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For this former flight attendant turned free-spirited solo adventurer, a picture says…

Svetlana Portrait Collage

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; portrait of Svetlana Baghawan taken at Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran.

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 guest this month is 33-year-old Svetlana Baghawan, who says she is a “cloud gypsy” or “maverick bird” (that’s what she calls her blog) because she likes to fly and explore—she also hikes, treks and daydreams. On her blog’s Home Page, Svetlana declares:

“When I’m not traveling physically my mind wanders in loops and whirls across open space.”

Born and raised in India, Svetlana is a mother and writer as well traveller. She also describes herself as a compulsive shopper, foodie, bad cook (her words) and animal lover. She likes to travel solo across continents, sometimes completely alone, often with her five-year-old daughter in tow. Having worked as a flight attendant for quite a few years, she was bitten by the travel bug early, and for good.

The way she described the self-portrait she sent to me for “A Picture Says…” (see above) helped set the scene for my interview with her:

By the time I left Tehran, I was a far cry from the shaky, nervous girl who had landed there two weeks before. The photo (above) was taken by the Tehran moral policeman who pulled me up for wearing tight jeans. When I told him I was from India, he revealed a fascination for Bollywood and I glibly lied about being a professional Bollywood dancer. He happily let me go after taking this photo and a few others. Not only did my response save me from harassment but I’d surprised myself with my new-found confidence. It was a turning point in my life. That’s why I love the photo.

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Welcome to the Displaced Nation, Svetlana. I have been looking forward to discussing your photo-travel experiences ever since I discovered your blog, Maverickbird, some months ago. The first thing that caught my eye was the unusual title which, as I now know, describes you perfectly. Let’s start with where you were born. And when you spread your wings (an apt metaphor in your case!) to start travelling?
I was born in Calcutta, India, and spread my wings at the age of 17 when I was selected as a flight attendant by an international airline.

I think I can put you in the seasoned traveller category now as you have been travelling for work and pleasure for 16 years. Tell us, what is it like to be a solo female traveller?
My travels could be described as falling into three categories. Initially they were only what I would call city centric and absolutely touristy. You know, the places where flight crews get night halts and have limited time to relax. So there is little else to do except take selfies, shop, eat and sleep. Then came the phase when I travelled with my family, which, apart from the touristy fun bit, also involved taking on a lot of responsibilities. Then finally, at the age of 30, I started traveling solo. Since then my journeys have been challenging but also more fulfilling and enriching.

So at last you are, how shall I say, awakened perhaps? And living a dream. I can appreciate how uplifting that must be so I would love to know what inspired you to travel and what countries you have visited?
It may sound a bit melodramatic, but one day I was happily tied to my role of the traditional Indian married lady, and the next I was suddenly alone: a blow was dealt to my secure little world. I struggled to come to terms with my loss, but grief and depression, coupled with the suffocating social taboos that are dumped on bereaved ladies in India, nearly drove me over the edge. I was still a flight attendant at the time so used my free airline ticket facility and took off. I craved an escape. It was my way to survive. Iran was my first stop. It was tough—but soul touching and completely healing. I returned from Iran with a new-found zest for life, secure in my own identity and confident to take on the world once again.

How many countries in all have you visited?
If I include all the places which I have visited since I started flying then the list would run to nearly 60 countries. As a solo traveller, I have visited and engaged with 13 countries in depth.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,/The world offers itself to your imagination…” Mary Oliver

Recovering from a tragedy takes courage, and the fact that you didn’t dwell on your loss for too long shows your resilience. I firmly believe that we learn more from adversity than we do from triumph or success. You have good reason to be proud. So where are you now, how did you end up there and what is life like in a new place?
I am in Sri Lanka where I came to help a friend on a whaling project. I have found Sri Lanka to be very unsettling and unexpectedly tough to handle especially for a single woman of Indian origin. Although it’s a breathtakingly beautiful country with amazing people, culture and history, I have a sense of “alien familiarity” here, which I’m finding difficult to handle. It’s similar to home yet so very different. I am constantly oscillating between feeling at home and being displaced. Sri Lankans only seem to be able to associate with Southern India—hence the dazed reactions of nearly everybody I meet to my descriptions of Calcutta. This is slowing wearing me out.

A whaling project sounds pretty exciting—I hope you don’t let the other issues get you down. Let’s have a look now at some photos that capture a few of your favourite memories and hear your stories about what makes these memories so special.
It is a very arduous trek to reach the Himalayan blue poppies at the Valley of Flowers National Park, in Uttarakhand, a state in the northern part of India. But the beauty at the end of the journey is mind blowing. I still clearly remember how my first sight of the rare blue poppies took my breath away:

Svetlana_blueflowers

Singing a gorgeous blues in the Himalayas; photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

Meeting huskies in Lovozero, a village in Northern Russia, was a dream come true for me. Their puppy love floored me completely. It was extremely heart-warming to see the way those tough little dogs did the usual doggy tricks, like yapping away in happiness on being taken out for a run, making cute puppy eyes to get their way and cuddling on one’s lap like big babies.

Svetlana_huskies

Floored by puppy love in Northern Russia; photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

The third photo is of my daughter during Diwali. We had gone for a drive and I loved the way her eyes lit up with happiness at the prospect of quality mommy-baby time. It was fresh after our little world had gone awry, and it was magical to see how fast children rebound from losses and find happiness in every moment and in smallest of things:

Svetlana_daughter

A daughter’s delight in Diwali; photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

Diwali, for those who don’t know, is the biggest festival celebrated in India. Held around November, it signifies the victory of good over evil and is celebrated with a lot of festivities: spring cleaning, new clothes, home makeovers, auspicious purchases of substantial things like gold, cars, house etc, starting of new ventures, exchanging gifts, sweets and finally with lots of lights and fireworks. The whole country gets lit up in millions of lights as every Indian irrespective of caste, religion and social standing, decorates their house with lamps/lights.

This is a beautiful photo which captures a child’s joy and innocence. I can see she is very precious to you.

“I love the freedom of my wings.” —Banani Ray

Tell us, where were (or are) your favourite places to take photographs?
Shiraz, Iran, is a favourite of mine because of its stunning landscape, spectacular architecture, feast of archaeological wonders, and photogenic people who are also genuinely friendly. I loved the playful rainbows created inside this mosque. To me it truly represented Iran, which I have found to be a friendly, delightful and safe country. Unfortunately, it is shrouded under an unfortunate pall of cruel myths.

Svetlana_mosque

Somewhere over the rainbow…is this gem of an Iranian mosque; photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

How interesting and not the general Western perception of the place, I’m sure.

Siberia would be another favourite place to photograph. The sheer amount of unexplored open natural beauty is very freeing and of course the landscape is breathtaking. These wild Altai horses say Siberia to me, with its staggeringly expansive land mass and incredible, wild beauty.

Svetlana_horses

Wild horses in the wilds of Siberia’s Atlai mountains; photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

Last but not the least would be Hampi, a village in Karnataka, a state in South West India, famed for being located within the ruins of Vijayanagara, an empire that came to prominence at the end of the 13th century. Although it was tough to decide between Hampi and Kashmir, I love Hampi more for its surreal mix of a tangible ghostly civilization lying scattered amidst one of the most beautiful landscapes in India (think balancing boulder, rice fields, forests and obscure rivers) and little pockets of villages. The enchanting blend of the dead and living is breath-taking and the last photo represents Hampi’s larger-than-life beauty. You have to see it to believe it.

Svetlana_Hampi_India

Contemplating the former glory of a ruined empire (Hampi, India); photo credit: Svetlana Baghawan.

I believe you (I doubt I will ever get the opportunity to see it!). You have clearly been touched by the places you’ve visited, which should be an inspiration to other wannabe solo travellers. I’d like to know if you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
I love to take people’s photographs but at times do feel a bit conscious about photographing elderly people. This stems from the fact that they belong to a completely different era and might not at all like the idea of getting clicked. Photographing members of the religious fraternity, like monks, also makes me a bit nervous. I almost always ask permission before taking a person’s photo and in case of a language difference, bow, smile, greet and point to my camera to seek permission.

“It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?'” —Eric Jerome Dickey

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
I would like to think so because I see beauty in almost everything and love to capture it to share those moments with others. I believe that looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses is a gift I received from my mother. When I was growing up, she instilled in me a love for life’s beauty in how she would react to the world around us. She would spot a photogenic army of marching ants, play of sun and shade, curls of flower petals, waving strings of lights, etc., and share those moments with me in such an inspiring way. That said, it took me some time to get in touch with this inborn gift. I first realized it in Delhi while photographing a man selling neon-coloured balloons in front of India Gate. The detailed neon glow against the brooding monument in the dark inspired me, and those photos were very well received by my friends and family. Since then, I’ve been alert to beautiful details and while it was once a conscious effort, it is now a seamless habit, one that has made me much happier and contented. Discovering beauty at every step does make the world a less threatening place.

Your mother clearly had a great influence on you and especially the way you interact with natural scenery. Moving on to the technical aspects of photography: some of our readers may be curious to hear what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I use a Canon 550D although have recently upgraded to 600D and most of the time use 18-200mm lens. I prefer not to use post-processing software, but at times I have tried my hand at Picasa.

That’s a coincidence. I have the 600D as well! But unlike you I spend a lot of time learning and using post-processing. I believe, if you have the time, that learning about and improving photographic skills can add enormously to a blog. Having said that, I love at lot of your photo compositions and the subject matter is really good. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Traveling abroad is both extremely tough and fulfilling at the same time. To leave your comfort zone for unknown territories and cultures is difficult but once you start coming to terms with the culture’s uniqueness, you will fall in love with it. Accepting the way a new place is in a non-judgmental way will help the transition process and slowly reveal its unfamiliar yet unique beauty, which you can photograph. Respect for the local culture comes first.

Thank you, Svetlana, for taking the time to tell your heart-warming and fascinating story. The late great American actress Anne Baxter once said:

It’s best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes.

You strike me as living proof of that statement. You have overcome adversity and grown as a person: a true triumph!

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Readers, what do you make of Svetlana’s experiences and the photos she has produced? Please leave any questions or feedback in the comments!

Want to get to know her better? I suggest that you visit Svetlana’s blog, maverickbird. She can be contacted by email.

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with Alice nominees, exclusive book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this global nomad, botany buff and blossoming novelist, a picture says…

Cinda 1000 Words CollageWelcome 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 guest this month is Cinda MacKinnon, an American who grew up overseas and is the author of an award-winning novel set in one of her former homes, Colombia. Called A Place in the World, the book was featured almost exactly a year ago on the Displaced Nation.

Cinda shoots mainly “macro” (extremely close up) pictures, a habit she developed because of her interest in nature and plants—especially wildflowers. A writer, former university lecturer, and environmental scientist, Cinda is trained in geology and has also nurtured a life-long passion for botany. It’s telling that the protagonist of her novel is a botanist!

Cinda enjoys hunting down rare plants and taking photos that show their minute details, such as the number of anthers (the part of the stamen that contains pollen), so that botanists will be able to identify them.

She now lives in northern California, where the California Native Plant Society has become a fan of her photos and sometimes asks her to supply a few of them for their newsletters and exhibits. Who knew?

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Hi, Cinda. Welcome back to the Displaced Nation. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss your photo-travel experiences. When I first started following your blog, I assumed you were a writer—but then was delighted to discover that you’ve also taken some excellent photos. I know you’ve already been over some of this ground in your interview with ML Awanohara, but can you tell me where you were born and when you spread your wings to start traveling on your own?
I was born on an Air Force base in Louisiana, but lived there only a week. My dad was already stationed in Greece, and my mother followed him as soon as she was able to travel. I lived in Greece and Germany as a pre-schooler and then in Colombia when my father changed his job and began working as a military attaché for U.S. embassies. Having fallen in love with Latin America, my parents retired in Costa Rica when I was in seventh grade so, happily, I was able to stay in that part of the world through high school…and beyond. After college in the United States, I moved to New Zealand with my husband (back then, they told us we had to get married to immigrate together!). We came to California when he finished his PhD. And here we’ve been ever since, although I view that move to California—I was in my thirties—as the first time I actually lived in the States. Even though my passport said I was a citizen, it has taken me a while to feel like I belong here.

You have been an expat almost since birth—what is known as a Third Culture Kid. Would you say that your wanderlust comes from your nomadic upbringing?
Once I grew up, I wanted to see more of Latin America and as a young family we could do that cheaply. Next I visited Europe to see some of the places I’d lived with my parents, but like so many others ended up falling in love with Italy and France. I think language had as much to do with it as the culture and people. Growing up speaking Spanish, it was fairly easy for me to be understood in Italian, and I found French so beautiful that I have become a perennial student. Recently, my husband and I explored Central Europe along the Danube River, from southern Germany to Budapest. That splendid trip provided fodder for at least five blog posts.

Mais oui. I have always loved the French language, too. Where exactly do you live in northern California?
We live in a semi-rural area nestled in the hills and yet are only 30 minutes from San Francisco—an unusual situation due to geography, which insures our immediate surroundings will never be developed.

“Are not flowers the stars of the earth…”—A.J. Balfour 

And now let’s have a look at a few of your shots that capture favorite memories. Can you tell us the story behind each of them, what makes them so special?
This is one of the first wildflowers I photographed and is still a great favorite of mine: a shooting star, or Dodecatheon clevelandii:

Dodecatheon clevelandii, aka shooting star. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnonn.

Dodecatheon clevelandii, aka shooting star. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnonn.

The next photo is of the odd-looking Tiburon Lily, Calochortus tiburonensis, which blooms only a few weeks a year and is quite rare; it evolved on serpentine soils, which gives rise to unusual plants that can tolerate this somewhat toxic chemistry. Indeed, you can find this little lily in only one place: on Ring Mountain (a single hill really), north of San Francisco:

Calochortus tiburonensis. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Calochortus tiburonensis, found only on Ring Mountain. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Another peculiar wildflower is C. tolmiei, nicknamed “pussy ears”. It is challenging to capture the tiny hairs and other features as it is barely 2.5 cm across—plus it tends to grow on coastal slopes where the wind wreaks havoc with your focus!
Calochortus tolmiei, aka pussy ears. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Calochortus tolmiei, aka pussy ears. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


I’ve taken quite a few photos of wild flowers without having a clue what their names were. I’m getting a real lesson in flora here. Thank you, Cinda. I can see why they call botany the “science of beauty.”

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”—Claude Monet

I know you have photos of scenery, too, and these next four, I believe, have a special significance for you.
I mentioned I am a bit of a Francophile and a favorite region of mine is the Dordogne Valley. This is a place with history, from Richard the Lionheart to Joan of Arc; pre-history (the Cro-Magnon cave paintings); and beauty. I talked my husband into renting a canoe and we paddled down the Dordogne River, past castles, ancient bridges and towns. This photo with the medieval Château de Castelnaud in the background is a memento of that glorious day:

Canoeing on the Dordogne in glorious weather. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Canoe with a view, la rivière Dordogne. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Next, I’d like to show you a photo of a very different place, in California. Actually, I can give you a choice of two: would you rather see the California desert before a rain storm or one of Arvin, a city in southern California? Arvin is interesting because it’s set in hilly grassland that half of the year is dry and dormant but explodes into wildflowers in the spring (if the winter is wet). What’s your pleasure?

Can I have both?
Mais oui! Here’s the Sierras:

The stormy Sierras. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

The stormy Sierras. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


And now for Arvin in all of its glory:
A profusion of wildflowers in Arvin. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

A profusion of wildflowers in Arvin. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Both photos are so lovely! That’s why I decided to give you this bonus. But if I really was forced to choose, the desert before the rain is so dramatic. I think you should turn it into a photo-painting using Topaz Adjust or Impression. What’s your last shot?
Another California landscape I’m fond of is Monterey County. When I was a teenager, I read all of John Steinbeck’s novels, never dreaming I would live in California much less end up working in the Salinas Valley as a hydro-geologist for several years. On arriving I felt as though I’d been there before. The town of Monterey itself has become a tourist attraction, but if you go out into the countryside there are still scenes like this one, with the adobe house on the hill:

An enchanted realm near Monterey, California. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

An enchanted realm near Monterey, California. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Please God, don’t let them turn it into another orchard or development!

Here here! I noticed you haven’t included any photos of people. Do you feel reserved about taking photos of strangers?
Yes , and I don’t like portraits to look overly posed. So first I try to take photos surreptitiously. If that’s not possible, I try to be respectful by asking if it’s okay– preferably in their own language. No matter where I travel, I learn some basic phrases in the language of the country (Hungarian was the hardest so far!), but I’ve found that “okay?” seems to be a universal word.

You are right: “okay” seems to have been adopted by most of the planet, though it’s origins are unclear. One theory is that it was derived from a shorthand way foreign-born Americans in the 1830s developed for writing “all correct”—only they’d spelled it “korrect”!

“I will touch a hundred flowers/And not pick one.”–Edna St. Vincent Millay

What motivates you to record what you see through photographs? Is it the ability to capture something unique, which will never be seen again?
Hmmm… I barely think of myself as a photographer; it is one of several hobbies! But certainly, what you say is true of fleeting blooms, and photos do help to preserve memories of wonderful places, whose beauty could vanish. But I think what really led me to photography was my interest in plant nomenclature. I like to block out weeks of time every year to hike in hills, valleys and deserts and search for rare blooms. It is a bit of a treasure hunt, and my photos of evidence of the riches I uncover.

Your modesty is charming, but I think you definitely have an artist’s eye and many of your photographs could be transformed into beautiful pictures with a little more post processing. Which leads me to the technical stuff. Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, and how you handle post-processing.
I use a Canon Digital Rebel XT SLR with a macro lens when I am looking for wildflowers in the spring. But for traveling I’ve started to just put my trusty Canon PowerShot in my pocket. I usually use Photoshop for post-processing, but as you’ve pointed out, I’m not adept at all the advanced features. I use “auto” first, and that is generally all I need, except I often crop a shot and, if needed, adjust the lightning or clean up stray blemishes.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
It is not the equipment—it is in the eye. Some of my better pictures were taken with a point and shoot. I asked a professional photographer friend if he thought I should buy some filters or another lens, and he said his best shots are sometimes with his cell phone! I guess the motto is “be prepared” for something that catches your eye—be ready for the special moment when the light is right. Make sure your subject doesn’t appear to have an antenna sprouting out of his head at that moment. Don’t use the “sharpen” feature for portraits as it accentuates flaws (unless you want that for character) and can give a severe look. And don’t make your friends look at 200 mediocre photos of your vacation—please cull out the unappealing or out-of-focus ones! (My rule of thumb for talks is 1 to 1.5 slides per minute—that’s 60 to 90 per hour—nobody wants to see more than that.)

Very succinct and good advice, Cinda—right up my street. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story in this interview.

* * *

front-cover-place-in-worldReaders, what do you make of Cinda’s close-up photos of exotic plants and her photography advice? I find it curious that she writes about people looking for their place in the world, yet is obsessed with the kinds of flowers that bloom where they are planted. As Georgia O’Keefe once put it:

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”

Please leave any questions or comments for Cinda in the comments!

Meanwhile, I suggest that you check out Cinda’s Pinterest boards for more of her botany photos. You can also get to know her better by visiting her author site and blog, and liking her Facebook page. And don’t forget to read her book if you haven’t done so yet, many glowing reviews for which can be found here.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with Alice nominees, exclusive book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

For this TEFL teacher with a strong Cornish identity but a compulsion for travel and the expat life, a picture says…

Cornish Kylie Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Kylie Millar (self portrait).

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 guest this month is 27-year-old Kylie Millar who was born and bred in Cornwall, England, and, though she now finds herself in Thailand, just like me, she remains proud of her Cornish heritage, having branded herself on her travel blog as Cornish Kylie.

Not only that but Kylie informs me that the Cornish were granted official minority status earlier this year. Being born and bred in Cornwall now means, technically, that a person is identified as Cornish first, British secondwith the latter identity being confined largely to one’s passport. Well, it is true that Cornwall was its own Celtic nation before the Norman Conquest, and they have their own language, Kernewek, which is distinct from Welsh.

After the Scottish vote for independence, can a bid by the Independent Republic of Kernow be far behind?

How times have changed!

* * *

Hi Kylie. It’s good to see you at the Displaced Nation. As the name of your blog implies, you are a proud Cornish lass—rightly so! You have also travelled a fair bit. But since Cornwall is a place close to my heart, can you reminisce for a bit about your childhood in that part of the world?
I was born in Truro, the main hub of Cornwall, which has a cathedral and is therefore designated a city as opposed to a town. But I was raised in the hilly seaside town of Falmouth, known for its lovely beaches, fishing port and docks. To some, it may seem like an aging coastal town, but the recent influx of art students to its expanding university has given it a new lease on life and a nice arty vibe. My dad is a fisherman so I grew up living a typical Cornish life: summers on the beaches, the smell of a crab being boiled on the stove top (which to this day I cannot abide—the curse of being a fisherman’s daughter and not liking fish or seafood!). But I really do appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in such a wonderful place and fully intend to return one day.

Gwrys yn Kernow (made in Cornwall)

As you know I spent my last year in the UK before emigrating to South Africa (1994/5) in Falmouth, so it’s interesting to hear about the changes. How long after I left did you spread your wings and start travelling abroad?
I actually didn’t spread my wings all that much growing up. Family holidays consisted of trips to Butlin’s holiday camps and a few package holidays to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I didn’t even move away from Cornwall to go to university, I just commuted the 75 miles east to Plymouth. Why would I want to move away from somewhere like Cornwall?

I agree. It’s a magnetic place even for those of who weren’t born there. Carry on, please.
As part of my degree I had the opportunity to go to China for a few weeks to do a little bit of English teaching and a cultural exchange with Chinese university students. This was my first time to experience a culture completely different from my own. I was only 19 and in a constant state of “culture shock”. It wasn’t until after I completed my degree and had a few years’ work under my belt that the urge to explore really kicked in.

Please tell me a little more about your travels.
Aside from the trip to China, I have holidayed in Egypt and Morocco. Then my next big trip was a month backpacking around Thailand with one of my best friends. That’s how I first caught the Thailand bug.

You certainly don’t intend to let the grass grow under your feet, Kylie. I foresee you becoming a seasoned traveller before long. I know there is a lot more to your story, but let’s start with the reasons that drove you to travel.
I’m not a fan of people traveling purely to “find themselves” or even to “make the world a better place”. Actually, I have changed a lot since coming to Thailand, and I’m sure that, as a TEFL teacher, I’m contributing in some small way to the education of Thailand’s future leaders. But that’s not the sole reason I came here. I had a job in the UK that I loved, but I sensed I was stagnating. So I followed my instincts (very scary but it felt right) and quit, upped sticks and came to Thailand, got a TEFL certificate and started teaching English to Thais.

“Life is so short, you must move very slowly” – Thai proverb

You say you’ve got the Thailand bug, which in my experience can be difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived here. So let’s leave it at that and talk about where, precisely, are you right now and what are you up to.
I spent my first 18 months living in the city of Hat Yai, in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border. I was teaching English at a government high school, with classes of fifty students and few resources apart from those I conjured up myself. Later I went to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, to work as a teaching assistant in an international school. The two posts and their locations were poles apart.

Can you say a little about that for the sake of readers who don’t know Thailand?
In Hat Yai I was one of a handful of farangs (Caucasian foreigners) living in a village on the outskirts of the city. On my daily commute to the school, I would meander through rubber plantations, passing water buffalo. At first people would stare, but their stares quickly turned into smiles and shouts of “hello!”. Nobody spoke English beyond that one word, so I had to learn to speak Thai very quickly to be able to order food. In Phuket, by contrast, I am one of thousands of farangs and when Thai people see me they assume that I am a tourist and treat me accordingly. It’s harder to win over the locals here because tourists are their meal ticket. You have to convince them that you aren’t a tourist; you live here like they do. That said, life in Phuket is a lot easier. It has familiar things like pizza and sandwiches (I haven’t got used to eating rice three times a day yet). And of course the island’s beaches are stunning, which reminds me of Cornwall and makes me feel at home.

Ah, I think I detect something of the home bird in you, alongside the intrepid traveller… And now let’s see some of your favorite photos and hear the stories behind them.
When I was in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the many beautifully decorated doorways. This picture was accidental as the boy emerged from the doorway just as I pressed the shutter release. Then I realised how people can add an extra dimension and started to include people in more of my photographs. This trip to Morocco was special: it opened my eyes to a very different part of the world.

Kylie_BoyinMoroccanDoor

A boy in a Moorish door; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I love this. Dirty, dusty, old and full of intrigue. A great shot. What else do you have for us?
Songkran is the festival held in mid-April to celebrate traditional Thai new year’s. It’s probably the most famous of all the Thai festivals because it’s the scene of the world’s biggest water fight. Determined to join the festivities, I locked away my main camera and went out to the streets. I got this shot when the water fighting stopped to let a convoy of vehicles, carrying Buddha statues, pass to the temple. Songkran is absolutely insane, and if you ever find yourself in Thailand at this time of year, prepare to get wet—or hide!

Kylie_ThaiNewYear

Happy New Year, Chiang Mai style; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

And here’s one more of Thailand. As you know, anti-government protests took place from November 2013 through May of this year. I live close enough to Bangkok that I was able to come in and take photos. Having a big camera was useful as it made it obvious I was an observer, not a participant. Foreign involvement in the protests was a big no-no. On the day I took this shot, anti-government protesters had made progress, spirits were high and the atmosphere was unlike any other I have experienced. People were happy to have their picture taken, and this lady was my favourite, standing proudly in traditional yellow to signal her support for the King. For some reason, the scene made me think of the crowd around the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in England—not what you’d expect at an anti-governmental protest. I’m glad I was able to see it all firsthand.

Kylie_yellowlady

A sunny presence at the Bangkok protests; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Getting to the zuggans (Cornish for “the essence”)

Now could you show us the kinds of places that tend to bring out your shutterbug instincts?
One of those places was Jemaa el-Fnaa, a bustling square in Marrakesh that offends all of the senses. Said to be the busiest square in Africa, it is hot and dusty, and the air is full of the smell of tagine spices and roasting meats. The sounds of hawkers and snake charmers mix with the buzz of the crowd, punctuated by the call to prayer that reaches every corner of the souks—it’s the largest traditional market in Morocco. Rugs, lamps, cushions and fabrics in deep oranges, luscious reds and striking purple line the narrow lanes of the souks. Rusty tin roofs let in shards of light that make this a photographer’s dream. But cameras can only capture so much…

Kylie_souk

The wonders of the Marrakesh souks; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

You captured the smells as well as the intrigue. Well done. What’s next?
I visited George Town, in the northeast corner of Penang island, twice recently. It’s famous for being one of the main destinations for visa runners and backpackers alike. I was drawn to its hodgepodge of cultures: mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples all sandwiched together. Ethnic Chinese and Indian communities live alongside each other, and traditional clan families can still be found living on stilt houses on the jetties. In this photo I tried to capture some of that:

Kylie_bikeforrent

The back streets of George Town, Penang; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I’m not generally a fan of black-and-white photos but this subject lends itself so well. And finally?
Many of the things that make Thailand unusual are seeming more normal the longer I live here—like the bright orange monk’s robes in this picture, the turquoise sea, the towering Buddha statues, multicolored long boats, the outrageously decorated temples and colourful tuk tuks. It’s home now but, as I think this photo shows, I still like to play the tourist and explore:

Kyli_ThaiOfferings

A novice Thai monk and spirit house; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I like the way you captured Thailand’s vibrancy. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Actually, I like to try and get natural photographs without the person knowing at all. I want to capture moments and events not someone posing. People generally enjoy having their picture taken, so if they spot a camera they will smile or pull a face and the obligatory peace signs come out. Not quite what I’m looking for… Driving an old banger of a car helps because Thais will sometimes take our picture—because we farangs are assumed to be rich and usually drive smart cars.

“Today I’m going to shoot someone…and they will love me for it!”

It can be annoying, this Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich, but I guess we all get used to it in time. So you don’t ask permission unless you need to before taking people’s photographs—but how do you get around any problem of language?
If I am unable to be stealthy, then I use the universal “can I take a picture?” sign consisting of pointing to my camera. I have learned how to ask in Thai but the words sometimes escape me. The big camera is usually a clue! When I was in a mountain village in Morocco, getting some shots of the decorative doors as mentioned above, an old lady smiled at me and gestured that she’d like to have her photograph taken. As I released the shutter button, she held out her hand, demanding payment. Not wanting to cause a scene, I forked out some change. Although not too happy with my offering she took it—if only she knew I only wanted a picture of her back door, not her face!

Kylie_Atlas Mountain lady

People shots for a price; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique that will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
My mum always says that I take so many photographs but I am hardly ever in them. And that is very true. I know that when I am older I will wish I had more pictures of myself having adventures. But for now photography is a means of capturing what I see and feel. If I think the photos are worth sharing, they will end up on my blog. Photography is changing with the times, though. When I studied A-level photography we used film, processed by hand after spending hours in the darkroom. Filters had to be slotted into the machine; now they are just options on an iPhone app. When my mum was younger she went on a trip to Israel and Jerusalem, and she has two rolls of film from that trip—around fifty photographs. Nowadays people will take more than fifty photographs on a single night out. The technology has evolved so much that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket on their phone, which is great. It makes photography more accessible to all, with no wasted film. But it does mean that photos are not so special and precious as they once were.

Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, as well as any post-processing software.
I’ve got a Canon 600D with standard lens, and a 75-300mm telephoto lens (perfect for those stealthy pictures of people, and for animal shots). I’ve also got a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot for the days when a bigger camera isn’t practical. If I am going to edit, I use Adobe Lightroom, which I am still finding my way around. Having never been taught how to use digital post-production software, I have to rely on trial and error—but that was also what it was like in the darkroom. It’s more fun that way!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Take more pictures than you think you need. Bring spare SD cards and back them up—you will lose one or one will break. Don’t keep your camera locked away in a bag, keep it to hand, it needs to become a natural extension of yourself, not this big cumbersome thing you have to get out every time you want to take a picture.

Even though we are more than 40 years apart, we both left Falmouth and ended up in Phuket with the same camera (Canon T3i 600D). No wonder your pics are so good! Thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story.

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Readers, what do you make of Kylie’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her about her photos or her travels? Please leave them in the comments! And don’t forget you can follow Kylie on her blog, Cornish Kylie. You can contact her by email at info@cornishkylie.com, and you can also find her on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

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For this adult TCK writer with an ocean-loving soul and a passion for travel, a picture says…

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

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 guest this month is 67-year-old Rita Gardner, who grew up on her expatriate family’s coconut farm in a remote seaside village in the Dominican Republic. Her father declared them to be the luckiest people on earth. In reality, the family was in the path of hurricanes and in the grip of a brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

But if life was far from the Eden her father had envisioned, Rita developed a set of childhood passions that sustains her to this day: writing, traveling, hiking—and photography.

TheCoconutLatitudes_cover_dropshadowShe may no longer live in the Dominican Republic but she continues to dream in Spanish, dance the merengue, and gather inspiration from nature and the ocean. Her favorite color is Caribbean blue.

And now Rita has written a memoir about her life as a Third Culture Kid in República Dominicana. Due out from She Writes Press in September, the book is evocatively titled The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms and Survival in the Caribbean.

Rita contacted me because she is enjoying “A Picture Says…” I am pleased that she can be this month’s featured guest.

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Hi, Rita, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’m delighted to hear you’re enjoying “A Picture Says…” and to have the opportunity to do this interview. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, can you tell me a little more about how your family ended up living in the Caribbean?
My father was an electrical engineer and traveled all over the world installing hydro-electric dams. I think my travel wings must have sprouted in the womb since my parents were in Uruguay on a job site when my mother got pregnant. They flew back to the U.S. so I could be born, and six weeks later we were on another plane, this time to an engineering job in the Dominican Republic. My parents fell in love with that Caribbean island nation, and my father quit his engineering job and “went off the grid” to become a coconut farmer on an isolated beach on the country’s northern coast. It became our permanent home for the next 19 years, and, as you already mentioned, our Caribbean life is the subject of my forthcoming memoir, The Coconut Latitudes.

I guess that being born into an expat family was a passport, so to speak, to a life of travel?
That’s true. It influenced me in other ways as well. I tend to travel “close to the ground,” getting to know the people where I’m visiting. I also travel light as I want to be free to immerse myself (to the extent possible) in other cultures, exploring commonalities as well as differences. Most of my travels have been within Latin America, where I’ve been able to put my Spanish-language skills to use.

And I gather that growing up where you did, on a Caribbean island, you sometimes encountered real adventurers? Did they inspire you as well?
Yes. Those who made it as far as our isolated coconut farm were pretty intrepid and would have stories to tell. Because they were so rare, these visitors made a big impression on me, and their stories made me thirst for the day when I could venture out into the wider world myself. In my new memoir I chronicle one such encounter with a group of strangers who shipwrecked near our farm, and turned out to be not who they appeared to be. Someone else who inspired me was my older sister. By the time she was in her fifties, she’d traveled to over seventy countries.

Wow, she does sound adventuresome. How about you—which countries have you visited?
Most of the islands in the Caribbean, several of them by sailboat, plus Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Uruguay. In Europe I’ve been to Italy (where I attempted to speak Italian but it came out Spanish), France, and Greece (island-hopping by small boat plus a side trip to Athens).

A day at the beach restores the soul…

South America is a part of the world I have never been but the three weeks I spent in Trinidad more than thirty years ago gave me an idea of what it may be like. I’m sure you have some wonderful memories and I look forward to reading them soon in The Coconut Latitudes. I see you now live in North America. Can you tell us where?
I’m in northern California, right on San Francisco Bay. I found my way here a few decades ago. I’ve always chosen to live near the ocean. Like most people, I had to earn a living, so travel was only an option during vacations. Luckily, I’ve recently retired so have more to time to travel, take pictures, and write.

RG1 Smoking Bride

The smoking bride; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Wading chairs; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

A sitting duck; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Speaking of taking pictures, let’s have a look at a few in your collection that capture favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special?
I visited France for the first time last year with a dear friend, and one of our favorite things to do was meander about. We saw this bridal couple in Monmartre. The bride’s leg-baring gown and the cigarette struck me as being improper yet fun.

She obviously stepped out of the part for a while, which makes for a lovely scene—almost like an actor taking a break on a film set. What else do you have for us?
The next one is from Boca Chica Beach, in the Dominican Republic, whose pastel turquoise waters I had loved since the time I was a small child. I recently went back to the Dominican Republic to attend a friend’s mother’s 100th birthday party. A group of us decided to pay a visit to this beach. I liked the whimsy of the chairs in the shallows, as if they were bathing.

So you didn’t put the chairs there yourself?
No—it was un-staged! The third photo won “Best of Show” earlier this year in a camera club I belong to. If you look closely, you’ll see a small duck in the foreground, which I didn’t notice when I got the shot. The ship itself is one of the last Liberty ships that had been built for action in World War II by the Kaiser Shipyards, near where I now live. At the peak of the war, ships were being turned out at the rate of one almost every week! It’s now “mothballed”, and volunteers, some of whom saw action in that war, maintain it. They’re getting pretty old…

“Seas” the day!

That may not be such a small duck but it certainly is a big ship. And now can you share some examples of your favorite places to take photographs? What is it about these places that inspires you?
It’s a bit of a mixture really. One of my favorite subjects is nature. Growing up on a Caribbean island, I saw the entire range, from watching in awe as thundering waves destroyed our pier and pitch-poled fishing boats, to contemplating sunsets that painted calm seas with exuberant color, to enjoying the deep chorus of frogs announcing rain. To this day, I love to take pictures out of doors. I enjoy finding unusual patterns in nature and looking for images that are “hidden in plain sight.” My other favorite subject is people: I am endlessly curious. Sometimes I plunge into crowds in hopes of getting opportunities for candid people shots.

This photo was taken in the midst of a parade in Santo Domingo, where the child’s attention was riveted to the action beyond the scene.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Out of this displaced world; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I took the next photo, of leaf patterns, at nearby Phoenix Lake during a hike with friends. I love the variety of colors and shapes.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Leaf patterns; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

This third photo, taking in Mykonos, combines my love of nature and people. It feels meditative to me; clearly the fisherman is at one with his environment.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Fishing for serenity of mind; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I particularly love the fisherman shot because I have had many wonderful holidays in Mykonos, where I’ve taken photos—but never witnessed a scene like this one. In fact it is one that most people would not associate with Mykonos. Moving on, I know some people feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that they are doing so. What’s your feeling about this?
I feel respect more than reserve, and if it seems that taking pictures would not be a welcome experience, I back away from doing it.

In that case, do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs? And how do you get around any problem of language?
I’m a pretty friendly person, so if I’ve caught someone’s eye,I might engage them in a brief conversation and ask if it’s OK if I take their picture. I find smiles break through a lot of language barriers. Also, most people I meet like to practice their English, so language is not usually a problem. That said, some of the best photos are candid ones. Sometimes I try to capture a shot without the subject being aware—I don’t engage in conversation in those instances.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you and has changed the way you look at life?
I consider myself extremely lucky when I’ve managed to capture an image that is unusual and unlikely to be photographed again. I don’t think the experience changes me. My chief emotion is to feel grateful that I have an eye for images that others may lack.

Sea-ing the light

Photographers never tire of discussing cameras and lenses. What kind of equipment do you use?
I gave up my SLR and its array of lenses for the convenience of a small digital camera. I use a Canon PowerShot and my i-Phone. Both fit in pockets, so I can travel light. Also, I prefer to shoot in natural light rather than use a flash (unless it’s absolutely necessary). So I guess I could say I travel light, and I shoot “light.” How’s that for a quick summary of my style?

Well said! I see nothing wrong with using smaller cameras. Their power and versatility is improving all the time, so unless you need big images for printing they do a great job, sufficient for posting on websites and social media. What is your take on post-processing?
I don’t manipulate my photos other than with the standard tools for cropping, adjusting exposure, etc. I don’t use Photoshop or any the other software products available. Okay, I have to confess I just discovered some apps for the i-Phone camera which I’m having fun with, but mostly “what I see is what I get.” That said, I’m not a purist; I may get into photo software at some point in the future.

The results are good so don’t tell anyone!!! Finally, do you have any advice from your experiences for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Given the ability to erase unwanted images on digital cameras, just shoot away, assuming you get a photo card with enough memory that it doesn’t fill up quickly. Always carry an extra battery and extra film card, because it does you no good to have those items tucked away in your suitcase, or wherever you are lodging! Oh, and do have a battery charger if you are on a long trip so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice. So to speak.

Thanks so much for all these practical tips and for sharing these photos, Rita, and may I take this opportunity to wish you the very best when you launch The Coconut Latitudes this coming month.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Rita’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 Rita, don’t forget to visit her author site and like her author page on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Last but not least, I would highly recommend that you pre-order a copy of Rita’s Dominican memoir, The Coconut Latitudes, from Amazon.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this RVer who roams far and wide, iPhone in pocket, a picture says…

Becky RV Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Becky Schade at Charlies Bunion, along the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains (photo credit: Becky Schade).

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 guest this month is 30-year-old American Becky Schade. Becky started traveling around America alone in her truck and RV (for those not in the know, RV stands for recreational vehicle, or mobile home) on September 14th, 2012. As she says on her blog, Interstellar Orchard, becoming a full-time RVer was a way to fulfill her dream of perpetual travel, exploration, and adventure, and to make her life the best it can be, right now, no holds barred. “And if I can do it, so can you,” she says.

She goes on:

Even if your Big Dream is going to take some time to realize, there are things you can do, right now, to improve the quality of your life. And they don’t all require a fortune or every free waking hour of your week.

Before pulling up her roots, Becky used to work with monkeys. She is an outdoor enthusiast and also a fantasy/sci-fi fan as well as gamer geek.

I have been waiting a while to interview her and write her fascinating story. Now I have my opportunity.

* * *

Welcome, Becky, and thank you for taking out some time from your adventures for this interview. I believe you were born and raised in Wisconsin but then, at the age of 25, became what is known in the States as a “domestic expat,” moving with a friend to coastal South Carolina. When did you really decide to break out and travel all around America as an RVer?
I loved how different South Carolina was from my home state of Wisconsin, but inside I knew I wanted to keep traveling and exploring. The truth is, I didn’t want to pay for a removal truck every time I moved, so started researching RVing as an alternative. In other words, I would be my own removal truck—taking my house everywhere with me. I eventually hit the road as a full-time RVer at the ripe old age of 28.

Your new-found freedom is clearly a wonderful experience, but do you ever feel homesick?
Home is where I park my RV travel trailer, which I pull with my trusty 2001 Dodge Dakota. Some people might call me a minimalist or even a gypsy because all that I own fits in my RV and truck. I don’t own or rent property anywhere, but I am always home. I get asked many questions about my lifestyle, like, do I feel crowded and cramped inside my little home? It may be difficult to visualize, but my “living space” includes the yard where I park my RV and the wonderful locations I visit. So I enjoy the free and constantly changing views from my bedroom windows that many house-bound folks might pay a fortune for. In reality I have more space than most people do.

The average person moves home, say, five times in their lives, whereas I imagine you could move five times in a month. I’m sure you’re often asked if you feel safe traveling alone, as a young single woman.
I am often asked that question, but you know something? The world is not as scary as the media would have us believe. Common sense is a person’s best safety tool and in my year-and-a-half on the road, I have never once felt threatened. If a place feels off when I arrive, I simply drive to the next place.

You obviously can’t work while traveling except when you stop in a place for a while. Do you ever worry about money?
No, one doesn’t need to be wealthy to live like I do. I saved up the money for the initial outlay from my last “real” job. With my accommodation and truck already paid for, I can explore the country comfortably on an income of $16,000 or less a year, which I make from working seasonal jobs in interesting places. I have at least six weeks a year where I don’t work at all and can focus on my hobbies as well as visit friends and family. I have health insurance, an emergency fund in case of accident or illness, and an IRA. Life on the road doesn’t have to be a gamble. There are smart ways to go about it that minimize the risks. It’s not an extended vacation but a way of life. I’ll continue traveling until I feel the urge to do something different.

I can relate somewhat to the things you are saying as I enjoy my own company, probably more than others enjoy it! And fortunately I have never experienced a feeling of loneliness. How about you, how do you find being alone on the road?
I don’t feel lonely. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. I love quiet time by myself out in nature, and when I start feeling the need for human interaction, it’s usually not hard to find. Sitting outside your RV in a campground reading a book is viewed by many passersby as an open invitation to stop and say hello. I’ve met some of the most interesting people on my travels, with whom I’ve had some of the best conversations. I also keep in touch and visit with friends I had before hitting the road full time, and am a member of several online communities for RVers.

“Home is where I park it.” (classic RVer saying)

Something usually triggers or inspires a person to travel. Was that true in your case?
Since I was a teenager I’ve had this feeling that the typical American Dream of college, steady job, marriage, a big house, and a family wasn’t going to be my cup of tea—but it’s definitely what my parents expected. I was the dutiful daughter and followed that plan up to finishing college and getting a steady job, but I felt trapped and miserable. I wanted adventure. I wanted more than two weeks of vacation a year to explore. I wanted to learn by experience instead of just seeing things on TV or reading about them in a book. Those were the things that inspired me to pursue a different path and look into full-time RV-ing. At first I thought you had to belong to the realm of rich retirees, the kinds of people who invest a couple hundred thousand dollars in a gigantic, 40′ motorhome. Then I dug deeper and found that some younger folks were discovering a better work/life balance through life on the open road.

You are clearly a very determined young woman. Since you drove off on that September day in 2012, what places have you visited?
Last summer I worked retail at Badlands National Park, in southwestern South Dakota, and explored the Black Hills region—along with Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore—in my days off work. This past winter I was a volunteer at a conservation centre with the University of Florida and visited sinkholes and crystal clear springs. This coming fall I’ll be working at a warehouse out near Reno, Nevada, and plan to be photographing mountains and Lake Tahoe around that.

I’ll be looking forward to the pictures. So where are you now, how did you end up there and what is life like in your latest hometown?
Right now I’m just outside of Atlanta in Fairburn, Georgia, performing at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Getting paid to sing at a renaissance festival has been on my bucket list for many years, but I could never work it around a real job. Traveling the way I do now has given me the opportunity, finally. I love what I’m doing, but the location is a different story. I prefer the country and have never lived in a city, so navigating the busy streets of Atlanta has been an experience. Never be afraid to try new things, though—otherwise, how do you learn what you really like and don’t like?

Absolutely, Becky. New experiences always open the mind, and the more I try new things, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. And now let’s see some of your photographs, which capture a few of your favorite memories. Can you tell me the story behind them and what makes them special for you?

BeckyPix_1

Celebrating a new life of recreation at Big Sioux Recreation Area. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

This picture was taken at Big Sioux Recreation Area, just outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’d been on the road for less than a week driving from South Carolina to South Dakota to make it my new residency state. I got my driver’s license and plates and then took a hike to the top of this hill to see Sioux Falls and the surrounding countryside. I sat on a bench and realized it was Thursday. In my old life I’d have been hard at work, but instead I was at this wonderful place. This is when it really hit me that I was living my dream, that life would never be the same. It was magical.
BeckyPix_2

The early bird catches the view at Folly Beach Country Park near Charleston. Photo credit: Becky Schade.



The second photo is of Folly Beach Country Park, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. Six years ago, my best friend and I were a year out of college and had earned some vacation time with our first “real” jobs. We used the two weeks to road-trip to South Carolina. I’d lived in Wisconsin all my life and was itching for a change of scenery; this was probably when I caught the travel bug. I took this photo at sunrise. We’d woken up at 4:00 a.m. to make sure we got to the beach before sunrise. I’m not an early riser, but getting to see the pink glow over the lighthouse was so worth the effort. We ended up liking our trip here so much that we moved to SC a year later, where I stayed until I hit the road.

BeckyPix_3

Inspired by spires of granite near Sylvan Lake. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

The third picture was taken in June of last year, when I was working at a gift shop in Badlands National Park. On a day off, I headed over to Custer State Park, in the Black Hills. I had no itinerary and spent the morning in the south of the park watching bison. Then, after happening upon a couple of neat looking lakes, I decided to study the park brochures and find the best lake in the Black Hills. Beautiful Sylvan Lake caught my eye. The road that leads to the lake is the Needles Highway. The drive along that highway was amazing, more so because I had no idea it was there, and every vista was a surprise. This photo is of the Needle, a huge spire of granite that wind and water had hollowed out into a needle shape.

Nature—cheaper than therapy

It makes such a difference when you know the story attached to the pictures. Until you told me that story about the last one, all I could see was a silhouette of a girl leaning back with long flowing hair–not a needle! Where are your favorite places to take photographs?
I love natural places, I always feel most content and closest to the divine when I’m out in nature. And there’s such variety to be found, as the next three photos demonstrate. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.

BeckyPix_4

Holy smokes! Nature in all its glory in Great Smokey Mountain National Park, NC/TN. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

BeckyPix_5

Nothing bad about that! Badlands National Park, SD. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

BeckyPix_6

The forces of erosion at work in Hunting Island State Park, SC. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

I know how you feel. Photographing a natural scene that is forever changing feels so fulfilling. I’d like to know if you ever feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Yes, I do. I don’t take pictures of people without their permission if they are to be the subject. But if they happen to be in the background of a shot, it’s not usually an issue.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
That’s an interesting question. For me, photography is a hobby and not the main reason for travel. I have no desire to get trapped behind the lens trying to take the perfect picture and miss the beauty of a magic moment. Having said that, there certainly is a magic to that rare photograph that captures the essence of a time or place. Maybe it’s because I’m a novice or that I make a point of not staging photos, but when I snap my shutter I never know ahead of time if I’m taking that kind of picture. It’s something I find out later as I’m reviewing the photos in my computer.

I can empathize. In my case if I’m not present in the moment I can neither photograph nor write with passion.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.” —Chase Jarvis

Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses do you use? And which software do you use for post-processing?
Haha, hoo boy—I’m about to get laughed right out of this column…or maybe, just maybe, help a few people understand that you don’t have to buy a thousand dollar SLR to be a photographer. My camera is my iPhone 4s—with no apps to change the functionality. That’s all I have. I don’t even own a point-and-shoot. Because I have no optical zoom whatsoever, it definitely limits the kinds of photos I can take, but for me the extremely high portability and low cost (relatively speaking) make up for that drawback. My phone fits in my pants pocket and has a waterproof and shock-resistant case, so I don’t fear taking it to rugged locales. Some might say that a smartphone is more expensive than many point-and-shoots you can buy, which is true, but when it functions as my phone and GPS as well as my primary camera, having all three in one package is definitely cheaper than owning them as individual gadgets. I use Adobe Photoshop 7.0, which I had actually gotten years ago for the purpose of drawing and coloring digital art from scratch. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to put it to the use it was designed for.

I hear no laughter, and if you can handle Photoshop you’re no dummy! If it makes you feel better, I am probably one of a small minority who have a DSLR camera but no mobile phone. Actually, I have a mobile phone that isn’t smart—it only makes phone calls; but I hardly ever turn it on. Now I hear some laughter!! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers or travelers?
First off, never let someone else’s definition of travel or photography determine your own by default. You don’t need all the newest gear to be a photographer, and you don’t need to book a plane halfway around the world to be a traveler. Take some time to think about what you really want from your experience, and let that be your guide. Second, if this is your dream, the life you want to live, don’t put it off for later. Later might never come. You want to be a photographer? Get out today and take some photos. Practice makes perfect. You want to start traveling? Start planning now and get to work on making it a reality. Set a date by which you’ll be out there.

Becky, I’ve really enjoyed our time together. Your story is an inspiration to us all. I only wish I was 40 years younger because I’m sure I would be tooling up an RV as fast as I could right now.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Becky’s RV life and her photography advice? She has certainly taken the road less traveled. If you have any questions for her about her photos and/or experiences, please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Becky, don’t forget to visit her blog, Interstellar Orchard. You can also like the blog’s Facebook page, connect with her on Twitter, or send her an email.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this global travel buff who meditates with camera in hand and HDR on screen, a picture says…

Andy Harvard A Picture Says Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Andy Harvard enjoying an ice-cold Hansa in a hotel bar off the coast of Durban (photo source: Andy Harvard).

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 guest this month is the 45-year-old South African photographer, traveller and chef Andrew (Andy) Harvard. Most chefs enjoy eating and are by nature creative people. Andy is no exception and his creative talents, ideas and passion spill over into his passion for photography, which he indulges on travels in South Africa and worldwide. He has a blog that celebrates all three passions under the descriptive title “snap fly cook”.

An early bird, Andy often wakes-up at 03h00 in summers to be on the beach in Durban, where he lives, in time for first light and sunrise an hour or so later. He is also fond of seeking out “hard to access” locations and revels in the hours spent working and reworking his photos through his favorite software packages. As he puts it:

I find this process very calming and am sometimes like a kid in awe when something magical happens. It is a meditation of sorts for me, an “addiction” that has to be fed. Oh! The wonders of HDR processing.

* * *

Hi, Andy. Even though we haven’t met face to face, we’ve had a fair amount of electronic communication over the past six months, and I’m pleased we’re finally doing this interview. Before we start I’d like to thank you for the support you gave me when I was grappling with the real basics of DLSR and HDR photographylike how to take the lens cap off so my photos wouldn’t look so dark! I know you were born in Durban, which was the first place I visited in South Africa, in 1990. When did you spread your wings and start travelling around photographing different places?
It all started in 1999 at the end of a relationship. My ex-girlfriend and I had travelled to destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives luxuriating in 4 & 5 star hotels and resorts. As part of our very amicable breakup, she gave me a free return flight to England, where I met my (now) best friend, Jason. He and I flew from England to Amsterdam for three nights. Remember the adage “what goes on tour stays on tour”? Well, I will say no more than it was a good tour and the start of my real travel and photography adventures.

Now we all want to know more; please carry on, Andy.
Well, I have mostly travelled alone and up until meeting my wife, have enjoyed adventuring by myself. I found that travelling with others has the potential to cause unnecessary complications. Maybe you want to eat Italian and your companion wants to eat Indian. One wants to head into Northern India, and the other wants to go spend a week in a houseboat in Kerala, a state in southwest India. I have no problem talking to strangers, mingling and keeping myself very busy. Budget accommodation and street food are my favorites, although I have been known to spend 5,000 INR (Indian rupees, around 80 USD) on a lobster and 14,000 INR (around $2,300 USD) on a hotel room in Mumbai, as well as similar amounts in other locations. But that is only once in a blue moon. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that on each occasion I have been to India, I have suffered from food poisoning.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment – Buddhist precept

You’ve been to quite a number of places in the world. Can you give us a clearer idea of the range?
I have travelled on business to Swaziland and many other destinations in South Africa. In pursuit of the Buddhist spiritual path, I have been to Germany, Spain and the UK to participate in retreats and festivals. I have an appetite for grassroots communication that has taken me to countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Croatia, Turkey and Lesotho. Meeting people from various cultures has been a great inspiration. According to Trip Advisor, I have been to 18 countries and 115 cities.

I understand you like to disconnect completely when you’re on a trip?
When I travel, I have minimal to nil contact with my home country. I purposely detach myself from everyday life for the time I am away so that I can dissolve into a dreamland of new discoveries and possibilities.

Despite having gone North, South, East and West, you are currently living in your birthplace, Durban, a city of which I have fond memories. It’s so long since I was there! What is life like in your hometown these days?
Durban (Zulu: eThekwini, from itheku, meaning “bay/lagoon’), for those who don’t know it as well as you do, is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the busiest port in South Africa and Africa. Though a major manufacturing hub, it’s also a major centre of tourism because of its subtropical climate and fabulous beaches. I don’t think it’s changed much since you left. We Durbanites have always been “laid back”. Our roads are nowhere near as busy as those in the capital, Johannesburg. The beach is still magnificent for surfers and sun lovers, but swimmers must take care. The surf is big and the sharks bite! It’s never cold as you will know, but often the humidity is high. Let’s see, what else can I tell you? Oh, I know. Durban is the home of the Sharks Rugby Union, who are usually title contenders (rugby being our national sport).

It still sounds like a great place to be, but as I became an adopted Capetonian, I afraid I can’t support the Sharks. It’s the Stormers for me.

Receive the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is… – Buddhist precept

Let’s get down to one of your passions that is fast becoming one of mine, too—photography. First, you have kindly agreed to share three photos that capture some of your favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special for you?
These three photos are from 2009 and 2010, before the photography bug really bit me hard. But they have each etched a place in my heart.

Calcutta_1

The grim reality of poverty in Kolkata; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photograph, taken in Kolkata (aka Calcutta), India, shows an elderly, thin, grey-haired lady in an orange sari. The lady in the white sari, lying curled up on the ground, I’d previously seen walking hunchbacked, slowly and in considerable pain, toward Mother Teresa’s home. I had a strong suspicion she was desperately trying to reach Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute, sick and dying. I do not recall having ever having seen poverty of this magnitude when walking the main and side roads of South Africa, or anywhere else.

The picture alone tells a tragic story but your explanation adds a lot more. Thank you.

Calcutta_2

Another view of poverty in Kolkata, slightly more uplifting; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photo, also taken in Kolkata, indicates how desperate the lives of some people still are. The driver shovels refuse onto the truck while the crows watch in anticipation of scraps as a lady and her son appear to do so as well. The lady was searching for food and maybe something of value whilst her son sat quietly guarding their personal belongings. The dog, relaxed, watched as drivers constantly hooted and maneuvered around one another. A lot of noise but minimal fuss, no road rage or the time-consuming jams we tend to associate with dense traffic. The Kolkata experience was very brief, but I felt a sense of spirituality here. Small shrines are erected on the sides of most roadssometimes seen every fifty metres or so. Every person (other than the beggars at the temple), including the crows, dogs and cows appeared to be busy, desperately doing something meaningful in their quest for survival.

Knowing the story behind this photo helps us to appreciate how well you have captured a small corner of peace and quiet surrounded by a cacophony of noise.

WorldCup_SouthAfrica

The 2010 World Cup quarter-final match Uruguay vs. Spain, held in Durban, SA (Spain won to eventually take home the title); photo credit: Andy Harvard

Spain beat Germany in Durban on 7 July 2010. They reached a World Cup final for the first time and went on to beat Holland in Johannesburg. The only goal in Durban came from a header by Carles Puyol. This was the first time I had witnessed extreme soccer fever, and this photo won a competition in one of Durban’s newspapers.

In this photo you have captured the spirit of the occasion, which is now upon us again in Brazil. Congratulations on your award.

The key to happiness is inner peace – Buddhist precept

Next we’re going to talk about some of your current favorite places to take photographs. Can you explain why these three places inspire you and how it shows in the photos you’ve selected?
1) Huge mountains, deep valleys, tranquillity, big skies, rural living, clean fresh breezes, golden lightMonteseel, in the Valley of One Thousand Hills, makes one realize how small and insignificant certain problems we all have actually are:

Monteseel, in the  Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

Monteseel, in the Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

2) This unspoiled coastline with restricted access is literally around the corner from Durban’s Central Business District, which we call CBD. It’s a photographer’s paradise:

SouthAfricanBeach

Northern Bluff coastline, Durban, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

3) Early mornings at this spot are full of activity: surfers, ski boats, fishermen, sailboats, people exercising, seine netters, photographers, holiday makers, recovering late night revellers and more. After a year of hard slogging, I managed to take this serene pier shot:

MoyoPier

Moyo uShaka Pier, Durban, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photo actually won first place in my photo club’s monthly competition. The chairman said:

Brilliant, love the symmetric composition with a warm and cold side, slightly reminiscent of Turner’s sky in The Fighting Temeraire.

I know that Monteseel is an awesome place, so powerful it’s almost overpowering. It’s a great capture. Your photo of CBD is so dramatic that, although I know how warm the sea is, it looks positively cold. Why have you never shown me this before? It’s awesome. So you had to work a bit to get the last one! Well done.

You should move with a sharp consciousness… – Buddhist precept

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you?
Yes, but more importantly, photography is the way I choose to meditate. I go into a semi-transcendental state when shooting and later when processing the photos on the computer. I believe the habit dates from my mother’s death in early 2013. When we visited her in hospital, we would all sit on the veranda outside the ward while I took night-time photos. Later, when going through some boxes of photos she had taken in her youth, I learned that she had been a photographer of “social” note. Not long after, I got hooked on HDR photography. I was a member of a Buddhist tradition for two years, attending teachings and meditation classes about 6–7 hours a week. Now my “meditation” is taking photos while a new day dawns in near complete silence and then sitting for hours post-processing photos to create a work of art. It isn’t a jobit’s a passion; and I want to keep it that way and share the results with others.

Thank you, Andy, for sharing such a fascinating personal story. Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon 6D, 17/40mm and 24/105mm. I also have my “old” baby Canon 550D which uses either lens above when not in use by “big brother”.

And which software do you use for post-processing?
Which software do I not use? I will use any software available to manipulate my photos to achieve the look I want to see. I know no bounds in this regard. I started with Photomatix HDR software and would attempt to “HDR” everything I could at any time of the dayi.e., dogs, people, machinery and trees. Later I learnt that this was a little foolish but, as I realized when reading this article on the topic, a necessary part of my progression. Lately, I’ve been shooting fewer exposures and manually blending them in Photoshop with layers and masks. I am new at this and on another learning curve.

Sounds like you are a post-processing junkie. I can identify with that and hope to move up to your level when I understand a lot more about the various programs. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Be confident and take charge. Keep the camera in hand or on a sling (not deep in a bag). Take lots of photos and even different angles on the same scene. Go into a tunnel zone where you are only thinking about and taking photos. Get down on the street and get dirty. Find top photographers who you admire and follow them. Study their work and every word on their pages (great tips sometimes come hidden in a few sentences). Look at the best photo you find and think “I can do this and better, it might just take some time”. Some really kind photographers offer free tutorials in video or written formatmake the time to find them and work through them.

* * *

Thank you, Andy. I have really enjoyed our interview. Your story is so compelling and you do approach things from a different angle to many of us.

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

And if you want to know more about Andy, don’t forget to visit his blog, Snap Fly Cook. You can also connect with him on Facebook and visit his gallery of “special” photos on Pixels.com.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this globe drifter and Adult Third Culture Kid, a picture says…

Rachel Kanev Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles; Rachel (right) with her friend Sara experimenting with make-up and photography with the help of a bottle of wine (or two?) and some props (photo credit: Rachel Kanev).

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 guest this month is 24-year-old Rachel Kanev. She has a Bulgarian father and German Jewish mother but grew up in England, where she studied French and Chinese languages. She feels she got “…caught somewhere in between” these many cultures:

With my Jewish nose, Bulgarian skin and English accent, I at once belong to British, East German, Bulgarian, Jewish, French and Chinese cultures and yet to none of them at all.

Her grandmother, by contrast, lived in Berlin for decades but was more English than Tetley tea.

Indications of Rachel’s escalating identity crisis are borne out in the images that bombard you upon reaching her engaging blog, Global Drifting, in which she says she is drifting across the globe in hopes of stumbling upon enlightenment…

* * *

Hi, Rachel. I’m pleased your globe-drifting has taken you to the shores of the Displaced Nation, which gives us the opportunity to discuss your photo-travel experiences. For one so young you’ve travelled a fair bit, but where were you actually born?
I was born in my mother’s hometown of Berlin, at the traffic lights on the way to hospital. My mother said I looked like a hedgehog that day, and my family still calls me Igel (“Hedgehog” in German). A few months later, the Berlin Wall came down and one year after that, we all moved to England.

So you were a Third Culture Kid in Britain. When did you spread your wings to start travelling?
My nursery and primary school classes were filled with international children. Eugenia—a Spanish girl from Madrid with long black hair and a passion for witchcraft and the Greek goddess Athena—soon became my best friend. In the momentary way that often strikes a child, I was devastated when she left me to return home for good. So, at the tender age of nine, I boarded a plane alone, in my size 1 shoes, to visit Eugenia in Spain. As I began my first solo journey, I experienced a thirst for discovery, which, as yet, has not been quenched. Since that first adventure, I have visited Italy, Holland, France, Austria, Switzerland, Réunion Island and China. I plan to step (in my now size 5 shoes) into Morocco and perhaps Israel this coming summer.

What do you love so much about travel?
I love travel because everything is new and unknown; we share no past and perhaps no future with the things we see and people we meet. The errant wanderer therefore has no choice but to revel in the present.

Will I ever get over the pull I feel to both of these places?

Despite your age, I think I can put you in the category of seasoned traveller. Tell me, what inspires your decision to travel to particular places?
My inspiration comes partly from a love of languages and partly from the idealistic images of France I painted in my head when watching French films and listening to French music, which I did while revising for my exams at university. Aided by the amazing Erasmus, that towering figure of the Renaissance, I had taken a university year abroad in the island paradise of Réunion, near Africa. It’s a French overseas department so qualifies for the European Union’s Erasmus Programme, which finances students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country. But it wasn’t until after finishing university that I had a chance to visit France itself. I meandered through southern French villages like an aimless hippie, reveling in its rural chic.

I understand you also have a passion for China?
Chinese was my third language at university. After graduating, I remained in England saving pennies as a waitress to finance spending a year in the land of silk. I lived in a city about an hour from Beijing.

I’m curious: where are you right now and what are you up to?
Right now I’m back living in my English hometown of Cambridge, selling nutritional products to vitamin-mad French and German customers—and saving up for my next Chinese/Moroccan/Spanish/Israeli adventure this summer. As I look out of the window, I am visualizing being there already, far from the Land of Vitamins C and D!

RK_SouthofFrance

No use crying over spilled wine! Rachel in the cellar of a now-defunct winery near Perpignan, France; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Hmmm… I think I detect something of the entrepreneur in you, alongside your intrepid traveller’s spirit! And now let’s have a look at a few of your favorite photos from your travels to France and China.
Sure! I took this first photo in a wine cellar in a small hamlet near Perpignan, some way off the coast of southern France. I’d been helping out, but it was late December, and there was very little work left. Besides, the winemaker, whose name was Bernard, had gone bankrupt due to the stresses of organic farming. Our main task for the day, as his helpers, was to pour bottle upon bottle of wine down the drain as he looked on bemoaning the demise of the modern world. It proved a good way to get skillful with a corkscrew!! And I think poor Bernard appreciated our efforts quite a lot. Just think if he’d drunk all that wine in his cellar, it would have sent him spiraling into an even deeper fit of depression…

RK_dragonriceterraces

China’s Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields are so named because of their resemblance to a dragon’s scales; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

The next photo provides a glimpse of the glorious Dragon rice terraces of Longshen, in China’s Guangxi province. Amazing terraces stretch as far as the eye can see. I visited some years ago and remember being in awe at the combination of nature’s beauty and the skillfulness of the human hand. I had quite an adventure ambling through the fields with two of my Chinese friends. We got lost and at one point envisaged spending a cold night cuddled up to the cows. In the end we reached our hostel, at the top of the terraces, by nightfall. I returned again last year and was saddened to see that the beauty of the fields has been marred by the greedy hand of tourism. Huge plastic cable cars now transport visitors to the top, and the local villagers are paid to dress in traditional clothes.

RK_AnotherBernard

A French farmer, another Barnard; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Last in this series we have another Bernard who stumbled into my traveller’s path. This Bernard is an 80-year-old farmer with whom I lived on my own for a week. His farm is an hour away from the nearest town and is completely self-sufficient. He grows his own organic vegetables and was fit enough to hack up the ground with a pickaxe when the underwater pipes burst (ironically, I had left the home of Bernard number 1 because his pipes had burst and the water system needed to be repaired, only to be faced with more burst pipes at the home of Bernard number 2!).

I love the first photo just because it looks as though you’ve broken into someone’s cellar and are drinking all the wine!! The dragon terraces appear so surreal to me because they are so different to the flat rice fields of Thailand, where I live. I wish I could see them one day. I know you take a lot of photos and these next four, I believe, have a special significance for you. Can you explain?

Not all who wander are lost…

The following is a photo I took of a photo of Bernard number 2, which was taken some fifty years ago, when his newly polished army boots took their very first steps away from the small village on the outskirts of the Pyrenees, where he was born. He bid farewell to the farm he’d grown up on and to the parents who’d raised both him and the thriving trees and crops that had formed the backdrop to his childhood. By the time I encountered Bernard, nature had outlived his parents but their legacy remained. He is now a beekeeper and organic vegetable farmer, tending to the very same trees and plants that his father and his father’s father had cared for. Though he has no human family, the trees you see in my other photo of Bernard (above) appear to me to be his forefathers; they are equally his children.

Bernard as a young man

The French farmer Bernard as a young soldier; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

The next photo was a fluke as I managed to capture an ad for Longines watches showing Kate Winslet just as the sun was setting. In that fleeting instant, one can see Shanghai’s varied transportation, high-rise buildings and red lanterns—that curious amalgamation of Western modernity and Chinese traditionalism that is everywhere around you in the city.

RK_ShanghaiSunset

A British beauty, a Swiss watch and a Shanghai sunset; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Cambridge is my home town and I think of it much like a family member, having watched it age and evolve just as it has silently witnessed me grow and change. I love its grandiose architecture, endless greenery, and the way winter and spring intertwine in front of the University’s palace-like structures that are fit for if not a queen then the rulers of academia, to which I never belonged.

RK_CambridgeUK

The dreaming spires of Cambridge; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Here my sister explores the labyrinth-like forestry of a park near where we live in Cambridge. It has amazing multi-coloured plants I have never seen anywhere else before and huge trees that watch over you like silent giants. I like this photo because she looks like Alice in Wonderland with her long, thick flowing locks!

RK_SisterinPark

The great outdoors near Cambridge, UK; photo credit: Rachel Kanev.

Is photography sometimes a moral decision?

I love your explanations as they show us the profound effects a picture can have on its creator, something the viewer can never fully appreciate. Tell me, do you ever feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
For me, the morality of taking photos of strangers has always been ambiguous. I think of it whenever I see photos of human suffering. I believe I have the right to use my camera to record the world but without intruding on it. At what point does the power of images and the need for education and understanding through the push of a button and flash of a light become intrusive and affect the lives of others in a negative way? I’ll give you an example from my own experience. The Western media has focused almost exclusively on China’s explosive economic growth when in fact 1.6 million people (11.8 percent of the population) still live below the poverty line. When taking the train, part of me would like to photograph the dirt-covered, barefooted children asleep on newspapers or the train door frozen from the inside as passengers are left to deal with the icy temperatures of the North (-37°C). But feeling intrusive, I refrain.

Do you also feel self-conscious in Asia?
It’s difficult being subtle, given the colour of my hair and skin, and the stamp on my passport. Noticing me walking the streets of China, many Chinese will assume, quite rightly, that I am Western but quite wrongly that I must therefore have dollar bills rolling from my body like a central bank printing press. Often I do not wish to fuel their prejudices by whipping out a digital camera, however small, before their eyes.

As a resident in Thailand, I can empathize with those views, especially the general Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich. Although this can be annoying, I do believe these views are changing for the better, as the younger generation becomes more socially aware through travel and better education. Now let’s turn to the technical stuff. Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I have a small Samsung camera that fits neatly in the palm of my hand. It’s nothing fancy and often leaves something to be desired in terms of quality, but it was a birthday gift years ago and has sentimental value, having been my only travel partner across unknown lands. Whatever it lacks in lens quality, Windows Photo Gallery makes up for in magical editing power!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Wander through villages, peel garlic with a farmer, shake hands with a prince, run through jungles, leap into waterfalls, swing across the rainforest wilderness and lose a leg to the marble rocks—see the world and allow the world to be seen. Travel, live, eternalize what you see with a photo.

Great non-technical advice, Rachel, that’s right up my street! I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story in this interview.

* * *

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

And if you want to know more about Rachel Kanev, don’t forget to visit her blog, Globe Drifting. You can also follow her on Twitter or even shoot her an email.

(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 next week’s fab posts!

 

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

For this intrepid Irish “ruin hunter,” a picture says…

Ed Mooney 1,000 words Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles; Ed Mooney in front of the ruins of Ducketts Grove, County Carlow (photo credit: Ed Mooney).

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 guest this month is 38-year-old Irishman Edward (Ed) Mooney. His story is quite different from previous guests for several reasons, the main one being that he is not an expat. On the contrary, he travels within the confines of his native Ireland.

That said, Ed does cross boundaries, at least in a temporal sense. He loves nothing more than to immerse himself in an obscure historical site, exploring Irish history, lore and mythology while also photographing the surrounding ruins, to keep a record of what remains from generations past.

I really like the name Ed has given to his hobby: “ruin-hunting”. Ed tells me that ruin-hunting merges Past, Present & Future. By researching the history behind a place, he pays tribute to the Past. By writing about the experience, he brings it into the Present. And by posting his article, along with his photos, on his blog, he preserves his findings for the Future.

I have been following Ed for some months and love the way he weaves historic research into (mostly) black-and-white images.

* * *

Hi, Ed. Thanks for joining me at the Displaced Nation. I know you live with your young family in Kildare, but where were you born and what gave you the urge to travel around Ireland photographing ancient ruins?
I was born in Dublin, where I lived until flying the coop at 17. I moved to Kildare for work. I only got into photography seriously three or four years ago. With a young family, I don’t get to go abroad very often. But I am fortunate enough to travel within Ireland itself, which with its rich heritage offers an abundance of fascinating sights. And the crazy thing is, the majority of them are relatively unknown and rarely visited. It is these off-the-beaten-track places that I tend to concentrate on while traveling the country, attempting to capture them with my DSLR camera.

“I love everything that’s old…” —Oliver Goldsmith

You seem to have found an interesting niche. Can you tell us a little more about this “ruin hunting” hobby of yours?
It all started in 2011. I had just gotten my first DSLR and joined the local camera club, but had very little opportunity to get out and about shooting. I wasn’t into wildlife or landscape photography like some of the other club members. I guess I was searching for my niche, as you put it. One day a flyer came through the letterbox, which had an image of a nearby historical site called the Rock of Dunamase, in County Laois. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of what would become an obsession. A few days later, I located Dunamase and went exploring. Now, looking back at the photos, I cringe—but at the time I thought they were the best shots I’d ever taken. Around this time I had starting blogging and decided to post a brief essay on the history of Dunamase, along with the images. Next thing I knew, I was spending all of my spare time searching out new sites. Now that the kids are a little older, I have been able to take them on some of my trips. To date I have explored sites in nine counties with plans for many more over the coming months.

When you said “a flyer came through the letterbox…,” I immediately thought of a WWII fighter pilot. I would love to know more about what inspires you to spend so much of your spare time visiting historical places.
My inspiration comes from my deep love of history. In my early twenties, I joined what was then known as the Heritage Awareness Group, or HAG. We visited sites such as Newgrange, Tara and Baltinglass Abbey. Nowadays my favourite ruins are castles and Neolithic sites such as stone circles and cairns, although I am forever coming across many ecclesiastical sites which are interesting in their own right and make for some stunning shots. It’s quite hard to find the locations so I’ve created maps for each county, and make a point of recording every site I visit on my blog along with an interactive map showing the exact location to assist other travellers.

It’s great that you record your findings in so much detail and include exact locations in case others are inspired to follow in your footsteps. Ireland is a small country, unless you get lost. Tell us, where are you now, how did you end up there and what is life like in that part of the world?
We have been in Monasterevin, Kildare, for almost seven years now and absolutely love it. It’s a different way of life to Dublin. If I didn’t have to commute daily to the City to work, I would probably return there rarely. The great thing about Monasterevin, besides the relaxed atmosphere and close community, is that I am situated almost in the centre of Ireland. I can travel to any part of the country in two to three hours, which is great considering the amount of travelling involved in “ruin hunting”.

Rock of Dunamase. Photo credit: Ed Mooney

Rock of Dunamase. Photo credit: Ed Mooney

I’ve never been outside Dublin but I hear the countryside is beautiful. Other benefits are that you never run out of Guinness and you just won the Six Nations rugby! Thank you for sharing some of your photo shots which capture a few of your favourite memories. Can you describe the story behind them and what makes them so special?
These three are from recent shoots. The first, of the Rock of Dunamase, is a special place not just for the stunning views and fascinating history but also because it’s where my journey started.

Church ruins in Laois; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Church ruins in Laois; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

The second photo is of another site I discovered in neighbouring Laois, which, with its stunning views, constitutes a ruin hunter’s paradise. This one is special on a personal level as well, being the first ruin I visited with all three children. In the chancel to the rear of the church is an old iron gate blocking the entrance to a vaulted mortuary chamber. Ryan, my eldest, had an interesting observation on the chamber: “Daddy, that’s where the Vampires live.” Now how the heck did he come up with that? Have you ever tried convincing an eight-year-old that something doesn’t exist?

Skryne Hill Church; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Skryne Hill Church; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

The third is of the church that sits on Skryne Hill, the site of an early Christian settlement. To this day my memory of Skryne remains vivid. The tower is inaccessible due to a very heavy iron gate that on examination appeared to be rusted shut. I shone my torch through the bars on one of the windows. Inside were a number of interesting stone artifacts that I wanted to capture. So I set up my flashgun and shot through the bars. On the second or third flash something physically grabbed my camera strap and pulled it into the tower. It all happened so fast, but somehow I managed to pull that camera away from the window while shouting a few expletives. At first I wondered if it might have been a draft of some kind that had caught my strap, but it could not have been as I was pressed right up against the opening and there was no wind to cause a draft. Then I thought that maybe someone was inside, but there was no way for a person to get in or out of the tower. To this day I still can’t explain what happened. But it certainly left a lasting memory.

“Memory, in widow’s weeds, … stands on a tombstone.” —Aubrey de Vere

Great memoriesand that last story is quite eerie. But I suppose you would expect the odd ghost or two in buildings so old? Now, out of these many destinations, do you have any that stand out as your favorites?
If you haven’t already guessed, old ruins are what attract my attention, be it a crumbling castle, a neolithic stone circle or standing stone, or an ancient church overgrown with ivy. Here are three of my favorite places:

Brownshill Dolmen, County Carlow; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Brownshill Dolmen, County Carlow; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Ballymoon Castle, County Carlow. Photo credit: Ed Mooney

Ballymoon Castle, County Carlow; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Cillbharrog Church & cemetery; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Cillbharrog Church & Cemetery; photo credit: Ed Mooney.

Can you explain why these particular places inspire you?
It’s kind of hard to explain but once I set foot on the site of an ancient monument, something about the atmosphere affects me, and a flip switches in my head. I feel as though I’m stepping back in time. The modern world disappears for a while and I get to experience something really special. With my photography I try to capture that experience and hopefully portray it to the viewer. Mood, atmosphere and a sense of the past are the most important elements for me to enjoy shooting at a location.

I can assure you, Ed, that, for me, you usually achieve it. Your photos make me feel as though I’m there, not you. I know people aren’t a part of your ruin hunting but I want to ask you all the same if you ever feel reserved about taking photos of people on your travels, particularly when they are conscious you are doing so?
I still enjoy getting out and doing some street photography from time to time and I have never really had an issue with shooting people, but then again I have had plenty of experience ranging from large events in Dublin down to small country festivals. I guess at the start I was a bit shy and unsure of how to approach shooting strangers, but once you learn how to engage with a subject it becomes fun. Some of the best shots I have taken were the result of strangers coming up to me wanting to have their pictures taken. Parades and street festivals are probably the best for doing this as everyone is relaxed and having a good time.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
Most times I don’t have to. I find it amazing how people start posing once they see a camera in your hand. Obviously, with children you have to be really careful these days and should always get parental permission.

“Ireland’s ruins are historic emotions surrendered to time.”—Horace Sutton

Interesting—that last point would never be considered in Thailand, where I live. So would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
Absolutely, I would say that most photographers constantly strive to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot. In my case the deeper motivation is to capture historic sites for posterity. As in many other countries, Ireland’s local and national heritage sites continue to disappear for good. Most people don’t care and the government is only interested in money. Take my home town of Tallaght, a suburb of Dublin. There were several castles in the area up until about 40 years ago. Now only a part of one remains. This scenario recurs with alarming regularity. So if I can capture the essence of a place before it is wiped away for good, I have done my job.

I see you use the word “job”. But I see it more as a calling and you, as a preservationist and historian. Either way you are doing an excellent “job”–one that incidentally reminds me of my last interview subject, Gaetan Green. He is trying to record China’s traditional landscapes before they fall to the forces of modernization. So when did you realize this deeper purpose?
Right from the start. The need to preserve the past was a major factor in motivating me to choose this path for my photography.

Now for the technical stuff at which I am far from proficient. What kind of camera and lenses do you use? And which software do you use for post-processing?
I still use my trusty Nikon D40 with kit lens. Yes it is outdated by today’s standards, but it has served me well over the last few years and taken a lot more punishment than it should have. I am planning to upgrade later this year and hopefully the D40 will be converted to shoot Infra Red, which is something I really want to experiment with. For my raw images ACR is a must, but my one stop shop for post processing has to be Photoshop. I currently use CS6 and it does everything I need. I still have various other programs sitting on my desktop but these rarely get a look-in.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
If I was starting photography now I would say take the time to enjoy what you do and most importantly, research, research, research. Find out as much as possible about the place you are travelling to. Look at as many images of the place as you can, take inspiration from them and don’t go and shoot the same scene as everybody else. Look for a new angle or view. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

Thank you, Ed. It has been a real pleasure to interview you. Your story so far is fascinating. I say so far because I know one day you will run out of ruins in Ireland and you’ll be dreaming up your next historical project in places further afield.

* * *

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

And if you want to know more about Ed Mooney, don’t forget to visit his excellent photography site. You can also like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, or shoot him an email.

(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 post, the start of a brand new column on travel and fantasy writing, by Andrew Couch.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this Swiss ethnographer with a fondness for remote parts of China, a picture says…

Gaetan in China Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Gaetan Green doing fieldwork in Xishuangbanna, a region of Southwest China squeezed between Laos and Burma; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

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 guest this month is 33-year-old Swiss national Gaetan Green, who has spent the last 12 years between China, Europe and North America. After graduating university, Gaetan studied and conducted ethnographic research in remote parts of China. He went back to do field work in the country’s ethnic borderland when pursuing a master’s degree in geography at a university in Vancouver.

For the past three years Gaetan has lived in one of China’s mega-cities, but he always grabs the opportunity to travel in the countryside, where he can indulge in his current passion for the  ancient and ethnic villages of south and southwest China, with a “minor focus on Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta.”

Gaetan keeps a fascinating blog, Travel Cathay. He posts about his off-the-beaten-path travels to parts of China most of us wouldn’t know existed.

* * *

Hi Gaetan. I have been following your blog for a while now and am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview you for the Displaced Nation. Let’s start with some background on you, shall we? Where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
I grew up in a ski resort in the middle of the Swiss Alps and I started travelling as soon as my parents would allow it. My first trips were to Southern and Eastern Europe with classmates—that started when we were around 16 years old. But my travels became a lot more serious when I left Switzerland for my first trip around the world, at age 20. This trip changed my life for good.

So your wanderlust dates from an early age. Why do you think that was?
There were essentially two things that inspired me to travel. The first was a map of the world that I discovered at home when I was an inquisitive eight-year-old. The map made me realize the world was much bigger than the valley surrounded by big snow-capped mountains where we lived. I was itching to discover the reality behind all the exotic place names. The second source of inspiration was my home country. With its pure air, snow-capped mountains, green valleys and quaint mountain villages, Switzerland is beautiful—but way too small. The boy I was then saw a world so big, I knew I had to leave.

Which countries did you travel to?
Besides southern and eastern Europe, I visited Australia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. And of course, eventually, China.

And now China has become a second home for you.
Although I have traveled to other countries, China is the one I know best because that is where I have spent most of my time so far, and I have only five provinces left to discover. My love story with China started at age 20: I spent three months of my round-the-world trip traveling within its vast terrain. When I returned home, I started to learn Mandarin (some of my friends thought I was seriously deranged!!). Then one thing lead to another: I studied for two years in Chongqing (a city of 15 million people in central China), worked as an ethnographer in remote parts of Yunnan province, taught English in Kunming, and conducted academic research between Vancouver and Xishuangbanna. Although China is a country, it gives the impression of being a continent because it is very diverse. Contrary to what many people think, China does not have a monolithic culture. I speak Mandarin, so that makes travel easier. I can venture into the countryside knowing I’ll be understood.

“Let’s all go up to the mountain to be close to the flowers and songs.” – Dong folk ballad

I’m sure that speaking the language gives you a huge advantage. Tell us more about the life you now lead in China.
I am currently working as a sourcing agent and living in one of China’s megacities. Recently I have developed mixed feelings about the megacity life. Megacities can be convenient places to live, providing easy access to food, entertainment, communication and transportation; but I find them overcrowded. Dangerous levels of pollution and food hygiene are growing concerns and also the reasons why some of my expat friends have already left.

Old woman in a Tibetan Catholic community; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

An elderly woman pushing barley alcohol in north Yunan; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

Some friends of mine have recently moved to China to work in Shanghai but they refuse to live in the city for the same reasons you mention. But let’s get away from the megacity and take a look at your first three photos, which take us far away from that scene. Can you tell us what makes each of these photos so special?
This first photo reminds me of the time when I was doing ethnographic research about Tibetan Catholic communities in remote regions of north Yunnan province. On that particular occasion, I had the opportunity to witness a ceremony during which villagers prayed that it would rain on the graves of French missionaries who’d been assassinated at the beginning of the 20th century during anti-Christian violence in the region. There was a steep hike to reach the graves. At end of the ceremony, this woman started giving everyone barley alcohol in a paper cup. I remember going back to the village half-drunk after she challenged me to a second glass of firewater.

Wind and Rain Bridge, Tondao. Photo credit: Gaetan Green

Blown away by the Puxiu Wind and Rain Bridge in Tondao; photo credit: Gaetan Green

The second photo was taken after I’d missed the last afternoon bus and got stuck in the small town of Tongdao (southwest Hunan province), which I’d never heard of. I eventually ended up hiring a taxi driver for the afternoon to show me around. We went to a few ethnic villages and by 4:00 p.m., we had arrived by this amazing covered bridge, which is an example of a “wind and rain” (fengyu) bridge common to the Dong ethnic minority region. Missing my bus was the best thing that happened to me that day.

Taoist Temple, Macau; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The Jade Emperor’s generals on their joss paper thrones; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The third photo records the time I got lost in Macau somewhere between the Ruínas de São Paulo and the Camões Garden, I went to a Taoist temple. In one hall, I noticed that some statues had uneven stacks of joss paper (spirit money) under them. I asked the temple caretaker: “Why?” He explained that there were, in that particular hall, the statues of the 60 heavenly generals who help the Jade Emperor to supervise human life on earth. There is one heavenly general for each birth year, and the more joss paper there is under the statues that matches your birth year, the luckier you will get. I decided to boost my luck and bought stacks of joss paper to boost my heavenly general higher. The temple caretaker gave me three sticks of incense to burn; he said a long prayer in Cantonese and gave me a red talisman. I definitely enjoyed doing business with the gods, though I didn’t feel any luckier afterwards.

“Who can rob me of the songs I learned?” – Dong folk ballad

I love all three photos, and, yes, you are right, missing the bus and staying in Tondau must have been divine providence. Now, I’m keen to know where your favourite places to take photographs are, and why these places inspire you and how that shows in your next three photos?
Now that I live in a big Chinese city, the places that inspire me the most are the ethnic and ancient villages. In the cities, many historical buildings and old streets have been knocked down to give way to shopping malls and skyscrapers. Ethnic and ancient villages are real windows on the past and the cultural diversity of China. I chose the next three photos to make this point.

Cizhong Catholic Church; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

A Roman Catholic Church in an unexpected spot: by the Lancang (Mekong) River at Cizhong; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The first is of the Catholic church at Cizhong, a remote village of north Yunnan province that is home to a community of Tibetan Catholics who were converted by French missionaries more than 100 years ago. The church seems out of place in this land of Buddhism. The mountains surrounding the village make it a picturesque spot.

Yunnanyi Gaetan Green

If these walls could talk: Yunnanyi village on the Tea Horse Road; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The second photo is of Yunnanyi village, in Yunnan province, which was an important stop on the Tea Horse Road that linked Southeast Asia to the Tibetan plateau. Horse caravans carrying tea, spices and other goods stopped in Yunnanyi. In 1936, the communist armies of Mao Zedong stopped in Yunnanyi to rest during the Long March. Then, during WWII, the rice fields behind the village were transformed into a U.S. airfield. Planes that had flown from India over the Himalayas (to avoid the Japanese-controlled Burmese airspace) landed in Yunnanyi with supplies for the Chinese armies. The history of this unknown village is inspiring. The mud-brick courtyard houses have seen a lot. I wish these walls could talk.

Stepping back in time in Qianyang; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

Stepping back in time in Qianyang; photo credit: Gaetan Green.

The final photo is of Qianyang, in Shaanxi, an ancient regional political centre that has been forgotten in China’s rush to develop. The streets are lined with dozens of temples, an ancestral hall, and courtyard mansions that belonged to local officials. Most of the city’s walls and four out of fives gates are still standing. There were no tourists when I visited. It felt like stepping back in time and taking a walk in China’s past.

What I find amazing in these pictures is the beautiful architecture and the pristine condition of such old buildings and the cleanliness of the streets. Tell me something, I notice that many of your photos are of buildings or streets. Do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
I do feel reserved about taking pictures of other people so I rarely do. The exception is when I have the opportunity to witness a ceremony or special event.

I know this is a similar question but do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs and how do you get around any problem of language?
Since I now travel mostly in China, I ask in Chinese. If I am in a region where people do not speak Mandarin, a hand gesture is usually enough.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
It is indeed. I would add that photography also has the ability to monitor change. In a country like China where everything is growing and changing so fast, photography can be a tool to record how the landscape is transforming.

That’s a very pertinent point, particularly when applied to China. Was there a particular moment when you realized that?
I thought about it a lot while on a business trip to Ningbo, a city of nine million people that is just a couple of hours by train from Shanghai. I had been able to take an afternoon off and wander in the city. I discovered an entire neighbourhood of stone houses built during the late Qing Dynasty (late 19th century), all of which were empty. They were going to be knocked down to build a shopping mall and high-density residential buildings. In China I am constantly thinking that what I see today may be different or not even exist tomorrow.

If someone wants to learn from me, I’ll teach him songs as melodious as cicadas.” – Dong folk ballad

I know exactly what you mean. It almost feels like you are running out of time. I have many old pre-digital photos (35 years old and more). I didn’t realise until now how precious they are. Moving on to the technical stuff (I’m not too good at tech but getting better). Some of our readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I use a very simple point-and-shoot Sony camera.

I must say it works really well and the shooter has a good eye! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
I think I am in the same position as you. I need advice.

Gaetan, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell the story of your exciting journey and for sharing so much interesting information. You may not consider yourself to be a good photographer, but your “point and shoot” pictures embellish your narrative beautifully. Keep following your way and I am sure you will inspire other young people to travel the globe as you are doing. I, for one, will be checking your progress.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Gaetan’s experiences? Do you have any questions about his photos or his travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Gaetan, don’t forget to visit his excellent blog, Travel Cathay. You can also follow him on Twitter: @TravelCathay.

(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!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

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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