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Tag Archives: Tokyo

4 films that will make you want to travel — and one that won’t!

Now, there’s a pretty standard list of travel-inspiring movies out there; it’s everywhere you look online, and it goes something like this:

But I wanted to give you some slightly more alternative choices — because I try to avoid being ordinary whenever possible. Yes, okay, you can say it — because I’m downright weird. So in place of those otherwise awesome films, may I present to you the following movies which have inspired me personally:

1) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), directed by Stephan Elliot

Why I love this film: It’s ridiculous and lots of fun, which is pretty much how I think all life should be! As three Sydney drag queens travel through the barren Australian outback, we get to see that iconic terrain, vast and empty and aching to be explored. This film has it all: humor, a light-hearted way of handling a serious message (about homophobia) and visuals to die for as the trio procession through some of Australia’s most awe-inspiring scenery. In a big pink bus.
Personal note: Not only did I travel to Australia and fall in love with a woman who considers this her favorite movie ever –- I also had the good fortune to be with her when she decided to re-enact one of the film’s famous scenes, when the drag queens hike around King’s Canyon in their fabulous dresses! I’d say we got mixed reactions from the other tourists — probably me, most of all…
Memorable line:

Felicia: The only life I saw for the last million miles were the hypnotized bunnies. Most of them are now wedged in the tires.

2) Black Sheep (2007), directed by Jonathan King

Also ran: Actually, I was going to nominate The Lord of the Rings trilogy but then decided — NO! I can’t use it. It’s too easy. Plus we’ve already had one film with Hugo Weaving (the mighty Elrond played a drag queen in Priscilla!). I know, across the three films they showcase the sights of New Zealand at their jaw-dropping best — anyone who hasn’t watched these films and felt an urgent need to visit New Zealand needs to watch them again but ignore the kick-ass sword fighting… Yeah, I know. That’s never going to happen.
Why Black Sheep won out: The rugged landscape looks every bit as impressive in this movie as it does in Lord of the Rings — but it’s also populated by were-sheep, an accidental result of some unusual genetic manipulation… See it, and laugh at the New Zealanders. Oddly enough, they’ll love you for it. It’s the Kiwis’ love of poking fun at everything, especially themselves — their self-deprecating humor — that really made me want to visit the place. I felt like I would fit in there. And I did — I stayed for two years. By the time I left, I was on a first-name basis with the entire population.
Memorable lines:

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand…and they’re pi**ed off!

Harry (as the were-sheep charge towards them): F**k, the sheep!
Tucker: No mate, we haven’t time for that.

3) Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola

Why I love this film: It’s an odd one, this one. The first time I watched it, my mind boggled at how something so boring, with nothing remotely resembling a plot, could get made into a movie. Then I watched it again. And again. Because it was the rainy season in Thailand, where I was living, so I couldn’t go outside — and we only had three DVDs in English, so we watched all of them every day. For two months. Somewhere around the halfway point of this torturous process, I fell in love with Lost in Translation — maybe I just needed to relax to appreciate it? Once I stopped looking for something to happen, I started to understand what it was all about: loneliness, uncertainty, being adrift and confused in a completely alien culture. And ever since then I’ve desperately wanted to go to Tokyo. Well, not enough to actually go there — yet — but you know what I mean. I do travel vicariously — just sometimes — and this is one of ‘em.
Caveat: If, like me, you’re a fan of films where, you know, stuff happens — it might take you a few viewings to get used to it. Forty or fifty should do the trick.
Memorable line:

Charlotte: Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.

4) Ip Man (2008), directed by Wilson Yip

Why I love this film: The closest I’ve come to China are the little “made in” labels on almost everything I own. This film, however, kindled a desire to visit China that I never knew I had in me. It’s the biographical story of the most famous kung fu practitioner in the world — not Bruce Lee but his teacher in Wing Chun kung fu, master Ip Man. It’s set in Foshan, China in the 1930s-40s during the Japanese Invasion, but was filmed in Shanghai. It follows the family of the master as he becomes ensnared in the war, losing everything over the course of the Occupation and being forced to face the hardest choices a man could make. The insight into a lifestyle and culture so utterly different from my own was fascinating enough, but this is a story both moving and powerful.
Audience participation: I dare anyone to watch it and not leap off the couch at some point with a cry of “Yeah, kick his ASS!” Ahem. Okay, so maybe that’s just me.
In sum: Will it make you want to visit China? I think so. Will it make you want to learn kung fu? I absolutely guarantee it!

And because I’m a contrary kind of guy, I just had to retaliate against my own optimism by highlighting a film that made me NOT want to travel:

5) Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund

Why I don’t recommend this film: The film is set in the 1970s, in the poorest districts surrounding Rio de Janeiro, where drugs and guns rule and the population live in a fear only matched by their misery. I saw it in South America, in its native Portuguese — but with Spanish subtitles. Given my fledgeling abilities in that language, as described in a previous post, I may have failed to grasp every nuance of the story, but basically what I took from it was: “DON’T EVER GO THERE! They will kill you for the hell of it.”
Analysis:There is poverty everywhere in the world — I’ve worked in homeless shelters in the UK and seen people every bit as desperate as the denizens of Brazilian favelas (shanty towns). But these kind of places, where automatic weapons are more readily available than McDonald’s hamburgers and life is so very cheap…they absolutely terrify me.
In sum: Brazil remains on my list of all-time favorite, must-visit countries — but no way am I going anywhere near the favelas in Rio. This film has put me off — for life.

* * *

And finally…there’s one character that stands head and shoulders (and hat!) above all the rest when it comes to inspiring my travels. I’ve carefully avoided mentioning his films, as I was trying hard to keep this a cheese-free list — but I can’t hold it in any more.


I know, I know! So does everybody in the world, ever. Even people in remote tribes that have never been contacted by the Western world, secretly harbor a desire to be Indiana Jones — they just don’t know how to put it into words.

So — now it’s your turn!
1) What films have made you want to travel? And why?
2) What films have made you want to run screaming from the very idea of travel — and why?
3) If you WERE Indiana Jones — what would you do?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post on cinema and the expat life.

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Images: Tony James Slater (yes, that’s really him!) playing out his fantasy of being Indiana Jones; film posters courtesy Wikipedia.

12 NOMADS OF CHRISTMAS: Matthew Chozick, American expat in Japan (9/12)

Current home: Tokyo, Japan
Cyberspace coordinates: Matthew Chozick, Tokyo-based American writer and translator (writer site) and @mashu_desu (Twitter handle)
Recent article: “Thanksgiving: food, family, but hold the ‘chong chew’ turkey,” in the Japan Times (29 November 2011)

Where are you spending the holidays this year?
I’ll fly out of Tokyo to be in New England with family and loved ones. On the way back to Japan I’ll stop off in Israel to cheer on a Japanese contemporary dancer friend, as she’s doing a six-hour performance art piece. We will then take a quick trip to Jordan to see the ancient Nabataean capital Petra.

What will you do when you first arrive in New England?
I’ll check my email! I must do the final round of design checks on Tokyo Verb Studio, a contemporary art and literary anthology I’m editing with Keisuke Tsubono and Midori Ohmuro. The anthology, published by Awai Books, will be released early in the new year.

What do you most like doing during the holidays?
For the past several years I’ve spent New Years in Japan, where I like to eat my share of rice cakes (mochi) and sweetened black beans (kuromame). I also usually watch the first sunrise of the year at a Shinto shrine and help a friend or two wash off their ancestral gravestones (known as hakamairi).

Are you sending any cards?
In Japan it is customary to send New Year’s cards (nengajō), timed to arrive on the first of January. For traditionalist non-tech savvy acquaintances I’ll hand-write nengajō in Japanese with a calligraphy marker, but for younger friends I will send cellphone messages with the cutest animation I can find, likely containing kittens and balloons.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
An ocean of hummus in Tel Aviv! I’ve never been to Israel, and though I’m not much of a foodie, I hear it’s a gastronomical paradise.

Can you recommend any good books other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
I loved the novel I Am a Japanese Writer, by Dany Laferrière. While it’s about a Montreal-based Haitian writer who becomes big in Japan, the plot doesn’t matter as much as its digressions and keen observations. There are few authors with as much wit, humor, and enthusiasm for parsing the ball of contradictions we call the human condition.

This year I also really enjoyed Chuck Klosterman’s novel The Visible Man, as well as all the new issues of the magazine N+1, Simon Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography, a book touching on the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hideo Furukawa (only in Japanese), and M.A. Aldrich’s The Search for a Vanishing Beijing: A Guide to China’s Capital Through the Ages.

How do you feel when the holidays are over?

On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s featured nomad (10/12) in our 12 Nomads of Christmas series.

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12 NOMADS OF CHRISTMAS: Wendy Tokunaga, American Japanophile (2/12)

Current home: San Francisco Bay Area, USA
Past overseas location: Tokyo, Japan
Cyberspace coordinates: Wendy Nelson Tokunaga | Fiction writer and manuscript consultant (author site) and @Wendy_Tokunaga (Twitter handle)

Where are you spending the holidays this year?
At home, in the Bay Area.

What do you most like doing during the holidays?

Will you be on or offline?
Good question. I spend so much time online (Twitter and Facebook mainly) networking with readers and other writers, but I do go offline when I’m on vacation. I’m thinking of foregoing social media between Christmas and New Year’s, even though I’ll be in town. We’ll see if I can hold out.

Are you sending any cards?
I used to love to send out Xmas cards and would give much thought each year as to which ones to choose. But now with keeping touch so much via social media, I’ve stopped sending cards and just exchange holiday greetings with people via Twitter, Facebook and email. My husband and I sometimes upload a holiday photo of the two of us. I have never in my life sent out the dreaded Xmas bragfest newsletter.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
See’s Candies and my husband’s Xmas prime rib.

Can you recommend any good books other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
I’m going to look so tacky here, but I’d like to plug my own e-book (blush), which is called Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband. It consists of interviews with 14 Western women involved in cross-cultural relationships. It’s a fascinating (if I say so myself!) glimpse into these couples’ lives and will appeal to anyone interested in international marriage and culture shock.

If you could travel anywhere for the holidays, where would it be?

What’s been your most favorite holiday experience — when you’ve felt the true joy of the season?
I don’t know about the true joy of the season, but I do have a fond memory of spending Xmas in Tokyo and having it be a regular workday, which I quite enjoyed. I sometimes get weary of the constant pressure and obligation in the U.S. to have a family-filled Xmas and be happy and spend money. In Tokyo there are plenty of Xmas trees and lights (my fave parts of Xmas), but it is just a regular day and that’s appealing.

How do you feel when the holidays are over?
I actually like it. There’s a new, fresh sense of energy in starting a new year and anticipating exciting things to come.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:

STAY TUNED for Monday’s featured nomad (3/12) in our 12 Nomads of Christmas series.

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For curious and unreal travel, Tokyo sure beats Wonderland

Today we welcome Carole Hallett Mobbs to The Displaced Nation as a guest blogger. During June, TDN is looking at what the story of Alice in Wonderland can tell us about displacement of the curious, unreal kind — as anchored by Kate Allison’s “5 Lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice.” Hallet Mobbs can identify, having just left Japan — a country that Western travelers have long regarded as the ultimate topsy-turvy destination — after four-and-a-half years of living with her family in Tokyo.

“I’ve believed seen as many as six impossible things before breakfast”: this seems the most logical place to begin my account of life in Wonderland Japan.

In Tokyo, you can see a minimum of six impossible or incredible things before breakfast.

And then another six after breakfast.

In fact, I can safely say that a day spent in Tokyo will guarantee you a double-take moment approximately every ten minutes.

I know this, because I timed myself one day, using an oversized pocket watch.

Jaw-dropping sights abound — and I never failed to be delighted and amazed every single day during my four-and-a-half-year stay.

And if,  like me, you prefer seeing to believing, then Tokyo is the place to be.


Whilst driving my young daughter, Rhiannon, to school one day, I absentmindedly pointed out a Routemaster bus.

Double take! A red double-decker is a London inhabitant, not normally seen outside the Big Smoke. What on earth was one doing trundling its way around Tokyo?

These beasts are not known for their flying abilities but it had obviously migrated somehow. I discovered that a Japanese diplomat who’d been posted to Britain persuaded London Transport to donate one of these wonderful buses to Japan. It’s now a cruising restaurant.

People, too, arrest your attention. With their unique, carefully honed fashion sense, Tokyoites take style to a whole new dimension.

Real Alice in Wonderlands trip along the fashionable Harajuku, mixing with other young people dressed in adult-sized furry romper suits complete with ears. (Rabbits and bears are favorites.)

A particularly memorable vision in that section of town was a fully decked-out Stormtrooper from Star Wars, casually walking up the road.

Then there are those whom I thought of as “dormice folk.” Due to their heavy workloads, many so-called salarymen need to catch forty winks whenever and wherever they can. Favorite snoozing spots include crashing out across a table in Starbucks or on a bench. And they’ve even been known to take advantage of armchair displays in department stores.

Nobody dreams of waking them; that would show a deep lack of respect.

…and curiouser

Look! That’s a baby in a sling. Oh, my mistake, it’s a white rabbit.

Stuff and nonsense… Or is it?

As well as people watching, I can highly recommend pet-watching as a surreal Tokyo pastime.

Peer into a buggy expecting to see a cute, chubby baby with spiky black hair and instead see — no, not a pig, but more than likely a dog or two.

Yes, canines are cosseted creatures in Tokyo. More often than not, they are the size of guinea pigs, and almost all wear fashionable outfits.

Is that a giant caterpillar? No, it’s a dressed-up dog. Dogs in kimono. Dogs wearing tutus with real diamond necklaces. Dogs in leather jackets and sunglasses. Dogs in boots…

More than once I had a curious conversation with fellow dog owners. I have a Japanese Shiba-Inu (unclothed). This caused much admiration — a gaijin with this special Japanese dog was a big hit — as well as some puzzlement. “But that’s a Japanese dog. How did you teach her to understand English?”

And it’s not just pets that are dreamlike.

Crows are as big as ravens, woodpeckers as small as wrens.

Saucer-sized butterflies flit by like vibrant handkerchiefs, and hornets are so large they need their own air traffic control center.

Drink me! Eat me!

Japanese interpretations of Western food can be a trifle bizarre. Experimentation is rife, and experiments include drinks such as iced Earl Grey lattes and cucumber Pepsi.

Being taken by surprise during a snack is commonplace.

Thrilled by finding some doughnuts that appeared to have jam inside, I took a huge bite. The “jam” was azuki bean paste. Not my favorite.

Another shock was a Wasabi Kit Kat. I still haven’t recovered from that one.

Some time in recent history, the sandwich reached Japan. I imagine the conversation went a little like this.

“What is a sandwich?”

“Well, it’s two slices of bread with a filling between the slices.”

“What filling goes into this sandwich?”

“Oh, anything really…”

One day a friend bought a sandwich with a lumpy filling. A gentle squeeze sent a whole cooked potato shooting across the room.

Through the looking-glass

Beckoning looks like waving goodbye.

Keys turn the wrong way.

Books and magazines are read from back to front.

Writing follows its own rules. The elegantly beautiful yet complex Chinese characters, known as kanji, are written vertically in columns and read from top to bottom and right to left.

Tell me, please, which way I should go from here?

Notably, as an Englishwoman in Europe, I can usually work out rough meanings by utilizing my limited knowledge of Latinate and Germanic languages.

In Japan, though, I was suddenly completely illiterate.

Imagine the fun my husband and I had on our car journeys. Trying to decipher the name of our destination on the map, he would say: “Look out for a sitting man, a picnic table, noughts and crosses, a ‘7”and a jellyfish.” Predictably, we got lost rather a lot.

Going somewhere on foot was no easier. Streets are not well labeled, or labeled at all. In fact, being lost in Tokyo is so common — even for Tokyoites — that everyone carries their own little maps with landmarks.

If you stand around looking pathetic for a while, a stranger will miraculously appear and guide you to your destination — and then disappear, leaving only a grin behind…

English words are considered interesting and “cool,” so are often used for shop names and slogans. But a love of English isn’t always correlated with an understanding of how our words link together — leaving us foreigners as clueless as ever.

“Tokyo Teleport Station” is just outside the city. Sadly, it’s just a train station, not a link to other worlds.

One that still puzzles me is a sign declaring “SLOB! Oxidised Sophistication.” I just have no idea.

The “Hotel Yesterday” has the tagline “Welcome to Yesterday.” I often feel like that.

Is Tokyo really a wonderland?

Goodness, what a long sleep I’ve had! Such a curious dream!

Though I’ve enjoyed using “Alice” allusions to describe my Tokyo adventures, I’m not sure if it’s of much use in helping other expats adjust to this very real yet extraordinary city.

The key to living in and enjoying Japan is to keep an open mind, embrace eccentricity and expect the unexpected at all times.

And if that’s too tall an order on any given day — rather like Alice’s serpent neck — then I suggest you follow her sister’s advice and “run in to your tea.” But if I were you, I’d give the “jam” doughnuts a miss!

Question: Can you think of any other cities that merit a “through the looking glass” reputation, or is Tokyo an extreme, as Carole Hallett Mobbs suggests?

Carole Hallett Mobbs is a trailing spouse and freelance writer. Her blog on life in Tokyo is called Japanory. After moving to Berlin with her family in April, she started up another blog, Berlinfusion, and is writing a book on expat children. Her Twitter moniker is @TallOracle.

img: Carole and her daughter, Rhiannon, caught in an Alice-like pose by 37 Frames (Tokyo).

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Displaced Q having to do with one of our — and Alice’s — favorite topics: food!

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In the jaws of political or natural disaster: When reality bites for expats

Lately I’ve been thinking about plot lines for movies based on adventure travel. The one I like the most involves a round-the world traveler spotting a shark while scuba diving in the Indian Ocean…

In the hands of the right director, I could see it becoming a remake of Jaws.

Speaking of which, did you notice that first prize for the Matador Network’s “When Travel Goes Wrong” photo contest went to a young woman whose travel bag — containing passport, wallet and cell phone — fell down a Swiss sewage drain and got fished out by a kind, thin stranger. Now that has real Jaws potential!

Unfortunately, however, travel is not today’s focus. Rather, my goal is to highlight some of the mishaps that occur when a global voyager becomes a global resident.

“Boring!” I can hear you say. And having been an expat myself twice over, I have to admit, at some level, you are right.

They’re a privileged set, those expats.

Privileged with insider knowledge. You’re not going to catch them on the street with the open sewers.

Privileged with accommodation. Not for them a stay in Fawlty Towers, or the equivalent.

Still, reality has a way of impinging even on the most glittering expat lives, and in my experience, global residents tend to be even more traumatized than their short-stay counterparts when something goes badly amiss.

(Is that because they’re spoiled? I’ll let you decide…)

Gothic horror redux

In case you haven’t been tuning into The Displaced Nation of late, our posts have been exploring cases where individual expats have had their lives turned upside down, or worse (see “related posts” below).

My colleagues and I have put forth incontrovertible evidence that the expat life, like any other, can have its gothic moments.

Lest any skeptics remain, may I draw your attention to the Friday May 13 incident in Spain’s Canary Islands. A homeless Bulgarian man stabbed and hacked off the head of a 62-year-old British resident of Tenerife, after which he paraded into the street, holding his “treasure” up by the hair for all to see.

According to one eyewitness, who, too, is a long-term British resident of the Canaries:

When I saw the man holding the head, the first thing that popped into my mind was the scene from “Clash Of The Titans,” where the hero holds up the Gorgon’s head — but his was real.

Disruption en masse

Now let’s turn to the instances where the expat life gets disrupted en masse by natural disaster or political upheaval.

Emily Cannell, an American who’s been living in Tokyo with her family since last year, paid a visit to The Displaced Nation as a random nomad last Thursday. She told us about what it was like to be in that city when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11. In just a few moments, she went from a woman whose biggest worry was driving to car pool on time, to wondering if her kids were alive or dead.

And let’s not forget Tony Roberts, who was an honored guest on our site several weeks ago. His story, now written up in the form of a novel, is about what it was like being a teenager in Iran in 1979, just before the revolution took place. The trauma came when his family was given just 24 hours to evacuate back to their home in Kansas, and he had no time to say good-bye to his friends. For some time afterwards, this Third Culture Kid suffered from General Anxiety Disorder, “with feelings of unresolved anger,” as the psychologists put it. He tweeted recently: “Revolution will do that.”

Snatched from the jaws of [domestic terrorism]

I myself had an experience of this ilk towards the end of my stay in Japan, when the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo attacked the Tokyo subway with sarin gas — killing a couple of people in the station just down the street from my house. In all, 13 people died, and thousands more suffered from after-effects. It was and remains the most serious incident of this kind in Japanese history.

As I struggled to come to grips with the idea of nice, safe Japan being populated by terrorists, quite a few thoughts raced through my head; for instance:

1) This place is weirder than I’d realized.
I’d never before heard of the kind of cult where the adherents are well-off, educated young people and their leader, a bearded mystic with a destructive political agenda. (Needless to say, I hadn’t heard of al-Qaeda. But even if I had, Japan is the Far, not the Middle, East.)

2) Do the authorities know what they are doing?
From what I’d observed of the Japanese police, they seemed pretty wimpy, precisely because the country doesn’t have a high incidence of violent crime. Did they really have the chops to capture Shoko Asahara and put an end to his madness? (The attack on the subway took place on March 20, and they didn’t find him until May 16. He was hiding inside the wall of a cult building in the group’s compound near Mt Fuji, dressed in purple robes and in good health.)

3) Who’s looking out for us foreigners?
I suspected that we foreign residents would be the last to know if further incidents were likely to take place. (For weeks following the subway attack, rumors of imminent attacks were rife, and I didn’t know whom to believe.)

Though I eventually got on the Tokyo subway again, the incident took its toll on how I felt about living in that city. Little did I know that I would one day be working in New York City and reliving many of the same emotions — ignorance, disenfranchisement, and vulnerability — in the wake of 9/11.

I discovered, however, in comparing these two incidents that when reality bites in one’s native land, it’s not nearly as unsettling as when it happens abroad.

After 9/11, I wanted to stay in NYC and carry on — it was a way of fighting back. Whereas after the subway attack in Tokyo, I started to fantasize about leaving Japan.

* * *

Are there any world travelers out there who’ve stuck with me throughout this catalogue of woes? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve come to the conclusion that your nomadic life, even with its many dangers, is preferable to that of most world residents.

Or perhaps you’re feeling a touch of envy? In that case, you may wish to check out Bootsnall’s virtual tour of the top 10 shark-infested beaches in the world.

Question: Have you had any experiences of large-scale disasters during your stay abroad, and if so, how did it affect your perceptions of your adopted country — did it make you feel any less “at home” there?

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RANDOM NOMAD: Emily Cannell, Housewife & Mother

Born in: Houston, Texas
Passport(s): USA
States/countries lived in: Pennsylvania (Philadelphia): 1989-1990, 1993-1997, 1999-2004, 2006-2010; Louisiana (New Orleans): 1990-1993; Washington (Seattle): 1997-1999; Arizona (Scottsdale): 2004-2006; Japan (Tokyo): 2010-present
Cyber coordinates: Hey from Japan — Notes on Moving (blog)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
My husband’s company offered him a job in Japan. We were living near Philadelphia at the time, our fourth “tour of duty” in that city. We jumped at the chance to go somewhere new — location wasn’t that important. Unlike most citizens of the Displaced Nation, I’d never lived overseas. I should point out, though, that in the American vernacular “expat” is often used to describe a person who moves beyond a 50-mile radius from where they were born. By that standard, I’ve long been considered an expat, with Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Washington state on my resume. At one point, back in the days when I was working as a jack-of-all-trades in the pharmaceuticals industry, I commuted to New Jersey — which in dog years counts as exile in Siberia.

Is anyone else in your immediate family a “displaced” person?
My father is a displaced Canadian living in the US. Does that count? Seriously, he was born in Edmonton, Alberta. After attending medical school, he left to do his residency, internship, and fellowships in the US, which had more cutting-edge techniques and offered more advanced studies than the Canadian system. Eventually, he became too involved in academia to return to Canada, although he still goes back and forth.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
It probably won’t surprise you when I say that the earthquake on March 11th produced one of the worst feelings of displacement — literal as well as psychological — I’ve ever experienced. I was in a small grocery store in Tokyo at the time, trying to read the back of a ready-mix pancake box. The rest of the boxes on the shelves started falling on me, and I could hear glass breaking as wine bottles fell to the floor. The other shoppers, who were mostly Japanese housewives, and I made a beeline for the door. As we reached the street, I saw a man holding on to a street lamp that was swaying back and forth, the top almost touching the ground at my feet. I remember thinking: “These 40-year-old buildings are going to fall on top of me. Where do I go to stay alive?” I headed toward the intersection, stumbling as I went — it was like running on a trampoline with someone else jumping on it. Once I reached the middle of the intersection, I stood there watching and saying nothing while vending machines crashed down, plants fell off balconies, and bikes toppled over. In that moment, I wondered how my biggest worry went from driving car pool on time, to staying alive so I could find my family — alive or dead. (Fortunately, they were all safe.)

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
One activity that remains consistent no matter where we live is the kids’ participation in track. Since track meets are an all-day event, my husband and I pitch tent and settle in as though we were on a campsite. This year, just like every other, we hammered in the stakes, opened the cooler, and fed or watered every kid on the track team. And our kids referred to us as “Mr. and Mrs. Noddin’” — not our real names.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing a ninja for their home security value, but once gunpowder was introduced to Japan, the profession went into decline. Besides, the poor man might suffocate if he had to be packed in my suitcase. So instead I’ll carry in these wonderful carved wooden fish I discovered in a Tokyo antique shop. Two fish are looped together with ropes to which big hooks are attached — ideal for hanging pots in the kitchen.

Speaking of the kitchen: you’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I can make a mean plate of fried green tomatoes, fried okra, collards, corn bread, fried chicken, and black eyed peas. To that I’ll add two dishes that are popular in the Western U.S.: 1) grilled salmon on a plank and 2) fajitas with homemade guacamole. For starters, there will be a choice of Louisiana gumbo (for which I’m famous) and tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce — yes, I’m learning how to “cook” Japanese! Please note that I haven’t chosen to include any of the traditional Amish-country foods despite my many years as a Pennsylvania resident. I can’t make any of the good stuff, and the bad stuff — especially scrapple (pon haus) — is really bad. Residents of The Displaced Nation should not be eating pork scraps if they can avoid it — though I understand your numbers include a dog named Fergus? But dogs are rather spoiled nowadays, and I suspect Fergus may turn his nose up, too.

You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to the Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From the South: Hey. It’s the most common greeting. By adopting this term, you’ll have an easy way of knowing if someone is an outsider. Do they say “hello” or “hi”? Then they’re not from these parts.
From Pennsylvania: Goomba, meaning a male friend. Use it often, and it will detract the kinds of visitors you don’t want.
From the Southwest: Ride ’em hard and put ’em away wet — referring, of course, to how one rides a horse. My husband and I approach parenting in a similar manner.
From Louisiana: Le bon ton roule! Cajun for “Let the good times roll!”
From Washington state: Chinook — a type of salmon. You gotta know your salmon (also true in Japan, of course).
From Japan: So desu ne — meaning “Oh, is that so?” It’s a way of showing that you’re listening when the other person is talking — and I suspect that some Displaced Nation citizens could use some help in that department. I mean, all of us expats want to tell our stories, but how much do we want to listen?

Question: Readers, tell us what you think: should we welcome Emily Cannell to The Displaced Nation and if so, why? (Note: It’s fine to vote “no” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — Emily included — find amusing.)

img: Emily Cannell deciding whether to put her carrier bags down and use the facilities in Tokyo’s Harajuku station.

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