a reflection on the Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes | the road to Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand

let me tell you an honest story about our journey to Mirror Lakes.

our road trip through New Zealand had been going for over a week, and the strain of moving locations every few days was starting to show. we had been driving from Queenstown since early morning, stopped for an afternoon boat tour and an extremely disappointing lunch in Te Anau. I was tired of being jammed in a car for hours, feeling nauseous on the winding roads, without cell service, wondering if we had enough gas to make it back, and trying to determine just how hangry I should let myself get before busting into my limited snack supply. there were moments I even wondered whether making the trip out to Millford Sound was going to be worth it

by the time we reached the first scenic stop on the Milford Road, I was about ready to scream. but instead I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. looked around. and realized that a little carsickness and 7 hours of driving was a small price to pay for the beauty of the fiordlands.

from there on out it was a face full of smiles, a hand full of cameras, and a heart full of wonder.

Mirror Lakes | the road to Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand
Mirror Lakes | the road to Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand
Mirror Lakes | the road to Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand

I don't think it's necessary for me to explain why this area along the road to Milford Sound is named the Mirror Lakes. nor for me to tell you how calm and peaceful this area was, how gorgeous the late afternoon sun peeking over the mountains was. how I didn't really mind being blinded by the reflections off the water, or that my camera settings went completely whacked.

reflection on Mirror Lakes | the road to Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand

driving into the fiordlands of southern New Zealand, you'll encounter more stunning views than it seems right for any corner of the world to hold. I admit it's a long journey to get there. few ever do.

but it was worth it for me at least - this was the point in our trip where I learned to stop caring that it took twice as long to get where we were going, and just enjoy the ride.


typhoons, the business of blogging, and the definition of success

we had another typhoon this week. thankfully the damage was less than the last one that rolled through Taipei, but my apartment still suffered four leaks and a brief power outage. coincidentally, our cable and internet were shut off a few days before the storm. not because of it - in fact we couldn't seem to determine the reason why at all - but we had to rely on spotty cell phone internet for nearly a week.

so I haven't been very present online. I've been focusing on the things I need, rather than the things I think I need to do. Ive been taking time to tend to the things that call to my heart and fill me with joy (which is certainly not checking Facebook.) I've been reading and journaling, visiting friends and taking scooter adventures, playing video games and drinking wine, shooting photos of raindrops while the typhoon blew by.

and you know what? the world didn't fall apart.

being forced to take a break made me realize how much I've been struggling to find balance. not just in time spent working vs not, but in how I spend that work time. meaning: for every hour I spend writing it feels like I spend four hours tweeting, creating pinterest graphics, optimizing for SEO, reading other people's content, and trying to come up with witty and interesting yet original hooks to get someone to click. if you're a blogger, I'm sure you understand this struggle.

I want to share my work, but I don't want the sharing to become more important than the work itself. but even more, I don't want the outcome of my work to become more important than the work itself.

part of this realization comes on the heels of reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. she argues that there's merit in creating something, just for the sake of creating. that completion itself is an achievement, and a rare one at that. and you have to believe you are worthy, regardless of the outcome. [can you tell she's friends with Brené Brown?]

that seems to go against all the advice I see out there on the internet right now. create great content, promote it ruthlessly, build community and gain popularity. saturate the market to gain brand recognition, stay focused and on-message in everything you do, share other's content to be useful and position yourself as an expert. these are the things I've been hearing, over and over. that - and the promise that if you do these things you will achieve xyz.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that method. I mean, last month I wrote about how art cannot exist in a vacuum. and as a business model, it makes sense. but my blog is not a business, and I never intended it to be. I'm not getting paid, guys, I'm here because I like it.

now that blogging is a valid career choice, it seems like the expectation is that all bloggers must be professionals. I'm not here to say you shouldn't take your work seriously. if you want to treat your blog like a business - you can. and in fact, if blogging is your legitimate job and page views keep food on your plate then you probably should.

but though your blog can be a business, it doesn't have to be. you don't have to analyze every post and spin yourself into a frenzy over comments and page views. it is one hundred percent ok to simply write because you love to write, to take photos and share your life because you enjoy doing it.

which brings me to this: you can be serious about what you do, without having to live and die by the results.

for example: though it's been up for a week, I don't have any comments on my last post about hiking Mt Qixing. on the flip side, somehow my post on the Nugget Point Lighthouse in New Zealand has almost 5,000 page views in just two weeks. so what happened with my hiking post that made it such a dud? there's a few ways this train of thought could go...

maybe I shouldn't have posted about another hike so soon after my last hiking post. maybe no one actually cares about me climbing mountains. maybe my pictures suck. maybe I didn't promote it enough on social media. maybe I posted at the wrong times and people just didn't see this piece existed. maybe my hook wasn't interesting or my pinterest graphics are lame. maybe I gave too much information and sounded like a guide book. maybe all my readers have abandoned me because my blog has been so sporadic this year and my 15 minutes of mediocre popularity are over.


no one commented on my last post. that sucks, I thought the photos were beautiful and I really enjoyed that hike. oh well. time to edit photos from last weekend's adventure and write about that.

maybe one of these reactions [and subsequent corrections] will get me more pageviews in the future, but I can tell you which is better for my metal health. and I think the distinction comes down to this: how do you define success? if you measure it by external standards, there's no guarantee that you'll ever achieve anything. I don't care how many formulas you follow - you can't control the actions of others.

but if you say success is simply making the best work that you can in that moment, and being brave enough to put it out in the world? you can do that. you can do that every damn day.

the point is, the choice is yours.


Mount Qixing: the Seven Star Mountain

Mount Qixing, or Seven Star Mountain, is the highest peak in northern Taiwan. hiking up to the 1,120 meter peak is a steep climb but the views of Taipei and surrounding Yangmingshan National Park are worth the sweat!

Seven Star Mountain - it just sounds like a magical place. some of the mountain names around Taipei and Yangmingshan don't make much sense to me, but Mount Qixing has a beautiful translation. and of course - beautiful views.

my neighborhood is not very far from Yangmingshan National Park, but this was my first visit. some friends from Hsinchu came up last weekend and invited me to hike Seven Star Mountain with them, and of course I accepted. Mount Qixing [or Mount Cising] gets its name from seven peaks, and at 1,120 meters tall it is the highest in northern Taiwan.

we started our hike from the Xiaoyoukeng end - a giant volcanic crater - because the climb up is a little less steep that way. the skies were mostly clear and the sun was bright as we sweat our way up to the first peak. vents steaming sulfur-scented gas peeked through the tall grasses, adding little poofs of white to the scenery.

the stone step trail led us up, and up, and up. we stopped for a breather at the first observation deck. the weather had started to haze over, so our views of Taipei and the north coast weren't as clear as they could have been. but what we could see - was pretty incredible.

at the main peak of Mount Qixing, the post marker was surrounded by photo-takers. we got in a shot and then we decided to get goofy with a yoga pose photo like all the cool tourists do. thus, warrior II. [just be glad we nixed the initial idea of downward facing dog.] all the locals at the top thought we were hilarious, and took pictures of us taking pictures. just another day in the life of a waiguoren.

after our photo break, we made our way to the east peak. the views from here were just as stunning, though the area is smaller and people seem to move through instead of lingering like they do at the main peak.

the way down was a series of steep stairs, and we were sweaty with shaky calves by the time we reached the bottom. [which I think explains the lack of photos from that point.]

it might be stretching to say this trail is in my backyard - but on a clear day I can see Mount Qixing from my neighborhood so I think it counts. Seven Star Mountain may be my favorite Taipei hike yet. the climb was definitely strenuous, but the views were incredible. one might even be inclined to make cheesy puns about rating this hike seven stars... but I'll spare you that for now.

to get to the trail: take any bus that goes into Yangmingshan National Park. hop the 108 minibus to either the Xiaoyoukeng or Lengshuikeng stop and start heading up. we completed the hike in about 2 hours time, though the guideline says 3 hours.
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