We are committed to showcasing all kinds of travellers, and today we are happy to introduce Brandon from South Africa.
Brandon, tell us something about your early years before you spread your wings.
My early years were spent entirely in South Africa, as I only vacationed outside of the country for the first time when I was nearly 18 years old. After I went abroad for the first time on a school trip to South East Asia, and then entered university 6 months thereafter, my life started taking on a lot of rapid and consistent changes for the first time.
Before then, in my early years, everything was mostly the same and predictable. I went to the same school for 12 years, was born and raised in the same home, and had the same people in my life pretty much the whole time. I was always someone who wanted to change my environment – at first, it manifested as begging my parents to move homes. When that obviously wasn’t going to happen, and thankfully didn’t because I actually really liked the home, I turned my sights on travelling. I obviously didn’t have the money to do it personally at the age of 9, so I’d come up with a bunch of schemes to make money. I remember standing at the entrance to our property with a sign saying “money for the poor” while I (horribly) played the harmonica. Two people who were training ran past me and asked if I’m really going to donate the money to the poor, I said of course, and they laughed at me and said I shouldn’t lie, haha. I must’ve stood out there for about an hour, and in that time only the neighbour across the road came to give me 2 rand (~0.40 US cents at the time) probably just to shut me up. Over time my money-making ideas became more and more legitimate, so they started becoming more successful. I used the money to travel around South Africa a lot, and eventually to Japan on a two week trip as my first major self-funded trip. I guess I can attribute my entrepreneurial spirit to the early and continuous desire to travel. Or maybe they’re reinforcing, I’m not sure.
How do you feel being South African has influenced your way of seeing the world? And how do people react when you tell them where you’re from?
It may sound strange, but I think as a South African, you’re raised to be very thoughtful, conscious of your surroundings, and rational. This is something I’ve noticed in a lot of other South Africans too. The former probably stems from being raised in such a multicultural environment, where there’s always something surprising to learn from someone about their views or lifestyle. People have such different ways of living and doing things in South Africa, and to pin down a collective “South African way” is incredibly difficult. It ensures you’re raised always asking questions and getting insight from those around you. Conscious of your surroundings stems from the elephant in the room, being the threat of crime, which we must be suspicious of and prepared for. South Africans are very aware of who is walking behind them or approaching them, and what kind of situation they’re finding themselves in. I think it’s a good life skill and it’s something I’m thankful for – it’s saved me from a lot of potentially sticky situations abroad.
In terms of people’s reactions to me being South African, the reactions were quite surprising and unexpected. This question is one I think about a lot and it’s close to my heart. There is usually one of four reactions: 1. Total unfamiliarity; 2. Suspicion; 3. Affiliation; and 4. Probing for bad information. I’ll address each one. First, being raised in South Africa, it feels like our country is a major world player, has a well-known history like Apartheid, and is involved in a lot of things globally – but the vast majority of people I’ve met know very little about it. Australia feels like a sister country to South Africans (so many of us move there), and I was surprised to find out how far off the radar we are for a lot of them. Some people don’t even know our major cities, which I thought were important. This took me off-guard and continues to do so! Second, some nationalities (not naming names!) tend to become so suspicious when I tell them I’m from South Africa. At first they’re really interested in me as a person, and then I tell them where I’m from, and they take a step back (sometimes literally!!). I find this reaction to be so strange. Third is affiliation, which is the nicest one to get. This is when someone gets excited about it and says that they either visited it before, have a family member or friend from there, or recall something like the World Cup. This is nice because they get so involved and excited about it, and it’s always enjoyable sharing something mutual. The final one is probing for bad information, which I find come from about 1 in 7 people (that number just feels right). This is when people ask me to describe the crime in South Africa, talk about racial tension or any other bad things that the rest of the world might have heard about us. When I don’t respond with what they want to hear (since I personally don’t have many bad experiences to talk about in SA, if any?), they either stop listening or seem disappointed. For me, it’s disappointing how co`mmon this actually is!! I think the general perception of South Africa is so incorrect to what it’s actually like.
And before we ‘leave’ South Africa for this interview, can you give us some lesser-known gems of your country that you feel should be explored more?
The two places that come to mind are Mpumalanga Province (just driving around the Dullstroom region, going to Kaapschehoop, Waterval boven, Graskop and Nelspruit is so incredible) and the Karoo. Staying in small quaint towns in the Karoo is so fun – the night sky is astounding, the food is amazing, and there are niche cultures you can discover. You experience a kind of hospitality in the Karoo that is hard to find elsewhere.
You have travelled quite a lot in Asia. What attracts you to this continent especially? What has particularly impressed you?
Asia is just so exciting to me – I always have this feeling like it’s calling me back. I’d love to explore South America, Oceania or the USA, but Asia just keeps bringing me back for more. Beyond the food (which I love), what attracts me is how much doing there is here. There’s far less sight seeing, reading and picture-taking, and a lot more activity-based things going on. I like doing things with other people, and Asia just provides ample opportunity for it. What’s impressed me the most about Asia is just how cohesive the nations here are on average. Even in the busiest of places, there’s always a feeling of collective peace. Feeling at home here is easy.
You are now living and teaching in Japan. Did you experience cultural shock when first arriving? What have you learned as a result of living there?
I’ve never actually experienced culture shock being in Japan. I find it to be a comfortable and easy place to live in, and I hit the ground running as soon as I arrived. Unfortunately I’m leaving the country soon, but I’m hoping to come back here again in the near future. If my travel business finds success, I’d like to move back here. The two biggest things I’ve learned in Japan is that being “on time” is a very subjective thing. For me, I’m quite good at arriving “on time” to the minute. In Japan, that’s considered late, and being 10 minutes early is considered “on time”. I’ve had to get used to this, but I think it’s a good life skill going forward – I guess no one ever gets in trouble for being politely early?
The second thing I learned here is that I appreciate the smaller things a lot more than the big, hyped up things. Don’t get me wrong, the fireworks, festivals and tourist sites here are great, but the moments that really stand out to me are sitting around the fire with people in the countryside looking at the stars and telling stories, or talking to people in a bar or laughing with someone on the bus. It’s helped me decide that in my future travels, I’ll be prioritising smaller towns and locations than the major tourist sites. I love connecting with people and building relationships more than anything – to me, it’s the most rewarding thing of all. Japan helped me realise this. I hope to be able to make these connections and small but highly rewarding experiences more accessible for others in the future, so that’s the business that I’m working on at the moment.
Have you travelled a lot within Japan? What differences have you found in the different places you visited?
Yeah I’ve travelled it pretty extensively, but there’s still a lot more to go, particularly the Tohoku region and Hokkaido. The differences between the places are mostly found in the attitude and in the food they appreciate. I find Osaka, for example, to be much more gritty and casual than Kyoto. Osaka is like a standard beer whereas Kyoto is like a refined wine. Ishikawa is the homely countryside that loves fish, and Ibaraki is full of sweethearts who are proud of natto. Okinawa is the one that surprised me most – it’s totally different to mainland Japan, and is more of a cross between South East Asia and Japan. If anywhere, that was where I had a bit of culture shock because I didn’t expect what I found there! Amazing place, by the way.
What are your travel plans after your stint in Japan? Which places are high on your bucket list?
I’m going to be heading to Europe after Japan, because I’ve got a lot of friends out there. England, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, France and Italy are the specific countries I’m wanting to go to, where I’ll stay with the people I’ve met in Japan! I’m excited for it. High on my bucket list…I really want to visit the southern states in America and the West Coast. The people I’ve met from America have been interesting and not at all how I imagined Americans to be! Now that I’ve interacted with them so much over the past year, they’ve piqued my interest in their country.
What is your preferred style of travel?
I like both group (as in, tour) and solo travel, because they both provide a degree of flexibility regarding who you experience things with, with solo obviously being the most flexible. I’ve travelled a lot in pairs before, but I’m starting to prefer not to do that these days. Likewise in the past I was all about planned trips. I would plan everything down to the t; it was excessive in hindsight, but it was in my early days. Now that I’ve travelled more and I’m confident, I much prefer spontaneous trips. A basic idea of where I’ll be and when is enough these days. In terms of long or short trips…my first thought was that it doesn’t matter, but it depends where it is. I’d say with local travel (wherever it is that I’m living), I prefer shorter trips (3 – 4 days). If I’m going somewhere different, I’d prefer about 3 weeks or more. I’m not unhappy with either, though!
Do you record your travels in a blog or in social media? How do you think the internet has changed the way we travel?
I tend to write short stories on Facebook as a way of recording standout moments in my travels. I guess I use Instagram as a log to some degree, but I’m terribly inconsistent with it. In terms of the internet, it’s made things so much easier for us. It’s cheaper to do everything – booking your own tickets, accommodation and finding the best deals. It’s made things so much more flexible – changing and making bookings right from your phone. It’s made it easier to plan, easier to just up and go. Travel is a lot easier now. It’s brought a lot of good, but I think there’s still so much more space for it to enact change.
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite four people to dinner from any period in history, who would you invite and why?
2Pac would be the first on my list. His music has influenced me for over a decade and I’d love the chance to speak to him and discuss rap with him for a bit.
Elon Musk and Nikolai Tesla would be next, because I’d like to see the way they interact together and what they could produce over a meal.
To round it up I’d choose Alan Watts. He was able to communicate philosophy in such layman terms, and he’d be a wonderful guest at dinner!
Maybe we could organise the dinner using www.doot.co.za 😉
The photos in this interview are from Brandon’s personal collection and we thank him for sharing them with us at NomadMania!