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Talking to Sharon Lorimer about starting up a business on the art of being an expat

Sharon Lorimer CollageAnyone who has been an expat has probably thought about, at some time or another, starting up a business to help ease other expats into the notion that they are now international residents. But how many of us have the knowhow and the guts to act on these thoughts?

Sharon Lorimer, a Scot who lives in New York City with her American husband, did not think of herself as having an entrepreneurial mindset until she went to business school. One thing led to another, and almost before she knew it, she’d founded doshebu, a business providing services to various kinds of clients looking to go global.

Now let’s meet Sharon and talk to her about this turn of events in her life. We know that the force of love took her to New York, but what swept her down the path of launching her own business venture?

* * *

Hi, Sharon! It’s always good to talk to a fellow New Yorker, especially a displaced one! What brought you here from Scotland originally?
I fell in love with an American. After a long-distance love affair, we had to have the big talk about where we wanted to live. We were both just out of school and thought there would be more opportunities in New York than in our hometowns of Edinburgh (mine) or DC (his). So I came to New York to get married.

What was the first chapter of your life in the Big Apple?
We joined the dotcom boom: I worked for an Internet advertising agency, and my husband, Kim Khan, has done a variety of jobs, including establishing a bureau for in London. We were in our late 20s and had a vibrant, creative life, with lots of international friends. But then came the dotcom bust, and we started to reassess our lives and the extent to which the dotcom model aligned with our values. I searched for the right business for me but couldn’t find a fit. In 2004, I decided to get an MBA and after graduation in 2008 I started doshebu.

What kinds of services does doshebu offer?
While still in business school, I conducted primary research in International Human Resource Management. The services doshebu provides—to corporate leaders, individuals and families, businesses (human resource units), governments and NGOs, and importers/exporters looking to go global—are based on the gaps I identified in the market. I’ve designed an individual program for each market sector. Expats who are interested can find more information on our Services page. And our online learning site has lots of free resources. We want to build a community there and are continually adding information that you can access for free.

You’ve been out of Scotland for some time. Do you ever feel “displaced”?
I feel most displaced in the places where I’m supposed to be feeling most at home. I find it tough to relate to people who don’t have similar life experiences. Sometimes other Scots don’t even believe I’m Scottish. How do you convince someone you’re not pulling their leg and are actually from the same place as them?

Do you feel more comfortable abroad than in the UK?
Usually when I strike up a conversation with someone who’s traveling the world or living abroad, I find we have lots in common. My husband is the same way. If we encounter foreign tourists in the city, we always want to tell them about really cool places to go and the history behind those places.

Expats as “warriors”

Where did your idea for “doshebu” come from?
Doshebu is an expression of my life experience. When I first moved abroad, I had no idea of how difficult it would be. I packed my suitcase, got my flight, and turned up at my fiancé’s house. It took me a while to realize how unprepared I had been. While I didn’t think of myself as an immigrant, I experienced the loss of status that immigration causes. Lots of expats approach international assignments in that way. Whenever I reach out to talk to others, I can see there is a lot of work to do to help us all understand what moving abroad has done to our lives. These days, I like to think of myself as a pioneer and imagine myself living in a “boundaryless” world, where people live where they want and do what they feel is meaningful to them.

I understand the name for the business is based on the Japanese samarai moral code, Bushidō?
Kim is a black belt in the martial arts. Both of us have experienced the trauma of moving countries (Kim is from Virginia originally but has lived and worked in the UK and Singapore), and we think that living abroad requires something of a warrior mindset. While most people anticipate having a change in lifestyle, they are unprepared for the idea that not everything will be straightforward. For instance, some locals may not appreciate you or your values. Warriors are trained to go into hostile situations, and doshebu’s products address that possibility by educating you and discussing methods of coping. Thus the “way of the warrior” has become the “art of the expat.”

Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
No, I was totally daunted. Although I’d witnessed my grandmother and mother start businesses, and admired them for that, I always shied away from taking that kind of responsibility. But now I feel the desire to build something of my own that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my efforts and dedication.

What has been the biggest challenge?
There are two main challenges I face:
1. Limited resources. It’s always tough no matter how big the company is, but it’s really tough when you’re a start-up.
2. Motivation. When you have to motivate yourself and there isn’t a reward at the end of the day, it’s tough to figure out how to keep going. I have to keep reminding myself of how far the company has come—it is no longer a research project but a living company; and I dream of a future when other people think it’s a great company, too.

Expats as artists

The most fulfilling aspect?
Doshebu is an Internet business and there is a lot of technical work behind the scenes. But we called it the “art of the expat” because we find that people who go abroad tend to become more creative and have more diverse interests. I enjoy trying to foster a sense of this in our clients and their families. It can be an advantage to their companies—for instance, if they make a more creative presentation on their work; but it can also be about one’s personal journey, connecting you with your creativity.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
I’d love to make movies. I wrote a screenplay a while back, and as a photographer and writer, I love movies.

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnI see that you’ve created some cookbooks and photobooks under the Art of the Expat brand. My favorite is The Global Scottish Kitchen, with recipes for things like Cock A’ Leekie Udon.
Yes, my next book will also be a cookbook, called Coop du Monde. It’s a step-by-step guide to spicing up the traditional British Sunday Roast. It’s also about helping you be creative in the kitchen by explaining how to experiment with flavors.

In addition, I’m working on another photography book—about graffiti. I want to explore the idea of street art, the photographer and the graffiti artist as being the same person.

You can check out my various books on Blurb.

What’s on your bucket list?
I want to buy a small island and build a house on it. I like the idea of being able to build an environmentally-friendly house. But we’d have to have liquor—Kim and I have also written a book about home-style cocktails, based on our world travels and conversations with bartenders, bon vivants and drinkers. AliasNickandNorasHomestyleCocktails_cover_tdnHmmm…maybe I could sell moonshine in the local market?

* * *

Ah, said like a true entrepreneur, Sharon! Thanks so much for talking to me about your work. I must say, I find your take on “going global” truly refreshing. Readers, any questions for Sharon on what it’s like to be an expat doing a business on behalf of other expats? Fire away! Or if you want to recommend a home-style cocktail for her collection, I’m sure she’d appreciate that, too. For that matter, aren’t cocktails part of the recipe for a successful expat adventure?!

STAY TUNED for the next episode in the online expat novel, Libby’s Life, to appear tomorrow.

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Images (clockwise from left): Sharon trying out her Bushidō technique(?!) outside of Gaudí’s cathedral in Barcelona; being a tourist in Venice; enjoying a stein of beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich (on the cover of her photography book Oktoberfest); and how the table looked for her and Kim’s 10th-anniversary celebration (note the tartan tablecloth!).


TCK TALENT: Diahann Reyes is in her element as writer, actor & storytelling coach

DiahannReyes_headshot_pmWelcome to the second installment of “TCK Talent,” Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about adult Third Culture Kids who work in creative fields. As some readers may recall, Lisa—a Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent—has written and performed a one-woman show about being a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. (It debuted in LA in the spring and is coming next week to NYC!)

—ML Awanohara

My guest today is Diahann Reyes, a professional writer/actor who is launching a new blog, writing a memoir, and beginning an additional career as a writer’s editor/coach. Diahann grew up in six countries, worked as a journalist for CNN before becoming an actor, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Growing up here and there and everywhere

Greetings, Diahann, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I understand you’re the TCK child of Filipino parents. Can you fill us in a little more: why did your family move around and which countries did you live in as a kid?
My dad was a marketing expat. I learned how to speak English with a Kiwi accent in New Zealand, discovered my love for books in Argentina, rode my first camel in Pakistan, went through puberty in the US, attended junior prom in the Philippines, and graduated from high school in Indonesia.

Of all those cultures, did you identify with one in particular?
Like you, I’m a “mash up” of the different cultures I’ve lived in. Living in America for most of my life now, I feel most at home here, which is its own kind of cultural mishmash. In my twenties, I realized that I had to pick one of my “home” cultures as my main one or I’d continue to feel ungrounded. I also identify with particular subcultures that aren’t necessarily considered mainstream, such as the artist culture.

Where and when were you happiest while growing up?
My family’s two years in Argentina were some of my happiest, probably because my mom, dad, sister, and I were all so excited to be living in a new country together. Moving to a different culture was still an adventure of which I had yet to grow weary. Also, at age 8, I was still very much myself and hadn’t been impacted yet by the pressures of puberty and the need to fit in.

What lies beneath the surface…

Speaking of puberty and the female body brings me to the launching of your new blog, Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites. What inspired you to begin it and what can followers look forward to from the blog?
For women especially, there are so many truths, emotions, and desires that we tend to suppress: they get buried deep down in our bodies. My blog is my way of excavating this buried inner emotional landscape. I want to talk about the female body in ways not normally touched upon in mainstream media. My blog will include personal stories as well as commentary on relevant current events.

You’ve been working on a memoir. Is it specific to a time and place in your life?
Yes. My memoir is about my latest “move,” only this time rather than going to live in a new country, I’ve spent the last decade “moving into” and learning how to fully inhabit my own body. Location-wise, I take the reader across the globe to some of the places I’ve lived growing up, but the main action takes place in my body.

What themes are you exploring?
The story I tell is absolutely personal, but it does touch on a lot of bigger ideas involving the female body and its objectification and how this can impact a woman’s relationship to herself and others. Desirability, cultural assumptions, sexuality, power, pleasure, and wholeness are some of the through-lines in the book.

Owning who she is

On your website you describe how you fell in love with reading and acting. Did you always know you would pursue both of these interests as careers, or did you struggle with the decision?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I could read, but it took me a long time to own that this is who I am, in part because the grownup me couldn’t imagine that my younger self could just “know” this. Still, writing has been the primary way I’ve made a living—as a TV news writer, an editor, a ghostwriter, and now a blogger, so I guess I didn’t need to know I was a writer to be one.

The decision to act was tougher. I didn’t start to pursue acting until my 30th birthday, and by then I had established a pretty good career in journalism and online media, so I was giving up a lot to change focus. But acting was like this siren calling to me, saying “act, act, act.”

You and I grew up reading many of the same (mostly American and British) authors: Ingalls Wilder, L’Engle, Cleary, Blyton… I remember the day I realized I would never get cast as Jo in any theatrical production of Alcott’s Little Women because I was a girl of color. Did you ever have a moment like this, and if so, which beloved character(s) and book(s) or play(s) did you realize you wouldn’t get to explore as an actress?
I always thought I could be anyone because while growing up I’ve had to be a chameleon. “Adapt and assimilate and fit in” was one of my mantras as a global nomad. But when I got to LA and started auditioning, I realized that I would never be able to play certain characters because I was the wrong ethnicity or type. I was primarily limited to not even Asian parts but Latina roles because I look more Hispanic than Southeast Asian. This meant that I was likely never going to play Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Caroline Ingalls in any future Little House on the Prairie remake, and parts that were for people of my actual ethnicity were out, too. Fortunately, the industry has changed, and more minorities are getting cast outside of ethnicity and stereotype.

What sorts of roles are you attracted to now?
I love parts that call for emotional depth and angst.

I wonder if one of the reasons we’re writers is that we have more autonomy to tell stories than we do as actresses?
I love that I can write what I want—I don’t need anyone to “cast” me first. And I can create characters that aren’t limited by ethnicity or type. I am thinking of creating a solo show that would probably require me to write and play different characters.

I understand you also write poetry. What drew you to that?
I kept diaries growing up and would process my feelings through poetry. With both nonfiction and poetry, I can just be myself. After so many years of working hard at adapting and assimilating to fit in, getting to just be me on the page is a relief.

Helping others to own their stories

You’re about to begin a new endeavor as a writer’s editor/coach. What inspired you to follow this new path?
I know what it is like to have something to say and to struggle with fully expressing my truth—especially when the fears come up—and I want to help other writers overcome these obstacles so they can get their stories out there. I want to work with people who are just as engaged in their process as they are in having a finished product.

What are you looking for in a student/client?
I work with nonfiction writers, bloggers, storytellers, and essayists, and other people with writing and online content projects. Healers and people with unusual business ideas like to work with me, too.

Do you have any other projects coming up?
I hope to publish my memoir next year. The film Out of Her Element, in which I play a therapist with a pill addiction, will premiere soon.

* * *

I must congratulate Diahann on her exciting new ventures, which I believe will resonate with people working in creative fields—and with female travelers and TCKs, especially! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Diahann below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when Andy Martin will talk to Mark Hillary about his new book, Reality Check: Life in Brazil through the Eyes of a Foreigner.

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img: Diahann Reyes

“Unenthusiastic about enthusiasm”: On Sarah Lyall, the relief of being a returning expat, and never getting over the feeling of cultural discombobulation

CulturallyDiscombobulatedFor today’s post ML Awanohara (doyenne of this particular piece of the interweb) suggested that Sarah Lyall‘s recent piece in The New York Times (“Ta-Ta, London. Hello, Awesome”) might provide me with a suitable topic to chisel out a post for the Displaced Nation.

I’ll be honest and admit (though I never articulated this to ML) that I was rather resistant and a tad unenthusiastic to the idea. I’d previously skim-read Sarah Lyall’s book, The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, and found myself irritated by her observations about her life as an American transplant to London.

In short, I didn’t enjoy it. I was left uncharmed and felt it had about it an omnipresent smug tone.

Bill Bryson did it best

Recently, I’ve had a similar reaction with British academic Terry Eagleton‘s new book, Across The Pond (goodness, even the title sounds like another sub-Bryson knock-off), about his thoughts on living in America.

So I’m an equal-opportunity offender on this matter.

Perhaps foreigner-writing-about-their-adopted-home is a sub-genre that is not for me, which is unfortunate considering that’s the very subject of my personal blog, Culturally Discombobulated (now that I think of it, it sounds like a sub-Bryson knock-off, too). Having read Lyall’s article, I suppose she would call this attitude typically English: at once self-loathing and arrogant.

So I decided I would ignore ML’s suggestion and instead write another Capital Ideas post. As I was about to start writing it (well, start thinking about writing it, if I’m going to be entirely honest), I noticed in my inbox an email from my wife telling me to read this article.  Like Sarah Lyall, Mrs W is an American who has spent time living in London before returning to the US.

Putting my initial reservations to one side, I decided to see just what I was missing.

I must admit, Sarah’s right about L.G.

First, a little bit of background: Sarah Lyall has been The New York Times London correspondent for 18 years. Her article this week was about her repatriation to her home country.

I’ll be honest. Unlike when I read her book, The Anglo Files, I found myself more charmed by her writing and observations. This could be the result of the shorter form of a newspaper article, my mellowing, or far more likely our common enemy that is Loyd Grossman—Sarah’s wish on first moving to the UK was that she wouldn’t end up sounding like her more famous compatriot.

Readers who have not spent any considerable time in the UK are probably oblivious to L.G.’s existence. A television presenter (who was host of the original MasterChef, which other than name bears scant resemblance to Fox’s Gordon Ramsey vehicle) as well as a range of pasta sauces (I’ve no idea why, given that he’s not a chef), Loyd Grossman is in possession of the oddest transatlantic accent. It’s preppy New Englander meets Sloane Square yuppie, and just hearing it makes you want to declare class war.

For all of us in clear and present danger of one day developing a transatlantic accent, Loyd Grossman is a stark and terrifying cautionary tale.

…and about us?

Sometimes when I am reading a foreigner’s perspective on the British, I am struck by how awful we sound—a complete bunch of miserable bastards that have developed a carapace of irony and delight in popping positivity like it were a balloon at a child’s birthday party.

Is it any wonder Sarah got a bit fed up with our lack of enthusiasm:

…Britons are not automatically impressed by what I always thought were attractive American qualities—straightforwardness, openness, can-doism, for starters—and they suspect that our surface friendly optimism might possibly be fake. (I suspect that sometimes they might possibly be right.)

Once, in an experiment designed to illustrate Britons’ unease with the way Americans introduce themselves in social situations (in Britain, you’re supposed to wait for the host to do it), I got a friend at a party we were having to go up to a man he had never met. “Hi, I’m Stephen Bayley,” my friend said, sticking out his hand.

“Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?” the man responded.

The pursuit of happiness may be too garish a goal, it turns out, in the land of the pursuit of not-miserableness. After enough Britons respond with “I can’t complain” when you ask them how they are, you begin to feel nostalgic about all those psyched Americans you left behind.

After reading this piece, my wife said that she’d forgotten that so much of my personality was cultural. “I thought,” she said, “that it might be time for you to have some therapy, but then I realized you’re just British—no amount of therapy can fix that.”

* * *

I’ve not experienced what it is like to repatriate yourself back home. I do know, however, that many of you have. Do let me know in the comments below what struck you about moving back and what you missed about the adopted country you left.

TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (2/2)

Habitat CollageNew columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang continues her conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. (Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.)

—ML Awanohara

Hi, everyone! Yesterday, I talked to Alaine Handa about her Third Culture Kid background and what led her to produce her first international touring show, Chameleon. Today we’ll finish up our Chameleon conversation and move on to talking about Alaine’s brand new show, Habitat, which is having its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (If you happen to be in Edinburgh, scroll down to the bottom of this post for details.)

* * *

Act 2: Chameleon, continued…

Welcome back, Alaine. I can relate to so much of what you said about Chameleon. The creative/rehearsal process can be so fulfilling that the performance itself is often the icing on the cake for the performer-creator. Whom did you have in mind for the wider audience?
As a proud TCK and Global Citizen, I felt the stories of TCKs needed to have a voice that supports all the research, books, blogs, and memoirs that have been written on our lives—yet can transcend boundaries of spoken language through dance and movement, something all cultures can understand. Perhaps my ideas were grandiose, but I really hoped that productions of Chameleon would touch the lives of all those who identify with living cross-culturally and existing as cultural mixes.

It sounds as though Chameleon provided a voice for a cross-section of nomadic, mixed-heritage, intercultural people, not to mention everyone who has ever felt unheard or unseen—which is everyone at some point in their lives. I did the same with Alien Citizen and am wondering if we should create a TCK festival for performing artists like us… But, back to you! How was the performance received?
Every single performance of Chameleon had at least one person in tears because they identified so much with it. After each performance, we spent quite a lot of time talking to audience members. I made a lot of new friends around the world!

Were there any surprises?
The biggest surprise for me came from the TCK student performance at Utahloy International School, in Guangzhou. The students were very receptive and open to sharing their TCK stories with me, as well as on stage. It brought tears to my eyes.

Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?
By telling my story and other TCK/CCK stories, not only did I come to understand myself better, but I also felt a strong sense of community among the globally mobile citizens of the world.

Act 3: Preparing a new show, Habitat, for the Edinburgh Fringe

And now you have a new show, Habitat. Is this your first time at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes! We are very excited. One of my dancers has performed in the Fringe before so he will be super helpful during the festival.

In your promotional materials for Habitat, you have the following statement:

Our personal space is the environment in which we confine ourselves to become our truest selves.

Can you explain?
As a TCK, I am constantly meeting people of different backgrounds, and I change my behavior and mannerisms accordingly. Thinking about this, I wanted to explore the transition to one’s personal habitat, where you can finally relax and just “be” who you are.

Who is the intended audience, and is it different than the audience from the one you had in mind for Chameleon?
This piece is more universal. It shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.

I see the cast is multicultural, with dancers from Singapore, USA, Portugal, and Indonesia. Was it a challenge to bring together a cast from so many different places?
To be honest, although it’s “easier” to label the cast by our passport countries, we are, in fact, a collection of multicultural individuals who have lived in different parts of the world at various times. Right now, two of us live in Singapore and the other two in New York. The biggest challenge we faced was rehearsing on separate continents, given the time difference. We relied heavily on email and YouTube, and later on Skype. As the choreographer, I faced the challenge of conveying what I wanted to see from the 2-D perspective of video. Slowly but surely, the show has come together piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle.

How did you find the other dancers?
I’ve worked with Laura on Chameleon and was working with her on the creation of draft material prior to my move back to Singapore last year. I met Ezekiel in Singapore; we both teach dance for the same company. Belinda and I are friends from New York; she and I met at an audition for a choreographer I danced for while living there. We found out that we trained with the same jazz dance instructor while I was growing up here in Singapore and took the same classes.

Are the other dancers also TCKs or “displaced” in some way?
I think I’m the only TCK, but of the other three cast members, two are expats and the other is bi-cultural, with both parents originating from different countries and cultures. I guess you could say we are a “displaced” group. I knew I wanted to work with a multicultural cast again because it made for such an interesting group dynamic with Chameleon—although in this case, the cast has not worked together before.

You’re now in Edinburgh. What’s it been like so far?
When we first arrived, we had about 20 hours of rehearsal (including tech and dress rehearsals). The pieces are gradually falling into place.

Act 4: Life after Edinburgh?

Do you have plans to take Habitat anywhere else?
Yes, we are encouraging theatre venue producers, programmers, agents, etc. to come see Habitat during the Fringe in hopes it can be produced in other venues around the world.

Where do you think the show will go next?
I’m not sure—I’d like to bring it down to Australia. I also really enjoyed Toronto Fringe a couple years ago and might bring Habitat there. We are also looking to get this show booked for different venues across Europe, Asia, and North America.

* * *

If you happen to be in Edinburgh, here are the details for Alaine’s show:

  • Number of performers: four, including Alaine
  • Show length: 45 minutes
  • When and where: July 31 – August 13, 2013 @ C Venues (Venue 34), Adam House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
  • Time: 1:50 pm every day.
  • Purchase tickets here.
  • Trailer:

Habitat in Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Alaine Handa on Vimeo.

Questions for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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img: Video Stills by Kevin Tadge, taken from preview performances of Habitat at the Edinburgh Fringe (2013).

TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (1/2)

AlaineHanda_pmToday we introduce a new monthly column by Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang. Remember that Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent who was putting on a one woman show in LA about being a Third Culture Kid? You know, she “came out” as a TCK on stage, and lived to write a post about it? Lisa will be searching for other TCK talents to interview for the series. She debuts with a two-part conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa (pictured). Part 2 is here.

—ML Awanohara

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are making headlines these days for their creative output. We see them being featured in established news outlets and online magazines, as well as on popular blogs. I suspect that the emergence of Barack Obama as national and global leader—he is an Adult TCK (ATCK)—has contributed to the phenomenon.

Still, ATCKs in the performing arts remain relatively rare, so as an ATCK actress-writer I’m always happy to learn of fellow ATCK performing artists like Alaine Handa, a second-generation TCK who works as a choreographer/dancer.

Alaine was born in Singapore. She spent her childhood in Jakarta and adolescence in Singapore. She went to college in Los Angeles, California, and then moved to New York, where she formed her own troupe in December 2007: A.H. Dance Company.

She has since moved back to Singapore, where she has lived for the last year.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, I ask Alaine to tell us about her company, her TCK background, and her first internationally touring show, Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. In Part Two of the interview, to be posted tomorrow, we’ll move on to talking about her production that is about to premiere (!) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

* * *

Hi, Alaine. I’m curious: what led you to form your own dance company?
Ever since I was a young teenaged dancer, I aspired to have a professional dance company that toured the world performing in different venues, festivals and theaters. I think it was because I longed to have my own choreographic voice to create dance pieces that meant something to me. Still, the decision wasn’t easy to go from dancer/choreographer to choreographer first and dancer second. After moving to New York, I continued performing for other choreographers and project-based dance companies. I only decided at the end of 2009 to focus solely on choreography while performing occasionally. I guess you could say I never lost my determination to make that happen.

Can you tell us more about your background as a second-generation Third Culture Kid?
Both my parents are TCKs. My heritage is mostly Hakka Chinese (with a bit of mix in there somewhere along the lineage). My grandparents and great-grandparents were Chinese immigrants from somewhere in China who settled in Jakarta. My mom attended an English school until it was shut down due to political pressure. She then was sent to boarding schools in Hong Kong and Sydney, and she graduated from an Australian university outside of Sydney. Meanwhile, my Dad attended a Chinese school in Jakarta before it was shut down. He helped his parents for a couple of years and then was sent to Singapore to learn English. After a year, he went to London to attend university and then to Boston to obtain a doctoral degree in optometry.

Which culture do you most identify with?
I attended American international schools in Jakarta and Singapore so I’d say I’m culturally very American. I majored in dance through UCLA’s Department of World Arts & Cultures, which looked at dance and the arts in a sociological-anthropological way and as a community-building catalyst. And then I spent seven years performing, teaching, choreographing, living, creating, loving, and building a community of TCKs in New York.

ACT 1: Chameleon goes to the Toronto Fringe Festival

A couple of years ago, your company put on a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival entitled Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. I enjoyed watching the video clip of your performance. Please tell us more about it.
Chameleon, the Experiences of Global Citizens is a full dance production with a rotating cast of three to six dancers using film, spoken word, jewelry design, music, and photography, to support the personal stories of TCKs, Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs), and Global Citizens. Each dancer performs a solo in the production in addition to dancing in the group sections.

The video excerpt is only one section of the production: my solo. (Thanks for watching!) I layered together three different poems for the sound:

  1. “Uniquely Me,” by Alex Graham James from Ruth Van Reken and David C. Pollock’s book, Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds.
  2. “De Främmande Länderna” by Edith Södergran (translated into English), a Swedish poet I studied while attending UCLA.
  3. Last but not least, “Eulogy to my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors / Also known as the anti-eulogy / To my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors,” by Leilani Chan, an Asian-American theatre director in LA.

It sounds as though you’ve rolled TCK and CCK art into one cohesive piece—much like a TCK or CCK individual is the sum of many seemingly disparate parts, creating a vivid, unique entity. What was the thought process that produced this art?
Hmmm…my thought process in creating Chameleon was a lengthy one as it is very personal to me. A little trip down memory lane is probably the best way to describe it.

I graduated high school in 2001 and then moved to Southern California to attend Pitzer College. 9/11 happened a couple of weeks in. Everyone in the States was in patriotic mode. I didn’t quite fit in. Many journal entries, tears, frustrations, and conversations later, I wrote about my experience as an outsider/insider and drafted a dance piece about my mixed up cultural identity that I wanted to choreograph for my senior project. I transferred to UCLA for my third and fourth year. I experienced bouts of severe depression and several anxiety attacks throughout my college years and began to see the “light” at the end of the dark tunnel my final year.

A friend told me about the Third Culture Kids book in 2003, and a life-changing epiphany happened. I returned to my journal entries and found my ideas to create a dance piece about my experience as a TCK for my senior project. I cast a multicultural group of dancers, interviewed TCKs I knew for my very first documentary film “I am a TCK,” and rented a theatre in L.A. for my senior project and titled the piece “Third Culture Kids.” The first part of the production was the half-hour documentary film followed by a 20-minute dance piece that was autobiographical in nature. This would become the very first draft of Chameleon.

After graduation from UCLA, I was burnt out and moved to New York to pursue a career in dance. I knew that my TCK dance piece needed to be re-created again at some point. I performed for a bunch of independent choreographers, dance companies, and was teaching dance in the public schools in Brooklyn. I formed A.H. Dance Company at the end of 2007 and we had two performing seasons before I decided the time was right to tackle the stories and experiences of TCKs again. I cast dancers that were cross-cultural or TCKs, a TCK actress, a TCK jewelry designer (who created our prop pieces that were an amalgamation of HER TCK experiences), and TCK/CCK/TCA photographers submitted their work to be used as backdrops for the dance sections. I also extended and re-edited the film “I am a TCK” by interviewing even more TCKs. We premiered the piece at University Settlement in New York as part of their Spring Season in 2010, after receiving some funding from Singapore International Foundation, which also funded the performance at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

ACT II: Chameleon travels widely and goes global

We toured the production to festivals and organizations with community programming. I even presented portions of the piece, including the rehearsal process, twice at the annual Families in Global Transitions (FIGT) conference, where I met Ruth Van Reken, Tina Quick, Apple Gidley, Jo Parfitt, Julia Simens, Judy Rickatson, and many more of the TCK researchers, expat writers/bloggers, international educators, and more.

I am very proud of this work and how it has traveled around the world. Currently, Chameleon has taken on a more educational approach. I’ve re-set portions of the piece for student TCK dancers from Singapore American School and they performed it in Kuala Lumpur as well as in Singapore. In January this year, I traveled to Guangzhou to re-set a simpler version on TCK students (a lot of them were non-dancers) at the Utahloy International School for a week-long residency that culminated in a performance. The rehearsal process of telling the personal stories of TCKs through movement and dance with spoken word was equally as rewarding as the student performance itself.

* * *

This just in from Alaine at the Edinburgh Festival: The preview performances of her latest production, Habitat, have been going well, and they’ve even received a recommendation from a local newspaper, behind famous greats like Carlos Acosta and the Bolshoi Ballet (which are actually playing in London). Kudos, Alaine!

Tomorrow we’ll talk to Alaine about how this production came about. Any questions for her, meantime?

STAY TUNED for Part 2 of Lisa Liang’s conversation with Alaine Handa.

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img: Alaine Handa, by Anthony Schiavo, courtesy A.H. Dance Company.

Are Brit international creatives better than their Yankee counterparts?

NYC_Awindram_pmWhen Chariots of Fire screenwriter Colin Welland won his Oscar in 1981, his acceptance speech began with him somewhat obnoxiously and ungraciously proclaiming: “The British are coming!”

Unlike Paul Revere, this wasn’t intended as a dire warning to fellow Americans, but was rather a British boast about perceived creative superiority over the transatlantic cousins.

Ultimately, the renaissance of British cinema that Welland envisaged did not materialize, but though that particular “British invasion” did not in the end occur, the US has since . . . oh, let’s say since 1812 . . . endured a number of British invasions: from Dickens’s arrival in Boston in 1842, to Oscar Wilde’s statement to a US customs officer that he had nothing to declare but his genius (which I would certainly not advise anyone that they should try to use that line in JFK), to the Beatles’ first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (considered the beginning of the British Invasion in music).

If David Carr’s recent column in the New York Times, entitled “British Invasion Reshuffles U.S. Media,” is correct, then we may be in the grip of another one. The genesis for this piece has been John Oliver‘s recent, perfectly competent portrayal of a bamboozled substitute teacher on The Daily Show.

Carr’s contention is that at the moment “everywhere you look in the United States media landscape, you find people from [Britain]”:

Piers Morgan came from Britain to take over for Larry King, the Wall Street Journal is edited by Gerard Baker, a British newspaper veteran, and the chief executive of the New York Times is Mark Thompson, who spent his career at the BBC. Anna Wintour has edited Vogue for more than two decades and, more recently, Joanna Coles took over Cosmopolitan, which defines a certain version of American womanhood.

NBC News recently looked to the mother country for leadership and found Deborah Turness, the former editor of Britain’s ITV News. ABC’s entertainment group is headed by Paul Lee, also formerly of the BBC, and Colin Myler, a Fleet Street alum, edits the New York Daily News.

The list goes on, but the point is made: when it comes to choosing someone to steer prominent American media properties, the answer is often delivered in a proper British accent.

But, as the title of this post asks, the British better at being international creatives than their American counterparts? Are we more fearless?

The examples that Carr puts forward are compelling, even if we may have to suspend our imagination and hope our stomachs do not turn too much in allowing Piers Morgan to be considered a “creative.”

However, I am unconvinced in a post-Leveson world that there is inherently anything better or more attractive about British media operators when set alongside their American counterparts.

Of course, that does not alter that it is inarguable that New York media finds itself with a number of prominent Brits.

Carr hits on one of the main reasons for this — London:

“Los Angeles, New York and Washington all have their domains, while in Britain, there is only London, a place where entertainment, politics and news media all live in the same petri dish.”

In an increasingly international world, a world in which the super elite can be found in a select number of super cities, it is only to be expected that large New York media empires would be selecting from a fairly small pool. They’ll look to New York and London — the two major English-speaking super cities.

It is perhaps a complete misconception that for the purposes of this question we think in terms of America and Britain, as if to make out an otherness between each party, when they share status as super city elites.

The true “other” would be the newspaper man from Minnesota or the TV station manager from Louisville. I know from my own anecdotal experience of MBA grads from top US business schools that the majority that I know are in New York or London. This is just the new normal — it is hardly surprising that it is reflected in New York’s media executives.

It is also noticeable to anyone who has spent any time in the UK that while a struggling, gasping industry, print media is more alive in the UK at present than it is in the US.

The result of this is that they are a large number of British candidates that would be attractive to US companies in the position to headhunt a new executive.

A final factor is the attraction of “success” in the US for Brits. I don’t say this lightly, but take a look at Piers Morgan’s twitter account . . . I know, I know . . . awful, isn’t it? However, a quick look through a random selection of Morgan’s twitter will soon reveal a man who enjoys boasting — or if I’m being more generous, teasing — other British celebrities who have no profile in the US.

Success in the US seems greater, somehow. There is a pull there that is irresistible. There is romance to it. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” What do all the many American CEOs heading boardrooms in London get to sing to themselves?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with our featured author of the month, Rosie Whitehouse.

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img: awindram

And the May 2013 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter will hopefully have noticed by now, each week our Displaced Dispatch presents an “Alice Award” to a writer who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of the displaced life of global residency and travel. Not only that, but this person has used their befuddlement as a spur to creativity. He or she qualifies as an “international creative.”

Today’s post honors May’s four Alice recipients, beginning with the most recent and this time including citations.

So, without further ado: The May 2013 Alices go to (drumroll…):

1) ADAM GROFFMAN, travel blogger and expat

Source: “How a children’s book inspired my wanderlust” in Travels of Adam
Posted on: 13 April 2013

You see, what I loved about this book as a kid is the focus on architecture and food in this utopian society. Each family is responsible for bringing a country’s culture to the island nation.

Citation: Many of us at the Displaced Nation attribute our abilities to tolerate and even embrace life abroad (the strange foods and drinks, the loneliness, the largely incomprehensible rules) from having taken to heart Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, as kids. A good dose of literary nonsense has taken us a long way, and even to this day, we appreciate having recourse to Lewis Carroll’s great works to make sense of our rather curious lifestyles in countries other than those in which we were born.

Adam, we understand that you quit your job in Boston to travel the world and that you trace your own wanderlust to the 1947 American children’s book The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois, a story that in some ways is even more fanciful than Alice’s.

For those who don’t know it: The book begins when a schoolteacher, Professor William Waterman Sherman, becomes bored with his life and sets off on a journey in a hot air balloon called The Globe. He hopes the wind will blow him and his balloon all around the world. But instead he has a crash landing on the mysterious island of Krakatoa (Indonesia), where he discovers a utopian society started up by a group of wealthy families. Each family owns a restaurant of different types of foreign foods and all members of the island eat together at a different house, full of fantastic inventions, every night. Krakatoa being a volcanic island, the families are aware of the danger that the volcano could erupt at any moment (in fact its volcanoes erupted in 1883). Their escape plan consists of a platform made of balloons…

Adam, we love the idea of emulating a fictional character who favors balloon travel—the kind that begins without regard to speed and without a destination in mind. It’s also romantic to think that you expect to find, at best, utopianism, at worst, good food, in the course of your world wanderings. Perhaps it accounts for why you’ve landed your own “balloon” in Berlin, Germany’s creative capital and a city renowned for its architecture (only, how is the food there?).

2) TRACY SLATER, expat writer, author and blogger

Source: “What Does Home Mean When You Live Abroad?” in The Good Shufu
Posted on: 8 May 2013

I know how easy it is, when we live overseas, to lose our gimlet eye about home: to romanticize it, to see it as a kind of lost Eden, a place where we wouldn’t suffer the same disappointments or lonelinesses or defeats that we suffer in our expat lives.

Citation: Tracy, we would add to that something we learned from Alice, which is that part of the reason for cherishing the memory of home so much is that you can’t easily share what you love about it with the people you encounter in your new place. Alice experiences this when trying to talk about her beloved cat, Dinah, with the Wonderland creatures:

“I wish I hadn’t mentioned Dinah!” she said to herself in a melancholy tone. “Nobody seems to like her, down here, and I’m sure she’s the best cat in the world! Oh, my dear Dinah! I wonder if I shall ever see you any more!” And here poor Alice began to cry again, for she felt very lonely and low-spirited.

We also find inspiring your quote from the Egyptian writer and thinker André Aciman, that all exiles impulsively look for their homeland abroad. Even poor Alice suffered from that affliction—recall her trying to make herself at home at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, only to discover it is a less than civil gathering to what she is used to. First she is told there is no room for her at the table; then when she sits anyway, that her hair needs cutting. She is offered wine even though there isn’t any, and told to take more tea even though she hasn’t had any.

In fact, some of us can relate quite directly to this need to feel at home via a good cup of tea. TDN writer Kate Allison, for instance, has lived in the United States for many years but to this day fails to understand why Americans give her a cup of lukewarm water and a tea bag when she orders tea. And ML Awanohara, who lived in England before becoming an expat in Japan, often longed for English tea while sitting through the Japanese tea ceremony.

Tracy, we very much look forward to your forthcoming book, The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West (Putnam, 2015), to help us make sense of such classic expat predicaments.

3) DANIELLA ZALCMAN, photojournalist

Source: “London + New York: A double exposure project”—an interview with Daniella by Austin Yoder on Matador Network
Posted on: 22 April, 2013

When [Daniella] moved from New York to London, she decided to create a series of double exposures to marry the spirit of both cities based on a combination of negative space, color, and contrast. Daniella’s double exposures create beautiful imaginary landscapes, and are captured entirely with her iPhone 4s.

“When I got to London, I knew that I wanted to capture not just the sensation of leaving NYC, but also of exploring a new city and making that environment feel like home.”

Citation: Daniella, we are enchanted by your idea of creating a composite of your beloved home city (New York) with your adopted city (London) to come up with an imaginary landscape. Indeed, we think it must be akin to the process Lewis Carroll used when creating Alice’s Wonderland—blending the bucolic English countryside surrounding Alice (she is sitting on the river bank considering making a daisy chain when the White Rabbit first appears) with the curious world that exists at the bottom of the rabbit hole, the familiar with the unfamiliar. When Alice awakens and reports her dream to her sister, the sister “half-believes” herself to be in Wonderland—if only she can suspend her disbelief for long enough to the sheep-bells tinkling in the distance as rattling teacups, the voice of the shepherd boy as the Queen’s shrill cries, and the lowing of the cattle in the distance as the Mock Turtle’s heavy sobs…

4) “SARAH SOMEWHERE”, world traveler and blogger

Source:On Freedom” in Sarah Somewhere blog
Posted on: 29 April 2013

I am not, by nature, a free spirit. I’m a worrier, a control freak and a chronic people pleaser. Letting go and trusting in the universe’s plan for me is not my default setting, nor is being content with what I have rather than continually striving for more. I still need some practice.

Citation: Sarah, your struggle with living life in the moment in Mexico puts us in mind of Alice, who, is constantly worrying about the impression she is leaving on the Wonderland residents, and finds it a challenge to enjoy the moment in a place as curious as Wonderland. We wish you luck in finding that sweet spot between total personal freedom and societal obligations. And, taking our cue from Alice’s sister, we envision a day when you’ll be telling stories about your adventures in Southeast Asia, China, Mexico and India to a group of children and inspiring them to follow their unique destinies:

she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, and do you have any posts you’d like to see among June’s Alice Awards? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another Jack the Hack column…

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance whether you’re one of our Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 3) Keep calm and eat curry

Mid-July in Manhattan, and I’m thinking that New York deserves its reputation as The City That Never Sleeps. Not because we’re all out partying — far from it. We’re lying there tossing and turning because we can’t regulate our air-conditioning units.

“High” puts you in Siberia; “Low” sends you down into the Tropics. There are no in-betweens, except for the brief period just after you’ve gotten out of bed to adjust the setting. But by then you’re awake again…

It has always surprised me that New Yorkers are willing to put up with such primitive cooling methods. It’s not like them to suffer silently. My theory is that they simply don’t know any better. As the world begins and ends in New York (isn’t Times Square supposed to be the center of the universe?), this must be the best of all possible air conditioning systems.

Regardless. The point is that I am finding summer a terrible trial now that I’ve repatriated — one that at times requires Olympic strength and endurance.

As summer wears on, I wear out. Not only do I never sleep but I never eat — or eat only minimally. My appetite dwindles at the thought of passing yet another uncomfortable night at the mercy of Simon-Aire products.

All of that changed, however, a few nights ago. Actually, the night had started normally enough: I had gone to bed and was freezing cold so couldn’t sleep. But just as I was lying there thinking about getting up to turn the air con down or else searching the closet for another blanket, I had a sudden, heartwarming thought: “I could kill for a curry!”

How did I go from cursing Dr. Cool, whose workers had installed a supposedly upgraded Simon-Aire unit in the bedroom at considerable cost, to a happy craving for curry? I can only surmise that my subconscious mind was trying to restore my spirits by reminding me of my curry-eating days in the two small islands where I’d lived as an expat, England and Japan. I felt calm again, and my appetite returned…

America — a nation that has deprived itself of a serious curry experience

When I first moved to New York, I was beyond thrilled to discover that the Indian actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey lived here, too. To my utter surprise (and delight) — I had always assumed she lived in London — she has been residing in an apartment on the Upper East Side for the past several decades. (She also has a farmhouse in the Hudson Valley.)

Surprised in a good way, yes — but also somewhat mystified. Why would Jaffrey choose to live in America for so long, given the sorry state of Indian cuisine in this part of the world?

I guess it has to do with husbands — she came to the city with her first husband, the Indian actor, Saeed Jaffrey, and then after their divorce, married an American.

Or perhaps she just likes a challenge? In Jaffrey’s very first cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, written not long after her arrival on American soil, she says she is writing the book because

there is no place in New York or anywhere in America where top-quality Indian food could be found, except, of course, in private Indian homes.

That was nearly forty years ago, and I have to say, her efforts to improve the situation, beginning with that book, have yet to pay off. Manhattan now has a couple of Indian restaurant neighborhoods, and then there’s Jackson Heights in Queens — but in general curry hasn’t caught on in a big way with Americans. If we want to eat spicy food, we usually turn to Mexican or Thai, not Indian.

As Jaffrey herself put it in an interview with an American reporter last year:

America as a whole has not embraced Indian food like they have with Chinese, or with sushi. It’s beginning to change, but only in big cities. Something is needed, something real. I have waited for this revolution, but it hasn’t happened yet.

This is in stark contrast to England and Japan — both of which embraced the curry cause on first exposure and now behave as though they’d invented certain dishes. Indeed, chicken tikka is considered to be a national dish in the UK, while “curry rice” (pronounced karē raisu) rapidly achieved the status of a national dish in Japan.

Nostalgia: Going out for a curry in England

England, my England — where Madhur Jaffrey is a household name, and curry houses abound!

Britain got the hots for curry during the 19th century, when there was an enthusiasm for all things Indian. And I got the hots for the Brits’ late-20th-century version of curry when living in an English town as an expat. My friends and I would spice up our evenings by going out for curries. We always ordered a biriani, chicken tikka masala, and a couple of vegetable dishes (one was usually sag paneer, which remains a favorite to this day).

Our starters would be onion bhaji and papadums, and drinks would be pints of lager. If we had the space for dessert, it was usually chocolate ice cream — none of us ever acquired the taste for Indian desserts (dessert of course being an area where the British excel!).

But even more special were the times when friends invited me to their homes for meals they’d concocted using Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. One memory that stands out for me is an occasion when my former husband, a Brit, and I joined four other couples for a friend’s 40th birthday party. The hostess, the birthday-boy’s wife, presented a dazzling array of Madhur Jaffrey dishes that looked like something out of a food magazine. I’ve been to much ritzier birthday parties before and since, but none have struck me as being as elegant as this one — partly because of the splendid display and partly because by then I knew how much chopping and dicing of garlic, ginger and onion, how much grinding of spices must have been involved. What a labor of love!

Yes, by then I’d begun experimenting with Indian cookery myself thanks to the influence of a very good friend, who’d given me the classic Madhur Jaffrey work, Indian Cookery (which had been a BBC series), along with all the spices I would need for making the recipes: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon, mustard seeds, coriander, cumin turmeric, cloves… To this day, I always keep an array of Indian spices in my pantry so that I can make my own garam masala at the drop of a hat. Now if only I could find some friends who would drop their hats! (Hey, I even have the old coffee grinder ready for grinding the spices, just as Jaffrey instructs.)

Nostalgia: Curry rice & curry lunches in Japan

Eventually, I moved away from England to another small island, Japan — where I was relieved to discover I would not need to give up my new-found passion for Indian food (though I would be foregoing my beloved basmati rice unless I smuggled it in at customs).

Thankfully, the Brits had gotten there about a hundred years before me and had introduced curry to the Japanese, with great success.

Because of “r” being pronounced like an “l” in the Japanese language, we foreigners couldn’t resist making many tasteless jokes about eating curried lice, but that didn’t stop us from having our fill of the tasty national dish, curry rice.

As in the UK, I found it a nice contrast to the traditional fare, which, though healthy, can be rather bland.

At this point, I’d like to loop back to Madhur Jaffrey and note that she disapproves of the word “curry” being used to describe India’s great cuisine — says it’s as degrading as the term “chop suey” was to Chinese cuisine. But I wonder if she might make an exception to the Japanese usage? Apparently, Indians themselves when speaking in English use “curry” to to distinguish stew-like dishes. And Japanese curry rice is the richest of stews, made from a “roux” that can be bought in a box if you do it yourself.

My first box of curry roux was a gift from a Japanese friend. It was accompanied by her recipe for enriching the stew with fresh shrimp and scallops. Oishii!

Still, the curry I crave most often from Japan isn’t curry rice at all, which I find on the heavy side. No, my deepest nostalgia is reserved for the set lunches in Tokyo’s Indian restaurants, which I used to partake in with office colleagues.

The (mostly Indian) chefs have tweaked the ingredients to appeal to the Japanese palate: little dishes of curry that are artistically arranged on a platter, accompanied by naan. freshly baked (fresh is very important to the Japanese) and a side of Japanese pickles: pickled onions, or rakkyōzuke (a tiny, whole, sweet onion); and pickled vegetables, or fukujinzuke.

(The addition of Japanese pickles, by the way, is genius! Try it — you’ll love it!)

All of this is capped by coffee or masala tea, both of which are so well executed they can fill in as desserts.

My takeaways (I wish!)

I fear there may not be many takeaways for my fellow Americans from Lesson #3. After all, the world’s leading authority on Indian cuisine has tried to convert us and failed.

Nevertheless I’ll suggest a few scenarios, with pointers on how you might attempt to introduce a curry-eating tradition into your circle:

1 — Summer is getting to you, so you suggest to a group of friends that you all go out for a curry. When they stare at you blankly, do a little head bobble, smile charmingly and say: “Why ever not?”

2 — Summer is getting to you, and you decide to build a shrine to Madhur Jaffrey in your home by buying as many of her books as you can — including her children’s book on the Indian elephant, Robi Dobi, and her memoir of her childhood, Climbing Mango Trees. You arrange them around a screen that is playing Shakespeare Wallah, a film she appeared in in the 1960s (directed by James Ivory and starring Felicity Kendal). Invite some friends over and when they ask you about the shrine, start talking about the joys of Indian cookery and see if you can make some converts. Perhaps offer to lend out a book or two. (I might start with her newest work, which emphasizes “quick and easy” methods — bless the 78-year-old Jaffrey, she’s indefatigable!) And you can always dip into the books yourself if the heat is making you sleepless. Jaffrey writes beautifully.

3 — Summer is getting to you, but you decide that when the heat breaks, you will start up a Curry Club with a few of your friends, encouraging everyone to contribute one Madhur Jaffrey dish or a Japanese curry made from roux. Even if most of them drop out and you end up cooking a dish for yourself, perhaps this exercise will satisfy your craving until winter. (I find I get these cravings roughly every six months, usually in summer and winter.)

* * *

Well, I’m off to see if I can resume my sweetly fragrant dreams of my expat culinary adventures — just hope it does the trick of distracting me from my ancient “aircon” (popular Japanese contraction) units!

In the meantime, let me know what you think of this lesson. Are you a curry lover? And if so, could you live in a nation that doesn’t share your craving? How would you put some spice into your life under such sorry circumstances? Do tell!

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s post, another in our “Expat Moments” series, by Anthony Windram.

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Image: MorgueFile

EXPAT MOMENTS: Two Englishmen in New York

Following last month’s post on expat moments, we start a new series focusing on little moments of expat experience — moments that at the time seemed pifflingly insignificant. This week involves a celebrity encounter. No prizes for guessing the name of the celeb.

At Columbus Circle, for a fleeting moment, an opportunity presents itself.

A sidewalk collision between two pasty-faced men is avoided as both intuitively, if ungracefully, swerve to avoid bumping into each other. They are both headed towards the same crosswalk where they wait, shoulder-to-shoulder, for the traffic to stop. An observant onlooker might guess — correctly, as it turns out — from their uncoordinated, somewhat flailing gaits that both men are, in fact, English. The onlooker might also note, despite the difference in ages between these two men, that they are dressed similarly; both wear brown brogues, blue jeans, white shirts and blue velvet jackets. However, having established that this onlooker is particularly observant he or she notices more than that; they can see that though they are dressed similarly, the clothes of one of the men — the older man — are expensive and designer label whereas the younger man’s are from a department store.

As these two men wait at the crosswalk the younger man glances at the older and, though he has never before met him, recognizes him immediately. If you were to ask the younger man, he would confirm that he holds very strong views of the older man he is stood next to. If you were to press further, the younger man would admit that he has long judged the moral character of the older man stood next to him. If you were to have asked the younger man only an hour before how he would define “unctuousness,” he would merely would have replied with the name of the older man.

The younger man considers that he could lean in towards the older man and tell him that he thinks he should go “f**k himself.” But the younger man, though he would not admit it, is enthralled enough by the older man’s celebrity that he is striken momentarily dumb.

Instead, the younger man — who in his more vainglorious moments views himself as a modern-day Frank Capra everyman — thinks homicidal thoughts. As they keep on waiting at the crosswalks for the pedestrian light, and car after speeding car passes them, the younger man thinks about how the most … “accidental” … of nudges would send the older man under a New York cab.

And those few seconds, as they wait for the pedestrian light, last for the younger man the thinking and execution of a thousand “accidental” deaths, until finally there is the glow of the pedestrian crossing light and they safely cross the road before separating to go their own ways and the younger man can go back to pretending that he’s at heart a decent chap.

This post was first featured on Culturally Discombobulated

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post.

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Image: MorgueFile

Staring at the sun — and 3 little “nothing” moments in my displaced life

Yesterday in San Francisco, at the corner of Folsom and 8th, I saw a middle-aged man holding up a sheet of dark glass and staring at the sun through it. “It’s beautiful,” he said to me as I passed him on the sidewalk, “so beautiful.”

I smiled in reply to him, secretly wary that he just another cracked, panhandling prophet in a city full of them.

“Do you want to look at the sun through it?” he asked, indicating his sheet of glass. I looked at him confused. “It’s welder’s glass,” he said by way of explanation.

Yes, he must be mad, I thought, and just before I was about to smile a “no, thank you,” and carry on walking, albeit at a hurried pace, he held the glass up at me, and through it, like some wonderful magic trick, the sun appeared as dark disc apart from a brilliant cresent of light at the bottom. That there was a partial solar eclipse had completely passed me by. I hadn’t been able to see the effect with the naked eye, the sun looked larger, a little hazier, but nothing out of the ordinary and it would have passed me by, but here on this particularly street corner was this happy, smiling man performing what at first seemed like a magic trick, and making sure that a small moment of joy wouldn’t pass me. So I took hold of this stranger’s sheet of glass and looked straight at the sun through it, and he was right — it was so beautiful.

This week, The Displaced Nation asked if I could write about three chance encounters experienced in my adopted homeland that I found moving or bittersweet. Moments like I experienced yesterday on Folsom and 8th.

This ties in with an idea that has long interested me, and inspires my personal blog, Culturally Discombobulated — it’s what I think of as little moments of nothing*. Moments that on the surface may seem mundane, or insignificant, but that move you or are the catalyst for deeper thoughts. My own little dipped madeleines.

As this is something I do at times on my personal blog, I am going to reproduce here three little moments of nothing that I have already been posted over there.


1) A rock and a hard place

A garage forecourt in Kingman, Arizona is not the sort of place you expect to visit on a sightseeing tour. But a sightseeing tour is precisely what I am on, and a garage forecourt in Kingman, Arizona, is precisely where I find myself. In fact, this is the second time today I’ve found myself on this same depressing patch of asphalt.

To be fair, I should clarify that I have been on a bus tour of the Grand Canyon and now, late in the day, we are making our way back to Nevada. We’re certainly not stopping in Kingman for reasons of historical interest. We are not here to learn that it was in Kingman that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married. Gable driving the two of them all the way here from Hollywood in his cream-colored roadster during a break in the filming of Gone with the Wind. In the town they purchased a marriage license from a dumb struck clerk named Viola Olsen before being married by the nearest Methodist Minister they could find. We are not here to learn about the town’s connection with Route 66. We are not here to learn that it was in Kingman that Timothy McVeigh renounced his US citizenship, turned his home into a bunker and began making homemade bombs.

No, this is a purely pragmatic stop; a convenient place on the I40 to stretch the legs, grab a bite to eat, and empty the bladder. In the morning on our way out to the Canyon we stopped here. I bought a ham sandwich at a Chevron garage as I couldn’t stomach the thought of my other option — McDonald’s — that early. The women working in the garage were pleasant, hefty, corn-fed girls. All three had the same hairstyle, an architectural triumph of ringlets and hairspray piled high atop their heads, it looked like it belonged in a 1987 High School Prom. Once back outside on the forecourt a number of men tried to pan-handle me. There was, I thought, something off about the place. By its very nature, you expect a stop like this to be full of folks on the move, but instead there was an unsettling stillness. A number of the people gave off the impression that they’ve been standing around in this same forecourt all their adulthood. It could be that some of the sketchier elements in the town have a rough idea of what the sightseeing bus’s itinerary is — and they come especially and try and get some change out of the tourists.

And now after a long day, we’re back. A bus load of predominantly foreign tourists, here to pay a brief visit like some cut-price UN delegation: Japanese, Thai, Italian, Canadian, French, Australian and British make up our contingent. Some of us are loud and overbearing, and some of us think that everything needs to be documented by our cameras, and some of us have spent all day complaining, and some of us have spent all day gushing in delight, and some of us — if the snoring has been anything to go by — have spent all day asleep, and we are all thoroughly sick of the sight of each other.

Thanks to the evening breeze, the forecourt smells even more strongly of gasoline, pitch and fried grease than it did earlier. Off we all trot, against my better judgment, to the McDonald’s. Every night it’s a different cast, but it’s always the same show that the locals get to enjoy when the sightseeing tour stops here: a tired group of hungry tourists that mewl and bark and garble in their strange tongues and accents. We soon take over and overwhelm the McDonald’s; we create long lines for the toilets, even longer lines for the food along with a white noise of strongly accented English and misunderstood orders.

It’s all too much for one Arizonian. I think it’s one of the men that pan-handled me early in the day. He has a similar looking beard, the same sun-blistered complexion, and the same jittery demeanor.  He is angry with the Frenchman queuing behind him for what he perceives as an invasion of his personal space, and he is getting irate with how long it is taking the Turkish family in front of him to order, but their English is poor and they and the cashier are struggling to make themselves understood. When he finally gets to place his order and is waiting for his chicken McNuggets, he scans carefully all of the other people waiting in line, and scowls at these interlopers with their ridiculous anoraks and backpacks. He takes his McNuggets and barges his way out through the line, needlessly aggressive. As he passes, he elbows me. “F***in’ furriners,” he mutters.


2) “In my father’s house.”

The shoes of the man sat opposite me on the “E” train are made from black leather, long since scuffed to grey. They are on the whole unexceptional, but for a large fleur-de-lis that has been embossed below the lacing. Their one time appropriateness for special occasions has been worn away.

On the subway and on the underground I often find myself staring intently at the shoes of my fellow passengers. It is not from a fetish, it is just that I keep my eyes on the floor, avoiding eye contact with those around me, or I keep my eyes on the page of a book I am reading. A few minutes before, when we pulled into a station, I stopped reading, put my book on my lap, and cast my eyes to the floor. Occasionally a glance is stolen, such as the one I make at the man wearing the fleur-de-lis shoes. He is a thin, middle-aged black man wearing a blue suit that like his shoes is faded by wear.  He sings “In my father’s house.” Well, he sort of sings “In my father’s house.” It is not the whole hymn that he regales the train with, it is just that one phrase — half-sung, half-shouted every thirty seconds or so. Looking up I see that most of the other passengers have their eyes to the ground, particularly when he sing/shouts “In my father’s house,” though every time he does that he looks around. I don’t feel he looks around for a reaction, but for recognition. Perhaps feeling that things have descended again into commuter quietness, he again sing/shouts “In my father’s house.” I put my eyes to the floor and look at the fleur-de-lis pattern.

Queens Plaza is his stop. As he leaves the train, he notices the book in my lap — God: A Biography, by Jack Miles. He seems happy with my reading material and looking at me, he sings/shouts “In my father’s house” as if I’m the only of his “E” train flock that understands the importance and virtue of his ministry. Then he leaves the train before I have time to explain that reading a book called God does not make me virtuous as he might think it does, and that the book is a critical look at the Old Testament. It considers God a literary character and so casts him in the light of literary theory. Not that I would have said that if I had the time.


3) Angels and iced tea

In this almost empty coffee shop three elderly women, lifelong friends perhaps, crowd round a table and converse over iced tea. They talk at length about their new pastor, about his energy and his youthfulness. They talk at length about angels, about their unwavering belief in them and their experiences of them. The loudest of the women, her hair an unconvincing shade of red, starts to talk about her youngest granddaughter — about how she’s as sharp as a tack, but hasn’t she started asking the trickiest of questions. The red-haired woman confides to her two companions that she has spoken with their youthful and energetic pastor about how to respond to these questions.

For instance, she tells the other two, only the other day the granddaughter had said, “Grandma, why do we have to go to Church?”

She was, she freely admits, flummoxed by how to answer, but then she remembered the pastor’s words. “Aw, sweetie, that’s a matter of faith.”

Yesterday, she continues, when she was driving her granddaughter home from school the girl had asked, “Grandma, why do we call trees trees?”

She once again patiently said to her granddaughter, “Aw, sweetie, that’s a matter of faith.”

In the almost empty coffee shop the three women gently laugh at the ridiculous things that children say, take a sip of iced tea, and start talking about angels again.

*The film director Max Ophüls once wrote about art: “Details, details, details! The most insignificant, the most unobtrusive among them are often the most evocative, characteristic and even decisive. Exact details, an artful little nothing, make art.” Most of my life I seem to spend in search of moments of little nothings that I end up attaching great importance to. It probably makes me a nightmare to deal with it as a friend or companion.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an account of la dolce vita from a fresh perspective!

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