9 Questions About Living Elsewhere

1. Where did you live and for how long?
I'm wondering how long I need to have been in a place to feel like I 'lived' there. I think it has something to do with how the place changes me, and the connections formed, and how grounded I am while I'm there, and how the place influences what I produce.

Iceland - about 15 months total (based in Reykyavik, but I spent about half my time in smaller towns, on farms, at research stations and in the middle of nowhere)

Riga, Latvia - about 2 years total, separated by stints in Iceland, Denmark & Russia

Copenhagen, Denmark - 6 months

Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia - about 5 months total

East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China) - 4 months

Luang Prabang & Vientienne, Laos - 3 months

2. What made you decide to go there?
Iceland - to flush southern California out of my system, to experience a full year above the 65th parallel, to think, to make a movie.

Latvia - to live with Juris

Denmark - to edit the movie I shot in Iceland

Russia - to help Juris research and shoot 2 movies (only one got made)

East Turkestan - to check out the desert, to meet tightrope walkers, to make a movie

Laos - to hang out near the equator, to float on the Mekong, to train ladies and girls on still cameras for the Photo Archive Group

3. Did you have to lie to enter the country?
Yes, in Russia, China and Laos.

4. Were you/are you legal? Plan on becoming so?
I always had visas. Never residency, though I had a kind of a quasi-residency in Lativa.

5. How did you/do you make money? Did you go there with a job or have to find one?
I never traveled to a place to find a job.
It was always for projects or love.
In Iceland, Copenhagen and China, I lived off grants.
In Lativa, I worked odd jobs. Shot some weddings, worked at a tv station buying movies and at an ad agency.
In Laos, I was commissioned.

6. Was housing easy/difficult?
It was always pretty easy.

7. Was the language a problem?
It gets frustrating sometimes. Especially when it comes to expressing sarcasm and wit.
I learn languages really fast. I enjoy it. I enjoy the different patterns of thinking. But I forget them immediately once I don't need them any more. Jettisoned into some trash compactor in my brain.

8. Favorite things/worst things about the place?
Iceland best: the light, the clarity of the atmosphere, the aurora borealis, the glaciers, the hot springs, the black sand beaches, new years bonfires, the first day the sun returns worst: waking up in the constant night of winter, feeling lonely.

Riga best: the architecture, the ice breaking up on the Daugava river in the spring, shopping every day at the farmers markets, mushroom and berry picking, endless birch and pine forests, Arsenals film festival, our ancient 7th floor walk-up. Worst: rampant government and banking corruption. Fights with Juris.

Copenhagen best: bike trails all over the dang place, amazing film workshop (Det Danske Filmvaerksted), Lelde Lagocska worst: weird general apathy that maybe comes from overly socialized economy, bed bugs in my sublet, constant rain, no sex

Russia best: subway stations in moscow, general chaos, the hugeness of the russian soul, cool music clubs worst: lots of incredibly fucked over downtrodden people, endlessly lugging camera equipment, being arrested 5 times, diesel traffic

E. Turkestan best: shish kabobs, music & dancing, travelling with the acrobats, cool handmade knives, Uyghur hospitality, design of traditional homes & villages worst: endless dysentary, Han oppression of Uyghur people, no vegtables

Laos best: the magnaimous, humbling, curious, non-judgemental grace of the lao people, eating at the outdoor night markets, slow boat trips down the mekong river, all the crazy plants and bugs, cock fights, the sounds of monks chanting, the view out our window worst: plane travel within Laos, ugly tourists

9. Any good stories about it or advice for others following?
Travel alone to a place you don't have connections or language. It will be one of the most liberating, clarifying and inspiring things you'll ever do.

 

- Deborah Stratman