How to go to a Russian banya

Stripped naked + stuck in a hot room + drowned in ice water + beat with leaves = a Russian banya.

Banyas are the Russian version of saunas, except they make you want to die while you’re in them. They’re real great when it’s all finished, though.

There are three general areas of the banya: the hot room, the cold room, and the hangout room.

In the hot room, the temperature rises above 150°F (70°C) and the humidity reaches 80% or higher, so you just sit and sweat and sweat and sweat. Because you’re sweating so much, you’re supposed wear nothing but a pair of slippers and a felt hat. The hat protects your head from getting too hot and the slippers prevent you from slipping because the floor and your feet are covered in water and sweat.

Sitting there, your heart starts beating hecka fast and you start breathing like you’re running a marathon.

As if that’s not bad enough, you’re also supposed to hit yourself (or have a friend hit you) with a bushel of birch leaves because #Russia.

But slow down there, Turbo! If you’re new to the banya world, don’t sit in the hot room longer than 10 minutes or you’ll pass out and wake up naked on the floor surrounded by Russians. This isn’t a Ke$ha music video, so pace yourself.

After the hot room, you’re supposed to drench your body in ice-cold water. According to Russian folk wisdom, anything involving ice water and buckets is healthy. The idea here is that the hot room opens up your pores and the cold water closes them, squeezing out any nastiness inside.

To cover yourself in ice water you can 1) jump into a pool of ice water (terrible), 2) lay in a tub of ice water (also terrible), or 3) dump ice water on your head (really terrible). If none of these options are available, just go outside and roll in the snow (which is terrible too).

After this hot/cold torture, you’ll go to the hangout room and relax. Take 15 minutes to recover, then go back in and do the hot/cold process all over again. Repeat four times or until you pass out (but remember that I don’t recommend that option).

Afterward, you’ll feel very refreshed. Your blood has circulated through your whole body, you’ve sweated a lot of junk from your system, and the combination of hot and cold leaves your skin with a nice crackly feeling.

But you’ll also be very very tired. You basically just ran a couple marathons and did five ice bucket challenges, so just go to the closest donut shop and chill for the rest of the day (there’s a Krispy Kreme right off of Red Square).

donuts

Pro tips:

-Banyas are supposed to be a social event, so bring a friend if you can. Otherwise you’ll just be that weird naked guy sitting in the corner alone (as opposed to that cool naked guy surrounded by his closest naked friends).

-In between hot/cold sessions, instead of going to the hangout room, if you can find a big tub of warm water to chill in, do it. I did and it was one of the most relaxing things of my life.

-The most authentic banyas are the ones at people’s summer homes. So if you want the real experience, just go into the middle of the countryside, find a stranger’s house, and crawl into their banya!

-If you don’t feel like playing Goldilocks with a stranger’s banya or are stuck in the city, I recommend Sanduny in Moscow. The prices there range from pretty cheap to pretty expensive. I did something in-between and it only cost me $40 (because the exchange rate was bomb). It would have been $10-$15 cheaper if I’d brought my own slippers, hat, and birch branch, though, so if you want to save money, buy those things before coming to the banya (you can find them at a grocery store).

Here’s a video I made right after I went in January!!!!!

I hated Japan.

McKay AhPing is not me, but I guilted him into writing this post. If you want to write for Gordy(Gordy)Blog (travel tips or photos, funny stories, etc.), send me a message on the contact page.

Now that you’re reading my blog, let me tell you how amazing Japan is!

 

Imagine a world where crime doesn’t exist.

Hint: This world doesn’t include Washington, D.C.

 

 Imagine a world where fat people can just say they’re training for a sumo match.

 

 

Imagine a world where your train floats on magnets.

 

Imagine a world where your butt gets more pampered than your face.

Hint: This isn’t the Clinton Presidential Library/Massage Parlor.

 

 Imagine a world where common people treat you like a dignitary.

japan1

Hint: This isn’t Jersey.

 

Imagine a world where prison, cat, and maid cafes deploy their hoochies to lure you in.

Imagine a world where Hello Kitty comes in breakfast form.

Imagine a world where everyone else is so formal they make you feel like a slob.

You’re wearing jeans? Ew.

 

 Imagine a world without children.

Birthrate: -1.4 and falling.

 

Imagine a world that blurs the lines between dreams and reality.

Imagine a world where you can reserve a karaoke room like you can a restaurant table.

Imagine a world where people can become Christmas decorations.

Imagine a world where you’re blinded by flashiness.

Imagine a world where fashion comes first. Then work. Then video games. Then maybe family.

Hint: This isn’t Wal-Mart.

Imagine a world with both chaos and perfect order at the same time.

Imagine a world where ancient meets modern.

Imagine a world where gamers come out of their mothers’ basements.

Imagine a world where cat ears are socially acceptable.

“Im on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

Imagine a world full of ramen, curry, sashimi, and sushi.

Imagine a world where your toughest choice is which Coke machine to use.

Imagine a world of both excitement and zen.

Imagine a world of ancient trees and holy forests.

Imagine a world where heaven meets earth.

Hint: This isn’t Utah.

 

Imagine dat.

————————————————————————————————————–

To find out about cities around the world, visit McKay’s blog WhatToExpectIn.blogspot.com.

You can never run from sharks.

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.

stanleybeach7

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.

hkstanleybeachme

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.

hksharkattack

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.

hklifeguard

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?

King Hong Kong

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
This weekend I visited Hong Kong, which was named after King Kong, the sister city to Hong Zilla, named after Godzilla.

Hong Kong is a peninsula and several islands off the coast of China. The peninsula is called Kowloon and the mountainous area above that is called the New Territories. Actual Hong Kong is an island right off of Kowloon. It’s REALLY close, like, Coronado-to-San Diego close. Aside from that, there’s another big island called Lantau (that’s where the airport and Hong Kong Disney are) and other small islands.

hongkong

(Image from ~~Google~~)

Hong Kong is its own city-state, formerly a province owned by England. In the 1990’s, it was “returned” to China, but it’s basically a sovereign nation. You don’t need a visa to visit and it’s pretty western because of the British influence.

I don’t LOVE cities. They’re too crowded, loud, and dirty, but Hong Kong changed my mind. Kowloon isn’t very clean, but the islands (at least Hong Kong and Lantau) are kept very clean considering how many people live there. Also, Hong Kong is so full of people that there are multiple levels of sidewalks to accommodate the crowds. As a result, it doesn’t feel very crowded.

hksidewalk3

As with everything British, everything here was named after Queen Victoria.

victoriapeak2

Victoria Peak.

hkvictoriaharbor

Victoria Harbor. (~~DARN I’m lookin’ fly~~)

Victoria Park, Victoria Secret, blah blah blah. It was British once WE GET IT. (So was King Kong a British king?)

But it was also very Asian. I mean, it’s in Asia, right?

kowloonpark

However, I expected there to be more English-speakers since Hong Kong was once a British colony, but there seemed to be just as many as there are in Taiwan. But I got by. The signs helped.

hkstore2 hkstore1

hkstore3

hkstore4

I was really looking forward to going to the beach. Even though I’m terrified of sharks and other sea creatures, the California in me loves water. Hong Kong’s beaches did not disappoint.

hkstanleybeach

The beach even gave me tips on avoiding shark attacks. That means it was a really safe beach, right?

hksharkattack

(What exactly is a shark-like object?)

Even though I expected Hong Kong to be a gross Asian city, it was pretty clean and great! I loved it and actually want to visit again. Here’s a sick vid I made of my visit:

 

Taipei Museum of Drinking Water

Drinkable water is the only type of water that people should drink. However, most of us take for granted that the water we drink didn’t start that way. That’s why the museum of drinking water. People have been drinking water for forever. Why not a museum?

waterselfie

This building is Naboo-worthy.

waterbride1

And wedding-worthy.

watercos

And cosplay-worthy (or is this another wedding)?

waterbride2

“I’m so glad you came to my wedding at the Taipei Museum of Drinking Water.”

waterlevers

Very important levers.

waterlevelsme

I got to be Mr. Manager!

waterme2

Finding my place in the world of drinking water.

watermen

BAAA!!” McKay found his!

waterfree

You better believe we took all the FREE drinking water we could!

waterme

BELIEVE.

waterleggy
If you call someone with good legs “leggy,” does that mean I’m “butty”?

Taipei Museum of Drinking Water 10/10 would recommend.

Do you want to see a castle?

Neuschwanstein (pronounced noy-shvon-stein) is a real-life fairy tale castle. It was built in the late 1800’s on the side of a mountain in Germany. The idea behind the architecture was to mix old and new, making it look both authentic and like something out of a storybook.

Because of its fairy tale-esque look, Walt Disney used it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, which is the same castle that was later built in Disneyland.

When I visited, it was the middle of winter. A fresh coat of snow made everything look clean and muffled any sound from the cars on the highway below. A steady drizzle of snowflakes made the air sparkle and low clouds made the castle look like it was floating in the sky.

noy1 noy2

noy3
Here’s your Prince Charming lololololololol

noy5 noy6

noy4
The cliffs behind the castle.
noy7
The valley below.

Looks like crap

POOP IS FUNNY. POOP-THEMED RESTAURANTS ARE VERY VERY FUNNY.

Note: To fully enjoy this post, you need to know that squatter toilets are common in Asia and what they look like.

poopsquat

Voila. (But never ever this clean.)

Just like any good joke, poop jokes have to be surprising, out-of-place, and so wrong they seem right. And that’s why having a restaurant where all the food looks like poop is funny.

Modern Toilet is located in Ximen, one of Taipei’s biggest shopping districts. If you have trouble finding it, just look for the giant toilet outside.

poopmoderntoilet

Modern Toilet’s idea is simple: put normal food in bowls and dishes that look like toilets. The rest is magic.

Enjoy delicious golden curry while being reminded that poop isn’t always brown.

poopcurry

Enjoy some refreshing shaved ice while reminiscing about the last time you filled a toilet to maximum capacity.

poopcream2

Have some chocolate soft serve while embracing what you’ve always thought about it.

poopcream

Not only does the food look like crap, but everything in the restaurant reminds you of the special time you spend on your cell phone.

The walls.

poopwall

The lights.

pooplights

The seats.

poopseats

Even the bathroom (aka the “VIP Lounge”).

poopbaday
This is a fancy potty that squirts water on your bum-bum.

Modern Toilet serves hot pot, curry, pasta, and ice cream. All meals include a dessert (poop soft serve) and beverage. The prices run from 350 NT (hot pot) to 120 NT (big ice cream) and all the dishes are big enough to split between two people. You have to spend at least 90 NT per person when you eat here (it’s a very popular joint).

If you like poop, you’ll like this restaurant.

pooping
I like poop.

How boring is your life?

I am a BOMB teacher and all my students love/adore/want to be me. Even so, what I really live for is the weekend.

The thing is, living in the city is a drain: it’s loud, smelly, crowded, and full of concrete. I have to get out into ~nature~ once a week to rejuvenate.

Taiwan still has a lot of undeveloped land. Even though this small island is home to millions of people, the mountains and eastern coast have remained undeveloped, probably because of the steady tide of typhoons that roll in every year.

So even though the city’s loud, crowded, and smelly, I can easily escape once a week. I just hop on a bus for an hour or two and I’m free.

A waterfall or two this weekend? Sure.

waterfall1
Waterfall on the hike from Houtong to Shangdiaoling.

A small mountain town next? Cool.

alishan1
Alishan

A breezy coastline? Easy.

longdong1
Longdong

Hot springs after that? *Cake.*

hotsprings1
Wulai

So there’s that. I probably could have and should have done something similar while I was living in the States. I mean, it’s not a small island, so there’s A LOT more ~nature~ to explore.

If you want to try having an adventure every weekend, try this app/website: TripAdvisor.com. It makes finding new places in your current location easy. Find your next adventure! Or confirm how truly boring your hometown is:

redblufftripadvisor

Do burritos make us American?

I’ve been wanting Mexican food ever since I flew into Taiwan. In fact, the last meal I ate before flying to Taiwan was a burrito, chips, and salsa.

So, this weekend, after TWO MONTHS of not having Mexican food (two months and four days to be exact), I found a place called Macho Tacos in Taipei.

I was skeptical of how tasty the food would be and whether it’d be worth my money (you can get a decent meal here for 2 bucks but a burrito at this place was 5ish), but the pictures and menu online looked authentic, so I was optimistic.

macho4

Because the menu and pics online looked so authentic, I expected to see Latinos behind the counter when I walked in (Taipei is pretty international, so I wouldn’t have been surprised), but there were just the usual Taiwanese people. That made me less optimistic, but I figured I’d give it an honest shot anyway. I ordered a macho-sized burrito with taco meat.

Mis amigos, I was not disappointed. The lettuce inside the burrito was crispy and fresh, the tortilla held together well and tasted normal, the ground beef was perfectly seasoned, the cilantro-lime rice tasted just like Cafe Rio, and the salsa had all the right juices and flavors. It was muy delicioso, but could have benefited from some sour cream, guacamole, and a side of chips (which you can order separately and I’ll definitely do that next time).

burrito

While I was eating, I felt a connection with the burrito. It felt like I was eating my people’s food, a piece of home.

I remembered working with other missionaries in Russia to make Mexican food: cooking and seasoning ground beef and chili, making homemade tortillas, chopping and mixing vegetables to make salsa (which we’d eat with crackers since tortilla chips aren’t a thing in Russia).

macho1

Why do so many Americans love Mexican food? Why did we work so hard to make it on my mission?

Americans eat lots of pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers too, which you can also buy at restaurants here, but I think Mexican food is different. Mexican food has a homemade quality and feel that other “American” foods don’t match. Homemade pizza doesn’t taste the same and to make hamburgers or hot dogs at home, you basically just buy packaged meat and buns. But you can make all the parts of a Mexican meal at home without thinking twice about it (except tortillas — homemade tortillas are a pain).

I understand that Mexicans and Americans eat different kinds of Mexican food: Americans mainly stick with tacos and burritos, along with some of our own spin-offs like nachos and chili, while Mexicans have A LOT more than that. But what we call “Mexican” is actually American to me.

So thank you, Mexicans, for giving us your best.

And not to get political but I’m going to: America is such a great country. Sure I get annoyed that the bread and chocolate aren’t as good as they are in Europe and that Americans like to whine a lot on Facebook (“MY freedoms say I can do this!” “Well MY freedoms say you can’t!”), but comparing it to other places I’ve visited (like Russia and Mexico and even Italy), it’s SO clean, SO safe, and there’s SO much less corruption that it’s selfish and unchristian that immigrating into the US is SO difficult.

I have friends from other countries who have college degrees or have even married US citizens (legitimately) yet struggle to maintain a visa or get a green card. They’ve had difficult lives and worked hard to come to America, leaving behind family and culture in exchange for the American dream, but in America they’re getting even more difficulty and harder work with little reward. If their native governments can’t recognize them for their hard work, then the United States should. They can help America out just as much as burritos can.

Anyway, Macho Tacos in Taipei is very tasty and authentic. I saw some Latinos and other Americans there too, so I’m not the only one who thinks so. Walking out of the restaurant, I had to remind myself that I was still in Taiwan, my burrito having temporarily transported me home.

macho2

MONKEYS GOT HATERS TOO

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!

shoview

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.

shomonkeyking

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.

shomonkey

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.

shomonkeybutt

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.

shostairs
Wooden stairs in Shoushan.
shorockpath
Path through some rocks.

Dahu Park

Visit Dahu Park in Taipei! It’s a great place to …

… see some very attractive person!

dp1dp2
Me.

… see some squirrel!.

dp3

I mean, it’s probably a squirrel, butt I can’t see the head,so.

… see some cranes!

dp7

~Very Asian.~

… see some little girl trying to hunt a duck!!!

dp8

Little girls and animals. A must-see.

… see some people hunt fish!

dp9

Ha! Get them fish before they get you.

… see some lady take pictures of her dog like it’s a person!!

dp5

Spoiler alert, lady: puppies turn into dogs who get old and die.

… see nerd(s) LARPing!

dp4

Spoiler alert: your dreams will take you as high as that broom, kid.

… feel like you’re at a classy park!!

dp6

Duck (goose?), crane in tree, people. *nice*

… butt last, butt not least, see this cool bridge!

dp10

The Moon Bridge is very cool. Very must-see. Very must-stand-on.

As you can see, we all need to go to Dahu Park. It makes you feel super classy and it’s v v cool. #Taipei #ShareThisPost

Elephant Mountain

You’ve heard of elephants, you’ve heard of mountains, but have you heard of Elephant Mountain? Elephant Mountain is a mountain in Taipei (A mountain in a city! What is this, Lord of the Rings?). But before I tell you what it’s like to visit, let me give you a little history.
Taipei is also known as “Elephant City” because of the elephants that rule there. It all goes back to when Babar the first elephant king came to Taiwan.  People and elephants used to live in peace. They co-owned businesses and threw parties and stuff. It was pretty cool.
Anyway, Babar crossed over from (wherever elephants are from) and was like, “We can do so much better.” So he started a war with the humans. Since elephants are so much bigger than ordinary people, the elephants won and they continue to rule Taipei and most of Taiwan (but mostly just Taipei) to this day.
It’s not a big deal. They just get to cut in lines and have preference in elections (1 elephant vote = 1,000 people votes and there are only, like, 4,000 people in Taiwan anyway so) and offer human sacrifices sometimes. But it’s mainly whatever.
Anyway, so hiking Elephant Mountain is a real snap. There’s a set of old stairs that take you to the top of the mountain in about 20 minutes. It’s a fast hike, but it’s very steep and it’s (of course humid), and (depending on when you hike it) can be pretty hot. All this translates to SWEAT SWEAT SWEAT.
elephantmountain1
I mean, it’s just a bunch of stairs going straight up.
So, to be prepared, the most important thing to have is water and sugar water. I’d say have a half or a whole liter of normal water. Sugar water is water with electrolytes and junk added to it. Usually, I don’t approve of non-water drinks, but you’re gonna sweat so much that you’ll feel pretty terrible (I got an annoying headache) if you’re not replacing all the stuff your body’s sweating out. So, bring a bottle of sugar water (I recommend dolphin water – it tastes like a very mild Sprite without the carbonation).
What you wear doesn’t really matter. It’s not a real hike because it’s so short and it’s paved the whole way, so just wear something breathable and comfy (or maybe something you can run in if the elephants get in a sacrificey mood).
The selling point of the hike is the view you get of Taipei 101. It’s almost impossible to get a bad picture of it from on top.

I hiked it with my friend Spirit Sword (middle) and my new friend Xin Yi.
The hike up is real pretty too.
So it’s a draining hike, but the views very very pretty. There are plenty of trails to explore on the way up and on top of the mountain too, so plan to look around for a bit.

And watch out for dem elephants.

Here’s a sweet vid of the hike: