Robert Storey, author of the first four editions of the Lonely Planet Taiwan guide and more than a dozen other guide books, died on Dec. 26 at his home on Taiwan’s southeast coast. He was 63 years old.
Though Storey lived a private life in the foothills outside of Taitung City, his guides were familiar to a huge number of English-speaking travelers who came through Taiwan from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, and thousands more who traveled through East Asia.
In fourteen years with Lonely Planet, Storey authored or co-authored a dozen different guides, including those for South Korea, China, Vietnam and the first ever English guide to Mongolia.
MAN OF MANY TALENTS
Authors of those books were allowed to pen their own biographical blurbs, and in his 1994 Lonely Planet Taiwan guide (3rd edition), Storey described his early life (see picture above).
Storey came to Taiwan in 1986 almost by accident, stuck here on a two-day layover. He quickly returned, and stayed for the next three decades until his death.
In his early years in Taiwan, he published his own guide, Taiwan On Your Own. The DIY effort caught the attention of Lonely Planet, who commissioned him to write their inaugural Taiwan guide, Taiwan — a travel survival kit, published in 1987.
At that time, Lonely Planet was fast becoming one of the world’s most popular travel guides by offering the kind of unvarnished advice you might get from a fellow budget traveler, uninvited opinions and all. Storey joined the guide’s legendary early generation of writers, and Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler once referred to him as “our straight-arrow writer” for his chaste habits and scrupulous attention to detail. This status only fell into question once, when, while working on a Vietnam guide, Storey’s driver was secretly soliciting bribes from hotels.
In the Taiwan guide, Storey took advantage of a Lonely Planet writer’s freedom to be sarcastic, off-the-cuff and tactlessly direct. He wrote of the Nantou County’s Aowanda Forest, “So many tour buses come up here on weekends that it’s a wonder the mountain doesn’t collapse.”
Of road rules, he scoffed, “Basically, there aren’t any. When the Taiwanese get behind the wheel of a car or on the seat of a motorcycle, they smell blood.”
To blend into local society, he advised, “The Chinese love name cards. Get some printed before or immediately after you arrive in Taiwan. Throw them around like confetti.”
Storey also cautioned visitors to beware of Taiwan’s flowery rhetoric. “One examination given to prospective employees involves taking a single meaningful sentence and rewriting it into a two-page essay with no increase in content. Many people also talk this way.”
The publication of Storey’s first Taiwan edition came the same year as the end of martial law in Taiwan and during the nation’s electronics boom. Not only did a combination of social liberalization and easy pay for English teaching jobs draw in a new, budget-conscious expatriate community, it also marked an era when Westerners began to settle down and stay. Many were drawn from Southeast Asia’s hippy trail or lured to teach in cram schools, and a huge number landed with Storey’s Lonely Planet guide in hand.
1994 EDITION — TIME CAPSULE
The 1994 edition now reads like a time capsule for that era. In the book, the acronym he used to describe Taiwan was NIE, “newly industrialized economy.” He prefaced a passage on e-mail services, saying it was intended only for “the real computer freaks,” as there were only two service providers and Internet connection time cost NT$14 per minute. The population was 21 million, per capita income around US$10,000 and there was one motorcycle for every two people. Of Taipei, he wrote, “Unless the wind is blowing, the air is toxic.” And in that pre-MRT era, it was.