Interview Series: Edition 3
We interviewed New Zealander tattoo artist and world-traveler Amber Harris for our third installment of the interview series. Previously, we have interviewed Adrian Ann of Adrian’s Travel Tales and Jenn Turnbull-Houde of Two Weeks in Costa Rica. In the series, we ask five to six questions to female travelers and expats who can offer unique perspectives on the transient or foreign lifestyle. If you or someone you know falls into this category, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. The interview questions will be tailored to your specific story, as you’ll see below.
About Amber: Amber rose to fame as one of the few female tattoo artists in New Zealand. She is Maori and much of her art is focused around Maori designs. She developed a love for travel at a young age, and in the past five years has lived in New York, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh Vietnam, Singapore, and Australia. She is currently living in the UK and Europe.
The Interview with Amber
SGT: You mention on your site that you were drawn to the Maori culture of New Zealand, and that you studied the Language. What first sparked that interest? Where would you send a visitor to New Zealand to learn about the Maori?
AH: I am a proud and patriotic Maori from New Zealand. I grew up speaking a little of our Maori Language in school, and decided as an adult I wanted to be fluent. I studied this along with other Pacific Island languages such as Samoan, Fijian, Tongan and Tokelauan. I have always been extremely proud of my culture and am lucky to be from New Zealand where the country has never lost its roots or treated the native people as lower class citizens like in Australia with the Aborigines or in the USA like the Native Americans. Our culture is always in your face when in New Zealand. The best place a visitor or tourist can go to experience the indigenous way of life is a place called ‘Rotorua‘, this translates into ‘Two Lakes’. Its located just off the east coast of the North Island, and is rich in Maori culture. There you can bathe in the thermal pools and cook your food in the ground as the earth is literally open and volcanic hot spots are everywhere.
SGT: Has your profession as a tattoo artist enabled you to travel? if so, how? Do you find it more difficult work within the New Zealand tattooing community or outside of it? Why?
AH: I started tattooing very young at the age of 18, being a young female in what was very much a ‘man’s industry’ I drew attention to myself, as I made it my passion to break down stereotypes about women in ‘men’s professions’ or how tattooists are seen as big, hard, motorbike-riding men. I think I’ve always been a bit of a feminist. I became extremely well known within New Zealand for my craft and art and this opened up a lot of opportunities to travel overseas. I began to focus more and more on the style of tattooing from my people. The Maori word for this is ‘Ta Moko‘. All our designs tell a story and are very personal. I wanted to bring awareness to the world on this as too many times I’d been overseas and seen another artist who didn’t have knowledge of the art and wasn’t from NZ tattooing these designs. I find it lovely to go back home to NZ as people recognize me on the street, but being overseas has allowed me to focus on other passions of mine too such as writing and blogging. I’ve now given up tattooing full time after 8 solid years.
SGT: You’ve lived in the USA, Australia, Europe and Asia, where did you experience the most difficult transition? what made it so difficult?
AH: I found living in Asia the hardest transition, only because of the extreme language barrier. When I was living in Beijing in China’s north, I found it daunting at first just walking out of my apartment to the subway. Some people there had never seen a westerner before. It made some of them curious and you couldn’t get through the day without being stared at. After about a week it didn’t bother me anymore, why should it? I had some of the most amazing and memorable experiences living in China.
SGT: What is the hardest part of expat life? And the most rewarding?
AH: The hardest part for me is missing out on important things happening at home, babies being born, weddings, engagements, even funerals. I choose to travel, I’m not made to, and I have been lucky enough to be able to do what I love and create a job out of it, but being away for such long periods can be upsetting at times. On the contrary I’d have to say the most rewarding part Is meeting new people from all over the world, and having these people become your family. I have to say that ‘home is where the heart is’ so basically I have a home all over the globe.
SGT: If you could go back in time to give your pre-traveling self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
AH: If I could go back and tell my pre-traveling self something, it would be to start sooner. Just go. I had always traveled, my first trip overseas was when I was 4 years old, my parents always took my sister and I away. We were in no way rich to travel all the time but we were shown the ‘real world’ from a young age. My parents didn’t shield us from the world’s problems such as poverty and disease in other cultures and countries. I thank them for that. It helped my Gypsy soul grow more courageous. But I didn’t start traveling alone until I was 23. I wish I’d started in my late teens. I would tell myself back then not to worry so much, and just go.