Chasing the Unexpected

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Do you long to be a long-term nomad? It's a life that calls, like the Sirens, to all of us. Yet how many actually DO it, become long-term travelers, exploring the world (and ourselves)? I've long been following one global nomad, Angela Corrias, of Chasing the Unexpected. Angela is an honest and compelling writer and photographer - she shares the beauty and surprises of her travels. It's actually a bit of an addiction, her site - I am always going back to see what new parts of the world I can learn about from her. One of my favorite recent posts is In the Desert, discovering Abu Dhabi roots. Angela has extraordinary photos, and a brave and humorous story to relate. It's powerful!

 

Henna painting in the Abu Dhabi desert

Henna painting in the Abu Dhabi desert

 

 

We caught up with Angela to talk about her site, what led her to travel writing, digging deeply into a culture, and more. Here's what she had to say...

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your site, Chasing the Unexpected...

AC: I've been travel blogging for two years on Travel Calling, a little blog on the blogger platform. Initially, it was meant to be a display for my unpublished articles, but the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it.

Now I felt it was time to go self-hosted and put a greater effort on my own space where I could publish my very personal views. In Chasing the Unexpected (http://www.chasingtheunexpected.com/) I'm publishing all the insights from my travels, the ones in Europe and Middle East and the ones I'm doing now that I moved to East Asia. Here I also want to publish my best photos.

I'm currently living in Shanghai with the aim of both unearthing China and slowly discovering East Asia, a region that is proving challenging and fascinating.

 

In Suzhou water town near Shanghai

In Suzhou water town near Shanghai

 

 

WE: What was the genesis of your site?

AC: In all my travels, beside visiting the “must-see” attractions, I always like to tackle the lesser known, the unusual, the offbeat aspects that you inevitably find everywhere in the world. It goes without saying that it's more challenging to find the unusual in cities like Rome, Paris, New York, rather than in godforsaken villages in the Rajasthan or in Sardinia, but I believe even popular tourist destinations offer unexpected angles. I love looking for quirky aspects of the cultures and societies I visit, that's why I decided to name my site Chasing the Unexpected, little by little this is becoming my perpetual quest.

 

Iguazu waterfalls - Argentinian Side

Iguazu waterfalls - Argentinian Side

 

 

WE: What led you to travel writing?

AC: I've aways been very passionate about all things “foreign”. Very likely I was influenced by my father's tales from around the world, especially those about the indigenous tribes in Borneo that I would so love to visit.

The first time I traveled abroad, it was in France and I was three years old, but my first memorable trip was to Brazil, when I was thirteen. Since then, I've had the travel bug. I'm lucky that my parents are great travelers so, before being independent, I always got to travel with them. Now that I'm a perpetual expat and globetrotter, my parents come often to visit me wherever I am.
At every trip, when I was still in school, I thought that was the life I wanted as an adult. My first master's degree was in Journalism and my second one in International Relations. Both were chosen out of the desire of being in constant movement. In my young 18-year-old mind I still had the romantic idea of journalism as a profession where you go look for the news by yourself, little did I know that it's becoming always more an office job. I have worked in newsrooms in Italy and all I knew was that I couldn't spend my life sitting in front of a desk.

Being a freelance writer is definitely more challenging than being staff writer, especially due to the financial instability that comes with it, but I wouldn't be able to swap positions and stick to the Monday-to-Friday office routine.

This is how I decided I wanted to be location independent, visit as much as I can and write everything about it.

 

Seville, Spain

Seville, Spain

 

 

WE: How can travelers best dig deeply into a culture?

AC: I think the best way to understand a culture is to travel slowly and spend more time than a normal holiday in a country. Only interacting with locals can reveal the most intimate aspects of a society, and I think this is the most important reason why people should travel. The more we know and understand other cultures, the more we appreciate diversity and the less we are afraid of the unknown.

I think phenomena like racism are often due to the lack of a proper education, to a deep ignorance that unleashes unreasonable fears of what is considered unfamiliar and the feeling of being threatened by what's different from our culture and mindset, usually (and wrongly) considered the only one and the best possible.

 

In Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

In Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

 

 

WE: What are your favorite places to visit?

AC: Everywhere I go, I look for local markets. Unlike tourist spots, where I think locals to some extent “act”, at the markets they are more “authentic”. Sellers are doing their job and they are not committed to give their country's best impression, and customers are just going for their daily shopping.
For example, I visited the carpet market in Abu Dhabi and I absolutely loved watching my friend and the seller bargain the price of a carpet, although it was in Arabic and I didn't understand a word, apart of course from the ever-present “khalas!” that means “that's it!”

In local markets, I love taking pictures of people, stalls and products, they are usually very colorful and give a great idea of the nation's identity, knowledge that you can't get just by visiting shopping malls. Nowhere like in local markets you can discover the flavors and the smells that characterize a place.

 

Sant Antioco Island, Sardinia, Italy

Sant Antioco Island, Sardinia, Italy

 

 

WE: How can travelers give back, while traveling?

AC: I think locals love it when travelers show appreciation and curiosity for their culture. This can happen in a myriad of ways, from trying to learn how to cook typical food, to inquiring about a particular festival, to making the effort to learn some sentences in the local language.

Passing onto something more practical, I believe one of the best ways for travelers to give back to the community they are visiting is shopping as much local as they can. Every country, every region, every city have their own typical products, I think it's only fair to try them, first of all because discovering is what traveling is all about, but also, and especially, because it gives us the possibility of purchasing typical products directly from the source, helping the locals who make a living out of that.

 

Great Wall of China, Beijing

Great Wall of China, Beijing

 

 

WE: You're currently living in China - what do you love most about living there? Where will you go, next (and when)?

AC: When I arrived in China, my first reaction was to leave. I thought I wouldn't have been able to overcome the culture-shock, I thought I wouldn't have been able to ever learn the language, nobody spoke English, never like when I arrived in Shanghai I felt how crucial being able to communicate is.
Being comfortable in five languages had allowed me to take for granted the importance of the language, and in Shanghai I felt for the first time out of my comfort zone. However, even at the beginning, I felt in China I could have a good quality lifestyle, I could see the city was easy to live in and it bothered me that I wasn't making the best out of the great chance I had.

So, I decided to stay and start the language course. Despite my original plan of staying for only six months, I'm already on my second semester and I love Shanghai always more. It's a vibrant city indeed, it's cheap and there are countless activities, attractions, museums, restaurants to choose from. It's truly cosmopolitan, I met people from any corner of the world, which made my stay all more exciting.

I won't deny it, the language is still a burden, it's very difficult, especially for a person like me who only knew Western idioms, the structure is completely different, written and oral bear no resemblance whatsoever, characters are very difficult to memorize, not just for writing but even if I only want to recognize them and be able to read. It's a challenge, but I have to say, I'm enjoying it. And here comes the next question: initially, after China my next “hometown” was going to be somewhere in the Middle East, I hadn't decided which country yet, but I was considering Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, or even Egypt. This when I thought I was going to stay in China for six months, but now everything is unsure, it seems like I'm not ready to leave Shanghai, I still need to understand the culture, the traditions, the impact of their modern history, all things I started researching before coming, and that here inevitably acquired a new dimension thanks to the possibility of interacting with people who have actually lived the events I'm studying and can give me their personal account and views of their fascinating culture.

Of course the Middle East is still on, I've been to Abu Dhabi and I'm very curious about Arab culture, but right now I don't know when I'll make the move, I confess I'm already thinking about my third semester in China!

 

Jaisalmer Fort, India

Jaisalmer Fort, India

 

 

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

AC: I'm living my sixth year as an expat, and somehow this is the first time I actually feel like one. I'm not saying I don't feel comfortable where I am, on the contrary, life in Shanghai is so straightforward that anybody can feel “at home”, but maybe due to the striking difference from where I lived before, now I feel being an expat is a much more challenging experience. Although I had traveled several times to South America and been to the Middle East, my actual settling abroad was always within European borders, which means a quite similar lifestyle, despite the different traditions each country has, and around two hours plane to reach home.

Maybe because here I stumbled on more hardships than in other countries, I feel my experience is more enriching. I'm adopting a new philosphy of life, I'm learning the art of being patient and letting go, in a nutshell, I feel like I'm integrating in a truly new world and I like it. I am by no means dismissing my previous experiences as an expat in Europe, but I'm happy I took the challenge to face a whole new viewpoint on the world, I think this is something everybody should do at least once in their life.

 

 

WE: Thanks so much, Angela - your journeys are inspiring!

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Angela Corrias

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