2017: Without Comment

Presented without comment: My favourite photographs from 2017. I’m working on a post about the year, but this is a good start. 2017 was packed with great stuff, and had opportunities for some of the best photographs I’ve ever taken. I’m ready to explore some more in 2018.

For reference:

  • January-April 12 = Busan and Seoul, South Korea
  • April 13th-23rd = Vietnam
  • April 23-June 13th = USA (Colorado and North Carolina)
  • June 13th – September 9th = Iceland
  • September 15th – Present = Vietnam














Ten Things You Don’t Know About Immigration

Hey readers, this article got picked up by Economy, a website devoted to demystifying economics and making it personal. Check out the version that got published here. 

Being married doesn’t always help you to live in the same country

I’m from the States. My husband is English. This is a problem, in spite of the ‘special relationship’ between our countries, we are not allowed to live in either country at this time. We can visit under visa wavier programmes, but we cannot work in the same place without residency. We therefore choose to live in 3rd countries, where we are both subject to the same visa process.


Sign here, dear…

I do not get tax breaks associated with marriage due to my husband’s non-citizen status. Both our immigration records include notes that we should be asked more questions at the border due to being married to a citizen. We are separated temporarily right now, me in the US and him in the UK. We chose to spend three weeks in Vietnam in part because we knew we could be together as spouses.

Money matters much more than it should

Did you know that one can purchase a passport in some countries? Yes, if you happen to have $3,000,000 lying about you can buy the right to vote in elections and pass freely through borders. Recently my own government (er, excuse me, the Kushner firm that happens to be tied directly to President Trump) was accused of selling access to the US Green Card programme for just $500,000 in China. 

The thing is, this is an official programme called the EB-5 visa.

The Kushners did not invent it. Those who apply need not worry like the plebs about a criminal history or health problems. Who knows how many Green Cards are being bought already?

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Those who dare to fall in love with a foreigner face serious financial difficulties in the US and the UK. In the UK, one has to have £18,600 to bring a a spouse over. That might not sound like much, but according to some estimates it is more than 41% of the population could come up with, more than what 55% of women could. Every child that is part of the family ‘costs’ an extra £2,400 per year.

If you are disabled, unemployed, or even a war veteran you cannot use your public funds to prove you have enough money for the right to family life. Money matters, not family bonds.

Immigration can make you sick

Photo on 08-04-2015 at 12.45

Shingles. April 2015. I got so stressed out by the Chinese Visa process that the Varicella virus dormant in my spinal cord since preschool burst forth on my forehead, scorching scars and leaving a trail of nerve damage in its wake. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call shingles ‘hellfire’ in many Scandanavian languages.

Immigrants suffer under the stress, and own health is commonly affected. Anxiety and depression are more common among immigrants than the general population, and not being covered by healthcare available to local citizens can take a toll. Many suffer insomnia around their applications, too.

Health exams are still common (and invasive)

When I taught my students in China about Ellis Island, they were universally horrified that a health exam was required to enter the USA at the time. I sputtered. The next day I brought part of my immigration records for China, which was the clean result of my own health exam.

At Ellis Island, you had about six seconds to prove you were healthy and fit for work. In the suburbs of Shanghai, we spent two hours undergoing a full physical, an exhaustive questionnaire about mental and physical health, a blood workup, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound. Both health exams are awful, and most people who’ve never applied to work abroad don’t realise this remains a requirement.

It’s the same for each work permit I’ve obtained. The health exam cannot be skipped for many other visa categories, either. If I do decide to apply to live in England, I would have to do the same.

It’s not as simple as ‘Filing the Paperwork’

Paperwork should be straightforward. Immigration paperwork requires a lawyer. Or at least lawyer’s eyes. A single stray mark or the wrong coloured pen and your application could be rejected. I dream stress dreams about not checking a single box correctly in an application form and spending weeks or months separated from my husband.

On the upside, I am more organised than I have ever been in my life these days as a result of immigration. Some files that couples create for their spousal visas are more than 1000 pages long, with love letters (on paper, Facebook doesn’t count!), photographs, tax documents, and interview transcripts. It’s a huge undertaking, and is less like applying for a new Driver’s License and more like jumping into unknown, freezing waters.


Catch-22s pervade everything

‘So what’s your husband’s Social Security Number?’

‘He can’t have one yet, since he’s not a resident.’

‘Well, I can’t add him to the bank account without one.’

‘Ummm, but we can’t apply for residency until we have a shared bank account.’



You must have a job to work, but to get a job you must already be in country for the interview. You must have enough money to live in London, but you must not work more than 20 hours per week. You will be trained for a degree by a top university in country, but are required to leave before your graduation ceremony.

Elections have a direct effect, almost always

Trump. Brexit.

Enough said.

It takes years to immigrate

A fellow nomadic travel blogger, Runaway Juno, just received her immigrant visa to the USA recently. She posted herself happily with the page-sized sticker in her Korean Passport, the relief after 14 months of application and processing to join her spouse flowing out of the portrait itself. Once she passes her final border interview and moves to the US, she still has to fulfill many other requiresments before she can be secure in her status.

In many countries, one cannot even apply for residency until having lived there for 5-10 years.

We spoke to a lawyer in Boulder after we got engaged, and she said that although we could apply from outside the US it would take about 18 months on average to receive the Green Card. It is unpredictable and fluid, the length of time for a visa. A lot of hurry up and wait. Sometimes, a scramble for the right documents when the email comes down demanding them right fucking then or the whole thing is off. In the UK, the Home Office makes a call when one applies for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ about whether they require five years or ten of residency.

Months. Years.

Permanent Residency is not the same as citizenship and isn’t always permanent


In both the UK and the USA this year, several groups of ‘permanent’ residents were told that they could not re-enter or leave the country, or that they should make plans to leave. Some, such as EU spouses who’ve lived in the UK for 20+ years, have no other place to go back to. A few such examples:

Even if one follows all the rules, permanent residents do not enjoy voting rights in most districts. They cannot leave the country of their residency for periods longer than six months or less. They are required to check in with immigration officials and any minor infractions may result in issues. They still have to go through separate immigration lines in many airports, away from family.

Immigrants also look like me

zhujiajiao 039

I tell my family who lean right to imagine my face, to pull it up before their eyes in the ballot box. I tell them to picture me every time someone uses the word ‘immigrant’ in a political rally. I do this because of the sneaking suspicion that they don’t know any immigrants, or that they don’t realise that my family (their family) is directly impacted by their choices in elections. Or that they think immigrants are some Other who looks nothing like them.

Yes, immigrants look like people from every place on Earth, and there are more than 300 million of us. That’s more than at any other time in human history.

To put that into nationalistic terms, we are almost as large as the whole United States’ population, scattered as we are around the world.

Humans are by nature adventurers. We left our species’ origins and spread around the globe long before immigration papers and passports had ever even been close to being imagined. There is evidence to suggest that we share a common vision of what a beautiful nature landscape looks like, and many of the descriptions put together by social scientists include a path arching off into the distance.

Immigrants have always been the ones to take that path.

This nation of immigrants is not going anywhere (strictly metaphorically speaking), and we will continue to grow. Talk to us. Seek us out. Connect with us. If necessary, defend us. You never know when you may have to join us. Don’t worry. There is a lot of space. Welcome, friends.

Two Weeks

“Bullies never prosper,” I say aloud in class.

“Unless, that is, you want to be President.”

It’s two weeks since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. It’s high time I said something about it. I am running on approximately 600mg caffeine, 2 hours of sleep, nine teaching contact hours, and 1 kilo of kimchi. I also bought myself the present of a Chinese tuocha this evening. It’s like a pressed cake made of tea.

I’ve been an incoherent ball of unpindownable emotions since Wednesday the 10th, my time. 13:30 Korea Standard Time found me glued to the NPR livestream on my borrowed smartphone, heart beating painfully out of my chest. Hands shaking. Inability to teach confirmed. It didn’t help that I was to do yet another godamned singing lesson about the storybook ‘Ali Baba (Jr.) and the FOUR Thieves.’ It all broke loose then and basically hasn’t been right since.

“You might see some scary news in the coming weeks,” I say to the eldest of our kindergarteners, gathered near my knees.

“Scary things might happen. It is an emergency. That’s why teacher needed to look at her phone, ok?”

“I’m going to call the police and tell them that Coleen Teacher was using her phone during class!” says, Daniel Lee.

I just can’t bring myself to wear the red, white, and blue skirt I wore on Election Day in the hope of unity. I feel like throwing it away.

I vacillate between wondering whether anything has really changed or if it all has, and wanting to tear my hair out every time I hear the words, ‘President-Elect Donald Trump’ and thinking surely I’m over that by now. I mean, it has been two weeks.

It’s a good thing that I listen to All Things Considered in the shower in the morning; the only moral response to such words is immediate vomiting. Obviously it’s cleaner to have placed oneself directly under a stream of hot water to avoid any unsightly bits of dignity or stench when trying to appear a professional at work less than an hour later.

On the night of 10th November, I was in my ninth class of nine at 17:30 local time. I checked my phone for the last time that night, praying against hope that it was some horrible joke.


I don’t remember which group on my Twitter broke the news. I know that I immediately redirected my anger and despair onto an undeserving student. She’d been talking in Korean all class, even when I’d expressly forbidden talking during the quiz. I walked over and picked up her paper. I tore it up.

She cried.

I cried.

The pointless and unrecorded quiz was put back together with brown packing tape because our school is too cheap to buy any supplies at all.

I was obviously just some arsehole American.

‘Trump won. I don’t know where to start.’

‘I went to the temple up the road and lit a candle. Then I bought a bottle of soju. Now, I write. I couldn’t muster going to Home Plus and I can’t see up here in the clear night. Half a moon is up there, grinning.’

‘I knew it. To be honest, as soon as he was the nominee I knew we were fucked. Brexit on last June 23 showed it. The stars aren’t laughing at us. They just don’t care at all.’

In case anyone cares, I did in fact hold my nose and vote for Clinton.

In 2012, people yelled ‘Let him die!’  at a Republican Primary debate. I was studying in France. I was shocked. I thought that was as bad as it could possibly get in US politics.


Sheer disbelief that all the facts and well-reasoned arguments in the world could win over the blind fucking racist idiots with lethal force in hand, who decided that the best thing to throw at a powerful female candidate for the Presidency was SHE’S A WITCH in the closing hours of the election campaign. I shit you not. Reading the hashtag feed for #SpiritCooking on any social media may be capable of producing immediate frontal lobe cancerous growths, but it was worth it. There is no secret recipe to why Clinton lost. It is all the worst possible things it could be. Everyone would do well to stop trying to explain it all away as some fluke. Some mistake. Some accident.

This is no accident.

This is who we have become.

Clinton’s concession speech was brutally painful to listen to. I was, pre-emptively, in the shower on Thursday morning Korea Time.

‘“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will, and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.’

All I could say was, ‘Bullshit.’

As eloquent in defeat as she was, Clinton was not reassuring me in that speech. I don’t believe her. I don’t think she believes her. I now believe that women cannot do everything. That we will be judged on our possession of a vagina alone. That we are reducible to the sum of our genitalia when it comes to the most powerful office in the world (barring Russia, but who seriously thinks that Putin will be giving up power to a woman anytime soon?).

Women can’t have it all. And maybe we never can. And maybe everything I’ve believed my whole life has to change. And maybe people aren’t inherently good. And maybe I’m suddenly wishing for more Leviathan. And maybe I’m crying.

‘If this were a movie, that would be foreshadowing.’

TrumpWorld tower in Busan looms next to the big bridge opposite Gwangalli Beach in the gathering darkness of twilight. I squint to look at it. Sure enough, that’s what it says. It is the 5th of November, 2016. I carry a Trump effigy made out of a toilet roll in my backpack.

Instead of The Guy, we burned a Trump on the beach that night. The effect turned out just a tad gruesome. Fittingly, the first part of him to burn was his crotch. Grab him right in the…

If this all seems a bit disjointed and unhinged, that’s accurate. I haven’t been able to sleep properly since the election. I keep seeing the images of Trump’s orange, smug-arse face behind the podium. I keep seeing Nigel Farage, the architect of Brexit, in that golden fucking elevator. I keep thinking mildly violent thoughts, which basically chicken out at hoping some vaguely horrible accident might befall the president elect before he could be elevated to the Oval Office.

But it’s too late anyway. He’s already installed trolls, misogynists, white supremacists, and openly-racist fuckers. They would just continue what he has started.

One good thing: I have every right to comment and analyse. When everyone was/is so wrong, there is space for even an overworked, insomniac TEFL teacher in Busan at the table. I did my research last summer. I courted the crazy on Twitter, asking Trump supporters questions about their stances. They offered me nothing of substance. A fair few told me the now-common line, ‘I want change. I voted for Obama in 2008, and now I’ll vote for Trump.’

I dismissed them as batshit at the time.

The rooftop is my escape. No CCTV with hawkish moms watching my every breath in the classroom. No bank tellers helpfully stepping away from my foreign arse at the counter and refusing to serve me for the crime of speaking in English. No Trump. Right? Right?

I went up there twice the night he won. Once to scrawl angrily on my journal.

Once to weep.

I don’t trust myself to write anymore.

I don’t see the point of writing in the post-fact age. Maybe I should just retreat into lies on this blog and wade into the wide river of bullshit that is the American Psyche at the moment. It’s the hot thing right now. Lying.
Some would spin it as fiction. And I am suddenly retreating into fiction. News, commentary, and writing about my grinding day-to-day existence are too painful.

My idealism, more ironic than dear-held since at least 2010 is drowning in cynicism. Or perhaps burning away is the more accurate metaphor. I think that I’m over it and moving from anger and automatic vomiting to something approaching acceptance. Then I see something like this:

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like I’m the one burning up on the beach in effigy, slowly consumed by a fire started by someone who thinks it’s ok to grab me by the pussy. An Attorney General who doesn’t believe that grabbing someone’s gentials against their will constitutes sexual assault. A family that will invariably enrich itself and peddle Trump Steaks all over the world in exchange for favour, while they laugh at us for speaking the words ‘conflict of interest.’

I dissolve into the stream of ‘FUCKs’ plastered all over my social media for the last two weeks, which my friends and family must surely be tiring of. I collapse on the floor of my tiny-arse kitchen here in Busan, stomach in knots. I try and fail to sleep well for the 15th night in a row.

I have decided that the part of me that believed people could make informed democratic decisions that hold lasting ramifications for themselves, their global neighbours, and posterity has to die. I’ll hold a nice funeral and all, but she has to go. There is no more room for her in this brave new world.

Memes will not save us. Protest songs will not save us. Knowing the words that the alt-right calls people like me won’t save us. We (probably) will not save us. My guess is currently that nothing will save us.

It is now the Trumpocene Epoch. There is no going back two weeks.


Blowing Your Mind with the Political Compass

I first took this quiz, written in fairly shitty HTML that is nostalgic for all those in my generation, in maybe 2004. It was around the time that I first began watching the Daily Show. I was a leftie then, even at age 16. This was around the time I regularly wrote to my senators about the Iraq War (correctly stating more than once that this was a Hydra we couldn’t just carpet bomb into submission, and that worse and worse terrorist groups multiply).

A few important changes since then:

  • The death penalty is never justified, lacks internal logic, and risks killing people who didn’t commit crimes for which they were convicted.
  • A one-party system is more efficient (see China), but not necessarily preferable.
  • Sex outside of marriage is not to be frowned upon; abstinence-only preaching seriously endangers young people and old with misinformation and scaremongering.
  • National borders are like the lines children draw on the floor and say, “You can’t cross because I say so.” If not for the accident of my birth in Colorado to my particular parents, I could have been born anywhere to anyone. That random event shouldn’t decide things like whether I get to live and work in the same country as my husband.

In 2016, I’ve been listening to a ton of podcasts about the election. NPR’s Politics Podcast. The Political Junkie. Coverage on All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Grand Reportage from RFI. One in Italian that I don’t remember the name of presently. I read The Guardian, the BBC, Le Monde, La Nacion (Chile), The People’s Daily, and a few more periodicals. I’ve recently started looking at Red Feed, Blue Feed for balance.

I’ve been seeking out Trumpites and those with whom I actively disagree on Twitter, too. I feel very well informed about the political climate.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.55.08 PM

Ugggggggggh. The disagree is so strong.

And yet, when people ask me about the main candidates, they are slightly surprised what I have to say. I tell them that Trump is embarrassing, and reminds me of Silvio Berlusconi. I tell them that political decisions have immediate impact on my life, since I live abroad and have to answer for all Statesian actions when people find out where I’m from. I tell them that Bernie Sanders never had a chance (but that I liked him since 2011!).

And I tell them that Hillary Clinton is a centre-right candidate. 

This blows my countryfolk’s minds. I often try to explain that if she held the views she seems to hold based on public remarks, she would be right of the current government of the UK in a few ways. I continue with the idea that politics in the US is skewed so far right that she seems reasonable compared to a Ted Cruz or a Jerry Fallwell Jr.

But this chart, released by the Political Compass based on public information from the candidates in 2016, makes my point much more clearly.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.13.30 PM

For comparison, here are the rest of the candidates from the primaries. Bizarrely, Trump moved right on this one, indicating perhaps that he has adjusted his apparent views to suit a right-wing GOP slugfest over the last YEAR. Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.13.36 PM

I took the test again today.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.24.14 PM

Left of the Green Party…..WHOOOOOOOOO!

And for fun, here are three dictators, an economist, and Gandhi.  Of course, no implied connection to any current candidate. Ahem. Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.24.07 PM

Does this change your thoughts about the 2016 Election? How do you feel about the 2016 election?

Want to talk on Twitter? I may be a mega-leftie, but I’m happy to listen and try to understand how you come to your opinions. Come find me!