Josambro: A Brief History
Joshua Samuel Brown was born on Staten Island to an unsuspecting Jewish couple in 1969. He displayed his penchant for travel writing early on by running away from home frequently and leaving behind clue-filled notes scrawled in crayon.
By the time he’d graduated from New York City’s alternative City-As high school in 1988, JSB was already traveling around the tri-state area using various modes of transport including bicycling, hitchhiking, and train rides obtained by pretending to be a pickpocketed German exchange student named Holger needing to get back to his host family in the suburbs.
After graduating from the State University of Brockport with a degree in Creative Writing in the summer of 1991, JSB was transported to Quebec by friend and future longtime collaborator Richard Deming, where the budding author spent three months attempting to emulate Henry Miller in a working class Montréal neighborhood.
With winter rapidly approaching and little to show outside of two unrequited love-affairs, a rapidly dwindling bank account and a French vocabulary consisting almost entirely of pro-Quebecois separatist slogans, JSB bribed a McGill University student into smuggling him back across the US-Canada border (despite this being in no way necessary) to Burlington, Vermont, where the future author would gain useful employment at Sakura Sushi, eventually serving a plate of tekka maki to then-Congressman Bernie Sanders.
Still no closer to writing anything of note and heartbroken from another semi-requited love affair, JSB moved to Seattle, Washington in 1992, where he worked as a pedicab driver for Casual Cabs and slung hash at legendary rock club Off Ramp and failed to start a grunge band.
Following an altercation with a group of Ross Perot supporters at the Pike Street Market, JSB moved back east for two years before a fateful meeting with a mysterious waitress at Golden Pond Dim Sum in Rochester, NY would change the course of his life forever.
Noting a copy of the book Teach English in Japan on the still-future author’s table, the Taiwanese-born server muttered the phrase 日本鬼 (“Japanese devils”) while subtly pushing the book off the table with a plate of dumplings. Pretending to apologize, the waitress suggested that Brown consider teaching in Taiwan instead.
In August, 1994, the future Lonely Planet author and not-quite yet noted travel expert arrived in Taiwan wearing a leather biker jacket and carrying two bulky suitcases filled largely with paperback novels and climate-inappropriate clothing. A series of jobs and relationships would see him moving around Taiwan, having unusual experiences that would eventually be catalogued in his first book, Vignettes of Taiwan.
In 1998, Joshua accepted a job as a sweatshop inspector with Cal Safety Compliance, an experience that would form the basis of his first major work of journalism, Memoirs of A Dog Meat Man, a title changed by successive editors unfamiliar with the phrase 掛羊頭賣狗肉 (“Hang sheep head, sell dog meat”) into Confessions of a Sweatshop Inspector.
A short and productive drinking spree triggered by his failure to end sweatshop exploitation landed Brown in Beijing, where he accepted a job with Beijing Scene where he was paid mostly in hashish. This experience would later be documented in the author’s breakout story, Supper in Uighererville.
Following a health scare in Beijing (brought on by a giardia infection contracted months earlier in a failed attempt to swim from Thailand to Laos), Brown returned to America in the autumn of 1999, settling in Boulder, Colorado, where he wrote features for the Boulder Weekly and a political column called Politics and Other Dirty Words, first for the Colorado Weekly and later for the Rocky Mountain Bullhorn.
Feeling the pull of Asia once more, Brown returned to Taiwan in November, 2001 following a nine month tenure as financial editor for a Taiwanese investment firm’s San Francisco office and six months spent co-managing a hostel in Newfoundland.
For most of 2002, JSB wrote for various publication in Taiwan and China before heading to Hong Kong for a ten-day silent meditation retreat that would eventually be written up as In The Boot camp of The Mind. Driven to near-madness (with a side order of equanimity) by the retreat, Brown crossed the border to Shenzhen, China for dumplings and a sauna, moving to Yangshuo for several happy, rent free months before being forced to leave in the summer of 2003 by the SARS virus.
Back in America, the now semi-accomplished journalist returned to Fort Collins, Colorado, accepting a position as ferret -wrangler / international something-or-other with The Rocky Mountain Bullhorn. Returning to China later that year, JSB spent the next twelve months leading a mostly-nomadic lifestyle around the country, filing stories for magazines, newspapers and websites around the globe. His travels took him to Kunming, where a series of trips to Yunnan Province’s Kingdom of Women would result in his embarrassing himself repeatedly to long-time idol Michael Palin, details of which would eventually wind up in this story.
Leaving Kunming following a series of unavoidable visa disputes, Brown bummed around Vietnam and Southern China before renting an apartment on Hong Kong’s Lamma Island, from where the now nominally-established freelance journalist continued travelling around Southern China writing leisure features for the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong Daily Standard, Things Asian Press, Cat Fancy and anyone else who would pay him.
It was during his two years on Lamma Island that JSB began writing a clandestine column called Angry American Abroad under the nom de plume Yahuda Bangs for local anarchist collective Canned Revolution. Brown also published his first collection of stories, Vignettes of Taiwan for Things Asian Press.
This book, pressed into the hands of Lonely Planet Co-founder Tony Wheeler, landed Brown his first contract with guidebook titan Lonely Planet, full details about which you can read about here. In mid-2006, Brown headed back to Taiwan to work on his first Lonely Planet: Taiwan guidebook, settling for about a year on the island of Penghu and marrying a woman from Texas he’d met in Korea while researching Seven hours in the Soul of Seoul the previous year.
Leaving Penghu with a Taiwanese mountain dog, a cat and new wife, Brown traveled first to Texas (to drop off the pets) and then to Belize to work on his first Lonely Planet: Belize guide. For the next several years, JSB traveled between North America, Central America and Asia, re-homing the cat, dog and now-ex wife, settling at various points in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Belize and Taiwan. During this time he also travelled to India and Sri Lanka for a somewhat less strict ten-day meditation course at the Nilambe Meditation Center in Kandy, an inspiration period during which he began the first draft of what would eventually become his first novel, Spinning Karma.
In 2009 (and again in 2011), JSB was invited to join the prestigious USC Annenberg / Getty Arts Journalism fellowship, which almost resulted in his deciding to move to Los Angels to give screenwriting a go, an idea abandoned in favor of another Lonely Planet: Belize project.
Following the failure of the world to end as promised by the Mayan Calendar in December, 2012, JSB (now going by Josambro) vowed to give up travel writing. Returned to Portland, Oregon, the author met the love of his life and future Formosa Moon co-author Stephanie Huffman. The two remained in Portland until December, 2016, during which time JSB worked as a guide for both Chinese-speaking tour groups and visitors to his adopted hometown, returning to Taiwan to lead a series of bicycle tours around the island and also to cover this extremely grueling bicycle race.
He also released a second book of short stories entitled How Not to Avoid Jet Lag and Other Tales of Travel Madness, illustrated by future long-time artistic collaborator David Lee Ingersoll.
In December, 2016, Josh returned to Taiwan with Stephanie in tow to begin work on his next book, how I convinced my midwestern girlfriend to move with my to Taiwan sight unseen and what happened when I did, which would eventually be retitled Formosa Moon and published by Things Asian Press. The couple would spend the next 2.5 years in Taipei, where Stephanie pursued her Masters degree in Asian Studies at Taipei’s National Chengchi University while Josambro combined his expertise in tourism and destination promotion as Editor-in-Chief for Taiwan Scene Magazine, taking regular jaunts to Taiwan’s various scenic spots both alone and accompanied by celebrity chefs, bloggers and internet influencers.
Family tragedy brought the couple back to the states in June, 2019, where they embarked on a six-month career as professional pet-sitters throughout New England before driving back to Portland, Oregon to resume the life they’d left behind just in time for Covid-19.
Brown’s first novel, Spinning Karma, is available from Camphor Press.
By Joshua Samuel Brown
Publication Date: December 20, 2020
Can a New Age guru save his cult without losing his soul?
Spinning Karma is the story of Rinpoche Edward Schwartz, reluctant figurehead of Mind of Pure Enlightenment (MOPE), a once-popular New Age group whose current membership has sunk to an all-time low. In an ill-conceived effort to bring the group and its teachings back into the limelight, Schwartz heads to Taiwan to film a fake “religious oppression” video – starring a group of clueless language students who believe that they’re taking part in an English conversation class.
The video goes viral and the scheme succeeds beyond Schwartz’s wildest expectations, triggering a social-media-driven propaganda war between the United States and China that spins out of control. Before long, everybody from spiritual seekers in China and America, to an ambitious presidential contender, to the Chinese government wants a piece of MOPE … and of Schwartz himself.
Faced with the enormous karmic implications of his hoax, Schwartz repents. But is it too late? Can Schwartz save his group – and his neck – without losing his soul?
Set in an exotic, untapped location, this offbeat East-Collides-With-West farce features characters and situations ripped straight from the headlines, mocking religious intolerance, the social media-driven news cycle, and the tumultuous relationship between America and China.
By Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman
Publication Date: October 1, 2018.
VIGNETTES OF TAIWAN
(2006, Things Asian Press)
“Brown is a gifted writer, and paints a vivid picture of Taiwan.” Patrick Sean Taylor — Clamor Magazine
“Joshua Samuel Brown is the Mahatma Gandhi of restaurant criticism, the Rudyard Kipling of professional boxing, the Lance Armstrong of economic planning. His voice shines in this magnificent exposition of over a decade of perplexing customs and offensive odors.” — Lago Von Slack
HOW NOT TO AVOID JET LAG
By Joshua Samuel Brown
Illustrated by David Lee Ingersoll
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“I’ve often thought that guidebook writing attracts the mad, the bad and the slightly crazed. If he didn’t start that way…his years on the road have certainly contributed to Joshua’s off-kilter take on the world.”
Lonely Planet Guides
(2006 – 2013)
Joshua Samuel Brown has authored or co-authored a dozen guidebooks for Lonely Planet from exotic locales including Singapore, Belize, Malaysia, China, and Taiwan, including these titles:
Lonely Planet Trade Publications
Among Josambro’s writing specialties is food, and you’ll find between four and six articles of his in most books from the Lonely Planet World’s Best Food Series, including these titles:
Joshua has also contributed articles and essays for many other Lonely Planet Trade publications, including several annual “Best in Travel” books. He is also a regular contributor to the Lonely Planet Website. A full list of his articles from the Lonely Planet Website can be found here.
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