By letters

I’ve called this blog Letters Home to You because I plan to write in a style reminiscent of one of my favourite activities: letter-writing. Some will read like letters to Mom, some like letters to one or both of my brothers, some will be letters to my dear friends T, M, M, F, R, or D, all of whom live one hell of a long way away from where I do now.

This is the loneliness of the long-distance expat. Having left behind my home province of British Columbia, Canada 17 ago, I’ve lived for longer periods in Quebec, Hong Kong, and now Hamburg, Germany. At each stop along the way, life developed, friendships grew, some have stayed, some withered away. But those who have stayed with me, will always be with me. I think that’s because they grew in a time when communication near or far took place the old-fashioned way: telephone, face-to-face or pen to paper.

But we now live in an age where very few people write by hand anything more poetic or noteworthy than a shopping list. We write text messages in crypto-shorthand, bursts on an email text line, one-word answers to complicated questions, rapidity and accessibility replacing contemplation, reflection, time for thoughts to ripen and from that, ink to flow. I realise I can’t turn back the clock. The task of taking out sheets of paper, writing a letter in longhand, filling out the address, fishing stamps out of a drawer for a combination to make one euro and 70 cents to Hong Kong, the US or Canada which the German post office can’t seem to stock so I’m always scrounging around for an extra 10-cent stamp somewhere… affixing stamps to envelope, remembering to leave letter by the door, head out to find the post box… It has taken on the scale, planning and execution of an art project, with similar results: stunned silence. Who writes letters any more?

I do. If I haven’t written in a while, now’s the time to catch up.


© 2007 lettershometoyou

5 Responses to “The long-distance expat”

  1. February 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    You’ve given me a bit to think about.
    I was a letter-writer myself back before the internet took over. Eventually, all of those exchanges died off. They’ve been replaced by email – but my emails never have reached the same quality as my letters – the same amount of introspection or quality of writing. They could – why not? But they don’t. Why? Is it because I know the recipient is going to open it at work and barely have time to brush through it, instead of receiving it when they get home, and being able to sit back on the couch with it?

  2. February 2, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I remember on my backpacking trails the elation I felt picking up a few precious pieces of mail at the “poste restante” window at post offices in far-flung cities I’d told friends months before I’d be passing through. I’d go read them on the beach or under a tree, on my own time, alone as if the person who’d written was having a private conversation with me. It was precious.
    Had I been born 25 years later, I’d be picking up email at an internet cafe surrounded by dozens of others doing the same thing. Somehow we’ve gained something by all the possibilities technology has opened up to us, but lost something as well.

  3. 3 Frank Duscha
    February 20, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Dear Ian,

    I read the article about “Condoms on the kitchentable” and I can imagine curious Sophia pinpointing to the core of the matter.

    Maybe you try your new E-Mail address in the future, since we have a new luxury computer with fast DSL-access. Nevertheless sometimes unidentified mails end up in the SPAM, which I do not check regularly.

    Best wishes,

    Charlie and Frank

  4. March 8, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Hi Ian,

    I found your email on a ‘Blog Germany’ site; I live near Toronto and am contacting you for an opportunity; I know you may think this too good to be true, this isn’t, it’s true. We are looking for people in Germany, we are the ‘front line’ opening Germany, Austria and afterwards the rest of Europe. The product is ‘GoJi’ juice, you may have seen it on Oprah, as Dr Oz and many others hail it as a ‘super food’. This is a very low cost, exceptional opportunity to be ‘top line’ in a new country and will generate income, if not very big income for those that get involved early. I have forwarded some information below; if you think you want to pursue it further please let me know; I will formerly introduce myself with references if necessary and the person going over for 4 months is our top person in Canada, Howard Solomon, we can arrange a call to explore the options if you like; if it is not for you, possibly you would know someone interested in a very ‘hot’ turn-key international business opportunity, incredible timing.

    Here are some great readings about the benefits of GoJi, everything from stress, HBP, diabetes, cholesterol, infertility, energy, focus, slowing cancer, regenerating blood flow post irradiation and/or chemotherapy and more; these are not medical claims, they a research papers and people’s experiences. The first research papers talk about the positive effects on Degenerative Macular Disease due to aging and anti-aging benefits:

    Hello Drew: Feelife is a pyramid scheme, a scam, a complete and utter suckers’ game. Thanks for playing anyway.

  5. April 3, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Dear Ian,
    Being an expat myself, I understand perfectly well how you feel. Your current host country is my home country. I am now living for more than six years in a place some refer to as The Land of Smiles. And reading that you have spent time in Hong Kong, we both know what the term “intercultural challenges” truly stands for 😉
    I agree that (letter) writing is an excellent way of digesting our experiences, expressing how we feel, and share with others what is happening in the world.
    Happy Easter and I hope you are enjoying Germany,

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The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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