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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Novelist Dinah Jefferies melds themes of displacement and loss with the seductive beauty of the East

dinah-jefferies-location-locution
Tracey Warr is here with fellow historical novelist Dinah Jefferies. Dinah has led an unusually eventful life: not only has she lived in various countries but she has also suffered the loss of a child. These experiences have fueled a writing career that took off when Dinah reached her mid-sixties.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is Dinah Jefferies, who was born in 1948 in Malaya—as Malaysia was known then—where she spent the first nine years of her life, growing up against the background of civil war. Once Malaya gained independence from England, her parents decided to move back home.

Dinah found it wrenching. As she told a UK magazine:

“I was incredibly happy in Malaya. We just wore flip-flops and pants at home; it was so hot… I loved going to the Chinese quarter with my amah, sitting cross-legged on straw mats with her family, eating bright yellow, strong-tasting ice cream. It was like nothing like I’ve ever tasted since.”

Moreover, England did not make a good first impression:

“I just remember absolute devastation when I saw what England was like: February, the middle of winter – grey, cold, wet; no sunshine; horrible clothes.”

Dinah was bullied at school, and although she defended herself, that “feeling of not being quite a member of anything has stayed with me all my life.”

This outsider status led to a certain restlessness, which should be familiar to any of our Third Culture Kid readers. As a teenager, Dinah lived in Tuscany and worked as an au pair for an Italian countess. Much later, with her second husband, she attempted to retire in a 16th-century village in Northern Andalusia—a plan cut short after they lost most of their money in the crash of 2008.

But the experience that shattered life as she knew it was the death of her son in 1985, when he was just 14. Formally trained as an artist, Dinah channeled her unrelenting grief into her art work. Later her move to Spain afforded an opportunity to experiment with fiction writing. After settling in Gloucestershire to be near her grandchildren, she took to writing full time and found she enjoyed weaving her experiences of loss and displacement into stories set in the “extremely seductive beauty of the East.”

Dinah’s first published novel, The Separation, came out in 2014, when she was 65 years old. Set in 1950s Malaya, the book tells the story of a mother who journeys through the civil-war-torn jungle to find out why her husband and daughters moved up country without her.

Dinah landed a contract with Viking Penguin for that book and has produced a novel for them every year since:

  • The Tea Planter’s Wife (2015). Set in 1920s Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the book revolves around a young Englishwoman who has married a tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he’s been keeping some terrible secrets about his past.
  • The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (2016): Set in 1950s French Indochina (now Vietnam), the era when militants were determined to end French rule, the story concerns a half-French, half Vietnamese woman who is torn between two worlds.
  • Before the Rains (forthcoming, February 2017): Set in 1930s India, the book follows the progress of a British photojournalist who is sent to photograph the royal family in the princely state of Rajputana (Rajasthan). She ends up falling in love with the Prince’s brother…

To research her books Dinah has traveled to Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India. She will be speaking at the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka in January, should any of you Displaced Nationers find yourselves in that part of the world.
dinah-jefferies-4-books

* * *

Welcome, Dinah, to Location, Locution. Which tends to come first when you get an idea for a new book: story or location?

For all four of my books the location came first, though story comes a very close second. Once I’ve decided on the place, I then research the period and usually while researching that, the kind of characters I want begin to emerge. Sometimes I have the kernel of an idea before I hit on the location. For The Tea Planter’s Wife I did have the idea of a life-changing secret before I chose Sri Lanka—or Ceylon as it was then known.

What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of the various places where you’ve set your four novels?

It’s all about sensory detail. For my third book, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, set in Vietnam, it was all about evoking the contrast between the elegant French quarter of Hanoi, as opposed to the clutter and noise of the ancient Vietnamese quarter with canaries singing in bamboo cages and the scent of charcoal and ginger in the air. The setting has to work to support the story in some way, and as this is a story of a woman caught between two worlds. I needed to show how different those two worlds were.

Which particular features create a sense of location: landscape, culture, food?

All those and more. I include everything I can to create the atmosphere of the place and the time. For historical fiction, one has to get the historical details right, too: the type of buildings, what people wore, their mindset, etc. It’s about what the characters would be seeing in their daily lives and how they would be interacting with their surroundings. For me the landscape has to almost be a character in itself. I try to re-create the beauty of the world in question as well as its unique personality.

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

From The Tea Planter’s Wife:

“Below her, gentle, flower filled gardens sloped down to the lake in three terraces, with paths, steps and benches strategically placed between the three. The lake itself was the most gloriously shining silver she’d ever seen. All memory of the previous day’s car journey, with its terrifying hairpin bends, deep ravines, and nauseating bumps, was instantly washed away. Rising up behind the lake, and surrounding it, was a tapestry of green velvet, the tea bushes as symmetrical as if they’d been stitched in rows, where women tea-pickers wore eye-catching brightly coloured saris, and looked like tiny embroidered birds who had stopped to peck.”

In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

I like to know it as well as I can and I always visit a location I’m planning to use. Just being in a place can help in ways you never could have imagined if you hadn’t been there. When doing research for The Tea Planter’s Wife, I was staying at a tea plantation in Sri Lanka and found a library of wonderful books I’d never have known about back home. Those books provided me with amazing details, as did sitting outside in the evening watching the fireflies and listening to the cicadas. Being there made it real.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

I love Julia Gregson’s book East of The Sun for the way it evokes a particular time in India. Also Simon Mawer’s The Girl who Fell from the Sky set in wartime France. Both are great books with terrifically realistic settings that are an important element of the story.

Dinah Jefferies’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Interesting! I should tell you that one of my other guests, the novelist Hazel Gaynor, chose your books—The Tea Planter’s Wife and The Silk Merchant’s Daughter—in answer to this question. Also, my very next guest will be one of your picks, Simon Mawer.

Thanks so much, Dinah, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Dinah? Please leave them in the comments below.

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Dinah Jefferies and her novels, I suggest you visit her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Dinah! Dinah, your Third Culture Kid story tells us so much about you. I wonder if it’s the reason location comes first, before story? And hats off to you for starting a writing career in your sixties. What a tribute to resilience, as well as to the therapeutic power of art! —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels with Impress Books. She recently published, in English and French, a future fiction novella, Meanda, set on a watery exoplanet, as an Amazon Kindle ebook. Her latest medieval novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th-century Wales and England, came out in October.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits: Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo and photos of Dinah in Hall of Mirrors at Amer Fort (near Jaipur, India) and of Malacca, Malaya, supplied by Dinah Jefferies; and photo of England: Rainy Day, by David Wright via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Visual that accompanies the quotation: Tea Picking In Sri Lanka, by Steenbergs via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Trish Nicholson, a writer whose talents have blossomed in unusual places

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest interview guest.

My guest this month, Trish Nicholson, is something of an exotic plant—the kind one discovers flowering profusely in a far-flung part of the world.

Trish’s birthplace, the Isle of Man, sounds remote to many of us—but not so for Trish, who, despite being half Manx (a mix of Celtic and Nordic), wasn’t able to bloom where she was planted. Following in the footsteps of some of her intrepid ancestors, she left her birthplace and hasn’t looked back.

Her first destination was the UK, in pursuit of higher education and a career. Trish is also half-Scottish, but, though she lived in Scotland for 12 years, her roots did not prove deep enough and she moved on to Europe and much further afield…transplanting herself to Papua New Guinea!

Yes, Trish was stationed in the West Sepik (Sandaun) Province of Papua New Guinea for five years working on aid and development projects while also serving as Honorary Consul for the British High Commission. Rest assured, conditions here were exotic enough for Trish not only to put down roots but to blossom and thrive. As she attests in the travel memoir she published last month, PNG contains the wildest places in the tropics. Among other challenges, she had to contend with crocodiles (the book is titled Inside the Crocodile), sorcery and near-fatal malaria.

Photo credits (clockwise from upper left): Mooragh Park Lake, Ramsey (Isle of Man), by Tony Hisgett via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Trisha Nicholson (supplied); Explosions (in PNG), by Taro Taylor via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) .

Photo credits (clockwise from upper left): Mooragh Park Lake, Ramsey (Isle of Man), by Tony Hisgett via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Trisha Nicholson (supplied); Explosions (in PNG), by Taro Taylor via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) .

The so-called Land of Surprises must have been a hard act to follow, but Asia Pacific being Trish’s most nurturant habitat, she soon found other challenges—the next one being to direct the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) operations in the Philippines while completing her doctorate in social anthropology. After the Philippines, she obtained a research grant to study indigenous tourism in Vietnam and Australia.

And I mustn’t forget to mention that along the way there have also been frequent trips to South America and Africa, along with treks in Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal.

Trish did return to England eventually—only to decide the time had come to try transplanting herself to the “winterless” far north of New Zealand, where, as she says in her blog:

native trees grow even more in winter than summer because they have more moisture.

Hmmm… sounds a little like Trish?

And now let’s talk about Trish’s body of works. A compulsive scribbler, she has produced plenty of what she calls “creative nonfiction”—from articles for mainstream media to a book on responsible travel tourism—as well as short stories during her twenty years of wandering the globe.

More recently, since moving to New Zealand, she has published a series of e-books on her travels—one of the most popular of which is the illustrated travelogue Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. And now there is the aforementioned Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals.

Trish’s nonfiction output also includes a volume on creative reading/writing as well as a guide to becoming a non-fiction author. And let’s not forget the historical anthology of storytelling, which she intends to sit down and write now that she’s settled on a quiet New Zealand hillside. That’s when she’s not hiding in her tree house or blogging. Her blog is called, appropriately enough, “Words in the Treehouse.”

* * *

Welcome, Trish, to Location, Locution. I know that your travels have led to much of your writing, but which tends to come first, story or location?

Thank you for inviting me, Lorraine.

It depends on what kind of writing I’m doing, of course. For short stories it’s usually character that comes first for me, but it’s close because characters are an integral part of their setting. In building up the story, character and setting feed upon each other. Location can affect a character’s mood, sometimes their whole outlook on life, and a change of location can be a turning point. But, as I said, it’s a two-way influence; people can also have an impact on their surroundings.

For my travelogues, experience of location came first, but the same principle applies: people feed off setting and vice versa. In this case, of course, the “characters” are actual people I met along the way.

Notably, you were right in saying that my travels led to my writing. I did not set out to write a book at the beginning of either of the two travelogues I have produced. I was inspired to visit Bhutan by an article in a 1914 National Geographic magazine my aunt had left me in a box of dusty old books. It was full of the most amazing photographs of mist threaded mountains, exotic architecture, and distinguished looking men wearing what appeared to be navy blue dressing gowns with broad white cuffs… Papua New Guinea, as you explained in your introduction, was a five-year work assignment, fulfilling a teenage dream to work overseas. Only afterwards did these locations compel me to write about them.

What techniques do you use for evoking the atmosphere of a place? After all, you’ve faced the challenge of describing places very few of the rest of us have visited.

I’m not sure if it’s a technique because it’s not something I do consciously as I write, but your question made me think about it. It’s not so easy to explain, but I seem to identify a feature that is characteristic of a particular place and use my senses to link to it emotionally—trying to recreate in words what I felt when I was there. It’s not simply “place” though, but more a series of “moments-in-place.” The atmosphere of a place changes depending on time of day, seasons and events. It’s possible to keep track of these changes if you maintain a detailed journal as I always do—scraps of information about everything I see, hear, smell and feel. With buildings and landscapes, for example, I record how light and weather affect them. A grey stone wall, for instance, may look hard and forbidding in Scotland, but under a tropical sun it feels surprisingly soft and warm. I note sounds and snippets of overheard conversation, clothes, colours, rhythms of people’s movements—all of which suggest place. Scribbling is a bit of an obsession with me, perhaps a way of hanging on to something I don’t want to end. My other obsession is photography, probably for the same reason. In my early travelling days I used Kodachrome but film was expensive; now you can take large memory cards and click away without a thought. When I’m writing, I scroll through my images and they recall whole scenes for me. The jottings and photographs aid my memory for those sensuous details that I believe evoke atmosphere.

Two of Trish's tools for capturing the details of places. Photo credits: (top) Notebook collection, by Dvortygirl via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Kodachrome, by Pittaya Sroilong via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Two of Trish’s tools for capturing the details of place. Photo credits: (top) Notebook collection, by Dvortygirl via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Kodachrome, by
Pittaya Sroilong via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

They all can, of course, depending on the story and a writer’s personal interests. I’m certainly no foodie, but even I can feel the tropical heat of Papua New Guinea when recalling drinking kulau (Tok Pisin for “juice from a young green coconut”) straight from a young coconut—the rough, dry shell on my lips, the smooth sweet coolness dribbling down my chin. Language, too, has always been a significant feature for me. Many writers avoid using dialect or foreign words in dialogue so as not to stress the reader, but there are ways of making it easier, and readers enjoy a little challenge. I write dialect or local language in short stories and in travelogues because it draws readers closer to people. And if I want to create the sense of a very specific location, I focus on whatever features are found only in that one place—for example, in Bhutan, the painted red bands around a building that tells you there are sacred relics inside, or in Australia, the surreal landforms of the Bungle Bungles that seem to stride across the landscape enacting their own primordial drama.

Which of your works provides the best illustration of place, and can you give us a brief example?

From Inside the Crocodile, a jungle moment on the hair-raising trek from Oksapmin to Lake Kopiago:

The heavy shower was reduced to drizzle under the canopy and it invigorated the forest; every shade of green was intensified, glistening and vivid. Lazy drops of water glided along leaves, dripping silently onto moss beneath. Fine hairs on the ribs of fern fronds, usually invisible, were lit-up by tiny twinkling water droplets like miniature fairy lights. And the air was filled with the fecund mustiness of moist earth seasoned with the tang of wet foliage … the forest stood in strange, expectant silence, muffled by the press of growing, spreading vegetation all around us. Yet every surface, especially the dark underside, was teeming with life we could not see, or would not recognise if we did, and we couldn’t see beyond the next tree trunk or veil of hanging moss. The sense of being enclosed, entrapped within an unknowable multitude, was overpowering.

Photo credits: (top) A frog inside the papaya tree, one of many critters found in PNG; one of many disintegrating bamboo bridges in PNG (by Trish Nicholson, supplied).

Photo credits: (top) A frog inside the papaya tree, one of many critters found in PNG; one of many disintegrating bamboo bridges in PNG (by Trish Nicholson, supplied).

And if I’m allowed another little one, from Journey in Bhutan, my journal entry the evening after we visited the ancient temple of Kyichu Lhakhang:

… I want to remember how it felt when I first entered the lhakhang – the dark wooden floor, polished and worn into grooves by centuries of calloused feet; distant chanting heard through a haze of incense; Buddhas lustrous in the flickering light of butter lamps – thirteen centuries of reverence are distilled in that room creating an almost palpable sanctity. I feel the balm of its atmosphere as I write – it’s almost like a presence.

Photo credits: (clockwise from top left) Rinpung Dzong, a large dzong (Buddhist monastery and fortress) found in Paro District, Bhutan; book cover art; ancient religious relics inside the lhakhang (all photos supplied by Trish Nicholson).

Photo credits: (top) Rinpung Dzong, a large dzong (Buddhist monastery and fortress) found in Paro District, Bhutan; book cover art; ancient religious relics inside the lhakhang (by Trish Nicholson, supplied).

How well do you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

This is a particularly interesting question because I believe one can be in a location too long. The point is not how much time is spent in a place, but how well we “see” it. In an urban setting, I can spend an hour leaning against a wall on a street corner, or a day walking the streets at random, and gather a huge number of impressions and factual details. In remote areas it takes longer because the changing elements have a greater affect on atmosphere. But this may be enough for the setting of a single story. Obviously, for a travelogue, longer immersion is necessary to reach a depth of understanding across time and seasons. But it depends also on how one writes about a place, the scope of the account. I was in Bhutan for a month, much of that time trekking, so although I included monasteries and temples, and carried out a lot of research on cultural and historical background, Journey in Bhutan focuses on the trek rather than trying to cover the whole country superficially. So, how long is too long? After a few years in Papua New Guinea I noted in my journal:

I’m losing all sense of “normal”.

I began taking for granted what seemed extraordinary to a visitor. Fortunately, I had recorded early events that revealed my astonishment and joy and alienation as a greenhorn during those first months. Without the journals, Inside the Crocodile would have lacked that perspective on the location because, after a while, we cease to “see” so clearly.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Hard to pick a few from so many: Vikram Seth for his depiction of India—but his first book, From Heaven Lake, was a vivid travelogue of Sinkiang and Tibet; he was still a student but the novelist is already burgeoning in those pages. Khaled Hosseini, who so cleverly weaves his characters into the texture of place in The Kite Runner, and Nikolai Gogol, especially in Dead Souls, where his detailing of personal possessions in a room reveals not only a distinctly Russian steppes atmosphere, but also a character’s past and present. And one more: Ruth Rendell appears to break all the “rules” in The Keys to the Street by opening with almost two pages describing London’s ornamental iron railings—but in such a way that with the first paragraph we are already anxious about those spikes.

Trish's picks for writers who have mastered the art of writing about place.

Trish’s picks for writers who have mastered the art of writing about place.

Thanks so much, Trish! I can easily see why one reviewer described you as “full of humour, adventure, and iron determination…”

* * *

Readers, any questions for Trish Nicholson? Please leave them in the comments below before she disappears back into her treehouse.

And if you’d like to discover more about Trish, why not visit her author site. She also chirps on twitter at @TrishaNicholson.

Until next month!

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

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Photo credits (top of page): The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: How to pry open your mind to new cultures—and keep them all sorted

Yelena Parker for CST Displaced Nation Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. A “transitions enthusiast,” she credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing with giving her a head start in this department. That said, H.E. is always on the lookout for shiny new tools, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock memories and coping strategies. Today she speaks to Yelena Parker, a Ukrainian expat, executive coach, and writer who, through her many international moves, claims to have mastered the art of “moving without shaking.”

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’d like you to meet today’s guest, businesswoman and author Yelena Parker. Yelena is Ukrainian but has lived in the United States, Switzerland, Tanzania and now the United Kingdom, and has conducted business in many more countries. Last year she published a book titled Moving without Shaking, which made the Displaced Nation’s “Best of 2014 in Expat Books” list. Described as a “guidebook-meets-memoir,” it aims to help women “who are interested in building their new global life styles whether through working, studying, volunteering or simply living abroad.”

One of Yelena’s contentions is:

Once you are on a serial expat path, new relocations get easier.

Can we take this to mean it’s possible to get better at handling culture shock?

Let’s find out by asking Yelena to describe a few of her own culture shock experiences. She may advocate for moving without shaking; but how does that line up with her own adventures? Has she never shaken like a leaf at some point during her various international moves?

* * *

Hi, Yelena! First can you please tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I came to California from Ukraine in my 20s to get an MBA and ended up living there for more than nine years. I didn’t make it till the very end of year 10 as an opportunity came along to relocate to Switzerland for work. After two years in Geneva I moved to London to continue working in tech. I’ve now lived in the UK for four years, only interrupted by a four-month volunteering stint in Tanzania, with a Kilimanjaro climbing break in between.

You’ve certainly made your fair share of cultural transitions. Did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

I travel to Moscow frequently for work. During the last trip the taxi driver asked me where I was from. This question is always complicated since, like many here at the Displaced Nation, I now feel as though I’m from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I tend to focus on the most recent location when giving an answer. To be polite, I share where I am coming from literally (versus where I am from). On this occasion, the last port of call was St. Petersburg, which in Soviet times was known as Leningrad. Some wires in my brain must have crossed as I blurted out: “From Leningrad.” The driver said “Really???” We ended up engaging in a much longer conversation, about my Soviet childhood in Ukraine and so on. I think I had a reverse culture shock reaction after being away from where I grew up for so long.

What lessons can you offer to the rest of us from this story?

It’s a bit of a strange example, but what I am trying to get across is that keeping your life truly connected to multiple worlds is very difficult. You are bound to lose some of your identity, forget the basics, replace them with new realities and then, perhaps, come full circle as you find yourself back in your good old comfort zone. You and your memories have many layers now. It can be challenging to keep them sorted. That toolbox of yours needs to have quite a few compartments!

Looking back on your many cultural transitions, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

Moving to Tanzania, I was surprised at how quickly I embraced the pole pole (slowly-slowly) way of life. Until I went on this amazing adventure, I had always been a workaholic. But then I found myself living enjoying the most beautiful sunsets and spending a lot of time talking to people in front of me instead of using various digital ways to connect with people remotely. I didn’t complain about the lack of speedy or efficient services anywhere as I no longer expected that kind of thing. I was not rushed or overwhelmed so wasn’t concerned about being late or other people being late or not showing up to meetings. I just enjoyed every moment of this new experience: no deadlines, no crazy work hours, only things I truly wanted to do. You could say I felt burnt out after working non-stop (or being in school) for 23 years. I do believe, however, that something in that culture was appealing to my natural preferences, which had been suppressed by years of working in the corporate world. I also realized that I wanted to teach again. My first career was in teaching English at a university level in Ukraine—work I’d chosen to abandon when I took a degree in business. That said, I am back on the corporate path again.

If you had to give advice to new expats, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first
and why?

I guess it would be some kind of crowbar to pry open your mind to new experiences, no matter how many times you relocate. Learn everything you can about your new home country. Explore it thoroughly. If you end up moving back home, you will regret that you didn’t do enough. If you stay, the more you learn, the easier your assimilation into your new life is going to be.

Thank you so much, Yelena, for taking the time to share your experiences and reminding us that keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn about other cultures can be effective tools, sometimes in unexpected ways! I love your example of becoming immersed in an East African culture and learning more about your own (suppressed) natural preferences as a result. And I of course love the idea of moving without shaking! That’s what this toolbox is for…

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Yelena’s advice? Have you ever found yourself having a Rip-Van-Winkle moment like hers? How about discovering your “true self” in a vastly different culture? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Yelena, be sure to check out her author site and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

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Wonderlanded in Phnom Penh with serial expat writer, artist and sometime photographer A. Spaice

A Spaice Wonderlanded Collage

Tea in Bangkok and Yellow in Phnom Penh. Photo credit: A. Spaice.

Curiouser and curiouser! Residents of the Displaced Nation have always had a deep affiliation with Lewis Carroll’s Alice. We can identify with her experiences of falling down a rabbit-hole and stepping through a look-glass into a world where one doesn’t know, can’t even guess at, the rules of the game. Alice’s sense of discombobulation—which of us hasn’t had at least one pool-of-tears moment after moving to another culture?

By the same token, which of us hasn’t grown, and been stretched, in new and unexpected directions by our displaced lives of global residency and travel?

This year, to celebrate the 150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I am hosting a new “Wonderlanded” series, beginning with today’s post.

Our very first Wonderlanded story is from A. Spaice, who has led a life of remarkable transitions after falling
d
o
w
n
the hole.

Spaice grew up in a rich Western country to be an engineer-artist, disappointing a lot of relatives who insisted (without invitation) that a more “normal” career would make life easier.

But this just pushed her to resent all sorts of social mores, sparking a journey that would never stop anywhere for more than six years. Her path cut a line to the Far East, looped Western Europe, and now, as we hear the details of her Wonderlanded story, Spaice writes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, having assumed a few new layers to her creative identity as she continues to insist on looking inward to work out Alice’s big question:

“Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Without further ado, I give you A. Spaice!

* * *

Greetings, Displaced Nation readers! I look forward to telling you my story of how I became wonderlanded. But first, a few details about me. Before taking this new name, A. Spaice, I’d been happily writing under my own, mostly first-person essay style accounts and often set in foreign lands. It was fine. I got places. I enjoyed it. But then, I hit bricks. Through my writing, I’d wanted to tell my story and when that was done, I realized it was okay to stretch a bit, to try new things, maybe even third person. Crazy! So after a long time of not knowing one phase could end and a new one begin, I feel a reinventing going on, from within. This propels me, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt that kind of inward push, and I know this is the kind of thing you need to have if you want to get it done and make it good. So I’m happy to make the transition, and let go of the old style.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Along the way I got surprised about something. My major in college was engineering, and I worked in architecture firms for a while, so it’s been fun playing with new concepts in my work, like torque and momentum, or the radiation heat transfer equation, that kind of thing. I’m going to have to find a way to use ! for factorial. I’m terribly excited, and I hope this energy will reverberate through in my just-born, about-to-become-something N+1 series. (Mathy, right? I kind of dig it.)

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”

A year ago at this time I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had no idea what I was going to do for work or how I was going to “make it,” or if I’d need to abandon some old idea about what that even means, or something else. Among my possessions was an old copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, which, if you are traveling Asia and the kind of person who sizes people up by the amount of luggage they have, you wouldn’t have given me an ounce of attention because this thing is cement.

You Can't Go Home_Thailand

You can’t go home again; you’re in the Kingdom of Wonder! Photo credit: Book cover art; A. Spaice.

Thomas Wolfe was pretty roundly criticized, it says in the back notes of the book, for not being able to edit stuff himself and relying on people to help him cut things into a story-like form. But wow. His writing. It’s just…it’s so lovely and right on.

It was there with me in the suitcases, and it is here with me now, as I write. It’s been a comfort. I didn’t know anything about what was ahead (a bus ride to Siem Reap, then another to Phnom Penh, a welcome from some people social media introduced me to, and then, falling in love with Cambodia in an abstract way, because of the whole “Kingdom of Wonder” thing, but also, in general, its aesthetics (architecture, attention to symmetry, detail, and something… something I’m working on trying to capture and will stay until I can name). Ask me about the tuk tuk driver whose floor’s decked out with astroturf. A humor, a style, something else. Unpretentiousness, perhaps? Directness? Reality? Maybe it was this that made me feel, “Yes. Stay.”

But the book, that book being with me, that’s been an anchor. I keep it for comfort. I read it for love. I look to it to remember that yes, the road is ahead of you, that you can’t go back, that you just can’t fall upon some idyllic picture that isn’t real. Snap! You Can’t Go Home Again. And accepting that, right there, in the middle of the wondering, in the enchanting early evening hour of arriving on that long road from Chiang Mai to Phnom Penh, with sun reddening this sky, I knew. Something would work out. “I’ve got this. This is going to be just fine.”

An early “pool of tears” moment

Ireland. 2000. I was plonking myself into the countryside “indefinitely.” There were times out there on the farm in southwest County Cork that I wondered, “What the heck was I thinking?” I was still young then, and feared I was missing something. The city, the lights. A more familiar variety of arts and culture. What did I have in the hills? Views, rainbows, sheep, the grass-fed cow’s milk and Kerry Gold butter, sometimes shared by friends and neighbors in Union Hall and Dunmanway. Lots and lots of partying, but the honest kind, with board games and stories and singing and the craic. This was before the Internet era, so I have my doubts it would be the same now. But little by little, sticking around three years and a bit, you got to know the place and the people, and they got to know you. (A part of me is Irish, you know. From West Cork, like, so.)

“But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone.

bathroom slippers anime

Through the Utsunomiya looking glass. Photo credit: Toilet Slippers, by Lloyd Morgan (CC BY-SA 2.0); Alice in Wonderland anime doll.

When I was in high school I did a Youth for Understanding exchange to Utsunomiya, Japan. I knew some things, like how you were supposed to bring omiyage so I had one small item each for my host brother, sister, father, and mother. I felt cool knowing you were supposed to leave your shoes in the genkan and wear slippers around the house. What I didn’t know was that when you go to the bathroom you change into special bathroom slippers.

I saw those, put them on, but forgot to change back into regular non-bathroom slippers and so entered the dining room, excited about all the new kinds of food. My host family was horrified. Awkward, but they made a printout of house rules, which they left on the kitchen table the next day. “Bathroom slippers are for the bathroom.” When I realized what had happened, I was redder than the cherry tomato atop the last night’s dinner salad.

“Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice.

Iced tomato smoothies. Saigon.

Recipe for a successful Mad Hatter’s tea party

I’d host it in a place with lots of windows, preferably floor-to-ceiling, maybe on the second floor of a well-maintained building with high ceilings. There would be just 16 people—I find this to be a magical number for gatherings, you can arrange guests in pairs and then change it up, into four sets of four. Also cozy. I love having people shift about when I throw a party, it changes up the energy, and gives it a tint of surprise. I would invite people of all ages and career types because there tends to be a lot of silos out here. There would be tea for everyone, and later, an impromptu concert, with an opera singer, and then, champagne. (The opera singer and champagne part actually happened once here, magic!, so I’d have that for my guests for sure.)

champagne and opera

This mad hatter entertains with champagne and opera. Photo credit: Champagne via Pixabay; singer via Pixabay

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”

I think it’s weird when I go to California, say, and see people eating salads out of boxes. Noticed myself wishing there was more rice around San Francisco. I wondered, quite out of character, why women don’t cover their skin, especially when swimming. Isn’t that funny, when you’ve grown up in the West? Yet there are also the nice parts: people understand one hundred percent of what I say, and vice versa, and I can joke around, and it’s received, and I feel like my “old” self again. Remarkable.

“I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

But I also see now that I’m interested in other kinds of things and that my experiences have taken me to far edges, the kinds of edges that aren’t photographable, and these make me feel like I get along better with a traveled set, not necessarily those from a particular country, or style, or personality, or something else. I like the everykind, the mixitup. I like the sense of possibility and connect with those who also want to keep it open, not box it in. Maybe that’s why I’ve lost interest in identifying with a certain country, or any other kind of label, come to think of it, too. Disorientation is part of it, but it’s precisely because of the crisscrossings that I’m figuring out, slowly, who I am. And it’s this feeling, this waking-up feeling, that is why I wanted to connect with Displaced Nation because it’s here I see it’s not just me in this big pot of “Wait. What just happened?”

Advice for those who have only just gone through the looking glass

Trust the process.

“Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”

Okay. Well, moving from essays in high school to papers in college to, later, writing that has to go out on deadline, I’m finally able to say: I’ve got my voice. I know who the writer in me is. I’m confident, too, that this writer really wants to grow and stretch beyond previous boundaries, and that’s where this new thing, this thing I’m calling “N+1”, came from. A series of short books, based on the people I’m meeting in real time in the places where I go for three weeks or maybe two months at a time.

"In Bangkok" by A. Spaice; cover art for A. Spaice's short book, Bangkok

Creative output from Bangkok. Photo credit: “In Bangkok” by A. Spaice; cover art for A. Spaice’s first short book, Bangkok.

I’ve spent my whole life observing and taking notes, but it’s not the notes I’m referring to anymore. It’s not the pretty turns of phrase that I can feel like I can put in there, just, there!, or things I used to think made a person go, “I’m a writer!” No, it’s other stuff. It’s knowing that something you’re saying actually resonates. Connecting deeply with other people in small moments of sharing—that’s important to me. Words have a brilliant potency to make that possible, but they’re just one way. Knowing it’s the connection that I write for now, instead of the “art,” I’m moving into a different channel. I trust this current, because it feels good. It moves, it flows. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it even likes to dance.

After Bangkok I’ll publish a new piece set in Dalat. It’ll be the first thing I’ve written in third person. My best friend, and my go-to editor, is listening to me read this aloud, and nodding, and smiling. Switching gears, writing different. It’s a good, happy change.

* * *

Readers, how did you enjoy spending time being wonderlanded with A. Spaice? Did you find her story a curiosity or could you relate?

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an excerpt from A. Spaice’s short book Bangkok!

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: How to be a diva in another culture–by not being one!

Culture Shock Toolbox April 2015 Rossi Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. She calls herself a “transitions enthusiast” and credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing for giving her a head start in that department. That said, H.E. is always looking for new tools to add to her kit, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock experiences. Today she speaks to Kristen Rossi, a New Yorker who is on a mission to spread the Golden Age of Broadway/jazz throughout Asia. Okay, H.E. and Kristen, time to paint the town and all that jazz!

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I am delighted to introduce Kristen Evelyn Rossi to Culture Shock Toolbox readers. Kristen is an American actress, singer and voice over artist based in Southeast Asia. Besides being a talented performer, she is an entrepreneur and, while living in Bangkok, has co-founded two organizations: Broadway Babe, an endeavor to bring Broadway style to the Thai capital, and Musical Theatre for KIDS, which offers Broadway musical and theatre workshops for Asian youth.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Kristen recently and ask her a few questions about her somewhat unusual life of crooning her way around Asia, while also teaching others how to traipse the Broadway boards. I can see from the YouTube videos on her Website that she has racked up many successful performances; but I wanted to know: have there been any cultural flops?

Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Kristen, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I have lived in London (UK) for just under a year; about seven years in Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam for the past four months; and I will call Macau home in May.

That is quite a few cultural transitions! You are a singer, so I’m not sure if this is the right question, but did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

As an entertainer I meet people from all over the world. One common mistake I make is in judging a guest’s nationality. In particular I find it hard to tel the difference between Japanese and Koreans. Sometimes I can tell the difference and sometimes it is hard, especially when they come in their business suits! Several times I have said, “oh are you from ___” and they will just say “no, we are ____” and then look at me very seriously. Awkward.

Another occasional mistake related to nationality is that I don’t always know what the people of a country are called. I remember the first time I was speaking with a diplomat from Qatar. I was about to refer to the people…and hesitated. It made me feel a little embarrassed. (Of course I know now it’s Qatari!)

How do you usually handle these situations?

I try to quickly move on to something I do know and like about the country or culture in question. For example, with Koreans I always say, “Oooh, I just love makgeolli (an alcoholic beverage native to Korea).” Once I say this, I usually get smiles and “ooooh!” and laughs. I’ve found that it helps to learn a few positive facts about the nation and its culture—so you can always change the subject quickly.

In general, how do you think you have handled your many cultural transitions?

Most of my transitions have been positive and quite easy I think because I’m a performer by nature. I just get out there. I walk around, I interact, I am patient, I smile a lot. I figure out how to make the best of the situation.

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

Engage with the culture. I can only speak on behalf of Southeast Asia/Asia, but what I have found is people want to share their culture with you. They want to be good “hosts”; embrace this. Ask your colleagues or new friends to show you their favorite local artists (music, gallery, etc). Ask them to take you to their favorite coffee spot or their favorite place to get their favorite local dish. Most of the time, they will be flattered you are interested in them, happy to share their culture—and you’ll probably end up making new friends. Another important tool is language. Make an effort to learn even a few words in the local language. You can practice simple words at home and then go into the office and ask your local colleagues if you are saying the words right. They will LOVE IT, I promise!

Thank you so much, Kristen, for taking the time to share your experiences. It’s wonderful to hear that a Broadway diva knows when not to be a diva. And I think you’ve hit the nail soundly on the head in advising that the best way to handle culture shock is to engage with the culture head on. Show interest and ask questions; learn the language and ask for feedback.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Kristen’s advice? Do you agree with my impression that she’s brought some of the energy of the “city that never sleeps” to this column?

If you like what you heard, be sure to check out Kristen’s site and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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And the September 2013 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not (and why aren’t you? off with your head!), listen up. Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present an “Alice Award” to a writer or other kind of creative person who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal, who knows what it means to be truly displaced as a global resident or voyager. Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement to their advantage, as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors September’s four Alice recipients.

Starting with the most recent, and this time with annotations, they are (drumroll…):

1) SHERRY OTT, travel photographer and blogger

Source: Photographing Vietnam’s Rainy Season,” on Everything Everywhere
Posted on: 20 September 2013
Snippet:

From a cultural experience and photography standpoint, inclement weather seasons are a wonderful opportunity to see how the locals really live in situations that we would deem less desirable. You get a true feel for the country and local culture and traditions through the “tough” times. On top of it you get introduced to a number of new products that are used in that inclement weather season that you probably never even dreamed of…

Citation: Sherry, we have to stop you there. Right now we are picturing Alice sloshing through her own tears:

As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! she was up to her chin in salt water. Her first idea was that she had somehow fallen into the sea, “and in that case I can go back by railway,” she said to herself.

But what interests us about you, Sherry—what’s curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might put it—is that, unlike her, you were not having a pool-of-tears moment. As you set foot in Saigon at the height of the monsoon season, your first thought was, my, how lucky I am to see “the skies open up and pour down their wrath on city streets.” And you know what, Sherry? We agree with you. Unlike Alice, who had no means of transport except possibly the train, you had your own motorbike. Also unlike her, you were privy to some unusual sights: double-headed ponchos and ponchos with headlight windows! Poor Alice, on the other hand, when she heard something splashing about in a pool a little ways off, thought she might encounter a walrus or hippopotamus, only to find … a mouse.

2) ALYSSA JAMES Canadian blogger, journalist, traveler

Source: How fast can you slow travel?” on Matador Network
Posted on: 13 September 2013
Snippet:

Because of regulations on how long a truck driver is allowed to be on the road in a day, I was able to explore the city [of Chicago] for exactly 1 hour and 19 minutes.

In those 79 minutes, I was still able to slow travel. I visited the sculpture and centerpiece of Millennium Park known as the Bean (actually called Cloud Gate) and went to the Art Institute. More importantly, I talked with people who lived there. I received interesting insights about the place I wouldn’t have gathered otherwise, like where to get the most delicious Chicago-style pizza ever (Giordano’s deep-dish, double-crusted and stuffed deliciousness).

Citation: Alyssa, we appreciate that you were able to plumb the depths of the Windy City, the largest city in the Midwest, America’s third largest, in just over an hour (hey, that’s no mean feat given how deep the pizza is!). And all this without the benefit of the Queen’s insights in Through the Looking Glass:

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Our only question is, had you followed the Queen’s advice and run twice as fast, do you think you might have at least sampled the stuffed pizza? And of course, had you run twice as fast, you could have sampled it guilt-free! That’s a thought. Next time, perhaps?

3)  ANNE COPELAND, founder and Executive Director of The Interchange Institute

Source: “Tiger Moms, Bébés, and Warm Eskimos” on FIGT blog
Posted on: 1 September 2013
Snippet:

[A]s an interculturalist, I’m at once fascinated, excited … and disappointed by these accounts of parenting in other cultures…. In each case, the message is roughly, “Here’s a new and superior way to raise your children; the result is better than what you’re doing; try it, you’ll like it.” But nowhere do they describe the deep values underlying the parenting choices, the ultimate goals for the kind of adult parents are trying to raise, or the cultural milieu into which the children will be expected to grow.

Citation: Anne, we feel certain that Alice could relate to your woes. She was, after all, rather discombobulated by what she saw of the Duchess’s parenting style. To quote from her account:

While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so, that Alice could hardly hear the words:—
“I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!”

Just imagine, a child that enjoys unlimited amounts of pepper thanks to harsh parenting. It totally makes sense in the Wonderland context. Except…achoo! or should we say: hach-chu (Bengali), hāt-chī (Cantonese), atsjú (Hungarian), aatsjoo (Norwegian), or atchoum (French)? In any case, some sort of onomatopoeia must be required. Parenting may vary from place to place, but not sneezing! But wait, the Japanese say hakushon. Are they trying to stifle the sneeze while frantically searching for a face mask? (Anne, please tell us: will intercultural wonders ever cease?)

4)  NIKKI HODGSON, blogger & traveler

Source: “What is lost (and gained) when the traveler settles down” on Matador Network
Posted on: 16 August 2013
Snippet:

“…Every day that passes separates me from the places I used to belong to, the places I learned to belong to. As I dig my roots deeper into the rocky Colorado soil, I must relinquish my grasp of the banks of the Neckar where I first studied abroad, the mountains of Grenoble that stood guard over me as I fell apart, the dusty hills of Bethlehem where I put myself back together.

And I know that I will never belong to these places the way I once did.”

Citation: Nikki, you put us in mind of Alice’s sister, who like you after your travels, was old and wise enough to know that Wonderland wouldn’t, couldn’t last. Here is the relevant passage:

So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality—the grass would be only rustling in the wind, and the pool rippling to the waving of the reeds…

Crazy Wonderland or dull reality? Or, in your case: dusty hills or rocky soil? That is THE expat question… Not much of a choice, is it?

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award?  We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for our next post!

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance whether you’re one of our Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Thanksgiving: Shine, shine, shine, dear writers, however displaced

Today’s guest blogger, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, is a cultural spelunker. With a husband from Ireland, a daughter from Vietnam, nearly five years as an expat in Shanghai, China, and an insatiable appetite for place, how could she not be? She’s also an author with an MFA degree in fiction writing, 18 years of experience as a writing instructor, a writerhead passionista, and the curator of #38Write, a monthly series of online writing workshops for place-passionate culture junkies around the world. Let’s listen up and hear why Kristin thinks Thanksgiving is a time for us displaced writers to shine!

— ML Awanohara

On Thursday, November 22, friends and families all over the United States (as well as oodles of displaced/replaced U.S.-ians around the world) will gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. While this holiday can be traced back to the English Reformation and Henry VIII, it is now a secular holiday during which participants are expected to do just three simple things:

  1. eat turkey and pumpkin pie until we groan and bloat up like petrified puffer fish.
  2. endure our Great Aunt Pru, who smells like mothballs and passes out linty lozenges that look like they’ve been in the bottom of her purse since the Reformation.
  3. give thanks.

Writers of all ilk love this holiday. After all, it’s a day for us to shine! A day for us to show off by expressing our thanks far more eloquently than the neighbor who is slouched in front of his television in a tryptophan-induced haze.

We do, of course, have a lot to live up to:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians.” ~ Mark Twain

“There is one day that is ours…Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.” ~ O. Henry [except, Mr. Henry forgot to add, those damn Canadians a bit to our north, who horn in on our gratefulness territory and dare to give thanks of their own, albeit on a different day]

“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” ~ Erma Bombeck

But no matter how splendid the thanks of those who came before us, this is a day on which writers can strut their best stuff!

So whether or not you’re American (U.S. American, that is), grab this opportunity to make a list of things for which you are thankful. Hurl yourself into the craft of thanks! Then, when your Thanksgiving host pauses just before cutting the first slice of turkey and says, “Would anyone like to share a thing or two for which you’re grateful?” you can whip out that slip of paper, clear your throat, and in your best writerly voice, make ’em weep in their cranberry sauce.

Here are a handful of mine:

1) Despite my great love for China, I am wildly thankful I will not be sitting face to face with the still-raw, almost-gobbling, dripping-blood, trying-to-limp-away turkey I once faced in Shanghai (ordered weeks in advance, mind you, from a fancy, well-respected, Western-y hotel and for which we paid a pretty-pretty RMB). All hail the year of mashed potatoes as the main dish! (We should have stuck with jiaozi.)

2) I am so, so, so grateful I am not living during the English Reformation and that I am not required to wear contraptions like this on my head:

Anne Boleyn

3) I am grateful that Maya Angelou called to read me a new poem. (Sorry, sorry, sorry! This is actually one of Oprah’s moments of thankfulness, not mine. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?)

4) I am thankful for my amazing family and friends from Ireland, Vietnam, Germany, India, China, the U.S., the U.K., and so many more places—all those who guide me, teach me, love me, and put up with me in my best and worst moments as a human being.

5) I am thankful and excited and inspired that writers around the world are flocking to my #38Write workshops and that my vision for contributing—and helping other writers contribute—to the global conversation of story is being realized. Whoop! Whoop!

6) I am grateful that there are writers all around the globe (like you!) who are driven to explore, write stories about the cultures and places in which they live, and connect.

Your turn! What are you thankful for?

CONNECT: If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like to register for one of Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s #38Write workshops, grab a cup of coffee and pop over to her Web site and blog WRITERHEAD. Registration for December’s #38Write workshop is now open. You can Tweet Kristin at @kbairokeeffe, friend her on Facebook, and/or check out the #38Write group boards on Pinterest.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, Part 2 of Zeynep Kilic’s search for love in her adopted country.

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Images: Kristin Bair O’Keeffe portrait; Anne Boleyn, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

RANDOM NOMAD: Kim Andreasson, Management Consultant

Kim AndreassonBorn in: Sweden
Passport: Swedish
Countries lived in: Australia(Sydney): 1988-89; USA (New York and LA): 1996-2010; Vietnam (Saigon): 2010-present
Cyberspace coordinates: DAKA Advisory (business)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
My parents decided to travel around the world in 1988-89 and took me along for the ride. We left a snowy Sweden in December and arrived at our first destination, Los Angeles, in 72 degrees and sunshine, staying in the Hyatt on Sunset (now the Andaz West Hollywood). We explored the city’s many attractions including Disneyland and Universal Studios. I was sold and ever since, have considered LA to be the greatest city in the world. At the same time, my curiosity was piqued and I was sold on the idea of leaving something you know well for something different. I have never looked back.

Is anyone else in your immediate family a “displaced” person?
My California-born wife is now displaced as we are living in Saigon. By the way, we first met at a Swedish restaurant in Chinatown in New York City — call it displacement in microcosm.

Describe the moment when you felt the most displaced over the course of your various travels.
I’ve been fortunate to live in the kinds of cities where it’s relatively easy to blend in. But I’ve certainly experienced some memorable cultural contrasts. Soccer (what we Europeans call “football”) is a good example. During the World Cup in 2002 I was in an Irish pub on New York City’s Upper East Side at 4 a.m. watching the match between Sweden and Argentina. I believe I was the only one there watching the game. That was a really strange feeling. By contrast, during the 2009 qualifying match, the time difference was better and there were thousands of of us Swedes watching the games at a bar near Times Square in the middle of the day. This time, I thought I was in Sweden, which was also strange, in its way.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
It’s a curious thing, but it’s when I leave my adopted homeland(s) that I feel especially at home in them. If you ask me my nationality in Vietnam, I’ll always say I’m Swedish. But if you ask me when I’ve just left Vietnam, I’ll say I’m Saigonese (a resident of Saigon). I was in Bangkok recently and couldn’t stop talking about how much I preferred life in Saigon. Likewise, when I lived in the U.S. and went home to Europe, I would feel more American than European during my visit.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your travels into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Australia, a boomerang, for the symbolism of always coming back. From America, a basketball because I enjoy the game and would like to continue playing it. And from Vietnam, a business suit — you can get world-class tailoring here at a very good price.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on your menu?
Without a doubt, as a Swede, I am known for my guacamole. No, really. I guess because I lived in LA for so long, I came to love Mexican food. I would prepare it for you according to a classic recipe, something like:
1 tablespoon red onion
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 tablespoon jalapeno
1 avocado
2 tablespoons diced tomato
1 pinch of salt

You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From Australia: “G’day mate” — for its friendliness.
From the USA: “Awesome” — it reminds me of how globalized LA jargon has become, courtesy of Hollywood.
From Vietnam: “Ba” — and if you repeat it three times, you get a beer (333)!

img: Kim Andreasson on his way to Bến Thành Market, in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) — that’s if he can navigate the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street.

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