The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

For this Filipina with a passion for immersive escapades, a picture says…

Jean Alaba Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Jean Alaba in front of moat surrounding Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan. Photo credit: Jean Alaba.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My February guest is 20+ Filipina Jean Alaba. An extrovert who describes herself as a “God-fearing human being” and a “firm believer of living vividly,” Jean is, without a doubt, fulfilling her passion in life: TO TRAVEL. As she explains on the About page of her blog, The Eager Traveller, travel affords her an opportunity to move outside her comfort zone and grow as a person.

Jean was motivated to start up her blog just over a year ago, as a space to record the re-collections of her travels—which she modestly calls “my humble escapades”—in hopes of inspiring others to “nurture their zeal for new adventures” and of promoting the joy of immersing yourself in “the vibrant cultures across the globe.”

Why am I not surprised that Jean has gathered a considerable following in just over one year? My interview with her may provide a few clues as to why other avid travellers are drawn to Jean and her suggested itineraries.

* * *

Hi Jean. I know it has taken us a bit of time to connect, but I’m glad we finally managed to find some time to discuss your photo-travel experiences. Firstly, I see that you are 20+ (I am also 20+: 20 + 50!!), and for one so young you have travelled a fair bit. Can you tell us where you were born and when did you spread your wings to start travelling?
I was born in the Philippines. This may sound like a cliché but my first source of inspiration for travelling was a National Geographic magazine I saw in our school library.

National Geographic is a wonderful publication. I love it.
But I didn’t spread my wings until I made my first trip to West Coast USA. The Strip struck me the most because everyone there seemed to be having the time of their lives. There was such a lot to experience and yet the time was way too short. After that, I developed a passion to immerse myself in new cultures, interact with unfamiliar nationalities and engage in overseas adventures.

To a fearless person, no fence is high enough.—Filipino tagalong proverb

I assume you mean the famous Sunset Strip that has featured in so many movies over the years? I want to know more about your travels, but let’s start with what it’s like to be a solo female traveller.
So far I’ve travelled for pleasure and for business but as yet have never travelled alone. That’s a hurdle I hope to cross this year. I realize it can be risky, but from the inspiring articles I’ve read online, it’s clear it can also be rewarding.

Even though stepping into the unknown by yourself can sometimes be difficult, even for seasoned travellers, I believe preparation is the key. I’m sure you will be fine. Next I would love to know what what countries you have already visited?
So far, I’ve only been to the United States, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. I lived in Singapore as an exchange student for four months, which gave me a a sense of independence and responsibility. Another highlight was my six-week business trip in India, where I had the opportunity of visiting Mumbai, Agra, New Delhi and Jaipur. Here are two photos I took on that trip:

Q9-Taj-Mahal

The Taj Mahal in all of its intricacy. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

The first is of the Taj Mahal. I immediately fell in love with its intricate design. By pure luck, a bird flew across at the moment when I snapped this shot. It was only when I was viewing my photos on my laptop that I realized I had captured such an amazing moment. For me, the bird is special: it symbolizes freedom from all the worries in one’s life and from whatever is holding you back from achieving your dreams.

Q9-Bhawani

The jolly Jaipur driver Bhawani. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

The second is of Bhawani, the driver assigned to my group during our two-day outing to Jaipur. It reminds me of his kindness and positive disposition in life. He had to take us around Jaipur in the burning hot summer, but never once did he become irritated or impatient. He always had a smile on his face, and that kept us all in a good mood during the trip. In fact, the following week when we went to New Delhi, the company driver assigned to us was totally rude and inconsiderate. At one point he left us in the car sleeping (engine shut off!) while he had his dinner. Worse, when we lightly honked the car to signal that we were awake and frankly not amused, he completely ignored us.

I loved your photo of the Taj Mahal when I first saw it on your blog’s Home Page, but I have to be honest, I never noticed the bird until you pointed it out just now. Maybe that’s good as I was able to appreciate the intricate carvings. Now I’m worried I’ll miss the building and concentrate on the bird!! You’ve captured Bhawani exactly as you describe him; perfect.

One finds a way, or finds a reason to do something.—Filipino tagalong proverb

You are very modest to say you’ve been to “only” eight countries. That’s a lot more than most people visit in a lifetime. So tell us about where are you right now and why.
Well, as you know, James, I am currently in my country of birth, the Philippines, but I’m working out a deal that will hopefully pave the way for life in a new place. I’ll keep you posted.

Q9-Baler

Baler, nicknamed the Philippines’ surfing capital. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

So you are keeping the secret for now, but I’m sure your blog will be give the game away when you are on the move again. The Philippines is a beautiful country and I see you have included one picture in your selection.
Yes, I’ve included this photo of Baler, which is in Aurora province. I like it because it reminds me of my first time attempting to surf and for someone not sporty, I didn’t do too badly. This was also my first time to go beyond my comfort zone in my own part of the world: I travelled for six hours just to catch the waves. It was a spontaneous weekend that proved to be pretty rewarding.

For me, the Baler surf lapping the shore looks just like a welcoming carpet in someone’s lounge.

If you plant, you will harvest.—Filipino tagalong proverb

I know you take a lot of photos but where, so far, are your favourite places to do so? and Can you explain why these places inspire you and how it shows in your next three photos?
My favourite places to take photos so far are India, Japan and Hong Kong. I’ve included one photo of each.

Q10-India

Indian women in colorful saris. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

I like taking photos in India because Indians are very proud of their heritage. This was apparent everywhere we went in India, regardless of the people’s social status.

Q10 Japan

Portraits of Japanese people. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

Japan is a favorite of mine because the people are so organized, disciplined and polite. I never run out of things to see and admire.

Q10-Hong-Kong

A Hong Kong eatery. Photo credit: Jean Alaba

Hong Kong inspires me because of the food! I should think its vast array of local dishes are enough to inspire anyone!

I like that you manage to get a handle on people from the different countries you visit, without actually living in that place. You are clearly a good observer of people, as well as a keen researcher. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious you are doing so?
Not really unless I see they’re offended. But so far, no one has reacted angrily when they see me taking their photo. This is a good thing since I like shooting people. Capturing their unique expressions enables me to glimpse who they are and the kind of lives they lead. I must have taken a thousand portrait shots while in India. Perhaps I’ll get some of these printed and make it my wall art.

I’m the same. I hate to take “posed” photos so never get into a discussion with my subjects. I either take the pic or I don’t. So you like shooting people? Don’t worry; I know what you mean! I think the wall art is a great idea. I know this is a similar question but do you ever ask permission before taking people’s photographs. And how do you get around any language barriers?
Most of the time, I don’t ask but when I was in Japan, where permission needs to be secured for taking photographs of infants and kids, I would politely approach one of the parents and ask them in Japanese—of course with the help of sign language (pointing to my camera and their kids).

Thanks to you, I won’t get into trouble if I ever go to Japan. Would you say that you are motivated by the possibility of capturing something unique, which will never be seen again?
Definitely. You always have to live in the moment, and there is nothing more rewarding than being able to capture the special moments that, unless you have a time machine, you’ll never be able to bring back. Those photos may give you inspiration just when you need it most.

I have to agree, as I think most photographers would. So when did you first realize the power of photography, and how has it changed you?
I first realized it after borrowing a decent SLR for my trip to Hong Kong in 2008. I was able to take high-quality photos to serve as a memento. Ever since, I’ve made it a point to capture moments with my camera, whether during a vacation or simply at a gathering of family or friends—moments I’ll be wanting to view when I get old and grey.

I know what you mean. The picture for me is like a diary of an event in visual form. The photographer can write about it but no one else could.

When the sheets are short, one needs to make do.—Filipino tagalong proverb

Most readers will know by now that I’m not too good on the technical stuff but some of our readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I’m still using the borrowed camera; it’s a Canon 450D. I use the kit lens and a prime lens. It’s outdated equipment now.

You sound a bit like me except that I haven’t managed to borrow any equipment yet. And you aren’t asking me for technical advice. That’s great!! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
I don’t feel I’m in a position to give advice since I haven’t really achieved anything noteworthy. But I would say from my experience, don’t hesitate to take as many pictures as you can while travelling. Before embarking on a journey, research and learn from the professionals online. You can try copying them, using a trial and error process.

I actually think that is very good non-technical advice, Jean. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your story so far in this interview. On your blog you say:

It has been a spectacular life so far but there is so much more to be seen! I have yet to find that life-changing opportunity which will allow me to do my passion for travelling and blogging as a living.

I have no doubt you will find that opportunity. I’m booking you in for a follow up interview next year to check your progress!!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jean’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Jean, don’t forget to visit her excellent blog, The Eager Traveller. You can also follow her on social media:
Twitter: @eagertraveller
Instagram: theeagertraveller
Google+: Jean Alaba

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post!

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