Jamaica me change my mind… again.

by Angie Hilbert
( August 6th, 2014 )

Gillian Royes Shad SeriesWhat do you think of when you think of contemporary Jamaica? I bet it’s not what Gillian Royes makes you think about in her Shad series. Shadrack Myers is a Jamaican bar tender far off the beaten tourist track in the small town of Largo Bay. Largo’s one hotel was destroyed in a hurricane and now the only industry left is fishing or scamming and minding one another’s business. Shad is especially good at that last one. So good that he sort-of becomes Largo’s unofficial sheriff. The expats, immigrants, tourists and locals that populate the series make each book culturally complex and the characters nuanced. No one is quite a stereotype but everyone gives you little clues about how the stereotypes were generated.

Where it takes you:

The Jamaica of Gillian Royes is rich and complex. It’s not a spring break beach fantasy. It’s not a political awareness tale. It’s just delightful characters in realistic places you come to care about and come to understand. The small-town dynamics of Largo will ring true to anyone from any small town. People help one another and hurt one another as their character interacts with their circumstance.

What Wander-Readers will love:

Reading the Shad Myers series gives you a very real sense of contemporary Jamaica, not just the Jamaica the board of tourism sells. Still it is never biter or shocking. There is a sense of optimistic realism as you are introduced to people and situations that make their own sense in the context of their story. Shad is a gem. His role as bartender has taught him a lot about human nature and allows him to socialize across social barriers. Shad has friends everywhere.

Trust me, you want to read these while you still have some summer. The Goat Woman of Largo Bay introduces you to Shad, his boss, a mysterious hermit-woman and the little town of Largo. Shad’s resourcefulness proves the only thing to keep his town safe and peaceful. In The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks, Shad really shows his chops as a detective and his bravery as a man. Shad must save the fine people of Largo from their own fears and prejudices, as well as others who would exploit them. Royes’ newest book, The Sea Grape Tree, makes the stakes personal for Shad. As class and romance complicate a business deal, Shad finds it difficult to feel at home in his own community among his own friends.

My first visit to Jamaica, I was young, naive and a total tourist. I was expecting it to be all steel drums and rum punch and was shocked to find myself in the middle of a documentary on extreme poverty. Sure, the tourist area was all beach and pirate games but one wrong turn and you could find yourself on the set of a Sally Struthers commercial. I knew Jamaica was a poor country, but I had visions of a more romantic poverty: smiling fishermen returning to picturesque grass huts, women in bright clothes picking coffee beans, Harry Belafonte loading bunches of bananas.  (Did I mention I was young and stupid?) My most vivid memory from that trip was seeing what I thought was my friend feeding seagulls on the pier. As I walked up to her I realized she wasn’t tossing bread. She was throwing coins over the rail as unbelievably tiny children jumped to catch them in the air on the way down… down… down… until SPLASH! A boy called to me, “Miss! miss! throw something for me!” I couldn’t even look him in the eye.

My second visit to Jamaica I was more prepared. I immersed myself in the history and culture instead of just good-timing it, plantation tours, slave uprisings, the spirit and politics of reggae. That trip was amazing! I got to know a few of the people as human beings. Not as objects of pity. I had grown up a little bit, but having made my peace with the country, I felt no call to return again. Until I read the Shad series.

I still think Jamaicans are insane drivers. I still hate dealing with the touts. And no, I do NOT want my hair braided! But in spite of all that. I maybe I do love Jamaica after all.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander



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American Scooter Culture

by Angie Hilbert
( July 4th, 2014 )

Genuine Scooter Company Buddy 125Last month, I shared how I got hooked on Vietnamese scooter culture in Saigon. American scooter culture is a bit different. In the USA, scooters and even motorcycles are usually looked upon as toys or passionate hobbies. But after my trip to Vietnam and seeing first hand how economical, useful, and practical a scooter can be, I was sure it could work for an environmentally aware couple as a serious transportation choice.

Did we really need two cars? I work from home and Dearest works about a mile or two up the street. We have a 2013 Ford Escape for road-tripping. Our second car was a 13 year old Ford Ranger (that was giving up the ghost.) Faced with a $1800 repair bill, we knew we had to make some decisions about our transportation needs. My mind kept coming back to scooters.

In Ohio, a scooter is treated just like a motorcycle for license and registration purposes. So my first stop was the Ohio BMV to take a test for my motorcycle temporary learner’s permit. 20 minutes later, I was officially allowed to ride (during the daytime only and with a few other restrictions.) It was time to go visit Capital City Scooters in Columbus Ohio to see if American scooter culture would suit me as well as Vietnamese scooter culture had.

Capital City Scooters

I had done some research online and thought I knew what I wanted in a scooter. I even researched a particular make and model that interested me. Caitlin, the owner of Capital City Scooters, happened to have one for me to look at but now I wasn’t so sure. I asked her to tell me a little about her favorite models. She carries scooters made by SYM and the Genuine Scooter Company with a few vintage Vespas on hand for good measure. So many different scooters to choose from. The playful and retro feel of her shop was welcoming and friendly. Caitlin was sweet but really knew her vintage scooter memorabilia as well as her modern scooters. She made it a pleasant experience to learn and explore American scooter culture. Then it was decision time!

This was a very important choice. This scooter was going to be my main ride since I work from home and Dearest would be taking the Escape with him to work all day. Caitlin listened to me and helped me work out what my transportation needs really were. Then with a knowing smile, she introduced me to a lovely little piece from the Genuine Scooter Company, the Buddy 125.

When I first saw her in the showroom, I knew we were meant for each other. Her head (light) was turned shyly to the side, almost flirting with me. She was a delightful sea foam green. Her wheelbase was smaller than the other scooter I was considering promising nimble handling. She even had that petite, curvy retro look I adore. It was love at first sight. I bought her and named her “Pearl.” Our first ride? To the library, of course! Pearl has a lovely little cargo bay under the seat perfect for books and sundries.

Me and my Buddy 125

Since part of getting a motorcycle license in Ohio is taking a Basic Rider Course, Caitlin put me in contact with a trainer who has a  scooter-specific class. Pearl and I have been practicing in the library parking lot after hours. We’re getting ready for our skills-test. She is as graceful and nimble as her looks promised. Once Pearl and I pass that basic rider course, our riding restrictions will be lifted. We will be fully licensed. When fully licensed, I will be allowed to take passengers. The first thing I’ll do is put Dearest on the “cupcake” seat and take him to Graeter’s for ice cream. Now that’s classic American scooter culture!

Library tripTurns out, I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on Pearl. Even my parents are thinking about buying a pair of scooters for driving around town. I know just where to send them.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander



How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia

by Angie Hilbert
( June 23rd, 2014 )

How Does One Dress to Buy DragonfruitHow Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia edited by Shannon Young

Unlike expat women, I have had no trouble being a visitor abroad. I have always enjoyed meeting locals who are generous of spirit. When you visit with an open heart, any social faux pas is laughed away as unimportant and easily overcome. Is it inappropriate to wear this color to this ceremony? “Would you like to wear my shawl?” Did I just cut in ‘line’ because the queue protocol is unfamiliar to me? “Don’t worry about it, dear. Enjoy your visit.” All I’ve had to do was be sincere and genuine in my interest and everywhere I have gone, people have been kind and helpful. I am sure there are many reasons for this but one of them is that my presence is at most a temporary inconvenience.

When a woman actually lives abroad, the patience of the locals can wear thin and the novelty wears off. “At some point you would think she would learn what is appropriate attire for visiting the market!” It’s that in-between place, when you start to feel comfortable, but not really, where most of the stories in this book take place. Each of the authors communicates their love for their adopted culture even while expressing their sense of “otherness” in it. Some are funny, others poignant, but all of them are instantly relatable.

In Gods Rushing In Jenna Lynn Cody beautifully articulates her skepticism even as she honors her unexplainable experience, and instead of a contradiction, it’s kind of the point.

In How to marry a Moonie Catherine Rose Torres confronts the expectations surrounding her international marriage and resolves her own expectations, cultural and personal.

In Our Little Piece of Vietnam Sharon Brown gives birth to her daughter abroad and experiences motherhood for the first time.

In Waiting for Inspiration Coco Richter struggles until she laughs with the complicated employment situation in Hong Kong.

All of these women speak in their unique voice but each express what every woman has felt. You don’t have to be an expat to relate to their stories but the multicultural layer of their experience opens a window to understanding a different world.

What Wander-Readers will Love:

Vivid descriptions of life in many different Asian countries

Nuanced explorations of an aspect of each culture

No obvious, predictable cultural misunderstandings (a personal pet-peeve of mine)

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit has been my favorite summer read so far.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander






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