ICONS OF OUR TIME
NAME: The Ethnic Expat Flat.
NATIONALITY: Er, expatriate? DISTINGUISHING FEATURES: Variety, variety, variety. The expat flat is a cliched blend of rattan blinds, Korean chests, rosewood Chinese dining tables, giant painted fans, Japanese laquered things, china elephants, jars from, um, the jar factory, calligraphy scrolls wishing 'long life, double happiness and death to colonial devils', along with jade dog bookends resembling something out of Ghostbusters. As if this hotch-potch of Asiana weren't enough, Mr and Mrs Here-For-Six-Years like to remind themselves of home by introducing elements of wholly unsuitable velvet or Laura Ashley chintz.
BRIEF HISTORY: The expat flat evolves in a manner that's about as haphazard as the average expat's holiday schedule over the years: Thailand (a pair of those cute baby buddhas resting on watermelons and brass-rubbings of warring elephants), Penang (pewter or hideous batik wall-coverings), Bali (more of those batik things or beer coolers saying 'C'mon Aussie, c'mon!'). Then there are the knock-off antiques from some of the less scrupulous merchants on Hollywood Road, bought on a wet Saturday when the beach is out of the question and you've had enough of hanging around the flat watching videos and eating pizza.
CROWNING GLORY: The Korean chest. Just where did this little gem come from? Certainly not Korea when the shop said it did because a couple of hundred years ago the people of that fair land were more concerned with staying alive than labouring over exquisite chests into which you can't fit anything useful. Instead, the antique Korean chest is the product of a thriving contemporary business.
REALITY CHECK: In among all those dusky Indonesian betel nut boxes and Thai tribal masks you also find a whole lot of minimalist black IKEA-style units ('we just couldn't find a Korean chest high enough to house the stereo'), partly because it's the best you can afford without a furniture subsidy from your employer.
SUB-DIVISIONS: (1) The diplomat's pad. This is choc-a-block with antiques, arranged by the stylist from the interiors magazine that was in to photograph the place last week. There's actually only one room comfortable enough to spend time in, and that's the one with the comfy sofa, TV and drinks tray.
(2) The younger, locally-employed expat's flat. This one contains a gaudy chandelier installed by the landlord and posters from Rugby Sevens past on the walls in place of the scrolls.
DISTANT RELATION: The little bit of Asia in the heart of Bedfordshire. You know, the house owned by the couple who ended their Asian sojourn and shipped the bits back. They pat the poor, shivering little wooden Buddhas on the head during a wet February to remind them of short-sleeves and twilight barbecues at the Yacht Club. The couple in question always have an anecdote about the cockroach that somehow survived the journey back ('You know, they say they'll be the only things to survive a nuclear explosion. Well, this little bugger certainly survived the freight forwarders better than our clay ducks!').