Meet the Contributors: Sarah Katin

Sarah Katin has been a television host in Korea, professor in Japan, treehouse dweller in Laos, house painter in New Orleans, sangria swiller in Spain, dragon hunter in Indonesia, and fishmonger in Australia. A soon to be two-time contributor to the The Best Women’s Travel Writing series, she has recently retired (pending her success as an unemployed screenwriter) from her teaching position in South Korea. These days you can find her hard at work on her latest screenplay in her L.A. office (the cushy chair by the window at Starbucks) or in Costa Rica bathing baby sloths. You just never can tell about these things.

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned from your travels?

I once saw a couple of naked children playing with a cow and some sticks from a bus window rolling through the Cambodian countryside. Don’t worry, they weren’t beating the cow-it was all very amicable. The children squealed with laughter and waved, shining their bright dirty smiles toward our bus. How happy they were with what appeared to be nothing. Meanwhile, I sat surrounded by modern flashy comforts: air-con, ipod, clothes. But when was the last time my ipod and I squealed that hard? It’s crazy how much you don’t really need in this world. Just give me some laughter, love, friendship, imagination, two sticks and a cow. Yeah, it’s a lesson we all know, but knowing something and actually experiencing it are two very different things.

Is there something you always do (or search out, buy, learn, pack, drink), whenever you’re on a trip?

I love grocery stores. I can’t help myself, I just love them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny mom and pop operation with a dirt floor and guard pig rooting under the porch or a full-blown super-market with a gourmet import section. It’s always fascinating to see what countries deem exotic enough to import. In Korea this includes such culinary delights as Hershey’s chocolate sauce in a squeeze bottle and Heinz dill pickles. I purchased the jar of pickles for an exorbitant price in a moment of American nostalgia. In Japan, you can get wasabi-flavored Kit Kats. In Australia they have Tim Tams, a heavenly chocolate cookie that tastes of sunshine and love. oz natives have taught me to bite off the ends and sip coffee through it. The crisp inside wafers and chocolate cream melt into a gooey mess of deliciousness. In Abu Dhabi there are caramel oreos and bars of Fem-Tight soap, clinically proven to tighten that vagina. (A surprisingly bold find as I’d assumed Arab women would like to keep what happens under their Abayas-a long black robe worn by the ladies of Islam-private.) International potato chips always top my list. In Korea, they have Funky Soy Sauce and Wild Consomme Pringles. What exactly is Consomme and what makes it so darn wild? Tastes like barbecue to me.

In what ways does writing inform your relationship with travel? Do you keep a journal? Conduct interviews? Write on location?

I am deeply envious of journal writers. I want to sit on a Thai triangle cushion, sipping a coconut as I gaze toward the Andaman Sea gathering inspiration for the brilliant metaphor I’m about to pen. I see these girls (and guys) with their bursting pages full of travel sketches and anecdotes, old bus tickets and worn photos. It all looks so very magical. I buy a lot of journals, really beautiful ones, but it’s always the same. My hand grows quickly tired from holding an actual pen as opposed to tip tapping away on my laptop-hardcore journal writers must have some serious hand strength. And I start trying too hard, fearing what would happen if my journal were to be discovered posthumously. In the end a lot of my travel narratives originate in the most unromantic of places: the Internet. I’m an avid emailer. (Lavinia, I purchased another one of my “intricately designed in some exotic motif” journals with the best of intentions after reading your book.)

How do you balance your home and travel life/how do you make it work to travel?

My home and travel life are one and the same. Such is the way of the capriciously employed ESL teacher. I think I’ve blown my chances at a conventional career. My resume reads like a horror show to potential employers outside the English teaching community. I’m viewed as a geographic liability. All I have to say is that it’s a good thing I’m an unconventional kind of gal, and that I like to write—that’s a profession that packs up nicely.

What advice can you give to women who want to start traveling?

I thought it would be best to expand my education (attend circus school) and master essential new job skills (the flying trapeze)

I’m going to let Nike field this one: Just do it.

It really is that first leap into the unknown that’s so utterly terrifying. Bear with me while I go on what appears to be a wild tangent. I should have a point in here somewhere.

A few years ago I found myself with a lot of free time (unemployed.) I thought it would be best to expand my education (attend circus school) and master essential new job skills (the flying trapeze) to make myself more desirable in the competitive world market (not really, I just wanted to swing.)

I loved being caught. There’s something exhilarating about reaching out blindly, hoping, believing there will be something there to grab you. (I think for this reason I developed ridiculously inappropriate crushes on all my catchers, just as I develop ridiculous crushes on countries.) Holding that bar, stepping off the platform is the same for me as boarding a plane. Nothing is ever certain though, and at times you’ll miss. But falling is never as scary as you can let yourself get trapped into believing. You’re not going to break, you just bounce a little and sometimes that’s more fun.

What’s on your list of future destinations?

Argentina! or Istanbul! or New Zealand! or Zanzibar! Wait. Where’s Zanzibar? I have to look at a map.

In your opinion, what is the greatest reward of traveling?

Whenever I get asked a question involving a superlative I clam up. It’s quite daunting, like coming up with the answer to life or how cell phones work. Instead, I’ll just tell you one of the many rewards of travel. Whether it’s the greatest or not is up to you.

Travel is monotony’s worst enemy. I don’t much care for monotony, which makes travel and me kindred spirits. The first time I lived overseas was during college. I spent a semester “studying” in Spain. one day, early on, I wanted to buy a loaf of bread. This is such an ordinary task in one’s own country, but abroad it becomes an event!

You have to muscle up the courage to dust off your mediocre language skills, take a few wrong stumbles down enchanting cobblestone streets, befriend a handsome local who escorts you to the bakery and then seduces you with his honey eyes and caramel skin over a cup of cafe con leche. okay, so the part about the boy never happened, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t. It’s about the possibility, which is one pretty delicious reward in my book.

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Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” –Christian Morgenstern