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Tag Archives: South Korea

And the March 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 March’s three Alice recipients. Starting with the most recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) CANDACE ROSE RARDON, travel writer and sketch artist

For her interview:  “Watercolouring Her Way Around the World,” on Linda Fairbairn‘s Journey Jottings blog
Posted on: 14 March 2014
Snippet:

“In a way, my sketchbook also helps create the moments I record in it. I might head to a café to draw a street-scape, start talking with the man next to me, and then jot down a line or two from our dialogue on the sketch itself. Sketching has become both my muse and medium on the road—it creates the very stories I love to tell, stories of connection and serendipity, and I now can’t imagine ever travelling without my sketchbook.”

Citation: Candace, we think we should invent a new award for you: a “Poppins.” Your watercolors look so inviting that we want to jump right into them and share in your adventures, just as Mary Poppins jumps into Burt’s chalk drawings. (Incidentally, we refer to the animated sequence in the movie, of which P.L. Travers did not approve, only to be overruled by Walt Disney.) Poor Alice doesn’t go down the rabbit hole because of its visual stimulation; quite the opposite! She goes down the hole due to boredom with her sister’s book “without pictures or conversations.” Our sense is that, were you to receive an “Alice,” it would need to be presented by the Mock Turtle, art lessons having played a role in his superior education:

“Well, there was Mystery,” the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, “—Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling—the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: HE taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.”

Though he doesn’t mention “water” art, it seems likely he would sanction it. Definitely he would not be a fan of our alternative suggestion unless we agreed to call the prize a “Puffins” instead of a Poppins. But enough of these qualifications; suffice it to say, we are in awe of your ambition to “watercolour” your way around the world. You paint, girl!

2)”The Expat” in Korea

For his post: “The Reincarnation Lottery,” on ExpatHell.com
Posted on: 18 March 2014
Snippet:

We may be dogs, but we are dogs with memories. Memories of where we came from. Memories of hot summer days, clear blue skies, people smiling, people laughing, wind slicing through large trees with leaves whisking and shimmering in the sun like waves washing over a million shiny round stones. We are four dogs with memories of home, and somehow, we are all going back. This is what we wail about during the pitch black nights and all we dream about during the hazy grey days.

Citation: The Expat, we have been around the world a few times so are well aware of South Korea’s proclivity for dog meat consumption. This may be why we find your description of yourself and your three mates as a pack of four large wailing dogs on a dog farm “in the lonely cold mountains and valleys of the Korean countryside” alarming. But no more alarming, we suppose, than Alice’s own sense of transformation as she progresses through Wonderland:

Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot, she kept fanning herself all the time she went on talking: “Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!” 

A good thing she doesn’t prolong her stay in Wonderland, that’s all we can say. Can she be far off from imagining herself as a caged rabbit that is about to be thrown into the cauldron of pepper soup being stirred by the Duchess’s cook? In any case, we really appreciate your honesty in telling the story, in such a creative way, of four American men arriving in Korea in hopes of a fresh start as English teachers, only to end up “starting over and starting lower.” We can certainly see why you aspire to returning to our “dog eat dog” society here in the West. Only please promise that between now and then, you won’t land in a bowl of Korean soup, which, needless to say, will be a great deal more firey than the Duchess’s.

3) ALEX BAACKES (aka Alex in Wanderland), freelance writer and New York native on the move

For her post: “My Top 8 Animal Encounters Around the World,” on Michael Hodson‘s Go, See, Write blog
Posted on: 20 February 2014
Snippet:

Today, I seek out encounters with animals that are willing participants in sharing their space with me; one where everyone walks—or swims—away happy. . . . While I’m still not quite sure how sailors once mistook manatees for mermaids, I can now attest to the fact that these bulbous creatures move with a surprising amount of grace. Braving the chilly winter waters? Worth every shiver to share a swim with these beauties.

Citation: Alex, we are struck by how quickly you have come to the realization that, while it can be fine, even fun, to encounter other human beings on your travels, you should not miss out on the opportunity to interact with new kinds of mammals—relationships with whom could end up being much more therapeutic, especially if they’re the kind you can swim with. Alice, of course, had no qualms about swimming with the Wonderland creatures:

It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there were a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.

But in Alice’s case, she was swimming in a pool made of her own tears. We congratulate you on being much more sensible in heading Crystal River, near Orlando, which plays host to the migrating manatees from October to March.

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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 next week’s fab posts.

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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FOOTLOOSE & FANCIFUL: Margaret Drabble’s “The Red Queen”

Welcome to Footloose & Fanciful, an occasional series of posts where we talk about books, films or other art forms that have inspired us to travel to new places or appraise familiar places with fresh eyes.

I’m probably not the best person to kick off this series. As much as I adore fiction, I’m not one to travel on a whim, because of something I read in a book. Especially not these days, when my expat years, spent in England and Japan, are behind me and I have to take time off from work. Typically, I arrive at my destination and collapse in a heap of exhaustion. It’s not until I’ve had a good rest that I am able to take in my surroundings. I peer out the window and say: “Really, I’m in xxx?!”

At that point I go to the other extreme, manically trying to find out as much as possible about where I’ve landed, visiting bookstores with an English-language section to stock up on translated novels, expat memoirs, the lot…

The second time I went to Seoul, South Korea, though, was different, and I’ll make that the subject of today’s post. That trip marked a rare time when a book had piqued my interest in a country to the point of influencing what I wanted to do and see and talk about during my stay.

Finding the soul of Seoul

I said my second visit to Seoul. The first had occurred a few years before. It followed the typical pattern. I arrived tired and unprepared, although on that occasion, I got an immediate lesson in the local culture.

Just as my husband and I were landing in Incheon International Airport, the news was breaking that Dr. Hwang Woo Suk—a veterinary researcher who had achieved world fame by cloning an Afghan hound named Snuppy—had falsified his latest results to make it look as though he’d made advances in human cloning.

“It’s a very Korean story,” some Korean friends of my husband’s informed us. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but little by little, I pieced it together. The Korean government, desperate to project a modern, high-tech face to the world, had turned Dr. Hwang into a national hero. He appeared in many of their promotional campaigns. The post office sold stamps to commemorate his research, and Dr and Mrs Hwang enjoyed a decade of first-class tickets on Korea Air, because of his status as “national treasure.”

Interestingly, our Korean friends were reluctant to condemn him outright. He’d been under a phenomenal amount of pressure to produce results and bring his country greater glory. If you were under that much pressure, you’d probably be tempted to skip a few rounds of clinical trials, too, they seemed to be saying.

I had to think about that for a while. Already, I was inclined to feel sorry for the Koreans because I knew how they’d suffered under Japanese rule. They are the Central Europeans of Asia, if you will. Just as the Hungarians, Poles and Czechs have had to put up with Germany and Russia, the Koreans, due to being sandwiched between China and Japan, have had to put up with incursions from both.

Gradually, I came round to the Korean point of view. My thought process went something like this:

Okay, the Koreans have been victims of some bad geography. But then why do they make things so much worse for themselves by setting such impossibly high standards? What Dr. Hwang did was wrong, a violation of ethical standards in medical research. But, okay, if I can feel sorry for all the Korean schoolchildren cramming like crazy for exams, I guess I can spare a bit of sympathy for Snuppy’s creator…

After arriving home from that trip, I was eager to read more about the country (I hadn’t found much in translation in Seoul’s bookstores).

That was when I happened upon the novel The Red Queen, by Margaret Drabble.

Seeing Korea in shades of red

A novel on Korean history by one of the writers I’d most admired when living in the UK: what could be a more perfect bridge between the two parts of my expat life?

The Red Queen of the book’s title refers to Lady Hyegyong, a Korean woman who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries. She was plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, Sado, who turned out to be…a HOMICIDAL MANIAC, I kid you not.

The reason we know all of this is that Lady Hyegyong left behind a diary, and Part 1 of the novel is Drabble’s version of that document, which she based on JaHyun Kim Haboush’s translation of The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea.

In Part 1, the Crown Princess tells us about what it was like to live with a husband and in a court where daily, several dead bodies would be carried out of the palace (whenever Sado felt agitated or depressed, he would seek relief by murdering his servants) or reports would arrive of another court lady being raped. After he murders his concubine, he starts harassing his own sister, too.

At about this point, I concluded that the only thing worse than discovering you’re married to psychopath would be to find out you’re confined with him in a palace, from which there’s no escape. Terror within a claustrophobic setting must be the worst kind there is!

The story has a further twist. The Crown Prince’s father, King Yongjo, turns out to have been deeply Confucian. He is the kind of Korean parent who sets impossibly high standards for his son, which—it is hinted in the Crown Princess’s diaries—may be part of what triggers the son’s madness.

In the end, the cruel father proves more than the psycho son’s match. On a hot day in July 1762, he summons Sado and orders him to get into a heavy wooden chest, ordinarily used for storing rice or grain. The lid is shut and locked, and Sado is left to starve. It takes eight days.

The Crown Princess is traumatized all over again at witnessing her father-in-law execute her husband in such a cruel manner.

In part 2 of the book, an Oxford academic travels to Seoul with the Crown Princess’s diary in hand (which has been sent to her anonymously via Amazon.com) and finds parallels between her own life and hers. Professor Halliwell feels that the Princess “has entered her, like an alien creature in a science-fiction movie.” She becomes possessed by her—just as I was by the end of the book, just as I’m sure Drabble was, which was what inspired her to create (in her words) this “transcultural tragi-comedy.”

More questions than answers

I went back to Korea for a second time not long after reading the novel, accompanying my husband on some work he had there. So moved had I been by Drabble’s book that I was determined to find a way to pay tribute to the Red Queen, so called because of all the blood that flowed during her husband’s reign.

But here’s the strange thing. All of my attempts to find out about Lady Hyegyong came to naught. My Korean friends said I needed special permission to visit Changgyeong Palace, where this tragic series of events took place. They did not seem to want to engage in a conversation about this period of their history.

I left Korea with more questions than answers: Do Koreans repress this part of their past, and if so, what does that tell us about them? Is my previous view of them as helpless victims all wrong? Did other countries walk in and take over because Korea had weakened itself through its impossibly high Confucian ideals, which had led to total anarchy by the end of the 18th century?

But the weirdest thing is, I wasn’t that surprised by the Korean reaction. While the Western part of me applauds Drabble for resurrecting Lady Hyegyeong as feminist hero, one who lived long enough to write her tale (the existence of her memoirs, incidentally, served to refute later attempts to restore Sado to a position of honor in Korean history books), the Asian part thinks that poor Lady Hyegyeong must feel displaced in Drabble’s novel. Relationships are, after all, a central theme to Confucianism. The husband is the head of the household and the wife is obedient to him, full stop.

This inner dilemma of mine, along with the spirit of Lady Hyegyeong, which Drabble portrays so vividly in her novel, still haunts me to this day…

* * *

Readers, have you ever read a book that has colored your impressions of a place in weird ways? Also, if you would like to contribute to this new series—perhaps an uplifting tale of being inspired by a book set in the idyllic Tuscan countryside would be in order after this rather macabre story?—please don’t hesitate to get in touch: ml@thedisplacednation.com.

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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And the June 2013 Alices go to… these 5 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter know, 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 their own (or others’) creativity.

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

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

1) LILLIAN AFRICANO, president of the Society of American Travel Writers

Source:How to use words to cinematic effect in your travel writing.” in Matador Network
Posted on: 21 June 2013
Snippet:

Once a satisfying story has been told, it needs an ending, ideally, one that circles around to the beginning and gracefully achieves a satisfying sense of closure. If a good travel story is like a cinema of the mind, then whoever heard of a movie that had no ending?

Citation: Lillian, your advocacy of the cinematic style puts us in mind of Alice, who, before plunging into her adventures, expresses a similar thought:

…once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or
conversation?”

And although Alice’s creator, Lewis Carroll, died around the time the first motion picture camera was invented, he clearly believed in telling stories in clear, vivid word pictures. What’s more, the story of Alice’s wonderland adventures circles round to where it began, with Alice waking up on the lap of her sister, who is brushing stray leaves from her face. Like many of us who return from a long international journey, Alice can’t quite believe that she actually underwent such a metamorphosis. Still, she manages to persuade her sister, who after sending Alice to get her tea, dozes off while watching the sun set half-believing herself to be in Wonderland. (Hmmm…if you can persuade the kind of person who doesn’t read picture books, that’s some pretty good storytelling!)

2) ACe Callwood & the other creators of Coffitivity

Source: “How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity“— a report on Coffitivity by Anahad O’Connor in the New York Times
Posted on: 21 June 2013
Snippet: As the Times article explains, Coffitivity plays an ambient coffee shop soundtrack that, according to researchers, helps people concentrate. Co-founder ACe Callwood says that, although the site attracted only just over a hundred page views when it first started on March 4th, since then traffic has “exploded”:

Seoul, Korea, is our top user city. New York City is second, followed by London, L.A. and Chicago.

Citation: ACe, we understand that you and your partners are now developing new coffee shop soundtracks tailored to specific countries. For the sake of us creative internationals (see #4, Mike Sowden, below), we wonder if you’d also consider a “Lewis Carroll” track since many of us in that category are trying to account for topsy-turvy ideas of life we’ve obtained from living overseas. We are aware it will take some research to find the right sounds, but our hunch is that some mix of rustling grass, rippling waters, tinkling sheep-bells, a bit of Victorian singing, and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood chatter will do the trick.

3) ANNABEL KANTARIA, Telegraph Expat blogger

Source: “Do you suffer from fake accent syndrome?” in Telegraph Expat blog
Posted on: 6 June 2013
Snippet:

Just like the “transatlantic twang” of those who divide their time between the UK and US, the generic global accent of the UAE takes a little from English, Arabic, Hindi and Tagalog, and spits out some sort of accent and vocabulary that we all hope everyone will be able to understand.

Citation: Hmmm… Annabel, especially given those blonde locks of yours, are you sure you’re not Alice reincarnated? Because this is the SECOND time we’ve awarded you an Alice. Either you know the works of Lewis Carroll very well and/or life in the Emirates has given you a special grasp on his canon of works. Last time you received an Alice, it was for a post that told us about the importance of playing by the rules, which reminded us of Alice’s croquet match under the Queen of Hearts’s stern command. This time, you talk about the odd, fake-sounding accents people pick up in foreign spots—which reminds us of poor Alice’s initial meeting with Mouse:

“Perhaps it doesn’t understand English,” thought Alice; “I daresay it’s a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror.” … So she began again: “Ou est ma chatte?: which was the first sentence in her French lesson-book. The Mouse gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright. “Oh, I beg your pardon!” cried Alice hastily, afraid that she had hurt the poor animal’s feelings. “I quite forgot you didn’t like cats.”

Stuff and nonsense, to be sure!

4) MIKE SOWDEN, travel writer

Source: “Why I Blog (On A Napkin)” in Fevered Mutterings—Misadventures in Travel & Storytelling blog
Posted on: 26 May, 2013
Snippet: Notably, Sowden should be a consultant for Coffitivity’s “international creative” app (see #2 above). He reports that he is writing this post

…next to a sunlit window in a Costa coffee house in Birmingham… A regular Chai latte is to the right of my laptop, and I’m fascinated by the lazy snow of cinnamon drifting to the bottom of the glass.

But the passages we really love refer to his napkin diagram:

  • “[Potential blog] [s]ponsors hover in the middle reaches of napkin-space.”
  • “Let’s soar into the upper napkinsphere. … It’s the ideal audience of your blog: anyone with a brain and a pulse.”
  • “This is what the fold in the napkin is all about, just under that line/curve. It’s a mountain you have to climb. A mountain made of enormous amounts of hard work, business planning, Art, applied psychology, smart, non-spammy marketing and all sorts of heart-on-sleeve public-facing transparency and vulnerability. It’s a process of learning how to make something those people will genuinely find meaningful. In business, this is the hardest thing in the world. It’s a mountain littered with the remains of failed expeditions, and it’ll probably end up littered with some of your own.”

Citation: Wow, Mike, you are certainly drinking the coffee if you can see a mountain in the folds of a Costa napkin, and use that image to tell a story about the thru-the-looking-glass challenges most bloggers face. Say, no wonder they pay you (or should be paying you) the big bucks for travel writing! I think other expat and travel bloggers will agree with us that it’s a fantasy feat worthy of Carroll.

5) PATRICIA WINTON, crime writer, food guru and American expat in Rome

Source: “The Tiramisù Is Out of This World” in Italian Intrigues blog
Posted on: 23 May 2013
Snippet: In this post, Winton reports that Chef Davide Scabin, whose restaurant (near Turin) ranks as one of the world’s 50 best, was chosen to prepare a new menu of Italian foods for the astronauts who took off in the European supply spacecraft Albert Einstein ATV [automated transfer vehicle], on June 5th (note: it successfully docked with the International Space Station on June 15th):

Each meal must also have a 36-month shelf life and be prepared without salt. Against this rigorous backdrop, Chef Scabin discovered another challenge. “The olfactory system doesn’t function at 100 percent in space. The astronauts eat with the sensation of having a cold,” he said…

Thanks to Chef Scabin’s efforts, the crew—who include one Italian, Luca Parmitano—are now feasting not on food from NASA or Roskosmoson (its Russian counterpart), but on lasagna, risotto, caponata, eggplant Parmesan, and for dessert—tiramisù.
Citation: To be honest, we weren’t sure whether to award the Alice to Chef Scabin, for spending two years thinking about how to translate Italian food for outer space without turning it into a Mad Hatter’s tea party; Luca Parmitano, for blogging(!) about his “out of this displaced world” experience from the spacecraft; or to Patricia Winton, for making this strange tale known to the expat and travel community. But we decided to go with Winton. Given her penchant for mystery and deceit, could it even be that she fabricated this story just because she fancied a world where astronauts could feast on tiramisù instead of the freeze-dried ice cream served by NASA on the Apollo missions? Stranger things have happened! 🙂

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, and do you have any posts you’d like to see among July’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!

Speaking of creative chefs, STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, by Global Food Gossip Joanna Masters-Maggs.

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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Citizenship limbo: How long-term expat life has impacted my status back home

England-Korea_ValerieAh, the no-man’s land of the expat life — if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you haven’t been abroad for long enough. Nor would you, I’m afraid, qualify for Displaced Nation citizenship. One person who does know what I’m talking about, and would more than qualify, is Valerie Hamer. She likes to refer to herself “British by birth and a nomad by choice.” Here is her bittersweet tale of where that attitude has taken her…

— ML Awanohara

Having lived in Asia for nearly 13 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the standard opening line: “Where are you from?”

However, as the years have passed, my factual auto response of “England” has made me uneasy.

I consider myself a global nomad: an international citizen, albeit one with a passport identifying my roots in the Commonwealth realm.

Plus, I dislike labels of any kind because they invoke stereotypes: and when it comes to nationality there are only so many questions — do you have afternoon tea at 4:00? do English gentlemen really wear bowler hats? — a person can take!

Not British any more…except at the core!

The truth is, I don’t feel particularly British (whatever that really means) anymore.

In fact, I’m so out of touch I have to spend time online researching current UK news on weather, music, sport fashion and politics — because knowing these things is what is expected of me.

Foreign is what I am all about after all, and that isn’t ever going to change.

The blurring of one’s national identity happens over time. In the first couple of years of the expat life, we crouch on the edge of our host culture, secure in the knowledge that the familiar is only a plane ride away. We make cross-cultural comparisons, some of them invidious; have adventures; reminisce; and sometimes escape for brief periods of intense reunion with the motherland. The possibility is always open for ending the foreign adventure and resuming the life left behind.

Over time, however, the attachment to the homeland fades and in the process, most long-term expats mutate into something closer to the global citizen. Take my case: I am now a quasi-fraudulent impersonation of a bona fide English woman.

But, even though I have lived abroad for over a decade, I have never seriously doubted my citizenship. Great Britain is, after all, the place where I was born and raised. The island I could return to on my terms, without fear of any impositions on my status or freedom.

After all, I continue to be a British citizen, right?

No right to investment

Not quite, as it turns out, for while I have been busy living as a temporary resident of South Korea, times have been a-changing back home in Britain.

A standing joke amongst my family and friends is that I manage to devalue the currency of any country I choose to live in. I have the same effect on UK interest rates, too, which is why I’ve made a habit of checking out the best deals and making the necessary transfers every time I visit.

Suddenly, though, this became impossible! New government rules have outlawed British non-residents from investing their cash in the country. How dare we?!

I chose a Korean bank instead, where thankfully I haven’t confronted similar issues — though it should be no surprise to hear that the interest rate dropped by half during my first year in the scheme!

Little right to health care

I rarely get ill, but sometimes I’ll make a quick trip to the doctors when back in England. Most health care services are free at source, and even temporary visitors can make use of any emergency facility. Those of us with family in England can see a general practitioner as long as a family member is on the books.

It’s never been a problem until now.

Last summer I called the office of the GP my father uses and was interrogated quite fiercely by the receptionist. I won’t bore you with the details: suffice to say, as a non-resident I need to be close to death before the medical profession will give me the time of day.

I can’t complain about being denied access to a system I don’t pay into, but the experience further defined me as an alien in a place where I used to belong.

No right to drive?!

One area that shouldn’t be a problem is driving in the UK, right? Last summer I decided to hire a car for my visit. I hadn’t been behind the wheel for ten years but had kept my license updated, registered to my family’s UK address.

After shelling out for a couple of refresher lessons and an expensive insurance policy, I felt confident that all was good — and it was, that is, until I discovered quite by accident that the insurance had actually been useless.

Who knew that my UK license grants only permanent residents the right to drive? Living outside the country means you forfeit the permission to use, or even renew, the license.

It makes sense when you think about it — but the assumption that we are good to go without an international permit is pretty widespread among us British expats.

* * *

These are just a few examples of show how ignorant I was of the gradual erosion of my rights to access UK services and systems — an ignorance I suspect I share with many other displaced Brits.

Ultimately, those of us who occupy a liminal space between two cultures need to come to terms with the idea that we may truly belong in neither.

* * *

Readers, any comments or questions for Valerie? Can you relate to her “floating world” status?

Valerie Hamer is a global nomad with a severe coffee addiction and a love of the written word. Her first book, Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky? A Blind Date Conversation: South Korea, came out last year; we gave it a two thumbs up. Hamer writes a popular blog, Faraway Hammer Writing, which is named for how people in Asia tend to pronounce “Valerie Hamer”. You can also follow her by that moniker on Twitter: @Farawayhammer.

STAY TUNED for another guest post, by Kat Selvocki. Last time we heard from her, she was on her way to start a new life in Australia. And now…

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: (clockwise, starting top left) Ploughman’s lunch (courtesy Flickr); traditional Korean meal; Korean marchers; Seoul (courtesy Flickr); Thames view of London; Queen’s Guards marching; Valerie Hamer. (Non-Flickr photos from Morguefiles.)

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (3/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportIt’s Christmas Day and the holiday party continues for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on the Displaced Nation’s shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Third in a three-part series (see also Part One and Part Two).

During the final third of 2012, we met some expats and intrepid world travelers who, I think it’s fair to say, have developed some rather unusual hobbies and eating habits. The two are one and the same in the case of Brian MacDuckston, who was featured on our site this past August. He has made a habit of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible — a hobby that was quirky enough to attract the attention of the New York Times. In addition to Brian — a San Franciscan who originally went to Japan to teach English — we encountered:

  • Liv Gaunt, an Englishwoman who became an expat accidentally, while pursuing her love of scuba diving and underwater photography. Now based in Australia, she told us she has a passion for sharks but would happily do without sea urchins.
  • Mark Wiens, an American third culture kid who now lives in Thailand and travels all over — he feels least displaced when sampling other countries’ street foods.
  • Jessica Festa, an American traveler who loves to venture off the beaten track and eat locally — she did not hesitate to eat cuy in Ecuador (even though it reminded her of her pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush).
  • Larissa Reinhart, a small-town Midwesterner who lived in Japan for several years and, since repatriating, has taken up the pen as a crime novelist. She is now living in small-town Georgia but hopes to go abroad again. She provides recipes for Asian fried chicken, among other delicacies, on her blog about life as an ex-expat.
  • Patricia Winton, an American who responded to 9/11 by giving up her comfortable life in Washington to become an expat crime writer in Rome. She also invested in a pasta-making machine…
  • Bart Schaneman, a Nebraskan who wanted to see the world and has made his home in Seoul, where he is an editor for an English-language newspaper and author of a travelogue on the Trans-Siberian railway. He is a huge fan of kimchi.

Three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since a few months ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays, besides chatting with us?

Brian with Ramen_Xmas1) BRIAN MACDUCKSTON

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I’ve been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched my first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. A start! I also started a ramen class aimed at non-Japanese speakers. Check it out!

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
A nice staycation in Tokyo.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating, dare I ask?
I’m trying to eat more high-class sushi, but I’ll probably just stick to a lot of ramen for the next few weeks.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I really enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the most revered sushi chef in the world. [Editor’s note: The film has been available on Netflix since last August.]

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I want to train myself to stop using double spaces after periods when I write. Not a big goal, but important for someone who has an interest in being paid for my writing.

A worthy goal, imho! (I’ve had to correct quite a few in my time…) So, any upcoming travel plans?
My father will visit Japan, so I am planning a luxury week-long trip of eating and relaxing in hot springs. Two things I’m good at!

LarissaReinhart&Reinhart2) LARISSA REINHART

Any big developments in your life since we last spoke?
My second Cherry Tucker Mystery, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has a release date of May 21, 2013. [Editor’s note: As mentioned in Larissa’s interview, the first in her Cherry Tucker series, Portrait of a Dead Guy, came out this year.]

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
We travel to visit my family in Illinois and St. Louis after Christmas through New Year’s.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
There’s this Italian grocery, Viviano’s, in the Italian district of St. Louis, called The Hill in St. Louis, that I really look forward to visiting. I’ll stock up on cheap wine and Italian staples for the coming year.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Yes, two Japanese films:

  1. The fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I highly recommend — even for non-sushi fans. The film is beautifully shot and reveals what it takes to be a true master at something. Incredible.
  2. The gorgeous The Secret World of Arrietty (aka The Borrower Arrietty), scripted by Hayao Miyazaki. We were excited to see Arrietty because we saw the ads for the movie when we were still living in Japan (and I’m a big fan of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, on which the film is based, as well as of Miyazaki).

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To spend less time on social media and more time writing. I love chatting online, but I need to be more disciplined about getting away from the “water cooler” and back to work.

Any upcoming travel plans?
Disney World for spring break! Woot! And we’re hoping to get back overseas soon, but no definite plans yet.

PatriciaWintonwithholly3) PATRICIA WINTON

Any big changes in your life since we last spoke a couple of months ago?
The month after you featured me, I put my long-time WIP in the bottom drawer for a while and started a new one. I’ve written about 30,000 words. This one, also a mystery, is set in Florence. It takes place during the 500th anniversary celebration of the world’s first culinary society.

Meanwhile, my blog partners at Novel Adventurers are working on an anthology of long short stories. We are an adventurous group comprising (besides me):

  • an Australian who has lived in South America
  • an American of Swiss-German origin who is married to a man from Iran, where they frequently travel
  • an American with close family ties in India, where she frequently travels
  • an American specializing in things Russian, who is married to a Kyrgyz
  • a former Peace Corps volunteer who writes about the Caribbean
  • an American who grew up on a sailboat traveling the world and has lived as an adult in many countries.

We’ll be writing about travel and adventure from international perspectives. It will be some time before it sees publication, but I’ll keep you posted. I think it will interest the Displaced Nation!

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
I’m spending the holidays quietly at home. I plan to visit a friend in the country for New Year’s weekend. The holidays here last almost three weeks, ending on January 6. Nativity scenes are a big deal here, and I plan to visit various churches to view, and photograph, them as I usually do. I’ll write about them on my blog, Italian Intrigues, on January 3rd.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Christmas Eve in Italy is devoted to eating fish — usually seven fish dishes from antipasto onward. I’m trying out a new recipe for sea bass stuffed with frutta del mare (non-fin fish). I’m using clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and baby octopus, all well laced with garlic. And I always make the holiday custard that comes from my Tennessee childhood.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. While it was published in 2010, I didn’t read it until this year, and I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s about a man with one foot in Mexico and the other in the US — but that’s a vast oversimplification. After the young man’s Mexican mother dies, he works for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera while Leon Trotsky is staying with them. He later moves to the US to join his American father. He eventually becomes a successful writer caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt. I don’t want to include spoilers here, but it’s fabulous. The boy/man is a foreigner in both countries and speaks both languages with an accent.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Not that I want to share.

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
No concrete travel plans at the moment. While composing these answers, I received an email about a tour of Uzbekistan that sounds really alluring. And I will probably go to the US to attend a mystery writers conference.

* * *

Readers, any questions for this rather motley (one former expat and two current ones) but highly creative bunch?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post — expat Anthony Windram’s musings on spending Boxing Day in a country that associates boxing with punching, not (Christmas) punch.

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads (Larissa Reinhart’s shows her family in front of one of their favorite Japanese manga characters, Shin-chan, a sort of Bart Simpson of Japan — the creator, Yoshito Usui, had recently died).

RANDOM NOMAD: Bart Schaneman, Experience-hungry Newspaper Editor in Seoul

Place of birth: Scottsbluff, Nebraska, USA — I was raised on a farm nine miles east of town. I had an incredible childhood.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: South Korea (Jeonju, Seoul, Jeonju, Seoul): 2006-08; 2008-09; 2010-11; 2011 – present.
Occupation: National editor for the Korea JoongAng Daily, an English newspaper in Seoul; and author of Trans-Siberian, a travelogue about a trip on the the world’s longest railway.
Cyberspace coordinates: Bart Schaneman (Tumblr blog) and @bartschaneman (Twitter handle).

What made you abandon your homeland for Korea?
I left because I wanted experiences. I wanted material to write about. I wanted to travel and get out of America. I didn’t want a mortgage. I didn’t want to get trapped. I didn’t want to wait until I was too old to see the world.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
I’m the only person in my immediate family who doesn’t live in the region called the Great Plains.

Tell me about the moment during your stay in Korea when you felt the most displaced.
I don’t really have a moment like that. Korea’s an exceptional place. It’s safe. The people are kind and educated. It gets easier to live here as a Westerner all the time. I’m here by choice — it gets lonely, and I miss my family, but I don’t really question why I’m here. There were minor annoyances about how things are done differently than what I was used to when I first got here. I don’t really notice those anymore. People here move to their left on the sidewalks. That’s not too hard to get used to.

When did you feel the least displaced?
Every time I go home I remember how lucky I am to live in a foreign country. Not that Nebraska or the Midwest is a bad place. I love it and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to live there again someday. It’s just very familiar. Difficult to find interesting. In Asia, I’m rarely bored with my surroundings. I value that more and more as I get older.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Kimchi. But only from Korea. It’s not right anywhere else.

We are therefore looking forward to the meal you are invited to prepare for Displaced Nation members, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

I’m going to serve you all a bowl of chamchi kimchi jjiggae: tuna and kimchi soup. It will make you feel like you can flip over cars after you eat it. Great when you’re sick or hungover.

And now can you offer a Korean word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
The most important word to understand in Korean culture, to my mind, is jeong. It doesn’t translate directly, but the closest way to describe it is as a type of deep bond that is formed between people over time that helps you care for someone. You might not see an old friend frequently any more, or you might not be romantic with your partner, but you have jeong for them so you still want to help them when they need you. It explains a lot about the Korean mind and Korean society.

Earlier this month we did a poll on expat voting. Do you still follow your home-country politics?
I work as a journalist so I pay attention to American politics. Koreans pay attention as well. I’ve heard it said by people here that when the U.S. coughs the whole world gets sick. Most of my co-workers are from the U.S. and very well informed.

Do you vote despite living abroad?
I vote when I like the candidates, but I don’t vote if I don’t like what’s offered.

Were you surprised at the 2012 outcome?
I’m always surprised at how divided America seems around election time. People I love and trust can think about the world in an extremely different way than I do. That’s more surprising to me than who won the election.

The American Thanksgiving took place last week. What do you feel most thankful for in your life right now?
I’m lucky to have the life I have. I’m healthy. I’m alive. I don’t need much more than that. No complaints from me.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Bart Schaneman into The Displaced Nation? He may have us all eating kimchi, but at least he can amuse us with tales of the Trans-Siberian! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Bart — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby.  Yes, this time she really is posting! Last week, the washing up after her Thanksgiving dinner took longer than expected…! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Img: Bart Schaneman in the Boseong Tea Fields in Boseong, South Korea (May 2011).

DEAR MARY-SUE: One expat’s horror story is another’s delight

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com

Shoot! Is it October already? I don’t know how the time flies. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of fall. Who would be living in Tulsa. It just gets grey here, no burnt ochres like in Vermont. In fact, I wouldn’t know a burnt ochre if I saw one. Is it like a vole (please don’t feel the need to write in. I’m not that stupid. I know it’s not a rodent). Anyhoo, on with this month’s questions.

Dear Mary-Sue,

I can’t resist asking you: how does the Wallace household celebrate Halloween? I can imagine it’s quite an occasion!

– Ian (a British fan of yours) in Iowa

Dear Ian,

Well I can tell you that we don’t celebrate Halloween like the Larsons across the street. She gives out fruit to the kids in the neighborhood. Why would you even do that? It’s just cruel, isn’t it?

No, it’s a time of excess over at the Wallace household. That’s why I wake up the day after Halloween and don’t have to worry about finding the trees outside my house covered in toilet paper.

I buy plenty of Reese’s peanut butter cups because who doesn’t love them? I hear in Europe they have what they call food mountains when they have too much of a particular food source, well let me tell you that the Wallace household ends up with a Reese’s peanut butter cup mountain come Halloween.

You should come along and grab yourself a treat.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

My wife and I have lived in the United States since last May, and I must say, she is throwing herself into the life here with considerable vigour. She is now talking about hosting a Halloween party for some of our fellow expats, and inviting a few of our American neighbors. She has suggested that she and I dress up as an Elephant and a Donkey, in celebration of the American election season. No pun intended, but that would make me feel a bit of, well, an ass, to use the local dialect.

I wonder if I could talk her into going as a Milkman and Pregnant Lady instead? At least that would be true to our native (British) culture.

– Stephen in St. Louis

Dear Stephen,

So let me guess this right regarding your Halloween costumes, your wife was to be satirical and you want to be lewd? Gee, what is it with you Brits. You always think your jokes are funny and yet they always just seem to be about sex. Just go as something horror related and stop trying to over think it. If you really want to be true to your native culture why not go as King George III. Bam! Yes, I went there.

************************************************************

Dear Mary-Sue,

My husband writes mystery books for a living. He and I have decided to live in England for a few years while he does research on his latest story. He insists that we look for an old isolated cottage somewhere deep in the heart of the countryside, where he can be free to write. But I feel certain that those oldy-worldy thatched roof places may be haunted. And what if I have to stay in a house like that on my own, should he be called up to London to meet his agent or give a talk.

Do you think I’m strange to be so afraid of (admittedly English) ghosts?

– Susan of Savannah, Georgia, soon to be of Suffolk, East Anglia

Dear Susan,

If you’re going to be living in East Anglia I’d be more concerned with the living than the dead. They’re a scary in-bred bunch, though coming from Georgia you should be able to handle it. I kid, I kid…well not about East Anglia.

*****
Dear Mary-Sue,

Do Westerners see Western ghosts, Chinese see Chinese ghosts, and Africans see African ghosts, or can we see each other’s?

– Just Curious

And does Just Curious see ghosts of low intelligence?

*****

Dear Mary-Sue,

When I first saw the farmhouse in Tuscany that my husband and I are now renting while we look for a place to live for our retirement, I thought to myself: Frances Mayes, eat your heart out! However, we’ve just now found out from one of our neighbors that a murder took place here about ten years ago — and ever since, the house has always been rented to expats. I’m thinking we should consult with the local Catholic priest about whether he could perform an exorcism — casting out evil spirits and all that. But my husband says, don’t be silly — it just adds to the atmosphere.

What do you advise?

-Victoria of Vulterra (formerly of Wellington, NZ)

Dear Vicky,

First thing I would be doing is renegotiating a lower rental fee and not thinking about calling the local Padre.

*****
Dear Mary-Sue,

In my opinion, Asian ghosts are far freakier — and hence scarier — than Western ones. Especially the Japanese kind. I mean, what’s a vampire compared to a wailing Asian woman with a very pale face and long, jet black hair? Actually, I’m scaring myself even as I write this…

– Ted of Tsukuba (formerly of Texas)

Dear Ted,

Yeah, I mean Casper has nothing on the Krasue from Thai legend. Now that’s freaky. I’d like to see Stephen in St Louis go to his party dressed as that.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.) If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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DEAR MARY-SUE: Can you tell me how to stomach other countries’ bizarre food obsessions?

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

Well, this month I’ve been asked to deal with your food-based queries. That’s pretty easy for this gal! I love to chow down. Not in a Paula Deen kinda way, you understand, but I sure do love a refined meal and am pretty well known on the Tulsa culinary scene.

****************************************************************************************

Dear Mary-Sue,

Fermented salted herring — how does that sound to you as a national dish? [Not great. Think roadkill cooked up in the finest Ozarks tradition sound preferable, if I’m being honest – M-S]  As an American living in Northern Sweden, I have yet to acquire the taste let alone abide the smell. However, a friend at my new church has invited me to a party where they’ll be serving surströmmingsklämma — that’s a sandwich made with slices of surströmming (the name for this fish — quite a mouthful, too, though at least it’s not fermented!) between two pieces of the hard and crispy kind of bread they love so much up here. The bread is buttered and there is a further layer of boiled and sliced or else mashed potatoes.

What to do? Do I accept my friend’s invitation or pretend to be busy “settling in”?

– Mary-Louise from Umeå, Sweden

Dear Mary-Louise,

You don’t have to pretend to be Anthony Bourdain if you don’t want to be. Look at Samantha Brown, she travels all the world and never once leaves her comfort zone or experiences something new.

Also, you’re in Sweden, not some village in the third world where they are honoring you by offering you a slice of roast anteater rump. I’m sure you won’t be insulting anyone by politely declining. Just be graceful and say you’re not big into fish.

Mary-Sue

*****************************************************************************************

Dear Mary-Sue,

I know you’re very pro-USA, but as an English expat who has just spent his first summer in the United States, I haven’t been able to get the hang of some of your summer desserts.

Take, for instance, strawberry shortcake — overly sweetened strawberries on a sweet biscuit, which should actually be called a scone. Whose bright idea was that? I guess that person hadn’t heard of strawberries and cream?

Moving right along to that traditional American Girl Scout favorite, s’mores. The chocolate and graham crackers are fine, but a roasted marshmallow — that’s OTT. Please, sir, can I have no-more?

I could go on about the American obsession with eating ice cream in a wide variety of sickening flavors, when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chocolate and vanilla (okay, strawberry, too, if you like) — but I’ll stop there.

Here’s the thing, old girl [??????? M-S]. I would love to tell my various American hosts that nothing beats a tall glass of Pimm’s on a summer’s day, and a slice of summer pudding, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t go down too well.

Nigel of Nevada

Dear Nigel,

Old girl??! Why, aren’t you a little slice of honey pie? I’d certainly like to beat you with a tall glass of Pimms. It actually isn’t too difficult to get hold of a Pimms cup here in the land of the free. As for the rest of your letter: yeah, we like our desserts to be sweet. What a surprise!

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m originally from Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, and am teaching English in Korea. The other day one of my students went so far as to tell me that the reason the Korean economy has gotten strong is because they all eat so much kimchi.

I wanted to tell him that I think there’s something strange about a nation being so obsessed with what is essentially spicy fermented cabbage.

I mean, can’t they think of anything else to brag about?

– Sally from Seoul

Dear Sally,

First Mary-Louise’s problems with fermented fish and now this. I don’t know what it is with foreigners and fermentation — seems crazy to me. The Mary-Sue rule is that unless you’re fermenting something that I can make into a mimosa or margarita, then it’s best not to bother.

My hubby, Jake, is always going off to the Korean barbeque in town. If the owner is sending back all the money he makes off dear ol’ hubby, well, it’s probably that that’s keeping the Korean economy strong.

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

Oh. My. God. Do people really eat this stuff? I’m an American student staying with a British family as part of a semester abroad, and they SERIOUSLY just offered me the most foul-tasting stuff imaginable on toast. I thought I was going to spit it out. I mean, it was soooo salty! And then they presented the jar to me as a GIFT! What am I supposed to do with it?!?!?!?

– Patti in Plymouth

Dear Patti,

I’m assuming you’re talking about Marmite. I wouldn’t worry too much, it probably won’t make it past customs when you return to the land of milk and honey.

Mary-Sue

___________________________________________

Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by Jack Scott.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky?” by Valerie Hamer

TITLE: Picky, Sticky, or Just Plain Icky? A Blind Date Conversation: Korea
AUTHOR: Valerie Hamer
AUTHOR CYBER COORDINATES:
Website: http://www.farawayhammerwriting.com
Twitter: @Farawayhammer
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Farawayhammer
PUBLICATION DATE: 2012
FORMAT: Ebook in various formats (Available from Smashwords)
GENRE: Biography
SOURCE: Review copy from author
AUTHOR BIO: Valerie Hamer is a British teacher and writer who has lived in Asia since summer 2000.

Summary:

“Can you imagine shopping for a husband or wife the same way you would go looking for shoes or something for dinner? In South Korea marriage is still often approached in this way: especially by men and women who are still single in their late twenties. This book tells the true life story of one Korean woman’s search for a spouse. Through a series of in-depth interviews she shared her blind dating history and experiences with me. Through stories which are in turn funny, moving and shocking an often hidden aspect of Asian culture is revealed.”

(From Smashwords description by the author)

Review:

The title of this book derives from the type of men this young Korean, Su-jin, has been unfortunate enough to meet on her many blind dates (around 100 in the last ten years.) The Picky — men who consider themselves prize marriage catches; The Sticky — the over-clingy and needy; and the Plain Icky, who all need an intensive course on dating etiquette.

Conversations between the author and Su-jin are recorded pretty much verbatim. Hamer says: “…in order to retain [Su-jin’s] voice, I have only edited for comprehension.”

The result for the reader is a clear mental picture of this young woman, eliciting sympathy, indignation, and not a little horror at the farcical dating situation she is in. Hamer herself describes it as “straight from the pages of a Jane Austen novel” in that:

Most of the Korean women I have got to know are victims of the philosophy that marriage is the only road to achieving legitimate female nirvana.

Su-jin is 29 and broke up with her long-term boyfriend two years ago. At the end of her relationship, he helpfully told her:

“If you want to meet really nice guy you’d better get plastic surgery on your breasts.”

Sadly, this was not an isolated line at which I spluttered out my coffee, not quite believing what I’d just read.

It turned out to be one of the lesser insults that Su-jin has had to endure in her quest for a husband.

Words of wonderment from Su-jin:

On her dreams:

I want to meet a really nice guy, because these days I really want to get married with someone…just someone who has a really good personality and who cares about me.

On first dates:

Even though it was the first time to meet together he asked me “How many babies can you give a birth? How much money did you save for your future?”

On blind dates made by friends:

When I met the blind date guys who were my friend’s co-worker it was really difficult because if I made small mistake it could influence on my friend as well.

Verdict:

The book is very short and an easy read, but that’s not the reason it’s a page-turner: I kept flicking the pages over, thinking that sometime, surely, luck would have to change for Su-jin.

“And did it?” you ask.

Sorry. No book review spoilers at Displaced Nation.

“Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky?” can be purchased here.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad post.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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