The Displaced Nation

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Tag Archives: Thailand

4 observations after 3 years of holding up a mirror to expat (& repat) life

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote a post in celebration of the Displaced Nation’s third birthday, which occurred on April 1st.

For three years we’ve held up a mirror, as it were, to what we’ve been calling the displaced life, writing and commissioning posts on what motivates people to venture across borders to travel and live.

During the past three years, here’s what our looking-glass has revealed:

1) We aspire to be the fairest of them all.

If our site stats are anything to go by, the Fountain of Youth myth is still alive and well. We may not be searching for water with restorative powers on our travels, but we never tire of reading about Jennifer Scott’s top 20 lessons she learned from Madame Chic while living in Paris, TCK Marie Jhin’s advice on Asian beauty secrets, or my post summarizing beauty tips I picked up on two small islands, England and Japan (three of our most popular posts to date). Heck, even 5 tips on how to look good when you backpack still gets plenty of hits.

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

The popularity of two of Tony James’s Slater’s posts—one listing his five favorite parties around the world and other other telling the tale of his attempt to overcome language barriers in pursuit of an Ecuadorian woman—suggest that good times and love still rank high on the list of reasons why people opt for the road much less traveled. That said, some of us worry about going too far with the latter, if the enduring popularity of my post four reasons to think twice before embarking on cross-cultural marriage is anything to go by.

3) But we love hearing stories about international travelers with a higher purpose.

Most of us do not venture overseas in hopes of changing the world, but we are inspired by tales of those who once did—how else to explain the golden oldie status of 7 extraordinary women with a passion to save souls? And our fascination with the international do-gooder of course continues to the present. Kate Allison’s interview with Robin Wiszowaty, who serves as Kenya Program Director for the Canadian charity Free the Children, still gets lots of hits, as does my post about Richard Branson and other global nomads who delve into global misery. Perhaps we like to bask in reflected glory?!

4) Last but not least, we think we know things other people don’t.

Indeed, the most common phenomenon that has occurred when holding up our mirror to international adventurers is to find our mirror reflected in theirs, and theirs reflected in the lives of people they depict, ad infinitum, in a manner not unlike a Diego Velázquez painting (see above). In my view, this mise en abyme owes to the conviction among (particularly long-term) expats that in venturing so far afield, they have uncovered things about our planet that are worth examining, reporting, and creating something with, be it a memoir of what they’ve experienced (think Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, Janet Brown’s Tone Deaf in Bangkok, or Jennifer Eremeeva’s soon-to-be featured Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow), a novel based on their overseas adventures (think Kate Allison’s Libby’s Life or Cinda MacKinnon’s A Place in the World), and/or an art work that springs from what they saw and felt when living in other cultures (eg, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show about growing up a TCK).

In short, although many of us can relate to Alice’s feeling of having stepped through the looking glass, we also aren’t afraid to hold up a looking glass to that experience. I often think of Janet Brown telling us she almost went home “a gibbering mess” upon discovering that her Thai landlord was spreading salacious rumors about her, but the point is, she survived to tell us about the experience in her gem of a book. Surely, that’s the kind of hero/ine Linda Janssen has in mind for her self-help book The Emotionally Resilient Expat?

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No doubt there are even more insights our three years of running the Displaced Nation have revealed, but I’ll stop here to see what you make of this list of traits. Does it strike you as being accurate, or perhaps a bit distorted? (Hmmm… Given this site’s proclivity for humor and sending things up, how can you be sure this isn’t a funhouse mirror and I’m not pulling your leg? Har har hardy har har.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A bloomin’ late bloomer!

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


Photo credit: James King

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

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

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


Photo credit: James King


Photo credit: James King

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

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

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

Semi-retirement in the Thai tropics

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

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

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


Photo credit: James King

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

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


Photo credit: James King

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

Let’s not get technical

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


Photo credit: James King

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

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


Photo credit: James King

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

A few parting shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAPITAL IDEA: Bangkok: A quick guide

bangkokWelcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Bangkok

That reminds me I saw The Hangover Part 2 recently. Great movie. Um, no, it isn’t.

What are you crazy? A chain-smoking capuchin monkey and that guy who is in The Office wakes up to a Mike Tyson-style face tattoowhat’s not to love? Its content? Anyway, why are you blathering on about The Hangover Part 2?

Because dude, it’s set in Bangkok. As is Bangkok Dangerous. What a surprise!

Anyway, you’ve got my attention. Those films have certainly piqued my interest in visiting Thailand’s capital city. Well, that is good to hear.

Yes, I think I could have a fun, hedonistic vacation. Is it as crazy as it seems in those films? It’s a city of over eight million. I’m sure you can find some craziness if you’re so inclined, but there’s far more to this city than some of your preconceptions.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that is the case, and I’m all ears regarding all that culture nonsense that I know you love, but still, I might want to take in a ping pong show in Soi Cowboy. How can you go to Bangkok and not see its seedy underbelly? Fairly easily. This is not a guide for sex tourists.

Oh, you’re such a square! Okay, what would you have me see? Take a ferry to the Old City. There you’ll be able to visit the ornate Grand Palace built in the 18th century for the Thai king and Wat Phra Kaew, where you can find Emerald Buddha. A trip to Wat Arun is also a must.

The Grand Palace, you say? They’re pretty big on their Royal Family, aren’t they? You can say that again. Indeed, you’ll find portraits of the current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as some of his predecessors, in most restaurants.

So jokes about the King probably won’t go down too well? No. In fact, lèse majesté, which is the crime of violating majesty, is enshrined in law, so no, probably not the best idea to make a joke about the Thai King as it could lead to a prison sentence.

Blimey! Kind of appreciate that I can make all those jokes about Prince Charles’s ears with impunity. Absolutely!

Anything else I need to know on this? Yes, Thai nationals have to stand for the national anthem by law.

I think I’m going to regret saying this, but what do you recommend? I’ve got one word for you—puppets.

Oh God, I wished I hadn’t asked. No, hear me out. Traditional Thai puppetry is fascinating. The Aksra Theatre in Bangkok puts on a great introductory show for tourists that also showcase traditional Thai music too. The puppets will depict scenes from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic. Go, you’ll love it, I promise!

Trust this guide to push some weird recommendation on me. What? Me? The very idea! … I think I might rather try my hand at the ping pong show. No!!!! Go with the puppet show.

I’m guessing I’ll eat well in Bangkok? You guess right. Really, you can’t go wrong. You don’t need to find out who the fanciest, trendiest chefs in town are, just take a wander and keep is simple. You’ll be able to eat very well and by spending very little.

Sounds great, and how do I get around the city? The city has three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. They’re all pretty good if you’re going long distances across the city. For shorter distances just take a taxi. I would, however, give one warning on this, based on personal experience. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t have the best of reputationsdon’t allow yourself to be ripped off. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will refuse to put on their meters and will quote you outrageous sums when you first step in their cab to get you to your destination, because they see you’re a farang. If they’re not prepared to negotiate to a sum you feel is reasonable, then don’t feel shy about exiting their cab and searching for another taxi.

What should I read to prepare for the journey? More than any other expat destination, Bangkok seems to have inspired cringe-worthy expat books about crime and sin in the capital or “hard man” accounts from Westerners who’ve ended up in Thai prisons for drug smuggling. They’re for the most part best avoiding. If you must have something that touches on the sin and crime of the city, then John Burdett‘s Bangkok 8 is an entertaining read for a flight over to Thailand. If you’re particularly ambitious you could also try reading The Ramakien (in translation).

What should I watch? You could watch the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous from 1999 if you were interested by the American remake. Also, in recent years a number of Thai films have gained attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady are worth investigating.

STAY TUNED for next week’s Displaced Nation posts.

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Image: awindram

6 Alice-in-Wonderland themes for creatives abroad to explore in their works

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

Call us zany, but when we first started this site two years ago, someone (no, not me!) had the bright idea of picking a literary or historical figure and using that person as a source of inspiration for a month-long series of posts.

June 2011, for instance, was Alice in Wonderland month; July, Pocahontas month; September, Robert Persig month; and October, Julia Child month.

You’ll never guess which one of these themes proved most popular: why, Alice of course! What international traveler or expat hasn’t experienced the sensation of stepping through the looking glass or falling down the rabbit hole? Like Alice, those of us who venture beyond borders must furiously navigate the new environments we uncover. Also like Alice, we are prone to feeling lonely and a bit sorry for ourselves on occasion.

Most expats can also relate to Alice’s gradual loss of self-identity. As she confesses to the Caterpillar:

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see.”

In today’s post, I propose to revisit Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece for themes that are worth exploring from a creative angle. Here are six that I find myself thinking about a lot, when trying to parse my own expat experience (an American, I lived first in England and then in Japan). WARNING: Tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat!

1) The old adage about trusting your gut doesn’t always work when it comes to your actual gut.

ALICE PASSAGE: In Alice’s Wonderland, a jar labeled “Orange Marmalade” is not actually a jar full of orange marmalade.
APPLIES TO: Expats in Japan, who are always biting into pastries in the hopes of tasting chocolate and tasting azuki bean paste instead. Indeed, should you ever be in need of an Alice-like culinary experience, Japan has got to be your place. There’s the wasabi Kit Kats, of course. And how about the time when Carole Hallett Mobbs’s friend in Tokyo bought a sandwich with a lumpy filling? As Carole reported in her guest post for us:

A gentle squeeze sent a whole cooked potato shooting across the room.

ANOTHER ALICE FOOD PASSAGE: Fearing the contents of the “Drink Me” bottle may be poison, Alice is pleasantly surprised:

it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.

APPLIES TO: International travelers who venture to remote spots and are pleasantly surprised by the local cuisine. Actually, you don’t even have to be somewhere remote. Tokyo was where I developed a fondness for hirezake (hot sake with fugu fin) — talk about poisonous cocktails! And travel author Janet Brown told us she dreaded trying fried grasshoppers while living in Bangkok,  only to find she liked them as much as popcorn! But even dedicated locavores, such as Jessica Festa, can have an Alice moment from time to time. I’ll never forget the story about her first experience eating cuy (guinea pig) in Ecuador. As she tells it, she saw it on the grill and thought it resembled her childhood pet, Joey. Repressing her better instinct not to eat anything she grew up playing with, she took a bite and said: “Holy crap, this is delicious!”

2) Communications with others and in general are far from satisfactory.

ALICE PASSAGE: When Alice is “opening out like the largest telescope that ever was, saying good-bye to her feet, she cries “Curiouser and curiouser!”—and then feels surprised that “for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English.”
APPLIES TO: Native English speakers living in a non-English speaking country. Their English inevitably morphs into the version the locals speak; spelling, too, deteriorates, and doesn’t come back.

ANOTHER ALICE MISCOMMUNICATION: Alice repeatedly offends the creatures in Wonderland without even trying.
APPLIES TO: Anyone who finds themselves “tone deaf” in Bangkok, as the aforementioned Janet Brown once did. (NOTE: Applies equally to those struggling to learn other Asian tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese.) As she explained in her interview with us:

The most common mistake for foreigners is to tell someone their baby is beautiful, while actually announcing that the infant is bad luck.

3) Committing to another country can sometimes mean altering your body size (or wishing you could).

ALICE PASSAGE: When Alice first lands in Wonderland, she finds herself too large for the doorway out of the dark hall into the beautiful garden.
APPLIES TO: Anyone over 5’5″ living in Japan, Korea or Southeast Asia, who has to keep their head down when entering traditional dwellings for fear of getting a concussion.

ANOTHER BODY-CHANGING ALICE MOMENT: At the instruction of the Caterpillar, Alice tries eating portions of mushroom he’s been sitting on, which make her grow and shrink.
APPLIES TO: Repeat expats, or rex-pats, who find themselves going back and forth between the obesity epidemic in United States and almost anywhere else in the world, where people simply eat less and walk more. While living in Tokyo I soon reached my lowest body weight ever without even trying: all those meals of clear soup, rice, veggies and fish. Now that I’m back in America, I weigh ten pounds more, while in England I was somewhere in between…

4) People in other countries have their own relationships with Father Time.

ALICE PASSAGE: Alice experiences the full gamut: from the White Rabbit dashing about with his stopwatch for fear of being late for an important date, to the slackers at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, who waste time “asking riddles that have no answers.”
APPLIES TO: Repeat expats, or rex-pats, who’ve had the chance to live in Southern Europe, South America, or other places notorious for their laid-back approach to time, as well as in Germany, Switzerland or Japan where people pride themselves on their punctuality. Compared to Japan, I found England a Southern European country. When I was living in Tokyo and visiting the UK during summers, I was always late to appointments because I’d forgotten that trains don’t run on time (or at all). And most of the time, I had their sympathies. Whereas in Japan, I swear a White Rabbit must be in charge of public transport. You can set your watch by the trains! No excuses for lateness…

5) The laws and practices of another land can take some getting used to.


“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

APPLIES TO: Anyone who displaces themselves to a country with a radically different life philosophy. For instance, as an American I found that one of the biggest challenges of getting used to England and then Japan, the two small-island nations where I lived, was that I could never quite accept the natives’ stoicism. As I wrote in the first of my “Lessons from Two Small Islands” posts:

Where the citizens of each of these countries saw grace, strength, endurance, and perseverance, I saw passivity, masochism, fatalism and pain. “Why is everyone bowing so readily to their fates?” I would ask myself repeatedly.

And, though I never committed an act of “queue rage” while standing in line at the post office in the English town where I lived, I came pretty close—especially when watching others who’d come in after I did get served before me.

On those occasions, I felt like crying out: why don’t we try a serpentine line instead?

And what about all those expats living in countries with byzantine immigration laws? Apparently, Alice’s own home, the UK, is among the worst. As we learned from interviewing New Zealander Vicki Jeffels, it essentially tells any wannabe immigrants: “Off with your heads!” Even if you’re from the Commonwealth! Still, at least they no longer discriminate… (Jeffels sorted out her visa problems in the end but has since repatriated.)

6) “Pool of tears” moments eventually build resilience.

ALICE PASSAGES: Alice goes from “shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep” to holding her own in Wonderland (see #5).
APPLIES TO: Well, really all of us. In the previous incarnation of the Displaced Nation, I had a Random Nomads column in which I would interview expats or veterans of international travel and ask them to describe their “most displaced” and “least displaced” moments. Many had difficulty with the former request, I guess because they felt uncomfortable going down the Rabbit Hole and examining their hearts more closely. The American Brian MacDuckston, though, was the rare exception. His “pool of tears” moment was his very first day of work as an English teacher in Japan. He somehow managed to get on the wrong train (every foreigner in Japan’s nightmare) and ended up in a “depot storage yard with an attendant yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand.” He was late for his first class and wanted to quit. Since then, however, he has emerged as one of the leading experts on Japanese ramen. Last we heard, he’d been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched his first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. Way to go, Brian, in treating that screaming railway worker as a Jack of Spades!

* * *

So, are you ready to inject a bit of Alice into your Great Work on the voluntarily displaced life? And can you think of any more inspirational passages from Lewis Carroll? (No doubt there are more, and I will think of some of them as soon as I post this.)

Meantime, the Displaced Nation will continue its tradition of awarding “Alices” to writers who capture the curious, unreal side of the displaced life—only we will now be awarding one per week, via our Displaced Dispatch. What, not a subscriber yet? CLICK HERE NOW—or off with your head! Recommendations of posts (your own, other bloggers’) for Alices are also warmly appreciated. Please send to

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our Old World/New World series.

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

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I’m an explorer — not a traveler

This week, the Displaced Nation is drifting away from March’s initial theme of beauty/fashion tips picked up from world travels. Hardly surprising, given that all of this week’s writers are males! Today’s guest poster, James Murray, a displaced Brit in Boston, is a prime example. The only new fashion he’d like to start would be replacing the word “travel” with “explore.” Sounds pedantic, right? Well, see what you think!

— ML Awanohara

I was never really one for traveling. When all the kids went on their gap years before college, I called them on it: I knew it was a waste of money; a way to delay the inevitable intrusion of the Real World into their lives — in short, I didn’t see the point.

Receiving emails from abroad about how wonderful these experiences were and how life-affirming and eye-opening and incredible the world was, I simply smiled to myself.

How naïve they were, I thought.

Whereas I would be a year ahead; a year closer to a job; a year closer to money, and a year closer to actual freedom.

I did not see work as some black hole into which you pour all of your efforts with no hope of ever getting anything back. On the contrary, I thought it would be pretty good to have a job and a flat and friends and the cash to support a lifestyle I could be comfortable with.

Travel for travel’s sake

I still think that. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I was ever wrong on this point. Sorry to disappoint. And particular apologies to Jeff Jung, whose book on career-break travel was favorably reviewed on this site at the end of last month.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, I’ve traveled and, yes, I love being “elsewhere,” doing things differently, as much as the next displaced nation resident. In fact I’m a bit of a neophile when it comes to food and culture…

But being enamored of the new doesn’t mean you have to travel.

Travel provides a set of obvious novelties: new tastes; new currencies; new transport; climate; a different view from the window.

But just being somewhere different doesn’t make you an explorer; in order to get that badge, you need to set foot outside your comfort zone, step away from the hotel, the package tour, the guidebook — and look with your own eyes.

Cross that one off the list!

That Facebook app that challenges you to prove you’re a world traveler by listing all the countries you’ve visited irrespective of how long you were there or where exactly you were: what does it really show? It makes a three-day hotel stay in Shanghai look as though you’ve conquered the entirety of mainland China, and it reduces that beautiful holiday in Wales — you know, the one that reminded you what it was like when shops closed on a Sunday — to a complete non-event.

The way we think of travel is all wrong: the political boundaries on the map say that I now live in the USA, but that doesn’t really say anything about where I actually live or the aspects of American culture that I’ve actually experienced.

My life would be completely different if, say, I lived in the desert or the mountains — it would even be different if I lived in New York instead of Boston.

I don’t anticipate ever being able to say that I’ve seen it all.

Explore, for heaven’s sake!

Exploring as opposed to traveling is a question of quality against quantity. I did a lot of exploring in London and Edinburgh that opened my eyes just as much as wandering around Thailand and Romania.

A few curiously exploratory examples:

  • Getting a haircut at a weird little barber’s in Shepherd’s Bush. It was an all-male barber’s, where men could “come along and say what they like in whatever language they like,” as the proprietor put it. I remember being very quiet amid a torrent of very macho conversation. Not a totally unpleasant experience, but I never went back.
  • With my flatmate, laying Russian roulette with the pastries at Vanna Patisserie, a Chinese bakery in Shepherd’s Bush. They were either sugary and delicious or curiously tough with a peculiar secret ingredient. There was no way of telling from the outside.
  • Spotting a Portobello (Edinburgh) art exhibition displayed outside people’s homes that featured, amongst other things, a fat-and-seed bird feeder in the shape of the artist’s head, hung from a tree, where it was gradually and gruesomely pecked to pieces.

These bizarre titbits are the wages of the explorer but not necessarily the traveler, who might see only those accepted “landmarks” to which his eyes are directed.

Avenues for exploration are everywhere. In fact, when I first moved to London, I was so inspired by the tube stops that I wanted to develop a guide to each one.

My idea was that I would use some algorithm to pick a different tube stop each weekend, go there and simply wander around in a roughly spiral shape from that stop, looking carefully at architectural details, stopping in parks and perhaps interviewing the proprietors of particularly interesting local businesses.

I would document these things not so much as a guide for others to visit exactly the same places, but in hopes of inspiring them to look at their own neighborhoods with new eyes.

Exploring the New World

I try to do the same kind of thing in Boston, although I confess I find it a bit harder — there’s the sheer fact that London is 1) massive and 2) very, very old that makes it rather easier to find the gems at the ends of the nooks and crannies.

But I’m not discouraged — I’ve still barely explored the North End with its windy little streets and ample opportunities for getting lost (I don’t have one of those phones that tells me where I’m going).

And just the other day we were introduced to a bar not five minutes down the road, which will make a superb local, with its walls plastered in kitschy tut. I’m sure I’ve passed it before, but, like all the best things, it’s a bit hard to spot.

In amongst these streets are histories, idiosyncrasies and mythologies — of that I have little doubt. Finding them is just a matter of retiring my traveler’s shoes and donning an explorer’s hat.

* * *

So, world travelers — sorry, I meant to say “explorers” — what do you think? Is James right in saying that all of this obsession with the quantity of travel (how many countries, etc.) is misguided? And what do you think of his assertion that Edinburgh can be as fascinating as Bangkok, if you take an explorer’s approach? Please leave your thoughts in the comments…

James Murray is a self-described “itinerant Brit.” After a stint in New Zealand, and some travel in Southeast Asia, he and his American girlfriend — now wife — are practicing “staying put” in Boston, where James is pursing a career as a wordsmith for marketing and fiction, and as a non-professional theatre director. He is also a Utopian idealist and SingStar enthusiast. You can find more about his views by reading his blog, Quaint James, and/or following him on Twitter: @quaintjames.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by Andy Martin, about a unusual source of beauty in his new home town of São Paulo.

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img: MorgueFile

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

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

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

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

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

Brian with Ramen_Xmas1) BRIAN MACDUCKSTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

LarissaReinhart&Reinhart2) LARISSA REINHART

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PatriciaWintonwithholly3) PATRICIA WINTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

5 travel situations that spell H-O-R-R-O-R!

Overseas travel can be a dangerous business. Casting yourself out into the wide world — into a foreign culture, possibly alone and thousands of miles from home — is always going to present challenges and perils aplenty.

Sometimes everything goes all right, or almost — sure, you lose your hat at the beach, or your taxi driver struggles to find the right address; but otherwise, everything is fine.

And then there are those moments when something goes terribly amiss — and your stomach feels like it’s dropped into your shoes!

This post is devoted to those H-O-R-R-I-F-Y-I-N-G moments…beginning with five of mine, hand picked from dozens. And I’d like you all to share yours!

1) Your accommodation is not as described.

Now this is a common enough problem. As a broke backpacker, I’ve stayed in some seriously nasty places, but there was one that took the biscuit — or would have, had I dared to eat it in there. I refer to the last two beds left anywhere in Perth — which served my sister and I right for waiting till we arrived to arrange a place to stay. It was coming up to Christmas, and the place looked okay on the Web site. Cheap and cheerful, just like us! Only the rooms stank. They were knee deep in the occupants’ clothes, and it was clear some of them had been hanging out in there for a while. My room, bizarrely, was all girls apart from me — with sarongs hanging from the top bunks as privacy screens. That seemed like a good idea, as I certainly didn’t want to see what was going on — not judging by what I could hear…

Yep, you guessed it. Turned out that place was being used as a brothel, with the owner taking a cut to look the other way. We lasted two nights before thankfully finding more salubrious accommodation. I guess I should have been grateful that our beds weren’t charged by the hour…

2) Your money is suddenly all gone.

Been there, done that! Haven’t we all? When living on a small island in Thailand, I discovered to my horror one day that my bank account was almost empty. A closer inspection revealed a series of withdrawals — always the maximum amount possible, all transacted on the mainland over five hours away by boat.

Something didn’t add up. I got in touch with my bank and took the last of my cash out — only to have it stolen in a bungalow break in the following night! Luckily, I’d made a lot of friends, and they supported me until the bank agreed I’d been defrauded, and gave me all the money back.

(Interestingly enough, years later, it occurred to me that around the time of those withdrawals I’d been buying a lot of diving gear for cash…and of course, my island was too small to process its own transactions, so they all showed up as being made on the mainland…)

3) You drop your camera.

People get very attached to their photos — and we travelers more so than most. Hardly a week goes by without some friend pleading on Facebook for pictures of a night out that got inexplicably wiped from memory. So dropping your camera is potentially a huge disaster — and one that, thankfully, I’ve never done. No, I’ve never owned a camera, because I am death to gadgets. I’m terminally clumsy, which is why no one trusts me — except my poor wife, who paid the ultimate price. She handed her camera to me for safekeeping only for a minute, while she went back to lock the door of our traditional Fijian hut. Now I never thought of concrete as traditionally Fijian, but that is what the path was made of. So when I fumbled and dropped the camera, it shattered into about a thousand pieces.

We were able to claim it on insurance — not ours, as we hadn’t bought any, but my mother’s, since she was kind enough to pretend it was her camera I’d destroyed.

The photos, however, were gone for good. And seeing as how I was wearing a bikini in some of them, maybe that’s for the best…

4) You eat a dodgy curry!

Eating something that doesn’t agree with you and developing a pain, quite literally, in the backside only gets worse when you’re miles from home. And unfortunately, it also gets way more likely. Especially if, like me, you have a habit of eating food from wherever is cheapest! I never found out what caused my illness in Ecuador, but it resulted in my own Night of the Living Dead, in which I, zombie like, spent twelve hours weaving between my bed in a crummy hostel dorm and the nearest toilet two floors away — where (ignore the rest of this sentence if you’re squeamish) I was vomiting more blood than I’d ever seen outside my body. I honestly thought I was going to die that night — a good thing I was already dead!

And last but by no means least:

5) You discover there is no toilet paper…

Whether it’s electronically controlled and plays music at you, or a rough wooden plank over a hole in the ground, you know you’ll have to use the facilities at some point, and when that moment comes, will adapt somehow — you haven’t really got a choice. In one extreme case I’d left it as long as humanly possible — by which point there was no thought in my head beyond getting out of the restaurant in time! Once I’d made it to the toilet round the back, I felt much better. Until, that is, I felt in my pocket and remembered I was wearing new jeans — and hadn’t transferred over the stash of TP…

I won’t go into any more detail, apart from to say that for the rest of that meal, I adopted the local practice of only eating with my right hand.

* * *

So, now it’s your turn! Travel horror stories, if you please! And as always, you can catch me and the rest of the crew on Twitter: @TonyJamesSlater +/or @displacednation.

Thanks for reading!

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an interview with a displaced author of a violent romance!

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

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Images (clockwise, left to right): Horror image from Tony’s personal collection: fooling around with an abandoned vehicle near Wolfe Creek, Northern Territory (2007); sexy woman, pawn shop and Canon camera all from MorgueFile; Tony’s “undead” photo from a Halloween in Perth, Australia (2008); toilet paper and travel boot from MorgueFile.

RANDOM NOMAD: Larissa Reinhart, Former Expat, Midwestern Southern Belle & Crime Novelist

Place of birth: Silvis, Illinois USA (I’m actually from nearby Andover, but it’s too small to have a hospital!)
Passport: USA only — but I’m on my third edition!
Overseas history: Japan (Yokohama, Kameoka, Nagoya): 1995-96; 1998-99; 2008-10.
Occupation: Mother and author of the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series. I’m also working on a mystery series set in contemporary Japan.
Cyberspace coordinates: The Expat Returneth — Sharing my life overseas, my life at home, and the other world that lives between my head and paper (blog); Larissa Reinhart: Writing mysteries and romance south of the sweet tea line (author site) @riswrites (Twitter handle); Larissa Reinhart (FB page); and Larissa Reinhart (Good Reads).

What made you leave the United States to live in a faraway land?
I’ve always wanted to live overseas. Before I got the chance to do it physically, I traveled through books — for instance, The Crane Maiden, by Miyoko Matsutani, and The Laughing Dragon, by Kenneth Mahood (I have passed them to my children). When I got older, I loved Elizabeth Peters mysteries, which are set in Egypt.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
My family is firmly rooted in Illinois, but was always interested in other cultures. My father was a history teacher, and I had a good understanding of geography and world history from him. I also had a grandfather who loved to travel. As a kid, I read his National Geographic collection and was fascinated by the countries he visited, particularly Egypt. He probably would have loved to have been displaced, but had to wait until retirement to travel.

Tell me about the moment during your various stays in Japan when you felt the most displaced.
My husband had a scholarship from the Monbu-shō to study at Keio University, so I applied to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme — and ended up getting to Japan a few weeks before he did. I lived with a homestay family. They spoke no English. I spoke no Japanese. They were very sweet, but they swung between helicopter-parent smothering and leaving me for long periods of time alone in a tatami room. I had horrible jet lag and felt so isolated and helpless. Once I moved into an apartment, my jet lag abated and I began enjoying myself. I had traveled to Egypt previously — but hadn’t experienced that kind of debilitating jet lag that comes with a 13-hour time difference. It’s a killer!

When did you feel the least displaced?
We have two young daughters from China. Four years ago, we took them to Nagoya to live for a couple of years. We saw it as a chance for them to experience life in Asia at a time in their lives when it was still easy to move around and adjust. They loved Japan. By the end of our two years, we all wanted to stay, but unfortunately couldn’t. There is no one particular instance, but lots of little, everyday moments we hark back to and can’t seem to reproduce back here — our family living comfortably in our tiny house, walking to shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, my children riding their bikes with the local kids to play at the neighborhood park…

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A ceramic tanuki (Japanese raccoon-dog). Japanese families and businesses keep them in front of their doors to welcome guests. It’s similar to the Maneki-neko (beckoning cat), but more fun because of their sake bottle and large kintama (golden testicles), which are meant to bring good fortune.

Hmmm…moving right along: You are also invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

I like Japanese bar food, so we’ll have a meal based on that.
Appetizer: Edamame (boiled & salted green soy beans) and a Grapefruit Sour to drink. My favorite bars in Japan will give you a glass of ice, seltzer, and shōchū (grain alcohol) and a half-grapefruit with a strainer for you to squeeze the juice into the glass. Really refreshing.
Main: A bunch of Japanese tapas dishes — yaki-gyōza (fried potstickers), tebasaki (grilled wings), pari pari renkon chips (spicy, deep fried lotus root), tsukune (grilled chicken meatballs), and yakitori (skewered grilled chicken)
Dessert: Japan isn’t big into dessert, so we’ll have a savory bowl of ramen instead. And maybe another Grapefruit Sour. Or two.

Yum, you’ve brought me back to my own izakaya days… And now can you please suggest a Japanese word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Chuto-hanpa. It literally means half-measure, but is used to describe doing something half-assed. I love this word.

We’re getting into a bit of a Halloweeny mood at the Displaced Nation. Tell me, did you keep the American Halloween tradition alive while living in Japan?
We did celebrate Halloween in Japan with our children. It’s becoming popular there in terms of decorations and parties (we even found an American-type pumpkin for $20), but trick-or-treating is an oddity. You don’t request gifts from people — certainly not door-to-door. Our neighbors would deliver snacks in a plastic jack-o-lanterns to our house instead. One expat friend arranged a trick-or-treating excursion for the children as part of a Halloween party. But first we mothers delivered bowls of candy to the businesses and homes in the area so that, when we brought the children round to trick-or-treat, they would have something to give them. People probably thought we were crazy, but at least they found the children in costume adorable.

Also in keeping with the season, we’ve started exchanging expat horror stories on the site. What’s the creepiest situation you’ve encountered on your travels?
It was on a trip to Thailand. My husband and I hung out on a beach at Koh Samui for a few days. To get back to the mainland, we had to hike across the island to catch a boat. We were proceeding along the dirt road, chatting…when I felt something grab my arm. Without breaking stride, I glanced down and saw a monkey, teeth bared, ready to bite me. Suddenly it flew off my arm, and I screamed. It had been chained to the side of the road, and was ripped away as it reached the end of its tether. Its vicious eyes and sharp teeth will forever be burned in my memory. That nasty monkey must have been someone’s pet. My husband saw it standing next to its stake before it jumped on my arm. Too busy talking, I totally missed it and walked within its perimeter. You can bet I have remained vigilant for monkeys ever since. I had a close call with some snow monkeys in Nagano, as well. I am not a fan.

The first book in your Cherry Tucker mystery series is called Portrait of a Dead Guy. That sounds a little creepy. Is it?
It’s actually a humorous mystery, but the idea of painting a coffin portrait is creepy even for my heroine, a sassy Southern artist named Cherry Tucker. However, she’s desperate for a commission, which is why she offers her services. The dead guy has been murdered, and his stepmother felt that a final portrait would be a fitting commemoration. Cherry ends up as another potential victim of the murderer because of her proximity to the corpse. That said, she does have one spooky scene at night in a funeral home, alone with the dead body, which ends badly.

Painting a portrait of a dead man — how did you think that one up?
In truth, coffin portraits are not all that unusual, depending on your culture. Many cultures use a portrait of the deceased with their memorialization. I know a family friend who was asked to photograph a coffin portrait to send to the deceased’s family in Asia. They would probably place the photo in a family shrine and burn incense for a specific number of days along with other rites.

Tell me about your plans for the Japanese mystery series.
I’m a humorous mystery writer, so I look at the lighter side of crime. Did you know that the Japanese love mysteries? I think it’s because they have so little crime. I have another Southern heroine for the Japanese series, which will bring an interesting cross-cultural twist. I love the interplay of cultures.

Say, what is this thing about you and Southern ladies? Aren’t you an Illinois girl? Is this another displacement?
It is another displacement! We moved to Georgia between trips to Japan, about fifteen years ago. Small town South is very similar to small town Midwest, except for the Southerner’s extravagant use of hyperbole and simile in conversation. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the U.S. now, although I can place myself in some foreign spots quite easily. 🙂

Readers — yay or nay for letting Larissa Reinhart into The Displaced Nation? She has an affinity for dead bodies, true — but in a humorous sense! And she doesn’t monkey around… (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Larissa — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with another former expat author.

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

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Images: Larissa Reinhart inside a subway station in Nagoya; her favorite tanuki (cute or creepy?); her book cover.

Would I travel for food? It depends…on whether it’s pizza or haggis!

Third Culture Kid Tiffany Lake-Haeuser is back, to tell us what she thinks about gluttony as a motive for travel.

As a Third Culture Kid who was raised in the United States and Abu Dhabi before returning to my native Germany, I’ve learned that every culture has its own traditional foods — but the idea of trying them all? I’ll take that with a pinch of salt, so to speak.  Some of the world’s most celebrated foods are very good; others, not so much.

At my international school in Frankfurt, I’ve found it amusing to walk around at lunchtime and see what the different nationalities are eating. Obviously, we students are somewhat limited by what the cafeteria offers, but once a year on International Day — a day for celebrating all the nationalities at our school — things get a bit more interesting. We get to choose between egg noodles at the Thai stand and the burgers at the U.S. stand, among others…

Food for thought

Would I travel for food? I know that the Displaced Nation has covered this topic obsessively last month. I discussed it with a few of my schoolmates — ironically, during our lunch period — and we agreed that while most of us have a certain sweet or other type of food we make a habit of eating or buying when we are in certain countries, we would not be inclined to go on a food tour.

One of my friends said she makes it a priority to buy “double stuf” oreos in the U.S. Though hardly a delicacy in America, this cookie is seen as an exotic treat at our school.

Other friends mentioned their efforts to avoid certain traditional foods at all costs. For instance, one of them said she loathed eating haggis in Scotland — even though that’s where she is originally from! For those of you who don’t know what haggis is, it is a savory pudding of sheep lung, liver and heart encased with other ingredients in an animal’s stomach. Mmmmm!

Another friend reported she’d found eating snails in France less than appetizing. The snails slimy and chewy, not pleasurable as French people like to claim.


My own most memorable food experience associated with travel occurred when I was attending international school in Abu Dhabi. I refer to my eighth-grade week-long school trip to Thailand. Every day, we were given plain white rice to eat; it came with every single meal. By the end of the week, we just couldn’t face another bowl of rice! (On the rare occasions when we were served French fries, the students would attack them and within minutes they would be gone.)

However, on the last day of our trip, we were taken to a school and taught how to make chicken curry and spring rolls. Not only was it the best meal I’d had all week (which is of course not biased to the fact that I was the cook!), but I also found it so interesting to see the way these foods were made.

So maybe I would consider a cookery tour one day?

By the way, that still didn’t stop me from refusing to even consider eating rice for another month after that trip!

Pasta & pizza — perfect!

By the time this post goes up, I will be traveling in Italy, which is by far my favorite country to eat in. Pasta and pizza are two of my favorite things to eat in the world — and let’s face it, Italy does these foods better than anywhere else.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I will stop eating, but that’s a different problem.

I guess everyone needs to decide for themselves how far they are willing to travel for scrumptious or adventuresome eats. As for me, I will not be taking the train to Paris (where my dad now lives) every time I want a croissant — even if the original is truly amazing.

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Readers, any thoughts on or reactions to Tiffany Lake-Haeuser’s skepticism about linking international travel to food experiences? Please put them in the comments. You can also follow what she is up to on her blog, Girl on the Run.

STAY TUNED for the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue Wallace, who will attempt to offer expat readers solace on their horrifying experiences in tomorrow’s post.

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THE DISPLACED Q: Expats & other globetrotters, what foods do you inflict on visitors from home?

I was a very finicky eater when I was growing up.

I would only eat beans on toast or fish-fingers.

Not beans with fish-fingers! Oh, no. In fact if beans touched the fish-fingers, the whole lot was all for the bin.

My poor mother must have been in despair.

Flash forward to the present day, and not much has changed…

Okay, so it has! Honest. I’m now prepared to try anything and everything — although my regular eating habits are not substantially more sophisticated. Well, I’ve added pizza to the mix, which I guess counts as Italian food.

So my question for you today, is this: what do you do when the roles are reversed, and your parents come to see you in a foreign land and rely on you for food? Do you inflict the local cuisine or look for a McDonald’s to tide them over?

The adventuresome Slater women

Now, my Mum has spent half her life trying to inflict a healthier diet on me, and I’d love to pay her back for that. Unfortunately she still has an infinitely more varied diet than I do, so there’s not much I can honestly try to inflict that would phase her.

As explained in my last Displaced Q, I once ate a peculiar insect dipped in soy sauce in Thailand, just to prove a point about my iron stomach. That may be why, when living in Thailand, I sometimes fantasized about getting my mother to try one of the deep-fried locusts they sell on the streets. First I would convince her it was a staple part of my new, healthier diet. And then I would watch carefully while she munched on it, seeing if she could keep it down. Just, you know, to get her back for all those times the beans touched the fish-fingers…

My only sibling, Gillian, has been traveling almost as long as I have, and is far more experimental when it comes to cooking and eating. Although I’ve never seen her eat insects either… But then, I can’t really blame her for all the horrible vegetables I was forced to consume as a young man.

Instead I’ll take revenge on my Dad.

The stick-in-the-mud Slater men

Because whilst it’s not his fault either, he is a very easy target.

He is not big on travel.

He is not big on foreign food.

Anytime he’s left to his own devices he invariably buys fish and chips wrapped up in a newspaper and eats it on his knee in front on the telly.

Sometimes for weeks at a time!

Bless him, he’s even more set in his ways in terms of food that I am. It took me a year to inflict pizza on him for the first time, and I’ve still never managed to convince him to try a nice pad thai.

The thing is, we both know what we like, and we’re both happy to stick with them.

It’s not the most exciting way to live, and certainly not the healthiest.

We’re both firm believers in this saying of Mark Twain’s:

“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

So, our combined intake of junk food is worryingly high.

But just for a change, I’d like to inflict on him — and on all my family, given half a chance — the one thing I’ve eaten that might prove too much for all of them: guinea pig (cuy) in South America. Or possibly baby octopus in Thailand.

Just to see the looks on their faces… And to hear my Dad announce in no uncertain terms: “I’m not bloody eating that!”

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So, now it’s your turn! What foods would you inflict on a visiting relative, and why? Or have you already inflicted some — and with what results?

Answers on a postcard to — no, wait! Stick ’em in the comments section below. We’re not in our childhoods any more; it’s the future!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with a Random Nomad who has eaten cuy and loved it! (She was one of the winners of yesterday’s Food Alices…)

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img: The Slater women chowing down at a Medieval banquet; stomachs of iron indeed!

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