Wednesday 7 December 2016

Interview: Morland Matthews

Today I have a very interesting interview with travel writer Morland Matthews to share with you. Morland and his wife travelled across Japan and Taiwan last year. His new book, Taiwan and Japan In Ten Days: Don't Forget the Kit Kats, documents their experiences, with a particular focus on what it was like to travel to these countries as people of colour.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.

I am a 40-year-old man and a first generation American. My parents fled Nicaragua as refugees during the country's revolutionary war in the 70s. I am now married, living in Brooklyn, NY and work as a school counselor.

Why did you decide to travel to Taiwan and Japan?

My wife and I travelled there because a former Taiwanese roommate of ours invited us to visit him. His cousin, who we also spent time with in NY, was living in Japan at the time. He asked if we could stay with her as well, she agreed.

What draws you to travel writing?

Travel writing allows authors to record infinitely more about the emotions, thoughts, and motives behind everything that is experienced. Also, writing forces me to research and learn in more detail everything I want to bring up in my story. It helps me enjoy the trip and the wisdom gained long after I return. I get much more bang for my buck.

What was it like to travel to these countries as people of colour?

Ethnically, my background is Hispanic but racially I am mixed black, Central American-Indian and Spanish. I am getting a bit technical because my experience would be different if I were not mixed. I am knowledgeable enough to know that being black and racially mixed is different, perhaps even less threatening to some than someone who is not mixed. 

That being said, I felt like I was walking through the streets of NYC. Everyone was too preoccupied with their own lives to care about why a Newyorican and Latino Brooklynite were visiting. That's not to say racism wasn't visible. We encountered street men who distributed business cards for strip joints and massages. Many of these men were black. I felt uncomfortable knowing that the only natives who looked like me in Japan were relegated to those types of jobs. That level of segregation is not as obvious in America.

Tell me about the book.

In 2015, my wife, Sandra, and I visited these two countries. I was given an amazing opportunity to explore common beliefs about these countries, specifically those related to American minorities, technology, health, vegetarianism, poverty and westernisation. This book is the story of that insightful and often amusing experience.

What inspired you to write it?

In 60 years, no-one will know who my wonderful wife and I are. This book which records our words, deeds, thoughts, quirks, and experiences will live on. It's a way to immortalise the wonderful experiences we shared.

Can you explain the book’s title?

Ten days is the amount of time someone gets off during spring break if they work for a school. I want people to know that the adventure was non-stop. 

Kit-Kats are HUGE in Japan and are available everywhere. They have many more varieties of Kit-Kat than we sell in a typical candy store here in the States. We also thought they would make great gifts. This was the myth we fell into. Turns out they were not as ubiquitous as we thought. We spent much more energy than we expected finding these magical chocolates. After reading an early draft of the book, a friend suggested that we add: Don't Forget the Kit Kats. We took her advice.

Are you currently working on any more books?

I'm not exactly sure what to write about next. Perhaps, when I travel to Nicaragua next year, I'll write about that. It will push me to learn more about the country's current state, especially about the proposed canal that is expected to displace millions of people, animals, and homes.

Which authors inspire you?

I love books that talk about the various historical, often inevitable, aspects of humans and society. Jarod Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel and Charles Mann's 1491 are examples of this. They help readers see things from a different perspective. I also love Japanese anime which is rooted in Manga. The frenetic efforts to overcome obstacles often found in Manga also inspire me.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

Traditional books by far. I like to write notes in my books and traditional books allow me to do that in my own script. In a post-apocalyptic world, the internet won't work and paper books will be worth more than gold. (Just kidding... But it's true.)

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

Self-publishing is cheap and I have some technical skills and confidence in Photoshop, word processing and computers in general. Therefore, it's doable for me. However, I can see how it would be too taxing for writers who are not comfortable with computers. If someone offered me money to publish my book in print, I would love it.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading a book (well, it's technically a letter) called Letter of Aristeas. It was written around 300BC, and it's the story of the first translation of Jewish Law -The Septuagint - into Greek for inclusion into the library at Alexandria. Aristeas is an ambassador of this project. He recruits the wisest Jewish scholars to talk to the king and work on the project. I've just started this book and it's great so far.

Taiwan and Japan In Ten Days: Don't Forget the Kit Kats is available to buy now.

Have you ever travelled to either of these countries? Let me know in the comments below! 

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