INTERVIEW BY: Laura Gomez (Branford) Trailblazer is the kind of place where you find really cool, adventurous people. It’s fair to say that the outdoor industry in general, provides the right type of environment for high-spirited, outdoors enthusiastic, life-junkies, to converge. You may not know this about our store, so we’re taking time to introduce you to our amazing staff and share with you the experiences they’ve had around the globe. We’ll begin with Derek Angel, a sales associate at the Branford store. He has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, from the University of Vermont. Last summer, Derek returned from a year long stay in China. I took some time to hear more about Derek’s experience, and believe me, there’s much more to this adventure than what I can convey to you in the words below. So, feel free to stop by the store, say hello, and get the scoop on not only traveling to Asia, but being totally immersed, in China. Fun Fact: Besides being fluent in Chinese, Derek is the go to “try-on” model for our customers. Now, on to China… Derek lived in Shenzhen, a city in the Guangdong Province, in Southern China. He worked for the Center for Teaching and Learning in China, teaching English at a high school. During his time off he made a point to explore other regions of China and various countries in Asia. What was your reason for going to China? When and how did the idea come about? I enjoy learning languages and wanted to study Arabic at my university. When I went to sign up for courses I realized that the Arabic courses weren’t offered, so I signed up for Chinese instead. I was confused as to what to do after graduation, and then a professor suggested teaching English abroad. Soon after, without thinking too much about it, I was signed up and ready to go. I pretty much just winged it.
What was your favorite part about China?My favorite thing about China is the complex mesh of tradition and modernity. For instance, you would see tea shops selling traditional teas alongside a McDonalds, while being surrounded by Chinese-speaking children and listening to Lady Gaga in the background. What is something (or someone) that impacted you a lot, either negatively or positively? The amount of work and stress that Chinese students must handle is unbelievable, compared to the average American student. My students went to school from 8 in the morning until 8 at night (with breaks of course) and then would study all weekend. They would only take a day, or even half, to relax and have fun. Most Chinese high school students do not have girlfriends or boyfriends, if they were caught with one they could be punished or have their parents called. That impacted me a lot. Is there something you wished you never ate? And something you are happy you tried despite its aspect? I wish I never ate cow stomach in an oily brown sauce. I’m happy to have tried snake though.
Did you have any misconceptions about China before you lived there that changed once you were immersed in the culture? I imagined China as a more traditional society and was surprised to see a lack of evidence of tradition within the modern city of Shenzhen. The thing is, I imagined it as this exotic, traditional, ancient-looking place. But given that Shenzhen is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, that went from rural fishing province to big metropolis, within 30 years, you don’t really get that sense of tradition you might find in Beijing. Instead you get this fabricated urban center, with manufacturing businesses everywhere and a strong influence of American popular culture. Shenzhen is also the third busiest container port in China. That gives you a sense of the kind of place I was living at. What is something you didn’t expect? I didn't expect people to be so shocked by foreigners and regard me almost like a movie star. What other places did you visit? Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Beijing, Hunan Province, Yunnan Province, Guang Dong Province , Thailand , Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
What did you like the most about your travels? One of my most significant experiences in China was my trip to Xinjiang, a Muslim autonomous region of China. It was a beautiful province with equally interesting people still living in a very traditional way. This was significant for me because I had no idea about this region and its type of life. What do you think you were lucky to have had on you at some point during your trip? A whistle buckle on my hiking pack. What item did you wished you had? A comfy black hoodie… What is your favorite part about traveling? Experiencing new cultures while trying to survive in an unknown place. Where do you plan to go next? Somewhere…