An Interview with La Carmina
Home Base: Vancouver, British Columbia
Blog: La Carmina Blog
Connect With La Carmina
I’m La Carmina, a travel TV host and writer with a passion for dark, alternative culture. I started my La Carmina blog in 2007, as a space for sharing stories about Japanese Goth fashion, Tokyo nightlife, and other offbeat travel topics. As my blog grew, it led to life-changing career opportunities: including writing non-fiction books for Penguin and Random House, attending worldwide events as a speaker and guest, and hosting TV shows on networks like Travel Channel, Discovery, CNN, National Geographic and NHK Japan.
Today, I travel to an average of one destination a month, usually for jobs that involve TV presenting and production, writing, or social media. Some recent adventures include hanging with RuPaul’s drag queens in Iceland, and interviewing jazz musicians in South African townships for my travel video series. If you’re intrigued, let’s chat on social media – I’m @lacarmina on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.
When and how did you discover your passion for travel?
I was born and grew up in Vancouver, but my parents are immigrants from Hong Kong. Ever since I was a baby, we traveled to Hong Kong every year to see relatives. I loved flying on Cathay Pacific, and was part of the “young discoverers club” that existed in the 1990s! I remember being mesmerized by the moving neon lights and strange aromas of Asia, and feeling like I had entered into a storybook world. From these early childhood experiences, I developed a passion for travel that remains strong to this day.
How has travel changed your life?
A day in the life involves Skyping with a TV producer in LA, having ongoing What’s App conversations with friends in Japan and Brussels, and exchanging Facebook messages with locals I met in Israel, Taipei and other worldwide cities. Without travel, I never would have met inspiring people from such different walks of life. These eye-opening experiences around the globe have made me realize: life has far more possibilities than we tend to imagine.
What is your biggest pet peeve while travelling?
I’m a bit of a germophobe, but I call it scientific common sense! I’m all too aware of where germs lurk in the highest concentrations, in planes and public areas. Sometimes, I’ll come across travellers who are sick and yet make no efforts to contain their illness. They’ll cough and sneeze without covering their faces, or neglect to wash their hands. It’s my pet peeve: I wish they’d show more consideration to fellow passengers.
What is the one thing you absolutely never travel without?
My iPhone. Most of my travels are in partnership with a tourism board, hotel or other company – and they expect me to do social media updates throughout the journey. With my smartphone, I can quickly connect to WiFi to check emails, and look up information or directions. I also love taking random snapshots for the sake of memories, and tend to fill up my camera roll quickly.
What is the most unique experience you've ever "accidentally stumbled upon" while travelling?
I was excited to explore the Gothic scene in Prague, with my local friends. We went to a steampunk bar and Dracula fashion store, and drank absinthe in every possible form. One night, we decided to visit an underground “Hell Club”. There was the usual darkwave music, and clubbers in fishnets and black hair. However, to my surprise… a boy in ass-less leather chaps went on stage, and proceeded to get his mouth sewn shut with needle and thread! Blood poured down his face, as he smiled in a mix of pain and ecstasy.
If you were going on a one-week rest and relaxation vacation somewhere you've previously been, where would you go and why?
I’m fortunate to have been invited to various luxury beach stays, including 5-star hotels in Maui, Bali, Tulum and Cebu. However, there’s simply no place like the Maldives. The soft white sand and Treasure Island feeling is unmatched, and I loved stepping directly from my thatched hut into the coral-filled ocean.
With the Canadian Dollar being a little weaker than it once was, what is something unique you do to stretch your dollars while travelling?
Although I’m Canadian, I also have US bank accounts and credit cards. I use those during “hard times” for the Canadian dollar! When I need foreign cash for a trip, I also take it out in advance from my bank, since the rates tend to be better than if I used an ATM machine or exchange overseas.
If you could pack only a carry on sized backpack for an extended trip, what would you pack?
This is a hypothetical question, since my work-related travels require an extensive wardrobe and camera equipment that wouldn’t fit in a single backpack! Hopefully the destination is a warm one, so I wouldn’t need bulky winter clothing. I’d pack my Sony A7 mirrorless DSLR camera, chargers, laptop, iPhone, essential makeup, and personal necessities like camping strength mosquito spray, sunscreen and medications. I’d fill the remaining space with a selection of clothes in a similar color scheme (such as black and purple), so that I can mix and match outfits for different occasions. I’d wear black leather ankle boots, and pack fashionable sneakers for casual outings.
What kind of mistakes did you make when you first started travelling?
I first traveled as a child with my family, so there weren’t many grave errors. When I was older and went on trips by myself or with friends, I was already a seasoned traveler. But I did leave behind items every so often – including my camera charger in Mazatlan, and a single shoe in LA.
What is your most embarrassing travel story?
When I travelled from the US to Canada with my Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow, I researched and prepared every last detail. The plane landed, and I was pleased that the trip had gone entirely smoothly. However, as I was exiting the baggage area, Customs glanced at my declaration form and stopped us. “What’s this?”growled the officer, pointing at my earless cat. Apparently, I had neglected to tick the box on the customs form that declared him! I didn’t realize my cute little kitty should have been included in the “meat, insects, dirt, bacteria, animals” category. Thankfully, after a short investigation, the officers realized it was an honest mistake and we were allowed to leave.
What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten while away?
I’ve eaten some bizarre dishes around the world (and even co-hosted an episode of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern”), but I don’t go out of my way to eat exotic meats or insects. Perhaps the weirdest meal I ate was at the Hello Kitty café, which serves dim sum decorated like the cat’s face. There’s also a Hong Kong restaurant dedicated to the Sanrio egg character, Gudetama. When you squeeze a bun that looks like his body, chocolate sauce oozes out of his behind! Here are images: (http://www.lacarmina.com/blog/2015/11/hello-kitty-dim-sum-gudetama-restaurant-hong-kong-sanrio/)
What is the most exciting thing/craziest story that has ever happened to you when travelling?
Since I’m all about edgy, bizarre travel stories – there are too many to choose from. Perhaps the oddest adventure involves hosting a travel TV show about “bagelheads”, a Japanese body modification wherepeople insert a saline drip into their foreheads, creating a temporary donut-shaped bulge! I’ve filmed TV programs about bagelhead inflation for National Geographic, Canal Plus France, Fuel TV and more. Here are images if you dare: (http://www.lacarmina.com/blog/2012/10/bagel-head-trend-japan-truth-japanese-bagelheads-website-saline-forehead-inflation-donut-taboo/)
Of all the places you've been, what was your favourite destination and why?
I can’t possibly pick just one place, but after all these years, Tokyo remains special to me. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Japan – food, outdoors, hot springs, Harajuku fashion. The culture is both startling and inspiring, and I always discover futuristic tech and trends whenever I visit.