Identity Crisis Or Education Opportunity?

I am pleased to feature Tayo Rockson in a guest post today. Tayo featured me on his blog last week. Tayo Rockson is an author, podcaster, and digital marketer. Born in Nigeria and raised throughout Africa, Europe, North America and Asia, Tayo’s upbringing as a global nomad and Third Culture Kid gave him a unique perspective on life and he has remained committed to building the next set of global leaders. To read more about Tayo and find out about his upcoming podcast and books, visit his blog at, like his page on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.
Tayo Rockson

Tayo Rockson


Identity Crisis Or Education Opportunity?
By Tayo Rockson

“Why is your hair so curly?” he said to me, and before I could catch my breath, he proceeded with a  “and why is it so short?”

I was 10 years old at the time but I had been in my new international school for maybe two weeks. As you can imagine some sort of confusion crept into me.

Why would anyone ask me such a thing?

Did my hair texture make me uncool to him?

Should I grow it out?

I didn’t realize that a feature on my body could make me unrelatable to someone.

I eventually mumbled out something to the effect of “because I am black?” and shrugged.

Of course these questions seem silly now, but to a pre-teen they definitely weren’t. I imagine other TCK’s have gotten different variations of this question. Fast forward to a 17 year old me in college as a freshman in Virginia and these questions had morphed into “Why is your English so good?”, “Do you ride on animals since you don’t have cars?” and my personal favorite which I got from my college roommate after finding out that I was not African American but African. “Do you live in those huts like they show on TV?”

My reaction this time was with an incredulous laugh before I calmly said no and talked about where I was from and why my “English” was so good.

I educated him on the history of Nigeria, how we were colonized by the British, and how while there are huts in Africa, there are many modern things that we have as well. I let him know that people around the world had advanced.

Over the years, I still get these questions but I don’t laugh anymore. I don’t even get offended. I take them in stride because I realize that my responses are an opportunity to educate and erase different stereotypes.


Have you experienced these teachable moments? How do you handle awkward questions like these? Like Tayo, my sisters and I were asked similar questions whenever we returned to the U.S. after living overseas. The questions never fail to astound me. Yet, I now realize they arise from curiosity and a lack of exposure. I will admit that as a child, I sometimes made up wild answers just to see the reaction. How about you?

Aging TCKs: A Guest Post


By Jenni Gate

I am a guest today on Tayo Rockson’s Blog. Tayo is an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK), like me, who grew up on several different continents. He is passionate about helping others, especially other global nomads. Ever since I “met” Tayo online, I have been enchanted with his personality, his intelligence, and his positive, youthful, contagious attitude.

Tayo gave me the opportunity to write about aging as TCKs, some of the common issues we face, and finding mechanisms to adapt. Please check it out, and leave a comment, if you’re so inclined. 

Here’s the link: Aging TCKs

Is Chiang Mai the Place?

House god - Chiang Mai

By Jenni Gate

We fell in love with Chiang Mai. This was the place we most wanted to explore in Thailand, and it did not disappoint. While in the city, we did the typical tourist activities, shopping in the night market, floating the Mae Ping River, cooking up a storm at a cooking school, talking with a monk at Monk Chat, and playing with elephants at an elephant camp. But we also took advantage of the opportunity to talk to expats and locals about life in Chiang Mai, cost of living, visas, and whether local people appreciate and accept expats in their midst. In the weeks since our trip, Chiang Mai rings in our minds like the ancient iron bells adorning its temples. 

The military coup was a non-issue everywhere we went in Thailand. Most people we talked to, both Thais and expats, said the military did the only thing that could be done in the situation, and people were happy about the military presence. One concern we heard from expats that took more importance in their view than the coup is that no one knows what will happen if and when the King dies. His son has expressed dislike of foreigners, but where tourism is Thailand’s economic driving force it is not likely changes would be made detrimental to the industry.

Soldiers in Chiang Mai

Soldiers in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is on the short list of places where we would consider living during the Catch 55 phase of our lives, the years when we are too young to retire, yet our age works against us in our careers. We are not ready to pack up and move yet. We still have a lot to discuss, and we need to determine a way to be able to work wherever we go. Retirement visas are an option, but require a pile of cash to be deposited in a Thai bank or proof of retirement income. Employment that would sponsor a visa is the better option. To that end, I completed a certification course last month to teach English as a foreign language, and I am volunteering at a local organization that provides classes to immigrants. We are also checking out the Peace Corps as a way to get started on a life abroad.

Sculptures abound in Chiang Mai

Sculptures abound in Chiang Mai

Any move like this would require intensive preparation and planning, and we will not leave jobs that are serving their purpose at the moment. There are a few other places we want to check out. But we see new options before us. 

What about you? How do you see your next couple of decades? Are you exploring new places to live or retire, or are you happy where you are?

Review of Trailing: A Memoir


By Jenni Gate

Normally when I read memoirs, I take my time getting through them to absorb the entire experience and think through the challenges and observations of the author. Reading Trailing: A Memoir, by Kristin Louise Duncombe, was like reading a thriller. I could not put it down.

Engrossing, yet familiar, it called to mind my own experiences as a child growing up in Africa and my adult experiences as a wife trailing a husband.  The intense ordeal of being car-jacked in Nairobi, described in the fast-paced opening of the memoir, brought to mind the numerous robberies and attempted break-ins, not to mention riots, wars, and evacuations that my family went through in Africa. I thought, not for the first time, about the emotions my parents, and especially my mother must have worked through after each of these events.

The memoir tracks the author’s growth from young college graduate to a mature professional. Marrying a doctor, she follows him to East Africa, struggling to develop a career in his shadow. She notes that many of her more extreme reactions were rooted in classic post-traumatic stress disorder, but she was too close to her distress to recognize the symptoms. I felt that even if she had, there were few resources at hand for her to draw on. It made me think about how much of my own childhood overseas was marked by similar experiences that my sisters and I considered normal growing up, but later realized were far out of the ordinary. Those experiences continue to affect our adult decisions and the patterns of our lives.

I wish the author had covered in more depth the events of her global upbringing and how they influenced her later reactions as a trailing spouse. I enjoyed and was fascinated by the memoir and by the author’s experience counseling trailing spouses and teens in globally-mobile families. Learning more about the lifestyle of professionals in Médecins Sans Frontières and the work they do was fascinating.

If you are a “trailing” spouse or if you grew up in a globally-mobile family, this memoir is well worth reading. You can buy it on Amazon here: 

Trailing: A Memoir

Trailing: A Memoir

Cruising the Mae Ping River

Chiang Mae from River Ping

By Jenni Gate Wishing to see more of the city of Chiang Mai than the Old City where we were staying, we took a Red Truck or Songthaew to Wat Chaimongkhon where we hired a long-tail boat to take us down the Mae Ping River.

Wat Chaimongkhon

Wat Chaimongkhon

River Cruise

River Cruise

The river cruise floats through the city, past several homes of the royal family, and to a country farm.

The farm was featured in the movie Rambo as a place of snake charmers and cock-fights. Now it is an herbalist's delight. We learned about several types of crops being grown, including rice and potatoes. The farm houses several traditional tools for separating the rice from its husks and for fishing. We had a break with fruit and lemongrass juice, then headed back to the city.

The cruise was a pleasant way to see a side of the city we would not have seen otherwise. It was a tranquil tour. What have you done to relax this summer?    

Thailand: Land of Buddha

Reclining Buddha-Chedi Luang

By Jenni Gate We are back from Thailand and settling back into our routines. The trip was a whirlwind, and although the time went fast, we had the opportunity to speak with many expats and Thais about Thailand, life there, and the possibility of finding work and/or retiring in Thailand. More on that soon.

Dragon in minor temple at Chedi Luang

Dragon in minor temple at Chedi Luang

Throughout Thailand, we enjoyed temples: glittering, shining, amazing temples. Although Thailand advertises itself in official literature passed out at the Grand Palace as “Buddha Land,” there are Hindu shrines alongside the Buddhist shrines everywhere. We learned during Monk Chat, our chat with a monk in Chiang Mai, that Buddhism and Hinduism are not mutually exclusive. Hinduism was the religion of Thailand before Buddhism, and Buddhism is more about self-improvement than religion (although it has all the trappings of religion). On our last full day in Krabi Province, on the southern coast of Thailand, faced with high winds and grounded longtail boats due to monsoons, we hired a driver and headed to the Tiger Cave Temple. The cave’s main claim to fame is the footprints of a tiger deep within a cave at the foot of a cliff. On top of the mountain above is a Buddha shrine. The climb to the top is 2,000 ft by a steep staircase of 1,262 unevenly-spaced steps frequented by monkeys and pit vipers. At the top is an impressive 912 ft. golden Buddha. In the sweltering jungle heat, we nearly turned back several times, but the climb was worth the exertion. The view was incredible, the Buddha was magnificent, and the setting was serene. I asked a monk how often he climbed the steps; his response was, “Every day.”

In Chiang Mai, we visited temples all over the city. To take a boat down the Mae Ping River, we passed through temple grounds. All week, as we walked the blocks near our hotel, we were walking next to a massive temple complex, yet we had no idea until we went in search of Monk Chat, an opportunity for monks at Wat Chedi Luang to practice English with tourists who have questions about Buddhism. The complex houses several minor temples, classrooms, and meeting spaces. At the center is a 600+-year-old temple which used to house an Emerald Buddha (now at Wat Luang Prabang in Laos). Fierce dragons guard the pyramid-like structure. Also on the grounds, Wat Phan Tao houses a golden reclining Buddha. 

At Monk Chat, we had an opportunity to ask a young, teenage monk about his daily routine, his beliefs, and how Buddhism regards many human problems. He was earnest and thoughtful, eyes bright as he described his beliefs about reincarnation and the cycles of desire and suffering. It was interesting, yet in a sign that he was bored after about an hour, he pulled out a cell phone and started texting. Then, after telling us that the monks only eat twice a day, once in the morning, and again at lunch, when we left the temple grounds, several monks exited a 7–11 with Slurpees in hand. Oh, the irony of our expectations!

Bangkok houses innumerable temples. The most famous is Wat Phra Kaew next to the Grand Palace. Again, there is a huge complex with the main temple and several minor temples, spires, and meeting places. The halls of the buildings surrounding Wat Phra Kaew contain murals of the Ramayana, the Hindu holy book. The Emerald Buddha is the most sacred Buddha in all of Thailand.

Taking the river taxis up and down the Chao Phraya River, we passed an ancient temple several times. On our last day in Bangkok, we decided to go to Wat Arun, a temple at least 400–500 years old and also known as the Temple of the Dawn. The name is from the Hindu god, Aruna, who is often depicted as the embodiment of the rising sun. The day we went was the first day of monsoons in Bangkok. We climbed stairs up 280 ft to the top where the view of Bangkok and the river Chao Phraya were stunning. We made it down the temple steps just before a deluge of rain.

To travel to Thailand is to feast your eyes on temples:  modern versus traditional lanna style, with intricate demons and demi-gods guarding each temple’s most prized possessions, the Buddha statues in various poses of contemplation, rest, and action.      

Gotta Bad Case of Krabi & Lovin It!

Krabi Monsoon

By Jenni Gate

Our trip to Thailand was long, with an hour flight to Vancouver, a 12-hour flight from Vancouver to Guangzhou, China and another 2-hour flight on to Bangkok. We overnighted in a cheap, mediocre hotel, then flew to Krabi the following morning.

Krabi is a land on the southern coast of Thailand with a karst landscape that looks like the mountains in an ancient Chinese brush painting. Karsts are limestone mountainous formations in odd shapes with thick, green bamboo jungles. The sides of the rock formations have partially eroded, giving shape to eerie pits and overhangs, as if candle-wax drippings adorn cliff faces. The erosion has created hundreds of caverns throughout the landscape. Where there is a cave, there is a Buddhist shrine or temple.

Karst mountains

Karst mountains

As it turns out, we arrived in Krabi at the height of the monsoons. While the rain cleared the air and created cool ocean breezes, it also increased the humidity in inland areas. Our hotel, the Aonang Cliff Beach Resort, was cool and spacious. Because of the coup, we were able to book it for the equivalent of $37 per night. The beds were hard, but we discovered a back massage worked wonders, and we slept like rocks afterwards. The food was good. Every morning, we had a breakfast buffet offering traditional Western and European breakfast foods as well as wonderful curries, with just the right amount of heat, and Thai soups.

Delicious curry breakfast

Delicious curry breakfast

After settling into our hotel, we wandered through the beach-front town of Aonang. Picturesque islands and rock formations dot the horizon. Thick with humidity, every storefront was stuffed with handcrafted goods, but the heat kept us from wandering in too far. The town of Aonang seems to have an Indian restaurant on every block, alternating with massage establishments and tour companies offering identical tours. After looking at all the tours on offer, we ruled out a trip over to the Phi Phi Islands due to weather. The James Bond Island tour promised an overland drive with a longtail-boat ride in a protected harbor. While looking at brochures, a woman in a headscarf called out to us, “James Bond, James Bond.” Duncan took off his glasses and said, “I am NOT James Bond!” The woman and her co-workers  laughed and laughed. We booked the James Bond Island tour the following morning. Thereafter, every time we passed that shop, the woman all twittered and called out to Duncan, “James Bond!”

The next morning, a lady-boy gathered us into a van with several German, Australian, and New Zealander tourists, driving us into the countryside about an hour-and-a-half towards Phuket. From a pier at Ban Tha Dan, we tottered into a large long-tail boat and headed south within the Phang Nga Bay, part of Ao Phang Nga National Park in the Strait of Malacca.

Longtail Boat

Longtail Boat

A long-tail boat is a long, narrow boat with car engines mounted on a long pole. The engines are lowered into the water, choking out a tremendous amount of black smoke, and the boat is steered, balanced, and driven by the pole with engines trailing in the water. The faster it goes, the wetter the passengers get. It was pouring rain, and the waves were choppy. Drenched and dripping, we arrived at the island made famous by The Man With the Golden Gun. The landing is on an island called Khao Ping Kan. The view to James Bond Island is spectacular. The local people called it Ko Tapu, the Thai word for a nail, as it resembles a nail being hammered into the ocean. 

James Bond Island

James Bond Island

It is surreal and mystical. The trinket stalls crammed onto the island are ordinary, and the hawkers aggressive. They purport to sell saltwater pearls, but our guide warned us they are freshwater pearls. We didn’t bother to check for ourselves, opting to hike around the island instead and marvel at the leaning mountain — a slab of hillside that slid out, forming an area James Bond ascended in the movie.

From James Bond Island, we toured the mangrove swamps, gliding between massive trees rising out of the water between karsts and caverns. 


Further into the mangroves

Further into the mangroves

After lunch on Koh Panyee, an island of floating restaurants and a depressingly dirty marketplace, we arrived at a small Muslim school that seemed to lack books and other basic resources. The children were adorable and polite.


We traveled on to Suwannakuha Temple, a monkey temple with an impressive reclining, golden Buddha stretching nearly the length of the hall within the cavern. At the back of the cave was an open area, clearly meant for prayer. Beyond this was an area of caverns with stalactites and stalagmites and a treacherous climb up sheer limestone rock. 

Monkeys outside temple

Monkeys outside temple

Reclining Golden Buddha

Reclining Golden Buddha

That evening, we dined on the Aonang waterfront, entertained by a group of ladyboys advertising their burlesque show. The food was delicious, and the ladyboys were so attractive, it was hard to believe some of them were men. In Thai culture, these cross-dressers and transvestites are well-accepted, even encouraged. They hold positions as tour guides, masseuses, hostesses, and waitresses. Most Thais we observed treated the ladyboys with good humor, and we observed no discrimination.

Krabi is not as crazy as Phuket is reputed to be, and Aonang was relaxed and wonderful. If you go, plan to stay a few days. We loved Krabi.

Checklist For International Travel

Globe & tickets CC by 2.0 by kolobsek

By Jenni Gate

Once you’ve booked your ticket, started researching what you want to see and do, and roughed out an itinerary for exploring your destination, you need a checklist for international travel. Ours includes purchasing maps and guidebooks, booking hotels for at least the first night at each destination within a country, and planning what to pack. It’s rare for us to plan a trip to a beach resort where we stay at one spot, lie on a beach, and soak up the sun while we drink our brains out. I can only handle a few days of hanging out on a beach, and even then, I need to be active, hiking, climbing a sand dune, or taking long walks on the beach. We both love to explore! Our checklist reflects that. If your travel style is a beachy style, your checklist should reflect that — flip-flops and swim suits, shorts and t-shirts, and you’re good to go. Your checklist needs to be destination specific, budget conscious, and yet your core list needs standard items such as passports and toothpaste.

For our trip to Thailand, our checklist is in stages:

Stage 1: Planning

  • Check visa requirements, research whether visa can be obtained on arrival. 
  • Obtain maps and guidebooks, search out blogs and websites for background information
  • Check tourism websites for dates of major holidays (this should probably be done before booking your trip either to take part in festivities or avoid them)
  • Research hotels for at least the night of arrival (once there, in-person bargains are possible, unless there is a festival or major holiday making hotels scarce). We used for Ecuador, but we discovered for Thailand. At least in Thailand, its rates have been consistently better.
  • Decide how much cash to bring and which credit and debit cards. Call banks and credit card companies to let them know when and where you’re traveling (otherwise your card may be declined when you need it most).
  • Scan or photograph fronts and backs of cards, passport photo page, and other documents to transfer to an encrypted flash drive /USB stick. We used to bring a photocopy in our luggage in case a wallet or our passports were stolen, but an encrypted thumb drive is much more secure. 
  • Consider which activities to do. Eating at expensive restaurants doesn’t usually top our list because we’re budget conscious and space conscious. If it tops yours, you need to add appropriate clothing, shoes, and makeup to your packing checklist. Hiking, walking through museums, and meandering city streets while sampling food from roadside stands and cafes is our style. I forgo flip-flops for sturdy walking shoes or tennis shoes, comfortable clothing, and a hat, scarf, or lightweight hoodie I can wear if the sun is too bright or we wander into a temple or mosque.
  • Make arrangements for boarding pets or getting a house-sitter. 
  • Build your packing list, buy travel-size products or containers to fill your own.

Step 2: Preparing

  • Gather/print travel documents: itineraries, tickets, hotel reservations and rental care reservations and organize. I keep everything in a file folder stashed into the front of my carry-on luggage or backpack. Make sure it’s accessible. Passports we keep even more accessible. 
  • We travel light: one carry-on small suitcase and a backpack each. We also have an assortment of money belts, neck pouches, etc. And see through ziplock bags for toiletries.
  • My packing list includes:
  • Camera, rechargeable batteries, and charger
  • Netbook and power supply (old and on its last leg, barely connects to wifi anymore, but if it gets lost or stolen, it won’t be a tragedy.
  • Adapters / transformers for European electrical outlets
  • A week’s worth of underwear and socks, rolled up and stuffed in the nooks and crannies of the suitcase. After a week, we’ll launder.
  • Swim suit, sunglasses, book
  • Lightweight trousers and shorts
  • Two T-shirts (one for sleep), three lightweight blouses (1 dressy, in case we go to a nice restaurant).
  • Sleep shorts.
  • Sandals. Sunscreen, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, brush and comb, allergy pills, aspirin and Tums.

For the flight I will wear travel socks and walking shoes, lightweight jeans, blouse and a lightweight sweater. Flights get long and cold. Compression socks aren’t sexy, but they can keep feet and ankles from swelling uncomfortably on 16–18 hour flights. (Under age 40, this is probably not a concern. Over age 40, we all turn into our parents!)

What’s your travel style? What’s your ideal vacation? What types of activities do you most enjoy or dread when you travel? Most important, did I leave anything off my list? 

Passport stamps

Passport stamps

Bon voyage!

Tandoori Chicken

Dinner's Ready

By Jenni Gate

One of my favorite memories of walking through markets in Pakistan and India is the citrus-scent of Tandoori chicken grilled on skewers on portable grills. Tandoori chicken can be cooked any number of ways. One of my favorites is to bake it in a clay roasting pan (one with a clay lid is perfect). The result is a tender chicken that practically melts in your mouth. It could also be slow cooked or cooked in a wok, but by far my favorite way is to skewer the chicken and cook it on the grill. 

Chicken cooking

Chicken cooking

Tonight we had Tandoori chicken on skewers. I made the marinade yesterday. Tandoori chicken has its origins in the Punjab region which crosses Pakistan and northern India. It was originally cooked in clay ovens. The base is made of yogurt. Both the clay ovens and the yogurt probably originated in Egypt or the Middle East and made their way over the centuries by camel caravans through the desert and across the harsh terrain of Afghanistan into the Punjab. 

When I cook, I usually take a look at a few recipes, go back to some of my oldest Indian cookbooks, and then mix and match whatever appeals to me at the time of cooking. The first resource I turn to for barbecuing is Bobby Flay’s Boy Gets Grill cookbook. He has an excellent Tandoori chicken recipe that is good without modification. My go-to cookbook for Indian cooking is oil-stained with lots of page corners turned down. I have had this book for over 30 years: Traditional Indian Cookery by Jack Santa Maria. I also had on hand the Ultimate Curry Lover’s Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar. It’s a good resource because of its step-by-step photos.

Here is the loose recipe I ended up with by combining, picking, choosing, and cooking to taste (we love garlic!).

Scrumptious Tandoori Chicken
Serves 4
A delicious Tandoori chicken, not too spicy, with a tangy flavor. Great with coconut rice.
Write a review
180 calories
14 g
58 g
5 g
21 g
3 g
217 g
92 g
6 g
0 g
3 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 180
Calories from Fat 47
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5g
Saturated Fat 3g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 58mg
Sodium 92mg
Total Carbohydrates 14g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 6g
Protein 21g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 2–3 Chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
  2. 1/2 to 1 teaspoon saffron mixed with 1/4 cup of warm water
  3. 1–2 cups of plain yogurt (Greek yogurt works well)
  4. 1 small onion quartered (chop or mince a quarter to flavor the marinade)
  5. 4–8 cloves garlic, minced (less if you’re not wild about garlic)
  6. 1/4 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (one of us is not a ginger lover, so I go light on this)
  7. Grated lime peel to taste
  8. Juice of 1–2 small limes
  9. 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  10. 3 teaspoons cumin
  11. 1–2 teaspoons turmeric (turmeric is bitter, go easy)
  12. 1 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  13. 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
  14. 1 teaspoon onion powder
  15. Ground white pepper to taste
  16. Metal skewers or soaked wooden skewers
  1. Cut chicken, poke several holes in the pieces with a fork, and set aside. Soak saffron in water, set aside.
  2. In mixing bowl mix together yogurt, spices, lime juice, and grated lime peel. Stir until marinade is well blended. Add saffron and mix. Add chicken pieces and onion (both chopped pieces and quarters) and stir together. Marinade at least a couple of hours or overnight.
  3. Make an aluminum foil tray (fold ends and sides up) to hold skewers. Alternate chicken and onion pieces on skewers. We fill the skewers nearly up, fitting about 3 pieces of chicken on wooden skewers or twice that on metal skewers. We’ve found the best way to place the skewers on the grill is to place the foil tray on with the skewers inside. Otherwise, if the yogurt is not too thick or too much lime juice or water was used, the process is pretty messy on a grill.
  4. Cook the skewers, turning frequently and basting regularly with the leftover marinade. We cook the chicken slowly over medium heat. Cooking time is generally between 15–20 minutes, depending on how high the heat is and how well done you like it. We cook slowly to keep it tender.
  5. Great served with coconut rice or couscous.
  1. Some people also add ground cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon for a sweeter flavor. I love it that way, but some of my family don’t share my passion for cloves or cardamom. Try it some time, or set a portion aside to test. You may love the sweet spices. Also, I sometimes add a little hot curry powder. This is totally to taste. The yogurt helps take the heat out.
Adapted from Boy Gets Grill, Traditional Indian Cookery, Ultimate Curry Lover’s Cookbook
Adapted from Boy Gets Grill, Traditional Indian Cookery, Ultimate Curry Lover’s Cookbook
Nomad Trails and Tales
 We had our Tandoori chicken with rice cooked in coconut milk and grilled lemon asparagus, accompanied with dark beer. It was fab!

Quito, Ecuador

Quito Cathedral

By Jenni Gate

We ended our trip to Ecuador in mid-March with four days in Quito. The rainy season in Quito is October to April, which is the opposite of the rainy season on the coast. In mid-March, it rained daily. The word Quito is derived from the word “quitsato” from the Tsafiqui language of the Tsachilas people of the coast of Ecuador. Quitsato means middle of the world. With its dizzying elevations and cool temperatures, it is hard to think of it as an equatorial town, or as the middle of the world. It is the cultural center of Ecuador.

The city of Quito lies at a few different elevations, but the lowest, in the valley near the airport, is about 8,500 ft. The main city square, Plaza de la Independencia, is at an elevation of 9,350 ft.  The TeleferiQo rises to 12,943 ft.   

View from TeleferiQo Cable car

View from TeleferiQo Cable car

If you go to Quito, arrive on a Monday or Tuesday because lots of things close on the weekends, and we found a lot of museums closed on Mondays. While we were there, I never got used to the altitude and felt sick much of the time. On top of that, I got food poisoning two days before we left. Duncan loved Quito, but it was not my favorite part of the trip. I loved our hotel, the Cafe Cultura, and I enjoyed sight-seeing. But by the end of our stay, I was ready to come home. 

Our explorations included the Quito Old Town with the Plaza de la Independencia, the TeleferiQo, a mistaken trip to El Panecillo while we were trying to find the TeleferiQo ... in the rain. On the weekend, as we made our way to the Old Town, we were informed the taxi could not get us close because of the parade. We asked what the parade was for, but the driver waved his hand dismissively and said it was something the President wanted. Later, when we asked the hotel clerk, she said the President started having parades and festivals in the Old Town to encourage families into the downtown area on the weekends. She was also dismissive of it. We thought it was spectacular.

Quito is a lovely, vibrant, lively city with an active cultural life. The parade was fun, and the street entertainers after the parade were great. There are fabulous museums, and numerous churches and cathedrals to explore. Quito's classical Spanish architecture led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My husband was enchanted with all it had to offer. Personally, I fell in love with the music. After the parade, we were mesmerized by a couple of young harpists. I have never heard a harp played with such joy, ingenuity, and passion. I wish I could learn more about them.

We also took a day trip to Mitad del Mundo (the center of the earth) on the equator, and to Otavalo and Cotacachi. Duncan thought Mitad del Mundo would be too touristy, but we had a lengthy discussion with one of the scientists studying the equator and found it fascinating. Everyone who has been to Otavalo and Cotacachi told us we would love the authentic marketplace at Otavalo and the town famous for its leather at Cotacachi. We felt both were touristy and did not feel authentic. Had we been 20 years younger, it may have had more appeal. At this point in our lives, we are trying to de-clutter and free ourselves of our possessions, not buy more. The guide we hired for the day, Juan Carlos,* was a bit at a loss what to do with us since we weren't interested in shopping, so he took us through an indigenous village to look at local handicrafts. We visited a weaver and a flute-maker. 

Along the way, Juan Carlos told us about the bloody history between the Spaniards and the Inca, the march of 10,000 people up the hills in Quito by Francisco Pizarro, and the refusal of the Inca people to share the secret of quinine for malaria with the Spaniards. He commented on the plants surrounding Quito. About 20 percent are endemic to Ecuador. Endemic plants are unique to one place. Natural plants are found in other places. Juan Carlos explained that many natural plants, like Eucalyptus, were introduced to Ecuador by foreigners. They are well-suited to the climate, but they suck up a lot of water and resources. There is a movement to remove the introduced plants, but they have spread, in some cases uncontrollably.

Volcano near Cotacachi

Volcano near Cotacachi

In Cotacachi, we saw several expats, and Juan Carlos told us the grocery stores now cater to them. Restaurants are adding to their menus, and there is a growing community of American and European retirees. Yet the town has a remote, small-town atmosphere. I was a little sad thinking that the expats are changing the culture as the culture adapts to the expats. That is the nature of intercultural relations. But if I were Ecuadorian, I might not appreciate the changes. 

We decided against the region as a retirement destination for us, partly due to the elevation. We also felt that expats living in remote areas of Ecuador may be targets for everything from higher pricing to scams to potential violence. This may change with time. If I were a horse person and wanted a quiet life with a bit of land and a place to raise horses, Cotacachi might be ideal. My husband decided he would quickly be bored, and I thought it was a bit too far removed from the city with everything a city has to offer. We need a way to make some sort of income, and it was hard to imagine what sort of work we could do, what sort of lifestyle we would have, without eating up our savings in the process. I came home and started a course to learn to teach English as a foreign language.

Next trip: Thailand. Do you have travel plans this summer? What destinations are on your horizon?  *If you plan a trip to Quito and need a first class guide to show you around, please contact me through the contact form on my “About” page for Juan Carlos’s e-mail address and phone number. He was knowledgeable, patient, and wonderful. We appreciated his private tour, as well as his company for the day. I learned a lot about Ecuador through its guides.

Top Tip: Wait to buy your ticket AFTER Martial Law is declared

Ayutthaya, Thailand

By Jenni Gate

This post is a wee bit late, partly because we have been planning our upcoming trip to Thailand. About three weeks ago, we booked our tickets and sailed into research and planning mode. Last weekend, we planned our itinerary and started booking hotels. Then Monday, Thailand declared martial law. And airfare dropped.

Our research took a slightly different route after that. We took a deep dive into Thai history, checked the State Department website, and looked at every news article available. Conclusion: this is probably not that big a deal, and it may keep things stable while we’re there. We will keep an eye on the news, and if necessary, avoid Bangkok during our trip or at least limit our stay.

We plan to spend about three or four days in each of three regions, starting with Bangok, then the beaches, and lastly the mountains of the northwest. 

If you have been to Thailand, are there specific places we should or should not go? I would love to hear if anyone has been to Thailand recently.


Ayutthaya, Thailand



UPDATE: News this morning is of a full-blown military coup. A 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew has been instituted, and it is unclear what this means for tourists. We may end up traveling into Bangkok and straight out again or foregoing that part of our trip. Still researching!


Motherhood in Ecuador

By Jenni Gate

Today in the USA was Mother’s Day. I am a mother to two bright, young adults and 3 adult step-children. Motherhood in today’s complicated era can mean many things, and I recognize my friends who are both mother and father to a child as they single parent, or as they raise an adopted child in an alternative marriage, or if they are mom to a furry feline or canine pet. 

My mom raised my sisters and me through a highly mobile life in and out of the Third World, through riots and coups and wars and the US race riots of the 1960s, through the death of her second child, and through the uncertainties of the political and cultural sea-changes of the 1960s and 1970s. She has continued to be a touchstone for us in our adult lives, even as she began to grapple with memory loss and aging.

Modern motherhood for me means my own adult children live a three-hour flight from me, just as for my parents it has meant my sisters and I have mostly lived several hours’ flight from them. Highly mobile children produce highly mobile children. I only hope I can be the emotional touchstone for my children that my parents have been for me.

Though it’s mostly over today, the sentiment is still there. Happy Mother’s Day!

Third Culture Kid Perspectives

Between worlds

By Jenni Gate

Last week I posted about the difference between expats and third culture kids (TCKs) here:

When an expat goes home, it is a return to a place they know well. Things may have changed while they were gone, but they are familiar with the cultural norms and expectations, and they can easily fit back into their old ways of life.

For the third culture kid, on the other hand, a lot more is going on under the surface. Saying goodbye to one place and moving to another means giving up a whole world of people, places, things, cultural norms, habits, ideals, and expectations that might never be revisited. TCKs are expected to know their parents’ home culture in a new, strange place that feels nothing like home. Struggling to fit in, they make social gaffes, cultural faux-pas, and all the mis-steps that reinforce a feeling of not belonging, not fitting in. Even extended family might shun the TCK during this phase, when connections are difficult to form, reinforcing a feeling of being outcast.

As expat parents settle back in and get re-acquainted with their home, they probably do not realize how much angst the child has just under the surface. They may forget that their child doesn’t know the culture; that their home is not home for the child. Parents often assume their child has picked up the passport culture through them.

While it is true we TCKs pick up some of our parents’ culture through them, we cannot possibly absorb it all. We also learn the culture from the wider world outside our family, from our classmates, teachers, shop clerks, coaches, extended family, neighbors, and in many cases through our parents’ religion. Sometimes we form our roots in the system that sent our parents overseas. That could be the military, a religious institution, a corporation or industry, or a government agency. Giving that system up can shake us to our foundation.

For the returning expat parent, the home culture fits like a glove they can slip back into. For the third culture child or adolescent, it is another culture to be learned, another world with its own social norms, expectations, ideals, language, and perspective. When a third culture kid makes numerous blunders trying to fit into a place everyone expects them to know already, it becomes obvious they are a misfit, an alien, a stranger in their own country. TCKs suffer these feelings of being an outsider while also experiencing intense homesickness for the people, places, and culture left behind. That feeling of not belonging anywhere, or of being at home somewhere in between cultures (maybe seat 38C on an aircraft flying high over the Atlantic) becomes the third culture kid’s reality.

The expat parent already knew who they were when they moved away, knew their culture, and knew their niche in it. Coming home to extended family that knows and loves them is easy. For the child who spent a year or more, maybe even a childhood outside the parents’ home culture, even interactions with extended family who are supposed to love and accept them can be fraught with uncertainty, misunderstandings, and further proof to the child of non-acceptance. The extended family may not realize what the expat parents and third culture child or adolescent have lived through on the other side of the planet. The third culture kid might not have adequate words to describe the complex emotions of living between worlds.

My first year back in the US for college was painful. I came to the US in early summer after graduation and stayed with a cousin for a couple of months. My parents flew in, picked me up at my cousin’s and drove me to the school a couple of states away. They helped me find my dorm, lug my boxes into my room, find the campus bookstore, and then they drove away and soon returned to Pakistan.

My passport said I was American. I felt American, but I knew little of US culture, music, television, or cultural references. I had just come from a country where the average income was around $100 per year at that time. At the college, I watched girls in designer dresses flirting with boys in brand new sports cars. I could not relate to them. My clothes were Pakistani and US hippie, faded jeans and t-shirts. I had no idea what a typical teenager heading to college was supposed to act like. I missed my family and friends in Pakistan, and I was homesick for a place I was not sure I would ever be able to return to. I had just been through armed conflict in Afghanistan, and I was busy stuffing down my feelings about watching people being murdered, yet trying to be friendly and fit in with roommates who had never left their home town before college. Of course, I did not fit in. Of course, I made enormous social mistakes. Of course, I was accused of name dropping and being a snob because when I spoke of home, I spoke of an exotic country with servants and friends who were children of ambassadors. I did not have the skills to bridge the emotional, cultural, and social gaps between us then. 

As a third culture kid matures, learns to adapt, and overcomes some of these issues, he becomes a social mediator, able to surf between cultures, find ways of sharing knowledge, and reach across the cultural divide to bridge these gaps. But these skills may not develop until adulthood when the individual is able to begin piecing together the patchwork of his life. He learns he is skilled at adapting to new cultures and situations. He has a seemingly natural ability to speak to people on the sidelines of the culture. He fluctuates between total independence — believing he doesn’t need anyone else, to utter loneliness and the realization that he needs a sense of community to thrive. When we realize there is a name for our experience and that we are part of a larger “tribe” of other TCKs who understand us, it is a moment of joyful relief.

The third culture child becomes an expert at masking feelings and stuffing them down in order to put on a front to the outside world. If he pretends to fit in long enough, eventually he will appear to. Or, the child may be shy and withdrawn and reject her new world. Either way, the learning curve can be steepest in the place where everyone assumes they belong.

While an expat’s experience outside his or her home country may be rich and full, a third culture kid’s experience is complex, layered like an onion with intersecting cultural cues, language, and expectations. Our highly mobile childhoods tend to make us feel rootless and restless as adults, eager to move and anxious about settling down. Most TCKs value their mobile childhood and appreciate the opportunities that tend to outweigh the identity issues. Yet self-image shifts with each relocation; frame of reference is mobile and fluid;  identity is like a chameleon changing color as the social situation demands.  And almost every TCK grows to hate being asked the question, “Where are you from?” 

Today, there are more expats moving around the globe than ever before. The children who follow them have similar, yet different needs as they grow. TCKs are true global citizens, and many of us have split allegiances or feel an allegiance to the planet more than to any particular nation. We need to understand the different perspectives of expats and TCKs in order to build on our strengths and find our niche in our communities. Third culture kids are complicated creatures with many issues, but also with global perspectives. Our TCK perspectives are becoming the new norm. 

Happy May Day, Throwback Thursday, and International Labor Day!

By Jenni Gate

This is an anniversary of sorts for me and many of my friends who were trapped in Kabul on May 1, 1978, after the first Russian-backed coup. We were there for a school cultural convention when the bombing started, and we were still there a few days later for the Russian May Day Parade, a great display of military prowess through the bombed out city streets. By May 1, most of the bodies had been removed, but I still remember watching from the house where I stayed the Russian and Afghan soldiers as they marched through the street, accompanied by tanks, in full military garb with AK47s and bayonets. It was the beginning of Afghanistan’s descent into over 30 years of warfare, violence, and anarchy.

Today, with May Day protests and riots taking place worldwide, for worker’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and other human rights, it is a good reminder that the world needs more May poles and fewer weapons, more peace pipes and fewer drones, more peaceful protests and fewer crack downs by authoritarian powers.

Russian Soldiers on BMD-1 in Afganistan

Russian Soldiers on BMD-1 in Afganistan CCx3.0 Wikimedia

Go create some sunshine!

Lotus by Schicka CCx3.0

Lotus by Schicka CCx3.0