An Action Packed First Day in China

Expat Jimmy by Travis Lee is a fast paced short novel that follows a young American English teacher’s first day in Wuhan, China. He is met by a seasoned expat, Adam, who has been navigating Wuhan for seven years. The day starts at five a.m. and takes them on wild taxi rides, into seedy bars, through a Chinese family’s apartment, witnessing an attempted suicide, making a drug deal, eating different foods, drinking local hooch, and encounters with prostitutes. The day is packed with eye opening adventure.

Adam’s first advice is “Don’t forget who you are or where you are. Who you are is a laowai (foreigner). Where you are is China. Don’t go trying to change things or help people out. Mind your own business and if you don’t heed my advice? Then fine, just don’t come to me for help…”

Adam knows Jimmy is excited and fresh. He doesn’t know much about his new home and has a lot to learn. Adam packs in as much as he can on the first day while Jimmy is jet lagged and wide-eyed. He will have time later to decompress.

There are a couple of things Jimmy mentions that are very relatable. Arriving in this new country, Jimmy mentions it is all hard to describe, you have to experience it. I felt that way when I first arrived in Africa. For example, the smells are unique to certain parts of the world and impossible to describe. Also he has his camera with him and is taking pictures of everything. Everything. It is all so new and different and interesting he wants to capture it all. When walking down the street he sees other expats and expects them to talk to him and to be friendly. They are not. Just because people look like you does not mean they are going to be your friends. This is a naïve notion that many new expats have.

It is amazing how much Adam packs into one day. Adam has become part of the fabric and is so immersed in the culture, he says he cannot leave. It would be too difficult to adjust back to the USA. Any expat can relate to how hard re-entry is. However, he doesn’t seem to be having a very good time in China, either. He drinks a lot. He doesn’t heed his own advice and appears to be heavily involved in one Chinese family’s life. He tries to be rough and detached on the outside but is caring on the inside.

Throughout the day Jimmy is able to keep his sense of self and his moral creed but he does end up giving in to some peer pressure. He starts smoking and is getting a taste for the strong alcohol. At the end of the day he can’t get back into this dorm and stumbles upon a room full of computers and college kids playing video games. He happily joins them.

Jimmy ends with the realization that Adam is right, he is not going to change things but he is still excited and looking forward to more experiences to come.

This is a great snapshot into life in Wuhan. If you have lived in China, you will identify with much of it, if you have never been there, you will have a peek in the window. Although some of it is disturbing and strange, I have no doubt it is real. This book is a fun read.

 

Travis Lee is the author of Kale & Jason, Tear Sin, The Seven Year Laowai, the Journey through Nanking and Grandpa & Henry. His fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens and Independent Ink Magazine, among other places.
For more information, visit: http://www.travis-lee.org

Life in Panama

I have an article in the latest issue of Global Living Magazine 

(it’s free to download!)

Inside this issue:

– Steps With Therra: Thailand’s first social enterprise providing vocational training to adults with learning disabilities

– Building cultural competency in the workforce

– An International Education

– Finding Purpose & Passion as an Expat Partner

– Expat Life in Panama – All about Amelia and Greg’s new adventure

– Life as an Expat in Valencia, Spain

– Expat Books

… and much more!

 

LIFE IN CHINA WITH ITALIAN FLAVOR

Parsley & Coriander is a new novel by Antonella Moretti. It was originally published in Italian and has just been released in English.

The story gives us a peek into the lives of a group Italian women living in China over the course of a year.

Luisella left a good job in Italy to follow her husband to Asia. She has a 12 year old daughter in the International school who now speaks perfect English. As the story begins, Luisella has been living in China for several years. She has re-invented herself and is now a blogger and writer. She is in the process of publishing her first book. She enjoys her life in China and is the go-to person for the group. In a way she is a mother figure. She takes the time to help those in need and tries to engage the ones that are lost.

Astrid is a newcomer with two small children. Her husband arrived six months earlier and she found it difficult to take care of the children on her own. She was happy to be reunited with her husband but very anxious about her new environment. Luckily she makes friends and has a very supportive husband. Her best friend turns out to be a Malaysian woman and at the end they venture out into the countryside to see another side of China.

Emma, on the other hand, arrives hoping to save her marriage. Big mistake. It only goes from bad to worse, but her outcome is the most surprising of all, even to her.

Other women are weaved into the story. Some need to resolve medical issues, others have trouble with their children, some don’t adjust at all and return home, and some are highly successful. One young woman is there to study Chinese language and culture and wants to immerse herself completely. They make fun of her and say it isn’t possible. She proves them wrong.

We see an ugly side of expat life when we meet the unhappy women who hate everything about their host country and are very cliquish. But mostly they support each other and grow and learn from their experience.

The author, through Luisella’s character, emphasizes the opportunity they all have to experience and learn about a new culture. The children attend the International School and speak fluent English as well as have friends from all over the world. She also recognizes that her child is constantly saying good bye to people and adjusting so there is a down side but overall the outcome is a positive one.

This is a good glimpse into the trials and tribulations of a trailing spouse. Anybody living in China or moving to China would benefit from reading this book. 

You can read Antonella’s blog at Parsley and Coriander.

 

Frolicking with Friends in South Beach

I flew into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and headed over to a friend’s house in Coral Gables. She lives just down the block from the Biltmore and the Venetian Pool. People continued to arrive all afternoon and evening. Old friends gathering for one of our yearly reunions. Lots of good food and drink and hugs. 

The Biltmore

The Biltmore originally opened in 1926 as the Miami Biltmore Country Club and included an 18-hole golf course, polo fields, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, along with a 400-room hotel. It has gone through some changes over the years and was even a hospital during World War II. It remained a Veterans Administration hospital until 1968. It sat unoccupied until 1983 when the City of Coral Gables started its restoration. The Biltmore re-opened in 1987 as a four star hotel and resort. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places designated it a National Historic Landmark.

The Venetian Pool was created in 1923 from a coral rock quarry. Its 820,000 gallon pool is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer. There are two waterfalls and caves that you can swim in and out of. The pool is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally called the Venetian Casino and frequented by celebrities including Johnny Weismuller and Esther Williams. At times the pool would be emptied of its 820,000 gallons of water and orchestras would perform on the pool bottom. 

Inside the limo

 

 

 

The next morning we gathered in South Beach to catch our stretch limo that took us to Vizcaya.

 

 

 

Vizcaya was built by International Harvester Vice President James Deering of Chicago, IL. It was originally 180 acres with the main house, the gardens, the farm, and the waterfront. The house itself is fashioned after an Italian villa, or many Italian villas. Each room was built to accommodate the furniture Mr Deering had purchased on his trips to Italy. The furnishings determined ceiling height and door width. The main house opened in 1916 and the gardens were finished in 1922. Deering died in 1925 so he didn’t have long to enjoy his creation. It passed on to his brother and his brother’s children and in 1952 they donated it to Dade County.

The main house has 34 rooms with over 2,500 art objects and furnishings. The gardens contain 2,000 specimens and 25 acres of endangered primary growth forests. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995. Besides attracting 200,000 visitors a year, it also serves as a diplomatic seat for Miami-Date County where presidents and foreign dignitaries are entertained. It has hosted Pope John Paul II and major events such as the Summit of the Americas and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Back in the limo on the way to our lunch destination we popped the champagne and all had a glass. We spent the afternoon on the River eating seafood. It seems like mostly what we do is eat and drink.

That night we hit a taco place that was amazing – Taquiza. It was a small order at the counter/take out place where they made their own blue corn tortillas and fried them up for chips to order accompanied by very fresh guacamole or pico de gallo. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Next day it was a late start with staggered breakfast. I joined the group who ended up at the beach but another group went to eat crab at Joe’s Stone Crab. It was originally started by Joe Weiss in 1913 as a lunch counter.  Nobody knew you could even eat stone crabs. In 1921 a Harvard ichthyologist doing research asked if Joe ever served stone crabs. The bay was full of them. They experimented a bit and decided to boil them. They ended up serving them chilled and cracked with hash browns, cole slaw and mayonnaise. Joe’s became a destination for any celebrity who visited the area. From Al Capone to the Duchess of Windsor. Stone crabs are seasonal and it was the last weekend they would be available. Everybody from our group came back raving about the food and overall experience.

 

 

The beach was nice too. But it was crowded.

 

 

 

 

That night we had a party to go to. Our friend Leo was working as the official photographer. So we got dressed up and headed out to Smith and Wollensky at the southernmost tip of South Beach. It sits next to the 17 acre South Pointe Park. We had a small room overlooking the water. The food was amazing. Crab cake sandwiches, sliders, lamb chops, flat bread pizza, bruschetta, turkey and gravy, and an open bar. Yum. There was another party next to us and one of our group swears he saw Ivana Trump there. 

We all met for brunch at Loews the next morning. It was kind of chaotic trying to herd everybody over there and find a table or tables to accommodate us but we all managed to get fed and then have our round of hugs and kisses bidding all a farewell. 

Until next time.

 

 

Five years of blogging

I just passed my five year mark as a blogger. This was my first post in March of 2012:

My New Mantra

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The Matterhorn
I stole this photo from my brother who lives in Switzerland and happened to be passing this particular mountain among others on some weekend trip of his.
He is returning to the US soon and will also be an Alien….
It kind of represents my new mantra.  There are probably some trails up there for people to follow.
I spent two lovely years in Switzerland myself.  Fun times.  More on that later.
 
Since then I published my memoir on growing up internationally. I wrote over 300 posts and had about 50,000 visitors. Plus I blogged at the Baltimore Post Examiner for several years with more posts and visitors. I wrote a cookbook. I traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Nova Scotia, Florida, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York and Minnesota. I buried my son’s father. I loved and lost. I quit my job. I packed up my things and moved to a new city. I found a new job and a great apartment. And now I am planning a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to go to Tierra del Fuego. 
I don’t know that I am leaving a trail but I am following my own path.
I changed my blog to be “expat alien, recovering expat on the prairie”. I feel more local now. I recently read “the Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer. Going nowhere can be a journey in itself. 

What is TCK Heritage?

I was interviewed recently by a woman doing research on TCK’s* and cross cultural people. There were two things that came up during the interview that particularly struck me.

She asked me if I considered myself a migrant. I said no. I had never thought of using that word to describe my situation. What is the difference between an expat and a migrant? Good question. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a migrant is:

  1. A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions.

When I hear the word migrant, I think of the migrant worker. Somebody who follows the work by season, working in the fields. Migrants migrate from place to place as the need arises and work becomes available. Technically a migrant can be an expat.  People become expats for many reasons but a lot of them go to one place and then go home, most don’t go from place to place to place. A TCK does not choose where they are going and is not seeking work, they have no choice, so I would probably put them in the expat category but not the migrant one. That was my final answer. Care to discuss it?

The other thing she asked me about was heritage. What is heritage to a TCK? Was it formed by the cultures around me, did I make that part of my heritage, or was is something else? I have thought about this a lot since the interview. I found that I wasn’t sure what it meant. I discovered that there are two kinds of heritage. Tangible and Intangible. Tangible heritage includes architecture, archeology, objects, landscapes. Intangible is a bit more complex. The best definition I could find was a UNESCO site:

“…..intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;”

I always considered my heritage to be my family history. The fact that my family came from Ireland and Scotland to America in the 1700’s and gradually moved from the East coast to the Midwest where they eventually settled. They were immigrants and migrants. They were looking for work and a better life. They brought with them their particular variety of religion and their cultural traditions but I think much of it was lost in the great melting pot that became the USA. My family celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas but not much else. My father never celebrated Thanksgiving growing up because it was corn picking season. On my grandparent’s farm there was always work to be done, didn’t matter what day it was.

Christmas in Burma with snow backdrop

Growing up TCK I didn’t have a deep connection with most of my extended family. I would see them once a year, if that, and didn’t have time to learn much. My parents tended to live in the moment so we learned about our current home’s history and traditions, wherever that was.  

When I lived in Mexico I knew a girl who went to the American school and lived in a neighborhood with a lot of other Americans. They had a girl scout group and celebrated all the USA holidays. One year she asked me to go over to her house for Halloween. I had dressed up a few times over the years when we lived in New York but it wasn’t really a part of our tradition. I liked getting the candy but to be honest I didn’t have any desire to repeat the experience. If I really thought about it, my life was way too interesting without having to participate in strange American rituals.

My current Christmas decorations

So, what is my heritage? As an adult I spent a long time doing genealogy research on my family. I thought it was fascinating to delve into my history and learn where I came from and how I got here. I ended up making a connection to their lives and mine because of the travel to parts unknown, etc. Something gave them the strength to do what they did and I felt it must be a part of me as well. So that is part of my heritage. Over the years I have learned about and celebrated many traditions from around the world and I have many objects in my home that have become a part of my heritage. Things my parents collected from Asia and Africa are now prominently displayed in my home and will someday probably be in my child’s home. They all have a story behind them and are an important part of who I am today.

What is my heritage?

It’s complicated….

 

*TCK stands for Third Culture Kid: Somebody who has grown up outside their passport country because of their parents’ work.

Five Hundredth Anniversary of Martin Luther Protest

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Luther’s table

Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Thesis 95 to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg. This document encouraged people to question the teachings of the Catholic church and started the Protestant Reformation. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of this event, there will be exhibits and activities across Germany and the USA. One exhibit is currently showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Martin Luther was born in Germany in 1483 and died in 1546. He originally studied law but decided to become a monk in 1505. In 1507 he became a priest and in 1510 he walked 1,000 miles to Rome. By 1512 he earned a doctorate in theology and became a professor at Wittenberg. In 1517 he preached against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences and nailed his Thesis 95 to the church doors.  This declaration spread quickly across Europe. He was charged with heresy and excommunicated in 1521. That year he came under the protection of Frederick the Wise and translated the New Testament into German. On December 25, 1525, he married an ex-nun and they had six children.

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The exhibit at the Minneapolis Art Institute is showing through January 15, 2017. It takes you through this life and the times he lived in. There are a couple of beautiful prints by Albrecht Durer, paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder of Luther and his wife, the last pulpit Luther preached from, original manuscripts, a table Luther worked on, and much more.

pulpit

Among the artifacts is an indulgence chest where gold and other precious items were stored. Any of the faithful could purchase an indulgence in order to reduce the punishment for their sins and shorten the time they had to spend in Purgatory. The way it worked was rich men would lend money to a Cardinal or somebody who oversaw several dioceses. Then the Pope would authorize that person to sell indulgences. The priests would preach several times a day and grant indulgences. With the money collected from the faithful, the debt would be paid off. This is how St Peter’s in Rome was funded.

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One of the highlights for me was the Gotha Panel Altar from Heinrigh Fullmaurer’s workshop. It has 14 folding panels with a fixed central piece. It is basically a big illustrated bible.

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Another item I found interesting was a hood worn by plague doctors. These were not real doctors but people who would go in and help the sick and dying as best they could. Most of these doctors died as well. Martin Luther had two brothers who died of the plague as it spread through Wittenberg in 1527. The hood covered the whole head and shoulders, had round glass eye holes and a pointed beak. The beak was stuffed with herbs and oils that helped the doctor tolerate the stench. It was a very eerie looking thing.

More information on the exhibits and on Martin Luther can be found here.