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Anthropologist worst or best event ever: Expat Family Collection of Life at the Dinner Table

The “Ring of Fire” is a fantastic zone!  It has over 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Living in Indonesia, I often wondered what would happen if there was a cataclysmic event in my own expat home. What would my ‘collection’ say about the people living in this space and time?

 Anthropology is the study of humankind, past and present.

What makes me wonder about my expat anthropologist nightmare is how disconnected it might have seen to Pompeii. When we went through the city of Pompeii in Italy, it was interesting. The town was laid out under the 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. It had a complex water system, an amphitheater, and even a gymnasium. It was fascinating to see how this collection of ‘life’ happened. I was very impressed with their daily family life.

When I first got married in 1987 (31 years ago), I wanted to create a wedding registry that would give me the perfect table setting for my entertainment pleasure. Not really, but I was told that I needed to do this! My husband didn’t have a strong opinion of what we needed. I asked the bridal registry assistant for help.  I remember her wise words.

First, think about how all these different types would fit – not just into your current décor, but the look of your dream home.

How would I know that this meant either a two small bedroom home in Pleasant Hill, California or the 7,500 square feet home in Jakarta, Indonesia?  Or was my dream home in Balikpapan where the whole back section of my house opens up into a tropical garden. Or was it my beachfront home on Roatan where I just watch the movement and behavior of the sea life out my front door? What is my dream home?

 Second, plan for the future.

I am sure this wedding planner had never dealt with an expat! How would you possibly know how you’d entertain 20 years from your wedding?  Should I include chopsticks because we are going to be living in Asia?  Should I ask for more spoons since they are the primary utensils used in Southeast Asia? Or should I ask for caviar spoons? A lovely set of spoons made out of mother of pearl, gold or wood but not silver since it would affect the taste of the caviar. Or did I want/need sporks, sporfs, or spifves? These are different combinations of a spoon with a fork or knife.

 Then she asked me to analyze my skills.

She asks me to think about the dishes I would love to make. Would I want fishplates?  Huge pasta bowls? A turkey platter for Thanksgiving dinner?  She forgot to ask me about ethnic food! Would I be serving tapas?  What about sushi? What about a bowl that is fit for the feasting of water buffalo entrails? Maybe I would need a large enough tray to put several baleadas on it in Roatan. Or the perfect bowl for Goong Ten in Thailand.

Goong Ten is a beautiful Thai dish that means, “dancing shrimp.”  Yes, they are alive! Goong Ten are small transparent little shrimp that are mixed in a metal bowl with a special sauce.  They make a very active salad!   I like the saltiness and the pleasant ‘crunch’ of this salad.

Finally, she asked me to imagine a dinner party.

I am sure she never had this combination in mind!

  • Appetizers and pre-drinks – miniature glass beer mugs from Australia to hold shots of whiskey
  • Soup course- Lovely bowls from Lombok Indonesia – the Sasak pottery
  • Soup tureen – Beautiful work of art from the Hof Pottery in Australia
  • Round platters that work well for meat – from the Lekki markets of Lagos, Nigeria
  • Oval platters that can hold anything from bread and cheese from the heart of the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Dessert plates – from Royal Heritage line in Indonesia
  • Tiered serving tray – from the truck stop in Colby, Kansas
  • Dessert sterling silverware with ‘Spider Orchids’ from the John Harris collect in Western Australia


Dorothy and the Scarecrow sit under the Balinese Dancer by the Royal Hertiage Flatware - Kansas Day Party 2014

Dorothy and the Scarecrow sit under the Balinese Dancer by the Royal Heritage Flatware – Kansas Day Party 2014 in Balikpapan, Indonesia


Expat's collections on the dinning room table our hard to explain.

An Expat’s collections on the dining room table are hard to explain to some people.


Sunflowers, Pie and Friends - what more does an expat need?

Sunflowers, Pie, and Friends – What more does an expat need?

Being a serial expat leaves a lot to the imagination and even more for an anthropologist to sift through.

One of the best exports from the state of Kansas is its talented youth.  William Allen White wrote “A song for Kansas Day.”

Wandering children of Kansas away,

By mountain, by desert, or sea,

Feasting or fasting, at prayer or at play,

Whatever your fortunes may be,

Open the doors of your hearts to the breeze.

Prairie winds never are still,

Hark the surf in the cottonwood trees,

the breakers that boom on the hill.

Open your soul’s windows – let in the sun –

The prairies sun gay with delight.

Where’er your wondering pathways have run,

Come home tonight.

  • January 27, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks – I also love my four mechanical dolls that my mother-in-law found at a doll show in the USA. These were set up in a store and each one runs on an electric cord that allows them to move arms up and down and twist at the waist. I am not sure what year they were made but they are in great shape.