Home is where the home is


As my time here in Dar winds down– two more months!— I find myself in a typical state of emotional schizophrenia. Each day goes by with me wavering between great anticipation for what is ahead, and some melancholy sadness for the things I’ll leave behind. Plus enormous piles of to-do-lists. Until ultimately I find myself just blocking out the idea of moving across continents altogether and instead spend my time philosophically musing about the entire concept of home. I’m telling you, this is typical.

So in the vein of procrastination, let’s talk about home here! What does home mean to you?


Very early on–like, neanderthal early–humans were made to be on the move, right? Who knows if home even made sense then? We (in the neanderthal sense) moved to where food was, where weather was least severe, where water was plentiful. Home was a shelter that shielded us from the elements. Home depended on whether other things around us would kill us.

Later on, after we stopped walking on our knuckles and started walking upright, we built up villages and cities and barricaded ourselves behind city walls and castle moats. But still, our homes were only so permanent. We (in the mid-century peasant sense) found ourselves moving around–to where our enemies weren’t, where there was new land to farm, where the resources were abundant, where our families led us. Entire eras were defined by the movement of humans across sea and land to better and brighter opportunity. Home was easily transplanted, as long as new comforts were available, and freedom and land was offered.

These days, our homes are fairly immovable. For most people, home is one place.  One structure that is, literally, and appropriately, a house. And when we expand on this idea, I suppose we could say home is defined by our many personal comforts: It’s where we can afford to live, it is where our parents raised us, it is where our friends live, it is where we can make the most money, it is where the schools/restaurants/daycares/bakeries that benefit us exist. Home is where it’s the easiest for us, I think?


But for expats, the idea of home is a bit more difficult, both to identify, and to establish, and to put into words. Which is why, when I came across this article late last week, I practically stood up from my chair with applause.

Beautifully written as well as shockingly accurate, the last two sentences are the most poetic:

No one is ever free from their social or physical environment. And whether or not we are always aware of it, a home is a home because it blurs the line between the self and the surroundings, and challenges the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are.

Any expat can tell you- we talk about home a lot, and not always in the singular form. We talk about where we were from- home. We talk about what we like about our current location- home. We talk about where we lived before this- our previous home. We talk about visiting our families- also, home.


Like the article says, we end up making distinctions between these homes, but they are all home, nonetheless. We steadfastly recognize that home is different in the West than in the East, for a neanderthal and a millennial. We know that home here is just as much home there. We know that we can make, wherever we are, a home.

So in my last two months here in Dar, I’ll be making the most of this home…with great anticipation of setting off to a new home in Beijing.

In the meantime, more to-do lists…

from 2014 to 2015


2014 is behind us, and 2015 has started with fresh vigor. Happy New Year! I’m left with a couple in-between days of down time and a whole lot of feeling reflective…so back to the blog it is.

2014 started in Tanzania, and it will end in Tanzania—very. happily. so. It seems unfair to sum up the travels, experiences, sights, and sounds that I’ve come across this entire year (and especially to sum up those that occurred in the latter six months, where my posting on the blog was irregular, at best), but let’s try anyway, shall we? Consider this post my end-of-year letter that would have, twenty years ago, been mailed right to your door. Mambo from Africa!


2014 marks the longest I have spent abroad without having gone back to the US. This is less a complaint and more of simply a cool fact, and also propelled by the fact that I know the end date to my expatriatism (which, Microsoft Word does not think expatriatism is a word, according to spellcheck).

2014 bent time and space, creating a weird time warp bubble that is simply every day life in Dar es Salaam. As I write this, I realize that my arrival in May 2013 seems ages ago, and that since my being home, babies that have been born and new jobs attained and relationships started and ended. Lots of new babies that I can’t wait to hug and kiss and smell their babyness (also, not a word)!

2014, though, was very much focused on my corner of the world (to me), and in this time warp bubble, things are all good. I was particularly bad at being in touch with friends this year, but like many things I blame it on the weird Dar space-time continuum. It took awhile to get to know and love my new home, but in the last several months I’ve really come around. What was hard is now easy, what was frustrating is now easily managed. The DiploMan may not be as smitten as I am in this place, but he is happy here, too. He is doing his suit-and-tie thing during the day (although at Embassy Dar, more like khaki-and-button-up), fighting the good fight. As just one of two Americans in his office, he still manages to take significant time off to travel and have fun, and not bring any work home with him or allow bureaucracy and Embassy dynamics skew his view of work and life. I envy him for these seemingly carefree qualities. Having a better grasp on work-life separation is one of my goals for 2015.


2014 allowed us to call Dar home, and it’s been a good home indeed. Our equatorial setting means year-round weather ranging between the very pleasant 85-95 degrees F, with daylight a fairly constant 6am-6pm. It’s a blessing and a curse, for although I have become an avid ocean creature and my skin dewey in the above-average humidity, I do miss my sweaters and boots and coats and beanies and scarves.

2014 allowed me to experience small-town type living. I miss big-city living, but this small-community certainly has its rewards. In our second year here, we have come to meet some really great, inspiring, and true friends. Some have since left, but we know they are ones we will know forever. Like our first post in Guangzhou, where we met some of our best friends, I know we will continue many friendships long after we leave Dar.

2014 was a good year for work, too. Home, climate, and social life aside, I found good opportunities that allowed me to grow in confidence and abilities. For most of the first year, as I somewhat reported in this blog, I was freelancing and writing copy and articles for various small companies and magazines around the web and world. I got a few big jobs in Dar, editing a local city magazine, as well as writing press kits for a local fashion designer. I also had the very exciting pleasure to hone my photography skills on a variety of projects, including an intensive five-day commercial photo shoot for the first Tanzania-based fast food concept, Bongo Flava. I’ve since eaten at Bongo Flava more than I’d like to admit I eat fast food, but it really is very tasty, so I’m quite proud to have supported that project.

2014 capped off my freelance work with a part time job at the Embassy, as a CLO (for those of you familiar with FS-life) which was rewarding but all-consuming. As my freelance work dropped off and I found less time and energy to blog, I decided that I wanted to get back into media, communications, photography, and writing. I had planned to return to freelancing, but quite fortuitously, I was able to score a contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and work in their communications department, full time. I am thoroughly enjoying this work, as it feels it finally combines many of the skills I have learned in my decade-plus of seemingly scattered work.





2014 brought me outside my comfort zone, not only in work, but in play. It shuttled me around to places I never imagined I would, like the Serengeti. I climbed volcanoes, trekked through forests, camped amidst wild animals, boated to remote islands, and in general, explored the grandeur that is the country of Tanzania–and beyond. I wish I had the time and the energy to write posts about each and every adventure—which I always intended, but never got around too. Perhaps they’ll stay stored in my memory and I’ll one day share. I actually do intend to.

2014 also invited a slew of friends and family in Dar to experience some of these majesties with me, including visits from my parents and my sister. The recaps and photos from these trips I’ve meant to share for some time, but again, it’s a matter of getting around to it.

And now, what lies ahead?


2015 will bring the very best of my time in Tanzania, and then will close the chapter. With a departure date set sometime around May, it will be sad, but also a welcomed ending. I like it here in Dar, but I am looking forward to what is next. And frankly, this town is a bit small for me! So soon, we’ll be back in the US for some travels and time off, then spend some months of training in DC. After that, we’re heading back to China!

2015 and beyond is going to be crazy. China wasn’t the plan, but things often aren’t. This time we’ll be in the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, one of the greatest and most important cities in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. I can’t say I’m particularly excited, although I am very eager to live there. The recent bidding process for the DiploMan was a beast. High on our list were cities like Rangoon, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kiev, Bratislava, and Athens. The Diploman was very close in getting some of those (unfortunately, being a second choice isn’t quite the as consoling as one would think) and very distant in others, but the final offer was for Beijing and for that we’re pleased.


So, on a very satisfied and positive note, I raise my coffee mug to the year 2015. Hopefully it includes a lot more blogging. And a new iPhone, which was gone along with 2014.

Hot Nights and Flying Zebras >> Christmas in the Summer


At 6:49pm last night, I made sure to note the time. The sun had just set, so even though it wasn’t daylight anymore, there was still a lingering radiant blue glow to the sky. Think Prussian Blue, for all you oil painters and Lee Akamichi alumni. Six months ago, it would have already been dark by 6:30pm—I know this because that, too, was recorded. When you’re as close to the equator at I am, these details are ever-so minute, but they are ever-so documented. In the world of equatorial living, where weather, daylight, schedules, and thus life is very constant, I find myself looking to the little things to differentiate this time of year from others.

But in that short amount of time it took to process that runaway train of thought, about eight minutes later, that bright Prussian blue glow was gone. 7:00 is too early to be dark in the summertime, you know? But not to worry, it was still hot out, as if someone from above put a lid over us to keep the afternoon’s residual steam inside this big pot that is Dar es Salaam. Night hotness (and yes, I just made that term up)—it’s something that six years of East Coast living, two years of Guangzhou living, and six months of Dar living still has not acclimated me to. My year-round chilly-night California desert blood says, wait, I should throw on a hoodie! It gets me. Every. Single. Time.

Maybe, I thought last night, like the other night after a day-long rain storm (the first full day of rain since we arrived), we’ll get a swarm of locust-like creatures that hit our windows again. That was interesting. These insects, hitting so constantly and with such vigor that at first, to one unaccustomed to swarms of flying insects, I thought for sure it was raining again outside. A few managed to sneak into the house while I was doing dishes, meaning I promptly stopped all chores to arm myself with a curled up issue of last month’s Traveller as defense. Sorry, Conde Nast! (update 12/20: I found out recently these were not locusts, but termites! Termites, the size of my pinky!! GROSS!)


This day-long, night-long perma-heat is something I’m still getting used to. Over here, we’re now into the winter months of November, December, January…even though people are calling this time of year summer, down here. Christmas in summer is bizarre, though. We have nowhere near the majestic and wintery snowfall that friends on the East Coast are experiencing right now, nor is it anything close the to the frigid cold spell that supposedly icing over Bay Area mornings. As most friends are sharing photos bundled up under chunky-knit pom-pom beanies and donning their LL Bean duck boots and draping magnificent faux furs over woolen sweaters, I just received my Black Friday purchase of beach dresses and tank tops. Thanksgiving dinner was eaten al fresco. Christmas decor around town has decidedly fewer snowflakes, less fake snow, and Santas are dressed far more casually—because in weather like this, who’d willing to wear that much fake-velvet clothing? At the Yacht Club, the rooftop is decorated with a sled pulled by zebra. Ha! Flying zebra! That’s one thing I can get down with during a summertime Christmas.

The dichotomy between my situation here, and the images that I’m being sent from home, serve as a reminder as to how big this world is. At this exact moment, while it’s blaringly sunny, hot and dusty outside, someone else (you, maybe?) is living the same moment, in a dark, cold and snowy city. It reminds me of how many different people are living their completely different lives, and how many more little nooks and crannies of the world I’ve got left to explore. Happy Holidays, to ALL indeed.

Garden Power!

From this….


To this….


in just three short months!

And now, so many weeks worth of this….


To illustrate how excited this makes me (and, because I’ve finally decided there aren’t enough pictures of ME on here)…


Will be posting a simple, delicious recipe for coconut-stewed greens later this week. Chock full of healthy fats (from the coconut) and tons of nutrients (from the greens). And also, instructions on how to open a coconut- because despite the fact that you think you can machete-chop a coconut open with a regular kitchen knife…well, you can’t.

update: A post on how to open a coconut, how to make coconut milk, and a recipe for coconut braised greens.

A few more thoughts about the idea of home.


I wrote a little bit about what home means to me in my post yesterday. Home is a word, a topic, that comes up a lot in my life, given that I live so far far away from a place that I might typically call home.

As you know we were in Pretoria recently, first for a week which was extended to two weeks. Two weeks in one place, which is enough time to start thinking of a place as home – temporarily, but no matter. After 4 days of dining out, I was itching to make use of our little home/hotel kitchenette, in an effort to truly feel more at home. At the store, we piled into our carts all the things that we haven’t seen in the past few months in Dar es Salaam: precious salmon steaks, flat skirt steaks, small packages of snap peas, whole raw almonds, seedless grapes, juicy limes, baby carrots, sweet cherry tomatoes. Once at “home” (hotel room, womp womp) we dressed our pre-washed lettuce salads with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and pan fried the salmon on the stove. Dinner wasn’t fancy, certainly not as fancy or as unique as of our other nights dining out, but it was a taste of home- America home actually, a long-ago home, much different than Dar-home.

The kitchen is home, yes, but what I learned from my most recent trip away— and I do learn something on every trip, which is a huge reason I love to travel— is that home isn’t always something tangible. It might not be a physical house, or a computer, or a kitchen, but instead could be more closely associated with memory, with experience, with loved ones. A combination of all this, likely. Having that salmon, that baby lettuce salad lightly dressed with fancy olive oil and basalmic vinegar- that reminded me of home, even though they’re things that I never have in my Dar kitchen. Which meant that no matter where I go in this world, no matter how far I travel, I actually have the power to create my own sense of home.


My love of markets, and a short personal history on eating well.

spring onions

I’m ethnically Chinese (mostly, anyway), so culturally speaking, eating is what I’m supposed to do best after playing the piano and taking SAT prep classes. And since my piano career was cut short due to never wanting to practice and SAT prep just wasn’t my thing (because my test-taking skills stunk), I tended to focus on the eating part, which I really excelled at. So, I make my parents proud, I think.

Due to my magnificent eating prowess, I’ve always known what it meant to eat plentifully and generously, though I hadn’t always been keen about eating wholesomely and healthfully. Thankfully my mother got pretty down with the California natural foods movement early in the 90’s, and my family would occasionally splurge on a farmers’ market purchase every now and again. Shopping and eating these fruits and vegetables made it easier to see the benefits of eating more sustainably, something that has become a national trend in the last decade.

fresh ears of corn

peaches at the peak of summer

Now that my parents are older, wiser, and frankly, richer than they were twenty years ago, these farmers market purchases are more of a weekly habit rather than monthly splurge. Whenever I go home to visit, I’ll accompany my parents on a trip to our local farmers’ market at West Valley Junior College. Now, I love seeing markets all across the world– you probably gained that through some of the entries on this blog throughout my time in China and beyond. But there’s really nothing that beats being home at summer’s peak, when there are buckets of blueberries, bushels of corn, and a bonanza of peaches, ripe and sweet in all their glories, just waiting to be purchased on a Saturday morning in sunny yet temperate Northern California. I know that was a long, run-on sentence, but it just had to be.

Plus when you throw in a freshly baked almond brioche, that’s the definition of #winning.

beautiful farmers' market blueberries

There’s been a clear and conscious lean towards eating healthier, more organic, and more local in the last twenty years. I’m happy to find that most of America is trending towards the direction of good food– away from the supermarket heyday and frozen food novelties of the 50’s and 60’s. (I guess when I say most of America, it might just be coastal America, but that’s all I’ve ever known. You can feel free to leave me nasty comments about this presumption, below.)

The main reason for my waxing poetic about going home to the market was to share with you this recent article from The Atlantic, which emphasizes the USDA’s support for local agriculture and farms. Because the better the local systems, the better your local economy. Support your hometown farmers today (or, this weekend)!!

Local Ice Cream from Scream!