Tag Archives: At Home

The Interiors Project: Christine Martin in Seoul, Korea

Welcome to the 18th issue of The Interiors Project and the final issue for this school year. We still have two and a half weeks of school left but many of our international teaching friends will be done this Friday!

It’s my pleasure to introduce Christine Martin who teaches in Seoul, Korea. Christine and I met through the blogging world and I am both intrigued by, and a bit envious of, her next adventure which is to launch a design business from Laos. Please enjoy this tour of her home in Korea and, as a special treat, Christine has contributed a guest post that I will run on Thursday, 7th June.

Tell us a little bit about your home.
Our home is 85m². It’s in a Korean suburb of Seoul called Bundang, only about six kilometers from school.

What is your favourite thing about your current space?
My favorite thing is the light. Even though we are surrounded by towering apartment buildings, our 11th floor position allows for much natural light. The best is from about 11 A.M. to 2P.M. when sunshine spills in through the sliding glass windows and onto our two bean bag chairs. It’s a great place for reading or napping.

How do you define “home”?
I like this quote from Maya Angelou: “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” It resonates with me because I’ve made home in so many places. I just need a few essentials to create home: colorful pillows, a couple of lamps, my favorite art pieces from Tunisia, a rug and some plants. Those things just comfort me and express who I am and what’s important to me. I think home should be able to do those things.

In what countries have you lived?
I’ve lived in Barcelona, Spain~Medellin, Colombia~Tunis, Tunisia~Seoul, Korea.
Each place was like a new life chapter. They have formed who I am today and I treasure every experience.

What do you love about your current city?
I love the urban planning that values outdoor space. Seoul’s major river, the Han River, has many tributaries and several neighborhoods are planned around them. Bike and pedestrian paths give people access to get from place to place without needing a car or public transportation. On weekends, the grassy patches are crawling with families playing badminton, in-line skating, or picnicking under umbrellas. People of all ages are out exercising on a daily basis. I just love that.

To what city/country would you most like to return?
Wow, that’s a hard one. There’s a special place in my heart for Bali. Ubud is one city we’ve returned to several times and it just feels so comfortable to us. It’s naturally lovely and the yoga + organic cuisine makes it easy to feel wellness. The art and culture also draw me, as well as the gentle quality of the people. There is the side of over tourism and increased pollution that bothers me though. This is the negative side effect of popular travel destinations.

Do you still feel homesick?
Absolutely; it comes in waves every three months or so. More than the places in California, I miss my family and friends. It is the largest cost of living overseas… missing the weddings and births and just everyday events. I relish in my time at home.

Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?
Yeah. I think that it’s always a risk leaving a place you’ve established yourself in to pursue another one. What we do as international teachers is really wild. I think we are used to it since we surround ourselves with people who shift and change all the time. But, it’s quite a remarkable way to live.

June marks the end of my husband and my teaching careers (15 years). We’re setting out to follow new passions: his in yoga + life coaching; mine in interior design. International teaching led us to this point. We don’t want to give up the lifestyle of overseas living, so we are moving to Luang Prabang, Laos to set things up there. It’s incredibly terrifying and liberating all at once.

How has living overseas changed you?
I think I have a broader sense of appreciation. I used to think that travel was great, but there was no place better than California to live. When I set out on my first international teaching gig, I really only planned two years away from home. I was certain I’d be back after that. Fast forward eight more years, and here I am. I’ve found elements I’ve loved and treasured in each place I’ve lived. But, the biggest discovery I’ve made living overseas has been the enjoyment and satisfaction I get creating our home space again and again. Slowly, it dawned on me that this is the path I want to follow. For this epiphany, I am very grateful.

When you move to a new country, what kinds of things do you do/find/purchase to make that place home?
If our shipment has not yet arrived, one of my first trips is to the local nursery for plants. I like to have at least two large ones. Plants and fresh flowers make indoors feel like an extension of the outdoors. The nature effect is really powerful in adding positivity to a space. Also, I like to find out where the nearest coffee shop is in our new neighborhood. Cafes are both social and relaxing places. Having a close place where I can do school work or write is pretty important to me.

What do you like to buy when travelling?
Jewelry and art. Actually, I believe jewelry IS art and justify my ridiculous amounts of it that way to my husband. Both are unique and representative of a place. I love being able to conjure up memories of Bali or India or Colombia with a ring or earrings. Art is more of an investment but when I see a striking piece, I normally go for it.

Where will you travel next?
Well, with our new careers, I think our travel will be limited for a while. But, Nepal has been on the top of our lists. I hope we can get there soon.

{Click on travel mosaics to see a larger image.}

What is the same about kids all over the world?
Kids need time and room to grow. They’re not robots; not all the same. It sounds corny, but each is unique and special. As teachers, we want to fulfill our roles and have them learn what our curriculum has delineated for that year. But, it’s OK if they all don’t learn to write perfect paragraphs or convert percents to decimals in month scheduled. Learning to problem solve, nurture friendships, and honor their individuality are lessons that will lead to greater things. A while back, I wrote a post called: Turning Desks: 10 Things I Learned From Students. I think it applies to kids everywhere.

Please leave your love notes for Christine in the comments section below.

The Interiors Project: James Midgley in Tokyo, Japan

Welcome to the 17th issue of The Interiors Project.

This is the Tokyo home of my friend James. He is many things. A philosopher-king. Poet. Chemist. Teacher. Advocate for kids. Wild risk-taker. Light and laughter-maker. Devotee of play. Tender-hearted friend. When he leaves our little Yokohama school in a few weeks, the third floor (which houses Science, English and me) will feel a bit less joyful. Best wishes on your voyage, James.

{My apartment is the one with the sarongs hanging from the window!}{The view from my balcony.}

How big is your home?
53 square metres.

What is your favourite thing about your current apartment?
The space – I previously lived in 32 sq meters. Also….this art deco lamp shade bought in Tokyo, originally from England and cost a small fortune. Purportedly 1920s and I believe this !

How do you define “home”?
Is a sanctuary for the mind where the liquid craziness of the day is entwined with some solid stability, and where there are always chores to do!

{Fiancee playing with the mirrors.}
{Bath that sings when ready and my i-duck – music while you soak, oh the wooden sento style stool to shower before the bath – Japanese style!}

{Life as as an international educator}
In what countries have you lived?
Japan is my first international job, and I came here for 2 years, and I am leaving after 4 years.

What do you love about your current city?
The capacity of Tokyo to constantly, and unerringly serve up beautiful surprise, entertain and seduce you. Maybe its the lights at night, or the mind boggling efficiencies, or the absence of crime (for a foreigner here crime is virtually zero), or the smile from the girl at the counter in my local ‘konbini’ (convenience store). It is a potent, heady, and vital mix.

Do you still feel homesick?
Of course, I miss family and friends (get that one in first). On a social level; a large part of my life in the UK was mountain running (fell running ), and mid week races that start and end at a pub with fresh cut grass and a pint of beer at the end – wow – this is a beautiful synthesis. Japan does, however, have high mountains, obviously volcanic, which make for some exciting substitutes!… and the beer is always good quality/plentiful in vending machines and onsen (public bath), so I am sated 🙂

What is the scariest situation you have ever found yourself in?
Two spring to mind :-
1. When March 2011 crisis/disaster happened I was teaching Grade 11, and whilst you do become quite blase about quakes, we knew this was different. It lasted longer and was more intense than any we had before, but we were lucky. We were 200kms from the epicenter, and only minor damage was felt at the school. The scary / odd thing was leaving school at 10pm to a friends house, with no street lights, no shops open and then using his scooter to get from Yokohama to Tokyo the next day passing huge queues for petrol, and the news slowly sinking in about how devastating the quake/tsunami was.

2. I am a chemistry teacher (and risk taker), and I have a patented thermite mixture which sometimes decides to scare me witless. After the mocks this year I added a good scoop of extra propellant and showered the tiled ceiling with beautiful trails of hot iron. It came very close to being out of control, and if it had gone through the bench, it would also have gone through the floor, and molten iron at around 2000C would have been dripping onto some poor soul in the teachers lounge. Oh yes, I am also the school health and safety co-ordinator!

How do you know when to leave?
I am still new this game so can offer little wisdom on this aspect of international teaching. I guess my mind was made up to move on after 4 years with the realisation that there will never be a good time to leave Japan. The old adages of life is very short, and carpe diem, explore while you can, all resonates deeply with me.
What metaphor would you use to describe living internationally?
It is like being in a corridor between two glass doors – one is what you left behind, the other, the next one on the list. The corridor in between can be dark, but the more you build bridges with others the brighter it gets. Friends met overseas, are often everything you need, and have.
How has living overseas changed you?
I had no idea how little (nothing) I knew, or had been taught about this part of the world. My sense of geography has vastly improved, my list of countries explored has expanded exponentially. I have never had such a fabulous support network in terms of friends and colleagues, nor have I taught a more respectful group of kids. It has made me much more grateful, and Japan much more aware of my impact on those around me. Environmental awareness perhaps 🙂
{The random nature of existence in Tokyo – me and a few other gaijin walking the streets of Tokyo with a shrine – we were of course – the tallest – and therefore the weight bearers – a once only experience!}

How did you find your current home?
This is my third home since arriving in Japan 4 years ago. I lasted 9 months in Yokohama, then fell in love with Tokyo. My Japanese language skills being poor meant I found an agent who spoke English, and was advertising. There was none of the discrimination I had encountered before, and this apartment was a little left field, but in a very desirable area of Tokyo. I open the door and Tokyo is there – I like that.
{The river just down from the apartment.}

(A very typical Tokyo view.)

{The neighbours obviously are not teachers.}

What do you always unpack first?
Two turntables, mixer, amp, speakers and lights. I love music, and glass. There is no TV in my home.
{The living area with turn tables.}

What is your approach to packing?
I am a fabric twister and, and ruck sack space creator extraordinaire. As most of my travelling has been in Asia, there is little need to take your best Alexander McQueens, when t-shirts cost a dollar. So light, very light.

How many countries have you travelled to?
Morocco, tons of Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, America, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, China, Australia.

What do you like to buy when you are travelling?
Paintings, I have currently got some very nice pieces from Cambodia and Vietnam.

Where will you travel next?
My summer will take me to China firstly, then the trans-Mongolian train through Siberia up to Moscow. I then fly into Amsterdam, meet my fiancee in Paris, we will pop to Berlin to see friends. We then go to the UK where I have rented a cottage in the lake district so my fell running buddies are also coming. We then fly out to Penang, Malaysia to begin the next chapter.

Do you ever get tired of travelling?
My 2011 summer break consisted of me buying a flight one way Tokyo to Jakarta and the return 6 weeks later from Hanoi back to Tokyo. I travelled alone for the first time, and did find it was easy to get stuck in the 3 day rut of…
Day 1: Arrive, eat, sleep,
Day 2: Book onward travel
Day 3: Leave.
I saw a lot and wrote a lot but it did get a bit tiring. Sometimes you just need to rest, and after jungle trekking on Sumatra and a failed attempt to get to Mentawai Islands I hopped a bucket seat down to Bali and holed up in Ubud for a week. Batteries recharged : )

Please describe the most amazing meal that you have eaten overseas.

In Tokyo there are more Michelin 3 star (and above) restaurants than there are in Paris. I have never been to one in Paris but I have in Tokyo. It cost around 500 USD for two (who said Tokyo was expensive), and my girlfriend and I had five courses with matched wine.

Has living overseas changed your eating habits?
Where to start – I come from Yorkshire UK where the weather is cold and the sheep are scared 🙂 We survived on stodgy warming fare like kebabs, pizzas, stews, curries….now I survive on kebabs, nabe (Japanese winter stew ), curries (lots of great Indian near my apartment) mixed in with new items like; shirako (cod semen), basashi (horse sushi), ikura (fish eggs), and an obsession with ramen noodles – great after a long night of drinking and karaoke as the sun pops up its head.

{You as an educator}
What is your philosophy of education?

I love the creative side of the craft of teaching. To surprise kids with new pedagogical ideas ( no I would never use that phrase in public ), and underneath it all the act of performing. We are all sales people regardless of title, and whether we are bought or not, really depends how much effort and love we put into our respective subjects.

What is the same about kids all over the world?
To remind us of the things we too easily forget; school was hard, it still is, and the frequent kind and genuine word, unbeckoned from a student, reminds you why you took up this career in the first place.

You are invited to leave your love notes for James in the comments section below.

The Interiors Project: Mandy Linssen in Vienna, Austria

Welcome to the 16th issue of The Interiors Project.

Mandy, Damien and I worked together for a year in Barcelona and I remember thinking, upon meeting her, “Here is a woman who knows who she is… and who has a great sense of style.” Mandy’s teaching adventures have taken her on an extraordinary trek around Europe while our work has brought us to Asia but we’ve kept in touch and I was really thrilled when she said that she’d like to participate in this project. Enjoy this tour of Mandy’s lovely flat in Vienna, Austria where she has found both love and a home. (Check out the amazing aquarium photographs!)

“Home! Home! Home is where the heart is…” If you, like me, were a teenager in the eighties, you will probably recognize this refrain. I don’t remember which soap it comes from, but I know it was one of the popular ‘down-under’ daytime shows in those days. Instead of doing my homework, I idled away many long hours in the late eighties watching mullet-headed muscle men in Australian soaps… Cooorrrrr! Anyway, the moment Monna mentioned this project that refrain sprung to mind and here I am sharing it with you!

Home is where the heart is… I live in Vienna with my love, Florian. My heart is here with him, in our lovely, cosy apartment, but it’s also in my hometown Southend-on-sea with my friends and family there. It’s also in Prague with my friends who live there. Home is where I live now, but also where I have lived before. It’s in the places where I feel/have felt most comfortable. It’s in the places where I am amongst like-minded people and where can be who I am. It’s where I feel loved and warm and cosy and happy.

Flo and I live in a flat in the 14th district of Vienna (there are 23 districts in total) with our fish and ‘Scotty’ the water snail. Our flat is just under 80 metres square and is on the 4th floor of a block 5 stories high. It’s not in our most favourite part of town, but it’s convenient for both of us to get to work and the beautiful ‘Schoenbrunn Palace’ is nearby, so we can indulge in fabulous walks there. We feel so lucky to have greenery outside our windows and are delighted with our little balcony – outdoor space, however small, being a MUST for us when living in the city. We moved here in January, so the place is a work-in-progress, but it’s gradually getting there.

Our flat is decorated with all sorts of bits ‘n’ bobs, reflecting our interests and travels. We both go for a mixture of old and new and love all things connected to the sea and water… maybe this has something to do with the fact that we met in my hometown ‘Southend-on-sea’… who knows?!

Whenever I move to another country I always take my favourite cosmetics from the UK with me. Somehow their smell reassures and comforts me when I am faced with all the challenges that living in a new country brings…orange blossom, geranium, lavender, lemongrass… gorgeous products housed in dark blue glass bottles… treats for the soul.

My fabulous red recipe book is another staple that accompanies me on new adventures. It was made by my friend Deedee and contains a wealth of culinary deliciousness from around the world. My two favourite recipes at the moment (both discovered here in Austria, but neither typically Austrian!) are beetroot humous and chocolate courgette cake – Yumaliscious!

Vienna is a wonderful city to live in. Everyday I marvel at what it offers – beauty and culture in abundance, history, ultra modern design and eco-living. I love the way the city is constantly evolving, successfully combining the old with the new. I love the fact that this city embraces eco-living in so many exciting and creative ways. Almost every street corner features a recycling centre for paper, plastic, glass, tin cans, old clothes and bio-waste. A city with a conscience – oh yeah! My favourite eco-initiative is ‘the bookshelf’ a random wardrobe stationed on a most unassuming street corner. It is filled with abandoned books, the idea being that anyone can offload their unwanted books there or alternatively adopt books that take their fancy. How cool is that?!

I absolutely LOVE the fact that we live in an area of the world where we have very defined seasons – Snow in wintertime, blossoms in springtime, sun in the summer and piles of crisp, golden leaves in the autumn. What is more, Vienna and the Viennese really do make the most of the seasons, celebrating them with a certain traditional, understated style. Wooden stalls selling aromatic ‘Punsch’ and ‘Gluehwein’ appear around town in the lead up to Christmas and when the Danube freezes over ice-skaters and kite-skaters gracefully glide their way along it.

In the weeks before Easter wooden stalls selling hand-painted eggs, homemade honey and new wines spring up all over the city in picturesque cobblestoned squares. In the summertime sand is shipped in and ‘city beaches’ complete with deckchairs and cocktails discreetly find their place alongside regular bars and restaurants. Countless sailing schools and pedal boat rental shops adorn the banks of the Danube at this time. Then in autumn pumpkins abound – pumpkin oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin soup and pumpkin jam everywhere!

When is it time to leave? In order to answer this question I am going to go full circle, back to ‘Home is where the heart is’. In my adult life I have lived in a total of 6 countries (England, Germany, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Spain) and in each one I reached a point where my heart was either no longer there or where I needed new challenges in order to ‘refuel’. I just knew when it was time to move on and that was that. At this point in time that feeling, thankfully, seems a very long way off… too many seeds to plant on our balcony☺

You are invited to leave your love notes for Mandy in the comments section below.

Jacquie Pender in Ripatransone, Italy

Welcome to the 15th issue of The Interiors Project.

My friend Jacquie Pender is a woman with many homes. She lives in Yokohama but has chosen to feature her home in the town of Ripatransone, Italy. Even though this town – with the name I still cannot pronounce – is on the other side of the world, Jacquie’s house in Italy is one of only four Interiors Project homes that I have visited including Ashley’s apartment and Jay and Jenny’s house in Bangkok plus our own apartment (which, frankly, isn’t much of a victory! :)) At the end of March, I visited Jacquie in Italy for just two days but I could have easily stayed for two weeks. I felt immediately at home and relaxed in Jacquie’s gorgeous home; Jacquie is a skilled and gracious hostess and her town of Ripatransone cast a magic spell over me and made me want to s-l-o-w r-i-g-h-t d-o-w-n. One of the highlights of my stay was going to the town bar for an aperitivo… when we were actually looking for the technician to fix Jacquie’s heat. As Jacquie said, “If you wait long enough, everyone always shows up.” And, sure enough, he did… looking for all the world like Clark Kent. I know that you will enjoy the time you spend in Jacquie’s beautiful corner of Italy.

I chose to focus on my home in Ripatransone in Italy, where I like to spend as much time as I can in between my work life, in Yokohama, Japan and visiting my family in Australia. Ripatransone is a small town sitting high on a hill between the Sibillini mountains and the Adriatic coast in central Italy. It’s in the beautiful region of Le Marche, not frequented a great deal by tourists from outside of Italy. As a result, it has retained its charm, warmth and culture; life continues to be “slow”.

My apartment is an old house (not sure how old) that was totally restored in 2005 and was converted into two apartments. It is on two levels and is about 116 square meters. One of my favorite parts of the house is my terrace, especially in the summer, watching the swallows, swirling and dancing in the thermals. It’s a lovely space to spend time with friends consuming the fresh local produce and vino! The changing landscape with views of the Adriatic, colors changing depending on the weather and beautiful red and orange sunrises on those jet lagged mornings when I am up early. Summer nights, sitting on the terrace listening to the various concerts being performed in the open air ampitheatre, operas, the children’s ballet concert, Italian hip hop, there’s something for everyone… that’s what I love.

Home for me is here in Yokohama. When I’m in Italy it is there and when I’m in Melbourne with my family, I’m home there as well. So I guess it is wherever I feel comfortable. I always like to make my home a home, so that it doesn’t feel transient or somewhere where I am only staying for a short time. At times I feel a bit like a snail who carries their home on their back. My furniture has probably sailed the world’s oceans, more than most people.

Life as as an international educator
In what countries have you lived?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and a large part of my family still live in Scotland. My mum and dad immigrated to Australia when I was two years old. From a young age I grew up with the idea of having two homes. I know my mother still considers Scotland as her home, so my Scottish roots are always at the forefront of my concept of “home”. I left Australia in 1989 to take up a teaching position in Kuwait. I was very naive about my first overseas position and really did not have a lot of information about what I was about to experience. I was going for two years and like so many others, forgot to go back. I have lived in Kuwait, London, Bangkok, Thailand, Vienna, Austria, Manila, Philippines, Bonn, Germany and now Yokohama, Japan and my other home in Ripatransone, Italy since 2005.

What is your favorite country?
I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled to many countries in the world. I love to explore new places. I guess Italy would have to count as one of those favorite places. It was a country I returned to many times before I finally bought my house. Other favorites are Nepal, Portugal, France, Oman, Greece and Japan.

What do you love about Italy?
There are so many things that I love about my home in Italy. “Molto tranquillo” is the first thing that comes to mind. I love the pace of life there. It is where I can completely unwind after hectic days in school and I am a zillion miles aways from my day to day work. I love the rhythm of life, the bells from the churches, reminding me of the time of day. The surrounding fields, that are like patchwork quilts of sunflowers, grapevines, wheat and corn depending on the seasons. The mountains that are snow capped in the winter and who play hide and seek with the clouds and heat haze and the splendour, when on a clear day they are in all their glory. I love being close to the sea and spending lazy days on the beach in the summer with a good book, and walks in the cooler months. I love the food, wine and the people. I also love the fact that my home is in the shoe manufacturing region of Italy!

Have you ever been evacuated?
I haven’t been evacuated as such, but close to it on a few occasions. I was working in Kuwait when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. I had just left three days before the invasion to meet up with some friends I was travelling with in Turkey and Greece. I left with 10 kilos in my backpack not knowing that I would not return until the end of October 1991. I was stranded in Turkey, with the realization that I no longer had a job, place to live or access to money and 10 kilos of summer clothes. As the reality of the situation in Kuwait became apparent, I realized I would not be returning in the near future. I made my way to London to find a job and to start a new home with five other people. I felt very fortunate as I had friends who were still in Kuwait and Dutch friends who were taken as hostages to Iraq and kept for three months. I returned to Kuwait after the first Gulf War in October 1991 to teach in the first school to open up after the war. It was a humbling experience to go back at this time into a country that had been devastated by war, with 700 oil wells alight and the surrounding desert and beaches littered with landmines and ordinance. We endeavoured to teach children, all of whom were Kuwaiti who had lived through the horrors of war and witnessed atrocities, one does not even want to imagine. We constantly lived with the threat of further conflict and our daily reminders were the fighter jets screeching up the gulf from Saudia Arabia on their way to Baghdad everyday. We kept our cars and homes stocked with water and bags packed at the door, just in case.

Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
I think all of us who leave the comforts of our family and friends in our home countries are risk takers. It just goes with the territory.

How do you know when to leave?
I have left different places for different reasons, some I have left to pursue a new job and some I have just realized it was time for a change. I don’t ever begin with a plan, I just let it unfold and when the time comes, for what ever reason, it’s time to find a new adventure. I’m never disappointed.

How has living overseas changed you?
I hope living overseas has changed me. It has made me appreciate the tyranny of distance and at the same time realize how interconnected we all are and whilst there are physical distances, we are really all very close. I hope I have developed more empathy for those people who do not have choices about moving their homelands. People who are displaced by war, terror, oppression, famine and poverty. I know how fortunate I am to experience the opportunities to work and live in many different parts of the world and always have the means to return to my family and friends for holidays and to connect with them. I know this is not a reality for many people. I think it has has made me more independent with the ability to adapt fairly quickly to new and changing situations. I think it has enabled me to see life through many lenses and has certainly enriched my life and has made me realize I wouldn’t change a thing.

How did you find your current home?
I went on a “finding a house to buy” mission one summer in Italy. I just happened to come across my house by accident. It was meant to be.

What do you always unpack first when you’ve moved into a new place?
I always seem to unpack the kitchen things first and get that sorted, followed by the bed. Putting up my artwork, photos etc is also a priority as it helps to make me feel at home.

What is your approach to packing?
I am such a procrastinator when it comes to packing. It’s certainly not my favorite thing. I hate having to make decisions about what to take. I always seem to leave it to the last minute. I always take too much and am continually striving to travel lightly.

What do you like to buy when you are travelling?
I tend to buy art or bits and pieces for the house. When in Italy, I have a weakness for shoes. I have also been known to smuggle the odd chunk of parmesan cheese, olives and other prohibited food stuffs!

Food is one of the things that I really love in Italy. The availability of fresh vegetables and eating food in season. I love artichokes and my neighbour taught me how to prepare and cook them. They are always a treat when I go in the springtime. It’s hard to have a bad meal in Italy. It is simple and delicious eating. I love cooking when I’m in Italy and enjoy going to the market and buying what is in season. So much of the food is locally produced or grown in nearby neighbors gardens. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

You are invited to leave your love notes for Jacquie in the comments section below.

The Interiors Project: Heather Dowd and Doug Tindall in Singapore

Welcome to Issue 14 of The Interiors Project.

Today, I am happy to introduce you to Heather Dowd and Doug Tindall. Like April, Pete & Ali, Sarah, Jay & Jenny, Carrie, and Brad, Heather was a friend and colleague at our school in Mexico. (I don’t know exactly what is in the Monterrey water but it results in totally cool, smarty-pants students and dynamic, risk-taking teachers!) Heather, also known as Heza, has moved from the classroom into the role of Educational Technology Coach which is such a cool fit for her. A decade ago, in Mexico, she was the first teacher to say, “Me, me!” when our school ran a pilot tablet project. Heather is a passionate educator and a really lovely person. She was genuinely excited for Damien and me when we were hired to work in Yokohama as she lived in Japan right after college and has a not-so-secret love affair with this country. She once told me that it was not possible to take a bad photograph in Japan. About a month ago, I felt the universe unfold as it should when Heather, Damien and I enjoyed a lovely evening together in Yokohama. As we walked home from the restaurant, it started to rain and Damien ran into Family Mart to buy Heather one of those famous transparent umbrellas for her walk back to her hotel. I miss her very much and wish that we still worked together. Re-connecting with friends and former colleagues and meeting new international educators has been one of the coolest parts of this project for me. I know that you’ll enjoy this tour of Singapore through the lenses of Heather and Doug, both of whom are amazing photographers.

Tell us about your home… how big is your place?
Roughly 160 Sq. meters which includes two outdoor patio spaces.

Collections and Art

Some reminders of Mexico

What is your favorite thing about your current space?
Doug and Heather: We really enjoy the decks and the multi-level part of our home. Most people live in apartments in Singapore and they can be very tiny. Ours is a fairly good size place, but what make it feel bigger are the large vaulted ceilings and the second story.

Spooky the cat: Spooky loves the large windows and sliding glass doors. He loves the big window ledges designed just for him. He also loves going outside on the deck and rolling around.

How do you define “home”?
Doug: I would define home as a place that represents the characteristics and values of your family. With that said, I want home to be comfortable, safe, relaxing, inviting and whatever you need it to be when you need it to be that thing. Of course, one place can’t be all things at once, but you can try…right?
Heather: What he said and… Home is where the people you love are including our kitty Spooky. We adopted Spooky from the animal shelter where he had spent much of his life. They gave him the name Spooky because many things spook him. It took him months before he was comfortable with us. Now he snuggles between our arms and lets us scratch him all over his belly, but as soon as a he hears a strange noise, he goes to a secret hiding place. Doug and Spooky make our apartment home.

Life as an international educator
In what countries have you lived?
Doug: USA, Germany, Afghanistan, and Singapore
Heather: USA, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Singapore


What do you love about your current city?
Doug: This is one of the safest spots on the earth and one of the most centrally located places in Asia for traveling.

Do you still feel homesick?
Heather: Yes, I still feel homesick sometimes. There are times when I’d like to just teleport home for the evening for dinner and to get a hug from my family. When? Random times. Why? I don’t know. Home home is still Illinois for me. Skype is a lovely substitute.

What do your friends and family members think/feel about you working overseas?
Heather: My family thinks I’m crazy. No, their opinion hasn’t changed. My sister is about to join me in this crazy life by taking her first overseas job in Vienna. At least I’m not alone. 🙂

Do you still experience culture shock?
Heather: I still experience culture shock, but not as bad as my first year in Japan. The first year in Japan was a roller coaster of feelings. I know I’m experiencing culture shock when I start to focus on the negative things in a new place, and I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. It has never been as pronounced in Mexico or Singapore as it was in Japan. Japan is also the country that I consider my second home. Maybe we bonded over the culture shock roller coaster. ☺

How has living overseas changed you?
Heather: It has opened my eyes and taught me as much about myself as about the place I’ve lived. Australia taught me how to look at my home country from a different perspective. Japan expanded my view of home and family. Mexico kissed me on the cheek and welcomed me with open arms. Singapore doesn’t kiss me, but it sure is efficient. I have seen first hand that even though we have different cultures and different languages, we are all people with similar dreams, hopes and fears. I believe that every single person in the world should have the opportunity to experience this.

When you move to a new country, what kinds of things do you do/find/purchase to make that place home?
Heather: I put up pictures of family and friends. Inviting new friends over and spending time making new memories makes a place feel more like home to me also.

What is your approach to packing?

Doug: I would say that I pack for functionality. I think about weather, what we will be doing, and where we are going. Weather is usually easy here in SE Asia. I bring shorts, T-shirts, underwear, flip-flops (shoes if you’re going to motorbike), deodorant, hairbrush and most importantly the camera gear. I’m pretty sure I spend more time packing my camera gear than clothes. Where we are going can be important and it’s always good to look into the religion and cultural norms of the country you’re going to. For instance, Malaysia is Muslim. So, pack a pair of pants and bring a hairbrush so you can go into the temples. Being prepared for other cultures means getting what you came to see and not feeling uncomfortable.
Heather: Pack the camera first. Beyond that, I am a horrible packer. I procrastinate until the very end and I can’t make decisions about what to bring. I have no advice, and I still don’t know how to pack light. Maybe I’ll get Doug to start packing for me.

What secrets have you learned to make your travels more enjoyable?
Doug: Get an iPad and don’t try to plan out things too much. Originally when the iPad first came out; I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I would want one. But after traveling to several countries, it has proved invaluable by storing all of our hotel, flight and travel arrangements. You can get Wifi just about anywhere these days. Lonely planet, despite being one of the worst interactive books for iPad, helps considerably when trying to find interesting things to do, but don’t forget to set that aside and spend time exploring! You never know what’s just around the corner that wasn’t there when they wrote the book.
Heather: Find a good travel partner who lets you play with your camera without rushing you to move on. I now have a partner who plays with his camera more than me. I am patient.



You as an educator
What makes you excited about being an educator?

Heather: I love learning. I love learning with other people. It is an exciting time to be an educator. There are so many new things on the horizon that have the capability to change learning for the better. Technology is getting easier and more universal. This will help spread knowledge everywhere and also help differentiate learning so that all students can be engaged in what they are doing. Connecting and collaborating is easier than ever. It is now possible to not only read about something in a social studies textbook but to go there via Skype and talk to other kids who live there.

What is the same about kids all over the world?
Heather: Kids don’t like being bored. They want to be engaged and they want to learn. If you present them with an activity that is real and that challenges them, they will take it and run with it.

You are most cordially invited to leave your love notes for Heather in the comments section below.

The Interiors Project: Brad Brandvold in Monterrey, Mexico

Welcome to the 13th issue of The Interiors Project.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Brad Brandvold whom I have known since we worked together in Monterrey, Mexico ten years ago. Brad is an excellent teacher who demands the best from his students. He also knows how to joke with them and maintain amazing relationships long after they have graduated. Brad has never forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. He kept these great lists of his students’ best and funniest quotations in his classroom and I would sometimes pop by to check out the latest additions. I have really loved putting together Brad’s issue of The Interiors Project; I laughed aloud several times and wished that I could hang out with him again. (Also… I’m pretty sure that he’s the only person to use the word “boob” in his issue of Interiors.) I know that you will enjoy the tour!

Life is good… at “The Perch”
I call my home The Perch, because of it being situated on the edge of a ravine and elevated to the treetops where the birds are. This is only my name for the house, no one else would call it this. My best guess for the size of the house is about a total of 1600 square feet on three floors (about 200 square meters). The first floor has the kitchen, bathroom and a large open dining/living room with floor to ceiling windows and a balcony. The second floor has the projection room (TV room), a common bathroom, the secondary bedroom and my master bedroom with ensuite and walk-in closet. The third floor is open patio space with a small Jacuzzi, fire pit, patio suite and full bar/BBQ workspace.

What is your favourite thing about your house?
The view!!! As I mentioned before house is perched on the edge of a ravine which borders a university campus. I have a simply stunning view of the ravine, the campus fields, the city and the mountains and the all floors have massive windows to highlight it. I come home to a view that most people would pay for… to stay for a vacation. My favourite thing to do is to wake up very early, make breakfast and sit on the balcony listening to the birds while I drink my coffee. The balcony is uniquely situated at “tree level” so I am treated to a variety of bird song. I have become an avid bird watcher as of late and spend my time trying to figure out what birds are nesting in the ravine. What is really fun is when some of the more exotic birds show up, such as parrots, cardinals, humming birds and peacocks. I find myself almost daily, sitting at the window or on the balcony, watching the different birds flitter around. In late October or early November the Monarch butterflies migrate through Monterrey on their way down to Michoacán and for those few weeks, I wake up to see tens of thousands of Monarchs overnighting in my little ravine. Currently, a small yellow butterfly seems to be doing something similar but on a smaller scale.

How do you define “home”?
Somewhere comfortable I can relax and escape my working life. It must be filled with things, which fulfill one need or another. As well, I am a big supporter of the different holiday traditions I bought with me from Canada and love to host social gatherings to celebrate them. I love Christmas and Thanksgiving the most and organize large dinners with all of the trimmings and appropriate decorations. I even host a tree trimming dinner party to bring together friends to decorate my home (I am not very artistic) while I cook them a gourmet dinner… something I suppose I am noted for.

Life as as an international educator
Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?

Would I consider myself a risk taker? No, not really, but if you posed this question to my friends back home, they would probably respond with a resounding yes. I think this question is really relative to your comfort level and societal norms. Most Canadians I know are perfectly happy with a prepackaged “McDonalds” lifestyle filled with blandness and safety, sort of the beige colour of life. I prefer the spicier side of things and want a little more of the full spectrum of the colour wheel. I think this is probably part of the international teacher’s mindset from the beginning. No matter why you decided to travel abroad and work in another country, you must be willing to give up the “safety” of home to experience more of the world. Risk taking is essentially doing something that may have dire consequence and thus it is outside of the normal operating range of the population. Another way to state this, is to say it is statistically outside of the average and I cannot say I have ever strove to be average… who wants that?

What do your friends and family members think/feel about you working overseas?
At first, my family and friends feelings were a little mixed about me moving away. Most were perplexed at why I would leave Canada to live in a developing nation. I think they stayed that way for quite a few years, until they decided to either visit me at my new home of Monterrey, or in one of the resort cities Mexico has to offer. By coming here, they were able to picture my life/lifestyle and the really great benefits of learning a new language to experience more of Mexico. Having been gone for about fourteen years now, I rarely have to entertain the question anymore as they have realized I am not going to be moving back to Canada any time in the near future.

How has living overseas changed you?
I have a much more global outlook on events, politics and life in general now. I am far less focused on amassing material things as well. It’s not that I don’t get pleasure from buying something new; I just prefer to buy them while I am travelling. I have also stopped watching mindless television shows and limit my viewing to either just sports or movies. I read more books and spend time learning new things, whether that is academic, cooking or improving my language skills. If I were back in Canada, I know I would spend much of the winter in front of the television, whether there was something good on or not. That kind of “tuning out” for such long periods of time must have some sort of numbing cumulative effect. I can honestly say I have dwindled down the number of friends I have in Canada to the few people that I believe are “alive inside”, all the while increasing the number of friends I have living all over the world. Now, I relish the opportunity to go somewhere new and experience things first hand instead of watching it on National Geographic on the boob tube.

What kinds of resources and services have made it easier for you to live overseas?
When I moved to Mexico, I came with only one trunk with my clothes and a few teaching resources. Now I have an entire household of furniture and electronics I chose to buy to make my life resemble what I wanted it to be like back home. Why did I choose to fill my house with furniture and accouterments that remind me of Canada? The reason is actually quite simple. While working a summer job in college in the oilfields of Alberta, I met a ex-army colonel who gave a little advice while I was literally digging a ditch. He said “wherever you are, make it home… you never know how long you will have to be there, so get comfortable”. I took that wisdom to heart and it has always served me well. Now I know he was talking about “living in the trenches” of wherever he was sent during his career, but it seemed to ring true for me wherever I went as well. It is worth the effort to make whatever living accommodations you currently have, your home. Paint a wall, buy some art… whatever makes you feel “at home” will give you that sense of familiarity we all seem to need.

What do you like to buy when you are travelling?
I always try to purchase something small as a memento of my travels that I can place in my home and see it often. I’ve done this because I am not one to make photo albums or to pull up my pictures on my computer very often. In fact, I still have several undeveloped rolls of film from at least 15 years ago, sitting in my desk drawer right now. I have no idea what is on them anymore. It will be a nice surprise when I finally get around to sending them in I guess. To my credit, I am currently working on a large picture array of all those people and places that have helped me along my own path. I am hoping to complete that project this and fill my living room walls with these images.

What secrets have you learned to make your travels more enjoyable?
1. Always book more time for things than you think it will take.
2. Pack less and have them cleaned wherever you go. Exception, always pack more underwear and socks than you think you need.
3. If you travel somewhere, avoid going to places to be able to say you’ve been there. I have found it to be much more enjoyable to experience fewer places but to really take the time to get to know them than to race off to the next place for your photo album.
4. Stroll; don’t rush. You’re on vacation… act like it!

Please describe the most amazing meal that you have eaten overseas.
I recently went to Argentina and took the time to taste the best beef they could offer. You have to understand, Argentina and Alberta are possibly the two best places to eat beef in the world. I grew up in Alberta, so I had to try the “competition”. I found a restaurant that wasn’t in the tourist books but was recommended by an Argentinian friend. As a gentleman’s agreement, I had to promise not to promote the name of the restaurant, lest it become a tourist trap, so I am sorry for not publishing it here. I purposefully waited until the last day of my trip to go there and have my own version of “the last supper”. All I can say is amazing… simply amazing!

Has living overseas changed your eating habits or food preferences?
I was honestly worried about coming to Mexico because of the food. I was quite ignorant as to what Mexican food was like and my only examples in Alberta were Taco Bell and Taco Time… both of which I hated. Imagine my surprise when I realized what real Mexican food was. You cannot live in Mexico and not love the food. I have learned there is more than one kind of chili pepper and they do all taste differently. I would mention, many dishes here took me a long time to try, simply because they looked so foreign to me it took me a while to come around but now, I wouldn’t eat eggs without salsa verde (green sauce). I love the spice of the Mexican cuisine and of course, late night tacos after some sort of social drinking affair is an absolute tradition.

You as an educator
What is the same about kids all over the world?
Kids are kids, the world over. The same is true of people but kids really are not much different everywhere. They may have a few different social conventions from what you grew up with, but boys will be boys and girls will be girls. The issues I dealt with as a teenager are played out awkwardly on a daily basis in my classroom. The boys try to find someway to get the girls attention and the girls try to look as though they are not paying attention to the boys. It seems almost ritualistic in some sort of warped hormonally driven way.

You are invited to leave your love notes for Brad in the comments section below.