Matt Gibson came to Taiwan intending to write professionally and he ended up carving a niche for himself with an online and print publication called Xpat Magazine. Since then, this talented writer, publisher, and photographer has kept working at his dream. Read on for more…
MG: I moved to Taiwan about five and a half years ago. I came here for several reasons: I couldn’t find a job in Vancouver, I had no money, and I wanted to travel. I’d also met somebody who had lived in Taiwan and told me firsthand about the short hours and fast money teaching English. The thing that was most attractive to me, though, was the possibility of finding work as a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
MSW: How did you get started finding work as a writer in Taiwan?
MG: I came to Taiwan hoping to find full-time work as a writer or editor in a publishing house. Fate, however, had other ideas. Fate’s name was Erin. She was my girlfriend. Erin was from a tiny rural town in Ontario, Canada. She was a small-town girl through and through and was dead set against living in a big city. Unfortunately, almost all of the publishing houses in Taiwan are in Taipei and Taichung and Erin refused to live in either city, so we moved to Tainan and found jobs teaching English.
The funny thing is, about three months after we moved to Tainan, and away from any hope of my finding work as a writer, Erin and I broke up. What’s even funnier is that a couple of months later she started dating a friend of mine from Canada who I had invited to Taiwan and helped to get set up.
Sometimes people change for no apparent reason. We go on acting one way for our whole lives and then one day, bam, something snaps. Up until that point my normal reaction to such a joyous state of affairs would have been to drink whiskey like it was an endurance sport. But I didn’t. Instead I started a magazine to distract myself from my sorrow. Instead of drowning myself in bourbon, I drowned myself in work.
I began a furious work routine. Everyday I’d get up a 7 a.m. and go to the gym. Then I’d eat breakfast and work until I had to go teach. When I got home from teaching I’d work until around midnight and then go to bed. It wasn’t actually that hard because there was nothing else for me to do. I didn’t have any friends because all of the friends I had made in Taiwan lived in my ex-girlfriend’s apartment complex, which I had voluntarily exiled myself from.
First I built a website for the magazine. Then I advertised for submissions. When there was enough content for the first issue, I started selling advertising to foreign-owned businesses in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Taichung. I sold about NT$100,000 in ads for the first issue. I spent it all on first print run of 4000 copies and Xpat Magazine was born. I managed and edited Xpat for three years before selling it to go traveling in Central America.
I never made much money from Xpat, but the name that I made for myself was enough to help me find paying freelance work around Taiwan. These days I write freelance part-time and edit scholarly papers and teach a couple of supplementary writing classes at National Cheng Kung University.
I took two photography classes in University, and did some photography for Xpat as well, but my photography was never very good. It only reached a professional standard in the last year or so. I owe much of my development as a photographer to my good friend Steven Vigar. He taught me a lot.
MSW: Can you tell us a little about your web site and online writing activities?
MG: I’ve always focused on publishing in print publications, and only became interested publishing online in the last couple of years. I started my website, Matt Gibson.org about two years ago. I wanted to build an online portfolio where I could easily post all of my articles and links to my articles online, as they were published. I went through about four or five different designs before settling on the current format. Later, I added a blog to my website so that I had a place to write whatever I liked.
By and by I’m sure I’ll write more and more for the web. That’s where the future is.
MSW: How would you say that your photography has changed and grown since moving to Taiwan?
MG: My photography has changed a lot in the past couple of years.
I pay a lot of attention to the basic things, like framing the shot and finding interesting angles. Since I’m mainly interested in journalistic photography, I’ve been focusing a lot on capturing all aspects of a subject in order to tell a story about it.
With regard to post processing, shooting in RAW format was a big step because of the increased ability it gives me to manipulate contrast and colors. I’ve also learned some great techniques for sharpening photos, fixing poor exposures, and drawing attention to key aspects of a photograph, mostly from Mr. Vigar.
MSW: Do you have any projects on the go right now?
MG: My girlfriend just finished making an art and photography magazine called Bunk for the Armory pub in Taiwan. Now I’m researching paragliding in Taiwan for a series of articles that I’m hoping to sell to magazines both here and abroad. I’m also working on a novel that’s coming along painfully slowly.
MSW: What’s next for you?
MG: Finishing my novel and making enough money writing to quit teaching. And training for a marathon that I signed up for drunk.