Edna Zhou is the lovely the face behind Expat Edna, and what a Go! Girl she is! Read more to find out about her signature muppet, the best place to try dessert in Paris, and more, in this week’s Girls that Go!
GGG: Let’s get introductions out of the way. What’s your story? What got you living across the pond?
I’m Edna, an American and serial expat. I first moved abroad at 18 while finishing a degree in politics; two years later I graduated and left the US indefinitely. I’ve worked in media and tech in Shanghai, on a reality television show in Singapore, and international sports events from China to Australia; all while traveling around Southeast Asia. I moved to Paris six months ago to learn French and continue pursuing my dream career of working at the Olympics.**
GGG: Sounds like quite a résumé! Congratulations on your recent engagement! How did you meet the lucky fella, and do you have any tips on making long-distance work?
Thanks – we actually met as roommates! Long story short, we both happened to move into the same flat at the same time in Singapore. I used to joke that we’d been living together longer than we’d been dating (which was true for the first year, until I left for Australia).
Every relationship is different, but we’ve managed to make long-distance work because of trust, communication, and a bit of independence. I purposely listed communication second – it’s important, but trust comes first. Even in the age of Skype and WhatsApp, there will be periods of silence – for example, when I go on work trips, my fiancé knows that with my schedule he’ll barely hear from me during those days or weeks (we’ll still text regularly, but I don’t consider those proper conversations). During quiet periods like that, all you’ll have is your trust in the other person and in your relationship.
And I truly believe in the importance of being independent, and not being too wrapped up in being The Couple (obviously, since I chose to move 6,000 miles away to follow my career). While my fiancé and I are deeply in love, we also maintain a few separate hobbies and friends to make sure our entire life doesn’t revolve around the other person and whether or not they’ll be on Skype that night.
GGG: That sounds like a really grounded and healthy way to approach it! Speaking of love, I love the Beaker Around the World photo series. If you had to choose a Muppet to represent you for your fiancé to take around, who would it be and why?
It would have to be Cookie Monster (hey, he’s technically a Muppet). I’m constantly hungry, I somehow always manage to create a mess when I eat; and I, too, have trouble forming grammatically correct sentences when I haven’t eaten in a while.
Wondering what ‘Beaker Around the World‘ is? Edna explains on her site:
My boyfriend, with his shock of red hair and long skinny face, often reminds people of Beaker from The Muppets. So when I was preparing to leave Singapore and thus move our relationship into the “long-distance” category, we got a replica muppet to take with me on my travels. Cute, cheesy, all of the above? We don’t care.
GGG: Ha! Great! Another cool feature on your site is the I Love My Neighborhood guest posts. What gave you the idea to start that?
After living in Singapore and then moving to Paris, I found so many little things I loved about both neighborhoods I’d lived in; tiny details that most tourists don’t see or know about: a favorite shopkeeper, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, an unusual landmark. So I became curious, what do other expats see and love in their neighborhoods? Most travel sites and resources focus on seeing a place as a traveler, but very few talk about the actual joys of day-to-day life there. That’s why I decided to reach out to other expats, to share those experiences.
GGG: Along those lines, what would you write about your own neighborhood in your PA hometown?
This question made me laugh out loud. I come from straight-up cookie-cutter suburbia: white picket fences, 2.8 kids, need to take the mini-van to get anywhere in town. (We actually got vandalized a couple times because someone didn’t like Asians moving into the neighborhood, it was that…homogenous.) But overall, it was a good area to raise kids. Plus, all those cornfields were pretty to look at, and having lots of farms around meant decently fresh produce and milk. And the dairy farm down the street had a great little mini-golf/snow cone barn on its property.
GGG: Can’t go wrong living close to good produce! So, where did your obsession with Ireland come from? Did it meet your expectations when you visited?
I didn’t know a single thing about the country until 2008, when I moved to China and joined the local Gaelic football team. Once I started playing, I absolutely fell in love with the Irish: their accent; their dry, self-deprecating sense of humor; their laid-back attitudes and ability to just start a conversation with anyone…you get the point. I’ve never met an Irish person who wasn’t fun to be around and always up for the craic.
Ireland absolutely blew me away with its stunning natural scenery – during my first visit, it only rained once in two weeks, and the rest of the time the country was blanketed in gorgeous snow and frost – and of course, the people I met were so lovely. But I was a bit disappointed because I knew immediately after I arrived that I wouldn’t be able to live there. I’d had this dream that I’d eventually settle down in Ireland — but I’m a big city girl, and even Dublin, at four million residents, wasn’t chaotic enough for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m older.
GGG: You’re a Segway aficionado! What are the advantages of taking a Segway tour of a city as opposed to a walking one?
I do love Segways, but I’ll admit after my last experience – a three-hour ride around Paris – I’m not as big a fan of taking tours on them. You barely move at all when you’re on a Segway, so my legs actually started to cramp up after an hour from the lack of movement. Unless you have mobility problems or your name is Gob, then I’d recommend getting some exercise and taking a bicycle or walking tour.
GGG: I am so tempted to quote a million Arrested Development things right here, but I won’t. 🙂 Living in Paris can’t be cheap. Any tips on how fellow travelers or ex-pats can save a few bucks in the City of Light?
I save the most amount of money by not eating out; I stock up on groceries and cook every meal for myself. However, Paris is very accepting of people eating in public spaces; so when I do feel like a meal out, I simply buy a sandwich and eat on the steps of a building or in a park. When I go out with friends, instead of blowing money at a bar, we usually have a picnic along the Seine – a bottle of red wine, a fresh baguette, and an assortment of cheeses will only set you back around €10.
GGG: That sounds like a nice evening! Last, and perhaps most important, question: what is your favorite dessert in Paris, and where can we find it?
It’s a simple dessert, but my personal favorite is the café éclair at Le Moulin de la Vierge (in the 7th, next to the Sèvres-Lecourbe metro station) – it takes all my resolve not to eat one every day. Whenever I’ve got friends in town, I also make sure to take them to my favorite cheesecake shop, Berko (in the 4th, around the corner from the Pompidou).
*Since this interview was conducted, Edna fulfilled one of her dreams: to work at the Olympics! She’ll be reporting in London for the 2012 Olympic Games. Congratulations, Edna!
All photos in this post are courtesy of Edna Zhou