Blogging around the world with Karolyn from Distant Drumlin

I have been dipping into Distant Drumlin a blog by Karolyn Cooper for quite a while now as there is a fascinating journey behind it and Karolyn has led me into the world of many other excellent international expat experiences and bloggers.

The creator of Distant Drumlin returned to the UK after living in India and China for an extensive time a return journey which has open her eyes to many finer details of life back in her home. Today she splits her time between her city home in Marylebone, central London and her country home in County Down, Northern Ireland.

It was great to shoot a few question over about her experiences as an expat and blogger.

Karolyn's blog Camden Town

You have returned to the UK after living in India and China. How long where you living overseas? And how have you found this ‘reverse expat’ experience, was it difficult to get back into the swing of life in the UK?

My husband had a role in a large company managing software developers in China and India. I quit my job in London and joined him. We spent most of the last ten years overseas, first in Dalian (Liaoning Province, in the cold north­east of China), then Shanghai (warmer), then Bangalore (finally, blue skies and tropical sunshine in south India) . At the end of 2013 we came back to the UK. We’re happy to be back home.

Name five things we should see and do in India and China based on your experiences there?

See the fireworks at Diwali in India, and then see how they compare to the New Year fireworks in China. Do some yoga in India, compare with tai chi in China, see which makes your leg muscles ache more. Learn how to use chopsticks properly: it’s easy!

What should I defiantly taste/eat in India and China?

In India, you must taste the mangoes, bananas and cardamom. I thought I knew those flavours, but they were so much more intense in India.

In China, try everything unless it’s still alive (drunken prawns) or cruel (shark fin soup). You never know, you might love the jellyfish and Shanghai dumplings (I did) or the sea urchins and sea cucumbers (I really did not).

Now getting back to your present situation, if I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

Well that depends on whether you catch me in the city or the country. There’s nowhere finer in Northern Ireland than my own garden with a view of the County Down countryside and the Mourne Mountains, so I will make us a pot of tea. If we’re in London, let’s drink espressos at one of the trendy Marylebone cafes.

Do you ever miss your expat experience?

Only in mango season.

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

In India I didn’t learn anything, except to distinguish which of the local languages I was failing to understand. I am equally clueless in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.

We were much better in China. My husband and I both took lessons in Chinese. Our first teacher gave us a good grounding in Pinyin. That allowed us to learn some basic vocabulary. Then we learned how to look up Chinese characters in a dictionary, using the radical and the number of strokes. Those skills demystify Chinese…slightly. It’s still a hard language for English­speakers to learn. I learned Chinese vocabulary best when it came as part of a whole phrase that I could repeat, parroting the correct tones….so I am a fan of DVDs and podcasts. And the words that stuck best came with some emotion. Play a sport, and you soon learn to count the score, ask for the right golf club, and call shots in or out, just because you really don’t want to lose the game.

What do you appreciate the most about the UK now that you’ve been away from it? And what do you dislike about the UK and would change in an instant?

After eight months back home, I still appreciate clean water and reliable electricity. What would I change in an instant? Dark, grey, damp days.

Karolyn's blog street sign

What kind of blogger are you is it all about having a zillion followers or is it therapy?

I only had a zillion followers on one day, when a London college publicised the blog to the zillions of students who attend the college. The excitement wore off when none of them came back for the next post, so now I’m back to blogging as therapy.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

It started as an expat blog, as a way to keep in touch with family and friends when I moved to India. I was enjoying it too much to stop when the expat posting ended. Most of my posts are photo–heavy, light on text.

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I love taking photos for the blog, because there’s no pressure. You’ve never seen my photos of the pheasants who live on our farm, because the birds flee from me every time. I only post photos on the blog when I’m proud of them….I don’t announce them in advance.

Sometimes the iPhone is good enough, but I also have a Panasonic Lumix G3 and a Nikon D90. The Lumix is the best for blogging because it’s so small, and easy to carry around. I often wish I had taken more time over my photos. If someone­ my driver in India, my family or friends – is waiting for me, I rush to take a few photos and move on. When I’m in London, I fear that people will think I’m odd if I stop in the street for too long with a camera. But I’ve learned the hard way that it’s always worth taking another minute to get a better shot. Unless you’re looking for pheasants, in which case it’s too late.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

I’m in the middle of reading “The Old Ways” by Robert MacFarlane – a wonderful book about walking.

For China, Peter Hessler’s “River Town” was my favourite.
For India, Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is impressive, but will make you cry in its depiction of life in the slums of Mumbai.
And the best recent book about London, with the longest title, is Craig Taylor’s “Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now ­ as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it” .

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

Kim is an American woman living in Fiji with her family, blogging about the animals, plants, people and culture of Fiji. The blog is called Flora and Fauna Weekly Report. The content is so much more interesting than the title! Weekly posts keep the whole thing fresh, and Kim’s photographs bring it all to life.

Karolyn on yoga mat in India

Cheers to Karolyn for taking a moment to answer some questions and the lovely images.

Be sure to pop over and see her at Distant Drumlin for some fine images and reflections on life in the UK.

If you want to see more of Karolyn check her out on Twitter and Flickr .

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