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WONDERLANDED: Will I have a hard or a soft landing?—two excerpts from “Olivia and Sophia,” by expat novelist Rosie Milne

Will I have a hard or a soft landing? Photo credits: Like Alice in Wonderland you can go into the rabbit hole, by expat painter Frank Schwarz via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). Inset: Book cover (supplied).

Yesterday we were Wonderlanded with Rosie Milne, a veteran member of the publishing world, a blogger on Asian books, and a novelist in her own right. This post, which I’ve titled “Will I have a hard or a soft landing?”, consists of two excerpts from Rosie’s about-to-be-published historical novel, Olivia and Sophia, which concerns the lives of the first and second wives of the founder of the British trading post of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. 

Set in London, Java, Sumatra and Singapore, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars—the story takes the form of two fictionalized diaries, one by each of Raffles’s wives. They are:

  • Olivia Devinish, a raffish beauty with a scandalous past. Born in India and raised in Ireland, Olivia accompanied Raffles, who was her second husband, to West Java, where he was serving as governor. She got ill from the island’s harsh conditions and died at age 43. Raffles erected a memorial to her that stands to this day, in what is now the Bogor Botanical Gardens.
  • Sophia Hull, no beauty, but curious and intelligent and eager to embrace the opportunity of an exciting life abroad. Born in London, of Irish descent, she met and married Raffles when he was on leave in England after becoming a widower. The couple then sailed for Bencoolen (Sumatra), where Raffles had been appointed governor general—making Sophia the first white woman to venture into the Sumatran interior. This was the period when Raffles founded the British trading post of Singapore. The couple returned to England in August 1824 because of Raffles’s ill health. He died two years later, one day before his 45th birthday. Sophia then dedicated herself to writing his biography.

According to the book description, Rosie Milne “takes us away from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to the muggy, hostile tropics and to the titillations and tribulations of a life far away from home.”

And, importantly, for us Displaced Nationers, she also provides a sense of what it was like to be a trailing spouse in an earlier era. Do these two Victorian ladies feel as though they were falling down a rabbit hole, uncertain of where they’d land and whether the landing would be hard or soft? Let’s find out…

* * *

Excerpt from Olivia’s diary

Olivia writes this diary entry on board the Ganges, the ship on which she is sailing from London to India. I think it expresses her sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole in a self-explanatory way.

Sometime, someplace on the ocean

I remain confident the year is 1805, and I am aboard the Ganges, but I write as my heading sometime, someplace on the ocean ’cause sailing across the nothing, nothing, nothing, and yet more nothing of the sea has addled me about both calendar and map. The map I have quite lost track of. At dinner I say my daily toast to happy sight of the next land, and I think: where is that next land? Which is to say: where are we? With no landmarks to watch for by day, and, by night, not being able to read the stars, I am as ignorant now of place as must be the fishes swimming in the waters beneath me. The calendar too, is becoming hazy to me. The tyranny of breakfast at eight, dinner at two, tea at six, and supper at nine keeps me abreast of the hours, but when I think of day and date ’tis as if one of our chilly sea fogs has reached its fingers into my mind, so I no more know whether ’tis Monday, Saturday, Wednesday, or Sunday, than I c’d say our position on the globe.

Olivia Raffles as Alice

Photo credits (top to bottom): Frigate in fog via Pixabay; detail of Here be Dragons map; Down the Rabbit Hole, by thepeachpeddler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Olivia Raffles portrait.


Excerpt from Sophia’s diary

Sophia writes this diary entry on board the Mariner, the ship on which she is sailing home from India. It, too, expresses her sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole…

August 1824, the Mariner, off the Cornish Coast

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land … I have had my first sight of Home for nigh on seven years. Tho’ in the Eastward Old England sometimes seemed to me unreal, like a dream of Home, and not a literal place on the globe, Cornwall is now crouched in the angry sea to our starboard, and is just as real as sharp granite rocks will allow. I hardly know how to say how I’ve changed since last I saw England. I sometimes feel so disunited from that Lady Raffles who sailed eastward on the Lady Raffles I can scarce think we are the same person – I cannot recall her, it sometimes seems, and must judge she was mistaken to think she ever could return Home. More, I scarcely know how to say who I am now, what I am, what manner of person? As for Tom, now turned of forty, lit now only by shadows of his youthful fires, he says he feels just as wearily jumbled as me, just as uncertain how to begin to make sense of all that has happened these past seven years, if indeed any sense can be made of our lives at all, and he says it is a puzzle to know whether his two sojourns in the Eastwood enabled him to put on, at various times, a new self, as a man may put on a new coat, or if, while in foreign climes, he became more than ever the man who first left, and now returns, to Old England.

Photo credits: Land's End, Cornwall[https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-rock-waves-wind-stormy-826155/] via Pixabay; Sophia Raffles portrait; Down the rabbit hole by Colin Smith[] via the Geograph Britain and Ireland Project (CC BY-SA 2.0) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

Photo credits: Land’s End, Cornwall via Pixabay; Sophia Raffles portrait; Down the rabbit hole, by Colin Smith via the Geograph Britain and Ireland Project (CC BY-SA 2.0).

* * *

Thank you so much, Rosie! I like the way you’ve juxtaposed these two excerpts, one showing the first wife setting out on a Far Eastern adventure, the other showing the second wife confronting the prospect of going home again. In fact, Sophia writes something that is extraordinarily akin in spirit to Alice’s statement:

I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning; but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

Readers, what do you think? Do these trailing spouses have it harder than their modern-day counterparts, or can you draw a reasonably straight line to today? And have these two excerpts from Rosie’s new novel made you want to read more? Olivia & Sophia, published by Monsoon Press, will be available as a paperback in Asia and Australia on November 1. You can also visit Rosie’s Asian Books Blog and/or stay social by following her on Twitter. And of course you can also express appreciation for Rosie in the comments below. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Wonderlanded with Rosie Milne, Asian Books blogger and author of a new historical novel about two early expat wives

Alice goes through the looking glass[https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5485576189/], illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0)https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/; book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Alice goes through the looking glass, illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0); book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Rosie Milne, an Englishwoman who has lived in various places, mostly within Asia, but right now can be found in Singapore.

I first discovered Rosie Milne through an article she worte for Telegraph Expat about romantic novelists who’ve been inspired by their expat surroundings. I noticed in her bio blurb that she runs the Asian Books Blog.

Then recently I had the pleasure of her getting in touch with me to feature a description of the Displaced Nation for the Blog’s Sunday Post.

As Rosie and I began backing and forthing by email, I spontaneously decided it might be fun to be wonderlanded with her.

Now, having spent many years living in Asia myself, Singapore, where Rosie lives now, isn’t exactly my idea of wonderland. I know it comes out tops for expat destinations on various surveys, but for me Singapore is a nice place to visit (great food and shopping) but for living? Much too safe and predictable; Asia Lite.

But Rosie has lived all over Asia, including in my former home of Tokyo (Asia Heavy!). She has also thought deeply about what it’s like for women to “pass through the looking glass” into Asia, having just completed a novel, Olivia and Sophia: a fictionalized account of the adventures of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, as seen through the eyes of his first and second wives. (It’s due out in November from Monsoon Books.)

We’ll get to read a couple of excerpts from that work in the next post, but first let’s find out what it’s like to be wonderlanded with Rosie!

* * *

Rosie Milne: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. To give you a little more of my background: I was born in London. I worked in publishing there before moving to New York, where I wrote my first novel, How To Change Your Life, about an editor of self-help books trying to follow the advice in a self-help book.

I then moved to Hong Kong where I wrote my second novel, Holding the Baby, about four sisters with differing attitudes to motherhood—one of them, unable to have biological children, adopts from China.

I then had short spells in Sydney and Tokyo, before moving to my current home, Singapore, where I wrote my new novel, Olivia & Sophia, which features two early forerunners of a type of modern expat woman: the trailing spouse.

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

In Tokyo language was impenetrable—I did try to learn, but more-or-less never got beyond being able to give my address. There was a big earthquake within a few days of my arrival. There were young adults on the streets dressed as cartoonish characters. I had my first, and last, taste of sashimi chicken – the most revolting food I ever tasted….

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/bernatagullo/89651149/], by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Japanese city at night[https://www.flickr.com/photos/photones/6471199389/], by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/kylehase/3458873955/], by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; 鶏のたたき (chicken sashimi),[https://www.flickr.com/photos/spilt-milk/4578639904/] by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled, by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Japanese city at night, by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled, by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0);
鶏のたたき
(chicken sashimi), by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Consider anything, only don’t cry!” said the Queen.

I think expats, amongst the luckiest people on the planet, should resist succumbing to pools of tears.

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

I am quite often wary about fish, but usually, when I try the dish, or fish, in question, I enjoy it.

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would serve vodka and gherkins. As to the guest list…how about Jesus, and Richard Dawkins. The Buddha and Darwin. The Ayatollah Khomeini and Einstein…should make for interesting conversation, although language might be a bit of a problem.

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne's tea party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail[https://pixabay.com/en/ice-cocktail-glass-drink-alcohol-681547/] via Pixabay; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party[https://www.flickr.com/photos/43021516@N06/4382428537/], by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Sad pickle[https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthserviceglasses/3382360977/], by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]. Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer.jpg]; Ayatollah Khomeini[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mehdi_Bazargan_Ayatollah_Khomeini.jpg], by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en].

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne’s “tea” party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail via Pixabay; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party, by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Sad pickle, by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921; Ayatollah Khomeini, by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

I am terrible at giving advice.

Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible…

If I hadn’t lived in Singapore I doubt I’d have written Olivia & Sophia—an account of the life of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, told through the fictionalised diaries of his two wives. Olivia & Sophia predate Alice, but they must often have felt wonderlanded. In an era when the voyage from Europe to Asia took anything up to ten months, when letters were the only means of communication with Home, when Europeans died like flies in the East, their sojourns abroad saw them fall down the rabbit hole far more comprehensively than any modern expat. I hoped to use the novel to explore parallels between an early age of globalisation, and our own age, between the effects of a financial crisis then, and of the recent crises in the global economy, between the lives of expats then, and expats now, and so on…

Bonus: Alice as manga character

Why not make Alice Japanese? She could cultivate kawaii. And the white rabbit could be kawaii, too. The setting could be Tokyo, the rabbit hole could be the Tokyo subway…

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…[https://www.flickr.com/photos/luxtonnerre/2482551243/], by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita)[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_bunny-shaped_roadblock.jpg] via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en]. Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole[https://www.flickr.com/photos/ipdegirl/8197732984/], by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…, by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita) via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0). Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole, by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

* * *

Thank you, Rosie! Being wonderlanded with you was a curious experience, that’s for sure! Readers, please leave your responses to Rosie’s story in the comments. And stay tuned for her writing samples showing what it was like to be wonderlanded back in the day of Sir Stamford Raffles! ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Rosie writes about a wonderlanded experience.

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: The 5 top tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol presents some of the material from her book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. For those who are new to her column, H.E. is the product of a German dad and a French mom. She was raised as a Third Culture Kid and has lived in the United States, Luxembourg, England, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore. She currently resides in Luxembourg.

Hello, Displaced Nationers. This month I want to take you into the (sometimes too rapidly beating) heart of culture shock.

As those of you who have experienced it will know, culture shock is about a series of ups and downs. On the down side, a traveler may feel:

  • alienated
  • anxious
  • disconnected
  • nervous
  • vulnerable

On the up side, they may feel:

  • curious
  • excited
  • free
  • happy
  • fully alive

If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that for the past few months I’ve been quizzing expats about their experiences with culture shock so that I can add to, as well as sharpen, the tools for easing the condition that I’ve collected in my so-called culture shock toolbox.

This month I’m going to share a few ideas that you can find in my book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide; but first let’s do something to put us into a culture-shocked state of mind. To that end, I’ve devised a quiz based on one of my own experiences.

In fact, what happened was that I continued helping until another Singaporean man walked by and said, in a rough tone: “Only a foreigner would do that.” He pressed his palms together, bowed slightly, and thanked me. I could see my helping was making the man with the flyers really uncomfortable, so I stayed just a little longer and then, wishing him good luck and smiling kindly (which he probably didn’t see as he barely looked at me!), left. Later I asked my local friends to help me interpret this rather strange (to me) encounter. They told me Singaporeans are cautious and tend to mind their own business. Is that because of they live in a nanny state? Maybe, maybe not…

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones[https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/11389053863/] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Raw…but exhilarating!

When we go into culture shock, we are in free fall. Having exited from our comfort zone, we are stripped straight down to our core. Oftentimes we lose confidence in our ability to meet the most basic needs: What do I eat? Where do I sleep?  Who do I connect with? Where do I belong? Will I be safe?

Cognitive dissonance is a big part of the problem. Our ideas and the reality we find sur place don’t match—which can feel threatening.

But leaving our comfort zone also propels us into a moment of accelerated growth. As we slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures—and interactions with others—we expand our minds to incorporate new perspectives. There is potential for us to learn compassion, kindness and gratitude. The experience may feel raw—but it can also be exhilarating.

Photo credit: Roller coaster via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Legoland roller coaster in Denmark,via Pixabay.

Some of you readers should know me well enough by now that you can predict the next step: I can hardly wait to open my toolbox and offer you some tips for achieving this potential for growth.

5 tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster:

1. Consider the benefits: The term “culture shock” often evokes negative connotations. But let’s turn that on its head and pretend for a moment we don’t need a toolbox. Simply ask yourself:

How have challenging cultural transitions positively impacted my life?

2. Use food as an icebreaker: Food is a great way to learn about a new country and connect with people over a shared need. Say, how about getting out those cooking tools? 🙂

3. Communicate: “Please”, “thank you”, and a smile go a long way in someone else’s culture. Learn some basic phrases in the new language before you take off. For sure, a small phrase book, pocket dictionary or app ought to be in that toolbox. While you won’t end up having an in-depth conversation about political or social issues right away, at least you’ve made a start. Also, given that most communication is nonverbal, don’t be afraid to use your hands and feet—always fun no matter how clumsy it might feel! Find out about body language. What’s the polite way to hail a cab? Beckon someone to come over? Is it rude or polite to look someone directly in the eyes? Observe.

4. Slow down: Treat the fact that you are entering a new culture as an opportunity to slow down and take it easy. Take time to adapt and go of any preconceptions. Think of this tool as a pressure valve: open it up and let go all of that stress and pressure out. Don’t force yourself to visit as many sights as you can—even if you feel obliged to do so. The point is to enjoy yourself, isn’t it? Allow yourself time to fully experience this transition.

5. Practice the art of being grateful: Seeing life from a different perspective is a wonderful way to learn to appreciate what we have been given, on the road as well as in the home we’ve left behind. Here are some of the things I’ve become grateful for while traveling:
• hot water
• clean water
• a bed
• access to fresh food
• restrooms
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers, conversations I had with people I met along the way, friends I made, lessons I learned—and the privilege of having had the opportunity to experience all this in the first place. As often as possible, use the tools you have at hand to open your mind to the good things that surround you.

* * *

Readers, I hope this has you “fixed” until next month. Until then. Prost! Santé!

Editor’s Note: The above post was adapted from Chapter 1 of H.E. Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. It is followed by six chapters full of tips:
1. How to deal with craving comfort
2. How to process new information
3. How to cope without autopilot
4. How to deal with difficult situations
5. How to deal with alienation
6. How to unite both worlds within yourself

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for the next fab post.

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Lynne Door on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home too early

Lynne Door Emerald City to Kansas Collage

The Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles); Lynne Door portrait, taken in her home (supplied).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. Today’s subject is Lynne Door, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed “typophile” who runs her own business specializing in branding, web design and print. Originally from New England, Lynne is now based in California, but she also managed to squeeze in two years living, working and studying in Singapore. Let’s hear about how that overseas experience affected her life.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

My boyfriend (now husband!) and I had been dating just a little over a month (I had known him for a year before that), but we knew there was something good between us. So when he received an offer from his company to work in business development in Singapore, we had an open and honest conversation and agreed it was something we both wanted to do together. We said: “Why not do this? Let’s have fun, let’s go do this and experience it together!” We couldn’t think of any reasons not to move, and if our relationship didn’t work out in the process, it would be okay, I would just fly home. At least we’d given it a shot. That’s why we were both willing to take the chance.

Follow the yellow brick road…

Well, the first feeling was, “Uh oh, I’m not a local anymore!” That felt weird and a little scary. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Especially since I only knew English. Luckily, Singapore is Asia for Beginners insofar as one of the main languages is English. At least I could navigate down the yellow brick road so to speak and converse with the people I encountered along the way.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I had the pleasure of both working and going to school in Singapore, so my experience was very broad. I worked for a local Singaporean advertising/design company while also attending LASALLE College of the Arts to continue my studies towards a graphic design degree. Every day I would go from encountering people within a corporate business environment to hanging out with a group of young, artsy students. I had never lived outside of the United States before and was completely enthralled. The whole experience gave me a much broader perspective on myself and others. Ultimately what I learned was no matter where you are on the globe, we’re all human and ultimately we all go about our day with the same intentions. It’s only geography—and a smile goes a long way!

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

While working for the Singaporean company, I did experience an unusual business practice. “Scolding” is where managers shout at employees for doing something wrong in front of other colleagues and/or behind closed doors. For the manager it’s a way of getting everyone’s attention and reminding employees who is in charge and why mistakes won’t be tolerated. I remember my scolding like it was yesterday, the repeated shouts of “Why did you do this?”, “How could you do this?” and “What were you thinking?”. I was absolutely speechless. I felt perplexed and completely thrown off by such aggressive managerial behavior. After the incident, I told him I would have responded more positively had we sat and calmly talked about the situation with the team. Looking back, I think we both realized we had a significant culture clash.

I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?

LynneDoor_Singapore

Lynne with her Singaporean student friends at LASALLE College of the Arts, a cherished photo (supplied).

I made some great friends at the design school and discovered the world isn’t such a big place. I keep this photo of me with my classmates on my desk. I just love it! It was an amazing time for me and hold them all so dear to my heart.

Going so soon?…Why, my little party’s just beginning!

We stayed in Singapore just two years. While it felt good to return to California life, I don’t know if I’d agree that there’s no place like home. In the comfort of being “home,” I went back to my usual routines, shutting out my surroundings. Whereas in unfamiliar territory, you need to be present every moment: observing, exploring, absorbing, learning about all that’s around you, making decisions. That’s the beauty of travel, expat life and experiencing new places, it opens up the mind completely. It’s invigorating and stimulating in every way—mentally, emotionally and physically. I miss those feelings! And I believe it can’t happen any other way but when traveling to new, unknown places!

LynneDoor_PalmSprings

Lynne with her husband, Jim, at their favorite Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs (supplied).

* * *

Thank you, Lynne, for being willing to be Dorothy and show us the yellow-brick-road you experienced in Singapore, as well as your mixed feelings about returning home. Having lived in Japan, I think I can relate to the “scolding” experience that took place in your Singaporean office. Definitely a Wicked-Witch-of-the-West moment! Readers, any questions for Lynne? If you’re curious about her design work, be sure to visit her design site, where you can peruse her personal collection of “wanderlust” photos. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Finally, if you need a cover for that book you’re writing, Lynne can help you with that as well! (She designed the cover for HE Rybol’s Culture Shock. HE Rybol is of course our Culture Shock Toolbox columnist.)

STAY TUNED for our next fab post!

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For this up-and-coming visual storyteller and lover of travel, a picture says…

Jamie March 2015 collage

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Jamie in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Loy Krathong festival (November 2013).

James King is back with his ever-popular “A picture says…” column. English by birth, James is now semi-retired in Thailand. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My March guest is 22-year-old Singaporean Jamie Chan. She shares stories and images from her travels on her blog, No Foreign Lands, while shooting or writing for clients in the photography, lifestyle or travel genres.

Ever since she started photography in 2009, Jamie is rarely seen without a camera. Named one of Singapore’s 10 Best Young Photographers, she is an ardent traveler and enjoys documenting local cultures and lifestyles.

A specialist volunteer for Singapore International Foundation and various animal welfare groups, Jamie also finds time for good causes.

In addition, she sings in Schola Cantorum Singapore and plays the cello. She has clearly been allotted more hours than me in a day!

* * *

Hi, Jamie, and welcome to TDN. I’ve been looking forward to this interview since I first saw your street photography. For one so young you have travelled a fair bit and captured some great images. Can you tell us where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling?
I was born and raised on the sunny island of Singapore. My first solo trip was to Indonesia, when I was selected to be a photojournalist delegate of Singapore for the ASEAN Cultural Youth Camp of 2011, held in Yogyarkarta. At the time I was doing my final year project for my degree in Visual Communications (I majored in photography). After the camp finished, I decided to spend an entire month travelling around and documenting the culture and lifestyle of the peoples of Central Java. It was a big learning curve and stretched my photographic skills. I did not have the luxury of an editor to tell me what to look out for, and it was hard to get feedback from my lecturers because getting a wifi spot with Internet was like hitting the jackpot. The experience taught me to reflect, make decisions and work with what I had. I had to figure out how to shape and edit down my stories.

You were only 19 then. How did your parents feel about your decision to travel solo?
They were of course worried sick but came around eventually and even joined me for some parts of the trip. After all, what better way to spend time with your parents than on the back of a motorcycle going at God-only-knows what speed—’cause the speedometer was broken!

That must have been some trip! So once you caught the travel bug, where else did you go?
As a visual storyteller, I am always on the lookout for subjects that would make interesting photo essays. My blog, No Foreign Lands, started as a way to tell my mother that I was still alive while on the road. It has now become a platform for me to tell my stories and share my images with the world. Asia is one of my favourite places to travel. There is an incredible amount of interconnected history among the various countries. I am always learning.

I agree. Asia is a treasure trove for us storytellers and photography buffs. I only wish I had started my travels at an earlier age. So which countries have you visited so far?
There is a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that goes:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. The great affair is to move.

When I got back to Singapore after my Indonesia trip, I could not keep still. I was hooked on travelling, exploring and waking up to something new every day. I needed to move; soon after I graduated I booked my next trip—and I’ve never looked back since. Off the top of my head, I’ve been to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, India, China and Australia.

That’s eight countries in less than four years; a lot more than most people visit in a lifetime. So tell us about where you are right now and why.
I’m actually back home in Singapore! I’ll mostly be based here for the remainder of 2015. That said, I can never stay put for long—I’ve taken three trips out of the country this year and it is only March! I am in the midst of getting a certification for my Japanese-language studies which I hope to finish by next year. Once that’s done, I intend to work and stay in Japan if possible.

“As a person who deals with visuals before words…”

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. I do believe Japan is a beautiful country which offers photographers some great opportunities. So now let’s see a few of your photos that capture some of your favourite memories.
One of the first stories I did in Indonesia involved visiting various “home industries” for a glimpse of what villagers do for a living. This man was performing a rather mundane job cranking out tiles with this old machine. It requires so much strength (I tried turning it and it barely budges):

Indonesia_machine

This Central Javenese man makes 500 tiles by hand every day using a cranky manual machine; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

I photograph Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by Tamil communities, almost every year in Singapore; I took this picture in 2014. There is something about the spirit of the festival that never ceases to amaze me each time I document it:

The unforgettable Chetty Pusam in Singapore; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Singapore’s unforgettable Chetty Pusam; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

I was very fortunate to be able to make it down to the final few performances of the Melbourne Docklands Blues Festival and photographed a set by Jimi Hocking.He is an incredible musician and performer and this image just reminds me of Guitar Gods and their worshippers:

Can Jimi the Human be real? Photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Can Jimi the Human be real? Photo credit: Jamie Chan.

My favourite places to take photos so far are India, Nepal and Australia—but picking three pictures to illustrate this was really hard as each of these countries has so many amazing places to shoot… Anyway, let me start with the Great Ocean and its apostles. While it may seem like a tourism pilgrimage, when you actually stay and watch the light, you will see that every moment reveals a new side to the gorgeous apostles:

The Great Ocean Road in Australia; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

A couple of the Twelve Apostles along Australia’s Great Ocean Road; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

This is a stunning picture, Jamie. You have made a simple composition with no clutter and very imposing subjects. I love it.
Moving on to Kathmandu. Where do I begin? Within the valley wherever you are, the Himalayan mountain line is always watching you. I felt a sense of peace throughout my stay in Nepal. It is kind of hard to describe the feeling. I recommend you go there yourself. Here is one memento:

Kathamandu; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

One of Kathamandu‘s peaceful oases; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Ayuthaya in Thailand is incredible. I was fortunate enough to gain access to its inner chambers to photograph some of the world’s oldest paintings—an incredibly humbling moment. Here’s an external shot of the ruins that were left after the Burmese invasion:

Ayuthaya; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

The ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayuthaya; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

The more-than-a-thousand-year-old Khmer temples of northeast Thailand are really impressive and give us a glimpse of how the Khmer Empire stretched from Cambodia into what is now a large area of Thailand. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of you doing so?
I try my best to observe and read a person’s body language. My camera is always with me and there is always a silent communication of sorts whenever I lift it to my eye. But there is actually nothing to feel reserved or shy about as the most that can happen is that your subject will say no or even hit you(!) if you are really obnoxious.

“I also happen to speak two and a half languages. The half language is Mandarin.”

I mainly do landscape but when I do shoot people I am the same. I hate to take “posed for” photos so I hardly ever get into a discussion. I take the pic or I don’t. Do you ever ask permission before taking people’s photographs? How do you get around any problem of language?
Since I am always reading a person’s body language before I shoot, I generally do not ask for permission. If I do ask and do not speak their language, I rely on improvised sign language—pointing to my camera and nodding with a big smile on my face. It’s worked so far.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
Yes, most definitely. As cliché as this may sound, the camera allows us to stop time for a split second and record the moment, preserve a memory.

So when did you realise the power of photography, and how has it changed you?
It happened by accident, like so many things in life, while I was looking through old photos of my family. I realised then that if no one had taken these photos, I would never have remembered how my mum looked like all those years ago.

“Who says the iPhone can’t photograph the moon!”

I know what you mean. For me, a picture is a diary of an event in visual form. The photographer “writes” about it in a way no one else could.Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses you use?
I work with a rangefinder, the Leica M-E. My 35mm Summilux lens is stuck to the camera body most of the time as it is just such a beautiful focal length which allows me to respond quickly to different situations. On certain occasions, maybe twice a year, I will use the 50mm Summilux just to get a tighter shot. Other than that, my iPhone 5s takes wicked macro shots.

That’s interesting because although I have become attached to the versatility of my 18–55mm Canon lens there are times when I can’t get in close enough, so I need to add say a 70–200mm to my kit. And now I need an iPhone 5s!!!!! And which software do you use for post-processing?
I use Lightroom for post processing as I shoot entirely in raw image format.

“The perfect camera is the one with you.”

Join the club. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
I’m not sure what advice I can give for wannabe photographers, though that hoary old chestnut “Don’t quit your day job” has just now floated into my mind. I say that because I sense that the golden age of photography is mostly over. Having said that, if you have the passion and perseverance to live, breathe and eat photography, press on and live it. But also remember that technology has made it so much easier to learn a new creative skill. Try your hand at video, writing or music. Use your creativity, mash them all together, and see what you come up with. At the end of the day, as long as your art moves someone and you are able to live comfortably with what you have, you know you are on the right track.

I actually think that is very good non-technical advice Jamie and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your story so far in this interview. I am sure you will, undoubtedly, inspire other young and maybe not so young people.

Editor’s note: All subheds are excerpted from Jamie’s blog.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jamie’s experiences? If you have any questions for her on his travels and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Jamie and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her photography site and check out her posts on her photography/travel blog, No Foreign Lands. You can also follow her on twitter and Instagram and/or like her blog’s Facebook page.

(If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Brittani Sonnenberg’s gem of a novel about an expat family for whom home is everywhere–and nowhere

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing recent book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

November greetings, Displaced Nationers! I’ve been reading up a storm lately (including Tana French’s latest addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series that I reviewed here this past summer—another great book!). But as I contemplated which work to pull down from my digital bookshelf for this month’s review, my attention came to rest on a super example of Third Culture Kid fiction: Home Leave, the debut novel from Brittani Sonnenberg, which came out earlier this year.

Home_Leave_coverPerhaps I was attracted to this book because the story Sonnenberg tells, about a globetrotting family, reminds me of my own. As some of you may know, I grew up on a boat and spent most of my life before high school outside the US—we were seven years in the Caribbean and two in the South Pacific.

But if it’s my story, it’s also Sonnenberg’s. She spent her childhood alternating between her native US and the UK, Germany, China, and Singapore, and, like many of us TCKs, has opted to become a “chronic expat” in her adulthood. She has worked as a journalist in Germany, China, and throughout Southeast Asia. (Currently, she resides in Berlin but is also a visiting lecturer in Hong Kong.)

Until Home Leave, Sonnenberg was known primarily for her short stories and NPR commentaries about life in Berlin.

In fact, her novel started as a memoir, but then one of her agents encouraged her to try re-approaching the material through fiction.

There must be more to life than having everything!”—Maurice Sendak

Home Leave concerns an American nuclear family, the Kriegsteins. The parents, Chris and Elise, determine to escape their dreary lives in the US by living and working overseas as expats. As Chris pursues a career at several international companies, their two daughters, Leah and Sophie, learn what it is to feel at home abroad and a stranger “at home” in the US. They revel in their uniqueness, but they also sometimes long for putting down roots and living like kids back home.

Sonnenberg makes a creative decision not to have a single character as the protagonist. Each of the Kriegsteins is a main character, and there are multiple narrators.

But for me, the book did have a star, and that was Leah. Sonnenberg links Leah’s emotional and personal success as a young adult to her peripatetic childhood, delivering in her a multifaceted portrait of a Third Culture Kid to whom other TCKs can relate.

“Home is where one starts from.”—T.S. Eliot

Leah is the elder daughter, and her toddler years abroad insert themselves into her identity almost from the moment when the family moves back to the US for a few years. As Sonnenberg writes:

Even Leah, with eleven-year-old pretensions of grandeur, craved a “next,” though her memories of “before” Atlanta were limited to the backyard in London, fish and chips, and falling blossoms in a British park…Leah grumbled that they always went to the airport to pick people up but never went anywhere themselves.

Her wish is granted when the family departs to Asia, where they begin a tradition of going on home leave back to the United States:

Like Persephone’s annual permitted return to her mother aboveground, by the gods in Olympus, the powers that be at Chris’s company will grant the Kriegstein women “home leave” once a year, each summer, when they will stay with friends and relatives, the flights covered by the company. In September they will be forced to leave again, back to China. This habit of home leave will cement Atlanta as “home” in their minds, since they always fly back to the Atlanta airport.

Of course, the price to pay for home leave is a complicated definition of where “home” is. As Sonnenberg writes:

When the Kriegsteins leave Atlanta for Shanghai in 1992…they are desperate to be overseas again. After three months in Shanghai, they will be desperate to return home.

And once Leah is an adult, she faces the classic Adult Third Culture Kid dilemma—how to answer the unanswerable: “Where’s home?” Speaking for myself, I never seem to answer it the same way twice in a row!

But what if one must re-start from tragedy?

There is a further twist to the Kriegsteins’ story, which is that Leah’s younger sister, Sophie, dies unexpectedly in their teen years—another parallel to Sonnenberg’s own life (she lost her own sister, Blair).

If you haven’t read the book yet, please note: to tell you about Sophie’s death is not a spoiler. Her death is referred to in the book before it happens, and at one point, her ghost actually narrates the story.

Now, Leah’s strongest relationship is with Sophie—something any TCK out there will understand. As children in foreign places, Leah and Sophie are sometimes each other’s only playmate. As preteens, they look out for each other in Shanghai and share a conspiracy to run away back to Atlanta—a plan only foiled when airport staff won’t accept their father’s credit card without their dad present.

Not surprisingly, Sophie’s death breaks the teenaged Leah, influencing how she perceives her place in the world and reality for years afterward:

Was Sophie’s death a foregone conclusion in any geography, a heart failure built into her system that would have struck her down on any continent? Later, the doctors would say, “There was nothing you could have done. Undetectable heart conditions are just that: undetectable. You mustn’t blame yourselves.” But because the death will happen in Singapore, its occurrence will be unimaginable anywhere else. Thus, in the parallel (irrational) universe, where they stay in Atlanta, where the good years never end, Sophie never dies.

Likewise, Sophie’s abandonment of Leah comes to affect her definition of “home”:

Years later, as an adult, when asked where she is from, Leah will always say “Atlanta,” as if we come from our joy, as if, aside from their goodness, there was anything to say about the good years.

Living in not-so-splendid isolation

The late, great David Pollock, a recognized authority on TCKs, once wrote*:

The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.

Sonnenberg gives us a sense of the disjointedness of the TCK upbringing, and the many identity issues this results in, by having each chapter of Home Leave read like its own short story, with its own narrator. Thus we go from Elise delivering an electric first-person narration of how she coped with her daughter’s death, to therapist appointments written like scenes in a play, to a first-person-plural foray into describing how a group of young TCK women experience university.

Although this style can be jarring for the reader—the book you pick up in the afternoon doesn’t feel like the same book you put down in the morning—taken as a whole, Home Leave feels as fragmented as a life abroad sometimes feels.

Most importantly of all, Sonnenberg’s book does not shy away from the irony of the TCK experience, which is that although a family may travel abroad to broaden its horizons, none of its members ends up having any long-standing relationships except with each other. And, in the case of the family she depicts in Home Leave, even those relationships are uncertain. As the novel’s action unfolds, the older Kriegsteins are shown to be deeply flawed people whose naivety toward the world, and indifference to the needs of their own children, is sometimes astounding.

Home Leave left me feeling sorry for the Kriegsteins: they appear to have been impoverished by their life abroad, not enriched. Throughout the story, I kept wishing they might form a real connection to the places they inhabit and the people they encounter. But, except for the touching scene when Elise is pregnant in Germany, Chris’s ambitions and their own dysfunction buffers them from opportunities to create authentic bonds.

The sections about Shanghai seemed particularly sad, though perhaps that’s only because we see the city partially through the lens of an awkward, pubescent Leah.

But, although not all TCKs will find that the Kriegsteins’ experiences are close to their own, Home Leave is a gem of story suitable for anyone with international experience. And the quality of Sonnenberg’s writing is such that I’m really looking forward to seeing what she produces next.

* * *

Now for a parting thought for my fellow TCKs, some of whom may be feeling rather wistful after reading this review:

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo.

—George Bernard Shaw

Till next month!

*Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David Pollock and Ruth Ven Reken (2009, rev. 2010).

* * *

Thanks, Beth! I note that the New York Times reviewer of Home Leave concluded that in putting Leah at the book’s emotional core, not her parents, Sonnenberg has opened the door for the next generation of international creatives, no mean feat! Readers, any thoughts or responses?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa’s fringe fest dance performance immortalized on the big screen

One year later (August 2014), Alaine Handa finds herself dancing in Spain. (Photo credit: Alaine Handa)

One year after her Edinburgh Fringe adventure, Alaine Handa finds herself in the land of flamenco: Valencia, Spain to be precise. (Photo credit: Eveline Chang, July 2014)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang started up this column in summer 2013 with a two-part conversation with today’s guest, fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. By the end, I for one had come to believe in the truth of Martha Graham’s assertion: “The body says what words cannot.”

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! It’s a pleasure to have choreographer/dancer and adult third culture kid Alaine Handa back with us at the Displaced Nation. As ML says, Alaine was my very first interviewee when this column made its debut last year.

I am circling back to Alaine to see what happened with her dance performance at the Edinburgh Fringe and also because, rumor has it, one of the performers has made a short documentary about this artistic adventure.

Dance and film: that’s quite a pas de deux!

* * *

Welcome back, Alaine! When we spoke to you last year you were about to premiere your newest show, Habitat, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The piece “shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.” How was it received at the fest?
The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, so we worked very hard to get the word out about our production. We blasted out press releases, distributed physical flyers everywhere (and befriended some local shopkeepers!), and performed excerpts at the venue. All of these promotional efforts starting paying off in audience numbers as the festival progressed. The feedback from audience members was mostly positive—the stories portrayed on stage were relatable. Our negative feedback was that the performance should be longer! I guess that isn’t really a bad thing: to have the audience wanting to see more.

As I recall, the members of your multicultural ensemble lived in different countries during rehearsals, so you relied on Skype, YouTube, and email a lot. What was it like to finally rehearse and perform the piece together at Edinburgh?
I rented a studio from Dance Base in Edinburgh a week before we opened for intensive rehearsals. We also lived together for the duration of the festival run so got more comfortable with each other. The rehearsal process through the 2-D medium of video was frustrating, to be quite honest. The time difference of 12 hours between New York and Singapore meant that feedback via email would be received hours later. The rare moments when we Skyped during rehearsal, we would run into problems with connectivity. I rehearsed weekly with another dancer based in Singapore and videotaped everything to send to the other dancers in New York. By the time we came together physically, it was a dream come true but also a whirlwind. We had to fit together all the puzzle pieces and find the missing links. It proved a bit of a challenge.

One of your dancers, Laura Lamp, is also a filmmaker who made a documentary short, Dreaming to Escape, about taking Habitat to Edinburgh while also exploring your philosophical and aesthetic approach to dance. Please tell us what it was like to be the subject of a documentary when you were in the middle of premiering a new work.
Laura partnered with Kevin Tadge, who runs the film company Nesby Darbfield, to make the film. They shot a lot of their material on stage, backstage, in rehearsal, at warm-ups before the performances, during dinners, in taped interviews, and everything in between. I was a bit self-conscious at first, but after a while, I just learnt to ignore the camera like a reality TV star! Upon seeing the short, I realized I should’ve cared a bit more about my appearance during rehearsals!

Where is Dreaming to Escape being screened?
Here’s what Laura reports:

“We hope to take it to documentary and dance film festivals around the world. It would be great if it screens at the Singapore Film Festival later this year. We’ve really only begun to send it out… It’s a bit of a slow process, but we’re excited to share it with everyone.”

Alaine, I understand you have relocated back to Singapore, where you were born and spent your adolescence. What has been the best part, the worst part, and the biggest surprise about living in Singapore again?
Reverse culture shock has been hitting me hard, living back in Southeast Asia. It’s been a little over two years now and I still go through culture shock every single day I am here. Singapore has changed so much in the 2000s. I barely recognized the country when I returned. The biggest surprise is how expensive it’s gotten to live here. The cost of living has gone up tremendously!

I know one of the things you’ve been doing in Singapore is teaching dance. Please tell us where prospective students can find your classes.
Yes, I’ve been teaching at multiple locations around the island. The best way to learn more is to join my mailing list by sending me an email at ahdancecompany@gmail.com and/or join my Facebook group.

Thanks, Alaine! Readers, here is a tiny taste of what you might see in Laura Lamp’s short documentary, the trailer created last year for Habitat:

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

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s fab post.

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And the January 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not (and why aren’t you? off with your head!), listen up.

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors January’s three Alice recipients. Starting with the most recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) AMBER PAULEN, American freelance writer and copyeditor based in Rome, and blogger at Descriptedlines

For her post: “Paesaggio Interiore” (Interior Passages)
Posted on: 17 January 2014
Snippet:

Dreamers are thought to be opposite of the practical, yet I see no difference. Imagining is a practicality that we use in order to survive—an imagined outcome may prevent us from a certain action—but it also makes our lives better. Imagination is the begetter of empathy and the foundation of utopias. It is also, on a minute basis, a way of interpreting the world—the wider these interpretations span, the farther the imagination sees, the more adaptable we are, one of the human race’s single best attributes. Try to find an intelligent mind with a small imagination.

Citation: Amber, we could not agree more with you about the practicality of dreaming, and about the need to put greater value on the life of the mind. Scrolling through the endless photos of man-made and natural scenery that occupy so many travel blogs and Pinterest boards these days can have a numbing effect, reducing life to a set of exterior images—in denial of the fact that each of us possesses some pretty vivid, not to say revealing, internal scenery. What’s more, we believe that the imagination is an extremely powerful, as well as much under-rated, survival tool for expats—the key to our adaptability, as you might put it. On the days when your new life in X country is looking rather grim or mundane, you can always slip into a fantasy land, pretending you’re a royal or a hungry hyena, just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice was wont to do:

And here I wish I could tell you half the things Alice used to say, beginning with her favourite phrase “Let’s pretend.”

She had had quite a long argument with her sister only the day before—all because Alice had begun with “Let’s pretend we’re kings and queens;” and her sister, who liked being very exact, had argued that they couldn’t, because there were only two of them, and Alice had been reduced at last to say, “Well, YOU can be one of them then, and I’LL be all the rest.”

And once she had really frightened her old nurse by shouting suddenly in her ear, “Nurse! Do let’s pretend that I’m a hungry hyaena, and you’re a bone.”

2) DRAKE BAER, contributing writer at Fast Company and co-author of Everything Connects

For his post: “Why weird people are often more creative,” in Fast Company
Posted on: 10 January 2014
Snippet:

In a 2003 study, Carson found that eminent creative achievers were seven times more likely to to have low rather than high latent intelligence scores. That insight prompted her to form a hypothesis: that cognitive disinhibiting allows for way more info to enter into your conscious mind–which you can then tinker with and recombine. The result: creative ideas.

Citation: Drake, we commend you for marshalling the evidence to support something that Lewis Carroll knew intuitively, without the benefit of Carson’s (or anyone else’s) study. Indeed, the world Alice discovers when she steps through the looking glass is teeming with flaming weirdos who, while they may seem rather dim witted at times, let’s face it, are super creative. Take this encounter with Humpty Dumpty, for example, in Through the Looking Glass:

“You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,” said Alice. “Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called ‘Jabberwocky'”?’

“Let’s hear it,” said Humpty Dumpty. “I can explain all the poems that were ever invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.”

3) MILDA RATKELYTE, writer, photographer and a budding filmmaker based in Singapore

For her post: “Lessons from 2013,” in her blog, Milda Ratkelyte Photography
Posted on: 1 January 2014
Snippet:

This year I am starting with one simple resolution—slow down and find the time every single day to smell the roses. Although 2013 was probably the hardest year in my life, I am grateful to all the strength it gave me and all the invaluable lessons I’ve learnt along the way…Never take your loved ones for granted, because life is so fragile that you never know if you will get a chance to see them again. Pick up the phone, tell them you love them NOW, not tomorrow or next week. Trust me it will make a huge difference.

Citation: Milda, we have appreciated your lens on the wider world ever since we featured you and some of your photographs in our monthly column “A Picture Says…” And now that you are learning the price of a peripatetic life—living far away from your loved ones, who may be suffering—we appreciate your emotional honesty. As Alice herself discovered when parted from her beloved cat, Dinah:

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!” (Dinah was the cat.) “I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know.”

While Alice’s concerns are trivial compared to those currently confronting you, we wish that like her, you discover a garden of red roses (only in your case, may they not smell of fresh paint!).
 

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award?  We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with some American entrepreneurs in Senegal.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly 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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For this peripatetic Argentine, now an expat in Queensland, a picture says…

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Belu in Buddha Truth Relic Temple, Singapore; photo credit: Belu.

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Belu in Buddha Truth Relic Temple, Singapore; photo credit: Belu.

Welcome back to our series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The new series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who blogs at Jamoroki and truly believes a camera is a mirror with memory…

Greetings, Displaced Nation-ers. My guest today is the 35-year-old Argentine Belu: an expat, blogger, world traveller and photography enthusiast. Belu studied industrial design at university in Argentina and then moved to Europe. Not long ago, she relocated to Australia, where she sells her designs at street markets and travels as much as her finances allow.

Belu brings her experiences and unique view of the world to her photography blog, BeluChi, and to the travel blog, Travel Tips and Pictures, where she is the main travel writer.

I have followed Belu for a short while and love the simple, down-to-earth way she brings her pictures and the stories behind them to life through her writings.

* * *

South American but with deep European roots

Hi, Belu. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can we begin by having you tell us: where did you live in Argentina, and when did you spread your wings, leave the nest and start your world travels?
I was born in Mar del Plata, a pretty big town located 500km south of Buenos Aires. I lived there until I was 25, and it was about that time that I became curious about travel and ended up moving to Europe.

So you got the travel bug. I can relate to that—but what really inspired you to travel?
Travelling for me is a way to get connected with people and to nature. I so love meeting people, and I knew travelling would give me that opportunity better than anything else. I love it when people tell me about their lives, their cultures and traditions, stories and dreams. I learn so much from my travels.

I know exactly what you mean. It’s quite addictive and I can see you are a compulsive globe-trotter. Tell me what countries have you visited so far?
Aside from Argentina and southern Brazil, I’ve travelled mostly around Europe: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Monaco, Belgium, England, Scotland and Ireland. And now, because I live in Australia, I’m starting to be more in touch with Oceania and Asia—Indonesia and Singapore, for example. I’m planning a trip to China next year, and in 2015 I hope to travel to India and some countries in Africa.

Wow, that’s quite a package! Tell us, how did you end up in Australia, and what is life like for you your new home?
I met my partner when travelling in Australia over two years ago, when living in Barcelona. So, after going back and forth several times, we decided to live together here in beautiful Cairns, a city in the far north of Queensland. So far, so good. I believe that how you feel in a different place and culture depends mostly on how you connect and interact with the people in your new environment, at least in my case. Weather is also important to me because I’m a “sunlight” lover.

Pizza San Marco, Venice Italy. Photo credit: Belu

Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy. Photo credit: Belu

You offered this photo—of you and all the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco in Venice—as one of your favorite shots that captures cherished memories. Thank you for sharing it. Can you tell us more about why it’s so special?
This photo brings me back to the first time my parents came to Barcelona to visit me. We went to Venice and Rome—spectacular!—and then to Lettopalena, a tiny little village up on the top of a mountain in Chieti Province, around 200km from Rome. It was the place where my grandmother was born. I met my Italian family, who are still living there. That trip was exiting because of the contrasts.

Taupo Lake, Taupo, New Zealand. Photo credit: Belu.

Black swan on Lake Taupo, New Zealand. Photo credit: Belu.

Solo travel and staying with locals

That must be a very personal piece of your life. Now moving on to your photo of a beautiful black swan on Lake Taupo in Taupo, New Zealand.
Lake Taupo is in the centre of the North Island. My trip to New Zealand was unforgettable because of the natural beauty. It was also solo-travel, so I could be more in contact with locals and travellers from everywhere. I love this kind of travel. I usually have a “tentative plan” that I hardly ever follow. I love the freedom of changing and re-organising my itinerary according to my feelings.

Oh! I know the feeling well. No one to nag you. Free as a bird (so to speak). Okay, so now for a photo of the everyday scene—a street market in Ripoll, Girona (one of the four provinces comprising Catalonia), Spain. My favourite country!

Street market in Ripoll, Spain. Photo credit: Belu.

Street market in Ripoll, Spain. Photo credit: Belu.

I spent a Saturday morning strolling around the heart of Catalonia, in southeastern Spain. I had the honour of staying at my friend’s parents’ home, always with locals… that made this travel special. I did visit popular tourist spots in that area, but when you are with local inhabitants, it makes the place so much more interesting and you learn so much more about their culture. They told me folk tales and stories that you’ll never find in any guidebook.

I seem to be agreeing with everything you say, but it’s difficult to argue with that. So many people travel but never really integrate with the local people. They miss so much. But we must move on now. Where were or are your favourite spots to take photographs?
My favourite spots are high viewpoints and streets.From high viewpoints you get to admire the whole picture, almost like aerial photography. I find that very exhilarating. And when I am in the streets I am close to the people and can really feel the ambiance and capture the essence of the place.

High vs low, scenery vs people

The last three photos you’ve chosen illustrate the difference between high (looking down) and low (streets at ground level) admirably:

Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Photo credit: Belu.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Photo credit: Belu.

Back street, Bali, Indonesia. Photo credit: Belu.

Back street, Bali, Indonesia. Photo credit: Belu.

London (near St. Paul's), England. Photo credit: Belu.

London (near St. Paul’s), England. Photo credit: Belu.

The photo of Bali is so typical of a Southeast Asian back street. And the one of London, showing a tramp walking between a dust cart and a City businessman with St. Paul’s Cathedral as the backdrop, is an absolute gem. Actually, this photo leads to my next question: do you ever feel reserved about snapping photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so? And do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs? How do you get around any problem of language?
It usually depends on the situation and the local culture. I sometimes ask permission by words or sign language, especially if I feel the person is uncomfortable because of the camera. Fortunately, I have never had any problem about that. Most of the time people say “yes”.

That must make it easier to take natural shots; so would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
For me the answer to that is “most definitely, yes!” When I left Argentina I, maybe unconsciously, realised what a powerful force pictures are. To be able to produce something that can never be repeated exactly is quite amazing.

Let’s get technical

Now for the technical stuff which I am not very good at. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon Ixus 107 called “Anastasia”. She is always in my bag. It isn’t a professional camera but it works as it were! A useful camera for me must be compact and not too expensive, because I don’t want to be too worried about it when travelling.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are travelling or living abroad?
Well, the Internet has plenty of information, videos, etc, for those in search of photography tips. But I can tell you what I do: stay curious, learn from others, and meet people.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Belu’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments! 

Once again, if you want to read more of Belu, don’t forget to visit her sites (see links above). You can also contact her via aquibeluchi@gmail.com.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts, including an interview with this month’s featured author!

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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For travel addict & photography lover Milda Ratkelyte, a picture says …

Milda M CollageWelcome to the second installment of “A picture says,” a series that sheds light on the people who move through our planet with a camera in hand, registering the look, character, and ambiance of people and places that capture their fancy.

Our guest today is Milda Ratkelyte, a camera-happy Lithuanian whose wanderings have taken her to the UK, America and now Asia.

Here are Milda’s vital travel statistics:
Place of birth: Lithuania
Passport: Lithuanian
Overseas history: From least to most recent: United Kingdom (London): 2005-2008; China (Wuhan, Shanghai, Beijing): 2008-2009; United States (California, Colorado, New York): 2009-2010; United Kingdom (London): 2010-2011; Singapore: 2011-present.
Occupations: Travel Community Manager at AsiaRooms.com and owner of Milda Ratkelyte Photography
Social media coordinates:
Twitter: @MildaRatkelyte
Facebook: Milda Ratkelyte Travel
Instagram: @milda_ratkelyte
Google+: Milda Ratkelyte

And now let’s meet Milda and find out: which came first, the photography obsession or the peripatetic life?

Kenyan curiosity

Hi, Milda. Let’s talk a bit about your travels. You are originally from Lithuania but have spent a considerable amount of time in other countries and now live in Singapore. Tell me about how that came about, and what inspired your moves.
I had the most amazing childhood in Lithuania. I was very lucky, because my dad was a true travel fanatic. Back then it was not easy for us Lithuanians to go traveling to remote destinations outside of Europe, but my dad found a way to get us to Kenya for a summer. From that time on, I was addicted to travel, and have been wandering the world ever since. “Explore, discover and get to know different cultures and people around the world”that’s become my mantra.

Boy reaching for candyKenya sounds amazing. Can you share with us one of the photos from that trip?
I like this shot of a boy reaching for what he hoped would be candy. It’s from the early days of my camera experience, but I love it because it’s just so natural. There was no set up, no preparation. I was wandering the streets of the Watamu village, looking for the school where I was volunteering, when a group of kids ran towards me asking for candies. I didn’t have any on me, but I had a pack of pencils that I was carrying to the school, so I gave them out and decided to take a photo of the group. As I was setting up the shot, this boy ran from the end of the street. Noticing something was being given away, he squeezed through other kids and jumped right in front of the camera.

Asia calls!

How did you end up in my native land, the UK?
When I graduated from high school, I knew that I want to do something travel related. I enrolled in an International Tourism Management course at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK. For my work placement, I was sent to work in China for the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which gave me the chance to explore some other Asian destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore. I fell in love with Hong Kong and told myself that once I graduated, I would definitely be coming back. However, when that moment occurred, reality kicked in: I could not get a visa for Hong Kong. I’d decided to stay in London when an opportunity to work for a major events company in Singapore suddenly landed on my doorstep. I had my bags packed in a few days and was on the 14-hour flight to Singapore.

How do you like Singapore?
I’ve been in Singapore for two-and-a-half years already and absolutely love it. Mostly, because it’s the most convenient spot in Asia travel wise. In just two hours I can be in Bali, Hong Kong, or Thailand. And Malaysia is just an hour’s bus drive away.

Luck strikes again

On your blog you say you were “one lucky girl” in finding your current position as a Community Manager for AsiaRooms, a site for booking hotels throughout Asia. Tell us how that opportunity came about and how it fits into your life ideals and love of travel.
When I moved to Singapore, I was working for an events company in the oil and gas industry. While I loved the thrill of closing huge deals, I had no life. The hours were long, with weekends in the office and sales calls at all times of the night. After about half a year, I missed having time to travel, take photos, explore and discover! I started looking around for something in the travel industry, and that was when I got introduced to my current boss, who mentioned that AsiaRooms.com were looking to hire a Community Manager. It was a dream come true. Today I can definitely say I love my job! I have been working on the launch of AsiaRooms.com Community site together with an amazing team, and we’ve already achieved some incredible results. I have also gotten a chance to study and have completed MatadorU’s Travel Writing and Photography courses. But most importantly, I’m getting to work with some amazing and talented photographers, filmmakers, writers and musicians in Asia and across the world while traveling a lot! This year I will finally tick off all the places on my bucket list for Asia.

Passionate about photographybut not equipment

On your blog you say that you love photography “and being able to freeze a particular moment in time, so when things in life change you have the one thing, one memory that never will.” What are the shots that capture some of your favorite memories? And what made them so special?
It is hard to say which ones are my favorites since there are just so many of them, and every trip I make is special. But if I had to choose, I’d pick the photos from the trip to Kenya such as the one above. That was the first time I got exposed to a truly different environment. It was also the first time I experimented with my DLSR, which was a present from my dad. My dad passed away unexpectedly last year, and I feel sad that I’ll never get to travel with him again. But having those photos reminds me of him and of the reason I started traveling.

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon 300D with two Canon lenses: 18-55mm and 70-300mm. When I was doing a short weekend photography course, my tutor joked: “This girl is truly passionate about photography and not equipment.” My camera was so old it did not have half of the functions they were using during the course!

But although the camera has huge sentimental value, I think I will need to invest in a new one soon, since I have started MatadorU’s Travel Filmmaking course and will need a camera that can capture video.

A “no holds barred” approach to people as subjects

Where have been your favorite places to take photographs? Any particular shots stick out as being amongst your favorites?
My two favorite spots are Myanmar and Japan: Myanmar, for its amazing people, who are always smiling, and the colors of its markets, nature and city life, as well as incredible sunsets and sunrises over the ancient city of Bagan; Japan for its nature, culture and architecture. The old streets of Kyoto, the underground cafes and restaurants in Tokyo, hip people in the Harajuku district, lush greenery and deer in Nara, and bamboo groves in ArashiyamaJapan is just naturally photogenic.

ThanakaBoy_mmIn your shots of Myanmar, I noticed one of a young child. Tell me about how that shot came about and what exactly is going on!
It was taken in Bagan, Myanmar, which is full of the remains of temples and pagodas. That particular morning we’d grabbed our bikes and were exploring the terrain, when I was approached by this young kid trying to sell me his drawings for a dollar. They were crayon drawings of the temples, neatly packed in plastic bags. The boy spoke almost no English, but soon he became my little tour guide, showing me around all the ruins. After our little tour we sat on the old dusty stairs at one of the temples, and while he was trying to tell me more about the place, this perfect photo opportunity appeared. I just love the look in his eyes.

I often feel very reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that I am doing so. Are you the same?
I used to be very reserved about it, but at the same time I knew that this was a major obstacle if I want to progress with my travel photography. I think I came to realize that after traveling around with my boyfriend, who is also a photographer and who has never had hang-ups about this! He doesn’t find it difficult to go straight to someone and ask them to take a photo. At the beginning I used to stay back and watch him, but when I saw how his shots turned out, I realized I needed to overcome this barrier.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
It was hard at the beginning, because the truth is you will get a lot of people who will just tell you NO, but at the same time you will get the few that will be very nice to you. I guess my main advice would be to definitely ask them first, and if they don’t agree, leave it! If they do agree, have a little chit chat with them to ease the atmosphere and, once you take the shot, show them how the photo looks, I’ve noticed a lot of people appreciate that!

But how do you get around the inevitable problem of language barriers?
Well, I always try to learn at least few words in the local language before I visit country, like “please,” “thank you”, “hello”, etc. As for the rest, I just point to the camera, then at the person, and smile 🙂 Usually this works—and trust me, the results will be worth the effort.

Parting shots…

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are traveling or living abroad?
1. Never leave your camera at home. The truth is, some of the most amazing photos are from the moments that come out the blue. It doesn’t have to be an incredible place, it might just be the street you walk down every day. Even if it’s just your iPhone camera, have something at hand.
2. Don’t let rejections stop you from achieving your dreams. I must admit, I have been trying to pitch different publications, blogs, magazines, etc for over a year and all I got were either unpaid opportunities or rejections. And it’s hard to keep motivated, when someone says that your photos are not good enough. But I’ve carried on pursuing my dream and finally, a year later, I am getting paid assignments and, what’s even more important, people are finally starting to look for me and not me for them. As a Community Manager at AsiaRooms.com, I source the photo and video content myself, so I get about 30 pitches a day from very talented people. The roles are reversed: I am the one who is telling someone that we will not be publishing their work. However, in most cases, it’s not because their photos are not good, it’s because the industry is so competitive and businesses like ours can choose only the very best. Knowing this helps me to deal with my own rejections.

Thank you, Milda! Readers, what do you make of Milda’s advice on shooting people? And do you have any further questions for her on her photography, travels, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments!

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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Images (from left): Camera lens from Morguefile; Milda Ratkelyte reveling in her Grand Canyon moment. All other photos by Milda Ratkelyte

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