Monday, November 2, 2009

Girls on the move

Two travel authors dish the dirt on what it's like being a woman in a man's game

Christopher Toh

WHILE many can probably easily name male authors who write travel literature - anyone from Michael Palin to Nicholas Sparks - few can name as many female writers who do the same thing.

One possible reason is the common - and often erroneous - perception is that men who strap on back packs and travel the world are bound on a journey of enrichment and discovery, whereas women who do the same thing are bound for trouble.

However, two female authors are hoping that perception will change with the publication of their debut travel tomes. Today took time out to chat with Adeline Loh and Janet Hsieh.


Malaysian writer Adeline Loh ditched her career in magazine publishing a couple of years ago to take a trip to Zambia. Her first tome, Peeing In The Bush, is a recollection of highlights of the journey, which turned out to be a journey of self-discovery.
"I seriously never imagined that I would ever write a book because I possess a very short attention span," she told Today.

"I have trouble finishing books as it is let alone write one! But I was just so truly inspired by what I had seen and experienced that I just had to let it out one way or another."

According to Adeline, the book took "forever" to complete because she "transformed into this anal perfectionist".

"I needed every single page to be immensely readable, funny and engaging, so I would continually try to come up with new ideas and entertaining ways to relay information. I did not know when to stop," she said.

Two-and-a-half years later, she finally stopped writing and sent the manuscript to the publishers, although she kept wanting to work on it right up to the last minute. "It's like getting ready for a big date, you know? Every touch-up counts!"

You don't hear much about female travel writers. Do you wish there were more?

Actually, there are quite a number of female travelogue writers - they're just not as famous as the men. That's a low-down dirty shame because I think us females are much more funny, clever, wicked and adept at toilet humour than men!

What I wish is not for more female travelogue writers, but for more recognition for the existing ones. I don't think I'm setting the trend here; it's already begun.

Are you worried the public won't get it?

I know that the cool people I was writing for will get my book and those who have trees up their behinds may pooh-pooh it.

What's the biggest lesson you've gained from this experience?

I learnt to be appreciative of everything I have. Simple things - like food, money and shelter.

I hardly complain anymore and have become extremely easy to please. I also realised that the quest for materialism makes people miserable. The people in Africa had only the bare basics and they were contented, so why aren't we?

However, I also discovered burnout. I'm happy I did everything I did. Because I sure as hell ain't going to do it again!

What? No more books?

If I do write another book, I would want it to be 10 times better than Peeing In The Bush. And frankly speaking, that book is pretty hard to beat!


Better known as the vivacious host of Discovery Travel & Living's Fun Taiwan, Janet Hsieh has been to more countries than the entire Plus team put together.

Born and raised in Texas, the Taiwanese lass has visited over 30 countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, France, Palau, India, Singapore and, of course, Taiwan. She says she was bitten by the travel bug as a girl, and she's about to reveal all in her first travel tome to be published later this year.

It's not just a travelogue, she said. "It's like a biography told in a series of travel stories ... Whenever I go anywhere, I write in my journal. Of course, now I have my blog. I've always liked sharing stuff," Hsieh said. "Even the simplest things like the first time I used a squatting toilet, I didn't know which way to face. So it kind of made sense that I would put it in a book."

But first, she needs a title. "We do have a couple of ideas," she said. "One of them is Janet Revealed. But we're debating about what kind of cover to use."

Said cover ideas included one of her wearing nothing but a map, and a more familiar one of her carrying a back pack. (Personally, I'd go for the one with the map.) "We'll see how it goes," she said.

What was the most challenging about writing this book?

I've been writing it for a long time - two years -but sporadically, because I'd be busy filming for six months at a stretch sometimes. That was challenging. I didn't use a ghostwriter because I wanted it to be me. Everything down to the photos and themes and the style. The book is chronological, but location-based, and about what happens to me there ... But if you're looking for factual information like when to go, how to get there - then my book is not the book to buy!

Are you worried about the reception to your book?

I am a little worried because this is like my baby and I'm almost afraid to release it - what if people don't like it?

Any plans for another one?

We're already working on the second one, which is about my last four years on Fun Taiwan. It's based on the people we have interviewed on the show and not just the Taiwanese.

You don't hear much about women travel writers. Do you wish there were more?

Well, Beyonce had an all-woman band (at F1 Rocks). That is so cool! When you think "hard rocker", you automatically think "male". But it doesn't have to be that way. There are a lot of talented women out there, and I think Beyonce brought that point across.

I was reading an article which said that the people who are going to bring the world out of the recession aren't the Indians or Chinese - it's women. So why not? There should be more female travel writers!

The new season of Fun Taiwan with Janet Hsieh (left) begins Nov 27, 8pm on Discovery Travel & Living (StarHub Channel 16).

From TODAY, Plus – Tuesday, 29-Sep-2009

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