Meet Zoe Osborne, Journalist/Photographer
The “Passport to People” interview series features inspiring, creative souls I’ve met while traveling.
Meet Zoe Osborne, a multi-hyphenate in every sense of the word. She not only illustrates, and photographs, but she is also an award-winning Aussie journalist and photographer covering human rights issues, development, and culture in Asia. Find her work on on zosborne.com.
While in Ho Chi Minh City, I had the pleasure of meeting so many creatives, especially in the realm of editorial. One evening, at a mutual friend’s going away party, Zoe Osborne was seated to me across the table, doodling a boy squatting down, lost in fascination over an unknown entity. I remember I asked her if I could keep her drawing and she sweetly inclined. I still have the scrap drawing pasted in my Vietnam journal to remind me of our encounter. I have admired Zoe’s dedication to her craft, striving to produce work that is thoughtful, intelligent, and informative. She has so much integrity as a freelancer and is passionate about her personal brand. She also loves Vietnam for all that it is, which is not common among the expat circles in Vietnam, so I highly commend her for falling in love with her now host country.
Hi Zoe! Thank you for joining us today on the blog! So first order of business: how did your creative journey begin?
When I was two, I began to sing. Apparently I sang in tune, and then at age 4 I started studying the piano. As soon as I could hold a pencil I began to draw and as soon as I could write I began experimenting with words. I could never spell well though, I think it was impatience! I used art/creation as a form of self-expression for years and developed my skills through practise simply because I loved it. I went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for composition after high school, having graduated with great grades, and it was all because I loved what I did, so I did it 24/7.
So I guess the answer is… all my life! That being said, every year I look back at my work from the year before and wonder what I was thinking, so it often seems like my journey began yesterday so to speak. I am always improving (thank goodness!), have an endless number of things to learn, and the journey continues.
How would you describe your writing style?
Engaging, clean and concise. I used to write flowery things (and I still do on Instagram!) but since working as a journalist I have come to value the art of saying a lot in very few words. In terms of genre, I write feature articles and current event briefings.
What things do you like to write about while you’re traveling?
Definitely the people I meet. I went on a road trip from Dalat to Kontum with a colleague last year and we were asked to document the journey chronologically, telling it in a more story-like manner and talking about what we experienced. In the end my story became based on the people we met, simply because I think the way people are says a billion things about the place in which they live. People are like books.
What’s a destination you’d like to write about one day?
India. I will always want to go back to that place – it was the first country I travelled to on my own and for me it was a real process of maturing. I travelled solo from Kerala to Kashmir and much of my time was spent quietly, watching how people live – I learned a ton and I fell in love with the place, as diverse and massive as it is. I would love to go back, but as for a specific story… just like anywhere – stories there are endless. I like the idea of going and seeing what I find!
What’s a place that you’ve connected to on an creative level?
Rishikesh in the top tip of India. Here, the Ganges is a coral aquamarine, piercingly cold and beautifully clean. A hotchpotch of buildings crouch around it in villages and everything smells like it has never seen a city. The kinds of people who live and visit here, locals and travellers alike, tend to be those who value self-reflection and peace. They also tend to be quite creative, open-minded and spiritual. I spent just a few weeks here but I could already feel a pull to settle for longer.
Do you have a favorite story from your collection of travel writing?
Probably when I took Nguyen, my partner, home to Sydney for a holiday and was assigned a short interview with him about how he felt. Nguyen had only ever been to his hometown in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City before he went to Sydney – this was both his first international trip and his first real national trip. The first time on a plane, first time in a foreign country, etc… You can read the full story via my website but one thing I will always take away from that experience was what he said about the houses in my part of Sydney – “They are not flat, so unstable — they look like they’re falling down the hill.” To be fair, the Mekong is a Delta…
What is something you are currently working on right now?
I am in the process of pitching a bunch of fun and a little bit scary publications with a brilliant story I was given access to, on an Operation Babylift Orphan and her journey to find her mother. Stay tuned for this – it’s an interesting look at the human condition, in the end, because the story becomes more about the process than the end.
What’s a song that puts you in the traveling mood?
Get Free by Major Lazer – my anthem. But I do have to say that anything from The Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” inspires me to – when I was in India this was my go-to playlist, and I will never forget sitting in the belly of a windswept tuktuk with my then-travel buddy, flying across a fat country road to the Pakistani border to watch the ceremonial border closing… and listening to “Lovely Rita”.
Now onto the fun stuff! You, unfortunately, have been condemned to die, but fortunately, you get to have any meal in the world before you go. What is your menu?
Banh Trang Trong, an entire half-round of rich, red-wine fruit cake (and I mean real, stodgy cake, not that fluffy Vietnamese sponge stuff that seems to be mostly air, sugar and cream), Champagne and a block of Dairy Milk white chocolate. I would probably explode and snuff it earlier than had been scheduled but it would be with gluttonous pleasure.
What’s your best travel-related investment?
My Nikon D7200 and its beast of a lens! And possibly my Macbook – basically the tools I need to do what I do. Best investments in the world and with limitless return.
What’s a true hidden gem of an establishment you’ve stumbled upon?
So7 Cafe in HCMC – it’s like a doll’s house inside someone’s front yard down an alleyway. I dare you to find it!
What was a memorable ‘first’ abroad?
I lived on a house boat! I went to Kashmir in the middle of winter on a whim, with a new friend I had made in India. We decided to go stay in our travel agent’s dad’s house boat, of all places… and I have to say it was not a comfortable experience. The boat itself was incredibly beautiful and the people were kind, but we couldn’t get on or off the boat unless the father took us to shore so we were very very stuck. When the time came to fly out again there was too much snow so we couldn’t! We had to get in a jeep and drive through the Himalayas down to Amritsar – it was absolutely incredible in the end.
Here are some photos snapped by Zoe on her travels…
What’s your travel mantra?
To respect and embrace the culture that you find yourself in. For me, the best part of travel is discovering how a new place works and how new people think, and I always want to assimilate as much as possible, recognising the way people live and trying to understand it.
Signature accessory while traveling.
Bangles – a ton of things that jingle whenever I move, each given to me by a particular person or bought in a special place.
Your very first memory on the road.
For me, the most significant of those was when I had got on the plane to Vietnam, $800 in my bank and nothing but my laptop and a backpack full of clothes. I was meant to be going on a 1 month holiday between uni semesters but I knew, even then, that I would not be going home. I remember hugging myself, sitting on the plane, feeling like my life was about to begin and watching Sydney kick back while I floated out into the big bad world. I had no money, no plans, no health insurance (ahem no money) and no friends out there, and that was brilliant!
Biggest lessons learned on the road.
No matter how much of a romantic you are, the reality of life is that a certain standard of living requires a certain level of income and commitment. As I mentioned above, I started my time in Vietnam with very few resources and I quickly found out how hard life can be without them. I learned a lot about how many thousands of people live in Saigon and throughout Vietnam – eking out a living on next to nothing and somehow getting to old age with a smile on their faces. I lived like those people and I started again in a new city from the very bottom, working my way up to where I am now. I am humbled by what I have experienced and by the people I have learned from.
Memorable advice from a stranger.
Work now, love later. From a farmer in the Mekong Delta who knew how hard love could be without money.
Travel book you most wish you have “lived through.”’
I don’t know if this is a travel book per se, but I picked up a beaten up old photocopy of Shantaram in India and I fell in love with the tale. Even now, my wanderlust is underpinned by the mystery, danger and raw humanity that the author claims to have experienced….