Full time teacher, part time fashion blogger - we sat down with Norbyah Nolasco for a lengthy discussion on the state of American affairs and Trump, how she came to be Hong Kong with her family, her blog and her rooftop gigs
Name: Norbyah Nolasco
Occupation: High School English and Special Education Teacher and Blogger I'm A Norbyah
Hometown: Where I am now, I guess. Summers in Madison, Wisconsin
Current Residence: Hong Kong (11 years)
Your favourite 90s band or artist: Mazzy Star, Sarah McLaughlin
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Australia, grew up predominantly in Malaysia (my dad is Malaysian/Chinese and my mum is Australian). We moved there when I was little and lived on the east coast of Malaysia to take care of my sick grandad. We spent 2 years in the United States when I was between the ages of 5 and 7, that's where one of my sisters was born (she is the one who can vote) and then we went back to Malaysia from the east coast to Kuala Lumpur. In Malaysia I went to an international school which sort of gave me a good perspective on life and where you can live and what you can experience as my children are having now.
Do you remember much of your two years in America?
I do. I have memories of the public school I attended, classes, my teachers. One teacher we kept in touch with long after. When I went to University I actually went to the same town we lived before. I was the eldest and a bit anxious about being the first one out of the nest so it felt good to go somewhere that I recognised. I had family friends, this teacher, my godparents were there and I attended the university where my parents did their masters degree so it was a familiar area to me.
What did you do at university in the US?
Both my parents were teachers and I decided at university that I knew I wanted to work with kids but I wanted to buck the trend a bit and not do teaching because that’s what people expected that I would do but about my second year it was inevitable that’s what I was meant to be and so I got my degree to teach high school English. I also got a masters degree to teach Special Education.
How did you find yourself in Hong Kong? We came over to Hong Kong in 2006. My Mum and Dad live here and in 2005 in the summer I came for a visit with my son and just loved Hong Kong and for me it awoke that desire to live internationally again. We had settled in the United States and my husband sort of said why don’t you look if there are jobs over there and we did. I’ve looked at other schools and places over time but I compare it to here and it’s just not the same.
Did you intend to stay for so long?
We had told everyone oh... it’s a two year contract, we’ll stay for two years but in the back of my mind and Joe’s mind [Norbyah’s Husband] we knew we were making a life change. We were going to pursue it for what it was and see if it was for us. And 11 years later it still works for our family and my Mum and Dad are here which has a big part of why we have stayed. So my job here is at school, kind of working with students who have disabilities while also teaching in mainstream and teaching lit[erature] and it’s a nice balance - I like what I do.
Have you worked in the same school for 11 years?
Yeah here I have but before here I worked in a public school [in America] and it gave me a greater appreciation of different ways of living. I learnt that my experience of growing up was very narrow you know? Ironically I had more of an experienced worldview in what I had seen growing up in different places but in other areas I was far more narrow and naive. I naively thought everyone goes to university but then when I went to the US I learnt no, that was just my school. And it’s funny teaching a lot of kids now in that an international school environment they have that same mindset as I did, I have to go to such and such university, this is the kind of job that's acceptable blah blah blah...but I’m always trying to niggle them a little to open their view up.
I know you went on a recent trip to L.A, do you go back much?
We go back to the States to see Joe’s side of the family and my sisters every summer, I have two younger sisters who both now live in New York. It’s exciting to go back, we used to spend a lot of time in NYC with my sisters and you don’t have to go far to find anything there, it’s easy to get around and I guess we were spoilt a bit so now when we head to L.A to visit Joe’s sister it’s a bit more of an effort but I’m starting to like it more and more each time I go back. There are certainly pockets! It’s all just a bit harder to find and get around. The climate is great, the vibe is fantastic.
We have a home in the Midwest which we also go visit each summer in Madison, Wisconsin which is just so gorgeous in the Summer you know there are the lakes and you can ride your bikes, there are farmers markets, great thrift shops. Joe’s parents are 2 hours south of there in Oglesby, Illinois so yeah, it’s a nice cross section of places to visit.
Do you get back to Australia at all?
Not so much unfortunately, it’s kind of having to pick one or the other, do we go and see family or go to Australia and hope they come? I used to spend my winters there as a kid but sadly haven’t been back in 7 years or so. I used to love the op shops and flea markets there, not just the Victoria Market one but the one in Croydon where we had a house was awesome too. This big warehouse with all vendors in there.
You’ve had your blog I’m a Norbyah since 2006 What was the idea behind starting it?
It’s taken on a few shapes and forms and I guess since moving here it in 2006, it started under a different domain, oneloveonelife.com and it was a gift that a girlfriend gave me as a farewell gift and had it set up for me so I could write my story about moving overseas and keep in touch. It was a lovely lovely gift. It was like that for two years, life in Hong Kong, pictures of the kids and stuff like that then in about 2008 or 2009 it morphed even more into things I was interested in, I knit so I was often posting about knitting projects I was doing, then I started following knitting blogs and craft blogs then DIY blogs, it was pretty seamless transition and I was starting to find blogs of women. This world kind of came known to me and I dabbled in posting about other things not just family and then in 2008 I switched domains to blogger and reinvented it a bit.
Where does the name I'm A Norbyah come from?
The story goes I was in year 7 doing a writing project at school about a memory you had, a story about your name and I named the book I’m a Norbyah because when I was a child my mum used to say when people asked me what are you, they would see I was a mixed child growing up in Malaysia and see I was caucasian and she said I used to answer them saying I’m A Norbyah. So when I was coming up with a title for the blog I thought I’ll name it that and it kind of opens the door for me to write about anything. I still dabble in parenting a bit but I’m a bit more guarded now that readership has grown and I carefully censor how much of my kids I put on there.
A lot of what I end up writing about I’ll have pictures with an outfit or something but the stories that go along with the pictures aren’t just about what I’m wearing but something more. I couldn’t just talk about my clothes all the time so it’s more things related to what I think about with clothes or other things.
I have to remember a lot of the time who is my audience, what am I doing it for, what are they expecting and what can I give them so all of a sudden they don’t read a post and think oh who are you? Sometimes I take risks and write about stuff like the Women's March recently but then I think I should pull back a bit afterwards and do something else so it doesn't all become political. I find the blogs I come back to are the ones where the writers are real people, you know who you are reading, you can hear their voices, you know what’s important to them and you don’t know all the nitty gritty details of their life but you have the general idea and I like that. I think that’s what I like about a lot of things like brands -if there is a story that goes with, it makes me want to go back.
I’m not like one of those blogs that has set days and set things, I don’t really have a trajectory for where my posts are going to go, sometimes I’ll write down ideas but it goes with my life, it really does. And as an English teacher I really like the writing side of things.
Your love of fashion and outfits are very prominent on the blog. Did you always have an interest in fashion, styling and vintage wares?
I guess as much as any girl does. I grew up in hand-me-downs and they were so exciting when you get fun things from other teachers kids, name brand things we could have never afforded new. Growing up in Malaysia we shopped in markets and I learnt to find something by searching for it. When I was in year 6 going off to a formal I found this ruffle skirt I remember that had a drop waist and I got this wide elastic belt to go across and no one else had anything like it because they all shopped at the mall. There used to be this reject shop in the mall that was our favourite because it had name brands but they would cut the labels out and slash prices down and we would spend hours in there. We also used to rummage through our parents stuff and find big shirts of our dads from the 70s. It's more looking at what I see and trying it out. I was always a pretty shy kid but I would take risks in what I was wearing. Heading back to Australia in the summer, I was always inspired by what people were wearing there because it was always a little different. I remember when knee high socks were all the rage in Australia and I got myself a pair and some brogues and then headed back to Malaysia and people would be like what is she doing?!? I like that what I wear is not conventional. You can find things on trend everywhere but you just have to look a bit more.
What keeps you here?
I love the ocean. I know the beaches aren’t always pristine but I love being near the water. Everywhere I’ve lived there has always been a body of water whether a lake or an ocean. I love the convenience of being so close to the city but still out near the water. I love how safe it is, the transport. I love the food and the people, the people we’ve grown with here. I love being part of Asia and having my kids here, hearing Cantonese around, wandering the markets, it relates so much to how I grew up. I love most everything but then you have those days when the pollution is bad and you’re like what am I doing here. It is full on too and I appreciate the schedule we have because we can escape in the summer and recharge and relax.
Finally I want to ask you about your Nolasco Rooftop Concerts. How did they start and what was the thinking behind it?
Yeah my friend invited us to a house party a couple of years ago and she invited The Bollands [local Hong Kong band] along to play and they said they liked doing that sort of stuff and they would be happy to come to yours sometime and play. So my husband decided it would be fun and we had them play up on our roof for my 40th and that was the first concert we had with them. And bands like it because they don’t have to try book a gig, they get donations from people at the parties and we can use that space for 4 or 5 months when it’s not too hot so we thought why not do it some more? The music crowd is quite small here so once you meet someone you get introduced to someone else and I’m finding these worlds collide a lot which is fun. We’ve met some others who have played, we’ve had The Red Stripes up there. We just love live music, small venues, intimate stuff. It’s partially to support local bands but also because we have the interest and the space and bringing live music to the south side of the island, people over here really like coming. We try do it once a month and now we have bands asking us to come play the space.