The Displaced Nation

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Tag Archives: Trailing spouse

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: A privileged and always fascinating life in the Middle East

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
Today we welcome a new columnist, Indra Chopra, to the Displaced Nation. Born in India, Indra embraced the life of a trailing spouse as the means to become an international creative, as she will explain. ML Awanohara

Growing up, I fantasized about being an expat one day. In the words of travel writer Pico Iyer:

“…travel is, deep down, about the real confirmation of very unreal dreams.”

My early dreams were about becoming a successful novelist/journalist/writer, of traveling the world and penning my thoughts. I must have inherited my wanderlust from my father—he’d traveled to Europe by the P&O liner in 1959,

By the time I was born, my family had settled in the sleepy, but culturally and politically rich, town of Allahabad, on the banks of River Ganges. Ours was a business family, which necessitated staying in one place and one residence, a family property. I envied my friends whose fathers had transferrable jobs, moving to different cities, within India or abroad.

The solution was to immerse myself in books, no limits on genre, waiting for the day when I, too, could have the world in the palm of my hand.

A couple in a rush

My opportunity for travel came with marriage (1978), when I took up residence in New Delhi. My husband and I covered the length and breadth of India and Nepal in the first year of our marriage; we were dubbed a “couple in rush”.

Looking back, I feel nostalgic for those lazy, somnolent train travels of the 1980s. Yes, the stations were often grimy and the train washrooms unhygienic, but it was so much more romantic than our later air travels. Flying somehow negates the mesmerising sheen of the unknown.

With the arrival of children, my travels became less frequent. Long journeys were replaced by vacation travels to surrounding hill stations and family outings to my hometown.

The family that lived in a shoe

Family that lived in a shoe
But then the chance to live as an expat came when my husband accepted a five-year assignment in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, an unknown land in the Middle East. I had no qualms about becoming a “trailing spouse”—a term that was coined in 1981 by the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Bralove. By that time I had already opted out of full-time journalism for a life of freelance writing, reading, and exploring with friends.

Oman was an unknown, shoe-shaped land; our son, then six years old, told us he refused to live in a shoe, probably thinking about the “Old Woman Who Lived In s Shoe”.

The country was a challenge—ironically because of its similarities to India, which were facilitated by the historically close ties between Oman and India. Indeed, India and Oman have had trade and people-to-people ties for several millennia, and Oman had “one foot in India” (to continue the shoe analogy) during British rule in the subcontinent. Today Oman is home to a large Indian expatriate community and counts India as an important trading partner.

Muscat was an enclosed city with no main street—just a maze of narrow winding alleys leading to a central compound with heavy wooden gates that would be closed at night, about three hours after sunset. Only authorized vehicles were allowed and pedestrians were let in through a small door in the main gate. Until 1970, when the current Sultan became ruler of Oman, after the gates were closed, you had to carry a lantern to light your face or you would not be allowed in.

The discovery of oil in the 1980s had led to economic progress and modernization. Today’s Oman is a fast paced, stable and peaceful country under a benevolent Sultan.

A life of luxury…

Oman luxury life

My husband’s position as general manager of his company—he was also on the Management Committee of the Indian School in Muscat—afforded us all the luxuries and privileges the city had to offer.

School holidays took us to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Cyprus; we also traveled within Oman while my husband jetted off to USA, Europe and the Far East on work. Life was on an even keel. Our daughter finished high school and left for the USA, to attend college in Massachusetts, and our son followed four years later when he was accepted to Purdue University.

…and creativity

creative life oman
When I wasn’t traveling, I spent my time in libraries pouring over books, reading about Oman and its close ties with India. In my free time, I would walk the souks and the lanes, the beaches and restaurants and parks, meeting with other expats and reveling in the cultural life, especially concerts and art exhibitions.

I took a freelance writing assignment with the English-language daily Khaleej Times (Dubai), and this opened up opportunities to meet with Omanis. I found the women friendly, but as with Eastern men, they kept a respectful distance. I was both intrigued and impressed at how they managed their restrictions and found work opportunities. Though women did wear the abaya and covered their heads, it was not a purdah nation, where women are physically segregated. They enjoyed the freedom to work and to drive. Also, being the first or fourth wife did not frighten them as I gauged after my conversation with a young girl soon to be the fourth wife of a rich man: she said she was looking forward to enjoying a life of luxury. (There must be other sides to the story.)

The five years we spent in Oman, 1995–2000, were a period of change for our family. Our daughter finished high school and left for the USA, to attend college in Massachusetts, and our son followed four years later when he was accepted to Purdue University.

When my husband and I at last returned to India, we were empty nesters starting anew, as well as repats hoping for another expat assignment.

* * *

Thank you, Indra, for sharing your story. We look forward to hearing the next installment. Where did you accidentally go next? —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails.

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Photo credits: Photos of India and Oman are from Indra’s collection or from Pixabay.

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BECAUSE WE (ALMOST) MISSED IT: Best of expat nonfiction 2015

Best of Expat Nonfiction 2015

As some readers may recall, I posted, at the end of January, a “best of” list of fiction works by, for, and about expats and other international creatives that came out in 2015.

I know, I know, it should have come out in early December.

And now it’s nearly the end of February, and I still haven’t posted my list of nonfiction books that appeared last year: all of those lovely memoirs, photo guides, guides to expat life, and so on.

But then Leap Day arrived, and I thought to myself: we only get an extra day every four years; why not take the leap and tackle my nonfiction list (so much longer than the fiction one!) once and for all?

Today I present the fruits of my Leap Day labors. May I suggest that you follow my example by springing for one or more of these for your Kindle? Spring is, after all, just around the corner… 🙂

(Hm, if it’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to publish my “best of 2016” list in December. Harumph, do I hear you say? Yes, you are right: famous last words!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published nonfiction works, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

* * *

The Other Paris_coverThe Other Paris (October 2015)
Author: Luc Sante
Expat credentials: Born in 1954 in Belgium, Sante emigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1960s. On his first visit to Paris, with his mother when he was not quite nine years old, he found the city exciting. Returning as a college student, he couldn’t get enough of the City of Light and spent time hanging out with the literary expat community. Sante currently lives in Ulster County, New York, and teaches at Bard College.
Synopsis: The book surveys the Paris underworld in the 19th and 20th centuries. It echoes Sante’s 1991 debut, Low Life, which provided a similar glance toward the history of New York City, where Sante lived for many years. Both books celebrate the outcast, the criminal, and the bohemian.
How we heard about: From a review by Molly Haskell in the New York Times’s Sunday Book Review.


My Life on the Road_coverMy Life on the Road (Springtime Books, October 2015)
Author: Gloria Steinem
Expat credentials: Born in Ohio and based for many years in New York, the 81-year-old Steinem had an itinerant childhood and has traveled widely throughout the world, first as a journalist and then as a feminist leader. We count her as an international creative!
Synopsis: In her first book in 20 years, Steinem recounts the highlights of her travels across the country and the world to champion women’s rights, listening to stories that changed her perspective. She picked up the idea of a “talking circle,” for instance, during her extensive travels in India.
How we heard about: Steinem’s interview with Charlie Rose.


Polish-Your-Poise-NYT-coverPolish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance (Simon & Schuster, October 2015)
Author: Jennifer Scott
Expat credentials: Jennifer was a foreign exchange student in Paris who lucked out when her hostess turned out to be the epitome of chic and also took the time to teach Scott, a keen learner, about how to develop a personal style and lead a stylish life. Now back in her native California, Scott has applied these lessons to her everyday life and has published a “Madame Chic” book series.
Synopsis: Recalling the tips she received from her Parisian mentor, Scott addresses topics such as proper attire at social events, good grooming, communication skills, hospitality, being a good guest, and interactions with neighbors and strangers. (This is the third book in the series.)
How we heard about: We interviewed Scott about her debut work just before Simon & Schuster came knocking.


Behind the Indian Veil_coverBehind the Indian Veil (Liah Design Private Limited, September 2015)
Author: Sephi Bergerson
Expat credentials: An award-winning Israeli photographer, Bergerson has lived in India for more than 13 years, of which seven were spent working on this project.
Synopsis: Bergerson traveled the length and breadth of India experiencing, witnessing and documenting a greater variety of Indian weddings than any person on the planet. The book presents images and written stories from nuptials that took place in a vast assortment of Indian communities.
How we heard about: Bergerson’s first book, Street Food of India, was listed by the New York Times as one of the top ten cookbooks of 2010.


Beautiful Affliction_coverBeautiful Affliction (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Lene Fogelberg
Expat credentials: A native to Sweden, Fogelberg has lived elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States, Indonesia, and now Malaysia.
Synopsis: Imagine finding out, just after you’ve made a big move to the United States with your family, that you’re in the last stages of a congenital fatal heart disease. Fogelberg, who is also a poet in Sweden, tells the story of her affliction with unflinching honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite detail.
How we heard about: Fogelberg was one of several expat writers to be “wonderlanded” on the Displaced Nation.


WaitingfortheTulipstoBloom_coverWaiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul (September, 2015)
Author: Lisa Morrow
Expat credentials: Born in Sydney, Australia, Morrow dropped out of university to go overseas. She hitchhiked through the UK, traveled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Iraq War was starting. She ended up staying three months in the Anatolian village of Göreme, in Cappadocia, an experience that changed her life. She trundled between Australia and Turkey while finishing her university degree and then moved to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, for a time. She has produced two collections of stories about her experiences in Turkey in addition to this full-length travelogue, which covers her decision to move to Istanbul permanently more than five years ago, this time with her husband in tow.
Synopsis: This is the story of Morrow’s unexpectedly bumpy transition into becoming an expat in Istanbul with her husband. Morrow takes a deep look into the challenges of intercultural living: what is it like to live as an expat and adjust to a new culture? For a start, there is the need to master the language. And then there is the Turkish bureaucracy, which can’t be avoided because of the need for work permits, health insurance, and real estate. So, did the tulips eventually bloom?
How we heard about: Morrow’s works are on several “best books on Turkey” list, and we hope to feature her memoir on our site this year.


The Dead Ladies Project_coverThe Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries (University of Chicago Press, September 2015)
Author: Jessa Crispin
Expat credentials: When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road. As it says on her author site: “She currently lives nowhere in particular.”
Synopsis: This is a memoir about Crispin’s personal journey, but the itinerary includes a number of locations that attracted artists who were in need of breaking free from their origins and starting afresh (e.g, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who started over from nothing in Switzerland), which gives Crispin pause for reflection.
How we heard about: From Crispin’s essay in the Boston Review: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


WayofWanderlust_coverThe Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George (Travelers’ Tales, September 2015)
Author: Don George, with foreword by Pico Iyer
Expat credentials: Though he lives in California, George has visited 90 countries and is one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers. He is the author of the best-selling Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. He qualifies as an “international creative”!
Synopsis: George takes us on a “mind travel” through Pakistan, Paris and Peru (among many other places) while also sharing something of his own life journey. A must-read for wannabe travel writers.
How we heard about: We follow Don George and National Geographic Traveler, where he is a columnist and editor at large, on Twitter.


Gap Year Girl_coverGap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Marianne C. Bohr
Expat credentials: Bohr is based in Bethesda, Maryland, but for her extensive travels we have given her a permanent pass into the land of international creatives.
Synopsis: In the 1960s and ’70s, thousands of baby boomers strapped packs to their backs and flocked to Europe, wandering the continent on missions of self-discovery. Many of these boomers still dream of “going back”―of once again cutting themselves free and revisiting the places they encountered in their youth, recapturing what was, and creating fresh memories along the way. This is the story of how Marianne Bohr and her husband, Joe, did just that.
How we heard about: Bohr is a Displaced Dispatcher and since last year has been contributing a “World of Words” column to the Displaced Nation.


Between River and Sea_coverBetween River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine (Eland Books, August 2015)
Author: Dervla Murphy
Expat credentials: Born in Ireland as an only child, Murphy developed a determination to travel and see the world from an early age. In the event, she became a superb adventurer and prolific writer. Her first book, Full Tilt, describes her bicycle ride from Ireland to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. Though she still lives in Ireland (the town where she grew up), she belongs to our tribe of “international creatives.”
Synopsis: In her late seventies, Murphy took buses and tramped through the cities, villages, olive groves and pathless hills of the West Bank over five months in 2009 and 2010. She also spent three months in Israel in the winter of 2008-9, and met a wide cross-section of its residents. This book reports on the open conversations Murphy had with people she encountered on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How we heard about: From an essay in the Boston Review by Jessa Crispin: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


How Not to Travel the World_coverHow Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker (August 2015)
Author: Lauren Juliff
Expat credentials: Born in London, England, Lauren has spent the past several years visiting over 50 countries across five continents and is still searching for a place to call home. She blogs at Never Ending Footsteps.
Synopsis: Juliff tells the story of how someone who never thought she would venture out of her miniscule comfort zone has become a full-time traveler and writer, as well as a “walking disaster.” She says her example shows that transformation through travel is possible, even when terrible things happen to you.
How we heard about: Social media


Deconstructing Brazil_coverDeconstructing Brazil: Beyond Carnival, Soccer and Girls in Small Bikinis (Springtime Books, August 2015)
Author: Simone Torres Costa
Expat credentials: Born in Brazil, Costa has had successive international relocations throughout her adult life, both alone and with her family, with stays in the USA, Sweden, Poland, and Italy. After 15 years abroad, she moved back to Brazil and rediscovered an interest in Brazilian culture.
Synopsis: Costa attempts to “deconstruct” Brazil for foreign visitors. As she told editor Jane Dean in an interview, she wants expats to get beyond carnival, soccer, and girls in small bikinis to see what makes Brazil tick, which involves delving into the nation’s history.
How we heard about: From Jo Parfitt, the founder of Springtime Books.


From Venice to Istanbul_coverFrom Venice to Istanbul (BBC Digital, July 2015)
Author: Rick Stein
Expat credentials: Stein, who is an Englishman of German descent and was educated at Oxford, is a part-time expat in Sydney, Australia—his wife is Australian and he has a restaurant in New South Wales.
Synopsis: The book presents the recipes Chef Stein collected in his travels in the Eastern Mediterranean.
How we heard about: The book accompanies Stein’s BBC Two cookery series in the UK.


The Good Shufu_coverThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, June 2015)
Author: Tracy Slater
Expat credentials: A writer and an academic in her native Boston, Slater was sent to Japan to teach in an executive MBA program, where she met and fell in love with one of her students, a Japanese salaryman in Osaka. They married and she moved to Japan, where she lives in Greater Tokyo with her husband and daughter.
Synopsis: Slater narrates a moving story of letting go of her identity as an independent American woman to become part of a couple and an entirely different culture, where her chief identity is that of foreigner (gaijin) and housewife (shufu).
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is a big supporter of Tracy Slater and her work, and we hope vice versa!


year of Fire Dragons_coverYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming in Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith Books, June 2015)
Author: Shannon Young
Expat credentials: Originally from Arizona, Shannon lives in Hong Kong with her Eurasian husband.
Synopsis: In 2010, Young followed her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. But when work sends him to London a month later, she embarked on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong – alone. This is the story of her adventures teaching English in a local school and exploring Asia with other young expats. Oh, and reader—she married him.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular Diary of an Expat Writer column for the Displaced Nation.


Inside the Crocodile_coverInside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals (Matador, June 2015)
Author: Trish Nicholson
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Man, Nicholson was destined from an early age to become a world traveler, culminating in five years of living in the wilds of West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. She has since retreated to a quiet New Zealand hillside.
Synopsis: Nicholson has written a memoir of her adventures of working in development aid and serving as Honorary Consul in the Land of Surprises, as PNG is known. While based in the province of West Sepik, she had to contend with crocodiles, sorcery, near-fatal malaria—the list goes on.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Trish Nicholson about her memoir and other “scribblings” for Location, Locution.


TurkeyStreet_coverTurkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum (Springtime Books, May 2015)
Author: Jack Scott
Expat credentials: Scott is a former expat in Turkey. He has since repatriated to Norwich, England.
Synopsis: In the sequel to his popular memoir, Perking the Pansies, which was based on his expat blog of this name, Scott continues to narrate, in his dryly entertaining style, the Anatolian adventures he and his partner, Liam, embarked on after moving from London to Bodrum. Note: This particular expat tale has a surprising finale.
How we heard about: Jack Scott is a former Displaced Nation columnist.


The Year of Living Danishly_coverThe Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, May 2015)
Author: Helen Russell
Expat credentials: A British journalist and former editor for MarieClaire.co.uk, Russell traded London for Jutland, Denmark, when her husband got a job at Lego. She now works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian as well as writing a column on Denmark for the Telegraph.
Synopsis: When she was unexpectedly given an opportunity to live in rural Denmark, Russell decided to give herself a year to uncover the Danish formula for happiness. She presents her findings in this book: where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong—and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
How we heard about: Helen Russell’s column in Telegraph Expat.


My Paris Dream_coverMy Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine (Spiegel & Grau, May 2015)
Author: Kate Betts
Expat credentials: Before she became a fashion editor at Vogue and the youngest-ever editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Betts was an expat in Paris. She moved there shortly after graduating from Princeton for a journalist internship, learning French, and ended up staying on. Although she now lives in New York, she says: “Paris has always stayed with me, close to me, and I’ve continually felt nourished by it.”
Synopsis: Betts reminisces about how she came of age as a fashion journalist while living in Paris in the 1980s, the highlight of which was working for Women’s Wear Daily under the legendary John Fairchild.
How we heard about: How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Brooks’s book).


Greekscapes_coverGreekscapes: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist, 2nd ed. (May 2015)
Author: Pamela Jane Rogers
Expat credentials: Born in North Carolina, Rogers left America after the break-up of her 12-year marriage and ended up settling on Poros, where for more than 26 years she has made her living as an artist.
Synopsis: This is Rogers’s memoir, edited by Bryony Sutherland. The second edition includes a selection of Rogers’s paintings, as requested by her readers.
How we heard about: Social media


Always Pack a Party Dress_coverAlways Pack a Party Dress: And Other Lessons Learned From a (Half) Life in Fashion (Blue Rider Press, May 2015)
Author: Amanda Brooks
Expat credentials: The ultimate American glamour girl, Brooks married the British artist Christopher Brooks and now lives with him and their two children on his family’s farm in Oxfordshire, UK.
Synopsis: After spending two decades in the fashion world that culminated in her appointment as creative director at Barney’s, Brooks abandons that plum post to become a Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s court, moving to a farm in the English countryside where she spends her days on fields and in barns, among animals and children. This memoir is her swan song to the world of fashion.
How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Betts’s book).


The Expat Partners Survival Guide_coverThe Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment (April 2015)
Author: Clara Wiggins
Expat credentials: Born in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Wiggins started traveling as a baby and hasn’t stopped since. She has visited nearly 70 countries and lived in 12—the twelfth being South Africa, where she recently moved with her husband and two daughters.
Synopsis: Drawing on the expert advice of more than 70 expat partners who have been there, done that and survived to tell their tales, Wiggins has produced an authoritative how-to guide for expat partners, aka trailing spouses. She is of course an expert herself, having spent her childhood as a trailing daughter accompanying her diplomat parents on various postings including the Philippines and Venezuela. She later saw life from the other side, when posted to Jamaica. More recently, she has been moving around with her young family because of her husband’s postings to Islamabad, St Lucia, and South Africa.
How we heard about: Social media.


AdventuresofaRailwayNomad_coverAdventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home (Café Society Press, April 2015)Author: Karen McCann
Expat credentials: A fourth-generation Californian, McCann lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband for two decades before the couple moved to Seville, Spain, “for a year” and decided to make it their home.
Synopsis: McCann, who works as a freelance journalist and writer, provides an account of the attempt she and her husband made to recapture the spontaneity of travel in their youth by walking out of their Seville home with no more than a small bag and three-month Eurail pass in hand to see where life would take them.
How we heard about: One of her blog posts.


A Million Sticky Kisses_coverA Million Sticky Kisses: The Story of a Gringa Teacher in Chile (April 2015)
Author: Sally Rose
Expat credentials: Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City, before moving overseas to Santiago de Chile. She is now reviewing the prospects for her next overseas “home.”
Synopsis: In 2009, Sally Rose’s life-long dream of teaching English abroad becomes a reality when she goes to Chile as a volunteer teacher. Some days, her dream is more like a nightmare as she struggles with both the language and the culture. From avaricious school owners to chaotic classrooms, she is confronted with the complexities of being a “stranger in a strange land” while striving to make a difference for her students.
How we heard about: Rose was one of the writers to be “wonderlanded” on our site last year, and she is currently contributing a “perpetually perplexed peripatetic” expat column to the Displaced Nation.


HomersWheretheHeartIs_coverHomer’s Where The Heart Is: Two journalists, one crazy dog and a love affair with Greece (Pelagos Press, April 2015)
Author: Marjorie McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn moved to Australia as a child. As an adult she has worked as a journalist in both Sydney and the UK. With a life-long passion for Greece, she set off in 2010 for an adventure in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese. She and her partner, also a journalist, and their dog ended up staying four years. They are now back in Britain, living in East Sussex.
Synopsis: This is the second book in McGinn’s planned Peloponnese trilogy telling the story of what it was like to live in a remote village in southern Greece just as the country was sliding into economic crisis. The first was Things Can Only Get Feta, and the third is due out this summer.
How we heard about: From an article McGinn wrote for Telegraph Expat.


Daughters of the Samurai_coverDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (W. W. Norton, April 2015)
Author: Janice P. Nimura
Expat credentials: An American, Nimura married a Japanese man who was raised as a Third Culture Kid in Seattle; he refused to accompany his parents back to Japan when he was in his teens. After their marriage, the couple moved to Tokyo for a while. Nimura claims to have become more Japanized than her husband did, even learning the language. They couple now lives in New York City.
Synopsis: In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Nimura reconstructs their Alice in Wonderland adventure.
How we heard about: Reviewed by Christopher Benfey for the New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review.


India Hicks Island Style_coverIndia Hicks: Island Style (Rizzoli, March 2015)
Author: India Hicks
Expat credentials: Born in England to famed decorator David Hicks and Lady Pamela Dicks (her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten, her godfather is Prince Charles, and she was a bridesmaid at his wedding to Lady Diana), Hicks has lived for many years on Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, with her partner, David Flint Wood, and their five children.
Synopsis: Hicks offers an illustrated guide to achieving her bohemian decorating style, which combines carefree Caribbean culture with British colonial form and formality. She takes us right insider her family’s enclave in the Bahamas.
How we heard about: A slideshow on Architectural Digest.


PassageoftheStork_coverPassage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One woman’s journey to self-realization and acceptance (Springtime Books, March 2015)
Author: Madeleine Lenagh
Expat credentials: Lenagh grew up as a Third Culture Kid and is a long-time expat (inpat?) in the Netherlands.
Synopsis: Using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales, Lenagh tells the story of her life-long struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency. She lived in Europe until age five because of her stepfather’s job as a military attaché; grew up in Connecticut; and then circled back to Europe, which she toured around, financed by her parents, at age 21. Her travels ended when she arrived in the Netherlands broke and took a job as an au pair. Did she know she would still be in Holland four decades later?
How we heard about: From her publisher Jo Parfitt; plus we have featured her photography in an “A Picture Says…” post.


Laughing All the Way to the Mosque_coverLaughing All the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman (Virago, March 2015)
Author: Zarqa Nawaz
Expat credentials: Born in Liverpool, England, to Pakistani parents, Nawaz was raised in Toronto. A successful Canadian journalist and broadcaster, she now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Synopsis: Nawaz tells us what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in Canada—from funeral rites to Rice Krispie squares—with a great sense of humor.
How we heard about: From one of the Virago editors, who said it was one of her favorite books of the year. She said it made her hoot with laughter while also teaching her about what it’s really like to be a Muslim in Western society.


Neurotic Beauty_coverNeurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks at Japan (Water Street Press, March 2015)
Author: Morris Berman
Expat credentials: Berman emigrated from the US to Mexico in 2006, where he currently lives.
Synopsis: In Berman’s view, craftsmanship is Japan’s cultural soul, but in the 20th century, the country lost its way in trying to catch up to the West. This century, however, Japan has a chance to recapture its soul and become the first post-capitalist society, one where living is more important than owning.
How we heard about: Review by Peter Van Buren in HuffPostBooks.


Wonderlanded_coverWonderlanded: Life as an expat in China
(February 2015; note: also published in German)
Author: Kristina Kinder
Expat credentials: After working and studying in Spain, Kinder, who trained as an architect in her native Germany, decided to take the leap in 2010 and move to China. Initially she went to Shanghai—but then found herself in the running for a freelance architecture job in Kunming, a small city in Yunnan Province. She has since adopted Kunming as her home.
Synopsis: Kinder uses Alice in Wonderland allusions—for instance, she describes the three-and-a-half-hour-long flight to Kunming as a “crazy tea party,” where “everyone is chattering and shouting across the seats while holding the obligatory tea bottle”—along with her own whimsical illustrations, to tell the story of how living in China has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
How we heard about: Through our Alice in Wonderland connections, Alice being one of the themes on the Displaced Nation from its start nearly five years ago.


Going Gypsy_coverGoing Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2015)
Author: David and Veronica James
Expat credentials: Since becoming empty nesters, this American couple has led a life of “perpetual motion,” the highlights of which they report on their popular blog Gypsynester.com. We consider them to be honorary expats. They are certainly international as well as being highly creative!
Synopsis: In telling the story of their lives, David and Veronica James show that it’s possible to do things backwards: marry, have kids, and then go gypsy.
How we heard about: We follow them on Twitter.


Pearl River Drama_coverPearl River Drama: Dating in China: A Memoir (January 2015)
Author: Ray Hecht
Expat credentials: Born in Israel and raised in the Midwest, freelance journalist Hecht moved from California to China in 2008. He now lives in Shenzhen, China.
Synopsis: The story of a Western male’s sexploits in the Far East is as old as the hills, but Hecht somehow makes this a story about every expat. The book is based on stories he already told in his blog.
How we heard about: Through Jocelyn Eikenburg’s interview with Hecht on her blog about cross-cultural relationships in China, Speaking of China.


Leaving Before the Rains Come_coverLeaving Before the Rains Come (Penguin Books, January 2015)
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Expat credentials: Born in England and grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Fuller currently spends much of her time in a yurt near Jackson, Wyoming.
Synopsis: This is Fuller’s third expat memoir. Her first two covered the first 20 years of her life, which she spent on a farm in revolution-torn southern Africa, the child of British expats. In this book, the focus is on the men in her life: her fatalistic father and her American (now ex-) husband, with whom she relocates from the wilds of Africa to the tamer wilds of Wyoming. They have three children, but then the marriage unravels.
How we heard about: Fuller is an outstanding memoirist and a master of writing about the displaced condition.

* * *

Tell me, what have I missed? Kindly leave your recommendations for memoirs and other nonfiction works for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new(ish) year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Best of expat fiction 2015

The title of this post is a lie: you didn’t miss anything. It’s we who missed our deadline of publishing, at the end of 2015, a list of books for, by and about expats.

Dare I suggest that our procrastination could prove fortuitous? Most of us have more time to read now that the holidays are over and the doldrums have set in—along with, for some of us (I refer to those on the East Coast of the USA), a spell of blizzardous weather. What better time to curl up with a book that in some way relates to the themes of international adventure and displacement?

Without further ado, allow me to offer my curated list of the best novels by, for, and about expats and other international creatives in 2015. (Nonfiction coming soon, we promise!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published novels, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

* * *

Year of the GooseYearoftheGoose_cover_400x (Unnamed Press, December 2015)
Author: Carly J. Hallman
Expat credentials: A native Texan, Hallman lives in Beijing. This is her first novel.
Synopsis: A comic novel about China’s era of the instant tycoon, which has been described as “unhinged”, “outrageous”, “deranged” and “hilarious. The oligarchical, tabloid-driven society it portrays is not unlike our own, which may be why the book was listed as one of the BBC’s 10 books to read in December 2015 as well as selected for the December 2015 Indie Next list.
How we heard about: The Anthill blog


TheNavyWife_cover_400xThe Navy Wife (December 2016)
Author: Helena Halme
Expat credentials: Originally from Finland, Halme has lived in the UK with her British husband for many years.
Synopsis: The sequel to Halme’s well-received autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed here by Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison), which concerns a long-distance romance between a Finnish woman, Kaisa, and a British naval officer, Peter. We see the couple, despite having tied the knot, facing a number of obstacles and threats to living happily ever after—especially when Kaisa doesn’t take well to the life of a military spouse in a foreign country.How we heard about: Social media, and a comment by Halme on one of our posts.


Seafled_cover_400xSeafled (November 2015), Burnt Sea (August 2015) & Seaswept (April 2015)
Author: Jordan Rivet (aka Shannon Young)
Expat credentials: An American, Young has lived in Hong Kong for the past few years with her half-Chinese husband, a Hong Kong native.
Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship, featuring a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The series, called the Seabound Chronicles, consists of three books and a prequel.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular “Diary of an Expat Writer” column for the Displaced Nation.


TheJapaneseLover_cover_400xThe Japanese Lover (Atria Books, November 2015)
Author: Isabel Allende
Expat credentials: Born in Lima, Peru, to a Chilean diplomatic family, Allende lived in various countries, including Chile, Bolivia, and Beirut. As an adult she worked in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe; she also lived for over a decade in Venezuela. She currently lives in San Rafael, California.
Synopsis: A cross-cultural love story that sweeps from present-day San Francisco to WWII-era Poland the United States. It explores questions of identity, abandonment, and redemption.
How we heard about it: Who hasn’t heard about it? It was one of the most anticipated books of 2015!


TheDisobedientWife_cover_400xThe Disobedient Wife (Cinnamon Press, November 2015)
Author: Annika Milisic-Stanley
Expat credentials: Born to Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Milisic-Stanley grew up in England and now lives in Rome. She says she based the plot on stories she heard when living in Dushanbe as a humanitarian aid worker for several years.
Synopsis: The story of the friendship that forms between a poor, courageous local woman in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and her employer, a trailing expat wife married to a British diplomat.
How we heard about: An interview with Kristin Louise Duncombe, an American writer who has lived in Europe since 2001.


CrimeRave_cover_400xCrime Rave (The Margins Press, November 2015)
Author: Sezin Koehler
Expat credentials: Koehler is an adult Third Culture Kid who lived in Prague for some years and now lives in Florida. She has written several posts for the Displaced Nation, including a two-part series listing movies that depict the horrors of being abroad or otherwise displaced.
Synopsis: The second installment to her debut novel, American Monsters. Picking up where that one left off while jumping genres, the new book presents an alternate universe in which goddesses have free reign over humans, trauma goes hand in hand with superpowers, and Marilyn Monroe lives.
How we heard about: A Facebook post by Koehler


ADecentBomber_cover_400xA Decent Bomber (November 2015)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Expat credentials: A Brit who has been working in, living in and traveling around the Middle East for some thirty years, McNabb was featured on The Displaced Nation three years ago for his “Levant Cycle” trilogy.
Synopsis: Another political thriller—but this one is set in Northern Ireland and concerns a former IRA bomb maker who is drafted against his will into joining the War on Terror.
How we heard about: He sent us a heads up, and Beth Green reviewed the book in her last column. She found it well researched, well written and an enjoyable read.


ThePalestInk_cover_400xThe Palest Ink (Lake Union Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Kay Bratt
Expat credentials: Bratt lived in China for almost five years, where she “fell in love enough with the people to want to write about them forever.” She has since repatriated to the hills of North Carolina. (She is also the author of a memoir, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. )
Synopsis: A story that depicts the coming-of-age of a sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, during a tumultuous period of Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution.
How we heard about: Kindle promotion.


Olivia&Sophia_cover_400xOlivia & Sophia (Monsoon Books, October 2015)
Author: Rosie Milne
Expat credentials: A native Brit, Milne has lived all over Asia; she currently lives in Singapore, where she runs the Asian Books Blog.
Synopsis: A fictional account of the lives of the first and second wives of the founder of the British trading post of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Set in London, Java, Sumatra and Singapore, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars—the story takes the form of two fictionalized diaries, one by each of Raffles’s wives: Olivia Devinish and Sophia Hull. Milne “takes us away from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to the muggy, hostile tropics and to the titillations and tribulations of a life far away from home.”
How we heard about: When Rosie Milne was “wonderlanded” on our site, we published a couple of excerpts from the book.


NowhereChild_coverNowhere Child (Black Dot Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Rachel Abbott
Expat credentials: Abbott fled from the corporate life to Italy, which gave her the opportunity to start writing psychological thrillers. Her first one was a break-out hit on Kindle, and she hasn’t looked back. Currently, Abbott divides her time between Italy (where she lives in an apartment in an old fort, which overlooks the sea) and Alderney, in the Channel Islands (just off the coast of France). But although the expat life gave her a new career as a writer, Abbott sets her books mostly in her native Manchester.
Synopsis: A stand-alone novella featuring the same characters as Abbott’s Stranger Child. Eight months ago Tasha Joseph ran away, and her stepmother, Emma, has been searching for her ever since—as are the police, since Tasha could be a vital witness in a criminal trial.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Abbott for her Location, Locution column in December.


TheHundredYearFlood_cover_400xThe Hundred-Year Flood (Little A, September 2015)
Author: Matthew Salesses
Expat credentials: Salesses was adopted from Korea at the age of two and often writes about race and adoption. This is his first full-length novel.
Synopsis: The mythical and magical story of a 22-year-old Korean-American’s escape to Prague in the wake of his uncle’s suicide and the aftermath of 9/11. He tries to convince himself that living in a new place will mean a new identity and a chance to shed the parallels between himself and his adopted father.
How we heard about: Social media


TheDressmaker_cover_400xThe Dressmaker (Penguin Books, August 2015*)
Author: Rosalie Ham
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Jerilderie, Australia, Ham now lives in Melbourne. Like most Australians, she has had a period of traveling and living overseas.
Synopsis: A darkly satirical tale of love, revenge, and 1950s fashion. After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Note: The book is soon to be a film starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times
*Originally published in 2000, this is the film adaptation of the book.


CirclingtheSun_cover_400xCircling the Sun (Ballantine Books, July 2015)
Author: Paula McLain
Expat credentials: None! Her breakout novel, The Paris Wife, was about an expat: Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, whose passionate marriage ended as her husband shot into literary stardom. This time her focus is the Happy Valley set, a decadent community of Europeans in 1920s colonial Kenya. As she told NPR in a recent interview:

You know, I wrote most of The Paris Wife in a coffee shop in Cleveland. I don’t have to tell you that a Starbucks in Cleveland is about as far away from a Parisian cafe as you can possibly get. And I also wrote about Kenya, the wild African frontier, from my home in Cleveland without having ever gone there. You can’t really visit colonial Kenya, can you? You can’t really visit Paris in 1922, except in your imagination.

Synopsis: Based on the real-life story of the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator who became caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
How we heard about: A New York Times review by the expat writer Alexandra Fuller.


TheAmbassadorsWife_cover_400xThe Ambassador’s Wife (Doubleday, July 2015)
Author: Jennifer Steil
Expat credentials: A Boston-born former journalist, Steil is married to a Brit who once served as ambassador to Yemen, where a suicide bomber attacked him. She is also the author of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, a memoir about her experiences running a newspaper in Yemen. She lives in Bolivia, where her husband is the European Union ambassador.
Synopsis: A harrowing account of the kidnapping of an American woman in the Middle East and the heartbreaking choices she and her husband, the British ambassador to an Arab country, must make in the hope of being reunited.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “marriage plots” novel.


TheStarSideofBurnHill_cover_400xThe Star Side of Bird Hill (Penguin Press, June 2015)
Author: Naomi Jackson
Expat credentials: A Third Culture Kid, Jackson was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. After attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship and earned an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town.
Synopsis: The story of two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, who are suddenly sent from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “coming of age” novel.


TheWolfBorder_cover_400xThe Wolf Border (Harper, June 2015)
Author: Sarah Hall
Expat credentials: Born in northwest England, Hall lived in Wales while attending Aberystwyth. She went on to study in Scotland (St. Andrews) for an MA, where she met and married an American law student. Though the marriage was short-lived, its legacy was substantial: a move to the US proved the catalyst she needed to embark on novel writing. The pair was based in the small town of Lexington, Virginia, after her husband was awarded a scholarship to a nearby law school. At that time, Hall visited the Idaho reservation that appears in this book. She currently lives in Norwich, UK.
Synopsis: About a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, which brings zoologist Rachel Caine, who has lived a solitary existence in a remote section of Idaho, far away from her estranged family in England, back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District. The novel explores the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness—as well as the frontier of the human spirit.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


IntheCountry_cover_400xIn the Country: Stories (Knopf, June 2016)
Author: Mia Alvar
Expat credentials: Born in the Philippines, Alvar was raised in Bahrain and the United States. She now lives in New York City. This is her first book.
Synopsis: A collection of nine short stories about Filipinos living overseas. Alvar has imagined the lives of exiles, emigrants, and wanderers who uprooted their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turned back again.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheDiversClothesLieEmpty_cover_400xThe Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco, June 2015)
Author: Vendela Vida
Expat credentials: Born and raised in San Francisco, Vida is the daughter of two immigrant parents: a Swedish mother and a Hungarian father. She has become known for producing “travel trauma” narratives, exploring the lives of competent women who feel disintegrating marriages for distant lands (i.e., the Philippines, Finland and Turkey). Her latest novel, considered to be her “finest work” to date, was inspired by a trip she took to Morocco where her bag was stolen.
Synopsis: A literary thriller that probes the malleability of identity, told with lush detail and a sense of humor. Robbed of her money and passport in Casablanca, Morocco, an American woman feels free to be anyone she chooses.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times.


ChinaRichGirlfriend_cover_400xChina Rich Girlfriend (Doubleday, June 2015)
Author: Kevin Kwan
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Singapore, Kwan has lived in Manhattan for the past two decades. He says he still craves “craves pineapple tarts and a decent plate of Hokkien mee.“
Synopsis: Follows the story of the culture-shocked Rachel Chu as she searches for her mysterious birth father in Shanghai in hopes he’ll walk her down the isle at her upcoming wedding. The book is a sequel to Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians, picking up a few years after those events. Both books take place in the world of Hong Kong and Singapore’s super-super elite.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheRocks_cover_400xThe Rocks (Riverhead Books, May 2015)
Author: Peter Nichols
Expat credentials: Nichols grew up partially on Mallorca (while attending boarding school in England), where he got to know other Northern Europeans. He has worked in advertising and as a screenwriter, and a shepherd in Wales. He divides his time between Europe and the United States. In 1997 he produced a riveting memoir, Sea Change, telling of the time when he set off alone across the Atlantic in his beloved 27-foot wooden engineless sailboat, Toad, which he and his (now ex-) wife had lived on for six years, fixing it up, making it into their home, sharing adventures on it.
Synopsis: A tragic double romance, told in reverse, primarily set in a seaside resort in Mallorca and its enduring expat community.
How we heard about: From a book review in the New York Times.


coming-home_cover_400xComing Home (Mira, April 2015)
Author: Annabel Kantaria
Expat credentials: A Telegraph Expat blogger who has been featured on the Displaced Nation, Kantaria has lived in Dubai with her family for several years.
Synopsis: The story of a woman living in Dubai because she wants to flee the pain of her brother’s death but then heads for home upon receiving word of her father’s sudden death. Kantaria says that writing the book helped her “explore that push and pull and sense of displacement you feel when you have a foot in two countries.”
How we heard about: A Telegraph Expat post on expat-themed summer reads, by Rosie Milne


APlaceCalledWinter_cover_400xA Place Called Winter (Grand Central Publishing, March 2015)
Author: Patrick Gale
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Wight, Gale was an expat of sorts when his family moved to London. During his misspent youth, he lived at one point in a crumbling French chateau. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End.
Synopsis: The story of a privileged Edwardian man who has a homosexual affair and, for fear of arrest, is forced to abandon his wife and child: he signs up for emigration to the Canadian prairies. He reaches a world as far away as possible from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century England. The story is loosely based on a real-life family mystery of Gale’s gentleman great-grandfather. The plot in a nutshell: “To find yourself, you must sometimes lose everything.”
How we heard about: Gale was a featured author at the Port Eliot Festival, which takes place yearly on an ancient estate in Saint Germans, Cornwall, UK.


TheArtofUnpackingYourLife_cover_400xThe Art of Unpacking Your Life (Bloomsbury Reader, March 2015)
Author: Shireen Jilla
Expat credentials: A journalist-turned-novelist who now lives in London, Jilla has been an expat in Paris, Rome, and New York. The Displaced Nation did a feature on her first novel, Exiled, about a British expat wife in New York.
Synopsis: The story of a group of university friends who set out on the holiday of a lifetime, a safari in the Kalahari, only to find they don’t have much in common any more.
How we heard about: Social media and then Beth Green interviewed her.


TheTehranText_cover_400xThe Tehran Text – The Tana Standish Spy Series #2 (Crooked Cat Publishing, February 2015)
Author: Nik Morton
Expat credentials: Morton spent 23 years in the Royal Navy, during which he had the chance to visit (among others) Rawalpindi, the Khyber Pass, Sri Lanka, Tokyo, Zululand, Mombasa, Bahrain, Tangier, Turkey, Norway, Finland, South Georgia and the Falklands. He has also traveled widely in his private life. He and his wife are now retired in Alicante, Spain.
Synposis: Second of Morton’s Cold War thrillers featuring psychic spy Tana Standish (first was The Prague Papers). Iran is in ferment and the British Intelligence Service wants Tana Standish’s assessment. It appears that CIA agents are painting too rosy a picture, perhaps because they’re colluding with the state torturers…
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Morton for her Location, Locution column last July.


Outline_cover_400xOutline (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 2015)
Author: Rachel Cusk
Expat credentials: Born in Canada, Cusk spent much of her childhood in Los Angeles. She moved to the UK in 1974 and is a graduate of Oxford University. She now lives in London.
Synopsis: About a divorced writer who lives in London with her two youngish children, covering the several days she spends in Athens, where she has gone to teach a writing class. She ends up spending time with a much older Greek bachelor she met on the plane.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times

* * *

Tell me, what have I missed? I’m sure I’ve missed loads!! Kindly leave your recommendations for novels for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

WONDERLANDED: Will I have a hard or a soft landing?—two excerpts from “Olivia and Sophia,” by expat novelist Rosie Milne

Will I have a hard or a soft landing? Photo credits: Like Alice in Wonderland you can go into the rabbit hole, by expat painter Frank Schwarz via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). Inset: Book cover (supplied).

Yesterday we were Wonderlanded with Rosie Milne, a veteran member of the publishing world, a blogger on Asian books, and a novelist in her own right. This post, which I’ve titled “Will I have a hard or a soft landing?”, consists of two excerpts from Rosie’s about-to-be-published historical novel, Olivia and Sophia, which concerns the lives of the first and second wives of the founder of the British trading post of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. 

Set in London, Java, Sumatra and Singapore, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars—the story takes the form of two fictionalized diaries, one by each of Raffles’s wives. They are:

  • Olivia Devinish, a raffish beauty with a scandalous past. Born in India and raised in Ireland, Olivia accompanied Raffles, who was her second husband, to West Java, where he was serving as governor. She got ill from the island’s harsh conditions and died at age 43. Raffles erected a memorial to her that stands to this day, in what is now the Bogor Botanical Gardens.
  • Sophia Hull, no beauty, but curious and intelligent and eager to embrace the opportunity of an exciting life abroad. Born in London, of Irish descent, she met and married Raffles when he was on leave in England after becoming a widower. The couple then sailed for Bencoolen (Sumatra), where Raffles had been appointed governor general—making Sophia the first white woman to venture into the Sumatran interior. This was the period when Raffles founded the British trading post of Singapore. The couple returned to England in August 1824 because of Raffles’s ill health. He died two years later, one day before his 45th birthday. Sophia then dedicated herself to writing his biography.

According to the book description, Rosie Milne “takes us away from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to the muggy, hostile tropics and to the titillations and tribulations of a life far away from home.”

And, importantly, for us Displaced Nationers, she also provides a sense of what it was like to be a trailing spouse in an earlier era. Do these two Victorian ladies feel as though they were falling down a rabbit hole, uncertain of where they’d land and whether the landing would be hard or soft? Let’s find out…

* * *

Excerpt from Olivia’s diary

Olivia writes this diary entry on board the Ganges, the ship on which she is sailing from London to India. I think it expresses her sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole in a self-explanatory way.

Sometime, someplace on the ocean

I remain confident the year is 1805, and I am aboard the Ganges, but I write as my heading sometime, someplace on the ocean ’cause sailing across the nothing, nothing, nothing, and yet more nothing of the sea has addled me about both calendar and map. The map I have quite lost track of. At dinner I say my daily toast to happy sight of the next land, and I think: where is that next land? Which is to say: where are we? With no landmarks to watch for by day, and, by night, not being able to read the stars, I am as ignorant now of place as must be the fishes swimming in the waters beneath me. The calendar too, is becoming hazy to me. The tyranny of breakfast at eight, dinner at two, tea at six, and supper at nine keeps me abreast of the hours, but when I think of day and date ’tis as if one of our chilly sea fogs has reached its fingers into my mind, so I no more know whether ’tis Monday, Saturday, Wednesday, or Sunday, than I c’d say our position on the globe.

Olivia Raffles as Alice

Photo credits (top to bottom): Frigate in fog via Pixabay; detail of Here be Dragons map; Down the Rabbit Hole, by thepeachpeddler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Olivia Raffles portrait.


Excerpt from Sophia’s diary

Sophia writes this diary entry on board the Mariner, the ship on which she is sailing home from India. It, too, expresses her sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole…

August 1824, the Mariner, off the Cornish Coast

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land … I have had my first sight of Home for nigh on seven years. Tho’ in the Eastward Old England sometimes seemed to me unreal, like a dream of Home, and not a literal place on the globe, Cornwall is now crouched in the angry sea to our starboard, and is just as real as sharp granite rocks will allow. I hardly know how to say how I’ve changed since last I saw England. I sometimes feel so disunited from that Lady Raffles who sailed eastward on the Lady Raffles I can scarce think we are the same person – I cannot recall her, it sometimes seems, and must judge she was mistaken to think she ever could return Home. More, I scarcely know how to say who I am now, what I am, what manner of person? As for Tom, now turned of forty, lit now only by shadows of his youthful fires, he says he feels just as wearily jumbled as me, just as uncertain how to begin to make sense of all that has happened these past seven years, if indeed any sense can be made of our lives at all, and he says it is a puzzle to know whether his two sojourns in the Eastwood enabled him to put on, at various times, a new self, as a man may put on a new coat, or if, while in foreign climes, he became more than ever the man who first left, and now returns, to Old England.

Photo credits: Land's End, Cornwall[https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-rock-waves-wind-stormy-826155/] via Pixabay; Sophia Raffles portrait; Down the rabbit hole by Colin Smith[] via the Geograph Britain and Ireland Project (CC BY-SA 2.0) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

Photo credits: Land’s End, Cornwall via Pixabay; Sophia Raffles portrait; Down the rabbit hole, by Colin Smith via the Geograph Britain and Ireland Project (CC BY-SA 2.0).

* * *

Thank you so much, Rosie! I like the way you’ve juxtaposed these two excerpts, one showing the first wife setting out on a Far Eastern adventure, the other showing the second wife confronting the prospect of going home again. In fact, Sophia writes something that is extraordinarily akin in spirit to Alice’s statement:

I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning; but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

Readers, what do you think? Do these trailing spouses have it harder than their modern-day counterparts, or can you draw a reasonably straight line to today? And have these two excerpts from Rosie’s new novel made you want to read more? Olivia & Sophia, published by Monsoon Press, will be available as a paperback in Asia and Australia on November 1. You can also visit Rosie’s Asian Books Blog and/or stay social by following her on Twitter. And of course you can also express appreciation for Rosie in the comments below. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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Wonderlanded with Rosie Milne, Asian Books blogger and author of a new historical novel about two early expat wives

Alice goes through the looking glass[https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5485576189/], illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0)https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/; book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Alice goes through the looking glass, illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0); book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Rosie Milne, an Englishwoman who has lived in various places, mostly within Asia, but right now can be found in Singapore.

I first discovered Rosie Milne through an article she worte for Telegraph Expat about romantic novelists who’ve been inspired by their expat surroundings. I noticed in her bio blurb that she runs the Asian Books Blog.

Then recently I had the pleasure of her getting in touch with me to feature a description of the Displaced Nation for the Blog’s Sunday Post.

As Rosie and I began backing and forthing by email, I spontaneously decided it might be fun to be wonderlanded with her.

Now, having spent many years living in Asia myself, Singapore, where Rosie lives now, isn’t exactly my idea of wonderland. I know it comes out tops for expat destinations on various surveys, but for me Singapore is a nice place to visit (great food and shopping) but for living? Much too safe and predictable; Asia Lite.

But Rosie has lived all over Asia, including in my former home of Tokyo (Asia Heavy!). She has also thought deeply about what it’s like for women to “pass through the looking glass” into Asia, having just completed a novel, Olivia and Sophia: a fictionalized account of the adventures of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, as seen through the eyes of his first and second wives. (It’s due out in November from Monsoon Books.)

We’ll get to read a couple of excerpts from that work in the next post, but first let’s find out what it’s like to be wonderlanded with Rosie!

* * *

Rosie Milne: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. To give you a little more of my background: I was born in London. I worked in publishing there before moving to New York, where I wrote my first novel, How To Change Your Life, about an editor of self-help books trying to follow the advice in a self-help book.

I then moved to Hong Kong where I wrote my second novel, Holding the Baby, about four sisters with differing attitudes to motherhood—one of them, unable to have biological children, adopts from China.

I then had short spells in Sydney and Tokyo, before moving to my current home, Singapore, where I wrote my new novel, Olivia & Sophia, which features two early forerunners of a type of modern expat woman: the trailing spouse.

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

In Tokyo language was impenetrable—I did try to learn, but more-or-less never got beyond being able to give my address. There was a big earthquake within a few days of my arrival. There were young adults on the streets dressed as cartoonish characters. I had my first, and last, taste of sashimi chicken – the most revolting food I ever tasted….

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/bernatagullo/89651149/], by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Japanese city at night[https://www.flickr.com/photos/photones/6471199389/], by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/kylehase/3458873955/], by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; 鶏のたたき (chicken sashimi),[https://www.flickr.com/photos/spilt-milk/4578639904/] by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled, by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Japanese city at night, by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled, by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0);
鶏のたたき
(chicken sashimi), by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Consider anything, only don’t cry!” said the Queen.

I think expats, amongst the luckiest people on the planet, should resist succumbing to pools of tears.

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

I am quite often wary about fish, but usually, when I try the dish, or fish, in question, I enjoy it.

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would serve vodka and gherkins. As to the guest list…how about Jesus, and Richard Dawkins. The Buddha and Darwin. The Ayatollah Khomeini and Einstein…should make for interesting conversation, although language might be a bit of a problem.

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne's tea party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail[https://pixabay.com/en/ice-cocktail-glass-drink-alcohol-681547/] via Pixabay; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party[https://www.flickr.com/photos/43021516@N06/4382428537/], by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Sad pickle[https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthserviceglasses/3382360977/], by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]. Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer.jpg]; Ayatollah Khomeini[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mehdi_Bazargan_Ayatollah_Khomeini.jpg], by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en].

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne’s “tea” party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail via Pixabay; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party, by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Sad pickle, by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921; Ayatollah Khomeini, by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

I am terrible at giving advice.

Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible…

If I hadn’t lived in Singapore I doubt I’d have written Olivia & Sophia—an account of the life of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, told through the fictionalised diaries of his two wives. Olivia & Sophia predate Alice, but they must often have felt wonderlanded. In an era when the voyage from Europe to Asia took anything up to ten months, when letters were the only means of communication with Home, when Europeans died like flies in the East, their sojourns abroad saw them fall down the rabbit hole far more comprehensively than any modern expat. I hoped to use the novel to explore parallels between an early age of globalisation, and our own age, between the effects of a financial crisis then, and of the recent crises in the global economy, between the lives of expats then, and expats now, and so on…

Bonus: Alice as manga character

Why not make Alice Japanese? She could cultivate kawaii. And the white rabbit could be kawaii, too. The setting could be Tokyo, the rabbit hole could be the Tokyo subway…

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…[https://www.flickr.com/photos/luxtonnerre/2482551243/], by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita)[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_bunny-shaped_roadblock.jpg] via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en]. Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole[https://www.flickr.com/photos/ipdegirl/8197732984/], by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…, by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita) via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0). Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole, by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

* * *

Thank you, Rosie! Being wonderlanded with you was a curious experience, that’s for sure! Readers, please leave your responses to Rosie’s story in the comments. And stay tuned for her writing samples showing what it was like to be wonderlanded back in the day of Sir Stamford Raffles! ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Rosie writes about a wonderlanded experience.

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (2/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

Having delivered a successful show, TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, explore Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan on the street where they rented a cottage in Woodstock; Lisa in front of the clock tower on the V&A Waterfront. (All photos supplied, taken by either Lisa or her husband, Daniel Lawrence.)

TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has had an exciting summer, even by her own, well-traveled standards. First she performed her one-woman show about growing up as a mixed-race TCK in Valencia, Spain, after which she headed for Cape Town, South Africa, for another performance, which she told us about in her last post. Today we’ll be treated to Part Two of her South African adventure!

Howzit, dear readers—molweni! Kunjani?

As some of you may recall, in my previous post I described the experience of taking Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to the Women Playwrights International Conference, held June 29–July 3 in Cape Town.

This month’s post is about the second half of said trip, during which my husband, Dan, and I explored the city and its surroundings. A travelogue, if you will.

The day after the conference ended, we took an Uber cab to our new digs in Woodstock, about half a mile east of the city centre. (We’re not fans of Uber as a company—but as the Cape Town drivers were excellent and we were on a budget, we compromised.) Our AirBnB guest cottage had an en suite bathroom with a big shower—an upgrade from the dorm life we’d experienced at the conference.

We took it easy that day because I was wiped out from a week of conferencing that had culminated in performing my show. (Dan had played a role in the performance, too, as my techie.) We went grocery shopping in what South Africans call a “lower rent” area, a couple of blocks away. It offered far fewer choices than you would find in the USA or Europe—similar to the shops of my childhood and adolescence, spent in Central America and North Africa. Our most memorable buys were the potato chips or “crisps” and the gingersnap cookies or “biscuits”: both excellent!

Regarding safety in the city: we had read warnings about crime, but we witnessed none. As we walked along the main road, young men shouted at us through the windows of vans speeding by, offering us rides. At first we were intimidated, but by the end of our stay it was so familiar that we would just call back “No thanks!”

On the way home, we stopped at a cafe, the Field Office, where we enjoyed a great lunch and decent WiFi connection.

Dan is a coffee aficionado and I love the way Cape Town serves chai lattes in pretty glass mugs, so we were especially happy hanging out at this cafe, which aspires to be an office-away-from-the-office (hence its name).

When we returned to the cottage, we nearly froze—my teeth literally chattered! As I mentioned last month, most homes in Cape Town don’t have heating or insulation for the colder months. Luckily, our host realized this and loaned us a space heater the next day. (We had foolishly assumed he didn’t have one.)

The next day we went to the V&A Waterfront, which I loved for the clock tower, the public art, the restaurants and shops—and the fact that so many of our fellow tourists were from African countries. It was a pleasure to be among travelers from the African continent for a change. We discovered some fantastic traditional arts-and-crafts shopping at the African Trading Port.

Impilo! (Cheers!)

The following day we took a winelands tour. The countryside was beautiful; we passed a farm that had a zebra, a springbok, an ostrich, and more animals you never see on US farmland. Without having eaten breakfast, we tasted five wines (!) in Paarl valley, which was perhaps not the healthiest way to begin the morning.

Our next stop was charming Franschhoek, where I insisted on getting breakfast—a lovely muffin-like scone with butter/cream/jam coupled with a caffe latte…I felt much better. We also bought chocolate at a pretty chocolate shop because…chocolate!

The second winery was very fancy; then we continued on to Stellenbosch, where we had a tasty lunch. The towns were pretty with Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian architecture.

The final winery on our tour had lots of character in the form of gigantic spider webs hanging by the stained glass windows. It was there we learned that fortified wine is to port what sparkling wine is to champagne. In total that day we tasted 12 wines and three ports fortified wines. We liked the ports fortified wines the best.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries; a glass of port, a fortified wine[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortified_wine#/media/File:Port_wine.jpg], by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries on Lisa and Dan’s tour; a glass of port, a fortified wine, by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

Benza iKapa (Beautiful Cape Town)

The next day we took a city tour. We were supposed to go to the top of Table Mountain but it was too windy. (We were finally able to reach the top on our second-to-last day. It was so beautiful, I feel enormously lucky and grateful to have experienced it.)
Table Mountain_top
Our guide showed us some of the beaches near the town. The water was such a beautiful shade of light blue—I’ve never seen water like that before! And the view from Signal Hill was spectacular—I can’t use that word enough for the natural beauty surrounding Cape Town.

And on this tour, I finally had the chance to see the outside of all the places that Dan had visited during our first week while I was “conferencing”:

We walked through a small section of the Company’s Garden, a beautiful park with very old trees and Egyptian geese having Make Way for Ducklings moments, to the Iziko South African Museum.

This tour ended with the requisite visit to a diamond shop, which no one in the van was interested in, but we all ultimately decided to go in for the demonstration on how the jewels are made from gems (and, I’ll admit, for the free champagne). There was loads of tanzanite (named for Tanzania, where it was discovered) on display—a good investment, apparently. We didn’t invest.

Legacy of apartheid

While at the South African Museum, it was disturbing to learn that the museum’s first curators had created life-sized models from molds of actual living “Bushmen” (who were never credited) to demonstrate an “authentic, primitive, and it’s being lived today” lifestyle. Since the end of apartheid, the museum has been re-curated from the indigenous perspective.

On our second-to-last day we visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. (The prison is now a museum.) We had a great guide in the bus, who stressed that the prison was not about Nelson Mandela. The prisoners chose Mandela to speak for them, but they told him what to say and asked him to refashion their words because he was so eloquent and was also trained as a lawyer. At the prison itself, we had a former prisoner as our guide, who showed us Mandela’s cell. No white prisoners were held in that prison—only “blacks” and “coloureds,” who were not treated the same (there was worse treatment for blacks).

Mandela’s last prison was Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), which we’d seen during our winery tour. (We stopped to take pictures beneath the inspiring Nelson Mandela statue at the entrance.)

On our last day we went to the District Six Museum, which is a beautifully and intimately designed and curated memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during 1970s apartheid. My eyes started welling up in the first five minutes. I felt anxious, angry, and moved.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

At the conference I had remarked to a young South African theatremaker that I hadn’t perceived any racial tension among the diverse group of actors and directors who staged the play readings; she replied that that was because we were at the university, but things were different off campus. Dan and I were unpleasantly surprised when one of our tour guides, an older white man, stated that “black neighborhood” equaled “ghetto,” and pointed out a section of the city that he considered “awful”—but it looked like any populated section of a city in a developing nation to me.

I grew up mostly in poor countries, so I’m accustomed to the scrappy, grimy, not-at-all-pretty-yet-functional aspect of many an urban area. We actually bought our groceries on the block that the guide was pointing out.

Ubuhle bendalo (Spectacular scenery)

In disconcerting contrast to its painful history, South Africa has spectacular scenery. We went on a tour to the Cape Peninsula, including Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Spectacular vistas and beaches—again, I’ve never seen that color of ocean.

We also loved seeing animals that were new to us. We took a boat to see Cape fur seals on Duiker Island. Along the road throughout the day we passed zebras, baboons, bontebok, and ostriches—mostly not penned in—just by the road! And ever so many African penguins on Boulders Beach!

We ended that particular day at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which were lush and green, and I treated myself to a new mug at the gift shop. (A mug of tea being part of my writing ritual!

South African animals collage

Clockwise, from top left: Ostrich between road and sea; South African farm animals; African penguins at Boulders Beach; the Egyptian geese in Company Gardens.

Glorious food

We had been wanting to try the best Cape Malay food in town. We were told it was at Biesmiellah, so went there for dinner. Best comfort food ever after a day that had run the emotional gamut from a grim yet inspiring prison-turned-museum, to one of the world’s natural wonders with jaw-dropping vistas, to a fantastic restaurant where the cooks are Muslim women who feed you after sunset during Ramadan (so you can only hope they’ve broken their own fasts while taking care of tourists).

We ate wonderfully well in Cape Town. I can also recommend:

Paradoxically, almost every day we were approached by a homeless person, each one of a
different ethnicity/race (white, black, Malaysian, etc.), often young, always deeply courteous, asking for a meal. It finally occurred to me to carry an energy bar in my coat for giving away.

Last but not least…

While at the District Six Museum on our last day, we happened to run into a few WPIC delegates, one of whom complimented my performance of Alien Citizen from the previous week: a great way to cap off our visit.

One of the last things we did was to return to Company’s Park to walk the length of it; there were numerous romantic couples on the grass, which reminded me of Rome’s Villa Borghese Gardens and L.A.’s Griffith Park. We also saw many guinea fowl in and around Cape Town—again, we loved seeing animals we never get to see in the States.

We also visited St. George’s Cathedral, which was lovely and smaller than I had expected. It’s so famous for Desmond Tutu that in my head it was the size of Chartres—until I actually saw it and went inside.

We even took in the South African National Gallery, which had two incredible exhibits by South African artists:

  1. photography and more by Omar Badsha, and
  2. a multimedia-with-moving-sculpture work by William Kentridge called The Refusal of Time.

Hamba kakuhle! (Go well!)

All too soon it was time to wend our way back to L.A. The first leg of our flight was at night. On the British Airways plane back to Heathrow, the flight attendants sprayed something throughout the cabin, saying that it was not toxic but that we should still take our contact lenses out and not lick the mist. Um…

I’ll spare you the details of our layover in Heathrow, but be warned: that airport goes well out of its way to make you miserable. Meanwhile, our flight out of Cape Town left late, so we missed the connection and were rerouted to San Francisco…and our luggage got lost at SFO. It was finally delivered to us four days later—intact! Hooray!

Looking back, I think we were lucky to have mostly clear weather during our time in Cape Town as I was able to take extraordinarily vivid impressions of the majestic Table Mountain, the city and its surroundings, which are still with me…

On another level, I found Cape Town stimulating as an artist. It’s the kind of place that compels you to be brave and keep trying to tell your story truthfully. That’s also what I took away from our trip, along with an abiding gratitude to the WPIC programming committee for choosing Alien Citizen as the closing show—and of course to my generous backers who made the trip possible. Without a doubt, it counts as one of the highlights of my creative international life.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! I really appreciated hearing about your travels within and around Cape Town from your ATCK perspective: it was fascinating, as well as moving, to take this virtual tour. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below. —ML Awanohara

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (1/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus; and view of xxx through bus window (supplied).

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

For the second month running, our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life. This is the first of a two-part post on her South African experience.

Howzit, dear readers—molweni!

I’m devoting this month’s column to the experience of taking  Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to Cape Town, South Africa.

The occasion was the 2015 Women Playwrights International (WPI) Conference, held June 29–July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers, and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communication and collaboration among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.

In last month’s column I remarked: “It sounds like my kind of crowd.”

Well…it was!!

It felt enormously special to be at the conference’s 10th assembly and its first gathering on the African continent—my first time back in Africa since I graduated from high school, and my first visit to Cape Town. I’ll always be grateful to the donors who financed the trip via my online crowd-funding campaign.

Into Africa

It takes a gajillion hours to get from Los Angeles, California, where I live, to Cape Town (with a layover at Heathrow). My husband (and techie), Dan, and I can’t sleep on planes (!) so were jet lagged on arrival—and only too glad to reach our lodging at Graça Machel Hall at the University of Cape Town (a residence hall, or dorm), the cost of which was generously covered by a housing grant from the Writers’ Guild of Norway.

The room and especially the communal bathrooms gave us flashbacks to our college years—except this dorm was cleaner and full of adult delegates to WPI and other conferences, which we appreciated. We were also happy that the bathrooms provided a good hot shower—and were taken aback (but ultimately impressed) by the free condoms offered in every bathroom on campus.

Note to travelers: If you visit Cape Town in winter (May–July), be warned: indoors is colder than outdoors. Virtually no one has heating or insulation, so bring thermal socks and long johns to wear beneath your pajamas at night, and a thick sweater for any day you lounge indoors—and you’ll be fine. I also recommend gloves and winter hats, unless you’re from a below-freezing-in-winter climate, in which case you’ll likely shake your head and chuckle at all the other tourists complaining of the cold. (The Canadian delegates seemed to be the most bemused by the rest of us.)

The conferencing experience

Every day Dan and I rode the shuttle taking WPIC delegates to the conference site on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. During the 15-minute drive along the highway, we thrilled at the sight of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, the harbor, and the Atlantic. It’s impossible to miss the mountains—they loom over, or cradle (depending on your perspective), Cape Town and are magnificent.

My conferencing mornings began with a fantastic keynote by an African theatremaker or a fascinating panel of mostly African playwrights, all women. This was followed by a tea/coffee/yummy-snack break, then workshops led by theatremakers from all over the world, and then a tasty lunch provided by WPIC. Then: readings of excerpts from plays written by playwrights from everywhere and read by South African actors of every race/ethnicity, doing accents from all over Africa and the English-speaking world. Then another tea break, more readings, then panels/sessions/networking/presentations, then supper break (not provided, and we learned that we could not get a bad meal in Cape Town—every dinner out was delicious). The evenings ended with full-length performances.

I was conferencing 12–13 hours daily, and there was usually a smorgasbord of offerings from which to choose in any given hour.

She's really there! Typical beak between conference sessions 9selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

She’s really there! Photo credits: Typical break between conference sessions (supplied, selfie); conference poster on campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence).

Prep for show time

Dan, meanwhile, toured around Cape Town—but joined me for the two technical rehearsals for Alien Citizen in the Little Theatre on campus. After the classroom debacle learning experience at SIETAR Europa in Valencia in May, we were so happy to be in an actual theatre again! The theatre was a bit run down, but it had a booth, professional lighting grid, and Sean (WPIC15’s excellent production manager), so we were stylin’.

If you’ve been following this column for at least a year, then you know what happened with my first old-fashioned slide projector in Iceland. (Woe.) Well, it nearly happened again. I forgot to attach the slide projector to the voltage converter that I bought expressly for Valencia and Cape Town. Instead, I plugged the projector to the wall with a little plug adapter…and it roared as a burning-wires-and-plastic smell permeated the air.

Gah!!!!

I unplugged everything, made adjustments, replaced the bulb, et voila! The projector worked normally…as long as you could ignore the lingering odor of burned something-or-other.

Conferencing highlights

After making sure that my laptop could communicate with the theatre’s screen projector (EVERY venue’s screen projector is its own special starflake), Dan went back to his Cape Town exploring while I attended another conference lunch. Lunches tended to be three quarters sociable (talktalktalk) and one quarter zombie apocalypse (many of us on iPads/iPhones while digesting). At every lunch, I sat with new people, all of whom were interesting and amiable and from everywhere. That was one of my favorite aspects of the conference.

Other highlights of the conference included:

  • the opening keynote by Zambian-born Mwenya Kabwe, who spoke humorously and eloquently about theatre and being an African woman theatremaker.
  • the performance of Walk: South Africa, which taught us a grim statistic, that half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.
  • Kenyan actress-playwright Mũmbi Kaigwa’s reading of an excerpt from her smart, funny, and moving solo show, They Call Me Wanjikũ.
  • a panel of extraordinary South African theatremakers who told us that all theatre in South Africa in the 1980s was held in protest to Apartheid, but nowadays the theatre scene has become very segregated—it has regressed.
  • the workshop on Community Play Creation lead by Hope McIntyre of Sarasvàti Productions in Canada.
  • countless amazing women, including another ATCK playwright who grew up in many more countries than I did, and an Egyptian professor who was a budding playwright, which brought back happy memories of Egypt.
  • the final keynote by the incredibly accomplished Napo Masheane of South Africa. She spoke of working in a jewelry store as a teen, where adult white men would come in and immediately say: “Can I please talk to someone more intelligent?” She ended her speech with a poem that had a beautiful refrain, which she repeated with evocative gestures more and more quietly until she was only mouthing the words while making the gestures, and it made me cry:

    Do not shut your temple doors, whatever you seek seeks you, whatever you want wants you, whatever you need needs you.

    Do not shut your temple doors, there is enough space for all of us to shine, let us dance with fire under the stars.

SouthAfricatheatreconference_arrow

The delegates to the 2015 Women Playwrights International Conference, in Cape Town. Photo credit: Nardus Englebrecht Photography.

Show time!

After the final keynote, Dan and I had another tech rehearsal for Alien Citizen to program the lights. Sean gave the sandstorm-in-Casablanca a nice effect with upstage lights flickering, and the high-school-dance-in-Cairo was even more humorous because he spotlit me in purple with white polka dots that shimmied back and forth, reminiscent of a disco ball’s reflection.

And then it was showtime. After my experience in Valencia, I couldn’t help but have doubts over whether we would have a decent audience. But while I was waiting in the wings I heard delegates enter and sing along to some pre-show music (“Dancing Queen” and “Stand by Me”). I was glad they were getting into the mood, and it sounded like there were a lot more than 20! When I began the performance I could see that it was a “good house” (theatre jargon for “numerous seats filled”) and there were lots of laughs (which sounded slightly surprised, probably because most of the other shows at the conference had been about harrowing subject matter).

Afterwards I received amazing feedback from delegates from South Africa, Canada, Lebanon, Sweden, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Spain, Singapore, Kenya, Brazil, Jamaica, and more. Several said that the show was a great way to end the conference. I felt relieved, gratified, and honored.

That night, we met with other delegates at Addis in Cape for tasty Ethiopian food (and a cosmo for me). I’m always slightly braindead after performing, but it was lovely to “wind down” with other theatremakers who were very positive about the show. The next morning at breakfast, and again as we checked out of the dorm, more delegates praised Alien Citizen, which was the best way to end the conference for me.

Before, during, after the show. Photo credits: Drama of the slide projector (selfie by Lisa Liang, supplied); the show, which closed the conference; post-show cosmo at Addis in Cape Town (the latter two by Daniel Lawrence, supplied).

Can’t get over Africa

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned next month for Part 2 of Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey’s trip to Cape Town, to include tours of the winelands, the Cape Peninsula, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 21 years he served behind bars), District Six Museum (a tribute to the 60,000 inhabitants of District Six, a former residential area of Cape Town, who were displaced by the apartheid regime), the aforementioned Table Mountain, and more! Until then…hamba kahle!

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Once again, you’ve taken us on a vicarious journey—not only into a part of the world to which I’ve never been but also into the midst of theatre people, your creative tribe! I found it fascinating, as I’m sure others will as well. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; first stop: Valencia, Spain!

This month our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life.

¡Hola, amigos!

As those of you who subscribe to the Displaced Dispatch will know, Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage, was accepted by two international conferences in two of the world’s most appealing locations: Valencia, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa. Thinking I’d be a fool to pass up this kind of opportunity, I launched an online crowd-funding campaign to fund both journeys. Two of us would be going: myself and my husband, Dan, who also serves as my “techie” for the show.

It was my fourth experience with crowd-funding—the most recent being last year, to cover expenses for taking the show to an arts center in Reykjavík, Iceland; and once again, the campaign worked. (A relief since I feared I might have tapped out my supporters’ goodwill, but people were as generous as ever—and I won’t ever fundraise for this show again.) We didn’t quite make our goal but could afford to cover the balance. We would be able to attend two international conferences on two continents in two months—hooray!

In this month’s column I’ll recount our trip to Valencia, Spain, to participate in the 2015 SIETAR Europa Congress, on May 21–23. SIETAR, which stands for the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, is the world’s largest association dedicated to intercultural issues.

TCK Talent Lisa Liang takes her show on the road to Valencia, Spain.

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Spain. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Dan and Lisa in front of Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (supplied); “Naranjo y el Campanario Valencia,” by Emilio via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

First impressions of the Land of Sweet Orange Trees

Dan and I had a couple of days of sightseeing before the three-day conference took place at the Universitat de Valencia. We drank lots of fresh-pressed zumo de naranja (“orange juice” in Catalán)—and yes, the oranges are the best we’ve ever tasted!

We toured the wonderful old section of the city, including the Cathedral and its Torre del Micalet, and the spectacular Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts & Sciences)—a futuristic outdoor/indoor complex near the beach, with an awesome aquarium. We even took the long bus route back to our hotel, which gave us a chance to see a lot of the Turia Gardens, a park built on a riverbed.

Dan got to carry on sightseeing while I attended sessions (workshops, panels, and lectures) during the first two days in order to meet people, learn more about the interculturalist professional world, and get the word out on Alien Citizen.

First impressions of SIETAR

In general the other conference participants seemed very nice but a tad noncommittal when I told them about my one-woman show. I think it was rather unusual to have a theatrical piece at the congress, though I noticed there were several sessions on storytelling as an important means of generating intercultural understanding.

Most of the attendees were what I would describe as interculturalist entrepreneurs—perhaps not your usual fringe theatre-goers? Still, I appreciated learning what sort of cross-cultural issues Europeans have been facing, and there was the bonus of generous lunches and yummy pastries along with coffee, tea, and zumo during the breaks. (I may have gained a pound or two.)

At the end of the second day, I was beat—but still had to do a run-through of my show in our hotel room that evening. Theatre takes stamina, so perhaps my two full days of attending conference events had done me a favor.

attending performing SIETAR

First she observes; then she performs. Lisa Liang at Congress Valencia 2015. (Photos supplied.)

Show Day!

The third day of the congress: show day! And some tension… For one thing, I didn’t realize until then that many congress-goers would take the day off to go to the beach or do sightseeing. I feared I might only have five or so attendees, which would be enormously disappointing after making the long journey from California (not to mention the fundraising!).

And for another, I was performing in a classroom like all the other session presenters, which meant we had just 10 minutes to set up. Ten minutes may be fine for a PowerPoint presentation but, especially as the session before us ran a little late, Dan and I really had to hustle to set up all the props, as well as the laptop, old-fashioned slide projector with voltage converter, my tape marks so I would know where to stand when projecting words onto my torso, and chair. We were in such a hurry that I forgot to set up chairs to stand and dance on “upstage.” I had to grab them from the front row in the middle of the performance. Funfunfun!

Despite these challenges, the show was a hit! People did turn up, and there were many more than five, thank goodness. They stayed for the whole performance, which was a coup—there had been walkouts from every session I attended in the previous days (with all the concurrent sessions, people were constantly session-hopping).

After the show, the applause lasted for such a long time that I exited the room to give the audience a break. But they didn’t stop, which was deeply gratifying and a huge relief, so I came back in and took some more bows. Many audience members stayed afterward to thank Dan and me, and in some cases draw parallels with their own lives. Those who found the story relatable included not just people like me, who grew up in different countries, but also people who’d lived only in Spain. One woman said she would distribute the show’s flyers at international schools in her country…so here’s hoping!

Most importantly: the show seemed to help people feel more connected and better understood, which is its ultimate mission.

Post-show celebrations

Post-show, Dan and I went out for a celebratory drink of horchata (made with tiger nuts) at one of Valencia’s oldest and prettiest horchata joints. Then we ambled over to the formerly half-Moorish, half-Catholic quarter, where we ordered a pitcher of sangria (since it cost the same as two glasses).

It may well have been the best sangria I’ve ever had—certainly worth the headache afterwards.

We made it back in time to attend the conference’s gala dinner, which took place in a lovely courtyard at the university. A couple of people who came to the performance approached me to say they were telling everyone at their tables about Alien Citizen. Again, I felt a mix of pride and relief.

Congrats Collage

Brava, Lisa, to another fine performance! Photo credits: (top and bottom) Lisa and Dan celebrating with sangria and at the gala dinner (supplied); (right) “A glass of horchata, Spain” via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY SA 2.0).

To sum up…

Reflecting on the experience, I came to the conclusion that if the show is accepted at another non-theatre conference in the future, I should perform it only if it can be a keynote (as it was at the FIGT conference in 2014). Practically speaking, it takes time to set up the equipment and props, and as a performer I need space/room to relax and warm up before the show, which runs 80 minutes non-stop and takes my entire being to perform with the energy, precision, and authenticity that the audience deserves.

Still, I’m glad that we brought the show to this intercultural gathering, and I’d love to visit Valencia again. Food-wise, we had truly fantastic tapas and excellent wine, and as a night owl, I appreciated the late dinners. Virtually every Valenciana/o was very polite and friendly, and they all understood my slightly-gringa-inflected Guatemalan accent in Spanish.

The jet lag was only a problem on our first night. It took about a week to recover from it back in L.A., but that may partially be due to wistfulness: we’re not in Valencia anymore (woe!). Between its delights and our appreciative SIETAR audience, it was a fantastic, and very worthwhile, trip.

Next stop: South Africa!

At the time of writing I am preparing to attend the 10th Women Playwrights International Conference, being held in Cape Town from June 29 to July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communications and collaborations among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.

It sounds like my crowd. But South Africa: that’s a first! We’re hoping to do a winelands tour and maybe a one-day safari tour. Watch this space for my next update.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! I enjoyed taking that vicarious journey into a part of Spain to which I’ve never been. Imagine being able to drink fresh-pressed zumo de naranja to one’s heart’s content! (I’m not so sure about the horchata, though.) It was also interesting to hear your take on SIETAR: I know several Displaced Nationers were planning to attend. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Lynne Door on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home too early

Lynne Door Emerald City to Kansas Collage

The Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles); Lynne Door portrait, taken in her home (supplied).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. Today’s subject is Lynne Door, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed “typophile” who runs her own business specializing in branding, web design and print. Originally from New England, Lynne is now based in California, but she also managed to squeeze in two years living, working and studying in Singapore. Let’s hear about how that overseas experience affected her life.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

My boyfriend (now husband!) and I had been dating just a little over a month (I had known him for a year before that), but we knew there was something good between us. So when he received an offer from his company to work in business development in Singapore, we had an open and honest conversation and agreed it was something we both wanted to do together. We said: “Why not do this? Let’s have fun, let’s go do this and experience it together!” We couldn’t think of any reasons not to move, and if our relationship didn’t work out in the process, it would be okay, I would just fly home. At least we’d given it a shot. That’s why we were both willing to take the chance.

Follow the yellow brick road…

Well, the first feeling was, “Uh oh, I’m not a local anymore!” That felt weird and a little scary. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Especially since I only knew English. Luckily, Singapore is Asia for Beginners insofar as one of the main languages is English. At least I could navigate down the yellow brick road so to speak and converse with the people I encountered along the way.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I had the pleasure of both working and going to school in Singapore, so my experience was very broad. I worked for a local Singaporean advertising/design company while also attending LASALLE College of the Arts to continue my studies towards a graphic design degree. Every day I would go from encountering people within a corporate business environment to hanging out with a group of young, artsy students. I had never lived outside of the United States before and was completely enthralled. The whole experience gave me a much broader perspective on myself and others. Ultimately what I learned was no matter where you are on the globe, we’re all human and ultimately we all go about our day with the same intentions. It’s only geography—and a smile goes a long way!

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

While working for the Singaporean company, I did experience an unusual business practice. “Scolding” is where managers shout at employees for doing something wrong in front of other colleagues and/or behind closed doors. For the manager it’s a way of getting everyone’s attention and reminding employees who is in charge and why mistakes won’t be tolerated. I remember my scolding like it was yesterday, the repeated shouts of “Why did you do this?”, “How could you do this?” and “What were you thinking?”. I was absolutely speechless. I felt perplexed and completely thrown off by such aggressive managerial behavior. After the incident, I told him I would have responded more positively had we sat and calmly talked about the situation with the team. Looking back, I think we both realized we had a significant culture clash.

I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?

LynneDoor_Singapore

Lynne with her Singaporean student friends at LASALLE College of the Arts, a cherished photo (supplied).

I made some great friends at the design school and discovered the world isn’t such a big place. I keep this photo of me with my classmates on my desk. I just love it! It was an amazing time for me and hold them all so dear to my heart.

Going so soon?…Why, my little party’s just beginning!

We stayed in Singapore just two years. While it felt good to return to California life, I don’t know if I’d agree that there’s no place like home. In the comfort of being “home,” I went back to my usual routines, shutting out my surroundings. Whereas in unfamiliar territory, you need to be present every moment: observing, exploring, absorbing, learning about all that’s around you, making decisions. That’s the beauty of travel, expat life and experiencing new places, it opens up the mind completely. It’s invigorating and stimulating in every way—mentally, emotionally and physically. I miss those feelings! And I believe it can’t happen any other way but when traveling to new, unknown places!

LynneDoor_PalmSprings

Lynne with her husband, Jim, at their favorite Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs (supplied).

* * *

Thank you, Lynne, for being willing to be Dorothy and show us the yellow-brick-road you experienced in Singapore, as well as your mixed feelings about returning home. Having lived in Japan, I think I can relate to the “scolding” experience that took place in your Singaporean office. Definitely a Wicked-Witch-of-the-West moment! Readers, any questions for Lynne? If you’re curious about her design work, be sure to visit her design site, where you can peruse her personal collection of “wanderlust” photos. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Finally, if you need a cover for that book you’re writing, Lynne can help you with that as well! (She designed the cover for HE Rybol’s Culture Shock. HE Rybol is of course our Culture Shock Toolbox columnist.)

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TCK TALENT: Even without slide projector, projection of life as a Third Culture Kid engages Reykjavík audiences

TCK in Iceland Collage

Elizabeth Liang in front of Tjarnarbíó, in downtown Reykjavík, where she performed her one-woman autobiographical show, Citizen Alien, on growing up as a TCK of mixed heritage. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

This month Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life, which this past summer veered in the direction of an island situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans!

Halló, vinir mínir! Hello, my friends! I’m addressing you in Icelandic because in this month’s column I’ll be re-creating my journey to Reykjavík, where I traveled in August to perform ALIEN CITIZEN: An Earth Odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage.

How did I end up performing my show in Iceland? I have a friend in that part of the world who put me in touch with the artistic director of Tjarnarbíó, a creative center for professional live art in Reykjavík, who enthusiastically offered to host the show if I could cover my travel and lodging. Presented with a chance to combine three of my favorite activities—acting, writing and travel—how could I resist?

Engum flýgur sofanda steikt gæs i munn (“One cannot expect to benefit without making some effort”)—Icelandic proverb

My husband, Dan, agreed to work as my stage manager, which was perfect because he knows the show so well. I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the requisite funds for our trip, found a cozy house in Reykjavík on AirBnB for us to rent, bought our flights, started promoting the show on social media—and then off we went to the Land of Fire and Ice.

We arrived in ideal weather, cool and dry, which many Icelanders told us was lucky because it had been raining all summer. We were relieved to find that our lodgings were in a quiet, pleasant residential area that was a seven-minute walk to downtown and a 15-minute walk to Tjarnarbíó.

Tjarnarbíó is a beautiful venue with state-of-the-art technology. At the technical rehearsal, the two “techies” who adjusted the lights and projector were friendly and professional. (Incidentally, we never met anyone in Iceland who was unfriendly, and the Icelanders we encountered all spoke perfect English, some with gorgeous British accents.)

That said, we had an unexpected snafu at the tech rehearsal. There are two kinds of projections in the show:

  1. Pictures and videos that are projected onto a screen via my laptop, and
  2. Words that I project onto my torso using an old-fashioned slide projector.

During the tech rehearsal, the slide projector I’d used in the show for over a year konked out. The stage hand and I stared at the plume of smoke rising from the top and said: “It’s smoking.”

No, the problem was not the power converter. We had the right one. Nor was it the bulb. We replaced it but the projector still didn’t revive. So my Icelandic friend’s father-in-law generously loaned us his. More on this later…

Citizen Alien Photo Strip

(top to bottom) At the tech rehearsal, the lights were lowered from the ceiling–fancy!; opening night; closing night; post-show celebratory drink; with Dan in front of Hallgrímskirkja Church; with Dan in Þingvellir National Park. All photos courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

August 20, 2014: Opening Night

We had an audience! I only knew of five people who were planning to attend (of whom I’d actually met only one—my Icelandic friend). What a pleasant surprise to see twenty or so people in the house!

And they laughed! I guess the show’s humor translates.

Dan stage managed wonderfully and the light board operator did a great job, too. The only hitch was that when it came time to project slides onto my torso, the borrowed projector didn’t work, even though we’d tested it earlier. I improvised and the audience went right along with this. (Afterward, a very kind audience member offered to loan us his projector, but when we met later, he realized it had a part missing. So Iceland never got to see words projected onto my torso. Ah, well.)

The best part of opening night was the fact that I enjoyed myself on stage, which hadn’t happened in a while. There were two curtain calls and people stayed afterward to shake my hand, thank me, and say lovely things. It was such a pleasure. About half were Icelandic and the other half internationals—once again, the right people had found me and my show. Several said they would spread the word for the next performance.

A few people from Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and Iceland hung out with us at Tjarnarbíó’s cafe afterwards. They all mentioned different parts of the show that resonated for them, and one said she felt that the show does a service for nomadic and non-nomadic people—it’s like a bridge between them. They thought it should be filmed, which I’m planning to do in December.

All hail my director, Sofie Calderon, for making this show such a dynamic experience for the audience! People from far and wide have enjoyed the production, and that’s Sofie’s doing. If it had been up to me, I would have found ways to hide onstage, because performing a solo show is super scary.

August 22, 2014: Closing Night

More people in the audience, which was very moving, because I knew none of them. The word of mouth from opening night must have been good. And maybe all those promos I sent to the international school and Facebook groups helped…?

The performance didn’t feel as good—I was having less fun and getting fewer laughs—but I forged ahead. Afterward Dan and the light board operator said “No way, it was TIGHT, really good show!” Yet more proof that we actors have no idea how well we’re doing. We only know if the audience is responsive or quiet.

Just like on opening night, a bunch of people waited to speak to me afterward. One was a young adult TCK who was very moved by the show. Another was a professor at the University of Rekjavík whose field of study is TCKs. Their compliments, along with all the words of support from other audience members, was tremendously encouraging.

Because the truth is: before embarking on this Northern European adventure, I had no idea how audiences would react, or if there would be any audiences at all. I had girded myself to perform for a handful of kindly people on opening night and then possibly cancel closing night because who knew if there would be enough interest?

Reykjavík may be a small capital, but as it turns out, it has plenty of residents who are international or international in outlook, and open to trying new things.

Kleina & coffee, Björks in boots, Lutherans & lava…

Beyond the show, Dan and I had a glorious time exploring small but pretty Reykjavík; the Blue Lagoon, a thermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík; and the Golden Circle, a route the loops from Reykjavík to central Iceland and back. Other highlights included:

  • snacking on kleina, a donut-like pastry in the shape of a trapezoid;
  • visiting Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran cathedral designed to resemble the lava flows of Iceland’s landscape, and Settlement House;
  • hanging out at the Boston, said to be one of the world’s best bars, and at several coffee houses; and
  • last but not least, watching singers and dancers all over town on Culture Day/Night, a day and night-long program of cultural events that takes place in August every year and is one of the country’s largest festivals.

I also got a kick out of Icelandic fashion—bright colors, unusual cuts—and, as I love boots, was pleased to see practically every woman sporting boots of some kind: ankle, knee-high, sexy, hiking, and everything in between. (Did I buy a pair? Nope. Iceland is expensive.)

On our last night, we stepped out onto our little street to see fireworks, which felt like a final burst of congratulations. I got teary-eyed!

Overall, it was a delightful trip. Dan and I left thinking we’d like to go back someday. We want to see more of the island (puffins! volcanoes!), enjoy the friendly vibe…and hopefully bring another solo show for Icelanders’ entertainment—but without any cantankerous 1980s equipment.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Having only been to the Blue Lagoon as a round trip from Keflavík International Airport, I really appreciated this vicarious journey into the heart of the city’s cultural scene. And, as always, I’m impressed that you were contributing to the culture as well as taking something from it! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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