A humble travel “exchange diary” becomes much more

By Katherine Wei, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — It all began small. It now is far from that.

Liu Chia-wen and Peng Shang-ting, the administrators behind the Facebook page “England Observing Diary (英國觀察日記),” have been sharing their extraordinary observations centered on London and Leeds for four years.

The nondescript journal-like page, evincing a carpe diem hue, secured the girls a book deal. The resulting publication ranked third on Taiwan’s bestseller list. Friends for over 10 years, the duo were reunited in Britain after Peng finished her BA in Fashion Marketing & Communication in Barcelona, and Liu a Fashion BA in England. Blogging in their student days, Liu and Peng had decided to start their joint Facebook page in a confidential form familiar to every girl who has gone through their gossipy junior high school days in Taiwan: the “exchange diaries.”

Girls have been using notebooks — the gaudier the better — as a form of communication, confiding in one diary partner — or more — at a time. This trend of traded diaries is believed to have been going on for over 30 years

Liu and Peng exchanged details from their lives in London and Leeds, feeding their friendship with photos and notes, while letting their family and friends in on their travels and not missing any detail that intrigued them. What began as an extension of a middle-school trend captured the attention of nearly 150,000 netizens. Dreamers, prospective backpackers, fashion slaves; all those looking for something a tad different from the average travel guide flocked to the observing diary to see what Peng and Liu discovered.

Being a diary, the page did not require much looking after in its early days, with Peng and Liu posting photos of woodsy trails in parks, critters and street shots of fashionable passersby; basically everything that came to mind. But when the number of followers rocketed from 6,000 to 60,000 after an article about the girls’ accounts of their adopted cities appeared in the Guardian Leeds, Peng and Liu grew wary about the content they were posting.

Their wariness waned quickly as yet more enthusiastic supporters flocked to the page, prompting more tidbits on whatever unique nook or teashop the girls had discovered. It is much easier to scroll through the information provided by others on the Internet than coming up with your own entries, a state of mind that makes many of us travel-hungry but still wedged firmly in our armchairs with a laptop and a bag of chips in hand. While the “get up and just do it” mindset is getting rare with the convenience the Internet provides, Peng and Liu have managed to inspire many Taiwanese to unglue their eyes from computer screens for long-anticipated trips abroad. “I wouldn’t have traveled all the way to Leeds if you hadn’t shared its beauty with us,” one follower wrote on Liu and Peng’s page.