Personal

2018 in Review

It has become a bit of habit of mine that when I write one of these ‘Year in Review’ posts that I make an effort to look back at what I wrote in previous years. Reading through my post last year made 2017 seem like it was actually quite terrible, and maybe it was - The weird thing is though, I can’t even remember anything that happened in 2017 - And I’m pretty sure 2018 is the blame for that!

Like most people around the world, I’ve unfortunately been sucked into the the real-life soap opera taking place in Washington, D.C.

Similar to what happens on reality television, the audience has eagerly anticipated the next cliff hanger, the next shocking discovery and for the next person getting voted off the island.

And even though this real-life television show should scare us, most seem to enjoy the drama.

Here in Taiwan, we weren’t exactly shielded from the kind of drama happening in the US as the year was full of preparation for an election, referendums, interference from China and the spread of fake news.

A lot was at stake for Taiwan’s democracy in the November’s election - Every city and municipality elected or re-elected mayors and councillors in addition to referendums on such things as food imports from Japan, Olympic name changes and marriage equality.

Earlier in 2017 Taiwan’s Supreme Court ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional and gave the government a year to introduction legislation on the matter. The government however did nothing and religious groups and pro-same sex marriage groups decided instead to take the vote to the people in the form of a referendum.

Iceland’s Dettifoss

The referendum unfortunately brought out the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ in society and unfortunately the latter won the day with a majority of people voting against redefining the definition of marriage.

In the weeks and days leading up to the election terribly ignorant things were reported in the media and online that permeated almost every aspect of daily life.

Most of what was said was the kind of thing you would have heard half a century ago - Yet it was being repeated in Taiwan in 2018 and was enough to sway public opinion that opened up a massive divide in the populace.

It’s often thought that Taiwan is one of the most progressive countries in Asia but 2018 certainly gave the world a reality check on that one.

It goes without saying that Taiwan is full of awesome people - Its just unfortunate that the referendums ended up bringing out such extreme divisions in the country which in turn gave the nation a bit of a black eye on the international stage.

But hey, not everything that happened in 2018 sucked. Lots of great things happened and there is a lot to look forward to as the world fights back against all the negativity of the past few years!

Taipei City at night.

Personally my year was a busy one with lots of travel, lots of work and unfortunately a bit of downtime.

On the very first day of the year I boarded a flight from Taiwan to France, then to Ireland, England and Italy spending an amazing month in Europe.

Arriving back in Taiwan just in time for the Lunar New Year holidays I spent most of my time travelling around the country and enjoying some of the cool cultural stuff going on.

Then in June I hopped on a flight from Taiwan to London, then to Iceland, Scotland and back to England for another month of travelling and photography!

When I arrived back to Taiwan this time I had thousands of photos from my trips as well as two different magazine assignments to work on but my computer decided instead to die on me.

I was faced with the question of repairing it or just getting a new one but I figured I’d wait until the Apple Event at the end of October to make a decision on getting a new one. Unfortunately Apple didn’t release new iMac’s, so I took my giant iMac into town and got it repaired so I could get back to work.

The Quiraing on Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

In the two months that I didn’t have a computer, I mostly spent my time working out, hiking, taking photos, writing blogs, reading and hanging out with friends.

I thought I’d go crazy without having my computer around but to tell the truth it was a bit refreshing to be able to come home and not have anything to do but read books, listen to music and play with my dog.

Unplugging once in a while I found isn’t such a bad thing.

One thing I noted in my 2017 review was that my usage of social media was declining and that is something that I definitely kept up in 2018 - Decreased time on social media meant that I wasted less time engaging with people who just want to argue for the sake of arguing. It also meant that I could focus more on work and positive aspects of life.

You’d be surprised how liberating is to open up Facebook to a curated feed of posts from exceptional people promoting positivity and doing good for the world!

Anyway, enough of that.

 As we’re already a few days into the new year I will continue what I normally do posting blogs on a weekly basis and sharing photos through my social media.

I have some personal projects planned for this year and will continue sharing a mixture of posts from Taiwan as well as Europe - and of course any of the trips I take this year.

I’m also planning to do a redesign of the site over the Lunar New Year to try to get the load times to be a bit more agreeable for viewers as well as adding more non-blog related content!    


Favourite Photos

I ended up taking far more photos this year than I usually do, so it wasn’t easy to choose a few to share here. The photos I’ve decided to share below may not be the ‘best’ photos I took in 2018, but they happen to be some of my personal favourites.

1.  Trevi Fountain in the Rain

Trevi Fountain in the heart of Rome is one of the most beautiful fountains in the world and is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and design. Luckily during my stay in Rome I got to walk past it a few times during the day and night and was able to get some beautiful photos of it without a billion tourists in the frame. This photo was taken on my first night in Rome when there was a light rain.

2. The Roman Colosseum After Dark

The Colosseum - What can you say? Of all the places in the world that one could visit, the Roman Colosseum is likely to be at the top of every travellers bucket list - and for good reason. Its a testament to human engineering and the power of the historic Roman Empire. A visit to the Colosseum is a humbling experience and is also one that creates lifelong memories for those lucky enough to visit. I have lots of photos of the interior and exterior of the building but this photo taken at night as I was passing by was one of my favourites thanks to the beautiful colour of the light.

3. Trinity College Library

During my short visit to Dublin, my lovely girlfriend presented me with a choice - A tour of the historic Guinness Brewery or a visit to the Trinity College Library to view the Book of Kells and the library. I can’t say that it was an easy decision to make, but it was one that I will never regret. My visit to the Trinity College Library was a great experience and if you are in Dublin, is one of those things that you absolutely must do.

4. Iceland’s Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach, otherwise known as Iceland’s ‘Black Sand Beach’ is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The beach is picturesque and is steeped in Icelandic folklore and history. This photo was taken with a long-exposure late in the afternoon on a cloudy day with the tide coming in.

5. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Iceland is a country of immense natural beauty, but nothing could have really prepared us for the sight of the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon which was jaw-dropping in its beauty. The frigid lagoon which is flanked by a giant glacier sits silently frozen in time with a beauty that is hard to compare to anything else I’ve ever seen. The icebergs reflect beautifully off of the still water making the lake extremely picturesque.

Top Instagram Posts of 2017

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I usually forget about this stuff but around the last week of the year people on Instagram start posting their ‘best nine’ photo. This year I imagined my best nine photos would look great - Possibly some photos from Iceland, maybe the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain - You know, nice photos of international locations.

When I typed my user name into the website to generate the photo though I almost spit out my tea all over the computer screen.

Pretty much all of the photos were of Taipei 101!

I was unimpressed to say the least.

Top Five Blogs


With the help of Google Analytics I’ve tracked the five most popular blog posts that I posted in 2018. Tracking posts this way helps me to understand what kind of blogs my audience prefers and helps me to plan what I’m going to focus on in the future - This year it seems like people most appreciated the outdoors!

1. Sacred Mother Trail (聖母山莊)

The “Sacred Mother Trail” is a popular hiking trail on Taiwan’s East Coast which became even more popular in 2018 thanks to Instagram. The hiking trail is famous for its beautiful rolling hills covered in grass and its views of the east coast from the top.

2. Stegosaurus Ridge (劍龍嶺)

Stegosaurus Ridge is somewhat of a dangerous hike on the North East Coast of Taiwan near Teapot Mountain (茶壺山). The hike gets its name from the ridge that you climb up that looks like the back of a stegosaurus.

Like the post above, the hike became popular thanks to Instagram but is also one where unprepared hikers may experience quite a bit of difficulty.

3. Thousand-Island Lake (千島湖)

Taipei’s ‘Thousand-Island Lake’ is a picturesque environment that was formed when the Feicui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) was constructed a few decades ago. The area which was once extremely home to valuable tea plantations was flooded which in turn made the mountains in the area look like ‘thousands’ of small islands rising up out of the river.

4. Beitou Thermal Valley (北投地熱谷)

Beitou District in New Taipei City has been famous for its hot spring resorts since the days of the Japanese Colonial Era. The area is highly regarded for its geothermal springs and at the Beitou Thermal Valley you can see the hot springs up close and personal.

You won’t want to go for a swim though as you’ll be burnt to death in the extremely hot water!

5. Taipei Railway Workshop (台北機廠)

My final post of 2018 turned out to be a popular one as it is a location that has generated quite a bit of interest in the past few months. The former Taipei Railway Workshop is now open to the public on a limited basis for tours and I was lucky enough to be invited to go to get some photos. Taking into consideration that there isn’t a lot of information available about the workshop in English (apart from this great article by fellow blogger Tom Rook), it was shared quite a bit by people on Facebook and elsewhere.

Special Mention: Khao Luang Caves

One of the most uplifting stories of human survival, bravery and ingenuity in 2018 came from the ordeal of a team of young soccer players in Thailand who were trapped in a flooded cave. The entire world watched and hoped for the news that the boys and their coach would be saved.

Thankfully there was a happy ending - No thanks to Elon Musk.

The weird thing however is that the whole ordeal generated hundreds of thousands of hits to my blog.

I don’t necessarily mind the traffic but the cave that I blogged about was named “Tham Khao Luang Cave” while the cave where the boys were trapped was “Tham Luang Cave.”

Someone in the media linked to my blog post about the cave (as my blog post is one of the few available in English) and it got shared all over the place.

The cave I blogged about though was south of Bangkok while the cave where the boys were trapped was in the northern area of the country near Chiang-Mai.

I suppose you could say my website fell victim to #FakeNews - or possibly just lazy reporting.


As always, I hope that despite all the weird stuff that happened this year that you had a great year and I sincerely hope that this new one is a better one for all of us.

Happy New Year everyone!

Josh.

2017 in Review

In preparation for this blog post, I went back to the previous years post to see how I was feeling at the end of 2016 - Interestingly quite a few of us it seems were screaming for the year to end hoping that 2017 would bring better fortune. We however we pretty much screwed on that one though. This year turned out to be one for the record books in terms of just how horrible it was for everyone.

Between all of the abhorrent stupidity coming out of the White House, mass shootings, bombings, natural disasters, celebrity deaths, etc. It’s been a year that people will probably look back on and hope to forget as soon as possible.

Living here in Taiwan can be a bit difficult sometimes when I think of all the stuff happening back home in North America. Something that most people don’t realize is that whenever anything happens, be it a mass shooting, a concert bombing, or whatever the massacre of the day is, it is always the first thing I wake up to.

Constantly waking up to bad news is a bit hard on the old heart, so I’ve started to change my habits. Something I’ve had to change in 2017 is that I no longer reach for my phone when I wake up in the morning. I make sure to wake up, have breakfast, play with my dog and drink some tea before even looking at anything happening in the world.

Another thing I’ve learned this year is that while social media is extremely helpful for what I do as a photographer and blogger, its certainly turned into a different kind of monster. People are constantly arguing, they get offended over every little thing and they even sue each other over frivolous little things. It’s tiresome. After having my first experience with a troll and being constantly harassed, I decided it was time to rethink how I approach social media and that has resulted in me pretty much removing myself from it in quite a few ways.

I usually don’t talk very much about my personal life, but its been a weird year for me with a lot of changes that I wasn’t really expecting to happen. The last few months too have been a bit trying with a bunch of stupid uncontrollable things happening. I’m starting the new year out however with a nice month-long trip to Europe where I’ll be visiting several countries and reacquainting myself with being fully immersed in an English environment!

On a positive note, not everything has been terrible - I’ve kept up my productivity travelling all around the country taking photos. As a photographer it was another successful one with a couple of successful Photo Exhibitions (Taoyuan, Taipei), lots of sales and a dream come true - selling a photo to National Geographic!

One of my personal projects this year was to visit as many buildings left over from Taiwan’s Japanese Colonial Era and take photos and write about them. This project had me travelling all over the place and has allowed me to learn so much about Taiwan’s modern history. I’ll continue the project in the new year as I still have quite a few places on my list to visit.

As for 2018, I plan to spend more time on the road - My January trip to London and Rome is the first of what I hope to be a year of travelling as I plan to make it back to Canada and also to Scotland and Iceland as well. I’m staying positive and hoping that 2018 will turn out to be a much better year and that the world will get out of this slump that its currently in.

Let’s get back to using our brains and our hearts. Respect and have compassion for one another. Let’s not keep going down this destructive path with identity politics and taking offence to every little thing. 

 Favourite Photos of 2017

1. Taipei flanked by Mountains

This shot of Taipei’s Hsinyi District (信義區) is one of my favourite shots of the year. There are many mountain vistas in Taipei where you can take beautiful photos of Taipei but this one from Jinmian Mountain in Neihu (內湖) is one of my favourite thanks to the layers of mountains flanking beautiful Taipei City. 

2. Birds flying at Huguo Rinzai Temple

This shot was a bit of an accidental one but turned out to be one of my favourite shots of the year. I was at the Huguo Rinzai Temple trying to take photos of the Bell Tower but my shots kept getting messed up by all the pigeons which were hanging out on the roof. A friend I was with clapped really loud and the birds automatically reacted and this was the result.

3. Flags in Longgang

Longgang (龍岡) is a culturally and historically important area here in Zhongli where I live. The area is full of army bases and is quite patriotic as things go. This shot was taken before the National Day celebrations when the community put thousands of ROC flags on display. I’ll be posting a series of blogs about the area in the new year which should be quite interesting!

4. Lee Teng-Fang Courtyard

This shot isn’t really that special and there is a lot that I could have done to fix it, I enjoy shots like this with specific lines and shapes which is why it won me over. The Lee Teng-Fang Mansion re-opened to the public earlier this year after what seemed liked years of being closed. The historic mansion near Daxi Old Street is a beautiful example of traditional Hakka architecture and its restoration project is a testament to the local Taoyuan government’s dedication in restoring many of Taoyuan’s historic properties.

5. Sunset at Dadaocheng

I spent quite a bit of time in Taipei’s historic Dadaocheng area over the summer preparing for the Dadaocheng Photo Exhibition that I collaborated in. On one of the days that I was in the area taking photos I decided to stop over at the wharf to take photos of the sunset and was lucky enough to experience one of the most colourful sunsets I’ve seen in quite a while.

 Top Instagram Posts of 2017

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Top Blog Posts of 2017

1. Sakura Guide / Sakura at Tian Yuan Temple

Something I did this year was put together a map of places where people could find sakura cherry blossoms blooming around Taiwan. I spent quite a few hours compiling information and adding pins to the map to achieve the results I wanted. The completed map was used extensively by locals and foreigners-alike and even made it into the news. In conjunction with my post about the cherry blossoms at Tian Yuan Temple in Taipei, these two posts ended up being the most highly visited of the year.

2. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂)

My post about the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall featured photos of the highly visited Memorial Hall but I couldn’t really write a typical ‘travel article’ when it came to this place. Most articles you’ll see online glaze over the troubled history of what happened here in Taiwan over the past half century and focus more on the immense scale and beauty of the park. I feel that I offered visitors a more balanced approach with the good and the bad and gave hope for a future where transitional justice will turn this beautiful park into something more representative of the Taiwan of today!

3. Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖)

My post about the beautiful Qingshui Cliffs wasn’t actually even posted in 2017, but this post continues to be one of the most highly visited posts on my website. I hope that I can make a return visit sometime this year to get some new photos of the new pathway that was recently completed!

4. Jinmian Mountain (金面山)

Normally my mountain posts don’t get that much traffic, but this one turned out to be a bit different thanks to the power of social media. This mountain went a bit viral on Instagram earlier this year and posting this blog when I did ensured that all the people wanting to know how to get there had the proper information. Some of my favourite shots of the year came from this beautiful little hike, so if you haven’t tried it, make sure to visit.

5. Mugumuyu (慕谷慕魚)

One of my most popular posts continues to be my post about Hualien’s serene Mugumuyu. This post is not only one that attracts a lot of traffic but also quite a few inquiries from viewers. The beautiful area has been closed to the public for quite a while due to typhoon and environmental damage but hopefully it’ll open up again soon. I didn’t post this blog in 2017, but it continues to gain more and more attention due to the fact that there are very few resources online in English that help travellers.