Expat Sat: Thin Places

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

As I move into writing my new novel (which mostly takes place in Shanghai), I think a lot about why China affects me so deeply. Why it’s become such an integral part of my being. Why I can’t shake it. Why when I’d never planned to love it–and when it pisses me off in a lot of ways–I do.

Last week in the New York Times, Eric Weiner wrote a piece about “thin places.”

I know, huh? What the heck are “thin places”?

Weiner describes “thin places” like this:

“They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.”

And then:

“A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún. Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”

And there it is.

Quite unexpectedly, in China, I became my more essential self.

This piece–and this idea of “thin places”–has given me some real insight into this next novel of mine. So thank you, Eric Weiner.

And to all you expats/nomads/wanderers out there, what’s one of your “thin places”? Where have you become your more essential self?


Image: thepathtraveler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


One Response to Expat Sat: Thin Places

  1. Hmm, interesting concept. My first reaction isn’t what one might expect. I’m an expat in Paris, but it is not what I’d name my thin place. That would be New York. I went straight from a hippie Quaker college in North Carolina up to the Big Apple and fell madly in love with the city’s energy, diversity, and dynamism. I became bigger and bolder. I always feel like I came into myself in New York.

    I actually felt like I retracted when I moved to Paris. I became smaller, more reserved, timid again. That is partly cultural, but also largely integration issues in general, I’d imagine. Now that I’m several years in, I don’t feel so small. I’m learning how to renegotiate my way back to my “essential self.” I’m not sure what’s going to come of this journey, but I’m on it. Perhaps then Paris is also one of my thin places as I’ve had to figure out why I could feel like a different person just because I’m in a different place – and work to get back to the unified me.

    Congrats on starting the new novel, Kristin. Sounds like it’s going to be an interesting ride!