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CHUNKS OF DRAGONFRUIT: The story of an expat for whom Burma literally becomes the Tropic of Cancer

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

First of all, if How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia isn’t on your Christmas list, it ought to be. As regular Displaced Nation readers will know, Dragonfruit is a new anthology edited by columnist Shannon Young. Shannon has been sharing a few tasty morsels with us over the past couple of months, and we have been repeatedly amazed at the window afforded on Asia by these expat women writers. This is the third installment. The first can be read here; the second, here.

—ML Awanohara

For this month’s excerpt, I’ve chosen a piece by Philippa Ramsden. A Scotswoman, Philippa is a development and humanitarian professional, writing in any leisure time. She had been to Asia only once when she stepped off a plane in Kathmandu in 2000 to take up a new job, with no idea what to expect—and has been in Asia ever since. She has lived and worked in Nepal, Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka, and now Burma/Myanmar.*

Philippa actually submitted more than one piece for consideration in the expat women anthology, but this one stood out because it addresses head-on one of the scariest things an expat can experience: receiving a life-threatening diagnosis abroad. Philippa is a true inspiration for handling such a significant challenge without letting it undermine her sense of wonder and appreciation for the country she currently calls home.

I am honored to share the beginning of Philippa’s story here.

“Moving to the Tropic of Cancer,” by Philippa Ramsden

Rainy season in Burma is spectacular. At night, I love to lie in bed, listening to the torrential rainfall drenching the earth and bringing life and vitality to the land. Between showers, the air is so thick that you can hear the moisture dripping from leaves and branches. And if you listen very carefully, you can almost hear the grass sighing and burbling with delight as it wallows in the rainwater. When the rains come down, they do so thick and fast. Even with an umbrella and raincoat you are quickly drenched. In the intervals between the downpours, it is hot, humid and sticky.

When I arrived in Burma in mid June of 2009 to start a new job, rainy season was in full force. Having lived in Asia for more than a decade, I have become close friends with the monsoons, which bring welcome respite from stifling heat and humidity. Being caught in a sudden downpour, or even listening to the rain from outside, brings energy and feels like a revitalising force. I have many fond memories of standing, drenched to the skin, grinning from ear to ear after only a few moments in an unexpected cloudburst. It helps that the rain is warm! Coming from Scotland, where the rain can be just as heavy but usually accompanied by grey skies and often a biting wind, I have never tired of this warm torrential rain.

When the rains make their first annual appearance, they usually arrive dramatically, and the world is transformed. There is a festive feeling; smiles and laughter return. The sight of children playing in the rain, splashing in puddles and letting the rain soak them through is ubiquitous. And not just children—adults too! The city turns green, mosquitoes hold crowded parties, and the frogs grow to such a size that they sound like male tigers as they croak in the night. The ground and pavements are covered with a layer of slippery, slimy moss in the hidden spaces which have not already turned to mud.

Such was Yangon when we arrived with our suitcases, papers, and a crate of enthusiasm, to take up a new life in this enigmatic country. It is quite an experience looking for a home in such a setting. We had a temporary place to live but were keen to settle and unpack properly. In those first weeks, we tramped round a number of potential homes, the mosquitoes nipping at our ankles and the rain teeming down.

It was not too long before my husband found the perfect place, a simple bungalow within walking distance from work. We made arrangements to view it, and the heavens opened shortly before the visit. The road outside the office flooded, and we had to wade through warm, murky water to get there. It was well worth the effort, though. The bungalow was indeed perfect: modest, but deceptively spacious. The wooden floors gave it a cosy warmth and the large, high windows made it feel light and optimistic. Unusually for Yangon, it had ceiling fans throughout. My fear of earthquakes was assuaged by the fact it was all on one level. The generous garden was gloriously tropical and mature, bounded by bamboo, mango trees, and hedging, and filled with pink, white, and yellow bougainvillea, crimson foliage, pink and purple hibiscus, and scented frangipani. It was ideal. We would share it with several families of geckos, some of which were the tiniest ones I have ever seen. They added to the nighttime chorus with their characteristic chirruping sound.

After a series of one-year postings in different countries in the South and Southeast Asian region, we were very happy at the prospect of a longer posting. We were keen to move into this peaceful space and finally unpack. Particularly back in 2009, Burma had an air of mystery, and were eager to learn about our new environment. We made arrangements to rent this house and moved in as soon as everything was in order. It was a marvelous feeling to be settling at last.

By late September, the rainy season had truly left its mark: the vegetation was lush and vibrant from the rains, clothes seemed to be neither clean nor dry, almost everything was growing a layer of mould, and the humidity made me feel constantly grimy.

One unremarkable evening, as another hot, sticky, and wet day was drawing to a close, I had my usual shower to refresh myself and clean off the day’s grime. It was in the shower that I felt a hard, solid area where one should not have been, in my left breast.

I was instantly transported back in time twenty-six years to when I had found a lump one evening while bathing. I vividly remembered the sensation of sick fear as I checked that I had not imagined it. It had indeed been real all those years ago, and I had had it investigated promptly the next day with my local doctor. It had turned out to be nothing sinister and was shrinking by the time I had a hospital appointment a couple of weeks later. Although the lump at that time was not worrisome, the emotions and fear that I felt at that time were very real.

My reaction was different, however, on finding this lump all these years later. My stomach didn’t sink in quite the same way. In the previous days, I had noticed some changes in my left breast, and was intending to seek medical advice. However, I believed these to be related to my age. When my fingers rested on the hard mass, I knew that the lump plus changes must constitute worrying signs. This really could be sinister this time. I comforted and contradicted myself, focusing on the fact that eighty percent of breast lumps are benign, and moreover, there was no history of cancer at all in my family.

I swallowed the sense of fear and uncertainty. My mind had to absorb the possibility that I might have cancer. And I was living in a new and foreign environment. I had no idea what the implications might be.
*We have chosen to use Burma and Rangoon rather than Myanmar and Rangon.

* * *

Readers, if you enjoyed that morsel, I hope you will at least consider downloading a sample of the Dragonfruit anthology from Amazon or purchasing the book: the e-book and paperback of are available at all major online retailers.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to learn more about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

* * *

Thank you so much, Shannon! Displaced Nationers, do you have any responses to the opening of Philippa’s moving story?

Before I go, here’s another reminder to purchase a copy of Shannon’s wonderful anthology. What better end-of-year gift for the expat woman in your life (or for yourself, if that is you!).

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 snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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And the November 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, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

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 hono(u)rs our three Alice recipients for November. Listed in order of most to least recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) Becky Ances, American expat in China and creator behind the Moo-Cow Fan Club, an award-winning children’s magazine & book series

For her post: “No I DO NOT Want to Drink F&%#%$ Hot Water,” to her personal blog, Writer Traveler Tea Drinker: Doing all three in China
Posted on: 18 November 2014
Queen Alice Drink CollageAlice Connection:

“Drink more hot water”
This is the most annoying piece of advice you hear ALL THE TIME when living in China. My friend smashed her elbow, the bone, and went to the hospital. Their recommendation? Drink hot water.

Citation: Becky, please forgive us for having found your post about what happened when you came down with a “major disgusting, hocking, snotty nose, bleary-eyed” case of flu in your adopted home of China highly amusing. That is actually a compliment, coming from us! We also think, moreover, that you may have overreacted slightly to being told repeatedly by Chinese students and friends to drink hot water. We refer you to the “Queen Alice” chapter in Through the Looking Glass, specifically the section where Alice, having found herself wearing a golden crown, arrives at a party being held in her honor. She is surprised to be serenaded by a solo singer with a shrill voice pretending to be her stand-in. She is even more surprised when the hundreds of looking-glass creatures (animals, birds, even a few flowers) who are attending as guests join in a refrain that proposes concocting drinks full of cats and mice, treacle and ink, etc., for a special toast. Looping back to your situation in China: Be grateful it was only hot water they were prescribing (besides, isn’t hot water safer to drink in China?). Under other circumstances, your Chinese friends might have been foisting snake wine or other therapeutic drinks on you as curatives. You are absolutely right, however, to avoid people who sneeze and don’t cover their mouths. And we hope you are also sensible enough to know that if someone offers you a  bottle labeled 我喝 to pour the contents into a flower pot when no one’s looking. (The flowers will thank you for it!) Get well soon, Becky. We wish to read more of your posts!

2) Ruth Van Reken, Adult Third Culture Kid writer, editor, and lecturer; and author of the memoir Letters Never Sent

For her interview: “Exploring Her Third Culture Through Journaling with Ruth Van Reken,” by Eric for geodip
Posted on: 3 November 2014
Alice Connection:
Alice Cheshire Cat Collage

It is from this frequent changing of worlds and communities that the two main challenges of growing up global form. The question of identity: Which of my many selves am I? and the matter of unresolved grief. With so many cycles of transition, if people don’t process the inevitable losses as they happen, the grief that is inherent in losing things that we love will have to go somewhere deep inside.

Citation: Ruth, reading about your struggle to embrace your multiple identities and channel your grief at saying so many goodbyes at a young age—well, let’s say it makes Alice’s confession of an identity crisis to the Cheshire Cat seem a bit of a cake walk. Alice presumably had only one other self, that of a well-behaved Victorian girl, to reconcile with the adventuresome spirit she’d become in Wonderland. You by contrast have had to deal with multiple selves after spending your first 13 years in Nigeria with your missionary parents. We must say, it was brilliant of you to use journaling as your Cheshire Cat when you found yourself, in your late thirties, suffering from a depression about these unresolved emotions. Translating feelings of loss, grief and confusion into the written word has clearly been a tonic. It has left you with a grin about your cross-cultural life, which you’ve generously shared with others through your memoir and other writings. Kudos, Ruth, and thank you.

3) Hannah Reyes, photographer, travel enthusiast, Filipina expat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and National Geographic Young Explorer

For her interview: “I Heart My City: Hannah’s Phnom Penh,” in Beyond the Guidebook, a feature of NationalGeographic.com’s Intelligent Travel section.
Posted on: 22 October 2014
Tweedle Dums Collage

The most random thing about my city is the quantity of people going about their workdays dressed in matching, printed pajamas.

Citation: Hannah, our first concern, after reading your engrossing interview post, is whether there’s a way to tell “dee” from “dum” when you see two people wearing identical pajamas—and if not, would they consider embroidering their names on their collars? Also, the concept of wearing pajamas during the workday sounds most unusual to those of us who know Japan, where pajama costumes might be worn to the hot springs bath but certainly not to work. Finally, we are curious about the print on the pajamas. Most uniforms we’ve seen, including those for Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, don’t involve prints (apart, that is, from the stripes on their caps). We hope for your sake that the print is subtle rather than garish. Otherwise, there might be too much “ditto”, as Tweedledum might say, or “ditto ditto” as Tweedle Dee would respond. To sum up, Hannah, your interview has left us curiouser and curiouser. Well done!

*  *  *

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 more 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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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!

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 Alice nominations, exclusive book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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And the October 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, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

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 hono(u)rs our three Alice recipients for October. They are (drumroll…):

2) Maya Kachroo-Levine, New Yorker in Los Angeles

For her post: “5 Things an East Coast Transplant Misses on the West Coast,” in Thought Catalog
Posted on: 15 October 2014

"But I'm not used to it!" pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, "I wish the creatures wouldn't be so easily offended!" "You'll get used to it in time," said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

“But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, “I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!”
“You’ll get used to it in time,” said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Alice Connection:

[Y]ou occasionally find yourself feeling that your sarcasm is falling flat, and you want someone to appreciate it. Or better, you want them to argue with you. I miss that.

Citation: Maya, if you think navigating between East and West Coasts is bad in terms of sarcasm and irony, try the UK versus the USA. The former is a lot more irreverent, a difference can cause misunderstanding and even offense (not to mention homesickness for the perpetrator). You have our deepest condolences. What’s more, your point about having to drive two hours merely to go apple picking reminds us of Alice repeatedly trying to reach the garden at the top of the hill at the start of Through the Looking Glass. Likewise in your case it seems reasonable to ask: how hard can it be to reach a deciduous fruit tree? Thank you for your thoughtful (no pun or irony intended!) post. We wonder if the best way to endure this domestic culture shock would be to seek out a Caterpillar equivalent, who in the current California context would most likely manifest itself as a mindfulness guru. Until then, deep breathing; and, as one of that state’s more renowned self-help proponents used to say, try not to sweat the small stuff!

2) Sarah O’Meara, former lifestyle editor for Huffington Post UK turned China expat

Alice_in_Wonderland_by_Arthur_Rackham_The_Pool_of_Tears

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. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

For her post: “The art of swimming in China,” for Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 27 September 2014
Alice Connection:

Many young Chinese men prefer to conquer, rather than swim, in the water. They thrash their arms around, causing enough splash to choke fellow lane users, yet never quite enough to move them forward. While underneath the surface, their legs flail, neither acting as propellers or buoyancy aids.

Citation: Sarah, we have to say that after reading your wonderfully amusing post, we are still processing the image of women wearing pencil skirts walking very slowly on running machines in heels. Still, we commend your decision to focus not on Chinese sports centers but on the risks one faces “of being half-drowned by frothing waves, or hit in the face” when venturing into China’s public swimming pools. And, just as Alice concludes she may be better off swimming to shore, we applaud your solution to the problem. Joining a private pool, where, as you say, the proportion of non-swimmers is lower, must be much safer, even if you can never quite escape the young men who have adopted the walking and thrashing style of Mao crossing the Yangzte. (My, my. That Mao has a lot to answer for…)

3) Jenny Miller, NYC-based food and travel writer

For her post: “I Ate Tarantulas In Cambodia. And Liked It,” for Food Republic
Posted on: 23 September 2014

'—then you don't like all insects?' the Gnat went on, as quietly as if nothing had happened. 'I like them when they can talk,' Alice said. 'None of them ever talk, where I come from.' Photo credit: John Tenniel.Slatifs at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

“—then you don’t like all insects?’ the Gnat went on, as quietly as if nothing had happened.
“I like them when they can talk,” Alice said. “None of them ever talk, where I come from.” Photo credit: John Tenniel.Slatifs at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Alice Connection:

We might have gone on sampling this towering insect buffet, but Megan made our excuses in Khmer and we walked down the road for an ice cream instead.

Citation: Jenny, we’ve got to hand it to you. What kind of traveler knows exactly what to say when, bumming around Southeast Asia, they find themselves on a bus sitting next to a Peace Corps volunteer named Megan who says she lives in Skuon, Cambodia? Only one who has read her Lonely Planet Cambodia guide from cover to cover! And then, as though being able to conduct a lively conversation with Megan about Skuon’s insect-eating habits were not enough, you take her up on her offer to visit and eat some tarantulas! Now that takes some guts, as you appear to realize once you reach “Cambodia’s spider central.” For sure, you show greater courage than poor Alice, who, upon being informed by the Gnat that a bread-and-butterfly is crawling at her feet, draws her feet back “in some alarm”. She certainly doesn’t think about eating it, even though, compared to your spiders, a bread-and-butterfly meal doesn’t sound half bad:

“Its wings are thin slices of bread, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.”

Hmmm… Perhaps you should have read Lewis Carroll more thoroughly?

*  *  *

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 more 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!

Related posts:

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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For this TEFL teacher with a strong Cornish identity but a compulsion for travel and the expat life, a picture says…

Cornish Kylie Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Kylie Millar (self portrait).

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 27-year-old Kylie Millar who was born and bred in Cornwall, England, and, though she now finds herself in Thailand, just like me, she remains proud of her Cornish heritage, having branded herself on her travel blog as Cornish Kylie.

Not only that but Kylie informs me that the Cornish were granted official minority status earlier this year. Being born and bred in Cornwall now means, technically, that a person is identified as Cornish first, British secondwith the latter identity being confined largely to one’s passport. Well, it is true that Cornwall was its own Celtic nation before the Norman Conquest, and they have their own language, Kernewek, which is distinct from Welsh.

After the Scottish vote for independence, can a bid by the Independent Republic of Kernow be far behind?

How times have changed!

* * *

Hi Kylie. It’s good to see you at the Displaced Nation. As the name of your blog implies, you are a proud Cornish lass—rightly so! You have also travelled a fair bit. But since Cornwall is a place close to my heart, can you reminisce for a bit about your childhood in that part of the world?
I was born in Truro, the main hub of Cornwall, which has a cathedral and is therefore designated a city as opposed to a town. But I was raised in the hilly seaside town of Falmouth, known for its lovely beaches, fishing port and docks. To some, it may seem like an aging coastal town, but the recent influx of art students to its expanding university has given it a new lease on life and a nice arty vibe. My dad is a fisherman so I grew up living a typical Cornish life: summers on the beaches, the smell of a crab being boiled on the stove top (which to this day I cannot abide—the curse of being a fisherman’s daughter and not liking fish or seafood!). But I really do appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in such a wonderful place and fully intend to return one day.

Gwrys yn Kernow (made in Cornwall)

As you know I spent my last year in the UK before emigrating to South Africa (1994/5) in Falmouth, so it’s interesting to hear about the changes. How long after I left did you spread your wings and start travelling abroad?
I actually didn’t spread my wings all that much growing up. Family holidays consisted of trips to Butlin’s holiday camps and a few package holidays to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I didn’t even move away from Cornwall to go to university, I just commuted the 75 miles east to Plymouth. Why would I want to move away from somewhere like Cornwall?

I agree. It’s a magnetic place even for those of who weren’t born there. Carry on, please.
As part of my degree I had the opportunity to go to China for a few weeks to do a little bit of English teaching and a cultural exchange with Chinese university students. This was my first time to experience a culture completely different from my own. I was only 19 and in a constant state of “culture shock”. It wasn’t until after I completed my degree and had a few years’ work under my belt that the urge to explore really kicked in.

Please tell me a little more about your travels.
Aside from the trip to China, I have holidayed in Egypt and Morocco. Then my next big trip was a month backpacking around Thailand with one of my best friends. That’s how I first caught the Thailand bug.

You certainly don’t intend to let the grass grow under your feet, Kylie. I foresee you becoming a seasoned traveller before long. I know there is a lot more to your story, but let’s start with the reasons that drove you to travel.
I’m not a fan of people traveling purely to “find themselves” or even to “make the world a better place”. Actually, I have changed a lot since coming to Thailand, and I’m sure that, as a TEFL teacher, I’m contributing in some small way to the education of Thailand’s future leaders. But that’s not the sole reason I came here. I had a job in the UK that I loved, but I sensed I was stagnating. So I followed my instincts (very scary but it felt right) and quit, upped sticks and came to Thailand, got a TEFL certificate and started teaching English to Thais.

“Life is so short, you must move very slowly” – Thai proverb

You say you’ve got the Thailand bug, which in my experience can be difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived here. So let’s leave it at that and talk about where, precisely, are you right now and what are you up to.
I spent my first 18 months living in the city of Hat Yai, in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border. I was teaching English at a government high school, with classes of fifty students and few resources apart from those I conjured up myself. Later I went to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, to work as a teaching assistant in an international school. The two posts and their locations were poles apart.

Can you say a little about that for the sake of readers who don’t know Thailand?
In Hat Yai I was one of a handful of farangs (Caucasian foreigners) living in a village on the outskirts of the city. On my daily commute to the school, I would meander through rubber plantations, passing water buffalo. At first people would stare, but their stares quickly turned into smiles and shouts of “hello!”. Nobody spoke English beyond that one word, so I had to learn to speak Thai very quickly to be able to order food. In Phuket, by contrast, I am one of thousands of farangs and when Thai people see me they assume that I am a tourist and treat me accordingly. It’s harder to win over the locals here because tourists are their meal ticket. You have to convince them that you aren’t a tourist; you live here like they do. That said, life in Phuket is a lot easier. It has familiar things like pizza and sandwiches (I haven’t got used to eating rice three times a day yet). And of course the island’s beaches are stunning, which reminds me of Cornwall and makes me feel at home.

Ah, I think I detect something of the home bird in you, alongside the intrepid traveller… And now let’s see some of your favorite photos and hear the stories behind them.
When I was in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the many beautifully decorated doorways. This picture was accidental as the boy emerged from the doorway just as I pressed the shutter release. Then I realised how people can add an extra dimension and started to include people in more of my photographs. This trip to Morocco was special: it opened my eyes to a very different part of the world.

Kylie_BoyinMoroccanDoor

A boy in a Moorish door; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I love this. Dirty, dusty, old and full of intrigue. A great shot. What else do you have for us?
Songkran is the festival held in mid-April to celebrate traditional Thai new year’s. It’s probably the most famous of all the Thai festivals because it’s the scene of the world’s biggest water fight. Determined to join the festivities, I locked away my main camera and went out to the streets. I got this shot when the water fighting stopped to let a convoy of vehicles, carrying Buddha statues, pass to the temple. Songkran is absolutely insane, and if you ever find yourself in Thailand at this time of year, prepare to get wet—or hide!

Kylie_ThaiNewYear

Happy New Year, Chiang Mai style; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

And here’s one more of Thailand. As you know, anti-government protests took place from November 2013 through May of this year. I live close enough to Bangkok that I was able to come in and take photos. Having a big camera was useful as it made it obvious I was an observer, not a participant. Foreign involvement in the protests was a big no-no. On the day I took this shot, anti-government protesters had made progress, spirits were high and the atmosphere was unlike any other I have experienced. People were happy to have their picture taken, and this lady was my favourite, standing proudly in traditional yellow to signal her support for the King. For some reason, the scene made me think of the crowd around the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in England—not what you’d expect at an anti-governmental protest. I’m glad I was able to see it all firsthand.

Kylie_yellowlady

A sunny presence at the Bangkok protests; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Getting to the zuggans (Cornish for “the essence”)

Now could you show us the kinds of places that tend to bring out your shutterbug instincts?
One of those places was Jemaa el-Fnaa, a bustling square in Marrakesh that offends all of the senses. Said to be the busiest square in Africa, it is hot and dusty, and the air is full of the smell of tagine spices and roasting meats. The sounds of hawkers and snake charmers mix with the buzz of the crowd, punctuated by the call to prayer that reaches every corner of the souks—it’s the largest traditional market in Morocco. Rugs, lamps, cushions and fabrics in deep oranges, luscious reds and striking purple line the narrow lanes of the souks. Rusty tin roofs let in shards of light that make this a photographer’s dream. But cameras can only capture so much…

Kylie_souk

The wonders of the Marrakesh souks; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

You captured the smells as well as the intrigue. Well done. What’s next?
I visited George Town, in the northeast corner of Penang island, twice recently. It’s famous for being one of the main destinations for visa runners and backpackers alike. I was drawn to its hodgepodge of cultures: mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples all sandwiched together. Ethnic Chinese and Indian communities live alongside each other, and traditional clan families can still be found living on stilt houses on the jetties. In this photo I tried to capture some of that:

Kylie_bikeforrent

The back streets of George Town, Penang; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I’m not generally a fan of black-and-white photos but this subject lends itself so well. And finally?
Many of the things that make Thailand unusual are seeming more normal the longer I live here—like the bright orange monk’s robes in this picture, the turquoise sea, the towering Buddha statues, multicolored long boats, the outrageously decorated temples and colourful tuk tuks. It’s home now but, as I think this photo shows, I still like to play the tourist and explore:

Kyli_ThaiOfferings

A novice Thai monk and spirit house; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I like the way you captured Thailand’s vibrancy. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Actually, I like to try and get natural photographs without the person knowing at all. I want to capture moments and events not someone posing. People generally enjoy having their picture taken, so if they spot a camera they will smile or pull a face and the obligatory peace signs come out. Not quite what I’m looking for… Driving an old banger of a car helps because Thais will sometimes take our picture—because we farangs are assumed to be rich and usually drive smart cars.

“Today I’m going to shoot someone…and they will love me for it!”

It can be annoying, this Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich, but I guess we all get used to it in time. So you don’t ask permission unless you need to before taking people’s photographs—but how do you get around any problem of language?
If I am unable to be stealthy, then I use the universal “can I take a picture?” sign consisting of pointing to my camera. I have learned how to ask in Thai but the words sometimes escape me. The big camera is usually a clue! When I was in a mountain village in Morocco, getting some shots of the decorative doors as mentioned above, an old lady smiled at me and gestured that she’d like to have her photograph taken. As I released the shutter button, she held out her hand, demanding payment. Not wanting to cause a scene, I forked out some change. Although not too happy with my offering she took it—if only she knew I only wanted a picture of her back door, not her face!

Kylie_Atlas Mountain lady

People shots for a price; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique that will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
My mum always says that I take so many photographs but I am hardly ever in them. And that is very true. I know that when I am older I will wish I had more pictures of myself having adventures. But for now photography is a means of capturing what I see and feel. If I think the photos are worth sharing, they will end up on my blog. Photography is changing with the times, though. When I studied A-level photography we used film, processed by hand after spending hours in the darkroom. Filters had to be slotted into the machine; now they are just options on an iPhone app. When my mum was younger she went on a trip to Israel and Jerusalem, and she has two rolls of film from that trip—around fifty photographs. Nowadays people will take more than fifty photographs on a single night out. The technology has evolved so much that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket on their phone, which is great. It makes photography more accessible to all, with no wasted film. But it does mean that photos are not so special and precious as they once were.

Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, as well as any post-processing software.
I’ve got a Canon 600D with standard lens, and a 75-300mm telephoto lens (perfect for those stealthy pictures of people, and for animal shots). I’ve also got a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot for the days when a bigger camera isn’t practical. If I am going to edit, I use Adobe Lightroom, which I am still finding my way around. Having never been taught how to use digital post-production software, I have to rely on trial and error—but that was also what it was like in the darkroom. It’s more fun that way!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Take more pictures than you think you need. Bring spare SD cards and back them up—you will lose one or one will break. Don’t keep your camera locked away in a bag, keep it to hand, it needs to become a natural extension of yourself, not this big cumbersome thing you have to get out every time you want to take a picture.

Even though we are more than 40 years apart, we both left Falmouth and ended up in Phuket with the same camera (Canon T3i 600D). No wonder your pics are so good! Thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story.

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Readers, what do you make of Kylie’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her about her photos or her travels? Please leave them in the comments! And don’t forget you can follow Kylie on her blog, Cornish Kylie. You can contact her by email at info@cornishkylie.com, and you can also find her on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(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!

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TCK TALENT: Laura Piquado, New York City Actress & One Well-Traveled Kid!

Laura Piquado Collage FINALWelcome to Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she recently debuted her one-woman show about being a TCK, which I had the pleasure of seeing during its too-short run in New York City in September of last year: stupendous!

—ML Awanohara

Happy new year, readers! Let’s start today’s interview by plunging right in. My guest is Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Laura. It’s wonderful to reconnect with a Cairo classmate! I know you grew up as the daughter of a pair of teachers who were full of wanderlust. Can you give us a run-down of the countries you lived in as a kid?
My mother always told me that her earliest dream memory was of wanting to move to Africa. And as soon as she graduated from university in Canada, that’s what she did. She met my father in Sierra Leone in the mid 1960s. He was there with the Peace Corps, while she was being sponsored by CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas)—a Peace Corps-style organization. They left when my mother was six months pregnant with my brother. My mother is tall, almost 5’11”, but at that time weighed only 120 lbs. I think having parasites, or the occasional bout of malaria was commonplace, but the risk to her health became too great.

After my (healthy) brother was born in Washington, DC, my parents decided to go overseas again. The first job my dad got was as an English teacher in a small village in northern Newfoundland, where I was born. Less than a year later, we moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Four years after that, when war broke out, we were evacuated to Shahin-Shahr, Iran, for almost four years. War broke out again, and we were evacuated again. The next stop was São Paulo, Brazil, for two years. My mom and dad hated the city, and we left every other weekend and holiday to get away from it. Consequently, my memories of Brazil are of travel, and of everywhere but São Paulo. After Brazil, we lived for four years in Bontang, Indonesia, which is in the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. After seventh grade we moved again, to Cairo, Egypt, where I graduated high school. That’s where you and I first met! My parents then moved on to Ecuador and China for 16 more years.

My parents loved being overseas, and at no point did they yearn to “come home.” They wanted their lives to be as teachers in international schools, and for 40 years that’s what they did. They retired a few years ago to a small town in New Hampshire.

A hard landing into adulthood

How did you feel about living in so many places?
I loved it, actually. Adjusting to new environments, new friends, new cultures, languages, was never difficult for me. I don’t know why. Perhaps I just got used to it. But I don’t think you ever get used to leaving friends and people you love—that’s always hard.

As an adult, do you find yourself drawn to other TCKs?
I definitely identify with other TCKS, though it’s not always a given we will hit it off. In fact, I used to be magnetically drawn to anyone who was a visible minority. “You’re from Indonesia?! I used to live in Indonesia!” “Hey, you’re Alexandrian! I lived in Cairo for 5 years!” I was always wanting to make a connection with a world that was no longer mine—and maybe never was mine, if I adhere to the rules of 3rd culture. But just because someone grew up all over the world as I did, or just because they are an actor like me, doesn’t guarantee I’ll be friends with that person—but it’s a starting point. And if a person grew up in different countries, at least their eyes won’t glass over when I answer the question, “Where are you from?”

You now live in New York City. How do you find life in the USA?
I’ve lived in the United States longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. Yet it’s the first place I’ve ever lived that doesn’t feel like home. For the first 20 years of my life I played with my friends, explored the jungle, hiked the Andes, swam in the Red Sea and the East Timor Straights, climbed salt flats, made forts in the desert, went horse-back riding around the Great Pyramids, woke to gibbon songs and the muezzin’s call to prayer. And then I came back here to go to school, get some degrees, get a job, and try to figure things out… I had this exhilarating childhood, and then this less-than-thrilling transition to adulthood.

Does your identity revolve around any one particular culture that you’ve lived in?
I am Dyak and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Jain, Egyptian, Italian, Canadian—there is nowhere in the world that has ever felt foreign to me. I am all of these things, and none of them. After moving to the United States for the first time for college, being able to be all of them at the same time was what mattered the most. I was striving to understand who I was and what my life had been, and trying to share that with others, even if I couldn’t articulate it to myself. It’s taken a long time, and I suppose I’m still working at it. That said, I love meeting the kind of person who, unlike me, was raised in the same town he or she was born in, and still goes back there for family visits and holidays. I am attracted to the sense of being anchored somewhere, to a particular place. That perceived sense of belonging somewhere: it’s something I just don’t have; I don’t know what it feels like.

From an actor on the global stage, to an actor on a real stage

Tell us what you studied in college and how you made the leap to pursuing an acting career.
I did my master’s degree in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. I wanted, as an adult, to understand the cultural, political, and social environments in which I grew up. On some level I was looking for a path that would take me overseas again, which I was aching to do. I wanted to work in the development of women’s education in post-conflict societies because it was work that I was passionate about.

Just as I was finishing my degree, and thinking about streamlining into a doctoral program, I went back to Cairo. I hadn’t been back since high school. For a whole month I walked through the streets of my old neighborhood, saw my friends, went to mosques and bazaars and the Red Sea, and smelled and ate and absorbed Egypt again. It was glorious. But something changed in me after that, and made it okay for me to move on.

When I came back to Montreal, I started applying to drama schools. Although I had been involved in theatre since I was a kid, I hadn’t wanted to study it as an undergrad. There were other things in my life that I needed to address before I embarked on that.

But now I was ready for drama school—I enrolled in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. At LAMDA, I felt like I was flying. I was so happy. To allow myself the ability to change horses mid stream, and for it to feel natural and fluid and right—that was tremendous. I don’t think any of us is just one person, and we aren’t the same person at 15, 25, 35, 55. We have multiple loves and lives and wants, and finding ways to marry them all, if we’re lucky enough to know what they are in the first place, can be overwhelming.

How did your family react to your decision to pursue an acting career?
I’ve only ever had a supportive family. So instead of calling me a flake, or accusing me of lacking any sense of stick-to-itiveness when I told them I wanted to go to drama school, they became, again, my most enthusiastic supporters.

I think our peripatetic childhoods trained us to be actors—to observe, listen, and adjust our behavior to our surroundings. Do you agree?
I do agree, for the most part. But I also think personality has a lot to do with it. Just because you grew up all over the world doesn’t de facto make you a keen observer, or an astute listener, and not all kids who move around a lot are able to adjust to their changing environment. On the other hand, if you have had a peripatetic life, and you also happen to be a good listener, observer, etc., it seems it can only enrich your depths as an actor (and certainly as a human being). For me, adaptability became a defining aspect of my personality.

I think that for us TCKs, the challenge of convincing a casting director that you truly can be this other person is made easier because of all of those things we bring to the table—listening, observing, adjusting, maybe even having lived or known the character’s life. But also for that reason, many of us find it even harder to put up with being typecast.

Which sorts of roles are you attracted to, and do you think your upbringing influenced this?
I’m usually attracted to damaged characters, or quirky ones. And accents are always juicy! I’ve always been a mimic, and am grateful for that gift as it makes it easier to play a variety of roles. Why I’m drawn to quirky characters is less apparent. Does it have something to do with my upbringing? That’s an interesting thought. I’ve never made that correlation, but it makes complete sense.

So which parts have been your faves?
I loved playing Goneril in King Lear with the Texas Shakespeare Festival. I’ve always thought that she’s been inappropriately maligned as a character. Lear is not the easiest father—demanding, impulsive—and to require his daughters to prove, to prove, their undying love for him—for the sole purpose of measuring it against their inheritance—makes him something of a jerk in my book.

Playing the painter in Ionesco‘s The Painting with the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble was pretty great as well. Aside from the play’s absurdism, the part was perverse because of the the vocal and physical qualities we decided on. It’s not often that you get to play grotesque and obsequious, mismanage your voice, throw out your back, and sprain your jaw because the part demands it. Fantastic! 🙂

And a role on the damaged front, I suppose, was Charlotte in Sharr White‘s Sunlight, for its world premiere with the New Jersey Rep. While I’m less attracted to straightforward, modern dramas (though in truth, I love it all), the whole premise for who Charlotte is, for what motivates and oppresses her, is her having been in the Towers on September 11th and losing her child as a result of the trauma. And while that’s not what the play’s about (thank God!), it defines who she is able to become (or not become) in the ensuing decade.

* * *

Wow, that’s an impressive list! Thank you, Laura! I wish you the very best in your career and hope to see you on stage and/or screen soon. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Laura below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our Global Food Gossip!

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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 semi-retired expat blogger James King, a picture says…

Welcome back to our series “A picture says…”, which we created to celebrate those for whom photography is a creative outlet—who rely on a camera to register the look, character, and ambiance of the people and places that capture their fancy as they move around the globe.

Today’s guest is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King. From December onwards, James will take over the hosting of this column from Andy Martin and publish it monthly.

As James plans to ask his interviewees to provide a selection of photos that help to tell their personal travel stories, it seems only fair that we require him to undergo the same exercise. What pix would he use to illustrate his peripatetic life of the past 25 years?

Indeed, “peripatetic” seems an apt descriptor for James. Semi-retired and now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he has traveled to over twenty countries. He lived in South Africa for a couple of decades and Thailand for the past five years. Here, in summary, are his vital travel stats:
Place of birth: England, UK
Passports: UK and EU (British citizen)
Resident in: UK (Bristol): 1942 to 1995; South Africa (Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town): 1995 to 2008; Thailand (Chiangmai): 2008 to present.
Main countries visited: France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Gambia, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, USA, Thailand, Malaysia, West Indies.
Business interests: Majority shareholder in WestJewel (Pty) Ltd., a Cape Town jewelry wholesaler he founded in 2004.
Social media coordinates:
Twitter: @JimKing28265666
Facebook: Jim King
Linkedin: James King
Google+: jamoroki@gmail.com
Blog: Jamoroki.com

* * *

A bloomin’ late bloomer!

Hi, James. I see you were born in England during World War II. When did you actually start traveling?
Life was pretty austere after the war, we had rationing and people lived a fairly simple life. There were very few restaurants and I don’t actually remember ever going out to eat with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t on the “bread line”; but it just didn’t happen in those days. We had TV for the first time in 1953, and it wasn’t until I was 24 that I first traveled overseas; to Paris in fact. When I got into my thirties, then I really started to spread my wings but I was very busy trying to make a living so I didn’t have the freedom I gained later in life. Only then was the adventurous side of me given wings, so to speak. Eventually, at the age of 53, I packed my bags and emigrated to South Africa after a few sorties there in the three years before.

SouthAfricanBeach_JK

Photo credit: James King

Okay, time to see your first photo. What’s the story behind this one?
This guy wears many hats and makes a living selling his wares on the beach at Bloubergsands, which is close to the house that I bought (and am now trying to sell!) in Table View in Cape Town. Generally these traders are not South African. They often travel a very long way from neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Many of them dodge border posts by hiding in the back of goods trucks. They all hope to make a new life in South Africa after escaping from oppressive regimes or poverty. Some of them are intelligent, articulate and well educated, as I remember this guy was.

What do you like most about this shot?
I like that it highlights the harshness of Cape Town light. The ozone layer is so thin there—I had to be far more careful of the sun than I do in the tropics. I also like the photo because at that time, I wasn’t into photography at all and had even less idea about what I was doing than I do now. I always have to be aware of what harsh light can do to my pics.

Okay, let’s move along to another photo that speaks to your South Africa experience.
Can I have two shots, please? One of the Cape of Good Hope and the other of Table Mountain, with Cape Town below.

EndoftheEarth_JK

Photo credit: James King

TableMountain

Photo credit: James King

For me, these photos bring back memories of how wonderful the landscape is in that part of the world. So overwhelming, you really have to experience it in person. Just think, we are at the Cape of Good Hope, the bottom of Africa! And, despite how beautiful it looks, you don’t want to know how cold that water is. Naked you may survive ten minutes in there!

What particularly appeals to you about the Table Mountain photo?
I love how the clarity changes as soon as you hit the shore line below the mountain. It really is like that and not a cock-up on my part. It won’t win awards, but it is very personal so I love it.

How did you end up in Cape Town?
How long have you got? Things went a bit wrong for me in England after I got divorced, and then I met a guy who used to live in Durban and still had some business interests there. His wife had died the previous year so we were both single and hit it off. He had to go to South Africa again, so we decided to go and work together. That’s the “nutshell” version.

Semi-retirement in the Thai tropics

And now 20 years later you are in Thailand. How did that happen?
I’ll have to get the “nutshell” out again. In 2004, with some backing, I bought a jewelry wholesale business. Most of our silver is sourced and manufactured in Thailand, and I took on the responsibility of buying overseas. So I started traveling to Bangkok to meet suppliers and go to the Gems and Jewelry Fair in March and September. I met so many new people and also took a couple of holidays in Phuket before going back to Cape Town. Gradually I got a taste for SE Asia and, after a few years, decided to stay for four months getting to know more whilst still working remotely. That was it. Semi-retirement in the tropics beckoned and I was hooked!

I imagine it’s all been plain sailing since you moved to Thailand. Just kidding! I see from your blog you’ve had your struggles.
It is very difficult to précis my life over the last four years. I wrote my first book, the memoir MASK, to try and show the different sides to Thailand, its people and their culture. The book isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it was a cathartic exercise and helped me a lot. I should add that I didn’t include everything in it. The rest may come out later. But now I have a new lease of life and am so pleased I found blogging and photography because I believe the two go hand in glove. Writing, which has been a passion of mine for a long time, can embellish the photos and photos can enhance the writing, so in blogging you have the best of both worlds.

You say that photography gives you the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again. What brought you to this realization?
I have always admired great photography while not having time to pursue it because I was working. Now, through my blog, I am learning how to incorporate photos into my posts. It’s fair to say my appreciation is growing as I hope will my knowledge. Writing is still my primary passion, but I now have another tool in my observation box. Although late in life for me, we are so lucky to be living in a technological age where we have the tools to enable us to express ourselves like never before. Sorry to take over the interviewing, but don’t you think it is so amazing?

Thailand2_JK

Photo credit: James King

But of course! Getting back to you and the photos that capture special memories: what do you choose next?
Actually, on my “to do” list is scanning some of the photos from my pre-digital collection, beginning in the 1970s, a number of which carry powerful memories and should help to create some rather interesting blog posts. In the meantime I have selected three of my more recent favorites for you.

The first one shows this guy and his wife who live in their little house at the end of Kata Noi, a beach on Koh Phuket. Every grain of sand is polished every day, they welcome everyone whether you want a drink or something to eat or just to say hello. They have a few beach loungers as well if you want to relax there. If you can have a more simple stress free existence, I’d like to know about it. On this particular day, I visited early one morning before the tourists woke up, and they made me feel most welcome.

Thailand3_JK

Photo credit: James King

This little seven-year-old boy lives in my village in Chiang Mai. As you can imagine he is very naughty and the older children tease him unmercifully. So he comes to my house at weekends to annoy me and get chocolate and biscuits. He always wants me to take his pic, and on this occasion I caught him waiting for the school bus. He felt very proud.

Let’s not get technical

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
Please don’t ask me anything technical. It says on the bottom “Canon PC1130” and on the front “Power Shot S2 IS”. One fixed lens 12x Optical Zoom with lots of numbers on it. It has lots of settings but I don’t know what they are for so I leave it on auto-pilot and hope for the best. Oh, and most importantly, the rechargeable batteries are held in with an elastic band. I haven’t got a clue whether it is any good or not: I just shoot and ask questions afterwards. But sometimes I do worry that my photos are not so good when I see many accomplished photographers blogs. I just console myself I must work extra hard on the subject matter.

ThaiWhiteTemple_jk

Photo credit: James King

I think you have one more Thai photo?
Yes, this one: the white temple in the forest, which can be viewed from my village. This is very special because most of the time, although I know it is there, I can’t see it for mist or haze. Then one evening it was there and so was I with my camera!

Where have been your very favorite places to take photographs?
On safari in Kenya, Mykonos Island in Greece, and here in Chiang Mai where, even though I say it myself, I’ve managed to capture some beautiful morning and evening landscapes.

MykonosTown_JK

Photo credit: James King

Do you have a shot that’s your all-time favorite?
I pick this one, of a house in Mykonos Town, taken in 2005. I think it will always be one of my favorites.

A few parting shots

Do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
It’s a very good question because I am always conscious that they may be shy and so I try and make a quick judgement call. But I do have an aversion to posed photos in the natural environment, so getting the balance right is important to me.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I just try and feel how they feel if they are aware I want to shoot them. I prefer to take them when they are unaware, then smile and say thanks. Otherwise I don’t get the naturalness I want. Look, I’m not experienced so I am not over-confident and I need all the advantages I can get. I find people will show you pretty quickly if they don’t want their picture taken.

But how do you get around problems of language?
Funnily enough I find not speaking the same language gives me an excuse not to ask. I have a smattering of Thai so the people here know I’m not a tourist, which definitely helps a bit.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
In a nutshell (there I go again!), here are two pieces of advice:

  1. Never leave your camera at home or you may miss the shot of a lifetime out of nowhere. (Up until recently I have regretted not taking my camera on so many occasions. Now I hardly go anywhere without it, so much so that I often feel like a Japanese tourist. Believe it or not, most of my best shots were taken when I forgot to put in the SD card!)
  2. If, like me, you are not proficient, use other skills such as writing and storytelling or bizarre scenes, so that the photos don’t have to stand alone, to be judged naked.

* * *

Thank you, James! Readers, what do you make of James’s experiences and his photography advice? And do you have any questions for him on his photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments! (If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please let me know: ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

Once again, if you want to read more of James, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.com. (Hmmm…I suspect there’s a story in that name!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with November’s featured author, a novelist!

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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Main image at top of page: Camera lens from Morguefile; James King at the Khao Panong Rung Khmer Temple near Buriram, NE Thailand. All other images by James King.

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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