February 20, 2020 § Leave a comment
I’m from the Midwest. Specifically, I’m from Missouri. You may be surprised to know that my state is a rather cosmopolitan place, with towns named Lebanon, Cuba, Mexico, Paris, Amsterdam, and Cairo.
Lisa Liang, on the other hand, is not from Missouri, or anywhere close by. She has lived in Cairo, though. But her Cairo is the really big one in northeastern Egypt, not the really small one northwest of St. Louis. In fact, one of the reasons she created her one-person show, Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey, was to answer the question “Are you from the Midwest?” that she’d heard so many times.
So where is Liang from? Um . . . yeah, about that.
Liang is a Third Culture Kid, which she defines early on in her show (standing on a chair and in a teacherly voice) as “someone who has spent a significant part of their childhood outside their passport country or in a culture that is not their parents’ culture and doesn’t have full ownership in any culture.” Third Culture Kids, or TCKs, have a hard time answering “Where are you from?”
She labels this section of her play “t/c/k 101,” and her whole performance is something of a class on what it means to be a global nomad (another term for TCK). But it’s not a dry, pedantic lecture. Maybe that’s because it’s more like the show-and-tell part of school. Stepping off the chair, she literally lets her hair down and acts out her “business brat” life, scene by scene, character by character.
Liang was born in Guatemala, to an American mother of European “hodgepodge” descent and a Guatemalan father of Chinese-Spanish descent, with her father’s job at Xerox taking the family around the world—to Costa Rica, Panama, Morocco, Egypt, and . . . Connecticut. All the while, as she faced the challenges of changing places, cultures, and friends, she was, she says, “trained by all of the adults around me to concentrate on the positives and never complain.” After speaking this line, she quickly slaps her hands over her mouth, something she does many times during the play to show how skilled she became at silencing herself so as not to offend or stand out.
But the younger Liang had reason to voice her concerns, and as we watch Alien Citizen, we become her sounding board. There are the times when she was called names, misunderstood, threatened, and verbally abused. But there are also the positives of living cross-culturally, and she shares those moments as well. Her stories are rich and funny and painful and heartbreaking. And while they’re unique to her, they will resonate with others who understand the significance of such terms as “home base-ish” and “transition fatigue” and “foreign school.”
Foreign schools. International clubs. Places where expats gather. Those are the kinds of places where Liang spent much of her growing-up days overseas and where many of her stories take place. There was the time at the Churchill Club when she had her first kiss. And then there was the time outside the Moroccan American Cultural Center when two young men verbally and physically threaten her and her mother.
Here’s where I need to include a side note. I have the delusion that my blog is followed so closely by some in the cross-cultural community that they would read my review, buy Liang’s DVD, and immediately start playing it for their son or daughter’s TCK sleepover. To them, I say be aware that Liang’s play includes a few occurrences of the F-word (along with some derogatory epithets aimed at her). One instance is when the men outside the cultural center used it to attack Liang—a more extreme example of what she experienced often as a female walking by herself on the sidewalks of Morocco. Another is a time when she used the word herself as years of emotion burst forth in a moment of road rage while driving in the States.
In a Q&A session after one of her performances, an audience member asks what part of her life is the most difficult part to tell in her play. She answers that it is acting out the harassment in Morocco, being afraid that she’d be accused of portraying all Moroccan men, all Muslim men, in a negative way. But, she explains, rather than painting entire groups with a broad brush, she’s simply telling her stories. “I’m saying what happened to me,” she tells the audience. “That’s all I’m saying.”
When Liang came to the States for college, she was again faced with a culture in which she didn’t fit. Many of her classmates wished they were going to other schools instead of Wellesley, but for her, it was her school of choice. And her roommate was a Christian whom she describes as a “fanatic.” She shows us her roommate screaming out her belief that her Jewish ancestors who died in the Holocaust are in hell. “You don’t know how it makes me feel!” she yells. Liang is stunned by the belligerence and self-centeredness she hears—and claps her hands over her mouth again in horror.
Alien Citizen reminds me of Letters Never Sent, written by Ruth Van Reken, TCK expert and co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. In Letters, Van Reken writes to her missionary parents about the difficulties she faced growing up abroad. It is good that Liang has found a way to remove her hands from her mouth and tell her stories. Van Reken agrees. About watching Liang’s play, she writes, “It was profound for all of us . . . brings laughter and tears to anyone who has lived this life or knows others who have. It is a great show, presenting the gifts as well as the challenges.”
In Alien Citizen, Liang gives a vivid, outside-in view of the places where she’s lived, where the mundane becomes exotic and the exotic mundane. There’s drumming on turtle shells during Christmas celebrations in Guatemala, walking barefoot across the road to buy orange Fanta in Panama, wind surfing in Morocco, and riding in a car spinning on the ice in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It’s because she’s given herself “permission to speak of the pain” that she can be grateful for all the wonderful things she’s experienced. And through Alien Citizen, we get to experience it all, too.
Alien Citizen is available for purchase on DVD and for rent in streamable HD. The DVD includes a Q&A with Liang and the director, Sofie Calderon, and interviews with Liang’s brother and parents. There are also institutional DVDs that include a digital study guide with over 35 clips from the film, each followed by questions to promote learning and discussion.
[photo courtesy of HapaLis Prods]
January 20, 2020 § Leave a comment
Find the gate
Don’t be late
Squeeze in tight
Stow your bag
Coke or tea?
Watch a show
Stand in queues
December 21, 2019 § Leave a comment
Entertainer Michael Davis used to begin his act with this line: “They say a comic says funny things, but a comedian says things funny. This makes me a juggler.”
Truth is, we’re all jugglers of some sort, trying to balance multiple roles in life, keeping all the plates spinning and the balls in the air. That’s the way it’s always been, and, I’m sure, always will be.
But when it comes to the pastime (or career) of juggling, things have changed over time, as pointed out in this TEDx Talk by Jay Gilligan:
Gilligan, who’s juggled for 28 years, tells (and shows) the differences between American/Western juggling—with its symmetry and repetition—and Scandanavian/European juggling—which features asymmetry and lots of starts and stops.
From there he goes on to talk about the origins of juggling rings. Have you ever wondered why juggling rings are the size they are? Giligan has. And he found the answer from his friend and fellow juggler, Dave Finnigan. In 1976, Finnigan, also known as Professor Confidence, wanted to find a place in Asia for making juggling props, so he visited a plastic fabrication factory in Taiwan. While describing the rings to the factory owner, Mr. Tsai, he grabbed a cookie tin from Mr. Tsai’s desk. He drew a circle around it and then used “another round item” to draw a smaller circle inside. This became their template. The cookie tin happened to be about 13 inches across.
Juggler and juggling historian David Cain adds to the story, locating the factory in the south-Taiwan city of Tainan and writing that the original rings were later fine tuned by expanding the hole inside. He quotes Finnigan as saying, “When jugglers complained that the ring would not easily fit over their heads, we came up with the white ring the next year, so it would fit over the head of the jugglers.”
Speaking of innovation, juggler Michael Moschen is so innovative that in 1990 he was named a MacArthur Fellow, receiving a “genius grant” from the foundation. In the early TED Talk below, Moschen shows off his creativity and delves into what I would call the “philosophy” of juggling. At 19:24, he juggles inside a triangle, and at 25:50 he uses a single ball to give a short introduction to “contact juggling,” which became one of his specialties.
If you’re not completely sure what contact juggling is, let’s go back to Taiwan and watch Zheng Jhe demonstrate his skills. Relax and enjoy.
(David Cain, “Juggling Rings: Their History, Development, and Innovation—Part I,” International Jugglers’ Association, October 9, 2016)
November 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
I’m so glad we got to say Hi a while back, but sorry we never made it to your house for dinner. When we landed three months ago it seemed like we’d be here forever, but then the time went by so fast. We’re all busy with so many things, and we had so many places we needed to be.
You asked about us getting together for coffee next week, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. We’re kind of booked up with so many last-minute things to take care of, and then we’ve set aside a couple days to get away and catch our breaths before we head out. I’m afraid coffee will need to wait until next time.
And you wondered about seeing us off at the airport. That’s so nice of you, but we’re trying to get our goodbyes done before we pull up to the curb and have to fix our minds on tickets and luggage and passports.
Speaking of luggage . . .
Read the whole post at A Life Overseas.
November 19, 2019 § 2 Comments
There’s something about flying that inspires me creatively. Maybe it’s the altitude. Maybe it’s the soda and snacks. Maybe it’s the inflight magazines and pretending that I belong to their target audience.
Whatever the cause, ideas come to me when I’m up in the air. What kinds of ideas, you ask? Well, they’re great ideas, amazing ideas, Shark-Tank-winner-million-dollar ideas. Understand that I have no plans to bring these to fruition—no, I’m just an ideas guy—but I do want to be on the record for creating these when someone else puts them in production. . . and changes the world of travel as we know it. And if you find out that someone has already come up with anything like these, I simply don’t want to hear it (fingers in ears, LA LA LA LA).
So without further ado, here they are, the fruit of a recent flight:
- Out o’ My Way Beeper: A small speaker system that you wear on your belt that emits the high, sharp beep used by airport carts. Use one of these and everyone will clear the way for you as you hurry to your gate. By the time they realize they’ve been had, you’ll be long gone. I saw a man driving a malfunctioning, silent cart through an airport once. He called out “Beep, beep, beep,” as he drove. He could have used one of these.
- Mag Pillow: Maybe you have a neck pillow that takes up too much room in, or hanging onto, your carryon. Maybe your pillow fills with air, but you have to blow it up for each flight. If either of these is true, you need the Mag Pillow. It’s a hollow, zippered pillowcase that you fill with the wadded-up pages of your inflight magazine. I know: brilliant.
- EarThing I: A fake Bluetooth earpiece that screams “I’M SUCH A BIG DEAL!” as you yell such things as “WHEN IT GETS TO 2 MILLION I WANT YOU TO SELL!” or “I DON’T CARE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN CEO! CLEAR OUT YOUR OFFICE NOW!” You’ll get the respect you deserve without having to pony up for a real Bluetooth system. And, yes, those sideways glances you’re getting are looks of envy.
- EarThing II: This one’s an earpiece connected to a coiled cord that leads into your collar . . . and goes nowhere. You’ll get all sorts of attention: “Are you a pilot? Are you a sky marshal? Are you important?” A slight shrug of your shoulders and a finger to your lips is your answer.
- The One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon: Have you put a red ribbon on your luggage to make it stand out only to find that five other people on your flight had the same idea? Get a One-and-Only Luggage Ribbon and that will never happen again. Your luggage tag will be 100% unique. Billions to choose from! No one will every have your color and pattern because no two One-and-Onlies are the same. Guaranteed! In fact, if you find two that are identical, you’ll get a free, um, Mag Pillow.
- I Heart Kiosk: This is not only a product but a place for selling it, too. You can set up this shop in any airport, but it works best in the small, regional, last-stop variety. Ever arrived home and realized you forgot to pick up a souvenir for that special someone in your life? Don’t worry—Look, there’s an I Heart Kiosk over there. It’s stocked with taffy, peanut brittle, pork rub, golf balls, teddy bears, and the kinds of et-ceteras that you can find in any locale. But the secret sauce is in the stickers that come with them, stickers printed with “I ♥ [name of a city of your choice].” And you don’t even have to visit a city to show your loved ones that you thought of them while you weren’t there.
[photo: “I got an idea!!!,” by Ky0n Cheng, public domaibn]
November 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
Two months ago, I wrote about used tea bags in care packages, which led to reader comments about less-than-optimal gifts, including a single roll of toilet paper, ribbons from graveside floral arrangements, and pencil stubs. But “philcott,” reminds us of the joys that gifts can bring, by pointing out what can happen when they are absent. After sharing some on the topic, philcott writes, “Having said all that, I must add that it would be a blessing to receive a care package of any sort, or some other indication that someone cared about us and the work we are doing.”
Care packages are certainly one way that people can show that they care.
I can say that during our time overseas, we were blessed with some wonderful, thoughtful gifts that helped us know that we had people who valued us and our ministry. And while we appreciated them all, some of what we received stand out in our memory because of the stories that go along with them.
For instance, there was the time when a group from our sending church came to help with a country-wide missionaries’ retreat. They brought along some home-schooling supplies for us, as well as some books and a box of VHS tapes for our kids. (Yes, this was in the olden days, before Netflix.)
Go to A Life Overseas to read the rest. . . .