Author: Edited by Shannon Young
Every so often I come across a book recommendation on some expat site on books written by expats, which I am always quick to order or download hoping to gain some insight into women having similar experiences to mine. Sometimes I do find some reads that confirm that these feelings of displacement are indeed perfectly normal; or that it’s okay to not fit the mould of the happy expat wife going along with the banalities of the expat life; or that there can be much fault in a life perceived as glamorous by most. The stories in How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? are written by expat women in Asia, and are, as one review puts it, “an eclectic, soulful collection of stories by badass women who have ventured far out of their comfort zones.” The title itself is taken from one of the stories about the cultural rules that exist in expat locations which are most times unwritten, thus extremely difficult to navigate.
By far one of my favourites in the collection is Shannon Dunlap’s Forwarding Addresses, which is written as an exchange of letters between the author and the various people in the life she left at home, all divided up into the seasons experienced in Cambodia: Wet, Cool and Hot. The Weight of Beauty is written by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, a Chinese-American woman who has moved to China with her husband – making her an outsider because she does speak Mandarin, even though she speaks Cantonese, and because she was considered ‘big’ by Chinese standards – after growing up ‘petite’ and ‘tiny’ in the US. Some of the stories read more like personal journal entries with no real insight into what the daily challenges of these women’s lives entail.
Moving to the tropic of Cancer is a brave telling of Phillippa Ramsden’s story of being diagnosed with cancer whilst living in Burma. She recounts in great detail the process of discovery; the personal research into her illness and the ensuing treatment which she had to undertake in neighbouring Thailand. She movingly describes the fear felt during this time. This was one of the more touching tales of the harder and darker side of expat life – having to deal with a potentially life-threatening disease away from home and from the support system to be found amongst family. Nicola Chilton’s Five Weeks On always exposes the more realistic part of living in a country that goes through a natural disaster. In her story she describes the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan.
The collection of stories is varied and includes the more lighthearted stories of the expat life: the process of moving; of settling in; of integrating (or not) into a new society, and of making a life of what will be a brief sojourn in a foreign country. In addition it includes the more heart wrenching and harrowing tales that depict the less glamorous side of the peripatetic nature of expat life.
This was an interesting and at times entertaining read of the different perspectives of expat life in the East. I would highly recommend to expats who have had that moment of: is someone having a rougher time than I am right now with this so-called glamourous life?