We catch up with Samantha Leese, a writer on travel, arts and culture, on a walk through the Botanic Gardens for our Fieldtested profile series. A global nomad who has called Hong Kong, Paris and now Singapore home, Sam talks to us about her love for serendipitous moments, the constant urge to keep moving, and the art of remaining ‘desperately curious’.
Where does your hunger for exploration come from?
Growing up in a small place like Hong Kong, and in between cultures, I have always had a sense of wanderlust. Travel is an addictive thing, and my chosen profession has allowed it to become a meaningful part of my life.
My motivation is simple. The world is amazing. It’s easy to feel depressed about the many awful things that are happening but at the same time, when you get out there, you realize how awesome the planet is. How much there is you want to see and haven’t seen. It’s wonderful and humbling.
I am desperately curious. It’s the reason I do everything.
What was the last experience you loved writing about?
The last travel writing assignment I had was a trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. One morning we woke up at 4am to catch the sunrise at the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur. A storm had just come in but we continued anyway. Our guide was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Because of the storm there were only a handful of people there at sunrise, and that rainy dawn was such a special experience.
I find that the best moments are not engineered, and it’s these serendipitous encounters that I love about travel. For me, it’s always about the people you meet. I remember another time when I was in Japan with a group of friends, and we ended up sharing our meal with four local Japanese. We didn’t share a common language but exchanged laughs and stories nonetheless.
Where is a place that you keep returning to?
We have a sheep farm in Australia with a beautiful old, colonial farmhouse. My family and I used to go there every holiday when I was a kid. I find it comforting, and a little wild. For the last five years I’ve returned to it with my dad, just him and me. What do we do there? The landscapes are stunning. We go out and drive around, go on walks, cook. Just be.
What are your five travel essentials?
Curiosity is definitely up there – to get to know the people, the culture, and ask all the questions. Also, a notebook – I had a journal named Jenga as a child and writing has always been part of my experience. A good book that you can’t wait to read. Patience as well, the attitude of not being fixated on everything going a certain way, and letting go of expectations.
And then, a companion who travels like me. There are probably three people in the world I can count on for that! A good travel partner also challenges you and encourages you to do new things, to step outside your comfort zone.
With traveling as part of your profession, how do you maintain that sense of innocence and wonder with every new place?
When I travel, I usually do minimal research before the trip. If it’s not for work, I often don’t look up my destination at all. I try not to look at images so that I don’t form a certain impression of a place. Traveling with an open mind is important.
Wonder is a very rare and valuable thing. I remember being on the train to the airport in Hong Kong one time and as I looked at the window, it occurred to me that I had never seen that view before. It was like seeing home for the first time. I think the key is to let the world surprise you. If you can find wonder at home, then you can translate that feeling to any place in the world.
What’s your biggest question that can’t be answered?
Wow. There are so many. What is nothing? Are there ghosts? I’m prepared to believe there are. But then, what does that mean?
Lastly, tell us about these objects you brought.
These bracelets I got in Cambodia, in Angkor, on a trip with my mother and sister.
This little guy [elephant] we came across on an unexpected visit to Moesson, this Aladdin’s cave of an antique shop in Yogyakarta. It was filled with old objects, each with their own story to tell.
I’ve named him Earnest. I don’t think he’s very old, but you never know!
Sam Leese grew up in Hong Kong and, after graduating from Stanford, decided to pursue a profession that merged her love for exploration and the written word. She believes in simplicity, choosing the precise words to describe destinations and experiences in a manner both effective and evocative. Her work has appeared in international publications such as Time, CNN Travel, Asia Tatler and the South China Morning Post. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing and working on a collection of short stories.
We are inspired by her curiosity and explorer’s heart, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design.