Once upon a time, there was a prince who was handsomest in all the world. Everybody liked to look at him, but the person who liked to look at him most was himself. Whenever he felt sad, he looked at himself in the mirror and was instantly happy for days.
One day while travelling through his kingdom, he met a girl crying.
“Why are you crying?” asked the Handsomest Prince.
“I’m crying because I’m sad,” said the girl who was staring sadly at the ground.
“Well, why don’t you look in the mirror? That always makes me happy.” The Handsomest Prince smiled handsomely.
“But that’s why I’m crying,” said the girl. “I’m crying because I looked in a mirror and saw that I am so ugly!”
“Oh,” said the Handsomest Prince, surprised. “I’m not sure what ‘ugly’ is. Is it common?”
“Yes it is. Many people are sad because they are so ugly. Don’t you already know?” And here the girl looked up and saw with whom she had been speaking. “Oh my!” A smiled spread across her face. “I didn’t realize I was talking to you, Handsomest Prince! My day is so much better!”
“Hmmmm,” thought the Handsomest Prince. “I think I have an idea to help everyone in my kingdom.”
So the Handsomest Prince left to find the hideously ugly witch who lived on the high mountain.
“Witch,” said the Handsomest Prince bravely. “I need you to cast a spell on every mirror in the kingdom so that whenever someone looks in the mirror, instead of seeing their own face, they will see mine. It is the only way for everyone to be happy.”
“OK,” said the witch. “But for the spell to work, you need to give me a kiss.”
The witch was very ugly, but the Handsomest Prince wanted his people to be happy, so he leaned in to kiss the witch’s gross, warty, dry lips. But the instant before his lips touched hers, she turned into a beautiful princess and then they made out.
The spell worked! And from that day forward, whenever anyone looked in a mirror, they saw the Handsomest Prince’s face and everyone was happy and they all lived happily ever after especially the Handsomest Prince.
But honestly though, going toLoch Nesswas really cool. The loch was beautiful and it was a close jaunt from Inverness (the city where I was staying). Very cool, you should go.
I had one setback, though. To get to Loch Ness, I had walked along the highway on the east side of the River Ness, which doesn’t have much sidewalk. I had to squeeze against the side of the road and jump fences for 8 miles to get there. I was happy when I finally got to Loch Ness but was not looking forward to taking the same route back.
Fortunately, when it was time to go back to Inverness, I found a footpath that ran alongside the river. I didn’t know if it would lead all the way back to Inverness and I couldn’t find it on a map, but I decided to follow as long as it would lead me.
Following this path was a lot nicer than hopping fences and walking on the highway. It went through a quiet forest, past small cozy houses, past big fancy houses, through some kind of abandoned graveyard, then back into the forest.
Eventually though, the path became thinner and the forest became thicker. Wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, my entire body was rubbing against grass, leaves, and branches.
I’d been walking a couple hours, so I stopped to take a break. I sat down to drink some water when I noticed a small dot on my left leg. It was about the size of a lentil and had four tiny legs (kinda of like a spider), but I couldn’t see the head.
I quickly recognized that the thing sticking out of my leg was a TICK, and after inspecting my leg more closely, I realized that there wasn’t just one tick in my leg but two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!! My only experience with ticks was pulling a blood-filled one off my friend’s dog and reading about Lyme disease in Boy Scouts. So I did the most logical thing: I panicked.
I quickly opened my backpack and found my bug spray (I’d had bug spray the whole time, why hadn’t I sprayed myself?!!) and covered my legs. Then, remembering terrible stories about people finding ticks in their nether regions, I ripped all my clothes off and drenched every inch of my naked body with bug spray.
Since this was my first time having a tick (TICKS) on me, I wanted to get back to my hostel as soon as possible so I could get my tweezers and pull them all out. I was only halfway back to Inverness, but I knew I could get back in less than an hour if I ran. I pulled my clothes back on and ran toward where I thought the highway was; I WAS NOT going back into the forest.
I ran through another field, lots of tall grass, some bushes, over a fence, past some houses and was soon back on the highway. I ran until I was back at my hostel. I was so tired and hungry, but I went straight to the bathroom with my tweezers and started pulling ticks out. One, two, three, four … I lost count after ten. After pulling out every tick I could see, I jumped into the shower — where I noticed yet more ticks sticking out of my leg. I spent at least a half hour pulling ticks out of my leg and cleaning my leg with soap and water.
Visiting Loch Ness is cool, but if you’re gonna walk there, take the path on the west side of the river and don’t wear shorts and sandals in the forest unless you want to get naked naked in ticks.
P.S. No, I didn’t get an STD from the ticks (Scottish Tick Disease).
When I first came to Taiwan, the plan was to stay for six months, but in the back of my head I hoped and knew it would be longer because:
1) I wanted to be here longer (that’s not a real reason).
2) I felt like it would be longer (that’s also not a real reason).
3) I tricked myself into thinking I could learn Chinese (which technically also isn’t a real reason).
4) I literally didn’t have anything else going on (also not a real reason).
So when I got the opportunity to prolong my stay until June I was like, “There’s no reason not to.” So now I’m going to be in Taiwan until June.
What have the past six months been like?
Good. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, I look like one of those people who’s on vacation and partying all the time. When I realized that, I thought to myself: “What right do I have to only post all these pictures of me in these amazing places? Shouldn’t I show the people how boring and sad my life is too?”
Because I do feel sad and bored sometimes. I’m single and there aren’t many people my age to hang out with and it’s impossible to call or chat with my family half the time because of the time difference. But then I realized I was being ridiculous and my reasons for being sad and bored were not real reasons.
For example, while I was on a trip to Hong Kong at the end of November, I was sad that I would miss Christmas in America, but then I realized that I WAS ON A FREAKING PAID VACATION IN HONG KONG AND DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT BUYING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FOR MY BILLIONS OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS OR NIECES AND NEPHEWS. So then I perked up and went to the beach. Here’s a picture:
Not that being far from people I love is easy or fun … but it is. Sometimes.
Taiwan is the perfect place to be stranded for a year. It’s beautiful and small, so being here until June allows me to see everywhere. Like, twice.
Alishan National Scenic Area, July 2015
Alishan National Scenic Area, October 2015 (I look like drugs.)
Sun Moon Lake, July 2015
Sun Moon Lake, October 2015
Hualien, January 2016
Hualien, February 2016
And my Chinese is coming along. I won’t be fluent by June, but I know enough to navigate around the whole island by myself.
So I’ll be here until June. And I’ve learned a lot. Taiwan is just a matter of perspective and happiness is a really pretty country.
After she went to church, Taiwan Grandma started meeting with missionaries. Taiwan Mom had been asking her to meet with missionaries for forever, but Taiwan Grandma had never accepted the invitation until she came to church in September.
After a couple weeks of meeting with the missionaries, Taiwan Mom told me that Taiwan Grandma had decided to be baptized in December. I was surprised.
To be honest, I had been skeptical while Taiwan Grandma was meeting with the missionaries. From what I’d seen of her, she was an aloof person who liked to do her own thing. The people I’d taught and baptized on my mission were open and curious, excited to learn more about God and faith. When I’d gone to church with her, Taiwan Grandma hadn’t seemed very interested. So why was she getting baptized? I figured she was probably doing it to make Taiwan Mom happy.
So last weekend, Taiwan family and I drove down to Kaohsiung (where Taiwan Grandma lives) to see her baptism.
Turns out, I didn’t know the real Taiwan Grandma. At the baptism, she was bubbly, huggy, and super friendly to everyone who came. Taiwan Mom said she’d always been that way. I just hadn’t seen it because of the language and cultural barriers between us.
Her baptism was very cool. She said that she chose to be baptized so that she could be with her family for forever.
I think that people who aren’t familiar with Latter-day Saints assume that missionaries are basically salespeople taught how to give a sales pitch about joining the Mormon church.
But, in reality, the only way to be an effective missionary (or be an effective ANYTHING) is to be yourself and care about other people. I think in the past missionaries were pretty wooden, but nowadays, there’s a huge emphasis on being natural, really believing what you’re teaching, and listening to what people say. (To watch a cool documentary about what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary, click here.)
The missionaries who taught Taiwan Grandma were both Taiwanese, which is super cool since she speaks more Taiwanese (a dialect widely spoken here) than Mandarin.
What a good way to start out the New Year! Taiwan Grandma got baptized and I realized that even though I’m a “world traveler,” language and cultural barriers still prevent me from seeing some really cool things. I still have so much to learn, man!
That’s me, Taiwan Brother (he baptized her), and Taiwan Grandma.
NOW Taiwan Dad was asking the hard questions. It hadn’t been so hard for him to recruit me onto his softball team.
He’d called earlier in the week and asked, “Gordy, can you come to my softball game this Saturday?”
I replied, “Will there be food? — I mean, yes.” I think watching sports is boring, but Taiwan Dad is literally one of the coolest people, so I figured I could bring a book and yell, “Go sports!” between chapters.
It wasn’t until later that I realized he wanted me to PLAY on his softball team.
“I’m not good at all,” I warned him later that night. “I can’t play softball.”
“That’s okay, we are all old men. Nobody is good.”
But I didn’t know how to explain to him how bad I am at sports (ALL SPORTS). Maybe I should have explained that a newborn deer learning to walk has better coordination than me. Or that a seal working for fish is more capable of catching a ball than me. Or that in a game of one-on-one between me and a double amputee, I would lose.
This is ACTUAL FOOTAGE of me playing sports:
But the problem is that most everyone says they’re “not very good” at sports, so when people like me say they’re not good at all, everyone figures, “They’re average.”
I didn’t want to be a bad host son, though, so I kept my promise to go to Taiwan Dad’s softball game. I’d had really patient roommates in college who convinced me to play basketball with them on a regular basis. Even though I never really improved (the only things I was good at were blocking and pantsing people), I’d learned to be a good sport about being bad at sports. I just felt bad for Taiwan Dad and his team, sure that they thought of me as their ace in the hole, the American import for their softball team.
I quickly dispelled that fantasy. After failing to catch the first 20 throws during our warm-up, Taiwan Dad looked like he finally believed me when I claimed to not be good at softball. I was surrounded by men older than me who’d been playing baseball all their lives (baseball is the #1 sport in Taiwan) and here I was learning to catch a ball.
I didn’t want to be bad; I wanted to surprise myself and be good. But I don’t think it’s in me; my dad was an artillery officer in the Marine Corps, so I think dodging things falling from the sky is in my blood.
I hoped after our warm-up that I’d be dismissed and could enjoy the game from the cheering section (as I originally intended), but they were short on players, so they kept me in. Luckily, I’d done my job well enough that they put me in far-right field. They said that area of the field got the least amount of action and they were correct.
Unfortunately, softball isn’t just standing out in a field by yourself. Occasionally, everyone on the team has to take a turn at bat. I, of course, missed every pitch EXCEPT one. When I hit it, I ran as fast as I could from base to base and managed to get my team a point (or score/goaling/inning/whatever). I thought that might be my turning point in the game. Now I would hit every other ball and maybe catch one in outfield!
But I didn’t. I never hit another ball.
The team was very nice, though, and not just fake nice, either. Guys can get real upset about sports, but these guys kept high-fiving me, took pictures with me, and even asked me how to say certain baseball terms in English (of course, the only baseball terms I know are base and ball). Some even told me they respected me for having a good attitude even though I sucked so bad. It’s just another testament to the niceness of Taiwanese people.
In the end, my team lost, which I think was my fault (apparently, actually hitting the ball and scoring points is important), but I felt good about myself afterward. I’d tried something I’d never done before and even though I sucked balls (appropriate in this situation, right?), people still liked me. And I got a good blog post out of it.
As I’ve mentioned before, my biggest fear is sharks. I hate them. They will eat you. They will eat you.
Even so, I really like swimming. I’m from freaking California, it’s in my body.
So when I was visiting Hong Kong, I went to Stanley Beach. It’s a nice beach because it’s clean and secluded. Plus, my brother’s name is Stanley, so.
Aside from a couple lifeguards, the only people there were a few white tourists (like me) and an Asian family. I changed into my swimsuit (which is supes skimpy YOU’RE WELCOME) and prepared to enter the water.
But then I remembered my fear of SHARKS. I paced around the beach a bit, stalling, only to notice signs warning on how to avoid shark attacks.
There were shark nets around the beach in the water and shark flags to warn when a shark was close. These were sure signs of a feeding frenzy waiting to happen.
When I was psyched up enough, I finally just ran in! up to my knees. I relaxed and floated in the shallow water, the waves rocking me back and forth as I tried to block sharks out of my mind.
The waves got stronger. I let them move my body wherever they wanted, tumbling head over toe in and out on the shallow surf. After doing this for 5-ish minutes, I realized I probably looked like someone drowning or just a straight-up plastic bag about to get trapped on a dolphin fin, so I decided to get out and dry off.
Of course, my skimpy, skin-tight swimsuit was full of sand, so I went to the showers to wash it out. I would have been all for stripping my suit off and getting the sand out the easy way, but the showers were 50% exposed to the open beach, so I had to do the job by holding my shorts wide open, aiming the shower head straight into my suit, and shimmying around while the shower head sprayed my nether parts with fire-hose strength. I don’t know how it looked, but it felt ~great~~.
I walked to the bus stop wearing only my swimsuit and sandals to let the suit dry. I threw my shirt on before getting on the bus cuz my suit wasn’t dry yet. It probably looked weird since the shorts basically looked like underwears, but I just went back to my #1 travel rule: I’m American, I can do what I want. Plus, I was in a beachy neighborhood; it wasn’t weird.
When it was time to get off the bus, however, I was in central Hong Kong where the are tons of people and no beaches. Just as my stop came, I realized I should throw real shorts on over my suit, so I grabbed some out of my backpack and hurriedly shoved my legs into them, trying to look inconspicuous as I zipped up my fly and did my belt in the back of the bus, then ran to get off.
So I need to see a shark therapist. Any suggestions?
“They’re gonna kill us!” I was shouting like a crazy person. I didn’t really believe they’d kill us, but I knew if they caught us, they’d hurt us.
It was the 4th of July and I was less than a month from finishing my mission in Russia. I’d managed to survive this long without getting beat up, which I attributed to street smarts and God loving me just a little bit more than other missionaries.
But I’d done something dumb: I’d “accidentally” punched some drunk dude who’d been holding my greenie comp’s arm and wouldn’t let go. Punching him hadn’t been smart, but the drunk had been getting angry (like drunks do) and I thought it’d be the easiest/fastest way to get rid of him. Anyone who’s actually ever been punched by me knows I hit like a girl, but this punch was more of a shove and was just enough for me to loosen his grip and pull my comp away.
But then we had to run. Running from a single drunk dude is pretty easy since he can barely walk in a straight line, but my hit-and-run had brought enough attention to us that a group of men from an outdoor bar were also chasing us. I guess they were only a bit buzzed because they were catching up to my companion who was behind me.
“They’re gonna kill us!” I kept shouting, hoping it would scare my companion enough to run faster. I was scared enough to run five miles, but he was tired.
I heard them tackle my companion to the ground as they caught him. I turned around, not thinking, knowing I had to somehow pull them off and get both of us out of there before they did too much damage.
It was actually only one guy who’d pulled my companion to the ground and he wasn’t hitting him yet. He was just asking (in Russian), “What happened? Why are you running?” In my head I was like, “Really? You tackled my companion only because you wanted to know why we were running?” (I still don’t understand that logic.) But what I said (in my scared, broken Russian) was, “We have to go! We have to go!” not knowing how to explain the situation quickly in Russian. But he wouldn’t let go, not satisfied with my answer. His friends from the bar were catching up and I didn’t want to be surrounded by a gang of semi-drunk Russians.
Just then more people caught up to us. It was a gang of brown dudes, not drunks from the bar. They made the drunk guy let go of my companion and asked in English what happened. I pointed and said, “You see that guy back there?” — by now the first drunk was a distant, stumbling figure across the road — “He wants to kill us and we have to go!” They actually didn’t understand English very well, but they understood enough to know we hadn’t done anything wrong. They stopped the other drunk Russians from getting to us and followed us halfway home to make sure we were safe.
Aside from a ripped shirt and scraped arm, my companion was fine. We laid on the apartment floor for ten minutes to recover from our run, then called the zone leaders to tell them our crazy story. They laughed and were like, “That’s it? You should try Saratov” (a city in our mission further south).
A couple weeks later, my companion and I ran into one of the brown dudes who saved us. He asked how we were and if we’d had any more trouble. We talked to him a bit. Found out he was a Muslim serving his mandatory military service in Togliatti (the city where we lived; all male Russian citizens have to serve in the army for a year or something). He was a real cool guy, just like almost every other Muslim I talked to during my two years in Russia.
Muslims were consistently some of the nicest people in my mission. They weren’t all nice, but none of them were dangerous. In fact, the safest city in the mission was a city that was predominantly Muslim.
I feel a connection to Muslims because of my mission. Every time I meet one, I say the typical Muslim greeting as-salamu alaykum (Allah’s peace be upon you), to which they respond, Wa-Alaikumus-Salaam (And upon you the peace).
I feel like very few of the people who blame terrorist attacks on the Muslim faith have ever met a Muslim. I can’t remember ever meeting a Muslim or even seeing a mosque in America, so I don’t blame them for not knowing a lot about the faith. But I want them to know:
Muslims are our brothers and sisters in God even if they call him another name.
2. Whether terrorist attacks are carried out by militant Muslims or militant Mormons makes no difference to me. In either case, the attackers are not doing what their religion teaches.
3. On the 4th of July in Russia, I was saved by a group of Muslims.
I teach 21 classes of 10 different grade levels every week, so I usually have to prepare 10 lessons. It’s not too hard but does get stressful some days. So for Halloween, I decided to prepare one Halloween-themed lesson (adaptable for different ages) and teach that all week instead of my usual 10.
The teachers I work with all thought it was a great idea (ALL my ideas are great ideas), so I went ahead and prepared something AWESOME. The best part was that I planned to dress up in a Halloween costume.
I really like dressing up. Every Halloween, I’ll throw together a random outfit, then people tell me how funny and cool I am. It makes Halloween an extra special day. (Actually, people tell me how funny and cool I am everyday, so Halloween’s really just like any other day. But I get candy too).
But this year, I knew I couldn’t dress as just anything. In America, I’ve dressed as a lot of things: a cat dude, a polygamist, Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, basically anything I’ve wanted to be. But all those costumes depended on cultural understanding and being in a group.
First, I don’t have a posse of people to follow me as I teach, so a group costume was out.
Two, if I dressed as a cat dude, polygamist, or Napoleon Dynamite character in Taiwan, people wouldn’t understand. I had to be something GLARINGLY obvious.
Hence, I decided to be Captain America. (It was either that or Obama.) EVERYONE knows the Avengers, so I wouldn’t have to explain my costume. Plus, half the costume was being a white American, so BAM! easy.
I spent $650 on a blue workout suit, white tape, and a knock-off Captain America shield (Patriotic Hero shield, they called it) and I was ~ready~. ($650 New Taiwan Dollars = $20 USD, btw.)
When I got to my first Halloween class, I changed in the bathroom and walked into class wearing my costume. The kids loved it (~of course~). Everyone took pictures of me, we took a class selfie, and everyone told me how funny and cool I am.
When I finished class, I changed in the bathroom then hopped on the bus home feeling ~pretty popular~~.
I did the same thing for the next class at the next school I went to and got a similar reaction (I’m bouncing from school to school every day).
The next day, I was tired of changing at school, so I decided to just wear a jacket over the top of the costume and carry the shield in a bag to not attract attention on my way there. That worked and everyone kept loving me. Someone even carved my face into an apple.
Well, the next day was hotter and pretty humid. I was already wearing long sleeves and I had been sweating the whole day before, so I decided to just wear the costume with no jacket. Someone was going to drive to me to class, so I wouldn’t attract a lot of attention on the way there, and I could just flip my shirt inside out to deflect attention on the way home.
I taught my classes again, they all loved my costume, enjoyed my lesson, took some selfies, and then it was time to go.
Except class got out late (selfies and whatnot), so I had to run to get to my train on time, so I didn’t have time to flip my shirt inside out. I ended up running down the crowded street dressed as Captain America surrounded by Asian students and their parents. I’m sure it looked great (I didn’t have much time to think about it).
On the train, I didn’t feel like a lot of people were looking at me UNTIL this one dude was like, “Can I take photo?” Then I noticed there were people looking at me. Of course they were looking: I WAS DRESSED AS THE CAPTAIN OF AMERICA.
I mean, being a white person in Asia, people stare and point at me and sometimes ask where I’m from, but they don’t usually stop me to take a picture unless I’m in a small mountain town or something.
Anyway, what followed was selfies, people sneaking pictures of me, and lots of teenage girls. But there were also people avoiding eye contact. They were probably thinking, “He’s too handsome to be Captain America. Just too handsome.” Probably.
The rest of the week, the weather stayed hot and I had no room for shame, so I just wore my costume outside every day on my way to and from school. I got a lot of people staring, little kids pointing, people shouting “Captain America!” from across the street, and people wanting to take pictures. People call me Captain American, American Ninja, and (usually old people) Superman. But a lot get it right too.
It was fun being Captain America, but I’m looking forward to Halloween ending. Not because of the attention (my #1 goal is to become famous in Taiwan AND SO HELP ME IF I DON’T), but because I’ve literally worn this outfit everyday all day all week long and it’s been so hot.
I’ve finally taught my last Halloween class and I’m ready to move on. But tomorrow is Halloween and I want to see how the suit would go over in Taipei, so we’ll see what happens.
The whole day hiking in Kaohsiung, it had been windy and rainy. Some people on the hike had said that a typhoon was coming in, but in my experience, Taiwanese people say that every time it’s rainy and cloudy, so I didn’t put any stock into what they were saying.
On my way back to Taiwan Grandma’s house, the wind picked up and it started raining a bit more, but I still didn’t think there would be a typhoon. I checked the weather when I got back and saw that the wind in Taipei was blowing at 70 mph, forecasted to blow even harder later that night. So I admitted to myself there was a typhoon, but I still didn’t think it would be that bad. I packed my things and got ready to leave for my 7 o’clock train back to Taoyuan.
I knocked on Taiwan Grandma’s bedroom door. I was planning on walking to the train station, but I wanted to let her know I was leaving and thank her for hosting me. She opened and I said, “Xie xie” — thank you — “I’m going now,” and gave a small bow (Chinese style), sure that she’d be relieved to see me going. Instead of returning my bow or smiling, she said something in Chinese and called someone on her phone. I sighed and prepared for another Tower-of-Babel conversation. She handed me the phone. Taiwan Brother was on the other end.
Apparently, all the trains, buses, and highways in the country had been closed to prepare for the “super typhoon” closing in (I swear, they’re ALL “super typhoons”). There was no 7 o’clock train; I’d be spending the night in Kaohsiung again.
Taipei and Taoyuan are in the north of Taiwan (the pei in Taipei means north in Chinese) and Kaohsiung is in the south. The typhoon was blasting through the northeastern part of the island, but it was only rainy and windy in Kaohsiung, so I was grateful to be out of the line of fire, but bummed about being stuck. I spent the evening drowning my sorrows in ice cream and Doritos.
The next morning, Taiwan Grandma and I raced to the train station on her scooter. We had to get me back to Taoyuan in time for work, but all the trains were packed with other people trying to get back north, so we shot over to the bus station. By now, we worked together like a well-oiled machine. I’d wait in line, she’d go off somewhere (leaving me unsure whether or not she was coming back), then when it was my turn in line, she’d come back and smooth talk the ticket counter while I batted my confused American eyes. We eventually found a private bus that could take me to Taoyuan.
After I bought the ticket and she made sure I knew where to board the bus, she turned to go. I didn’t know whether she was coming back later or leaving for good, so I stopped her. We couldn’t say goodbye — I only know how to say hi in Chinese and, in four days, I hadn’t even heard her try to say anything in English, so I’m sure goodbye isn’t in her vocabulary — so I bent down and hugged her. She bristled since hugging is an uncommon gesture between foreign men and old Taiwanese ladies, but I think I saw a smile as she quickly left for her now Gordy-less scooter.
Staying with Taiwan Grandma had been a struggle because of the language barrier and I don’t know if she enjoyed my visit, but Taiwan Mom says that she’s been back to church every week since my visit. She made a friend at church, so at least that’s cool. Maybe now they can ride the scooter together.
I went into a jungle the next day. By Kaohsiung is a small mountain called Shoushan and it’s a designated national park. I had been there and explored a bit the day before when Taiwan Grandma dropped me off, but I saved the heavy hiking for the next day.
I was very excited to go because there were supposed to be monkeys all up over the place. I’d only ever seen monkeys through glass or in a cage before, so I was excited to see some real ones in real nature. I mean, that’s why people come to Asia, right?
The day before the big hike, I’d looked up how to get there (without Taiwan Grandma scooting me there) and read some reviews of the park. All the reviews said the scenery was amazing, but a lot warned about the monkeys.
I knew monkeys could be a bit crazy (I’ve seen Jumanji), but these reviews said that a single monkey would appear and look all cute, then there would be millions of others surrounding you, their emotionless monkey faces staring you down as they closed in to steal whatever they could from your hands and backpack. I imagined their little monkey fingers touching me and pulling at me and bossing me around like the kindergartners I teach, which made me nervous about going into the jungle alone.
The next morning, I found my way to Shoushan and walked into the jungle. It was 100% covered in trees, the clouds and leaves blocking light from coming in. It was a legit jungle!
There were a lot of people on the main path, but I took a side trail into what looked like a denser part of the jungle. It was only a couple minutes before I heard rustling in the branches above me and could see monkeys. They were just hanging out in the treetops, chillaxing as branches bobbed up and down in the wind. They didn’t pay much attention to me, but I was still nervous. What if one of them TOUCHED ME ? So I just stood there until a group of Asians walked by, the monkeys not paying attention to them either.
After the Asians passed through, I decided it was safe for me to go on. A couple monkeys came out of the bushes, crossing my path as I walked. I watched as they crawled over the path, coming close but not too close. They seemed a little afraid, but not as much as squirrels or birds. More like ducks, I guess.
I made it to the top of the mountain without being touched/jumped on/raped by the monkeys. There were a lot just hanging out in the trees and crawling along the side of the trail. They didn’t beg for food or anything. The pretty much ignored the people and the people ignored them.
So I don’t know what’s up with all these people cyberbullying monkeys. I’m sure they can be cray, but I think that, generally, monkeys are good people.
The next day was Sunday. Taiwan Grandma isn’t a member of the Mormon church, but Taiwan Mom said she recently agreed to meet with the missionaries (still hasn’t tho), so I asked Taiwan Mom if I should invite Taiwan Grandma to church. Taiwan Mom said I should, so I did.
What actually ended up happening was me googling the word “church” in Chinese, showing it to Taiwan Grandma, her shaking her head, then Taiwan Mom calling Taiwan Grandma. Taiwan Mom texted me that Taiwan Grandma said she was going to the mountain in the morning so she couldn’t go, but that she’d drive me to church. I wasn’t sure why an old lady would want to make a morning visit to a mountain, but I was glad that I wouldn’t have to walk to church.
So we jumped on her scooter the next morning and headed off. I guess Taiwan Mom told Taiwan Grandma where the church building is because she just started driving without asking for a map or anything. Except after 20ish min, we pulled over to the side of the road. She looked a little lost, so I pulled out my phone and found the church building. I showed it to her, but I guess she’s far-sighted, so she couldn’t see it.
I could see we weren’t far, so I told her I could find it by walking (via pantomime/sign language). She didn’t like that, so we hopped back on the scooter.
Just around the corner, we found a building with a cross hanging over the first floor.
1) Mormons don’t use crosses, so I knew this wasn’t it.
2) My phone said the LDS church was farther away, so I knew this wasn’t it.
But when she asked if this was it and I said, “Yes.” I figured that I’d get off, she’d ride away, and I could find the church on foot.
That would have worked, but she got off too and followed me. Maybe she wanted to make sure I got inside? So I went in. She followed. There was a man in a white shirt standing by the door and a room full of pews seating the only other two people in the room.
I sat down in the nearest pew and bowed my head, trying to look as content and no-out-of-place as possible in this completely unfamiliar setting with everyone in the room staring at me, but she and the man started talking. I don’t speak Chinese, but I heard the word “Mormon” and I knew the jig was up.
It’s not that I’m opposed to attending other churches. I’ve been inside SO MANY different kinds of churches and temples and shrines, but Sunday is my day to be with God the way I believe he wants me to be with him. It would have been fun to sit with those Catholics/Baptists/whatevers and see what their church service was like and feel their excitement at having another Christian with them (an uncommon thing in Taiwan), but I had my own church meeting to attend.
So I got up, was like, “Oops,” and we left, me wondering what the heck was going through the heads of everybody in the room. We got back on the scooter, the man at the front door staring at us as we strapped on our helmets and rode away.
Around two more minutes later, we found the actual church building (no cross). I got off the scooter. She got off the scooter. I went inside. She went inside. I sat down in the chapel. She sat down next to me. She stayed all three hours.
I’m glad she stayed, but I feel a little stupid for telling her that Catholics/Baptists/whatevers are Mormon. That was probably her first time setting foot in a Christian church and it’s too bad it was so confusing.
When we got home, I asked why she hadn’t gone to the mountain. She said, “You want to go to the mountain?” (or something like that in Chinese), put me on the scooter, drove me to the bottom of a mountain, and left me. So I still don’t know what all that mountain business was about.
The first thing she said to me was, “You smell weird.” At least, that’s probably what she said.
I had taken a train to a city called Kaohsiung (pronounced “gow-shong” — SO WHY IS IT SPELLED WITH A K ????) for the weekend. Taiwan was having a holiday, which meant a rare three-day weekend, and I wanted to take a little vaycay to a new spot. Taiwan Mom had recommended Kaohsiung, a city a couple hours south (EVERYTHING in Taiwan is a couple hours away), because it’s a fun place and her mom lives there, so I could just stay with her.
Only one hitch: Taiwan Grandma can’t speak any English and the most complex thing I can say in Chinese is, “I want a mango smoothie.” But I figured I’d be outside exploring the city, only coming to her home at night to sleep. No need to talk, really.
Taiwan Mom set it all up and Taiwan Grandma met me as soon as I got off the train in Kaohsiung. I said “Ni hao!” (“Hi!”). She said nothing, handed me a helmet, and got on her motor scooter. I hopped on behind her and we zoomed down the street.
I like riding scooters. They make me feel like Harry Potter on his Firebolt. Only difference being his broom is magic and I’m on a scooter riding piggyback behind (in this case) an old Asian woman.
At the first stop light, she turned and said something. Obviously, I didn’t understand the words, but her pointing to her nose and at me confirmed what I thought she’d notice: I reeked of deet. I had just applied a layer of deet to my skin cuz there’s an epidemic of dengue fever in southern Taiwan. Since I figured she’d notice the smell, I was prepared with an answer: “Um, I know” (in English).
The light turned green and we continued buzzing down the street. We stopped at a restaurant and I followed her inside. I was glad because I was hungry, but I knew it would probably be the most awkward meal I’d ever eaten (and I’ve DATED in PROVO for FOUR years). And I was right!
First, the menu didn’t have any English or pictures (and we weren’t at a smoothie place), so I didn’t know how to order. I was fine eating anything, but I couldn’t even say that! I busted out Google, she called Taiwan Mom to act as translator, and we all decided on beef rice.
While we waited for the food to arrive, we were both silent and didn’t look at each other. It was like when you’re meeting a new person and you want to say something to get to know them, but you don’t know what to say and you’re afraid of sounding stupid. Like that except we also COULDN’T say anything. I pulled up Facebook and showed her a couple pictures of my family, but I can only say “dad” in Chinese (thanks, Mulan), so that didn’t go far.
When the food came, I was already really tense, but I was even more nervous about not being able to hold my chopsticks right (I’d already dropped them on the floor), so I crouched my back and I kept my arms as close to my body as possible so very little food would fall, but this position mixed with a fresh layer of deet resulted in my elbow pits getting bright red rashes. I straightened my arms and hid my elbows from her.
Of course Taiwan Grandma was very nice. She paid for everything and I was very grateful to stay with her, but the only thing I could say was, “Xie xie” (“Thank you”). She kept saying stuff and pointing at different things on her plate and I kept nodding and muttering, “Thank you. Good food,” after which, she’d flag down a waiter, and I’d have another plateful of food in front of me. Eventually, I figured out that she was asking if I wanted more, so when I finished my chicken leg, I said, “Wu uh,” which I think means, “I’m full,” and we left.
And that was the first day. The next day, we almost became Baptists (or Catholics?) and she left me at the bottom of a mountain. And then there was a typhoon.