Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interview of a World Traveller

One of the things that I always wanted to do is to travel the whole world and write about the places and people. Well, I cannot afford it and I could travel only 2 countries until now. I hope that after few years, I can really travel many places. So, I always try to read anything related to travel. I am a member of Absolute Write Forum and to my amazement, I discovered that there is a member there who has traveled extensively in the last few years. Sara has gone to many places and you will find that in her blog: she has shared some of her experiences. I became very eager to interview her to know about the world more. Here, are the interview questions for the readers:

Razib Ahmed: You have traveled extensively in the last one decade. What are the major problems that you faced while traveling?

Sara: When you do a lot of travelling you become aware of what the potential problems might be and how to avoid them. In countries with a high rate of poverty, crime can be a problem and tourists are often seen as easy targets because they have money. You need to be aware of your surroundings, and avoid flashing cash or expensive cameras around, or travelling alone in unlit areas, and so forth. We tend to research a place before going there, to be aware of any problems. We have so far managed to avoid any major problems.

Razib Ahmed: What are the countries that you like to visit as soon as possible and why?

Sara: I would like to visit as many countries as possible while I am still financially and physically able to do so, as there will come a day when I won’t be able to. I don’t really have a time scale other than that. I’ve never been to Greece; that’s on the agenda for this year. We haven’t done much of Asia yet – we’d like to see China, Japan and Russia.

Razib Ahmed: While traveling, I am sure that you have witnessed real poverty in some parts of Asia, Africa and South America. How did you feel when you saw the suffering of poor people?

Sara: It makes me more appreciative of how fortunate I am myself, and how privileged we are in Britain. It makes me quite cross now when British people complain about the health care system, or the education, or the government. We live in a country where we have a democratic government; free healthcare; social security; free education to everyone under the age of 16. So many places we have seen don’t have these things, and I think people need to appreciate the fact that we do, and that makes us very lucky.

Razib Ahmed: Have you become fan of any handicraft product of any particular place? If so, please let us know something about it.

Sara: When we were in Tanzania earlier this year, we visited a village where volunteer work over the years had put in place schools and a system of vocational education, where young people could learn crafts such as carpentry and jewellery making, skills that would allow them to get a job as adults. We met a young woman from this village who was just about to finish school, and had ambitions to go to university and be a lawyer, and it was only because of the volunteer work that had happened there that this option was open for her. The shop was selling jewellery that had been made by women who had been taught the craft, and profits from it went back into educating youngsters. I made a point of buying a fair number of gifts for my friends there, because I liked the idea that in buying the jewellery, I was helping local children to get an education.

Razib Ahmed: I noticed from your blog that you have published some short stories and written two novels. Have you written any book about your travels? Do you have any plan to open a blog about traveling?

Sara: At the moment, I’m just planning to transpose notes from my journals onto the blog’s pages, rather than set up a separate dedicated travel blog. I’ve toyed with the idea of travel writing, but my strength seems to lie in fiction rather than non-fiction.

Razib Ahmed: There are some countries you have visited more than once. For example you visited Canada & the USA in 2002 and again in 2008. Did you notice any change in these two countries in 6 years?

Sara: I think in the past much of the world has aspired to be more like America, seeing it as a utopian ideal of wealth and freedom. But there are a lot of unpleasant things about America hidden under the surface – inequality; poverty; racism; religious intolerance. Some of these things became more visible during the Bush administration and we found that the US became a much less pleasant place to visit. I am optimistic that the new President will change things for the better.

I visit Canada a lot because I have family there. I did live there for most of the 1980s, and when I go to visit my family, I find that the town I lived in has changed so much in the last 20 years that I don’t recognise much of it anymore. Areas that were woodland when I lived there are now big built-up suburbs. I find this quite strange.

Razib Ahmed: Why did you open a blog? What is your future plan with your blog?

Sara: I have been told by several people that if you’re a writer you need a website and a blog. Until I get a publishing contract, or at the very least an agent, I don’t think there’s much point in having a website because I have nothing to promote. But I started the blog as a way of practising, really – a first step in building a web presence for myself. I blog about writing, commuting, travelling and books because these things are all significant parts of my life. I never really anticipated I’d have much of a following; I set up the blog for myself. I find that if I’m not doing much work on the novel, at least if I’ve posted a blog entry I can feel I’ve written something. Hopefully the day will come when I’ve had a book published and people that read it and like it can follow the blog to learn more about the next book’s journey.

Razib Ahmed: What is your most favorite place to visit and why?

Sara: I loved the south island of New Zealand; it was very peaceful and laid-back, with some breath-taking scenery. But I am also very fond of cities. I love Paris, New York and Toronto because they all remind me of London, and I feel at home there. I think cities across the world often have more in common with each other than a city and a small town in the same country do.

Razib Ahmed: You have visited Dubai and Hong Kong. Both of them are considered to be very important commercial hubs for Asia. Did you have any favorite memory to share about them?

Sara: They are both countries straddling two cultures. Dubai is a fascinating place, a mix of the traditional and the modern. When you spend time on the beaches, being brought drinks from the hotel bar and seeing women walk around in skimpy bikinis, it’s easy to forget that you are in a conservative Muslim country. I understand it’s the Crown Prince who is wanting to encourage tourism to Dubai, to bring money into the country. That’s a very sensible business strategy, given that the oil is soon to run out, but on the other hand it will be a shame if Dubai has to lose its Middle Eastern identity for the sake of Western tourism.

Hong Kong is an interesting mix of East and West. When we first arrived in Hong Kong, it felt like the most alien place I had ever been to. My husband and I felt very out of place, being pale skinned and taller than most of the locals. We went for a walk on the first day; the streets were packed, with locals scurrying by us, and there were signs everywhere, hung over each shop, that we couldn’t read a word of because we don’t speak any Chinese languages. After a couple of days, though, we began to acclimatise. Hong Kong is very fond of western shopping malls. All the signs in the malls are in English, and most of the locals speak English so we had no problems communicating.

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