Holmes to observe those details that most of us don’t even realize we don’t see.

So moved is she by Holmes’s example — and so frustrated by her own, much more limited observational powers — Konnikova does the boldest of all thought experiments: she gives up the Internet…

So does her physiological and emotional well-being improve as a result? Does her mind stop wandering away from the present? Does she become happier? I won’t give it away lest you would like to make Konnikova this year’s muse and invest in her book. Hint: If you do, we may not see you here for a while. 😦

6) The confidence to travel on your own.

We expats tend to be a little less intrepid than the average global wanderer: we’re a little too attached to our creature comforts and may need a kick to become more adventuresome. But even avid travelers sometimes lose their courage, as Amy Baker recently reported in a post for Vagabondish. She recounts the first time she met a Swedish solo traveler in Morocco, who had lived on her own in Zimbabwe for 10 years. This Swede is now her friend — and muse:

She was level-headed, organized and fiercely independent — all characteristics that I aim to embody as a female traveler.

With this “fearless Swedish warrior woman” in mind, Amy started venturing out on her lonesome — and hasn’t looked back.

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Readers, the above is not intended as an exhaustive list as I’m hoping you can contribute your own experiences with mentors and muses abroad: What do you do to avoid the “marshmallows” of the (too?) well-traveled life? Who have you met that has inspired you to new creative, intellectual, or travel heights? Please let us know in the comments. In the meantime, I wish you a happy, healthy — and most of all, intellectually stimulating — new year!

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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