Globetrotting lensman meets his fans half way – in Cloverdale
For global adventurer and photographer William Jans, there’s something about being a follically challenged, bespectacled, pasty white guy that tends to make you stick out in a crowd.
And standing 6-ft., 1-inch tall, there’s really no point trying to blend in when you’re rambling through places like Nepal, where he was more than a foot taller than everyone else.
Which is why he says it helps to dress like a
local, learn a few phrases (his Swahili version of “I’m not bald, I’m bald and handsome,” came in handy as a snappy retort in Tanzania) and to keep a positive mental attitude while jumping in with both feet.
Social gaffs are a great way to learn about a different culture, he says, and weirdly, make new friends.
“They kind of watch the goofy foreigner. If you can roll with it, you can really make great friends,” says Jans, who’s used to being the odd man out.
He’s about to set off on his newest adventure – performing his live, one-man travelogue in Surrey for the first time, after wowing audiences in Vancouver and across the country.
A veteran traveller, he’s based five previous shows around his absurd, edgy adventures. On Feb. 8, he’s bringing his latest effort, Off the Wall in China, to the Clova Cinema in Cloverdale, the half-way point for his eastern-most Fraser Valley fans, who are nothing if not loyal – some have been coming to his Vancouver events from as far away as Chilliwack.
His shows combine video, audio, costumes and audience participation, and each is based on his often zany and frequently profound travel tales.
“It’s like live storytelling supported by really ‘Wow’ images,” he says. “I spend about a year building a show, but I still do it entirely live.”
He promises they’re funny and fast-paced, and a little different teach time.
“A lot of people think ‘Slide show’ and they think, ‘Grandpa. Rec Room.’” Not so. “It’s a live, multimedia extravaganza,” he insists. “As one person said, ‘It’s everything but the smells.'”
[At right, an exfoliating mud bath in a Chinese cave. William Jans photo.]
Every couple of years, Jans takes a few months off to travel, most recently to China, where he (illegally) slept on the Great Wall, and the Philippines, taking in the family-friendly crucifixion festival (more fun than it sounds).
Picking up the language is another essential travel tip for Jans, whose “floundering” skills in Mandarin nonetheless enabled him to hitch rides all the way to a remote section of the aforementioned Wall – at one point convincing his car mates to flag down another car for his next leg.
A massive thunderstorm guaranteed he was alone atop the world wonder. He didn’t encounter anyone despite exploring 21 kms.
With material like that, it’s no wonder the hardest part is editing it all down into a show for Jans, who makes a living in the decidedly more sedate world of corporate photography.
[Thousands crowd down a tiny stairwell to get to the foot of the largest Buddha in the world, in Leshan, China. William Jans photo.]
“I hope they’re entertained and have a good time,” he says of his audiences.
“And I hope it might, if anything, make people travel a little bit more delicately and realize participating can be the nicest gift you can give somebody.”
He finds the more remote you go, the more welcoming people are. He hopes his shows will, in a small way, help make his home port a nicer place.
“I love the Lower Mainland, but we are not as friendly as we used to be,” he says. “I ask people to smile at strangers. Be nice. I can guarantee the risks are far less than the rewards.”