Everywhere Is Exotic Or Nowhere Is

At the opening of TED University, a pre-event of TEDGlobal 2010 in Oxford, England, TED Curator June Cohen emceed. During a technical difficulty, she filled the time on stage by asking us in the live audience of 600 gathered from around the world, "Who came the farthest to get here?"

A few people shouted out locations. Kenya. India. Los Angeles.

Cohen repeated into the microphone each place. When she said Los Angeles, she deflected it as a possible winner for farthest by saying, "LA isn't exotic."

But that wasn't the question she put to us. And --

Exotic is relative. The only way it belongs in a global mindset is as a constant for everyone. So, either everywhere is exotic -- or nowhere is. We are all exotic, or no one is.


For me, the moment highlighted an ingrained provincialism at a supposedly global conference dedicated to "pushing the boundaries of what is known and expanding the possible."

The idea of what global means is still badly under-developed, and like this instance, too often freighted with the most self-centric assumptions.

Cool: the continuity and disconnect of who and where we are

We've got some cool stuff for the heat of midsummer. How we imagine our global viewpoint is created. New discussions highlight the continuity (or ooh, disconnect!) of the way we behave vs. our original culture.

Plus, tips on easy-breezy ways to track next week's international conference of game-changing rock star brainiacs.



Let us know what you'd ask the expat+HAREM community.

What kind of global citizen are you? Most of us (35%) are "all the above", apparently.

Answers to our poll at the site and LinkedIn reveal that besides travel and interest in a wider world, we're global from birth (26%), plus we've been schooled abroad+lived overseas+worked in various nations (23%).

[August2010 update: "All of the above" (43%). Schooled, lived, worked abroad (21%). Travel and wider interest (15%). Born global (14%).]


AT expat+HAREM

In the past month we've debated some ticklish topics: how risky behavior defines our world, the right time and place for flesh (it's not as clear-cut as you'd think), and a proud alternative to boo-yah culture.

Everyone wants to know more about our guest posters so we're happy to introduce a page of blogger bios...see what they look like, where they're from, where they've been and where they're headed now.

You probably noticed we've started using Disqus to integrate our comments across the web. Why's that cool? Lots of reasons for the commenter, but our favorite is what it does for the rest of us who like to follow your thinking: it creates a feed -- say, your voice at the sites you care most about -- that we all can subscribe to!



There's nothing bigger than next week's TEDGlobal, the international conference of ideas worth spreading, in Oxford.

This year's gathering of 700 aims to uplift. "And Now the Good News" brings together activists (like the guy who swam a *chilly* meltwater lake on Mt. Everest in a Speedo for heaven's sake), scientists, and artists (like the "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" uberdiva Annie Lennox) to discuss their work to make this planet a better place.

There will even be a time-traveling retronaut. Dude says "if the past is a foreign country, this is your passport." See how he does it, you can too!

The potent 18-minute talks from this summer's program will be viewable eventually at TED.com but to track the happenings real-time through people on the ground, try my Twitter feed, peek at my list of 80+ Tweeting attendees, and search the conference's hashtag.


Stay cool,



Check out June's "Solstice reading"


Cyberwarfare = Blocked Access To Cake Recipes

I’m on vacation/in post-TED Global recovery this August. Taking social networking easy as well, I posted a chocolate cake recipe on Facebook. You can whip up the quickie soufflé-like treat in a coffee mug with the help of a microwave. The indulgent little formula emailed by my Sacramento sister comes from a world I haven’t lived in for years.

Microwave cooking. White sugar and vegetable oil. It’s so mainstream retro — and a crowd pleaser.

The instant mug cake drew twenty times more reaction than an ultra-topical link to TED Fellow Evgeny Morozov’s explanation of the Russian state-sponsored censorship of a Georgian blogger which caused massive outages at Facebook and Twitter last week. Morozov, a Belorussian Internet scientist I met in Oxford, studies how the online world influences global affairs. He might have had better luck framing the issue this way: cyberwarfare trend = blocked access to future cake recipes.

Even so, the spontaneous manifestation of cupcake-community activism was cheering. Friends from Alaska to Florida, Malaysia to India to Germany engaged and collaborated. They experimented and shared results from pudding and “the perfect soufflé” to admitting a skimped-on-the-oil need “to compensate by eating it with some vanilla ice cream”. Others predicted child-friendliness or posted the instructions to their own walls.

Dog days of summer may not be the best time to come together to solve the world’s weighty problems but apparently it’s a good time to master soufflé-for-one.

Ever experience a heavy-to-soufflé moment that shifts your sync point?



P.S.. I know you want it:


4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons oil

3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)

A small splash of vanilla extract

1 large coffee mug (Microwave safe)



Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well.

Add the egg and mix thoroughly.

Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.

Add the chocolate chips and vanilla extract, and mix again.

Put mug in microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.

The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed!

Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.

Reading Travelers: Find Your Historical Context

"Can you share a travel secret?" asked an online travel site for women prepping its annual feature of tips from women writers worldwide. "Read the women who went before us," I replied. "Or, read about them."

For this expat/ archaeologist/ writer/ traveler, cultural wisdom pools at the intersection of women and travel.  The romance and grit of historical travelogue connects me to the land -- and reminds me of travel's transformative force in the lives of women. Reputation-risking. Life-threatening. Culturally redeeming. Personally empowering.  (My post about a related controversial history.)

Adventurous Women in Southeast Asia (Oxford-in-Asia), a selection of traveler sketches by historian John Gullick, gave my own struggling expatriate experience new meaning when I was sweating it out for 5 years in the Malaysian jungle. Playing an attitudinal extra aristocrat on the 1860s filmset of "Anna and The King" with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat in 1999 (next to a pig farm during a swine flu outbreak, but that's another post!), I appreciated learning about the dark side of the iconic governess to the Siamese court. Foster may have played Anna Leonowens prim, proper and principled but actually the lady was a scrappy mixed-blood mistress of reinvention. There was hope for me!

If you plan a trip to Turkey maybe Cultures in Dialogue holds similar promise for you. The print-on-demand series resurrects antique writings by American and British women about their travels in Turkey (1880s to 1940s), along with surprisingly political writing by women of the Ottoman empire. Contempo analysis by spunky scholars Reina Lewis and Teresa Heffernan refreshes the context of a region in transition.

Any favorite antique travel reads? What draws you to by-gone reports? +++++ Check out some of expat+HAREM’s favorite hybrid life reads here.

Reacting To Taboo: How Avoidance Can Make Us Complicit

I'm looking forward to attending TEDGlobal in Oxford especially since the 2009 conference's theme is "The Substance of Things Not Seen".  Invisibility, hiddenness, misapprehension -- all are threaded  through my own work. Consider Expat Harem's anachronistic, titillating concept. It taps into robust yet erroneous Western stereotypes about Asia Minor and the entire Muslim world: a forbidden world of cloistered women. When infused with a modern and virtual positivity -- the Expat Harem as peer-filled refuge and natural source of foreign female wisdom  -- a masked reality emerges: the harem as a female powerbase. This is an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.

"Help people talk about what they're most afraid of," is a mantra I've been hearing a lot from thoughtful personalities in my life. But first we have to surmount our own resistance to the topics.

I'm discovering with my latest book project, a forensic memoir of friendship, that taboo has an unintended cloaking effect. Societal taboos may be meant to protect us from harmful practices yet banishing from our thoughts the most unimaginable and unspeakable human acts only makes us blind to them happening in our midst.

By finding it so unthinkable, we make possible for taboo behavior to continue in our communities.

Name a taboo from your life.  When you hear it mentioned, what’s your reaction?