She told me I smell weird.

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.

Easier said than done, Smalls.
Easier said than done, Smalls.

If lost, return to

So you know how when you’re a little kid, your mom makes you memorize your phone number just in case you get lost? (I had my childhood phone number memorized for fifteen years until I was talking about it with my sister a couple years ago and she was like, “That wasn’t our phone number at all. Mom must have told you the wrong number cuz she hates you.” So either my mom hates me or my older sister’s a jerk AND I’M NOT PREPARED TO BELIEVE EITHER OF THOSE THINGS.)
Or, for a different example, you know how you put collars on dogs with your address and phone number just in case they get lost?
Or, like, when your mom sews your name into your underwear, etc., etc. ????
Well, I’m not a child or dog OR UNDERWEAR, but this kinda applies to me.
I work at four different schools, so I need to take the bus to get from one to the other. Unfortunately, a lot of the buses here only have their schedules and names written in Chinese characters, so I can’t read them. So, the first time I got on one, one of my bosses gave me a note in Chinese explaining who I was and where I was going, walked me to the bus stop, showed me which bus to get on, and told the driver to tell me when my stop came.
I appreciated the help, but at the same time I was rolling my eyes thinking, “These people don’t know who I am. I’ve been to EUROPE and back on my own. I am NOT a little kid/dog/underwear. I’m a BIG BOY.”
Anyway, yesterday, I had an hour to get from one school to the other, so I ran to my bus stop, found my bus, and jumped on it. I was just a little bit jet lagged, so I thought I’d take a power nap before my stop. I knew roughly how long it would take to get there, so I figured I’d time it in my head and wake up before I got there.
(You know this isn’t going to go well.)
When I opened my eyes, I didn’t recognize anything outside. I’d never seen any of the buildings or streets before. I knew I hadn’t had my eyes closed long enough to miss my stop, so I figured I just hadn’t learned this route yet. I sat and waited for something I recognized to show up outside my window, but nothing ever did.
So then I knew I was lost. I ran through all my possible options. I still don’t have a SIM card (another story) and I didn’t have wifi, so googling anything wasn’t possible. I don’t speak Chinese, so explaining my situation to anyone was out of the question. So I had no options. I knew the bus would eventually come to the end of the line and that if I didn’t recognize any of my surroundings, I’d be in the middle of nowhere without a way to contact anyone.
Anyway, so I was sitting on the back of the bus, silently hugging my backpack tighter and tighter (INVOLUNTARILY). I noticed that the bus driver kept glancing at me in his rearview mirror, so I tried to act natural like, “I just really like this backpack.”
We got to the end of the line and the bus driver told everyone to get off. I started to get off, but he must have noticed the worry in my big, gorgeous brown eyes and asked (in English) where I was trying to go.
I was grateful he spoke English, but I didn’t know how to explain which stop I was supposed to get off at, so I showed him the paper my boss had written for me. He told me I’d gotten on the wrong bus, kindly drove me to the correct bus stop, and told the driver where to take me.
The sign says: “I’m a sad American. Please help me get to the right stop. Don’t rob me. Peace!!”
I arrived to my class a half hour late. Thankfully, another teacher covered for me and I was able to jump right into the lesson as soon as I arrived (“Who here has read Harry Potter?”).
So, I guess I’m not as internationally adept as we all thought.
And, when you get down to the deets, I never would have made it to so many places in the world if people hadn’t helped me. I’d have been lost a million times, stuck without transportation or money more than once, and had to sleep on the street if friends and strangers hadn’t helped me. So thank you, world, for treating me like a lost puppy.
But, of course, I AM an adult, and I PROVED it to myself when I got home by eating ice cream on the toilet. #adulting #winning

Fancy in Taiwan

Life here in Taiwan is just like life back there in America. I have a Taiwan Mom and a Taiwan Dad and they feed me and take me places and tell me I’m the most handsome. We live in our Taiwan house, which is really a two-story apartment on the top floor of a really tall apartment building, just the three of us. We just need a Taiwan dog and Taiwan 4 cats and everything will be perfect.
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fancy
Me, Taiwan Mom, and Taiwan Dad (I’m the one in blue).
I got here Saturday and things have been going 100%  smoothie … smoothly. Taiwan Mom and Dad’s kids are all grown, so it’s just us in the apartment. “Mom” is the lady who had me and some other white kids come in July to teach English for a couple weeks. She’s hecka nice and so is her husband and they’re legit like my real parents (Taiwan Dad gave me dating advice the first day I got here).
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Taiwan church is nift. It’s all in Chinese, so I don’t understand 100% of it, but I do understand the words wo men (we) and nu-guh (um), which they say A LOT, so I’m getting there.
hymnspinyin
An LDS hymnbook with characters and pinyin.
Today I found out what my job is. I’ll be teaching six classes of kids aged kindergarten to high school how to read, write, listen to, and speak English. The teachers have given me my textbooks and lesson plans, but they’re basically like, “You’re gonna mess up a lot, so just send the kids to us when they annoy you.”
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teachingenglishbook
They’re going to learn the best, most useful English from me.

So I’m nervous butt excited to start my new life. It’s raining a lot, I’m exploring a lot, and I think my hair looks great. Things are A++++.

abandoned
The rooftop of an abandoned building I found on my morning run. Did *not* get locked up here.

DON’T PANIC

Please don’t panic, but I’ve been at the airport for over FIVE HOURS with a really sketchy Wi-Fi connection. ALSO, I gave my mom my old SIM card and phone yesterday (I got a ~new~ phone), so I don’t have data right now either.Needless to say, staying connected to the Internet right now is a STRUGG.
(I’ll pause to let you catch your breath.)
On top of that, I’ll be in this airport for another seven hours and I DOUBT THE INTERNET SITUATION WILL IMPROVE MUCH.
(Another significant pause.)
Also, even if I’m able to get a steady connection, I forgot my headphones at my parents’ house, so I wouldn’t be able to watch and enjoy Internet in its entirety anyway.
(One last pause to let your mind drift into the abyss that is life without the Internet.)
Now, I know things sound really bleak right now, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. We WILL make it to Taiwan and when we get there, we’ll hook up to Wi-Fi as ASAP as possible AND we’re going to buy more data for my Taiwan SIM card. It’s just a couple hours. Or days. I’m not sure, really.
Pretty fly for a Wi-Fi.
I left the Sacramento Airport this morning at 10 am, my plane from LA leaves at midnight, I’ll land in Korea fourteen hours later, have a six-hour layover, then land in Taiwan an hour and a half after that. It’ll be noon on Saturday in Taiwan and 9 pm Friday in the States. Whew!
But being stuck in LAX isn’t so bad. Aside from the fact that I can’t check in for my next flight until 7-ish (probably) and that I have to drag around 100+ lbs. of crap in four different bags until then (like, I have to bring it all with me to get food or go to the bathroom or move or anything), I like LAX.
It looks like I’m barricading myself for a zombie apocalypse, butt really I’m just pooping.
Of course, LAX has really grumpy employees and LA itself isn’t that cool of a city anyway, but it’s still the heart of international travel for so many people. There are so many different languages and clothing styles and cultures represented here. It’s interesting to look at people and guess who’s coming to America for the first time, who’s trying to move here with their families, and who’s flying back home. SO MANY HOPES AND DREAMS AND IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL. It’s cool w/e.
The airport in Korea is gonna be really cool too. The Incheon International Airport  is supposed  to be the second-best in the world (after Singapore). There’s a movie theater, concerts, really *nice* restaurants, free storage lockers for your things, and a child’s play area. I’ll be sure to take pics for y’all.
And being on long flights is the best. Two meals and so many movies. Hours and hours and hours of movies. And if you don’t want to watch a movie, take a nap. And if you don’t want to take a nap, watch a movie. It’s such a pleasure.
My first flight to Taiwan. Look how chipper!
My main thing when I travel is just to relax. For example, this morning I was running late getting to the airport. I was stressed about it, but then I thought, “Do I want to feel stressed right now? No.” So I stopped. All through Europe, I never had a concrete plan for each day except to have A BLAST. Did I know where I’d sleep each night or what I’d eat next or how I was getting to the airport the next day? No, but it all worked out and I had A BLAST.
Travel is fun and the world is your playground. ~So dang.~

THE ULTIMATE PROVO FOOD BLOG

When I found out I was leaving Provo, I knew there were a couple friends I needed to say goodbye to (and by “friends,” I mean “foods,” and by “say goodbye to,” I mean “eat.”)
So here it is: the very last Provo Food Blog featuring the very best food in Provo (in no order):
SLABpizza:
Thin, crispy crust and a versatile assortment of sauces and toppings to make your pizza taste like anything from pulled pork to tacos. Even though it’s pricey ($4-7/slab), the slabs (pieces) are HUGE and delicious. (You can read my original review of Slab here.)
Chile Verde (top, my fave) and the Veg (bottom)
Rancherito’s:
Cheap, fast, and tasty,  I once argued that this was the best/most authentic Mexican restaurant in Provo. Since, I’ve found a few places that make good Mexican food, but Rancherito’s is STILL the fastest and cheapest. AND it’s open 24/7. Thanks for always being there when I needed you, amigo. (You can read my original review of Rancherito’s here.)
Even though I’ve been food blogging for years, I’m still not very good at food photography.
Café Rio:
I actually never blogged about this uniquely-Utah Mexican restaurant, but I have to be honest: I don’t love it. The food’s too American in my taste. BUTT their Grilled Steak Salad is something I can’t get off my mind: crunchy, leafy Romaine lettuce, little chip strips on top, a creamy tomatillo dressing with a tinge of heat (you have to pour ALL the dressing on top of the salad for maximum effect), tender, tasty steak in the bottom, all in a delicious chewy tortilla that you can use to wipe up the extra dressing (DON’T waste the tortilla or I’ll SLAP you and when people ask why you have a slap mark on your face you’ll have to say, “Because Gordy thinks I’m an IDIOT.”). P.S. I’m typically against ordering salad EVER (if you’re gonna eat a salad, STAY HOME), but this is the one place it’s worth it.
The one thing at Cafe Rio that doesn’t suck. C O N T R O V E R S I A L.
Kneader’s:
The all-you-can eat French toast here is de-lite-ful. I’m crying just thinking about it. Chewy, sweet, cinnamony bread topped with strawberries and whipped cream, then DRENCHED in THICK  C A R A M E L syrup that’s as golden as the Plates of Nephi. CRYING. C R Y I N G.
TBH: A recycled pic from this blog post. 
So, these are the best places to eat in Provo in my opinion. Thank you, friends, for all you’ve given me (mainly gas and (?) green poo. #WorthIt)
SIDE NOTE: I know some of you may be surprised to not see Guru’s on this list. Well, I went to Guru’s and ordered my fave/usual (the Southwest Chipotle Wrap) and, honestly, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Either I’ve grown out of it, or it’s grown out of me. Still, Guru’s will always have a place in my heart. (Here’s my review of Guru’s.)

Guys, I’m moving out of the U.S.

The quarter life crisis is REAL and such a struggle.

Before I graduated in December, I had the plan to apply to BYU’s psychology PhD program in January, get accepted, take nine months off, go back to school Fall 2015, become a bona fide therapist, then live the rest of my life sitting in a cushy armchair listening to other people’s problems.

Then my last semester happened and I got hit by senioritis SUPER HARD. I didn’t want to be in school for another ten years — heck, I didn’t even want to finish the semester. The idea of studying for and taking the GRE, applying to a graduate program, then going to school for ten years was soul-crushing.

I was hating school so much that I talked to a professor about it. She asked if I’d ever taken time off from school — aside from my mission (which wasn’t a break). I said I hadn’t and she recommended that I take some time to R&R.

I knew there were other things I wanted to do in life aside from becoming educated and getting a good job (like traveling and writing), so I put all my plans on hold and impulse-bought a plane ticket to Europe (I’d always wanted to see western Europe) for a month-long #EURUSSIACRAYCRAYVACAY (which you can read about here).

First day of the trip, found St. Basil’s!

My crazy Europe vacation was so great! I saw amazing places I’d always wanted to see and experienced amazing things I’d always wanted to do WHILE seeing amazing places I never knew existed AND doing amazing things I never thought I’d do. My month-long trip was a huge success and made me want to travel all over the world.

But then I came back home. I’d spent all my money, maxed out my credit card, and was living on borrowed cash from my parents. My trip had been pretty cheap, relatively speaking, but if I wanted to do another big trip, I knew I’d have to save up a lot more money to do it.

Being a recent college grad, I applied for lots of jobs hoping to find one that paid well and would give at least a month off every year to travel. Even if I didn’t get a lot of time off, I figured I’d be able to make pretty decent money. I mean, I had a college degree, right?

JK. Turns out, getting a job is kind of a game: a lot jobs (decent-paying, full-time jobs) value experience over education. I had the education, but little experience, so every job I actually wanted wouldn’t hire me.

Another part of the job game is having connections. Fortunately, a roommate helped me get a job doing customer service. It wasn’t salaried and I was at the bottom of the totem pole, but the job paid the bills. In a couple months, I was out of debt and was able to save a bit.

While I appreciated the job, sitting all day drove me CARAZAY. I’d worked on my feet with REAL people my whole life, but this job was all on the phone and I mainly got callers asking questions I didn’t know the answers to. At the end every day, I felt like such a dope cuz I was a college-educated dude who couldn’t even do this rinky dink job right. I quit after two months and did odd jobs (yard work, etc.) to make ends meet (which I preferred).

An old #worktweet. Follow me on Twitter!
I worked in this creek for a day. Much better than a desk.

I was super frustrated. By this time, I knew I was going to Taiwan for a month (which was gonna be cool!!), but I didn’t know how things would work out after that. I’d gone to college so I could get a good job, but now I was digging holes all day cuz I’d rather do that than sit at a desk. Why had I gone to college if it didn’t help at all? Why were things not lining up like they’d always seemed to before?

I mean, my whole life had been a check list: go to school, get good grades, get your Eagle Scout, go on a mission, finish college, get married, have kids, support a family. I’d done everything on the checklist (up to the married part), and now there was nothing left to do. (And even if I had married, I feel like I’d be having similar struggles, just multiplied.)

So, since I didn’t know what to do, I started fasting and praying to figure it out. The idea of traveling popped into my head. I’d already known I wanted to travel, but now I was thinking about traveling full-time. I thought, “Maybe I can stop playing this job game and just go off and do my own thing. I could travel for cheap (like, not in Europe) and see where things went from there.”

Then I thought, “I can’t do that. I need money to travel and I have no money.”

Then literally someone shared an article on my Facebook: “How to travel with no money.” I read it and other blogs about traveling even cheaper than I already had.

So I figured God was trying to tell me something. I thought, “Fine, after Taiwan, I’ll work for six months, save as much as I can, then go off and travel.”

So I went to Taiwan with that plan. Taiwan was a blast and a half, then I went to California last week, and I just got back to Provo.

I was applying for jobs today and I was back at the job game again: “Not enough experience. Don’t have the right connections for this job. Yes I can answer phones all day.” I knew I could get a job in customer service or custodial (because that’s what I have experience in) but I didn’t want to. Like, I really didn’t want to. But I applied for, like, 15 jobs today. Some I’m qualified for, some I’m not, but I just hoped to get something.

About midday, the lady I worked for in Taiwan posted online asking if anyone could come to Taiwan last minute to teach English for six months. Immediately I responded and said I would go. It just felt 100% right and I had (still have) no hesitation at all. She was like, “Great! You’re flying out on the 31st.”

I Skyped with her later today and it sounds like a sweet deal: housing and food paid for along with a paycheck every month.

I’m very excited and it feels exactly like what I should be doing right now. I’ll be able to work for six months, save a lot of what I earn, then go off and have an adventure, all while having an adventure.

I mean, I know my whole life isn’t solved now. I know things might fall through. I know teaching English will be hard. I know it’s only for six months. But it’s something and things are working out for now.

So look forward to the next six months of blogging, y’all! And after that, we’ll be able to travel somewhere else together.

Fun fun fun fun, you know what I mean.

Um now wut ?

St. Basil’s in Moscow!

Guys, this year has been real spiffy so far: I was able to spend three weeks in Europe for, like, super cheap ($3,000-ish dollars) and the last month in Taiwan for literally ZERO DOLLARS (minus the $600 I spent on mango smoothies whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat ?? )

Stone carving at Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple.

It’s real neat because I always thought I’d need to have tons of money to go to cool places and do cool things, but now I know you just need to be resourceful/smart/lucky/really attractive (check, check, check, double check!).

Empty cabin at Nesoddtangen, Norway.

But now what? More Europe? More Asia? Maybe some South America or Africa? Are there cool things stateside I should check out? Where do you guys think I should go next? And what are some cheap/free travel options you guys can think of?

Big Ben!

Hit me up, let me know!

I cried in public and all the Asians filmed it.

Everybody’s afraid of something. However, we don’t always know what we’re afraid of until we find ourselves facing that fear.
For example, once I was on a date at the park. We were doing a picnic by a pond when ducks started approaching us. At first, it was just a couple ducks and I thought it was pretty cool that they were getting so close to us. But then it was five, then a dozen, then at least twenty ducks swarming around my date and me. To be clear, SHE was fine. But the closer and closer the ducks got to me, their beady little eyes staring at me, their nasty beaks pecking and quacking for food, the smaller and smaller I involuntarily curled into a ball. I was curled into a ball of fear surrounded by ducks while a girl (who actually did go on more dates with me) laughed.
So that’s when I found out I was afraid of ducks.
Tonight, I had a similar experience.
Some people in our group have been wanting to do that Asian thing where you have fish eat the dead skin off your feet (or whatever) and, while we were out tonight, we saw a tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa place with a tank of those fish outside on the street. There were families (parents and children) just sitting knee-deep in the tank, swarms of little fish gathered around their feet.
While getting my feet manicured by fish wasn’t on my Taiwan bucket list, I didn’t have anything better to do and I was tired of walking, so I handed over 100 dollars ($3-ish USD) and got ready to put my feet in the tank of water.
My expectations were: tiny fish will come and eat the dead skin and junk off my feet.
What happened:
One fear I KNOW I have is SHARKS. Hate them. This summer has been the worst because there have been lots of super-publicized shark attacks. There were a couple in North Carolina last month and there was another one at a televised surf competition last week. Holy crap don’t go in Ocean.
Anyway, so I took off my sandals and rinsed off my feet before putting them in the water. You have to walk to the tank of fish in a specially-provided clean pair of flip-flops after you rinse off to keep your feet clean to prevent the tank from getting contaminated. After walking to the tank, you sit on a bench on the edge of the tank and slowly lower your feet into the water. It’s important to do it slowly and not move your feet once in the tank otherwise you’ll scare away the fish and ruin their appetite (an Asian told me).
So I lowered my legs into the tank up to my calves and the fish started surrounding them. They were little fish, about the size of small goldfish but brownish-colored.

The fish quickly swam up and started eating the dead skin and junk off my body. And then I started freaking out.

THERE WERE LITERALLY DOZENS OF FISH EATING MY BODY. I WAS ESSENTIALLY BEING ATTACKED BY A SHARK IN THE FORM OF HUNDREDS (AT LEAST A HUNDRED) LITTLE FISH LATCHING THEIR MOUTHS ONTO MY SKIN AND EATING ME. I HAD ENTERED THE FISH’S HOUSE AND I WAS GONNA GET ATE.

It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel good. It felt like they were biting me, but their mouths were so small that it didn’t hurt, but KNOWING they were BITING me drove me bananas. (And no, it didn’t feel ticklish, I just felt TERROR.)
Not only was it terrifying that they were latching onto and eating me, but I saw that when people took their feet out of the water, sometimes a couple fish would stay stuck on and they’d have to wipe them off. The idea of having to do that scared me so bad.
Even though I was being attacked by a million little sharks (essentially), the “treatment” was supposed to be 20 minutes, so I figured I’d just grin and bear it.
Except my form of grinning and bearing it was a mixture of heavy breathing, sporadic squeals, burying my face in my hands, yelling things like “OH MY GOSH” and “WHO INVENTED THIS?”, and stroking the beard of the man sitting next to me. In the middle of a public street in Taiwan.
I guess my reaction wasn’t typical (there was a little girl sitting three feet away with her feet in the tank —  she mainly just looked embarrassed for me and tried to avoid eye contact) because a big crowd of Asians gathered around. They just laughed and laughed, I imagine the same way white people watch Japanese game shows. I think they really enjoyed it cuz a lot of them took pictures of videos of me.
In the end, I hadn’t stayed very still, but I’d kept my feet in the shark tank for the whole 20 minutes. I had done it. And no fishes stayed attached THANK LITERAL HEAVEN.
Of course, I had a little headache, my throat was sore, and my eyes were bloodshot. Even though no tears came from my eyes, I had essentially cried in public in Taiwan and the Asians filmed it.
The dude who ran the shop seemed a bit annoyed because I’d made so much noise, but there was a 40-minute wait after I came, so I think it’s safe to say I attracted attention to that tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa shop.
And I discovered that I’m afraid of ducks, sharks, AND small fish.

FEAR

I locked myself on a roof in Taipei.

View from ZhuWei High School

Me and the other white folks I’m with have been working at a high school on the edge of Taipei near the very tip of Taiwan. It’s jungley and lush and the ocean’s close by. It’s beautiful.

Every day, I thought, “I need to take some pics so I can show the peeps back home,” but every day I didn’t.
But since today was the last day at this school, I set out to take those darn pictures.
The high school has five levels (it’s an outdoor high school made of concrete). I wanted to get pics from the fifth level to get the best view, but when I reached the fifth floor, I saw there was another flight of stairs going up, so I thought, “Sweet! Rooftop view!” and went up.
On the landing, there was a door with a sign (in Chinese) leading to the roof. I wasn’t sure whether the sign said that I was allowed on the roof, but my rule while traveling is “I’m American so it’s OK.” So I ignored the sign and went on the roof, making sure not to shut the door behind me just in case it locked.
Just as I got on the roof, I got a message on my phone telling me I was needed in the school gym. So I turned around to go back through the door, but it was a closed. I tried to open it, but there was no knob, just a key hole and I didn’t have the key.
I looked around and found another door leading off the roof, but it was only open a little bit and wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pulled. Since it’s summer, we were the only people at the school, so there was no one around to shout to.
So I called the only other person in our group with cell phone service, but his phone answered the call without him knowing, so I was yelling, “Can you hear me??” while he sang to himself. (?)
The only other people I could call were Asians and I didn’t know how well the language barrier would facilitate a conversation about my current situation. Plus, they’d be like, “Why’d you go on the roof?”
I don’t really panic ever, but this is a situation where I kinda started panicking. I was sure people would notice me missing after an hour or so, but it was humid and especially hot on the roof. Plus, my data has been super sketch and I didn’t want to sit on the roof for an hour without internet. 🙁
 
So I noticed a ladder leading to a higher part of the roof, so I climbed it, thinking maybe there’d be a door leading down.
And there was! There were two trapdoors in the floor. I opened the first and saw a tiny room full of water (I’m not making this up). I opened the second and saw the same thing. I was like, “What the fetch is this place? Some torture chamber? Some Asian video game simulation thing?” (In hindsight, I think one was cold water and the other was hot. They were probably containers for the hot and cold water in the school.)
So the view was incredible, but I was still stuck. I was so panicky I didn’t even take pictures.
In my mind, I only had three options: climb off the roof somehow, post a plea on Facebook (if my data worked) and hope someone in Asia saw it, or pry open that second door that was stuck mostly shut.
I went back to the second door and tried pulling again. Nothing (again). I calmed down a little bit and thought, “Jason Bourne’s been to Asia. What would he do in this situation?”
I looked around for something to pry the door open with. I saw an old chair lying on its side. All I needed was a long stick to pry the door. So I threw the chair against the wall and broke off a long piece of wood. I tried to use it to pry the door open, but the wood was too old and the door was too stuck.
So, summoning the strength of Jason Bourne, I pulled on the door again. I put my foot on the wall I was pulling so hard. This time, it came loose and opened.
I was uber sweaty, but I outsmarted the roof.
And no, I never got the pictures.
Literally one of the two pics I got of this place.

Why it’s worth going to Russia.

Almost six years ago today, I got my mission call to serve in Russia. When I first realized I would be serving in Russia, I was like, “Crap. Russia.” I didn’t want to go to Russia. The language seemed super hard, the culture and history didn’t seem very interesting, the people never smiled, and I knew it would be a challenge living in a country that had no technology, not even have cars or indoor plumbing.

When I got there in November 2009, I started learning what Russia was actually like.

No technology
First, there ARE cars and indoor plumbing. Before I went to Russia, I thought horses were still the main mode of transportation (the only things I knew about Russia, I’d learned from Fiddler on the Roof and Anastasia, so can you blame me????), but after being in Russia for a day I quickly realized that cars, indoor plumbing, and even light bulbs are just as common in Russia as they are in America. In fact, the biggest cities and tallest buildings I’ve ever seen are in Russia, so it is definitely just as modern and developed as America.



Unfriendly people
Everyone in America told me that Russians never smiled and were a pretty tough people to befriend. HOWEVER, some of the FIRST THINGS I saw in Russia were couples walking outside holding hands and SMILING, friends walking around together and SMILING, and people just looking like normal people, not like the communist robots I’d heard about. I realized that most of the Americans who’d told me about Russia had never actually been there, so how would they know what Russians are actually like?

Climate
Russia is effing cold. I had heard the word “cold” before my mission, but never actually knew what it meant. I’d lived in California basically my whole life, so the coldest I’d ever felt was, like, 32°F. When I got to Russia, winter was just starting, so it was 32ish°, which I thought was the coldest it could ever be. I was so cold, I wore two scarves: one for my neck and the other for my face. People told me I looked like a Muslim woman.

They’d laugh and say, “You know it’s going to get colder, right?” and I’d laugh and say, “That’s not even possible, right?” But it did get colder. The coldest I ever felt was -40° (which is where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet), but that wasn’t typical. -5°F to -15°F was pretty normal. Cold, but livable.

I learned to enjoy the cold, so much so that when I went back to Russia after my mission, I made sure to go during the winter. To me, Russia isn’t Russia if your nose hairs don’t freeze.

Hard language
Yeah, Russian’s hard, at least for me, no getting around that. The alphabet only takes, like, two weeks to learn, but actually speaking the language sucks butt. However, I think being able to understand is much more important than being able to express yourself. Listening for the few words I understood and paying attention to context went a long way in helping me understand what people were saying to me. And, since I had a mission companion, I could rely on him to say what needed to be said.

So the language is daunting, but it isn’t everything.

Uninteresting history and culture
So Russians may not be the cold-hearted people that Americans make them out to be, but they certainly have a colorful history. They’ve existed as a people for nearly 1,000 years, so of course they’ve had some super interesting stuff happen. They were invaded by Huns, they drove the Huns out, they had fake tsars the people elected, they had real tsars the people killed, they had fake tsars they elected then decided to kill, they have beautiful literature and art, they had communism, they sent the first man into space, they had Stalin, they have Putin, and BORIS NEMTSOV WAS SHOT FIVE DAYS AGO OH MY GOSH WHERE IS THE TRUTH AT? So, interesting stuff.

Of course, I didn’t know a lot of this while I was actually living in Russia since I was busy doing the WORK OF THE LORD, but I learned it in college after and it explained a lot of what I’d seen on my mission. So definitely take a Russian history course if you get the chance, especially if you’ve been to Russia before and you’re wondering “What the eff???”

So I ended up having a blast in Russia. I finished my mission three and a half years ago, but I really wanted to go back, so that brings us to the next part of this story ….

Saucy pants

 

I learned how to make sauce from tomato paste when I was in the Russia. We only bought tomato paste, so I learned by ear how to mix the right amount of water and spices to make the perfect sauce. And this sauce is perfect. You start with a tiny can of tomato paste and end up with a whole ton of suited-to-you tomato sauce. Look at you, fancy pants.

Turn this …

 

… into food.

 

Ingredients

6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 cup water
A fistful of onion (about 1/4 of a large-ish onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 Tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapsoon pepper

Step 1: The onion

The top layer (or two) of an onion is papery — you don’t want that. Peel it off and throw it away. The layer beneath that is rubbery. You don’t want that either; throw it away. The layers beneath that should be crisp and easy to cut through: that’s what you want. (This may be “duh” to some of you, but having lived exclusively with guys for the past four years, I know that things like this aren’t always intuitive.)

Cut a quarter out of your onion and chop it into baby pieces (like, a quarter the size of a french fry or smaller). Throw it into a pan greased with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Heat it at low or medium heat. Cook until the onion pieces start to become transparent. You don’t want them to turn brown or crispy-looking.

I used red onions, butt it doesn’t matter.

Step 2: The sauce

While that’s cooking, y’all need to mizz your water with your tomato paste. Dump the insides of your can of tomato paste into a big-ish bowl. Once you did this, dump that 1 cup of warter on top. Mix with a fork (or hand) and you’ll get a saucy mizzture.
It looks like tomato poop lol.
Tomato diarrhea!

Step 3: Get the Spice Girls

Next, you’re gonna want to flavor your sauce. You can just pour the seasonings into the bowl with your tomato-paste-now-tomato-sauce.

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder: Garlic powder is a necessary part of ANYTHING tasting good.

1/2 tablespoon of basil: A delicate herb; it’ll make the sauce taste fresh.

1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano: Given my extensive knowledge of Italian cooking, I can say that oregano is THE Italian spice. Your tomato sauce won’t taste like tomato sauce without it. Likewise, if you ever have a pizza that needs a pick-me-up, sprinkle some oregano on it.

1 teaspoon of salt: Not too much, but just the right amount will make all the other flavors come out (#everysundayschoollessonever).

1/4 teaspoon of pepper: Packs a punch that your sauce will be boring without.

Mixzz all the seasonings with your tomato sauce and stick your finger in it to see if it tastes how you want. #magic

Step 4: Mixzz

Pour your bowl of seasoned sauce into the pan of now-cooked onions and heat until the sauce is warm. Then put it on pasta and eat it.

Obviously, you can add anything to it that you want (like cooked ground beef or veggies).

And voila! You turned a tiny can of tomato paste into a panful of tomato sauce. That’s a big deal, saucy pants.