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.

 

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.

World Citizen Storycast

I am featured this week on the World Citizen Storycast podcast.

The focus was on the adjustments and challenges of growing up in different cultures as well as reverse culture shock when returning to the passport country.

Check it out.

26: Before I Tell My Story

 

 

Adventurous Women

I recently read ‘Too Close to the Sun’ about Denys Finch Hatton and it reminded me of the amazing women through the ages who chose to spend their lives in foreign lands. Here area few of my favorites.

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen was Danish.  She married Baron Bror von Blixen and moved to Kenya in 1914.  Unfortunately he gave her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after only one year for arsenic treatment.  She lived through it, however, and returned to live in Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land.  Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm.  She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life.  She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:

Out of Africa  (1937); Anecdotes of Destiny  (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie; Letters from Africa 1914-1931  (1981 – posthumous)

 

 

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markam was English.  Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906.   She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age.  Beryl also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed.  She had some kind of premonition and did not go.  However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West.  She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer.  There is a new book out about her life called “Circling the Sun”.

Her memoir (a very good read) is: West with the Night  (1942, re-released in 1983)

 

 

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David-Neel was French.  She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back.  In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer.  That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India.  She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years.  Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains.  She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa.

Her account of her trip to Lhasa is a fascinating read: My Journey to Lhasa (1927)

 

 

 

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in California, attended Radcliff and Johns Hopkins University, discovered her sexual awakening while in Baltimore and fell in love with another woman. She moved to Paris in 1904 where she collected art and held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne.  During World War I she learned to drive and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded. Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway.  She was a strong, opinionated woman and a copious writer with a great sense of humor.  Her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas cooked and ran the household. Two of my favorite books by Stein are:

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas  (1933); Ida, A Novel (1941)

 

 

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris.  She was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe.  She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself.  She lived in Paris most of her adult life.

Her memoir is: Shakespeare & Company (1959)

 

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

And just for fun… Catherine the Great.  She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744.  In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762.  She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate so she could take the throne.  Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed.  She continued to rule Russia until her death at age 67.  I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia.  One room I particularly liked was the Amber Room.  The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels.

A good book about her life is: Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)

 

Who are your favorites??