Naming Your Grief and Finding an Answer [—at A Life Overseas]

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

Over at A Life Overseas, I’ve taken two of my previous posts, Disenfranchised Grief and the Cross-cultural Worker and Empathy: A Ladder into Dark Places, and adapted them into one. You can start reading the new post below.

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I don’t think I’d ever heard the phrase “disenfranchised grief” before I came back from living overseas. Maybe it was during debriefing that it came up. Or maybe it was later, when I attended a series of grief-support meetings offered by a local hospice. Everyone else in the group had experienced the recent death of a loved one. I came because of the losses I’d had from my return.

Regardless, I didn’t immediately have a label for what I was feeling—sadness that was difficult to accept or express, sadness that easily led to shame and anger. But being able to name it is important. Kenneth Doka, who came up with the term “disenfranchised grief,” and who, in 1989, wrote the book Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow, says in an interview with Spring Publishing,

This concept has really resonated with people. And people constantly write and say, “You’ve named my grief. I never really recognized my grief until you talked about it in that way.”

Doka defines disenfranchised grief as “grief that is experienced when a loss cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned.” Grief is disenfranchised when losses are not typical to the population at large, so others often discount those losses or don’t understand them. It is difficult to have compassion for people when you don’t recognize why they are sad.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

(Kenneth Doka, “Disenfranchised Grief,” Living with Grief: Loss in Later Life, Kenneth Doka, ed., Hospice Foundation of America, 2002; Kenneth Doka, “Disenfranchised Grief,” Springer Publishing Company, YouTube, October 4, 2013)

[photo: “Hiding,” by Kristin Schmit, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Short Fiction at High Altitudes

January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

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“Is Wi-Fi the existential threat that will finally kill the inflight magazine?” That’s the question Mark Tjhung asked this past July in Forbes. His answer is No, in part because his answer has to be No: He’s editor of Silkroad, the inflight magazine for the Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon. But he also explains that he believes in the future of inflight magazines, if they “keep up and raise their standards.” And he writes, “Ironically, rather than being the death knell of the inflight magazine brand, the online revolution in the media landscape may present its greatest opportunity.”

Part of Silkroad‘s raising of its standards, as Tjhung points out in the article, is the inclusion of a “Short Story Anthology.” Last summer, they invited authors to send them short pieces of fiction, with the result being a collection of four stories, each set in a different Asian country, written specifically for Silkroad readers. The anthology includes works from David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas; Lijia Zhang, a Chinese author who writes in English for international publications; Nuri Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective; and Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men. Each story is accompanied by an author interview.

A Forgettable Story,” by Mitchell, is something of a Japan-based combination of Groundhog Day and an inside-out 50 First Dates, told by an airline passenger to his seatmate. In describing himself, he says,

Where am I from? Tricky question. ‘From my mother’? I had a peripatetic childhood, so I’ve got more passports than Jason Bourne. All legal, I hasten to add. Even the matter of where I live now gets a bit . . . complicated. You know those wandering poet-monks in feudal China and Japan who used to say the road was their home, and the grass was their pillow? You could say I’m a contemporary reboot of them. ‘My spiritual home is the transit lounge.’ I should get that printed on a T-shirt. Don’t think I’m romanticising this way of life: I’m not. I envy what I guess you have. Friends, a partner maybe, a job, or at least a role, a family to be a part of – even if they drive you crazy now and then. Belongingness is underrated, especially by the young.

Zhang’s “Permission” tells the story of Lin, a young man who has moved from rural China to study in one of the country’s most-prestigious universities. There he is faced with the conflict between Chinese and Western values, as well as his own conflicting emotions concerning a nurse who shows him attention.

In “Geek Girl and the Digital Planet,” Vittachi writes about an expat in Hong Kong who infiltrates the world around her by hacking into the scores of wi-fi and bluetooth signals available in her apartment. On fiction’s ability to inspire travel, Vittachi says, “The best way to visit somewhere is to read a novel about it – and then buy an airline ticket.”

And “The Fight,” by Joseph, is about a family vacation in India. But rather than focusing on the beauty of Goa, the husband and wife are preoccupied with arguments and frustration. “‘Everybody fights,” the father tells his seven-year-old daughter. “They go to beautiful places to fight.” About the inspiration for his story, Joseph writes,

I like the joy of vacations, especially time spent with the children, but the most interesting thing is the pressure on the adults to pretend they are having a good time. I am sure most people do have fun but many other things go on during family vacations—tension between adults that’s often continuation of old feuds.

Kudos to Silkroad for broadening its repertoire to include fiction. What a great way to introduce readers to the subtle nuances and intricacies of travel and destinations. As Vittachi says in his interview, “I think inflight magazines are a great place for fiction. Fiction transports you in a delightful manner—exactly like a good plane journey!”

If you’d like to read more from international inflight magazines—without getting on a plane—go to my recently updated list of over 100 offered online.

(Mark Tjhung, “No, the Inflight Magazine Isn’t Dead,” Forbes, July 20, 2017; “The Silkroad Short Story Anthology,” Discovery, July 3, 2017)

[photo: “DSC01783,” by Anthony Pujol, used under a Creative Commons license]

33 Clickbait Headlines for Expats—Number 12 Will Make You Gasp [—at A Life Overseas]

December 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Normally, clickbait headlines are created simply to grab clicks—and clicks and clicks and more clicks. But you can’t click on the titles below, since there aren’t any stories linked to them. Instead, if being an expat is in your past, present, or future, the stories are up to you, to write or live out yourselves.

So here’s to the new year . . . and all the stories ahead!

  1. They had no idea why all the nationals were staring at them
  2. She said the same thing to her neighbor every morning for a month—until her language teacher explained to her what it meant
  3. Only 1 in 1000 people can identify these countries by their shapes—can you?
  4. He thought his carryon would fit in the overhead bin, then this happened
  5. 5 things visa officers don’t want you to know

See the rest of the list at A Life Overseas

[photo: “Giorgi – Shocked,” by japrea, used under a Creative Commons licesnse]

What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo! [—at A Life Overseas]

October 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

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An imagined but quite possible day in a life overseas . . .

This morning I woke up with my to-do list waiting for me on the nightstand. Item number one was Get out of bed (I’d written that one down so I could start the day by crossing it off). Number two said Copy document. That’s because yesterday at the county government office, when I went to get my resident permit renewed, the lady behind the desk told me I needed to bring a copy of my registration letter to leave with them.

I was more than ready to get that taken care of and move on to the other, bigger, better, more important things on my list. It was an impressive list. I had quite the day planned.

After a quick shower and a slice of toast for breakfast, I grabbed my permit documents and walked the four blocks to the bus stop and took the bus to the copy shop, about 15 minutes away. But when I stepped off the bus I saw that the copy shop wasn’t a copy shop anymore. Instead,  sometime over the weekend, it had been turned into a KFG Chicken restaurant. (That’s right, a KFG not a KFC. This one had a big green smiling rooster on its sign.) I called my teammate to get her advice, and she said I could get a copy at a bank. There was a bank down the street, and after going there and standing in line, I asked the teller if she could help me make a copy. She said that was impossible.

On the way back to the bus stop, I called another teammate, and he told me to try the photo shop next to the new high school. I decided to take a taxi there to save time, but the only cash I had was a large bill and I figured the driver wouldn’t have change for it, so I walked back to the bank to withdraw some money from the ATM. But then the ATM ate my card and wouldn’t spit it out no matter how many buttons I pushed. I went back into the bank to retrieve it, but they said that was impossible—at least until after two business days.

You can read the rest at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Braden’s Woohoo!,” by Laura Molnar, used under a Creative Commons license]

Of Big Macs, KFCs, and Tall Lattes: A Full Menu of Global Indexes

October 9, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I’ve always wondered about the “heat index” and “chill factor,” ways to say, “We know how hot or cold it is, but here’s how it feels.” Obviously there are scientific factors figured into the calculations, but it makes me think we could also have a “Great Grandma Gordon Index”: “I’m telling you, it’s at least 125 degrees in the shade!” or a “Guy Who Lives Down the Block Index: “It’s so cold I can’t feel my left foot!”

When you travel, you see how much weather standards aren’t standardized around the world, either. For people in hot climates, the winter parkas might come out when the temperature dips below 60°F, or for those where cold is routine, when they register the same temp, it’s time to put on shorts.

But keeping track of relative weather norms isn’t the only concern when going abroad. There’s also that finances thing. You want to know how much money you’ll need to spend while spending time in another city—in terms that make sense. So you might be thinking “How much does, for instance, a Big Mac cost there?”

Well, funny you should ask.

One of the most well-known economic indexes has the answer. Taking its name from the classic McDonald’s sandwich, the Big Mac Index was developed in 1986 by The Economist “as a lighthearted guide to whether currencies are at their ‘correct’ level.”

“Burgernomics,” says The Economist “was never intended as a precise gauge of currency misalignment, merely a tool to make exchange-rate theory more digestible.” But the Big Mac Index has gotten a lot of weighty attention, garnering coverage in textbooks and academic studies. In fact, the index is taken seriously enough that a New York Times article postulated in 2011 that Argentina was artificially keeping its Big Mac prices down to influence its place on the scale. And Computerworld reported this year that the malware Fatboy, a ransomware-as-a-service (software that locks up a computer and demands payment to decrypt its data) uses the Big Mac Index to determine how much ransom needs to be paid for a particular location.

The Big Mac Index is based on the idea of purchasing-power parity. I’m not an economist, so it’s easy for me to get lost in the weeds on economic theories. But rather than use it as a rigorous currency-valuation metric, I see it more as a quick-and-dirty cost-of-living index.

If you have a hunger for that type of thing, too, I’m glad to tell you there’s much more on the menu than just the Big Mac. Here’s a list to whet your appetite:

The Tall Latte Index
Also called the Starbuck’s index, this is another iteration from The Economist, comparing prices from the coffee chain.

The KFC Index
Because McDonald’s has restaurants in only three African countries, the Big Mac Index doesn’t work very well on that continent. Therefore, Sagaci Research developed an index based on KFCs, which are present in nearly 20 nations in Africa. The metric is based on the price of an Original Recipe 15-piece bucket.

The Mini Mac Index
Invented by Benn Steil and Emma Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations, it compares the global prices of iPad Minis.

McDonald’s Index of Humanitarian Access
Jonathan Whittall, head of humanitarian analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders writes that

no country with a McDonald’s has ever rejected humanitarianism on ideological grounds. It is in those states where the economic and political influence of the west still has space that all components of the west’s foreign policy are accepted: both McDonald’s and INGOs.

The Coca-Cola Index
This analysis branches out a bit more, showing the relationship of Coke consumption with quality-of-life factors. Using UN figures, The Economist (those guys sure are busy), shows that countries’ higher rates of Coca-Cola drinking correlate with higher wealth, health, and political freedom. Have a Coke and a smile?

The Happy Planet Index
Speaking of smiles, the New Economics Foundation publishes this global ranking of “how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.” (I really wanted to find a “Happy Meal Index,” but so far, it hasn’t been created yet.)

And while we’re on the topic of quality of life, we have

The Better Life Index
from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The Legatum Prosperity Index

The Human Development Index and The Gender Development Index
from the United Nations Development Programme, and

The Where-to-Be-Born Index
from the Economist Intelligence Unit

And finally, if you’re looking for some straight-up cost-of-living indexes, take a look at

Expatistan’s Cost of Living Index and

Numbeo Indexes
The Numbeo site describes itself as “the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide.” Not only does it have an overall cost-of-living index, it also includes indexes that compare property prices, crime, health care, pollution, traffic, quality of life, and travel costs.


(D.H. and R.L.W, “The Big Mac Index,” The Economist, July 13, 2017; Daniel Politi, “Argentina’s Big Mac Attack,” Latitude, The New York Times, November 24, 2011; Darlene Storm, “Local Cost of a Big Mac Decides Ransom Amount for Fatboy Ransomware,” Computerworld, May 8, 2017; Jonathan Whittall, “The McDonald’s Index of Humanitarian Access,” MSF Analysis, February 7, 2014)


[photo: “NRT: McDonald’s Menu,” by jpellgen, used under a Creative Commons license]

Are You OK? and Help! Two Things You Really Need to Learn to Say in Your Target Language [—at A Life Overseas]

September 27, 2017 § 2 Comments

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When you visit a country where the people don’t speak your language, there are several important phrases you should know how to say: things such as “Hello” and “Goodbye,” “How much is this?” “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Can I have ice with my water?” But when you move to that country, the stakes become higher. The important words and phrases become deeper and more necessary and more . . . important. They’re usually not covered in the first five chapters of your language book, and you may not end up learning them until you come face to face with the need for them. At least, that’s the way it was for me.

Are You OK?

The streets in Taiwan give new meaning to the phrase flow of traffic. Outnumbering automobiles two to one, scooters zip in and out to fill in the narrow gaps between cars, and when they all come to a red light, they pile up at the intersection, waiting to spill forward again when the light turns green. Watch that whitewater river for long, and you’ll see quite a few accidents.

One morning while I was walking to language school in Taipei, I came up to one of the city’s crowded intersections and waited to cross. As several lanes slowed for the light, a lady on a scooter was unable to stop and broke through the pack, sliding several feet on her side. She wasn’t hit by anyone, but she was slow getting up. My first thought was to run over to her and see how she was. I didn’t make it, though. First of all, by the time I could cross the street, she was back on her way, though pushing, not riding, her scooter now. And second, I didn’t know what to say.

Yes, I knew the greeting “How are you?” but that’s not the right question for someone who might be hurt. I knew how to say several other things, too, but none of them seemed appropriate. I could imagine the woman’s horror having me, a foreigner, rush up to her in her time of need, letting loose with my vocabulary of “Hello. How are you? I’m an American. What part of Taipei are you from? What’s you’re favorite food? I like pizza.”

It’s one thing to be able to say the equivalent of How are you? Howdy, or What’s up? It’s another to go beyond trite formality, to ask a caring question and expect a heartfelt response.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “helping-hand,” by Faith @101, used under a Creative Commons license]

Where Are You From? 2, 3, 4

September 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

“Where Are You ‘Really’ From? Try Another Question”

Latinos, Asians and people who fall in between the black-white racial binary in the United States are those who are most likely to be asked, often in casual conversation, about their racial or ethnic roots. On the surface, the question, “Where are you from?” seems innocuous. And for many of those asking the question, it is often an expression of genuine curiosity, an effort to connect, or a way to learn more about someone. But for those on the receiving end, like me, it can be a different experience.

As someone who writes about race and relishes a good conversation about it, maybe I should be the last person saying that being asked where I’m “really from” is tiresome and predictable.

But it is.

Critics of microaggression say people like me are being too sensitive about harmless, everyday questions.

I disagree.

I think it’s about time we questioned the question.

Tanzina Vega, CNN, August 25, 2017

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