Traveler alumnus and Travel Telegraph blogger Emily Haile is spending the next several months in Taiwan, and she sent us a note from her new home.
Before I left home, I looked on Flickr for some photos of Taiwan and was immediately captivated by the photographs of John&Fish.
When I arrived in the city, I sent them a message through Flickr. A few days later, they were driving me to their home overlooking the Waishuangxi River (sometime written Waishuangsi). Fish set out a feast of sushi and sashimi that was entirely vegetarian. They are devout Buddhists, and will not eat any kind of flesh. Between bites, they told me about their adventures bird watching in Taiwan.
By day, they work for a software programming company; every weekend they turn into avid birdwatchers, driving around the island and into the mountains in search of kingfishers, grebes, terns, and egrets. John shows me his camera. The lens looks about as long as an elephant’s trunk.
Fish doesn’t take pictures but she is the driver, the listener, John says. She hears the birds from afar and pokes John to tell him to get ready. She also writes captions of the photos in Chinese. I ask fish how she got her name. John gave it to her. In Chinese it is “mùyú,” or wooden fish, the block that Buddhist monks beat to keep the rhythm while chanting.
John shows me some of his photographs. Each is a glimpse into the tiny world of a creature constantly on the move. One shot (above) shows a trio of Malay Night Heron hatchlings sitting up in the nest, captured in the brief stage before they’ve molted. “How do you get these shots?,” I ask. “Do you hold your finger down on the shutter?”
“Never,” says John. “I just pretend I am the bird,” and think, “what is the bird doing now?”
John says this so earnestly and convincingly that I almost want to check if he has feathers.
“Every picture has a story,” he tells me. Another photograph (above) shows Taiwan’s national bird, a Formosan Blue Magpie, diving straight at the camera with an all-consuming intensity. “It’s attacking a toy dog that I put in the grass,” says John, smiling. But the bird is smart, only falling for the trick once or twice. Just long enough for John to get the shot.
They tell me that I can always call them, that they would like to take me birdwatching in the mountains when the weather improves. People have always helped them when they travel, they say. They are just returning the favor. They help me with my homework. I am studying Mandarin phonetics and some of my letters aren’t right.
They are very popular on Flickr. Fish’s captions, too, are enchanting, narrating the scenes in universally human terms. No wonder their photos have caught the eye of critics and amateurs alike. Maybe it’s something about the birds: A moment in flight, when the world stands still.