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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if you hammer away at something long enough, you might just get used to it!

Culture Shock Toolbox Valerie Hamer
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Valerie Hamer about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello Displaced Nationers! The moment I learned that this month’s guest, Valerie Hamer, goes by the moniker of “Faraway Hammer,” I knew she had to be on this column. After all, no toolbox worth its salt would be complete without a hammer, even a cultural one!

Forgive me for hamming it up, but I really believe that Valerie, who is “British by birth and a nomad by choice,” will have some great insights for us.

But before we get into that, let’s go over why she has chosen to go by the name of Faraway Hammer. As it turns out, that’s how people pronounce “Valerie Hamer” in Asia, where Valerie has lived for over fifteen years. She loves how her name sounds with an Asian accent, so much so that she decided to name her writing site after it. Head on over there and you’ll discover that although Val has been a “world citizen” for some time now, she still loves her native Britain, and although her passport says teacher, her heart says says writer—of non-fiction, because she thinks the lives of “ordinary, everyday, regular people” are “richer and more interesting than any fictional character.”

Further to which, Val is the author of two non-fiction books with amusing titles:

And now it’s time for the toolbox part. Valerie has kindly agreed to share some of her culture shock experiences with us. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Valerie, and welcome back to the Displaced Nation. Now, I understand you were born and raised in the UK. But what about your alter-ego, Faraway Hammer? Where has she lived?

In Japan for seven years, Vietnam for a couple of months, and currently in year seven in South Korea.

In the context of transitioning from England to various Asian countries, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

I find language learning in a new country to be the thing that will get me into bother, usually when two words sound very similar. That’s how in Japan I once asked a shop assistant if there was poop inside the cakes instead of red beans!

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Here’s another example. On public transport in Asia it’s normal to take and hold the bags of those standing, whether stranger or friend, if you are lucky enough to get a seat. The first time that happened to me I wrestled with the old lady trying to be helpful. I just assumed I was being mugged.

What does one do in a situation like that?

With my language gaffes I found people laughed as they actually appreciated my effort to speak. Having said that, such rookie mistakes have put me off learning Korean to any great extent. I don’t have the patience to go through that stage again. With the “bag helping” incident I would probably react the same way again in a new country/culture. Strangely, nothing I read or heard prepared me for that moment in Korea—perhaps people forget about such things when they adapt to a place, and forget to mention them?

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Looking back on your transition from the UK to Asia, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I can’t think of any. As I said, I continue to remain stubbornly “western” in many ways, but it’s also true to say that I’ve adapted to many things and no longer think about them. If you hammer away at something for long enough…

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

Develop a keen eye. You can learn a lot by being aware of ordinary interactions between locals.

Thank you so much, Valerie! I think you’ve hit the nail soundly on the head, so to speak. Language gaffes can be icebreakers if you don’t mind people laughing at your expense. And donning your safety specs to observe the details of everyday life before you plunge in: that’s an excellent way to smooth the rough edges of a cultural transition. But of course there will also be times when you just have to hammer away at it; progress isn’t always immediate.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Valerie’s advice? If you like it and appreciate her sense of humor, I suggest you visit her writing site and/or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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For this expat writer who has photographed everything from the Gulf of Alaska to her own back garden, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs! “A Picture Says…” columnist James King is still away, so I am filling in again. But the good news is, he approves of the columns I’ve produced thus far! I know I’ve enjoyed spending time with the previous two guests, fearless and feisty photography pro Steve Davey and fine-art photographer Dave Long.

And today I’m excited to introduce Madeleine Lenagh, an American who, having lived in Holland for more than four decades, has made it her base for an impressive range of creative pursuits.

Madeleine Lenagh moeraki

A photo of Madeleine Lenagh taken in New Zealand, among the magnificent Moeraki Boulders.

I first heard about Madeleine from Springtime Books, which published her memoir, Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One Woman’s Journey to Self-Realization and Acceptance, several months ago.

As those who perused our summer reading recommendations may know, Madeleine’s book was one of my picks. I was intrigued that she chose to tell her life story using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales.

From the title of the book alone, it’s possible to discern that that Madeleine is in touch with nature at an almost spiritual level. She looks to the stork to deliver her soul (in ancient Egypt, a drawing of the stork served as the hieroglyphic for “soul”). And if you read the book’s prologue, you’ll see that her view of nature includes mermaids—as evidenced by the prologue’s very first sentence:

Three mermaids play in the huge rolling waves, splashing and diving in the curling spray.

It comes as little surprise, then, to discover that besides being an author and blogger, mother and grandmother, and life coach and counselor, Madeleine is a shamanic practitioner. She has been influenced by Dutch shamanic teacher Daan van Kampenhout, whose method fosters connections with helping spirits and ancestors.

What I didn’t realize, though, is how much Madeleine loves to travel and take photographs. She even has her own photography site.

Now let’s see what other worlds Madeleine can conjure up for us with her photos!

* * *

Hi, Madeleine, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’ll start the same way as James, by asking: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings (an apt metaphor in your case, given your fondness for storks) to start traveling?
Hi, ML, thank you for inviting me to take part in this column. In answer to your first question: I grew up in Westport, Connecticut. When I was two years old, my stepfather was sent to Europe as a Naval attaché to the NATO. For three years, we lived in Paris, Bad-Homburg, and London. We returned to Westport when I was five. Although I have few memories of those early years, I believe my love of traveling was born then.

So you didn’t end up being raised as a Third Culture Kid?
No, I didn’t leave the United States again until I was 21, when I coaxed my family into giving me a trip to Europe for my 21st birthday. I traveled all around Western Europe and down into former Yugoslavia. At the end of the summer, I was in The Netherlands and my money was running out. I didn’t want to go home yet and found an au-pair job for six months.

Which countries have you visited thus far, and of those, which have you actually lived in?
My travels have taken me all through Europe, as well as to India (Rajasthan), Indonesia (Java and Bali), Costa Rica, and New Zealand (South Island). I believe that Canada and Alaska deserve a separate mention as they are beautiful and remote parts of the world. But, apart from those few years when I was a small child, I have only lived in the United States and The Netherlands.

It’s interesting to me that you chose to make The Netherlands your home for your adult life. What made you settle there in particular?
When I became an au pair in The Netherlands 45 years ago, I sold my return trip ticket to buy winter clothing. Somehow I never got around to leaving. It often amazes me that I, a lover of wild places in nature, could feel so comfortable in this relatively “tame” country. There were key moments in my life when I asked myself, so where am I going now? But there was always more reason to stay than to go. Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul describes, among other things, my struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency.

“She will always love the sea…” —from the Prologue to Passage of the Stork

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
Occasionally I arrive somewhere and think, I could live here. One of those places was South Island, New Zealand. I love the wild remote land, the warm friendliness of the people, and the ever-changing scenery. The photo I have chosen here is the perfect arch of a totally deserted beach in the Catlins, way down on the southern end of the island.

catlins_800x

Untainted by the modern world, the Catlins are the kind of place where a mermaid might appear. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Wow, that’s the kind of place where it would be easy to imagine mermaids! I have only been to New Zealand’s Northern Island, but even there, I felt that it attracts people who want to get away from it all…
Along the same lines, another place I would be seriously tempted to live, if it weren’t so cold and dark in the winter, is Alaska. I love the pioneer spirit of the people who live there. My brother runs nature tours out of Paxson, which is located in one of the prettiest spots in the state. To the north of the Denali Highway, one sees the dramatic Alaska Range, with its snow-capped peaks and glaciers. An outstretched tundra lies to the south. However, the photo I have chosen, of a fishing boat near the shore, was taken down on Prince William Sound, during a day cruise in 2010. I like the muted colors, with only the bright splash of red on the boat to off-set the fog.

alaska77

While cruising through the calm, protected—and mysterious—waters of Prince William Sound. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Ooh, I really like this photo. So moody and atmospheric… Though I’ve never been to Alaska, I picture it as having this kind of mystique. Where are you taking us next?
This summer I traveled back to the New England of my youth. I realized how much at home I feel there, in spite of having left 45 years ago. Those of you who have read my book know that I have a special relationship with storks. One of the things they reflect about me is their migratory nature, feeling at home in more than one place. I love this photo of a white stork, taken near my home in The Netherlands, doing its special bill-clacking dance as it returns to the nest.

stork-s_800x

Time for a spot of beak-clapping, says this Dutch stork. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Hm, until now I have always associated storks with the arrival of babies. But after hearing what you have to say, I may start thinking of them as the avian counterpart of the serial expat!

“I lie on my stomach, hearing gossamer wings rush by.” —from the Prologue to Passage of the Stork

Having seen your first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
I’m actually going to pick three new places for you. The first one is India. It is a riot of color and ornate decorations, a photographer’s paradise. The photo I have chosen illustrates this perfectly: a group of children posing for me in the “best room” of their desert compound near Jaisalmer.

212_desert

Colorful life in India’s Thar desert. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

I also have a special relationship with Norway (disclosed in my book) and I love photographing birds. Up in the Lofoten archipelago, I had the unique opportunity to photograph white-tailed sea-eagles. I’m very proud of this shot, catching the bird just as it had landed on a rock.

eagle_800x

A white-tailed sea-eagle touches down on this untouched land within the Arctic Circle. Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

Finally, though I’ve taken you far afield, my last pick for favorite photography locations is my own garden! I love the simple beauty of the nature I find there. A perfect illustration is this photo of a spider web covered with droplets of fog.

spiderweb-s_800x

Is it a spider web or the finest lace? Photo credit: Madeleine Lenagh

I love that you’ve taken us back to your own garden! It makes me think of a fellow New Englander of yours, Emily Dickinson, who took companionship as well as inspiration from her garden in Amherst.

“You can cage a bird, but you can’t make him sing.” (French-Jewish saying)

Going back to your photo of the children in India, I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
I am very reserved about taking photos of people, especially in other cultures, and will only do so if they have given me permission. Usually, asking people if you can take their photograph is a wonderful way of making contact with them and often leads to spectacular portraits. The photograph of the children in India is a good example. I love how the two sitting girls (unmarried and therefore veiled) unveiled their faces for the photo.

When did you become interested in photography and what is it about this art form that drew you in?
I believe I have photography encoded in my DNA. My grandfather was taking brilliant photographs in the 1920s. My mother never went anywhere without her 1953 Leica. My Norwegian father (caution: book spoiler!) was a cinematographer. I started taking photographs (and working in a darkroom) when I was about 18 years old. I believe that I was originally drawn in by the fact that it required no real motor skills and I was dreadful at drawing! I’ve always had the urge to express my feelings in some creative fashion, whether it be writing, photography, painting, or dance. Currently, my greatest motivation to photograph is to share the beauty of the natural world with others; to draw them into the same sense of awe and majesty that I feel when I’m in touch with nature.

“Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but, follow no one absolutely.” (Chinese saying)

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
Most of these photos were taken with earlier cameras but, at the moment, I use a Canon EOS 6D, a full-frame camera. My favorite lens is a 70-200mm f 2.8 lens. I have been using a 2x extender to get up to 400mm, but recently decided that it slows down the focus too much so I will be looking for a good telephoto lens soon. I find that, as my experience grows, I grow more and more fussy about my equipment! I photograph in RAW format and process the images in Adobe Lightroom.

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
I suppose the most important advice is just to go out and photograph the things you love. Good photography takes practice and more practice. Study the manual of your camera and don’t be afraid to experiment with settings. Study paintings and sculpture by the artists you admire, to develop a sense for light and composition. As I develop as a photographer I find myself growing more and more critical of my work. It’s not just about showing the things I’ve seen or taking good photos. It’s about taking great photos that show a unique moment.

And I think the most important advice to any aspiring photographer was voiced by Pablo Picasso:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Thank you, Madeleine! I appreciate your sharing a selection of photos that illustrate your deep connection with nature. I’m impressed that you can find so much beauty and wonder on your own doorstep as well as on your travels to the world’s most unpopulated and unspoiled places.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Madeleine’s travel-photo experiences and her photography advice? Please leave any questions or feedback for her in the comments!

If you want to get to know Madeleine and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her author site and her photography site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she posts her latest photos) and Twitter. But to really get to know Madeleine, I recommend getting her book, Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul. You’ll never look at storks, or mermaids, in the same way again!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation and SO much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this fearless and feisty travel photography pro, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Steve Davey at a New Year's celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

Steve Davey at a New Year’s celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

A Picture Says… columnist James King is away this month, so ML Awanohara is pinch hitting in his place.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs!

Once again, I am the feeble stand-in for James King, who will be back in August. That said, I am happy to be the vehicle for bringing to you such an exciting interview subject: Steve Davey, a professional photographer who is also an intrepid wanderer around Planet Earth, with the creds to prove it. Steve has produced two best-selling BBC travel books, one about unforgettable islands to escape to, the other about unforgettable places that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

He has also written a photography book about festivals around the world as well as a guide to location photography.

And he has started up his own business leading travel-photography tours, about which a participant has written:

“Your love of photography and travel is infectious and I can honestly say I have never laughed or learnt so much on a holiday before!”

I recall that when I first stumbled across Steve’s photography site, I found him an amiable character—on his About Page he says is is a “crap sightseer” who is “more interested in how places work and often how they don’t, than in visiting monuments and museums.” I could also sense his insatiable curiosity about the wider world coupled with a certain fearlessness. This mix of qualities suggests not only that he takes great photos but also that he isn’t easily daunted.

Let’s find out if these impressions were right by giving Steve the floor.

* * *

Hi, Steve, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s start in the same way James always does: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
I was born in a small village near Bristol. I longed to head out and explore the world, and as soon as I was old enough I headed off around Europe on an Inter-rail pass. That year I got as far as Hungary. The following year I got even further—to Romania in the days of Ceausescu.

Which countries have you visited thus far, and have you lived in any of them?
I have been to almost ninety countries in the course of my work. Some of these, I have been to dozens of times. I am a compulsive traveler but have always been based in London, travelling where the work takes me. As you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve shot a couple of books for the BBC. Each of these required taking all the photos for about twenty-five chapters in a single year. For the Unforgettable Islands book, I did the equivalent of 6.5 times around the world on 99 different flights.

So you’ve never been an expat?
There are some parts of the world I’ve visited that I would love to have lived in, but my feelings about this are always changing. So I figure it’s best to base myself in London and have the option of returning to the latest place that has taken my fancy.

Well, I love London, so that’s fine by me. Which part of the city do you live in?
South London. Brixton. About the closest you can come to living in a foreign land but without leaving the UK. It is an eclectic area with a multicultural flavour. My local breakfast cafe is Eritrean. There is a large Caribbean market nearby and people of every culture. My daughter’s school is like a 1990s Benneton advertisement.

I lived in South London myself at one stage: Kennington. I remember Brixton well and can picture exactly what you are talking about.

“Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.” —Alfred North Whitehead

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
Before starting, I should tell you that I love to photograph festivals. I love the chaos and the sheer exuberance of these events. They are when a destination comes alive and when a place is at its most characteristic for the people who live there (festivals are not put on for tourists). So I’ll be sharing three photos of the most memorable festivals I’ve had the honor of witnessing.

First, the Sonepur Mela (Cattle Fair) in the state of Bihar, India. I have attended a number of festivals in India, from the largest gathering of humans on the planet to remote gatherings in the Himalayas and elephant temple festivals in Kerala in the South, but the Sonepur Mela is one of my favourites. There’s a vast animal market including the Haathi Bazaar, where elephants are lined up for sale. There’s also religious bathing in the confluence of the rivers Gandak and Ganges. The Sonepur Mela attracts few tourists and I consider it one of the hidden cultural gems of India.

Sonepur Mela_India

Elephants for sale at Sonepur Mela in India. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Wow! I have a theory that it’s why we all travel: to see the “elephant.” Clearly, you’ve done that. So what’s next in the photo-fest, so to speak?
Next is one of a festival held by the Kalash people, who live in three remote valleys in the north of Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan. They trace their lineage back to the soldiers of Alexander the Great. They tend to have piercing blue eyes and fair skin. Animist non-Muslims, they drink, wear bright clothes, and permit men and women to dance together. This makes them rather unpopular in the region. Guarding this event were some 3,000 special forces commandos. Despite this, the festival atmosphere was lively and chaotic. It was one of the great privileges of my career to have experienced and photographed this event.
Kalash_Pakistan

The Kalash people have a handle on what it means to be festive. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Steve, you are opening new windows for me on the world. I never knew about this unique tribe of people in that part of the world. So what’s your last pick?
Last but not least is this incredible festival that takes place on Pentecost Island, one of the islands within the remote archipelago of Vanuatu, in Oceania. It involves the village menfolk hurling themselves from high towers, with their fall only broken by vines fixed to their ankles. I’ve wanted to photograph this ever since I saw the film of the so-called land divers shot by the great David Attenborough. I finally got the opportunity when working on the “unforgettable islands” book for the BBC. It was a humbling rite to witness, and I managed to shoot some stunning pictures, too! This photo represents for me the kind of doors that have been opened in my life due to being a photographer who specializes in travel. I have managed to witness, and take part in, so much more of the world than I ever would have done without a camera.

Vanuatu

The precursor to bungee jumping, but a lot more risky. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Truly, you have seen such a wide swathe of life’s rich tapestry. Being presented with what is clearly just a fraction of the photo evidence has been humbling for me.

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” —Gustave Flaubert

Having seen your first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
It is a tough choice, so I’ll give you four:

I love India. I can’t get enough of the place. I love the utterly bewildering variety it offers. I have been all over the country and attended a number of religious festivals, including the Kumbh Mela—officially the largest gathering of humans on the planet. But that’s not all there is. Here is a shot of a Buddhist monk in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas:

Ladakh monk

A Thikse Buddhist monk blows a conch horn announcing prayers. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I first travelled to Laos years ago, soon after it opened up to foreign visitors. There were few roads up in the north, and the only way to get around was by boat. I love the country’s atmosphere, its people—and could not resist photographing this line of monks heading out at dawn to collect food, or alms.

Laos monks alms

The tak bat, or Buddhist monks’ morning collection of food (alms), in Luang Prabang. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I still love Morocco. It is the most crazy place that you can visit from London on a low-cost airline. Over the years I’ve noticed that the people have become less friendly to photography, making it more stressful to walk around and take pictures; but there are few places that excite me more than the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh. Home to snake charmers, acrobats, fake dentists, herbalists, drummers and some of the best street food this side of Delhi. Electric!

Morocco

Don’t make the mistake of catching the snake charmer’s eyes! Photo credit: Steve Davey


I have to interrupt for a moment to say that of all the photos you’ve shared thus far, this is my favorite. Even though I’m not fond of rattlesnakes, it captures an atmosphere that is utterly different and seductive. Now, you said you had four?
The last one is my wildcard. I usually love hot, dusty places with people. Svalbard is my Achilles Heel. I love the cold, the wildlife and the stunning scenery. I have seen it from ships, by snowmobile and on foot. I love the ever-present danger, the midnight sun and the sense of true adventure.
Svalbard

Polar bear viewing in the crown of Arctic Norway. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Incredible! The Moroccan rattlesnakes definitely scared me, but, though I know I should also be scared of the polar bears, I can’t help thinking how cute they look.

“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.” —Bruno Barbey

I notice that you often photograph people, whereas quite a few of the interviewees for this column stick to scenery. Do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
I seldom photograph people without approaching them and interacting with them in some way. Spend even a small amount of time with someone and you can come up with an engaged and atmospheric portrait. This is a difficult skill to develop, but once you have mastered it then taking people’s picture is a much less fraught experience and far more enjoyable for both the photographer and the person being photographed.

Here are a couple of examples where I’ve applied those principles:

A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

Examples of Steve Davey’s people shots: A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

“Eyes like a shutter, mind like a lens.” —Anonymous

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
I shoot exclusively on Nikon pro camera and lenses. I shoot either with the Nikon D3X, Nikon D800 or Nikon D810. I have a cupboard of pensioned off cameras, including a brace of F4s and a brace of F5s. Cameras don’t tend to hold their value: especially when I have finished with them. I am a believer in going for the utmost quality in work. To me this is the mark of a professional photographer, shooting with the best lenses and filters. I always shoot in the RAW format and post process with Adobe Lightroom.

I suspect I need to read your photography guide or take one of your tours to fully appreciate the wisdom of what you just said. But I trust you!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” —Anonymous

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
Working as a professional travel photographer is bloody tough. There are a lot of talented amateurs who shoot a few good shots and virtually give them away; and a bunch of fauxtographers who have the website and the business card but the only way that they can get work is to work for free in the hope that they can break into the industry. Best to work at something that makes you money and take photographs for pleasure. Taking pictures for love and not money is a dream for most of us professional photographers!

Thank you, Steve! It’s been a memorable virtual journey into corners of the world I didn’t know existed!

* * *

Readers, that was something else! I’d never even heard of some of these places before, and Steve has been to them several times over. What do you make of his vast range of travel experiences and photography advice? Any questions for him on on his photos or extensive travels? Please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Steve and his photography better, I suggest you visit his photography site. You can also follow him on Facebook. You may also be interested in checking out his travel-photography books:

Or why not consider joining one of his tours and getting some hands-on photography instruction? It would be an experience to go down in the annals!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: In Shireen Jilla’s second novel, a group of old friends go on safari and unpack their lives

Booklust Wanderlust column for the Displaced Nation

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with her latest recommended read.

Hello Displaced Nationers! Do I have a treat in store for you this month! Shireen Jilla, whose 2011 psychological thriller, Exiled, was previously featured on the Displaced Nation, is with us again. She has written a new novel, The Art of Unpacking Your Life, which came out in March, and has graciously agreed to answer my questions about her latest work.

Shireen Jilla author photo and book cover for her second novel, The Art of Unpacking Your Life

Shireen Jilla author photo, by Francesco Guidicini (from her author site); cover art.

The book made our list of anticipated “displaced reads” for 2015. For those not in the know, it tells the story of what happens when an Englishwoman named Connie decides to celebrate her 40th birthday by organizing a group of her old university friends and their partners to go on an African safari.

But if Connie is the main character, she is not the only point-of-view character. She functions as the heart of the group—but, as we soon learn, doesn’t seem to manage her own affairs very well. To quote one of my favorite lines from the book:

“Connie was brilliant at life’s details, particularly other people’s life details.”

We all know someone like that, don’t we?

Many authors stick to similar genres and even similar stories but in her two books, Jilla has explored very different places and themes. Where Exiled is a thriller akin to Rosemary’s Baby—it centers on Anna, a British expat leading a privileged life in New York—Unpacking is The Big Chill set in an exotic landscape. Anna may feel isolated within the bustle of the Big Apple, but Unpacking‘s characters are faced with the Kalahari Desert, the kind of place where one must unpack one’s life, finding strengths as well as weaknesses.

Both stories are informed by Jilla’s own travels. An adult TCK and former expat, she has lived in Paris, Rome, and New York as an adult; and in Germany, Holland and England as a kid. (She is now back “home” in London.) And as a traveler, she has experienced firsthand the dry, unusual beauty of the South African bush she describes in Unpacking.

But enough introduction! Time to give Shireen Jilla the floor.

* * *

Hi, Shireen, and welcome back to the Displaced Nation. When we discussed your previous novel, you told us about how the cityscape of New York lent itself to writing a thriller. What made you go from New York’s hustle bustle to the stark, sparse landscape you describe in The Art of Unpacking Your Life? Why the Kalahari?
I had the characters in my mind for a long time. I wanted to explore my generation’s surprisingly disparate lives: single, divorced, gay, with children, successful, jobless. I needed them to be away from home, from their daily lives, unnerved and unsure and therefore open to exploring their issues. I tried setting the book in Sardinia because I know it well. But it wasn’t remote or dramatic enough to force them to “unpack” their problems. When I stepped out of an eight-seater plane into the vast orange heat of the Green Kalahari, I knew I had found my setting.

“Everything in Africa bites—but the safari bug, worst of all.” —Brian Jackman

Tell us more about that moment. I understand from another of your interviews that you went to the Kalahari with your brother?
Yes. My brother generously took me on what can only be called a trip of a lifetime to a private reserve, Tswalu, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, bang near the border of Botswana. I had never been to Africa before. So my own experience of this extraordinary trip coloured my story in Unpacking. I was surprisingly drawn to the Kalahari.

Connie and her friends started out in the same place—in a shared house at university—but when the book takes place, they’re all at different places in their lives and don’t appear to have much in common any more. One is a happy housewife, or so she thinks, another feels like success has passed her by both professionally and romantically, others want to start a family, while still others are recuperating from seeing their families crumble. Many books are written from the point of view of a single character, but you give us a glimpse into the thoughts of six multi-layered characters. Was it difficult to imagine how all these people would react to the same events—how they would react to travel?
Thank you for asking this question. It touches the heart of the novel. I wanted to tell this story from the point of view of each of the main six characters because I am fascinated by how differently people read, and react to, the same events. I was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, which roams from character to character, from paragraph to paragraph. That said, I wasn’t keen to jump around that much, so each chapter in Unpacking is told from a different character’s point of view. I loved writing the same scene from different points of view. It gave me a great sense of freedom.

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno…” —Beryl Markham

Many of our readers are international creatives, so I’m asking this with them in mind: how do you capture inspiration while you travel? 

“Instead they snapped away, looking up periodically from their cameras, as if undecided whether photo memories or physical ones were more powerful.”

This line in Unpacking reflects my own feelings. While in Africa, I kept a detailed diary and took hundreds of photos, a selection of which are on my author’s site. Having started life as a journalist, I also bought books and talked extensively to the guides. I used all of this material for Unpacking, which I believe is faithful to the actual setting.

In the book, Connie and her group have a very dramatic encounter with one of the animals in the park and the friends’ various reactions reveal their state of mind. Did you have any big-animal encounters during your Africa adventure? 
Thankfully not! The scene was imagined.

Giraffe & Namibian sand Collage

A silent, self-contained Kalahari giraffe and blood orange sands make it into Shireen Jilla’s novel about a group of friends on an African safari. Photo credits: Male giraffe, by Charles Sharp, and Silhouettes in Sossusvlei, by Monica Guy, both via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“The more I traveled, the more I realized, fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” —Shirley MacLaine

As I mentioned in the introduction, you grew up a Third Culture Kid and you’ve also been an expat. Is there anything from your experiences living abroad as a child and an adult that worked its way into this book?
From own experience, I am acutely interested in how people react to being outside their comfort zone. Living or traveling abroad is a very visceral way of exploring this theme. With Unpacking, I wanted to place a group of close friends, who haven’t traveled extensively, into a remote, unnerving location. For me, it gives the novel its heartbeat.

I’m an Adult Third-Culture Kid, too (and an expat currently), and one of the things that I found remarkable in this book is the close cohesion of a group of people who met at an early stage of their adult lives—not always something we TCKs can find! I’m curious. Do you have a group of friends like Connie’s?
Actually, I have a varied and disparate group of old friends from many places and stages in my life. What I drew on in Unpacking is the notion that one can still feel intensely loyal to old friends, despite growing in different directions. But no, I’ve never planned a big trip with old friends as Connie does.

I noticed that within the group of friends you’ve created, there are two cross-cultural relationships. I enjoyed watching the conflicts from their opposing cultures arise in their relationships. Was this something you set out to capture from the beginning?
This is an interesting question. I haven’t consciously created two cross-cultural relationships. But I am clearly fascinated by and drawn to them. I loved writing both relationships, particularly exploring the cultural misunderstandings between the English friends and New Yorker Katherine.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” —Seneca

So far you’ve given us two great books based on interesting locations—New York and South Africa. What’s next? Will you follow up with Connie and her friends in another novel? Take your readers on a new adventure somewhere else?
I’m normally adverse to sequels, but I would actually love to write another novel based on the same characters. I’m not ready to let any of them go. I am deeply attached to them all. And I would also enjoy the challenge of another new setting abroad. It’s like moving country. Always exciting.

Lastly, my favorite question for everyone—what are you reading at the moment? Any suggestions for good books that might appeal to the Displaced Nation audience?
I am currently reading New York writer Hilary Reyl’s Lessons in French. The novel is an absorbing coming-of-age story about an American girl who does work experience with a demanding photographer in Paris. It’s an evocative, lyrical read for all expats. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, is another addictive page turner that lights up a poor working class community in fifties Naples.

Thanks, Shireen, I’ll check those out! And readers, if you’re selecting books for your summer reading list, I suggest you pack Unpacking in your beach bag! Or on your Kindle, more likely… 🙂

Beach bag via Pixabay.

Don’t go to the beach without Shireen’s book and at least one of her recommended reads! Beach bag via Pixabay; book cover art.

* * *

And now Displaced Nationers, it’s your turn to answer some questions. And have you ever tried traveling with friends? Did you pick up any insights about them and/or about yourself? Do let us know in the comments!

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 the next fab post!

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Photo credit (top of page): “Notebook in hand,” by Oleh Slobodeniuk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

And the December 2014 Alices go to … these 4 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 four Alice recipients for December 2014. Listed in order of most to least recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) Lani Cox, half-Thai expat in Chiangmai, Thailand

For her comment on a post: “Dealing with Loneliness Abroad (and at home),” by Mary, former expat in Japan and blogger at The Ruby Ronin. (NOTE: Lani’s own blog is Life, the Universe and Lani.)
Posted on: 9 December 2014

2) Amanda Mouttaki, American expat in Morocco and blogger

For her post: The NOT-SO-NICE Side of Expat Life to her blog, MarocMama
Posted on: 25 November 2014

Alice Connection:
Pool of Tears Quote

LANI: “When I first moved to Thailand, … I was deeply confused over what I was expected to do and where I was supposed to go and basically get the help that I needed for my visa. So, I spent the day crying into my pillow! It didn’t help that we lived by this horrible electrical monster thingy and had squatters outside our window.”

AMANDA: “I cried. And cried. And cried. Over nothing specifically…”

Citation: Lani and Amanda, is it any wonder we have associated your writings with Alice in Wonderland’s “pool of tears” moment? Let us begin by saying how much we admire you both for overcoming the feeling of shame that comes with realizing, and admitting to others, that even “great girls” cry.

Lani, it seems that you blamed yourself, thinking that Thailand shouldn’t have confused you so much since you were raised in the United States by a Thai mother (she’d married an American soldier she’d met during the Vietnam War). But that of course is silly, especially as she didn’t teach you any Thai language (knowing some Thai would have helped with getting your visa sorted). On the other hand, maybe it’s good she didn’t teach you the language, you might have been further disappointed. (We speak from experience, having been Brits in the US or Yanks in the UK.)

Amanda, you say you didn’t want your readers to think you were complaining, especially when so many of them find your story romantic—and it is romantic, meeting and falling in love in fairy-tale fashion on the streets of Marrakesh. In any event, becoming catatonic over nothing specific sounds perfectly normal to us. We’re just glad MarocBaba was there to give you a hug—more than Alice could count on!

3) Kevin Lynch, American expat in Hong Kong

For his interview: “My Airbnb year in Hong Kong: ‘Big fat American’ discovers hidden sides to the city”, by Vanessa Yung, in the South China Morning Post
Posted on: 5 December 2014
Big Alice Quote

“Part of it is I’m a big fat American, which makes things even smaller. It’s just such a different scale of living. Just when I’m used to it—I don’t even take pictures of most of the small things any more—and then something will surprise me.”

Citation: Hats off to you, Kevin—even the Mad Hatter is removing his—for deciding to forgo Western digs to stay in Airbnb accommodation during your first 14 months in Hong Kong, a city that is challenged for space and known for its cramped accommodations. Recall that Alice, who isn’t fat, found the White Rabbit’s house a bit of an uncomfortable fit. You are right, of course: serviced apartments for expats don’t afford many opportunities to meet the natives even if they do have taller ceilings, longer beds, fatter sofas, and proper cutlery. Kudos to you for learning how to tilt your head when standing up in the low-ceilinged rooms and to sleep “in the fetal position” when beds are too short. You had the kind of Hong Kong experience not usually available to the generous of flesh.

4) Amanda van Mulligen, British expat in Holland, blogger, and one of the contributors to the new book Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

For her post: “My Love Hate Relationship with Sinterklaas” to her personal blog, Expat Life with a Double Buggy
Posted on: 4 December 2014
Mock Tortoise SongAlice Connection:

“Now, I’m all for a good sing song. I’ll croon away with the best of them. But Sinterklaas songs get tedious sang at the top of a child’s voice for weeks on end.”

Citation: Amanda, surely a song repeatedly begging Sinterklaas to leave something nice in one’s shoe or boot is preferable to a song about green soup, such as the Mock Turtle sings to Alice? That’s after she had to withstand the Lobster Quadrille, with repeated refrains of:

Will you come and join the dance?
So, will you, won’t you, won’t you,
Will you, won’t you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

But we do appreciate your attempt to convey the strange, Wonderland-like experience of raising children in a country other than the one in which you grew up. And we grant that you’re not as lucky as Alice, who was saved from having to hear the soup song in its entirety by the announcement of the trial, whereas for you the Sinterklaas din carries on until May! Sinterklaas bloody kapoentje indeed.

*  *  *

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.

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Best of 2014 in Expat Books (2/2)

Best of Expat Books 2014 Part 2Season’s greetings again, Displaced Nationers. And welcome back to our end-of-the-year bookfest!

Pass the eggnog!! (She takes a swig…)

Moving right along (hic!). In the first part of this BOOKLUST WANDERLUST series, posted yesterday, our BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist Beth Green and I presented a list of 2014 expat books in the categories of Travel, Memoirs, and Cross-cultural Challenges.

In Part Two, we present our last three categories (hic, hic—hey, it’s the holidays!):

  1. IT’S FOOD!
  2. THIRD CULTURE KIDS
  3. COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES


A few points to note:

  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.
  • Contributions by Beth are in green (most appropriate, given her surname!).

* * *

IT’S FOOD!

Colour_of_Maroc_cover_smallColour of Maroc: A Celebration of Food and Life (Murdoch Books, October 2014)
Authors: Rob Palmer and Sophie Palmer
Synopsis: A collection of Moroccan recipes, both traditional and contemporary, interwoven with stories and anecdotes inspired by people, food and travel experiences as seen through the eyes of Rob, an Australian photographer, and Sophia, his French/Moroccan wife.
Expat Credentials: Rob first met Sophia in Sydney, who had freshly arrived in Australia from France. They were both on a food photo shoot for an ad agency. Fascinated by her half-Moroccan (she was born in Casablanca), half-French heritage, he was only too happy to join her on an extended tour of Morocco, which resulted in both marriage and this book.
How we heard about: Social media.


Cucina_Siciliana_cover_smallCucina Siciliana: A taste of the authentic Sicilian flavors (August 2014)
Author: Wanita
Synopsis: Wanita shares recipes she has collected from her elderly neighbor, her mother-in-law, and Italian friends she has made during her six years in Sicily—recipes that have passed down from generations, several of which, she suspects, have never been outside Sicily!
Expat creds: Wanita met her Sicilian husband on the Internet. After a 3-month online romance, he visited her in California; two weeks later, she accompanied him back to Sicily to get married. They now have an infant daughter.
How we found out about: We’ve pinned several of her Sicilian recipes to our IT’S FOOD! board.


My_Paris_Kitchen_cover_smallMy Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Ten Speed Press, April 2014)
Author: David Lebovitz
Synopsis: A collection of 100 sweet and savory recipes that reflect the way modern Parisians eat today, combined with Lebovitz’s personal stories of life in the world’s culinary capital. The book also features lush photos of Paris and of Lebovitz’s kitchen.
Expat creds: Lebovitz is an American pastry chef who has been living the sweet life in Paris for a decade. Before moving to France, he made his name at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, with celebrity chef Alice Waters as his mentor.
How we found out about: We are among his throngs of followers, keeping up with him any way we can: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, his monthly e-newletter… My Paris Kitchen (his 7th book!) has been named best cookbook of the year by Amazon.


The_Edible_Atlas_cover_smallThe Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines (Canongate, March 2014)
Author: Mina Holland
Genre: International cookery
Synopsis: Not just a cookbook, The Edible Atlas introduces readers to the cultures behind the flavors and looks at why people eat what they do.
Expat credentials: Mina Holland, from the UK, has lived both in the USA and in Spain. She’s the acting editor of Guardian Cook.
How we heard about: Titles about food always catch our eye, and the idea of traveling around the world a mouthful at a time? Tantalizing! A review in Guardian Books first brought it to my attention.



THIRD CULTURE KIDS

TheWorldsWithin_cover_smallThe Worlds Within, an anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures (Summertime, November 2014)
Editors: Jo Parfitt and Eva László-Herbert
TCK Credentials: As the editors point out, that this is a rare book BY third culture kids, not about them.
Synopsis: Your mother is Swiss, your father is from the Philippines and you have so far lived in five countries, none of them your passport country. Who are you? Where are you from? Where is home? And what did you eat for breakfast? If you are a friend, this book will guide you. If you are a teacher, it will enlighten you. If you are a parent, it will spell it out for you and if you are an employer, it will convince you. Here they are, the cultural chameleons, the young global nomads, the TCKs—Third Culture Kids—from around the world, telling you their story.
How we heard about it: Initially from a Facebook post. Word is spreading fast on social media. One of the coolest things about this book? It features TCK art as well as writing.


The_Secret_Place_cover_smallThe Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5) (Penguin, August 2014)
Author: Tana French
Genre: Mystery
Synopsis: In Book 5 of the Dublin Murder Squad series, two detectives are given new information about a cold case—a boy’s murder on the grounds of an exclusive school for girls.
(A)TCK credentials: Tana French was born in Ireland but grew up in Italy, the USA, and Malawi during the years her family traveled with her father’s career as a development economist.
How we heard about it: I’m an avid reader of murder mysteries and fell in love with this series by French last year. In fact, I wrote about her Dublin Murder Squad series , and how it deals with issues of displacement, for my first Booklust, Wanderlust column.


Home_Leave_sonnenberg_cover_smallHome Leave (Hachette, June 2014)
Author: Brittani Sonnenberg
Genre: Expat fiction
Synopsis: In a story that mirrors the author’s own life as a TCK, an expat family’s daughters search for their own identity and confront tragedy.
(A)TCK credentials: Sonnenberg was born in the USA but lived in the UK, Germany, China and Singapore as a child and teenager. She now lives in Berlin and treats Hong Kong as her second home.
How we heard about it: ML is always on the hunt for a good book about TCKs, so when she mentioned having read a review of the book last summer in the New York Times, I agreed to write a column about it.



COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES

They_Eat_Horses_cover_smallThey Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French (Thomas Dunne Macmillan, December 2014)
Author: Piu Marie Eatwell
Genre: Multicultural nonfiction
Synopsis: A series of entertaining mini-essays examines the stereotypes of French life, so beloved of the British in particular, only to discover that many are completely false.
Expat credentials: Eatwell, of mixed Asian and British descent, went to France for a long weekend one August summer holiday many years ago, and never left (how could she, with a surname like that?). After graduating from Oxford University, she trained first as a BBC television producer and then as a lawyer. Over the years she has worked as a documentary film maker, barrister, teacher, mother, and—most recently—full-time writer, both in London and Paris. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? is her first book.
How we heard about: Eatwell’s book is the winner of the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Amazon’s Multicultural Non-Fiction category.


Dutched_Up_cover_smallDutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style (November 2014)
Authors: Various
Genre: Anthology
Synopsis: A compilation of stories by expat bloggers in the Netherlands.
Expat credentials: Too numerous to relay.
How we heard about: From a tweet by one of the contributors, Australian expat in Almere Nerissa Muijs. Once upon a time, Muijs was featured on our site as a Random Nomad. (She definitely rocks—we can vouch for it!)


Moving_to_Spain_cover_smallMoving to Spain with Children: Essential reading for anyone thinking about moving to Spain (November 2014)
Author: Lisa Sadleir
Genre: Expat self-help
Synopsis: Spiced with the author’s own heart-warming anecdotes, the book aims to help you arrive at the same place her own family is now—but in half the time: living and loving family life in Spain!
Expat credentials: British born Lisa Sadleir is mother to two young, bilingual children. Educated in the UK and France, she has been a resident in Spain for over 23 years. She works as an independent relocation advisor and personal property finder.
How we heard about: Social media.


Paris_in_Love_cover_smallParis in Love (Chronicle Books, November 2014)
Author: Nichole Robertson
Genre: Photography
Synopsis: A photographic love letter to Paris from the author of the best-selling Paris in Color, capturing the hidden corners and secret moments that make Paris the most romantic city in the world.
Expat credentials: After a successful career in New York City as a writer and creative director for ad agencies, Robertson moved to Paris, which rekindled her love of photography and led to creating a series of prints and now books celebrating her relationship with the City of Light.
How we heard about: Social media.


At_Home_with_Madame_Chic_cover_smallAt Home with Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life (Simon & Schuster, October 2014)
Author: Jennifer L. Scott
Genres: Beauty/Fashion, How-to, Home Improvements
Synopsis: In this follow-up to her best-selling Lessons from Madame Chic, Scott has divided the book into two sections: 1) Chez Vous: exploring how to get your home in order and how to love it again; 2) Les Routines de la Journée: covering the pleasures of the morning, the pleasures of the afternoon, and the pleasures of the evening.
Expat credentials: Once upon a time, Scott was a college student living with a “chic” family in Paris, France, and her books represent her attempt to translate all that she learned from that European experience into her American lifestyle.
How we heard about: I interviewed Scott about her first book just before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster, and have been a big fan of hers ever since. (Her interview still gets lots of hits!)


How_to_live_in_Denmark_coverHow to Live in Denmark: A humourous guide for foreigners and their Danish friends (July 2014)
Author: Kay Zander Mellish
Synopsis: Life as a foreigner in Denmark, one of the world’s most homogenous countries, isn’t always easy. In this book, based on her popular podcast series, Kay Xander Mellish offers a fun guide to Danish culture and Danish manners, as well as tips on how to find a job, a date, someone to talk to or something to eat.
Expat credentials: An Wisconsin-born journalist, Mellish has lived in Denmark for more than a decade.
How we heard about: Mellish’s humorous and somewhat irreverent take on expat life caught our attention about a year ago, when she posted a story about the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg, who was fired not for being a prostitute but for refusing to follow orders and stop moonlighting—a post for which Mellish earned her one of our coveted (?!) Alice Awards. We were pleased to learn she’d published a book, and plan to feature it soon.


SoYou're_Moving_to_Australia_cover_smallSo, you’re moving to Australia?: The 6 essential steps to moving Down Under (June 2014)
Author: Sharon Swift
Genre: Self-help
Synopsis: Swift has distilled her formula for a successful international relocation into a 6-step process, outlined in this book for those making the big leap from the UK to Australia.
Expat credentials: Since her birth in Singapore to a British father and Singaporean mother, Swift has lived across five continents, experiencing life and cultures of 14 countries. Her move to Sydney from London in 2005 was her 18th international relocation. She lives in Sydney Inner West with her husband, both now Australian citizens.
How we heard about: Pinterest.

* * *

Your turn again, readers! Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to these three categories or to the ones presented yesterday? Beth and I look forward to reading your comments below.

From Beth:
Intrigued by some of these titles? Go ahead, download a few! ‘Tis the season to support the output of other international creatives.

In closing, please note: Beth and I may repeat this exercise in six months (summer reads). But if you can’t wait until then, I suggest that you sign up for our DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week, and also follow our Pinterest board: DISPLACED READS.

Without further ado, we thank you for making this year great and wish you a season full of mirth and good cheer, along with the odd quiet moment for a displaced read or two!

(Oh, and pass that eggnog!!)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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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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HERE BE DRAGONS: And much else besides! A fantasy-laden Halloween paves way for NaNoWriMo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/taymtaym/15520387690/

Left: Lucca comics & games 2014, by taymtaym via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); the “dragons” of Lucca, by Andrew Couch (October 2014).

For the past few months expat Andrew Couch has been helping us make the connection between a life of international travel and fantasy writing. This month he reports on how he spent Halloween. After you read it, I have only one question: train trip or mind trip or both?

—ML Awanohara

While my compatriots were out trick or treating, I was having my own kind of Halloween adventure over here in Europe, one that took me beyond my wildest imaginingssaying a lot for a fantasy writer!

Naturally, it had people in all manner of costumes wandering about. But it also presented opportunities to hear from a grown man about why he loves writing stories from the point of view of talking mice, and to explore a medieval walled city.

By now fellow geeks should be able to guess that I was attending a comic and games convention: the one that took place in Lucca, Italy, over Halloween weekend. Lucca, a city in Tuscany, is an hour from Florence and half an hour from Pisa.

Now, Lucca may not be able to boast of having a Uffizi Gallery or a leaning tower, but it does have church towers, clock towers, winding streets and odd-shaped plazas, all within a set of Renaissance-era city walls. So many fantasy stories feature towns inside of walls, and there are not many cities that still have them. I had a blast walking around on top of them. Here’s the view it yielded:

Photo credit: Andrew Couch (October 2014).

Aerial view of Lucca. Photo credit: Andrew Couch (October 2014).

You know, being an expat in Europe does have its advantages besides being able to spend Halloween in Tuscany. When in the United States, I never lived in a place big enough to have a decent Con, but in Europe, size doesn’t matter so much, and good train connections make it less of a hassle to attend (no parking woes, and maybe no need for overnight accommodations). This was my first time in Lucca, but for a few years in row now, I’ve been attending the Essen games in Germany, where I live. My first year I took a four-hour train to and from the convention on the same day. At Lucca I noticed someone buying a train ticket home to Turin, which isn’t so close either.

The costumes were a treat

It’s been seven years since I’ve seen any trick-or-treaters as Halloween isn’t widely indulged in Germany (as in other European countries, November 1, All Saint’s Day, is the holiday). But this year it didn’t matter as I had plenty of cosplayers to distract me. Cosplay, short for costume play, is a kind of performance art where we geeks dress up as our favorite characters or ideas.

Similar to Halloween, there are those who create their own original costumes around themes and those who don meticulous real-life facsimiles of 2-D drawings in a comic, game or movie.

I had fun watching both groups.

Since so much of what I like to read and write is steam punk (my fantasy world employs steam power), I enjoyed running into a troop of steam punk people:

SteampunkParade

Steampunk parade. Photo credit: Andrew Couch (October 2014).

Articulated metal hands and fancy goggles blending with romantic ideas of Victorian clothing—it’s definitely fantasy but not as over-the-top as anime and game characters. The mix of reality and fantasy is different, too. For many of the steam punk designs, you could imagine the mechanisms actually working, whereas the fellow on the other side of the street encased in red leather from head to foot? He can barely walk, let alone swing one of his many swords.

A real-life fantasy simulation

Perhaps even more helpful from my writer’s perspective was the chance to observe all of these characters circulating in the convention crowds. Writers, particularly fantasy writers, are free to create all manner of craziness—physics be damned. But seeing some of these ideas in the flesh wandering around was a reality check. The character who carries his signature 7-foot sword around on his back everywhere he goes really sticks out—even in a crowd full of people sporting wings and carrying all kinds of swords and staffs.

Wings, too, are interesting. Out of necessity they create a wider concept of personal space in a society, and potentially the need for wider doors…

So even my crowd watching was a source of reflection. Whether I want to write an over-the-top action story or a more realistic fantasy, I have an idea of what it looks like for various characters to wander around in a city. Because I’ve seen it.

Of Mice and Comics

I chose to attend this year’s Lucca Comics and Games primarily because of an American, the comic book creator David Petersen. He is the author and artist of Mouse Guard, an awesome set of comics (and a role-playing game) about talking mice in a medieval world. I waited in line for an hour to get my book signed (totally worth it!). I also sat in a old Italian church and watched him draw and listen to him talk about his creative process.

Asked about what inspires his drawings, Petersen told a story of being a young boy going with his family to a church in the States with rich wood carvings and decorative elements. He talked about how craftsmanship affected him. He liked the idea that functional items could still be beautiful and wanted his mice characters to have that.

He went on to say that he developed his storyteller muscles as a teen, when engaging in a lot of role-playing games. And he talked about the physical format of the comic book, allowing for dramatic shots and pacing. He said that the British film maker David Lean had inspired him to conceive of the comic book in these terms.

So Petersen takes part of his inspiration from movies. Who knew? And one day my written-word fantasy stories may take inspiration from comic books like his. Why not?

There was something rather stunning about Petersen talking about all this in the setting of a church, with stained glass behind him and a carved wooden ceiling above. My thoughts wandered briefly to the cathedral in Freiburg:

FreibergMinster

Inside the Freiburg Minster II, by orestART via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The original Freiburg Minster was built in the Middle Ages, before people believed the world wasn’t round. That is still mind boggling to me as an American.

* * *

In the end I found the Lucca event so stimulating I only went two of the four days. After being in such enormous crowds, I was happy to be quiet and retreat into the introverted part of my self.

And yet those two days got me thinking more about my own stories, a good thing. I definitely felt ready to write when I got back on the train. I started NaNoWriMo (see my profile) last week along with many others and am already 10K words into the new story (with my second novella nearing completion as well). This is partly due to having a plot pre-planned and partly due to the rich stew of images generated by my time in Lucca, more nourishing for geeks like me than your average Halloween witch’s broth.

Andrew Couch has been a fantasy book nut since childhood; he really has not grown up much since then. After struggling to write his own games for years, he is now creating fantastical worlds in a series of novellas that echo the TV shows, anime and role-playing games of his youth. Beyond fantasy he is an avid blogger and a world traveler who resides in Germany. To learn more about Andrew, check out his blog, Grounded Traveler, and follow him on Twitter: @groundedtravelr.

STAY TUNED for our next fab post!

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EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: Works that capture precious memories of life in other countries

ExpatArtasTherapy_Principle1As explained in my introductory post to this series, the Swiss-British philosopher (and Adult Third Culture Kid) Alain de Botton argues that art of all kinds can be a form of therapy, providing powerful solutions to many of life’s dilemmas.

But is that also true of expat works? Does our art benefit humanity more broadly, or are we creating things—memoirs, novels, films, dance and stage performances, social enterprises—that will only ever speak to people like ourselves: what fellow global soul Pico Iyer has called the great floating tribe of people “living in countries not their own”? (We currently number around 230 million, or just over 3 percent of the world’s population.)

SEND IN THE CLOUDS: "London from Hampstead Heath," by John Constable (British Museum)

SEND IN THE CLOUDS: “London from Hampstead Heath,” by John Constable (British Museum). Photo credit: John Constable, via Wikimedia Commons.

In his “Art as Therapy” lecture, de Botton specifies 6 ways art can answer human needs.

The remainder of this series will look at whether, and to what extent, these observations apply to the works of international creatives, beginning with…

Principle #1: Art can compensate for the fact that we have bad memories.
De Botton cites John Constable and his paintings of clouds above Hampstead Heath as an example of how an artist can sometimes capture something significant yet fragile they have experienced and don’t want to forget.

Will the John Constables among us please stand up? Seriously, it strikes me that we international creatives are well positioned to preserve the memories of the daily wonders we’ve encountered in far-flung parts of the world, our knowledge of which accrues over time. (Not for us the Wonders of the World, when there are so many intrepid world travelers around, eager to conquer them.)

Back in the days when I lived first in England and then in Japan, I always felt like the poor cousin of the anthropologist—I wasn’t an area specialist but that left me free to approach life with an Alice-like curiosity, never quite losing the sensation of having fallen through the rabbit hole. And to convey that to others…

But let’s look at some examples, shall we? Each of the visuals below is inspired by or belongs to the work of an international creative that has featured on this site in some way. I selected these four individuals because of their ability to conjure up an image of something rather precious within their new landscape—the expat equivalent of a dramatically shaped cloud. And, as de Botton has been invited to do at several museums, I’ve added post-it notes describing the therapeutic effects I experienced.

#1: Parabéns: We’re All Mad Here

Parabens

Photo credit: Marbela via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

OBJECT LABEL: Parabéns: We’re All Mad Here, inspired by Megan Farrell (aka Maggie Foxhole) and her book, American Exbrat in São Paulo.
ML’S POST-IT: I have never been to Brazil, but reading Farrell’s step-by-step guide for foreigners who are living (or planning to live) in São Paulo piqued my curiosity. I particularly enjoyed her vivid account of the Brazilian birthday party. What a palava! Far beyond my wildest imaginings. But what is even more curious to me is the Sweet Table, sitting in splendid isolation until the very end of the festivities. According to Farrell:

“The design of the Sweet Table is on the same level of importance for the birthday party as is the set design for a Broadway performance. It consists of hundreds of sweets, strategically placed around the other decorations. But most importantly, NO ONE TOUCHES the Sweet Table until the birthday candles have been blown out at the end of the party. No one. An interesting objective when you have anywhere from thirty to fifty children running around wild and free.”

I rather like the thought of deprivation in the midst of so much decadence: does that make the brigadeiro, when you finally get one, taste even sweeter?
FURTHER READING: Our interview with Megan Farrell, by Andy Martin: Why exbrats in São Paulo need their own book to appreciate life in Brazil’s largest city.

#2: Are Acacia Trees Humans in Disguise?

Acacia Trees

Photo credit: Gezira Sporting Club, by Jorge Láscar via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

OBJECT LABEL: Are Acacia Trees Humans in Disguise?, inspired by Alice Award nominee Kathleen Saville‘s description of these trees in Zamalek, Gezira Island (Cairo, Egypt) in a post for her personal blog.
ML’S POST-IT: The thought of living in Egypt scares me, and I’ve been avoiding most trees ever since Hurricane Sandy. But after reading Saville’s description of Egyptian acacias—

I see folds and twists in the trunks like nothing I have ever seen in another tree. Each tree looks like a long thin body or leg covered with support hose. It’s odd because the appearance is almost human like.

—I feel calmer. Might I have a tree-hugging future?
FURTHER READING: Saville’s blog, Water Meditations, focusing on her water travels.

#3: Elephant Road Trip

Elephant Road Trip
OBJECT LABEL: Elephant Road Trip, inspired by Ruth Hartley and her novel about Africa, The Shaping of Water (Hartley grew up in that part of the world).
ML’S POST-IT: Hartley’s novel begins with the construction of the Kariba Dam, one of the largest dams in the world, over the Zambezi, the fourth-longest river in Africa, flowing into the Indian Ocean. As much as I enjoyed Hartley’s book, I could never quite wrap my head around the scale of what she describes, whether talking about the dam, a massively ambitious project, or about the problems Africa faces as it attempts to shake off the colonial yoke. Perhaps that’s why I took comfort in Hartley’s description of elephants serving as the continent’s original bulldozers:

The roads over the escarpment follow for the main part the old migratory routes taken year after year for millennia by elephants. Elephants, who for all those thousands of years would roam, not just around Zimbabwe, or just around Kenya, but all the way up sub-Saharan Africa from south to north and back again. Now human governments have decreed that elephants must obey human laws and stay within the bounds of national boundaries drawn by straight-edged rulers on maps. In the time before colonization, a mere 150 years ago, elephants travelled where they always travelled, and they walked across mountains with consummate skill and ease, always finding the most direct routes through the least difficult of the passes.

In the midst of a man-against-nature, man-against-man story, I found it a restorative to imagine these pre-colonial times when the elephant, such a magnificent beast, could be relied on to forge trails through the dense brush and trees.
FURTHER READING: Coming soon: our interview with Ruth Hartley about her book.

#4: Shanghai Mix

Shanghai Mix

Photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

OBJECT LABEL: Shanghai Mix, consisting of a photo taken by globe drifter Rachel Kanev, which she chose to feature in her iinterview with James King for our site’s “A Picture Says…” column.
ML’S POST-IT: Rachel has captured a memory of an experience I’ve had several times myself but had nearly forgotten: namely, what it’s like actually to witness Asian economic development rather than pontificate about it. As Rachel puts it in her chat with James:

In that fleeting instant, one can see Shanghai’s varied transportation, high-rise buildings and red lanterns, as well as Kate Winslet—that curious amalgamation of Western modernity and Chinese traditionalism that is everywhere around you in the city.

Perhaps because she snapped the photo just as the sun was setting, it fills me with sweet nostalgia. (I’m not remembering the smog, for a change…)
FURTHER READING: Rachel Kanev’s blog, Globe Drifting

* * *

So, readers, what do you think of the above “exhibition” of works that touch on expat experiences and emotions. Did you find it therapeutic? And are there other expat works you would recommend for this reason? Do tell in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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