Many moons ago, before I had discovered any of my vices, I started a new secondary school where I met the bloody amazing Daniel. He soon became one of my bestest best friends and constantly amazed me with where he would travel during his holidays.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, he was one of my biggest travel inspirations in the beginning, and one of the reasons that I hope to make travel a lifestyle rather than a treat whenever I can. So when Dan came to me recently and expressed his interest in writing a segment for this blog, I absolutely jumped at the chance of having him on board.
It is with great pleasure that I’ve been able to conduct this introductory interview for you all to get to know him a bit better.
We’ve been friends for a pretty long time now, but for those that don’t know you; can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to?
Sure, I’m Dan, I’m 24 and I live, work and study in Hong Kong. I took part in a 6 week volunteer teaching post in Hong Kong after my first year of Uni in 2011 and as a result made some friends out here. One of them was kind enough to get in touch with me at the start of my third year and let me know about a company that was looking for someone who would like to write and teach curriculum for a Critical Reading course. I said yes and so when I graduated in 2013, I moved straight to Hong Kong and have lived here ever since.
You’ve been travelling as much as you can ever since we were in school. There weren’t necessarily a lot of travel blogs available back then, so what would you say have been your main inspirations to keep going?
At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, the motivation to travel has come from within, not without. I have always been attracted to the periphery. Of cities, countries, continents and so depending on where I am in the world, I will always want to explore as far as I can from that place. Motivation also comes from a keen knowledge that life is a gift and not to be taken for granted, as well as a hard-won understanding that good fortune and coincidence grows in accordance to the extent of your courage. Be brave and take the plunge.
I went to a talk by Nomadic Matt last week, and he spoke a lot about how much budget travel has changed over the last few years, would you agree?
You only need to look at the tagline for AirAsia, ‘Now everyone can fly’, to see that budget travel has transformed how we move across the globe. Of course, their statement isn’t exactly true, but it has certainly been democratised to the extent where some families who never had the opportunity of domestic travel, let alone international travel, find themselves able to make trips that their parents could only have dreamed of.
What are the main changes to you think?
Budget airlines for sure. They are the biggest cost of any trip and if that can be lowered then a) A trip becomes possible or b) You can go to more places on the same budget.
The sophistication of the Internet has also been revolutionary for the travel industry, allowing anyone to make well-reasoned and informed choices very fast.
You’ve been working extremely hard in Hong Kong over the last few years, both in full time work and doing your Masters, can you tell us more about that?
Well I came here with a company called ARCH Education and I am the Head of Critical Reading there. What does that mean? Well, I am I charge of everything from choosing the books we teach, to writing the lessons, as well as, of course, teaching them. My aim in this job is to find a structured way to break down the skill of Critical Reading. It’s about going beyond the written text and being able to employ skills of analysis at a high level. So far, I’ve covered over 40 books in 2 years – it’s a challenge, but I love it.
Only a few month after graduating, I started to hanker after an academic challenge, despite swearing that I’d not return to education as a student myself again! I applied to the University of Hong Kong for their MEd Comparative and Global Studies in Education and Development program as a part-time student and I am now halfway through. I LOVE the fact that I have both ‘input’ and ‘output’ in my day-to-day life. Even though it means that I am sometimes doing 60 hour weeks, I find that I am energised by using different parts of my brain.
What were the hardest things to adapt to that you found about living in Hong Kong?
I have to be honest, Hong Kong is not a challenging place to adapt to. English is spoken in a lot of places and the transport is second to none. Order and efficiency reign supreme in this city and as such, it did not feel as if there was any shock in transitioning to Asia. The abundance of Chinese characters in signage and the frenetic pace of life add vigour and vitality where some cities fall down.
What advice would you offer to someone who is interested in making the same move as you’ve made?
Just do it! Many people I know come to Hong Kong without a job offer. Whilst of course this does present a risk, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been able to find themselves a job within 6 weeks. As a city, it should not exist. It was a tiny village in Southern China. Yet, through some questionable British foreign policy, it was transformed into a city of 7 million people. Not only does it exist, but it exists as a shining example to the rest of the world.
If you were to take 3 things about the UK & 3 things about Hong Kong to make the perfect Country; what would you take from each and why?
This is a great question. From the UK I think I would take the 1) Clean air, 2) The love of queues and 3) High quality ready meals. From Hong Kong I would take 1) The buzz 2) The unparalleled access mountains, beaches and skyscrapers all in one day, and 3) Being comfortable with less space.
Hong Kong really is a fantasy city. If you ask a 7 year old to create the perfect place, they’d likely come up with somewhere which has white sand and blue sea beaches, towering peaks and futuristic buildings. This is HK. However, it takes its toll after a while. There is so much to absorb and experience that quite often expats will sacrifice any sense of ‘normality’. The idea of cooking a dinner and watching X Factor is a million miles away. But these things are what make us feel grounded as life is not a 24/7 gap year.
If you take the elements of what makes long-term living possible in the UK, as well as the adrenaline kicks from Hong Kong, I think you have a great combo.
How do you cope with long distance friendships, and what measures do you take to stay close?
I have never really felt that distant from home. I am excited by the knowledge that the world is getting increasingly smaller, something which invariably happens when you bump into people you went to primary school with 7000 miles away! I love to have visitors and I make an effort to put up anyone who happens to be in the region. Skype and a constant flow of under-chin selfies also helps to keep the wheels of friendship turning.
I will say that Hong Kong is especially a country which runs on networks and one thing which is different to my parent’s generation is that nearly everyone goes to university now. Here is a ready-made network of thousands of people which means you are never that far from someone who knows you.
Aside from travel itself, you’ve always had an avid interest in languages. What language would you say means the most to you, and why?
Well I am going to have to be a bit cheesy and say ‘English’ because it is the lens through which I am able to see the world. I have always been fascinated by language and function and seeing how the two interact. The situation in Hong Kong is a very interesting one. ‘Chinese’ is in fact two spoken languages, Mandarin – spoken most widely – and Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and throughout the Guangdong Province of Mainland China. However, Mandarin and Cantonese both share the same written script. This means that the moment you open your mouth everyone knows where you are from, yet in writing, it is not obvious.
Living in Hong Kong, you’re currently trying to get a handle on Cantonese. Tell us a bit more about how that is going and the challenges you’ve met along the way…
I must confess to having very limited Cantonese. However, I do always make an effort with directions, locations and getting about in taxis! Working full-time and studying part-time does not leave me with much opportunity to engage in formal language learning, but I am lucky to have bi/tri-lingual friends and I make sure to pick their brains whenever possible. Often, many of the characters in written Chinese represent what they are describing. For example, the character for ‘woods’ or ‘forest’ is ‘林’ which I think looks like two, thin trees huddled next to each other. Learning these snippets is a manageable way to pick up some language whilst cultivating an intellectual interest in the country too.
What are your “must-have” items when you go to a new destination?
As I thunder down the road towards my Middle Twenties, I find that I get greater and greater satisfaction from things which are a little on the dull side. I love exploring places on foot and not having decent hiking/walking footwear can make a trip miserable, especially in bad weather. And for all my short-sighted brothers and sisters out there, the single most transformative item is a pair of prescription sunglasses that don’t make you look like a reject from a French textbook in the 80s. Seeing the world is great. Sunshine is great. Make sure you can enjoy both simultaneously.
On a less prosaic note, I recently invested in a Bose SoundLink Mini bluetooth speaker and it has been well worth the, admittedly quite hefty, price tag. It’s small enough for a rucksack pocket and powerful enough even for full-on parties. It was a life-saver when driving down the Western Coast of Australia from Perth to Margaret River. MJ and kangaroos.
What is your most memorable experience so far?
I am in such a lucky position to be spoilt for choice when it comes to best experiences. Some have been fantastic because of the the environment and others because of people. For sheer awe, my most memorable experience has to be sitting on the lip of Volcanic Mount Yasur on Tanna Island in Vanuatu as the sun set behind and it erupted.
To feel the kick, whoosh and slap of the shockwave hit you in the face after each rumble was an ungodly sensation.
You have a blank cheque to go anywhere you want, what do you do with it?
I would want to go to the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. I have always been attracted to the furthest reaches and for me, French Polynesia is one of the most far-flung places on earth and the Gambier Islands are, within that archipelago, the most remote. It also houses a fascinating abandoned European colonial history with rotting ancient churches dating back from the 18th Century that I would love to explore.
And finally, being able to go on a round the world trip with anyone in the world, who would you choose to go with? Mine is a toss up between Nick Vujicic & Anna Kendrick…
Ooo, this is a great question. I’d have to choose the, sadly deceased, Christopher Hitchens. I would choose him because he was a fearsome conversationalist and I know that in his company I would never get bored. Also, he could drink like a bastard and was famous for having a 14 hour ‘lunch’ at The Ivy in London. I really love planning days around food and drink and can think of no better way to spend my time than with someone who stimulates my mind and who doesn’t mind getting hammered or acting like a twat now and again. Really, the one key requirement is that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Keep an eye out on the blog for more from Daniel’s adventures and stories on the road. Can’t wait til then? Then go and check him out on Instagram where you can see what he’s up to daily!