Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: questions

Short travel reflection: Photographing people and streets

Lately I’ve developed a special interest in street photography, especially in photographing people, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so while I was in Southeast Asia. While chatting with a friend and colleague, who is an aspiring photographer, we shared our experiences and talked about the types of photos we enjoy taking. My friend, who recently began to take photography seriously, said that landscapes and cityscapes attracted him, but when I told him about my recently developed interest in street photography, he couldn’t seem to understand the point of capturing photos of random strangers.

To be fair, I think I should use the term “street photography” cautiously because not every portrait is taken on what you’d call a “street” or even a city. And I’m really mostly referring to ordinary people and their everyday lives, so perhaps “people photography” is more appropriate. Anyway, our conversation provoked me to reflect on why I suddenly became so fascinated by people that I felt the irresistible urge to capture the emotions of all those strangers that I chanced upon, most of the time candidly. True, landscapes and cityscapes have vast amounts of beauty and can inspire unimaginable creativity in photography, and I myself enjoy them immensely, but people intrigue and even captivate me. When the truest and most genuine emotions or one inconspicuous moment of an individual’s life is captured on camera, for me, that is irreplaceable.

Perhaps my favourite photo taken during my first trip to Southeast Asia is that of this man sitting in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, December 2015. I was unsure if he was a worker there or a visitor, but the genuine and content expression on his face, with the hint of a sliver of a cryptic smile, made him so picture-worthy. And one ordinary person can outweigh all extravagant scenery you may see, and make the entire trip worthy. (Click here to see the original photo in colour.)

Why do we care about street photography? When people and their homes, those streets and alleys on which they set foot every day like second nature, become the subjects of interest in a photo, what does that tell us? What does it mean to us, the ones that immortalize these images? Perhaps we see a reflection of ourselves in the expressions and the movements of these strangers whom we will never meet again. And there is a certain beauty behind it that I can’t explain, an invisible connection that reminds me, through their eyes, what it is to live, to be merely human.

Short travel reflection: Not travelling

I love to travel. That is more than obvious. I like to read travel blogs and browse travel photography, both of which inspire me to aim higher and travel further. As a semi-frequent traveller, often I find myself reflecting upon the meaning of travel and asking myself why I travel, and there is no single, straightforward answer. However, in this day and age, people for whom travel isn’t a major part of their lives sometimes face some serious scrutiny, even to the point of judgement, because of their lack of travel experience. And I can’t help but ask the travel community – is it wrong to NOT travel?

I believe that travel is a privilege, not a right. Somehow I landed myself in a position where I can travel relatively more frequently than the average person, and for that I am grateful. Not everyone has the luxury of going where their hearts desire and roaming free in the vast unknown. In fact, not everyone WANTS this “luxury”. There are people who are perfectly fine with their stable everyday lives, living in the comforts of their homes with their families and friends within close reach. And there is nothing wrong with that. Better still, perhaps the familiarity of home is where their hearts lie, so they already have everything they want and need. It stings me when we as travellers belittle or even criticize those who choose not to travel or who simply do not have the resources to do so. Sure, one may encourage others to explore the world because we genuinely wish that they too could experience the thrill of travel. Yes, one may say that travel doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and that the experiences one gains can never be replaced by staying in one’s home. These are all true, but there are also people who just don’t WANT to travel. And who is to say that those who do are superior to those who don’t?

A saying that is often quoted is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I didn’t think much of it when I first read it, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a direct criticism of people who don’t travel for whatever reason. Somehow our society has ingrained an unreasonable expectation in our minds that without travel, we’re “stuck” on the first page of our lives and we will never truly be complete or “find ourselves”. Of course that would never be a problem for people who roam around the world and live as a free bird, but for those with a 9-5 job in the office and a family to feed? Well good luck finding meaning in your lives…huh? Is that the attitude that we’re projecting towards people who don’t share the same values as ours? When did travel all of a sudden become the golden standard of whether a person is living a worthy life or not?

This issue had been on my mind for a long time and I finally decided to put together this post as a summary of what I think of the cliché that has been molded by the travel community. Yes, I love to travel, but not everyone else has to. It’s just like any other hobby – painting, cooking, yoga, you name it – and might not be suitable for everyone. Frankly I am quite uncomfortable with the notion that travel is the ultimate goal of life and the only way of understanding and experiencing the values of mankind. It is not. And I’m not saying that every traveller projects the same image, but admittedly, some do. As a travel community, let’s appreciate our opportunities and not take our privileges for granted. And let’s get over ourselves.

Good ol’ home sweet home in Toronto, Canada, June 2014

Short travel reflection: Solo travel

I love traveling solo. Without a companion, I get the opportunity to be completely in touch with my surroundings, in harmony with nature, and in sync with myself. It’s usually a chance for me to relax and recharge when I feel the need to get away from any and all things familiar, including people. Granted, there are few people whom I could talk to when I am on the road by myself. Of course, I could be making loads of new friends on the road but being the introverted one, that wasn’t the way I rolled. It wasn’t that I shunned people or anything, but when I travel solo, I really meant SOLO. What I mean is that if I wanted company on a trip, I would have planned it with a friend, so if I go somewhere alone, I’d like it to stay that way.

When I travel solo, I tend to stop talking altogether. Being by myself, words and expression are often not a necessity. During my week-long-mostly-solo trip to Switzerland, Austria, and Slovakia, I barely talked at all. My daily vocabulary consisted of the words “hello”, “goodbye”, “excuse me”, “thank you”, “sorry”, “please”, “where is…”, and “how much…”. When my friend arrived in Vienna to join me on my last day there, the number of words I spoke during half an hour of conversation exceeded the total number of words I used in the previous 6 days, I kid you not. It was amusing because I found myself struggling slightly with words, especially because we were communicating in Mandarin (and if I said anything during travel, it’d be in English or French.) At one moment I pondered, “Can one forget how to speak? At what point does one begin to forget how to speak?”

We put a lot of emphasis on having company and connections, and being able to express ourselves, and as a result, solitude and silence are often overlooked. I sometimes forget to just step aside, breathe, and immerse myself in mere appreciation, and traveling solo allows me to do that. To the friends who offered to come along when I said I was traveling by myself, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, thank you so much, but no thanks 😉

Tobermory, Canada, August 2011

Short travel reflection: The dreaded question

When meeting someone new on the road, a commonly asked question is “Where are you from?”. Innocent enough, and quite reasonable. I’ve had my fair share of this question thrown at me since studying in Europe, and while most people wouldn’t need much time to answer this question, I thought it was rather…tricky. I often found myself contemplating in my head how I would answer the question perfectly if/when asked. From? What do you mean by “from”? Do you mean…where I was born (China), or umm…where I grew up, where I came to Europe FROM (Canada)?

To make matters even more complicated, I’d have to add an extra dimension when faced with this question in Belgium, as I came “from” France to Belgium in a collaboration program. And if I was at a conference or travelling somewhere during a session in Belgium…then all hell breaks loose. I didn’t want to have to explain my whole life situation to every person that asks, so most of the time I just gave a succint answer. Usually I simply say “Canada” and if I felt like I should have been more specific at the given time, I would say, “I was born in China, but grew up in Canada.” Rarely would I say I was “from” France, unless (1) I was explaining my co-tutelle mobility to people in Belgium, (2) I was asked “Where are you coming from?” at airport customs, and (3) during conferences where the country I represented was France.

I gotta say though, in Strasbourg, when a waiter asked me “D’où venez-vous?” (“Where did you come from?”) I gave the shortest elaborate answer that I was satisfied with: “Je suis née en Chine, j’habite au Canada, et j’étudie à Bordeaux” (“I was born in China, I live in Canada, and I study in Bordeaux.”) Can’t say I wasn’t anticipating finally being able to give out that answer. I would have needed to add the “exchange to Belgium” part but thankfully I wasn’t stationed in Belgium at that time… 😛

Colmar, France, June 2013

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