2018 Fall Taiwan Temple Exchange Thomas Kuklinski

Shift in Focus

I’m not the kind of person who has a large group of friends. I have a small circle of friends, and I’m hesitant about expanding it. Being abroad only complicates making friends, so I usually just spend most of my time at the gym, or studying (but mostly studying). Still, I have met some great people here — but just a few. I regularly hang out with this girl, Pien. She’s a Taiwanese college student, we went to Pride together, went to a museum, got lunch a few times. We get along well.


The second time we were hung out, she asked me if I wanted to go to a music festival. I kind of laughed it off, but she was serious. I agreed later that night, although hesitant. I more or less forgot about it until the week of the festival arrived.

The week of the festival (Spectrum Formosus is it’s name if you’re curious), I was thrust into this group chat with a bunch of people who I guessed were going with us. I remember two of the people I had met briefly at a bar, and a few Pien talks about regularly. But mostly, it sunk in that I was going to be spending a weekend in a tent in the mountains listening to techno with a bunch of strangers.

This was when my rational/fearful side kicked in. “It’s midterms week, I should stay home this weekend.”  “I should really save my money and just stay at home.” were my main excuses, but in reality I couldn’t stop thinking “what am I doing I can’t go! Idk these people! Idk what I’m doing — I just need to stay by myself.” I messaged Pien my more rational-sounding excuses, but she would not take no for an answer. She told me “You worry too much. You’re gonna have fun if it kills me.” to which I replied, “Don’t worry, it’ll definitely kill me instead.”

She didn’t appreciate my word play. I wound up going to the festival. We all met at the closest metro station, and then split a taxi for the rest of the way. We got there late, set up our tent in the muddy darkness. After we got ready to go down to the festival, we shared some drinks and a few cigarettes, chatted, and all the while I photographed everyone individually.specblog-2

My camera was like an ice breaker. It was that one on one interaction I wanted within such a big group. I could focus on an individual. There’s a strangely intimate relationship of photographer and models. They’re literally trusting me to portray them in their best light. I noticed things they’re insecure about. I really learned their names and faces, fast. We were able to have a one on one conversation.

Only a few minutes into meeting these people, I immediately felt at ease. We all were similar. They were all well spoken, interested people. Some foreigners, some Taiwanese. Our campsite was a mess of neon and glitter with all different languages flying back and forth. By the time we got down to the show, I wasn’t uncomfortable, I wasn’t nervous, I was just surrounded by beautiful people that I now call friends.


We wound up hanging out until like 4 am. I remember falling asleep at 4:30, being woken up just to watch the sunrise at 6, then falling back asleep together in our big tent on the mountain all over again.

Later that morning, when I officially woke up, I guess reality set in again. Thankfully, this time, reality told me that I didn’t have to worry about the people I was with. We were all here, having fun together. But reality did tell me that I had two midterm essays and an exam sheet waiting for me in my apartment who knows how many miles away. So as much as I wanted to stay, enjoy the weather, and watch whatever performance was going on, I packed my things, said goodbye to my newfound friends, and told them I’d see them soon — and I meant it.


I have like over 600 photos from this weekend. Despite the incredible atmosphere, most of the pictures were just of the people I was with. Some photos better than others, but it was as if I was watching our relationships take shape with each successive frame. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like this before, but I’m glad I did. Oh, and my midterms went well by the way. This weekend helped to clear my head. Oddly enough, I feel more focused now.

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