The Displaced Nation

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Tag Archives: World Party Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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THE DISPLACED Q: What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?

So here’s today’s Displaced Question: “What is the weirdest multi-cultural celebration you’ve ever attended?”

Now, when two or more cultures collide you’re bound to get some strange combinations. Nowhere is this more apparent than at gatherings or celebrations, especially if they’re traditionally part of one culture as opposed to the others… and boy can they lead to friction! It’s that old traveller’s saw; do you eat all the food because it’s delicious, or do you leave some to show they served you enough?

I’ve drunk kava in Fiji in a very uncomfortable situation – invited by a  worker at our resort, we met the Chief to hear his legendary tales of the arrival of White Man. Of course, he can’t talk to us – he has to tell his right-hand man, who can then lean over and tell us. Or rather – he can tell me. Not the two women who are with me – not even the second-in-command can stoop low enough to talk to a woman whilst drinking kava!

And let’s not even get started on the two French girls that were also invited by the same worker. They were on a bit of a party holiday, and neither of them seemed to have brought anything less revealing than hot pants and bikinis… Yes, that was a tense evening. I wouldn’t have minded, if I’d been drunk – but kava, a rather bitter brown liquid, pounded (in a sock!) from roots, has only a mildly narcotic effect. So mild, I was painfully aware of every awkward glance – and the intense silence – which dominated that gathering. I’ve never wished so hard for a bottle of vodka in my life!

Perhaps stranger though, was a ceremony I got invited to by a Native American man, whilst checking out the artefacts in his store in Sedona, Arizona. He described it as a mass, much like I would have attended during my Christian upbringing. I was intrigued, and couldn’t really pass up the chance, so I went along on Sunday morning to a small room above his shop. There, the proprietor led us in chants and prayers offered up to Allah, Shiva, Buddha, The Earth Goddess, Jesus, Mary and the Spirits of the Dreamtime – all simultaneously! The small crowd, people from all walks of life, all colours and clearly all creeds, all seemed delighted with the equality shown to the reigning deities. If only the rest of the world could be like this, I thought!

And whilst I’m on the topic of Native American celebrations, I once took part in a ‘sweat lodge’. This is an awesome shamanic tradition, involving the building of a special domed hut of logs and sticks – kind of like an igloo. It’s then covered over with mud to fill in all the gaps. A fire pit is dug in the centre and lit, and all the participants – enough to completely fill the structure – squeeze in… naked.

Yup – I said it! Naked you go in, and the drumming and chanting begins… it’s like a sauna in there, incredibly hot and sweaty, with the chanting and the previously consumed herbal tea helping to turn your ears into wings! It was an incredible experience. Slightly odd, in that it was the only time I’ve sat naked next to my Mum and my sister – but the reality of the ceremony was so far beyond that, beyond such earthly concepts as clothing and embarrassment. It was… well, spiritual. I felt so pure, so cleansed, so in touch with the divine. If I ever get the chance again, I will go for it without reservation. But probably not with my family present  :0)

SO! The time has come for you all to spill the beans – what is the strangest experience you’ve had with a celebration of some kind? Where have the cultural boundaries blurred unexpectedly – or come sharply into focus? It’s a weird, weird world out there – what have YOU seen? Tell us in the comments!

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STAY TUNED…for tomorrow’s post, where we introduce the new theme for May: La Dolce Vita!

Image: Tony drinking Kava in Fiji, 2009

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In honor of Obscura Day, a tribute to 5 obscure treasures near places I’ve called home

It’s been a month of celebration for The Displaced Nation, beginning with the announcement of our very first birthday on April 1 (no fooling!).

We may be nearing the end of the month, but the festive spirit continues unabated. In fact, in today’s post I’m hosting my own little celebration of Obscura Day, which takes place tomorrow, April 28.

As you may know — or maybe not, since by definition, it’s a little obscure! — Obscura Day is where people all over the world get to show off the unusual and little-known places of interest near wherever they call home. Locals volunteer to give guided tours of such spots — and it’s all organized by the folks who’ve set up Atlas Obscura, a user-generated and editor-curated compendium of the world’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica.

To do my part in enhancing the Obscura Day cause, I’ve rounded up the 5 most interesting and unusual places near the various towns and cities I’ve called home in the past five years.

1. Sail Rock (Hin Bai), off Koh Phangan, Thailand

I happened upon this rock, which for me is one of the foremost world treasures, when living in Thailand in 2007. I was staying in Thong Sala, on the island of Koh Phangan, to train as a professional diver.

This small rock protruding from the Gulf of Thailand doesn’t look like much from the surface, but it’s a world-class diving site — and a comparatively undiscovered one, as it lies off a tiny island famed more for its party scene than its underwater exploration.

There is a vertical tunnel through part of the rock which is absolutely teeming with aquatic life.

I had to earn my way in there by learning enough control over my diving gear and techniques to keep the descent smooth and calm. My boss was very concerned that this place would be preserved for future generations of divers, and he knew how clumsy I was out of the water!

But at long last the day came when I was allowed to enter. I drifted gently downwards, spinning slowly in place to take it all in. I was in a tube filled with corals and sponges, surrounded by weird and colorful creatures like nothing on land. Tendrils waved, lethal looking spikes and spines protruded, fur-like coverings rippled. All in brilliant shades of blue, green, yellow…it was the closest I can imagine to being on some alien planet in a galaxy far, far away!

And yet this amazing world had been right underneath my boat the whole time!

2. Lookout Trees near Pemberton, in the South West region of Western Australia

It was not long after I started living in Perth (where I still am!) that I discovered the Lookout Trees near Pemberton — unimaginably tall trees that had been used as look-out posts for vigilant fire-spotters for almost fifty years. Now they can be climbed, just for the hell of it, by anyone who is a) curious, and b) has the balls of a concrete elephant!

It’s a long — LONG — way to climb on steel rungs driven into the side of the trees, 58 meters (or 190 feet!) to the viewing platform, perched rather precariously above the forest canopy. You can see for hundreds of miles from this towering vantage point, which is all the well; you certainly need something to take your mind off the twin thoughts that a) you’re ridiculously exposed, insanely high and supported only by a single tree, and b) you’re going to have to climb back down…

If you do make it up, you’ll be amazed. At your own bravery as much as the view. If you don’t…well, you’re not alone. More than three quarters of the people who try it never make the top.

3. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England

My list wouldn’t be complete without an obscure-ish (nothing is truly obscure any more on the overdeveloped British Isles) sight that’s near my original hometown of Highbridge, in Somerset. I speak of the Cheddar Gorge, a 137m-deep split in the Earth’s crust revealing a fantastic labyrinth of caves extending nearly half a kilometre under the ground.

It wasn’t until I was visiting last year that I made the effort to tour the gorge. There’s a company that runs a caving experience for any level of tourist — so I took my Mum! Bless her, she did have fun slithering across ledges, abseiling down underground cliff faces, and best of all — squeezing through tight tunnels carved by water flowing through the caves.

My favorite part was making her laugh by describing the look of just one end of her protruding from the tunnel. She found it so funny that she couldn’t stop laughing to pull herself any further, and was stuck half-in, half-out for quite some time!

Thankfully, there were experienced guides helping us along and tough overalls and wellies — every part of us was encrusted with mud by the time we saw the sun again.

It was quite a relief to emerge from the darkness, especially after the ritual of turning off our helmet lights in the deepest recess of the cave — experiencing an absence of light so profound I could touch my own eyeball without seeing my finger. Spooky…and awesome!

4. Knife-making in Barrytown, New Zealand

An unassuming little bay on the rugged northwestern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, you could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing in Barrytown at all. You’d mostly be right — I passed through there on a road trip in 2010, trying to get a better sense of the island I was living on (yes, I was living in Christchurch at the time).

I checked into a completely empty backpackers hostel (a novelty itself in tourist-mad New Zealand) and noticed a lone advertising flyer on the wall…which is how I came to meet Robyn and Steve, a couple of modern-day artisans, in their home-based knife-making workshop.

Steve is a self-taught blacksmith. Under his tutelage, I heated and hammered metal, ground and sharpened a blade, carved and polished a handle… and within the day I had created a perfect steel knife like something right out of Lord of the Rings!

It was a fantastic feeling to know I’d hand-crafted something so beautiful and unique — well, okay, I had a bit of help from the expert! As a skill, it was highly addictive.

I quizzed him late into the night about just how difficult it would be to make a sword the same way — and got the feeling I wasn’t the first person to ask him that!

If you ever get chance, do this. Obscure? Check! And absolutely fascinating.

5. Sedlec Ossuary, near Prague, Czech Republic

Okay, I wasn’t really living in Prague — I was just passing through in 2006 — but for obscure treasures, this one takes the biscuit!

Not too far from the city — in a suburban part of Southern Bohemia — lies a small Roman Catholic chapel beneath a small cemetery, known as the Sedlec Ossuary or Bone Chapel, as it’s decorated entirely in human bones. There are bones everywhere one looks, from streamers and chandeliers made from complete skeletons, artfully rearranged, to giant pyramids of skulls on display in the four corners. Altar statues and wall decorations are also fashioned completely from bones — it’s estimated that over 40,000 bodies have contributed to the décor!

Perhaps more macabre is that this isn’t some ancient monument to the grotesque, a product of some long-forgotten civilization like the Mayans; no, this is modern work. Although many of the remains date back to the Black Death in the 14th century, the artful sculpting and artistic arrangement of the bones happened just over a century ago!

It really has to be seen to be believed. Especially as photos aren’t allowed — unless you’re very persuasive, and happen to be in there on your own (which is exceedingly creepy)…and happen to have 100 Czech koruna ($4) to bribe the curator!

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So. What’s unusual about where you live? Are there any undiscovered gems nearby — cool places, crazy things to do, strange legends? Tell, tell! We want to know! Let us know all about them in the comments. Cheers to obscurity!

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, another expat book review by Kate Allison.

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

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Images: Tony Slater’s own photos

RANDOM NOMAD: Suzanne Kamata, American Expat in Japan

Place of birth: Grand Haven, Michigan, a charming tourist town on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: France (Avignon): 1985; Japan (various towns + now Aizumi, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island): 1988 – present.
Occupation: Author* and TEFL teacher
Cyberspace coordinates: Suzanne Kamata (author site); @shikokusue (Twitter handle)
*Suzanne Kamata is the author of a novel, Losing Kei; a short story anthology, The Beautiful One Has Come (listed on The Displaced Nation’s top books for, by and about expats in 2011); and a picture book, Playing for Papa — all of which concern bicultural relationships and/or families. She is the editor of several anthologies — the most recent being Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
A sense of adventure! I wanted to see the world, which I’d glimpsed through reading novels set in other countries, and I wanted to gather up interesting, exotic experiences for the stories and books I would one day write.

Toward the end of my college career, I planned on going into the Peace Corps to teach English in Cameroon. As a fallback, my brother suggested a new program he’d read about in the newspaper. The Japanese government had set up the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme to get native English speakers into public schools. I’d studied Asian history in college, and had an interest in Japan (especially the Heian Age, when nobles communicated via poetry), so I applied. After rigorous interviews for both, I was accepted into both the Peace Corps and the JET Program. I decided to go to Japan first, because the JET Program was a one-year program. I figured I’d do a two-year stint in the Peace Corps later, but then I wound up meeting a Japanese guy…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My brother spent a year in Germany as an exchange student during high school. I think I was influenced a bit by his experience.

You’ve lived in Japan for a long time. Does any one moment stand out as your “most displaced”?
When I was about to give birth to my twins via C-section. My mother and father were on the other side of the world, and my husband was out in the waiting room. I was surrounded by Japanese-speaking strangers. I wondered if I would be able to remember how to speak Japanese during the operation. I think entering motherhood is like going into another country for everyone, but it’s especially surreal in a foreign hospital.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
No one moment but all the moments when I’m with my children. Whenever I spend time with them, I feel completely at home. My children have never lived in my native country, and they have Japanese passports. When I’m away from them I feel a little bit lost.

Do your kids ever go to the United States for visits?
My kids have been to the States numerous times. Most recently, my son went on a school trip to Hawaii, where, for once in his life, he blended in perfectly. There are many mixed race kids in Hawaii. I think my kids feel pretty comfortable in the States, but being on vacation is different from actually living there.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A furoshiki — a Japanese wrapping cloth — dyed with locally grown indigo. It will be easy to tuck into my suitcase, and I’m sure I’ll find ways to use it during my stay at The Displaced Nation. In Japan, I use wrapping cloths to carry books, covered dishes, and oddly shaped parcels. They’re durable and more attractive and ecological than paper or plastic bags. The color will remind me of the area where I’ve lived for over twenty years. The name of the town where I now live is Aizumi, which means “indigo dwelling place.”

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Starter: A few slices of sea bream sashimi from the straits of Naruto, with a squeeze of sudachi and soy sauce mixed with wasabi on the side for dipping.
Main course: Cubes of grilled Kobe beef strewn with fresh herbs (julienned shiso leaves, coriander, parsley, slivers of ginger root), steamed barley and rice, and miso soup made with fresh wakame — served with a nice Côtes du Rhône wine.
Dessert: Sudachi pie (my own creation: it’s Key lime pie made with sudachi juice instead of lime), served with espresso. I’d also put a plate of sliced Asian pears on the table.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I like the Japanese word natsukashii, which refers to nostalgia or a longing for things of the past. I don’t think there’s a perfect equivalent in English. At any rate, Americans don’t go around saying “I’m feeling nostalgic!” whereas natsukashii is frequently used in Japan. If someone brings up a memory from the past, another person, filled with nostalgia, might say, “Natsukashii!”

Today, appropriately enough, is “East Meets West Day.” can you tell us about any parties or celebrations you’ve held since you becoming displaced from your native land, that in some way illustrate this theme?
In Japan, only children’s birthdays are celebrated, usually with a store-bought cake. In our family, everyone, including the adults, gets a birthday party. Typically, we have a meal with celebratory dishes such as rice with red beans, or everybody’s favorite sushi, with a homemade birthday cake for dessert. We sing “Happy Birthday to You” in English, and the birthday person makes a wish before blowing out the candles on the cake. (The Japanese have adopted the custom of candles on a child’s birthday cake, but not the making of wishes.)

The Displaced Nation has just turned one year old. Can you give us some advice on themes to cover in our second year — anything you think should be on our radar?
You might consider interviewing Edward Sumoto, who runs a variety of events for Mixed Race/Third Culture individuals in Japan, and the filmmakers/photograhers/writers involved in the Hafu Project. I believe their long-awaited documentary will debut this year.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Suzanne Kamata into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Suzanne — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for a diversion from the usual updates from life in Woodhaven. In tomorrow’s post, Kate Allison will be reporting on her latest meeting with Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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img: Suzanne Kamata standing inside a pumpkin sculpture on the Japanese island of Naoshima (March 2011). The sculpture was created by the well-known artist Yayoi Kusama, who was herself an expat for awhile. (She lived in New York City in the 1960s.)

Is there a common theme — or better yet meme — for the expat life?

After writing, planning, commissioning, and editing posts for this site for just over a year — many of which were centered on the keyword “expat” — I have become rather fixated on that word of late.

Yes, we’re back to that old chestnut, but kindly indulge me while I rake it over the coals again and crack it open to take another look.

Back when I myself could have been considered an expat — first in England and then in Japan — I assiduously avoided describing myself in that way. It made me think of the kinds of people who go into a siege mentality, circle the wagons and say: “Right, it’s just us now.” I’m sure you know the kind of expats I mean, the ones who live in a colony or compound, or socialize as if they do. They hang out at the pool drinking G&Ts, exuding a sense of cultural superiority — along with great pride in having remained unassimilated.

After all, if you’re an expat, it means you come from the richer part of the world; otherwise, you’d be an immigrant.

Nowadays, I’m an American living in America, but I simply tell people that I used to live abroad. If I use the word “expat” at all to refer to myself, it’s in inverted commas: “Yes, I suppose I was an ‘expat’ for all those years. And now I’m a ‘repat.’ Hahaha…”

What about you? If you are reading this, chances are you are (or have been) someone who has ventured across borders to travel and/or live. How do you refer to your predicament? (BTW, my choice of “predicament” is the result of cultivating a British sense of humor over many years of living on that sceptered isle — no, not as an expat, but as an international resident!!!)

Maybe unlike me, you don’t have any hang-ups about calling yourself an expat — and think that people of my sort are inverse snobs for rejecting the label?

As the blogger Tabitha Carvan (The City That Never Sleeps In) has written:

To the Vietnamese who live around me, it’s clear where I fit in here: I don’t. The differences between us are as plain as the enormous nose on my big fat face.

So is it fair to say we’re all “displaced”?

One of the other founders of The Displaced Nation, Kate Allison, is an Englishwoman who has lived in the United States for more than 15 years. I sometimes think of her as an immigrant, except that she tells me she keeps a foot on each side of the Atlantic.

Strangely, I did not wince at all when Kate Allison proposed the word “displaced” as a descriptor for our common situation, when she and I were first chatting about starting up this site.

Well, perhaps I winced just slightly. I know from my studies of international affairs that “displaced” is often used for people who are forcibly removed from their homes by natural disaster, famine, civil wars and other tragedies.

In this narrow sense, “displaced” in no way applies to me, Kate or others of our ilk, who have led privileged lives.

But in a broader sense, I had to agree with Kate that “displaced” seems a good fit. As the Italian poet Cesare Pavese once said:

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky — all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

If there is any common theme that applies to all of us, surely it’s that sense of being “constantly off balance,” as Pavese so aptly puts it. By trotting off to investigate — and live in — far-flung corners of the globe, we are casting off the balance of our lives and choosing a life where, for a while, the only things we have in common with anyone else are the basics: air, sea, sky, sleep, dreams — a life of displacement, in other words…

And in some cases — Kate’s would be an example — we are trailing others who have made this choice on our behalf, or on behalf of family and kids. (See her “Libby’s Life” series.)

Always look on the bright side of life!

In an article last month for the FT, Edwin Heathcote had this to say about what he called “a life less ordinary”:

The expat experience combines a cocktail of the thrill of the new and the ennui of global alienation, of displacement and dislocation.

Readers may wonder why the founders of The Displaced Nation have chosen to emphasize the negative ingredients of this cocktail. After all, the meaning of “displaced” is only a shade or two away from “misplaced” or “out of place.”

Why not look at the bright side instead — the allure and the thrill of a life overseas?

Well, the fact is, the founders of The Displaced Nation don’t necessarily see displacement as a negative. As shown in numerous ways on this site over the past 12 months, it’s a necessary first step in making the leap beyond the known to the unknown — to feeding what for many of us is, or soon becomes, an insatiable hunger for new ways to knowledge.

By becoming displaced, we open up our minds to new forms of

Now if that isn’t the bright side, we don’t know what is!

Keep ’em laughing as you go

As far as our site stats go, readers have most enjoyed the series of posts where we’ve explored the good and the bad, the yin and the yang, of the displaced life, with a large helping of humor thrown into the mix.

1. Alice in Wonderland

Top of the charts is the month that we dedicated to the “curious, unreal” aspects of the displaced life with the help of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

When you stop to think of it, barging into other people’s countries is rather like falling down a rabbit hole: full of adventure but also misadventure, of curious — and sometimes scary (because so incomprehensible) — encounters.

Kate Allison produced two brilliant posts illustrating just how unreal things can sometimes get: “5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice,” and “How many of these 5 expat Alice characters do you recognize?”

Meanwhile, Guest blogger Carole Hallett Mobbs kept us in stitches when describing the scenes of young adults dressed up in furry romper suits, “doormice folk,” and flying potatoes that formed the backdrop to her everyday life in Japan.

2. Pocahontas

Readers also appreciated the month when we recruited the legendary Pocahontas to help us understand, from a native’s point of view, what it’s like to be bombarded with clueless nomads.

In particular, we focused on the cases when displaced types befriend, or even marry, the natives, causing them to lead displaced lives (sometimes to tragic effect — I’m thinking not so much of Pocahontas, but of her tribe!).

I weighed in with a post that was partly based on my own experiences: “Cross-cultural marriage: Four good reasons not to rush into it.” Somewhat to my bemusement, the post proved extremely popular — that is, until it was surpassed by new TDN writer Tony James Slater’s hilarious (but with a hard kernel of truth) “Does love conquer all, even language barriers?”

Counterbalancing Tony’s and my cautious take on such matters was a two-part interview series with two cross-cultural couples — all of whom seemed to find their situation “no big deal.”

That blasé sentiment would later be echoed by Wendy Williams, author of the new work, The Globalisation of Love. In a guest post in honor of Valentine’s Day, she pointed out that in an era of increased international travel, multicultural unions are an inevitability — and even deserve their own label: “GloLo.”

3. Global philanthropy

Another monthly theme that earned high marks from readers was “global philanthropy” — the idea of displacing oneself on behalf of the forcibly displaced.

Readers responded with high praise for Kate Allison’s interview of Robin Wiszowaty, who immersed herself in Maasai culture and now runs development programs in Kenya on behalf of the Canada-based charity Free the Children.

Also popular was a feature on international aid worker and consultant Jennifer Lentfer. (Lentfer has received the most hits of any of the 40 Random Nomads who’ve been featured in the site’s first year.)

But even when covering this seemingly sacrosanct topic, we were hard pressed to prevent a note of skepticism, verging on irreverence, from creeping into the site. Guest blogger Lawrence Hunt stirred things up with his well-received post making fun of gap-year students who think they can save the world in just six months. And I wasn’t far behind with this one, still getting many hits: “7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls.” (Hey, the current generation isn’t the first to perform good works on behalf of those less fortunate!)

But is it a meme?

First, what is a meme exactly? My dictionary tells me it’s an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Memes are the cultural analogues to genes that get selected and then self-replicate.

Is the kind of “displacement” we talk about on this site a meme? Not in the Internet sense — it hasn’t spread like wild fire throughout social media.

But has it been a meme within our community? You tell us — does “displaced” work for you, or is there some other organizing principle we should be using on this site? Expat, perhaps? (Groan…)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a roundup of recent displaced reads by Kate Allison.

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Keeping yourself earthed: Expats and Earth Day

We should do a post on Earth Day. It fits in with the celebration theme we have for this month, in honor of The Displaced Nation’s first birthday

The brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was established in 1970 — a year that also gifted world culture with bell-bottom trousers and Jon Pertwee’s itineration as the third Dr Who — as a day to engage the public about air and water pollution. From these beginnings it has grown into a day observed by groups and people throughout the world to celebrate the environment and raise awareness of the dangers our planet faces. This Sunday is Earth Day’s 42nd anniversary. The event will be marked with an amusingly inventive doodle on the google homepage and by NBC turning its normally multi-colored peacock logo green. Hallmark will once again fail to capitalize on the day as perhaps they might wish to. This will lead to high-level discussions in the Hallmark marketing department.

it seems to be just the sort of thing that our expat readership would think is a good cause

The vast majority of people agree that not f***ing up the environment is a good idea. Admittedly there may be disagreement over the means by which you do that, and the extent of the problem, but in principle most people would seem to think of Earth Day as  a fairly decent, mostly harmless idea.

…in fact, its just the sort of thing that expats are into. You see, I think expats are more concerned about the environment.

With absolutely no studies to back up the assertion, it was suggested here to me, in the corner of the Internet we call The Displaced Nation, that Earth Day would be a good topic for me to consider writing a post about as expats, so we thought to ourselves, are possibly more attuned to the environment that those mundane muggles known as non-expats.

Theyve just traveled more widely, experienced a bit more.

So I find myself sitting down ready to write this piece. My “notes” if we can call them that, consists of a half-baked observation written on a torn piece of notepaper about all the gas-guzzling trucks people in my current locale (California) seem to love driving. It eloquently reads, “ubiquity of big trucks.”

Added to this is a later notation, a parenthetical thought, where I write that the sights of these unnecessary trucks make me nauseous.

So that’s all I’ve got as I try and knock out this post, but I don’t get far as it seems that this idea that we’re, as I assume if you’re reading this blog you’re an expat, somehow better from my truck-driving neighbors is complete and utter tosh.

Theyre more in tune with whats going on

Now I admit that not all expats are equal, and what I am going to write about doesn’t apply to migrant workers who have left a home country that is undeveloped in a search of a better pay in a more developed country. Neither do I include those individuals who are living in foreign climes doing environmental work. No, what I am concerned about is the self-satisfied expat. You know the type — the sort that decides to start a blog about their experiences because their observations are just so damn important that they need to be read by others. In other words, the likes of me, and, most probably, the likes of you.

and theyre probably better informed.

I was extremely willing to go along with the idea that my expat status confers some sort of wisdom on me. Let’s face it, it’s an intoxicating thought, the idea that living in a different culture from your own automatically transforms you for the better. I guess I must half believe it as I make a point of mentioning on my C.V. that I have lived on three continents, as if that makes me better than a candidate who has only lived on one continent.

Now I do think that there’s a lot to be gained from moving abroad, from leaving your comfort zone, but there should also be an awareness that it is a position of privilege, a privilege conferred — at least on me, I should stop talking on your behalf — by living in the jet age, by ignoring that the life I have chosen, a life that I at times get smug about by being an expat blogger (which really is the smuggest of all expat types) leaves on the world a far greater carbon footprint than my neighbor’s life driving his gas-guzzling truck. And yet I’m the one to feel disdain for him and his environmental choices.

Happy Earth Day.

For the displaced writer Martin Crosbie, a life between two cultures is the stuff of literary fiction

Readers who’ve been paying attention will know that a couple of days ago, in honor of The Displaced Nation’s first birthday, we fleshed out a prospectus for a literary festival for authors who’ve been expats, third culture kids and/or global nomads.

Should this litfest ever happen, this month’s featured author, Martin Crosbie, would make an exciting addition to the line-up.

Last year he published a sensitive, partly autobiographical first novel, My Temporary Life, telling the story of Malcolm, a young half-Scot half-Canadian. As Malcolm informs us towards the start of the book:

I live with a father [in Scotland], who didn’t intend to have a son with no wife, or I spend my summers in Canada, with a mother who forgets that I’m there.

Eventually, circumstances make it impossible for Malcolm to continue this peripatetic life, and he heads to Canada to finish up his schooling. Even then, he feels unsettled:

It really does feel like everything is going to be okay, or at least it might be for a little while. Nothing in my life has ever been forever anyways. Everything is always just temporary, always temporary.

The novel has taken the Amazon charts by storm, garnered rave reviews and turned Crosbie into an overnight publishing sensation.

In fact, I recommend you become part of the storm by reading the book RIGHT NOW — or as soon as you’ve finished this post.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: My Temporary Life.

Alternatively, you can sign up for our DISPLACED DISPATCH — and cross your fingers that you’ll be one of this month’s two lucky winners!

And now for some highlights from my exchange with Martin Crosbie…

Is Malcolm Martin?

Hi there, Martin!
Hi, Tony!

Can you tell me a bit about your upbringing — where you were born and how you ended up in Vancouver?
I was born in Aberdeen in Scotland but I was adopted and transplanted to Kilmarnock when I was still an infant. I lived there until I was ten and my family moved us to the west coast of Canada. Other than a few years in Toronto and in Ontario when I was in my twenties, I have always lived here, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ve read your book My Temporary Life, and I loved it. I was particularly impressed by the way your writing flows, which is the mark of a very accomplished writer.
Thanks for saying that, I really appreciate it. This is my first novel and I think one of the reasons that it’s done well is that it went through so many re-writes and revisions. The novel that is out there today is very unlike the first few drafts.

You’ve lived in both Scotland and Canada, the two locations in the book. You also share the main character’s love of running… So I have to ask — how much of this character is autobiographical?
I had a writing teacher who would say “What is truth, in fiction? Write something down!”

Then, he’d sit down and wouldn’t answer any questions until the class had all written something, anything.

Once we shared what we’d written, he’d talk about the fact that when you read something and it “rings true” — in that you get lost in the scene — the reason is that the emotions the writer has conveyed are coming from a true place.

So, I appreciate your question because it means that my story probably worked when you read it.

But did the events in the book really happen — the boy with two parents from two cultures (Malcolm), his best friend whose parents beat him up (Hardly), and his dream woman, who, too, has had an abusive childhood (Heather)?
A lot of the incidents did in fact happen — but to different people at different times. The book is most definitely fictional.

But it is true?
Without wanting to become the next James Frey, yes, on some level it is. I had the daughter of a friend read the novel and really enjoy it, and she asked me if I was Malcolm. I told her that some days I feel like Malcolm and some days I feel like Hardly — lol.

The ups and downs of self-publishing

Quite a few authors in The Displaced Nation’s circle have self-published their works, myself included. Can you tell us what was behind your decision to self-publish My Temporary Life?
I self-published My Temporary Life because I was turned down over one hundred times by agents and publishers. The strange thing, though, was I’d pass my work to readers and they enjoyed it — very few of them didn’t. Oh, there were changes that I made along the way because of readers’ input, but the feedback was almost always decent. And they all wanted to know the same thing: “When’s the next book?”

So I self-published through Amazon, and it’s been an incredible ride. In less than three months 85,000 copies of my book are out there. I say that number and it absolutely astounds me that so many people have taken the time to give My Temporary Life a chance.

Is there a particular group of readers who’ve found particular resonance with your story?
One of the challenges with my novel has been that it doesn’t fit any specific genre, and when that happens you don’t know where to market your work. This has been good and bad. Not knowing whether to call it a coming-of-age story, a romance, or a thriller has been challenging. But not knowing exactly to whom it might appeal has also been a good thing, because I now have women and men readers of all ages.

I guess Malcolm is a reluctant, flawed hero and we can all kind of relate to that.

Self-publishing , as I know from my own experience, can be time consuming, however rewarding it is. Have you found it that way?
Without self-publishing, my story would not have reached anyone. It’s as simple as that. Having said that, the downside is that it’s a lot of work — and I mean, a lot of work. I promote my book anywhere that I can online where I think folks might be interested. Unfortunately, this takes me away from writing my next book, and that’s what I really want to be doing these days.

The positive of self-publishing is that I enjoy interacting with folks who’ve read or are reading My Temporary Life. I’m very accessible. I answer every email. I am on chat loops, Facebook groups, Yahoo groups — anywhere that somebody wants to talk about self-publishing or writing or my work. And, in doing that, I’ve formed some incredible friendships.

You know when you meet someone, whether it’s virtually or in person, and you just know that they’re going to be in your life for a long time? Well, I have met friends like that because of my book.

In the past week, I’ve had instant messages, tweets and emails from all kinds of people. One lady was ribbing me because she had to call in sick after being up all night reading my book. Another woman sent me a barbecued salmon recipe — she’d liked the recipe in my book but thought hers was better. And a gentleman sent me a message who is a huge fan of the book. He said that he’d told his wife that if she didn’t read it, she had to pack her bags, lol.

And, the readers that I am “meeting” are from all over: Taiwan, Luxembourg, lots in Australia, the UK of course, and the US.

It’s an amazing world that we live in that I’m able to experience that, and it’s all because I self-published my book.

Cross-cultural relationships

Malcolm gets involved with Heather, who’s a born-and-bred Canadian from a secluded little town in Northern Ontario. Heather says to Malcolm when they first meet: “You have this Scottish look to you, like you just got off the boat and are still lost; it’s very cute.” What’s your view on cross-cultural relationships? Do you see them as particularly challenging? (Many Displaced Nation readers are in them, which is why I ask…)
It’s funny that you bring that up as I’m trying to address it in my work in progress. I don’t really know if I’m properly qualified to comment… I live in an area of Vancouver where I have friends from pretty much every culture you can imagine. I’m lucky in that respect, and of course because of that, I get to eat lots and lots of different foods. Food is very very important to me, Tony, I do love to eat.

The importance of being Scottish

You’ve lived in Canada a long time. But does Scotland still exert some kind of pull?
Scotland calls me back every few years. Right now it’s been three years since I was there and it’s whispering in my ear again, so I’ll be back there soon.

You see, when you’re a Scot, you’re always a Scot. There are third and fourth generation Scots who live in Canada who still call themselves Scottish.

Well, I was born and bred there and have been back many times, and even though I am a Canadian citizen now, you can’t not be a Scot. It’s more than just being born there. It’s much more than that.

When I arrive at Glasgow airport and present my European passport (yes, I have a Canadian and European one), and the customs agent sees my birthplace and says, “Welcome home, Mr Crosbie,” I always get a tear in my eye.

And, there are many many things that I miss about Scotland.

I miss the passion that they have for football, real football. I miss big sour pickled onions. I miss the way the rain can be lashing in your face and somebody will say to you that it’s a “grand” day. I miss the way that Scottish history is real history, real old history.

The dream of partial repatriation

Would you ever go back to live in Scotland?
I’m fortunate that I can go back from time to time, and in the movie of my life that plays in my head, I do live there part time too. One day I hope to make it happen. I already have the city picked out in Scotland where I’d like to live…

But wouldn’t you have to make some adjustments?
During the months when I’m living in Scotland, I expect I’d miss the mountains that we have here on the Vancouver coast — but I’d sure like to try it for a little while.

If my next book is as successful as My Temporary Life, I might just find a way to fulfill my dream and live part time in both countries.

A Temporary Life — The Sequel

Rumor has it you’ll be doing a sequel following the life of Malcolm’s Scottish friend, Hardly. What can you tell us about this work in progress?
I can tell you that I’ve seldom been as excited about anything as much as I’m excited about my next novel. Yes, it is the story of Hardly. I’m having so much fun writing it.

Just what the final product will look like I don’t really know, so at this point I’ll just say that it’s like the first novel in the sense that it’s an in-depth character study of a man and his motivations, and in terms of how the novel reads, well, I do love plot twists, Tony, and I can absolutely guarantee you that this book will have them.

Sounds fantastic! Thanks so much for your time, Martin.
Thanks for doing this Tony, and of course now I’m going to be dreaming tonight about the wee chip shop in Stewarton, and the farm house that my cousins live in in Inverness, and a multitude of other Scottish things.

* * *

Anyone who’d like to know more about Martin’s life and his work, you can check out his author site and follow his escapades on Twitter: @martinthewriter

And if you have any questions for Martin, please feel free to ask them in the comments!

And don’t forget to sign up for our Dispatch to be eligible for the giveaway of Martin’s book!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, which will be another party-themed post — this time, of course, it’s a baby shower! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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

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Wedding celebrations: Who does it better, Britain or America?

We’ve spent the last two weeks looking at festivals and parties around the world, and today it’s time to take a glimpse at nuptial celebrations, with a guest post by Meagan Adele Lopez. As an American who once lived in the UK — she also has a British boyfriend — Lopez can be considered an unofficial expert on British versus American weddings.

Please don’t invite my British beau and me to a wedding unless you really want us to come — we are more than likely going to reply “yes”!

Many have made that mistake. For some reason, it is impossible for us to say “no” — perhaps we are living vicariously through the bride and groom (going to a wedding is much cheaper than throwing one, let’s be honest).

Over the course of four years we have been invited to 28 weddings, 23 of which we will attend/have attended. These weddings span four countries (Wales, England, Dominican Republic and the USA) and 14 cities.

I wish I could say I was a professional wedding guest, getting paid to attend these lavish affairs. But no, we just happen to have many friends who are getting engaged at this time of my life. Some are even going through their second weddings.

One of the many benefits of dating a British guy is being able to attend British weddings — complete with hats, fascinators, castles and tail coats. I’ve become a bit of an expert on both.

So, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the best things that British and American wedding celebrations have to offer. Right now Britain is winning, but only by one, so that could change!

4 great things about British weddings

1) Less financial outlay for bridesmaids
It’s kind of atrocious that Americans still “invite” their best friends in the world to have the “honor” of becoming a bridesmaid only to pick out the most expensive dress they can find, make their best friends pay for it, and take them on a lavish bachelorette party that they must also pay for.

The British have it right. I mean, if you’re paying £25,000 on a wedding already, why not shell out an extra thousand to make your poor bridesmaids happy? After all, they didn’t choose to get married, you did.

2) Betting on the speeches
Let’s face it — sometimes speeches at a wedding can be really, really hilarious and entertaining. They can be so entertaining and hilarious that you have no idea how much time has gone by, whether or not you’ve eaten, or if the dancing has even happened yet. But, a lot of times, they can be painful and long, and somewhat boring. So, what better way to keep the crowd entertained than by going to each table and getting the guests’ bets on how long the speeches will last?

Personally, I love speeches and find it fascinating to see how each person tackles this challenge to charm a crowd of 150 people — 20 of whom you probably know personally. However, knowing that I have the chance to win a pot of 200 quid makes it that much better!

3) The Groom’s Speech
I actually find it a travesty that American grooms aren’t made to give a speech. Perhaps it’s because a woman marrying a British man knows that this one speech might be the only time she will hear her husband tell her how gorgeous, wonderful and amazing she is, and how he is the luckiest man on the planet. After all, British men aren’t known for being overly flattering or sentimental. I blubber like an idiot, wiping the mascara from my eyes, when I hear a doting British man, for the first (and probably only) time, open up to his friends and family about why he is truly in love with this woman.

But I’m sure most brides who marry a British man will tell you that the groom’s speech is one of the best moments of their wedding night. For me, as a guest, it beats the father’s speech and even the first dance. Perhaps the vows are the only thing that trump it.

4) Romantic venues
I’ve attended weddings in a ninth-century castle, in a tenth-century church, in an old manor house in Sussex, on a farm in the West Country, in a hotel where prime ministers stay, and next to a marsh in West Wales. Something about a British wedding makes it that much more romantic. Of course, it’s every girl’s dream to get married in a castle, but in Great Britain, you actually can!

3 great things about American weddings

1) Open bar
The first time I truly found out about the horror that is a cash bar at a wedding, I was invited to just the evening part. You see, my boyfriend and I had been together for over a year, but since the groom had never met me, he didn’t think it important to invite (ah hem, “pay”) for me to come to dinner, or attend the ceremony.

Apparently, it’s quite normal in England for a significant other not to be invited to the entire evening with their partner if they have never met the girlfriend. Being an American, I was already incredibly offended — especially since we had traveled an hour to be there, stayed in a really expensive hotel (the only one in the entire town), and paid for two separate £40 cab rides to the venue from the hotel (since we weren’t leaving together). So, you can imagine my dismay when I got to the reception and had to pay for my own drinks! I understand that not everyone can afford to have an open bar, but I most certainly prefer the American mentality that when you invite a guest, they are to be treated as such.

2) The women’s speeches
In Great Britain, traditionally, the speeches include the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man. I agree with all of these choices for speeches, but I have to admit, I did find it a teeny bit sexist that no women spoke at weddings the first time I saw it happen. Most British women don’t mind since they would rather the attention be off of them for the night, but what happened to the Maid of Honor? Why can’t she throw in a speech?

Women bring a different take to speech land, and I definitely prefer the American tradition of allowing us to speak.

3) Creative venues
Where the British score points for tradition, history, elegance and romance, American weddings score points for creativity, grandiosity and variety. Obviously, America is a much bigger country with many more choices for venues, and many more options for good weather. I have been to a wedding on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at a museum in the middle of downtown Chicago, a country club in Maryland, and by a river at a historic house in Austin, Texas. The possibilities are truly endless in America, and always keep you guessing. While many British weddings have struck me as being similar, it’s hard for me to say that any American wedding has resembled another. This is also probably due to the diversity of the American population and the variety of religions in this country.

Combining the two traditions — still working on that!

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that with all of these weddings I didn’t think about how I would like my half British, half American wedding to go…but I simply can’t admit to what I dream of just yet. Call it superstition or what have you, but until I get engaged I won’t disclose my dream wedding. My worst nightmare is having my dream wedding down on paper, and then it never happening!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to break down the weddings I go to and figure out which bits I want to keep for myself.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a post that appeared on Smitten by Britain: “British vs. American Weddings” (25 January 2012).

Question for readers: Have you been to weddings in the country where you live? How do they compare?

MEAGAN ADELE LOPEZ is the author of Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, which was featured in February on The Displaced Nation. You can learn more about Lopez and her book at her author site and by following her on Twitter: @meaganadele.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with first-time novelist Martin Crosbie. (Sign up for our Dispatch to be eligible for the giveaway of his book, A Temporary Life!)

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

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“We read to know we’re not alone”: 1st-ever litfest for expats & random nomads

The displaced writer Hazel Rochman once said that reading “makes immigrants of us all”:

Reading takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.

That must be why author interviews have played such an important role in the entertainment mix provided by The Displaced Nation since our founding one year ago.

A book that enables us to escape to a new world without buying a plane ticket? Bring it on!

A book that makes us feel at home in another part of the world? There’s nothing we crave more.

We’ve also taken authors into our confidence who, as St. Augustine once advised, treat the world as their book, rather than staying put and reading only one page. Because of their own peripatetic ways, these writers have much to say to the rest of us nomadic types about how to make sense of feelings of isolation, ennui and displacement.

As C.S. Lewis once said:

We read to know we’re not alone.

In honor of The Displaced Nation’s first anniversary, as well as in the spirit of World Party Month, I would like to propose the first-ever Displaced Nation literary festival featuring authors who have been interviewed or in some way featured on the site during the past year.

“We read to know we’re not alone”: THE FIRST-EVER LITERARY FESTIVAL FOR EXPATS AND RANDOM NOMADS
Note: The following is a tentative line-up. It includes previews of the kinds of insights we can expect to glean from such an extraordinary gathering of expat literati.

We anticipate the festival to extend from a Sunday night to a Thursday morning, with an opening night gala and a couple of closing events. Click on the headlines to go to the event descriptions for each segment:

OPENING NIGHT GALA EVENT

It seems only fitting that we offer something totally mad on our opening night. We will screen Alice in Wonderland, the 1903 British silent film directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, which was partially restored by the British Film Institute and released in 2010. (NOTE: You can see portions of the film in a video specially made by Anthony Windram during The Displaced Nation’s “Alice in Wonderland” theme month.)

The film is memorable for its use of special effects: Alice’s shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors, and then growing too large in the White Rabbit’s home, getting stuck and reaching for help through a window.

The film matches our theme of “We read to know we’re not alone” — could anyone ever feel lonelier than Alice did at such moments?

But here’s the new twist: the screening will feature a live accompaniment by Seremedy, the displaced Swedish visual kei band this is now making such a sensation in Japan, reacting musically and without any rehearsal beforehand, to the silent film in front of them. Unique, spontaneous — and perhaps even terrifying, given that the band’s (male) lead guitarist, Yohio, looks like an anime version of Alice.

DAY ONE: “We’re not alone” — We have each other

Iranian Childhoods, Inspiring Stories

TONY ROBERTS and ASHLEY DARTNELL each spent portions of their childhood in Iran. Roberts has produced a novel based on his memories of that time, Sons of the Great Satan, which we featured on this blog about a year ago. Dartnell, who has yet to be featured (we hope she will!), released her memoir, Farangi Girl, last year (it was recently issued in paperback).

Roberts and Dartnell have in common the status of being so-called third culture kids — growing up in a third culture not common to their parents (Roberts’ parents were American and Dartnell was the product of an American mother and British father). They also have in common that they were enjoying their lives in Tehran until something terrible happened — the memory of which affects them to this day.

In Dartnell’s case, it was the sudden collapse of her father’s business (her parents subsequently split up), whereas for Roberts, it was the experience of being evacuated because of the American hostage crisis — suddenly, he was back at the family’s small farm town in Kansas, having no idea of where his friends had gone.

TCKs experience such traumas in isolation (Roberts continued to feel isolated well into his adulthood). Roberts and Dartnell, who have never met before, welcome the opportunity to forge a new connection over their common displacement.

PERFORMANCE: “The White Ship,” by Ethan Kenning

Ex-folk singer Ethan Kenning — known as GEORGE EDWARDS when performing with the former psychedelic rock band H.P. Lovecraft — will give a special performance of “The White Ship,” a song based on a mystical tale by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (from whom the band took its name), about a vessel sailing on a sea of dreams. Critics have described it as “baroque, Middle Eastern-flavored psychedelia at its finest.”

Multicultural Marriage Boot Camp

Two Wendys — WENDY WILLIAMS and WENDY TOKUNAGA — will answer questions about the benefits as well as challenges involved in marrying someone from another culture.

Wendy Williams is the author of The Globalisation of Love and has coined a term, “GloLo,” to refer to this phenomenon. She was last week’s Random Nomad and has also been a contributor to The Displaced Nation with the post: “Why expat is a misleading term for multicultural couples” — a topic big enough to be a festival theme in its own right!

Wendy Tokunaga, who was one of The Displaced Nation’s 12 Nomads of Christmas, recently published Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband, consisting of interviews with 14 Western women involved in cross-cultural relationships.

GloTinis will be served — those in particularly challenging unions may wish to order theirs straight up.

Romance Across Borders: Fairytale or Myth?

JANE GREEN, a prolific writer and one of the founders of chick literature, will interview MEAGAN ADELE LOPEZ and MICHELLE GORMAN — both of whom have produced first novels exploring the idea of looking for romance in other cultures. Lopez is the author of Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers (self-published, October 2011), about a cross-cultural romance that blossoms through the asking of three questions; and Gorman, of Single in the City: One girl, one city, one disaster waiting to happen (Michael Joseph, 2010), about an American who goes to London in search of love and the perfect life.

The Displaced Nation recently featured Lopez on our site and will feature her tomorrow in a guest post. We have yet to interview Gorman but would like to — especially as she recently self-published Misfortune Cookie, about a young woman who moves to Hong Kong to be with her boyfriend.

Both women relied heavily on their own autobiographies to produce these first novels. As Lopez said in her interview with Tony James Slater:

Hey — they always say to write about what you know, so that’s what I did!

But is it the stuff of chick lit? No one is better placed to judge this than the displaced author Jane Green (she is now an expat living in Connecticut). As early readers of The Displaced Nation will recall, Green “came in” for a chat during our coverage of last year’s Royal Wedding — she had just produced a multimedia book celebrating the young royals as an example of a “modern fairytale.”

Though Kate and Will aren’t from different cultures, they might as well have been since Kate — unlike the Prince’s mother, Diana — does not come from a royal lineage. But from Green’s point of view, this is what is makes the couple modern — and why their marriage is likely to last:

I loved discovering just how unusual William and Kate are: grounded, humble, and thoroughly modern, eschewing much of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the wedding of Charles and Diana.

One Person’s Home — Another Person’s Nightmare?

BARBARA CONELLI, who lives in Manhattan for half of the year and Milan for the other half, will interview SHIREEN JILLA, whose first novel was set in the Big Apple.

Thanks in large part to the influence of her Italian grandmother, Conelli qualifies as the ultimate Italophile. Last year she published Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita last year — her first book in a three-part series about the Italian grasp of the “good life.” When asked by Kate Allison to explain the differences between her two homes of Milan and New York City, Conelli said that New Yorkers need to learn the Italian art of taking the time to actually live:

We need to stop and smell the roses more often.

On this point, Jilla would certainly concur. After spending three years in New York as an expat when her husband was BBC’s North America correspondent, Jilla came away thinking that “New York is a city populated by control freaks.”

But, unlike Conelli, Jilla found this control freakery sinister — which was what inspired her to write a novel that depicts the city as, as one critic said, “a teeming pit of vipers, only just covered with a finely buffed veneer of sophistication.”

In the online discussion we hosted of Exiled, Jilla commented on how culturally different New York and London are — despite New York not being seen as a particularly adventurous posting among the expat crowd. She went on:

New York in fact reminds me a lot more of Rome than London. Passion is lived out on the street, for good and bad.

Hmmm… It will be interesting to see what Conelli, whose series includes a book on Rome’s joyful idleness, makes of that!

Are Expats Defined by Their Boundaries — or the Lack? James Joyce Unplugged

One of The Displaced Nation’s founders, ANTHONY WINDRAM, and the novelist JOANNA PENN will join forces to discuss the topic of whether being an expat necessarily entails producing “expat” literature. In a post published last year on The Displaced Nation, Windram noted that although James Joyce spent most of his adult life in continental Europe, he continued to write about his home, Ireland:

If we were to be glib, we might say that Finnegans Wake was conceived in Dublin, but Paris was its midwife.

Likewise, Joanna Penn, who has been a TCK and an expat, does not self-identify as an expat writer and sets her novels at least partly in Oxford, the city she calls home. She does feel, however, that wanderlust is a big part of what fuels her to write thrillers set in various countries, as she explained in a comment on a post deconstructing a post of hers on what “home” means to writers.

DAY TWO: “We’re not alone” — Global activism

Travel for a Purpose

For this event, we hope to engage the world-famous novelist BARBARA KINGSOLVER to interview ROBIN WISZOWATY, who is Kenya program director for the Canadian charity Free the Children and the author of a memoir targeted at young adults on her own experience of living in Kenya, My Maasai Life.

Kate Allison interviewed Wiszowaty during the month when The Displaced Nation explored the topic of global philanthropy.

Around the same time, Allison also wrote a post on Kingsolver, exploring the idea that her novel The Poisonwood Bible was intended an allegory for what happens when you barge into someone else’s culture thinking you know everything and they know nothing.

Notably, Wiszowaty could almost have been a Kingsolver character in the following incident that occurred during her initial two months in Nairobi, as reported to Allison:

One street man nearby…said in Swahili, “What are you doing in Kenya, if you can’t help us?”

Despite my halting comprehension of the language, I understood his question. What was I doing here? Was I here to help Kenyans? I couldn’t remember any sort of altruistic impulse as my reason for being me here. I only pictured myself three months earlier, curled up on my family room couch reading books on cultural sensitivity, or shopping in neighborhood department stores for appropriate clothing, thinking this was a chance for me to enlarge my experience and pick up others’ points of view. I’d been driven simply by a desire to escape, not to improve the lives of these poor people.

Wiszowaty, of course, came around and now thinks constantly about what she can do for Kenya. We expect that Kingsolver, who funds a prize for authors of unpublished works that support social change, will approve; but will she also offer a critique?

PERFORMANCE: “The Boy with a Thorn in His Side,” by Pete Wentz

Fall Out Boy’s PETE WENTZ will do a performance in which he puts passages from his 2004 book, The Boy with a Thorn in His Side, to music. The book chronicles the nightmares he had as a child.

Wentz is a supporter of Invisible Children, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping the cause of child refugees in Uganda. He once participated in an event called “Displace Me,” in which 67,000 activists throughout the United States slept in the streets in makeshift cardboard villages.

(Notably, Wentz has also earned his chops as world traveler. Before Fall Out Boy went on hiatus in late 2009, it made an unsuccessful bid to the only band to play a concert on all seven continents in less than nine months — unfortunately, weather conditions prevented them from flying to Antarctica.)

Why Feisty Heroines Need Not Always Be Named Pollyanna, Calpurnia or Hermione

Melbourne-based author GABRIELLE WANG writes books under the Penguin label targeted at young adults in Australia. Her heroines are always non-white, Chinese or some mix. They are culturally marginalized.

Wang, who fell into writing accidentally — she had planned to be a book illustrator — loves to use her imagination to create characters who are historically plausible yet never show up in history books. One such character is Mimi, who feels ashamed of being Chinese until she has a magical, transformative experience that makes her proud of her cultural heritage.

Another such character is Poppy, a half-Chinese, half-Aborigine girl who lived in the 19th century.

Wang told us she was able to draw on her own background to portray how Poppy might have felt:

I think I was able to imagine the Aboriginal child’s situation quite easily because I know what it feels like to be an outsider, and to suffer racial prejudice. I was the only Asian child in my school in Melbourne and I only saw white faces in the street.

The Search for Paradise

The search for paradise has been underway for as long as human history. Understood as an idyllic realm located at an exact spot somewhere on the earth, and yet as a place separated from the world, the possibility of reaching paradise has aroused the curiosity of travelers over many centuries and continues to do so.

MARK DAMAROYD, who has lived in Thailand for the past several years, subscribes to the idea that paradise is indeed what many men have claimed it to be since time immemorial: life on an exotic island, with sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees, and with an exotic, much younger girlfriend. That is why, as he told us in an interview last summer, he had Koh Samui in mind when creating the island setting for his first novel — the aptly named Pursuit to Paradise.

Coming from a somewhat different direction is JACK SCOTT, whose memoir — Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey — was reviewed at the end of last year by Kate Allison.

In it, Scott tells the story of how he and his civil partner, Liam, left the rat race in London behind to live in Bodrum, Turkey. A picturesque spot on the Mediterranean with a temperate climate, the city was their vision of paradise.

Naturally, though, things were not that simple. The couple soon encountered another rat race — the expat one. To quote directly from Scott’s book:

Sad people, bad people, expats-in-a-bubble people. They hate the country they came from; they hate the country they’ve come to. This was my social life. This is what I gave everything up for. This was Liam’s bloody Nirvana. We were the mad ones, not them.

PERFORMANCE: “Red Right Hand,” by Nick Cave

NICK CAVE is a distinguished musician and songwriter from Down Under. He took the title of this song from a line in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, referring to the vengeful hand of God. According to the lyrics: “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan.”

Cave has also occasionally dabbled in literature. As one reviewer put it, his first novel “reads like a logical extension of the dark world his music has already created.”

Ghosts of Nations Past and Future

In honor of Dickens’ bicentenary, Displaced Nation contributor ANTHONY WINDRAM will give a spirited reading of his favorite passages from A Christmas Carol (already explored in a post), followed by a discussion of whether Scrooge’s displacement could inspire the planet’s wealthiest people to behave more humanely. To quote from one of the comments made on Windram’s original post:

If such a man as Scrooge can displace his lust for money with a love of humankind — and an awareness of other people’s suffering — then does that mean there’s hope for the 1%?

Through the Looking Glass: Delhi & Bangkok

JANET BROWN, author of the travelogue Tone Deaf in Bangkok, and DAVE PRAGER, author of the travelogue Delirious Dehli, will discuss the need for travelers to do more than the usual amount of preparation when entering cultures that are very different from one’s own, on a par with Alice’s Wonderland.

As Brown explained in her interview with us, travelers to Thailand can be “tone deaf” because Thai is a tonal language and it’s easy to make mistakes. But they can also be “tone deaf” when it comes to figuring out the Thais’ communication style:

“You looked so beautiful yesterday” probably means today you resemble dog food and ought to go home and rectify that at once.

Whereas for Prager, one of the points about living in Dehli is that you may end up deaf as there are always people, animals and vehicles around.

In conversation with Anthony Windram, Prager admitted that getting used to America again — he and his wife now live in Denver — hasn’t been easy:

What’s struck me is that the US just seems so empty. It’s not that India is always intensely crowded; rather, it’s that India you’re never completely alone.

WRITING LAB: What (Not) to Write

Expat writing coach par excellence KRISTEN BAIR O’KEEFFE will explore techniques to develop your writing skills and help you find which world, of your many worlds, you want to write about, and how to get started.

Last summer’s post “6 celebrated women travel writers with the power to enchant you” was officially dedicated to O’Keeffe for delivering these pearls of writerly wisdom during her “Expat Writing Prompts” series:

Writing a multi-volume treatise is NOT the answer. Of this, I am sure.
Instead find a nugget. A moment. A single object. One exchange. One epiphany. One cultural revelation.
Find one story and tell it.
Just it.

DAY THREE: “We’re not alone” — Eat, drink, be merry & look good

Classy and Fabulous: French Style as Universal Norm

The French may be under fire for how they treat immigrants, but expats continue to thrive there. For this event, the classy and fabulous JENNIFER SCOTT, author of Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris — which has been a runaway success (it’s now under contract by a major publisher!) — will set out to prove, as she did last month in an interview with us, that no one can edit down their clothes and belongings as well as the French can.

The equally classy and fabulous ANASTASIA ASHMAN, co-editor of The Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey — and participant in our “Cleopatra for a Day” series last month — will serve as discussant. Two of the cultural influences for Ashman’s wardrobe are Southeast Asia (she once lived in Malaysia) and Turkey (she was an expat in Istanbul for several years). She does, however, adore French perfume!

Which Came First, Story or Recipe?

It’s food — so that means France again! ELIZABETH BARD, an American who lives in France with her French husband, and her opposite number, CORINE GANTZ, a Frenchwoman who lives near LA with her American husband, will explore why food is so central to the works each of them produces.

Bard is the author of the best-selling Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes. So did she ever think of writing it the other way around: recipes with a love story? Here’s what she told ML Awanohara in their conversation last autumn:

When I sat down to think about the moments that really helped me discover French life, I kept coming back to the dinner table, the markets, the recipes — so it seemed natural to structure Lunch in Paris around those experiences.

Gantz can no doubt relate. When we featured her novel, Hidden in Paris, last summer, here’s what she said when the topic of food came up:

For me, writing a novel is a barely disguised way for me to talk about food — the novel being a vehicle for food just as grilled toast is a vehicle for foie gras.

Fans of Hidden in Paris, please note: Gantz has just now released a playful cookbook featuring 20 delicious dishes that were described in mouth-watering details in the novel.

Moderating the discussion between Bard and Gantz will be the well-known novelist JOANNE HARRIS. Harris, who was born over a sweet shop in Yorkshire to a French mother and an English father, rarely misses an opportunity to bring food and drink into her novels — the most famous example being Chocolat.

Displaced Storytelling Circle

Verbal antics, stories, music and more. Highlights include readings by

  1. Displaced Nation contributor TONY JAMES SLATER, from his highly entertaining travelogue, That Bear Ate My Pants! Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad.
  2. Displaced Nation interviewee ALLIE SOMMERVILLE, from her wry memoir Uneasy Rider: Confessions of a Reluctant Traveller. (Allie, please read the passage about the campervan being too wide for one of the Spanish streets!)
  3. Displaced Nation nomad KAREN VAN DER ZEE, from her collection of expat stories. (Miss Footloose, please tell us the ones about the crocodile and the couple in the Roman restaurant!)
  4. Founder KATE ALLISON, from The Displaced Nation’s weekly fiction series, Libby’s Life, which as you may have noticed, is now up to 46 episodes. (Kate, be sure to read the one where you introduce Sandra, Libby’s MIL from hell!)

The Art of Drink: Ian Fleming

One of The Displaced Nation’s founders, ANTHONY WINDRAM, will talk about the role of food (and especially drink) in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, on which he did a post last year:

The Bond of the novels isn’t solely a martini drinker. He’s always one to try anything local that’s on offer. In Jamaica he’ll drink a glass of Red Stripe, in the US he’ll have a Millers Highlife beer. Throughout the novels Fleming uses food and drink to convey an alien culture, demonstrate social status, show Bond’s mood and his sophistication and ease with the world.

An array of drinks — not only shaken martinis but also bottles of Heineken!– will be served. Green figs and yogurt, along with coffee (very black), will be made available to anyone who is still suffering from jetlag.

Enchanted by Wisteria: Elizabeth Von Arnim Unveiled

Displaced Nation founder (and the author of this post!) ML AWANOHARA will read her favorite passages from the collected works of travel writer Elizabeth von Arnim, on whom she wrote a post last year. As she pointed out then, Von Arnim was fond of the idea of a woman escaping her marital, motherly and household duties in the pursuit of simple pleasures such as gardens and wisteria. A magical Italian castle — such as the one featured in her best-known novel, The Enchanted April — can also be a tonic.

CLOSING NIGHT + BONUS EVENT

To close the festival, we will screen both the Swedish and Hollywood versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed by a critique from CHRIS PAVONE, author of the new novel The Expats. Pavone will discuss whether:

  1. it was really necessary for Hollywood to produce its own (non-subtitled) version; and
  2. all the female-perpetrated violence cropping up in film and on TV of late presages a “fourth wave” of feminism.

Pavone is well qualified to judge the latter as his novel (not yet featured on TDN!) is an offbeat spy story with a female protagonist — a burned-out CIA operative who moves to Luxembourg. Apparently, this was the kind of thing Pavone thought about when he was trailing his spouse in that cobblestoney old town.

And, just when you thought it was all over, we bring you a final treat: a chance to hear from the historian SUSAN MATT, who recently published Homesickness: An American History to much fanfare in the thinking media. Matt disputes the stereotype of Americans as westward wanderers by showing that Americans are returning to their homeland in greater numbers — that’s if they ever leave at all. (Our ancestors must be turning over in their graves!)

* * *

So, shall I sign you up? And can you think of any additional topics/authors/performers who ought to be featured? I look forward to reading your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s guest post from Meagan Adele Lopez, on the differences between American and British wedding celebrations.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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7 worldwide ways to avoid, forget, or celebrate Friday 13th!

Not being superstitious myself, I tend to scoff at today’s date and treat it like any other. Then again, I once knew someone who had been involved in only two car accidents in her life, both of which occurred on Friday 13th. On a larger transportation scale, the ill-fated Apollo 13  launched at 13:13 (admittedly on April 11th) and exploded on April 13th. And a 1993 study found that the number of hospital admissions from traffic accidents were likely to be 52% higher on Friday 13th than on any other day.

That’s enough to make anyone superstitious about the date, so I won’t think too hard about the fact that, even as I type, my nearest and dearest is somewhere over the Atlantic ocean at 37,000 feet. Nevertheless, I’d like to hazard a guess that the increase in road accidents might be related to the increase in rosary beads and good luck charms hanging from rear view mirrors, thereby obscuring drivers’ visions.

Facts, figures, logic.

The fear of Friday 13th is known variously as friggatriskaidekaphobia, triskaidekaphobia, and paraskevidekatriaphobia. (Too bad if you also suffer from sesquipedaliophobia.) While the combo of Friday and 13 as a double whammy of misfortune is a relatively new invention — the first English reference wasn’t until 1869 — Friday and 13 have always had a bad rap separately.

Think positively about that, all you triskaidekaphobics: instead of being fearful every seven or thirty days, at least the prophets of doom have streamlined the calendar so that now you need only live in terror for two or occasionally three days a year.

Sadly, 2012 is a year with three Friday 13ths. Bad luck.

But take heart!  TDN, with its usual brand of helpfulness, is coming to the rescue of readers still cowering under their duvets and waiting for Saturday to arrive.

You could:

1. Travel to Spain or Greece.

But do it on a Wednesday. While Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday 13th to be unlucky, Greece considers Tuesdays in general to be unlucky. Travel on Wednesday, and you should have your bases covered.

2. Travel to Italy.

Friday 17th is unlucky there. Unfortunately, due to the external influence of a dozen Jason movies, Friday 13th is now also seen as unlucky.

So if you’re the type to chuck salt over your shoulder while you’re having a bad day in the kitchen,  maybe you should stay away from Italy — mid-month, at least.

3. Take your mind off it — kiss someone.

Or maybe that’s why you’re still under the duvet? Yesterday, Twitter users decreed that Friday April 13th should be (Inter)National Kissing Day…even though the official date is nearly three months away on July 6th.

4. Celebrate New Year.

Today also happens to be the Tamil New Year,  Puthandu, which falls on either April 13th or 14th of the Gregorian calendar, and is celebrated by Tamils in Tamil Nadu, in Pondicherry in India, and by the Tamil population in Malaysia, Singapore, Reunion Island, and Mauritius.

Tamils mark the day with a feast, decorate their house entrances with kolams, while neem flowers and raw mangoes symbolize growth and prosperity.

If you’re not in any of those countries and you don’t normally celebrate this festival, maybe you should be less ambitious with your own preparations. Buy some mango sorbet.

5. Don your helmet and leathers and go biking.

PD13 is a big celebration for motorcyclists at Port Dover in Ontario, and has been held every Friday 13th since 1981.

If you’re not a biker, ride pillion with one who is. If nothing else, the insects smashing at high speed against your teeth will take your mind off the fact that it’s Friday 13th.

6. Buy a lottery ticket.

On Friday March 13, 2009, Isabel Zaleya of Suffolk County, New York, won a jackpot of $26 million after his friends urged him not to play the lottery that day…because of the date.

7. It’s World Party Month! Throw a party!

Release the Halloween decorations from the basement, and have a Halloween party in April. Come on — did you really need an excuse?

STAY TUNED for some reminiscing on Monday, when we look back at our top posts and themes from our first year.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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