Is LA even cool?

I hopped off a plane at LAX with two of my travel buddies on Sunday night after our crazy Taiwan adventure. We’d driven to LA (to fly to Taiwan) together from Provo and intended to drive back together, but since one of the dudes had never really been to California before (he’d only ever driven through Northern California) and since we were pretty jet lagged, we decided to spend an extra day in LA.
Honestly, though, I’d always thought LA was just big, ugly, and dirty. There aren’t very many hills or trees to break up the endless concrete landscape, all the buildings look like billboard-plastered boxes, and the beaches are dry and dusty. In my opinion, San Diego is cooler than LA: it’s hilly, there are trees, the beaches are nicer, and there’s a nice mix of old, new, big, and small buildings.
After getting a full three hours of sleep (Asia jet lag is the worst), we headed out for what I figured would be an uninteresting and ugly day in LA. We let the first-timer plan what he wanted to see: the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, the LA Temple, and the beach.
Even though I’d grown up in California (San Diego/Red Bluff) and had been to LA, I’d never actually been to Hollywood before, but I expected to be unimpressed.
Going out to the Hollywood Sign was an adventure. It’s on the outskirts of LA right where all the film studios are (because it’s Hollywood). I saw Walt Disney Studios on our way, so we stopped to see if we could take a peek inside. Turns out, you aren’t allowed inside if you don’t work there and they don’t do studio tours, but it legitimately felt so special to sit in the driveway of Walt Disney Studios as security explained all this to my travel buddy. I’ll never forget it.
Then we drove up Hollywood Hillsto the sign. The sign itself is pretty far off the road, so it’s hard to get a good view of it unless you take a small (45-minute) hike out to it. We thought you could drive right up to it and were not prepared for a hike, so we parked at the Griffith Observatory, hiked out 10 minutes, got some pictures with the sign way far away, then got back in the car.
As close as I got.
It was cool to be next to such an iconic landmark even if I didn’t get a great view of it. WAY SPESH.
The drive from the Hollywood Sign to the Walk of Fame was cool. Hollywood is an older part of town, so the buildings give off a 1930’s vibe, there are trees, and it’s not too crowded, kind of giving it an old-timey feel.
The Walk of Fame is (of course) on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s just a couple blocks of sidewalk inlaid with famous people’s names. I got a couple shots with some of my favorite Hollywood stars.
Walt Disney!
John Stamos!
Godzilla!
Also on the Walk of Fame is Brahms Chinese Theatre (spelt Canadian style). Outside the theater are the hand- and footprints of yet more famous people (BUT NOT ONE DIRECTION — SMH).
The cast of Harry Potter!
The cast of Star Wars!
If Twilight made it, so can you.
The theater is an actual theater that shows actual movies, so I think it’d be nift to see a movie there someday.
Along the Walk of Fame are neat little stores that sell neat little things. We went into a candy shop with cool candy murals!

After that, we went to the LA Temple and that was cool, then the beach (and yes it was dry and dusty).
LA Temple
Ocean and I. I hate you.
So Hollywood is actually really cool. It gives off an old-town vibe, but you also get to see world-renowned landmarks at the same time. Best of both worlds. If you’re in LA, you should come and see.

Picture vomit: Taiwan

These are some pics I took of some places I went during my last week in Taiwan. 😉
Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple
After being in the big city for two weeks, it was nice to bust out and get into nature. We (my fellow white American teachers and I) were able to visit rural areas, including this temple on a secluded lake in the foothills of Taiwan. The grounds are pritt, the temple is made from granite and jade with super cool carvings, and there’s a stairway with 365 steps leading down to the lake (one step for every day of the year). You gotta check it out.
View of the lake from the temple.

Steps leading down to Sun Moon Lake.
Took the liberty of taking a shot with my birthday stair.
Alishan
The word “shan” in Mandarin Chinese means “mountain,” so Alishan just means Ali Mountain. This mountain is part of the mountain range that creates the spine of Taiwan. It’s a real popular place for peeps to come and watch the sunrise. Just be sure to bring a jacket or sweater so you’re warm enough. Also, bring running shoes so you can appreciate the scenery on a jaunty little morning run.
View from up top.
The forest.
The beach!
I got my fingers in this pic for artistic purposes.
Honestly, I don’t love Ocean (because sharks and fish), but when it’s hot and humid outside and you haven’t been swimming in three weeks, it feels pretty good to put on some jaunty European swim trunks and dip in water for a bit. We took our tour bus down to Kenting, which is a party destination on the southern coast of Taiwan. We swam in the evening and partied all night. It was trick.
#jaunty
#nightlife
Crowds block traffic because #nightlife.
So these were my some neat places places in Taiwan. I appreciated them.

A travel expert’s advice on Taiwan

It’s me. I’m the travel expert. I’ve been in Taiwan for TWO WEEKS, so that makes me a tiny expert on how to travel here. So sit back and relax: I have your whole trip planned.
1) Language: In my travel group, there are about five Mandarin Chinese-speakers and they’ve been a big help, especially since Chinese tones make anything written in pinyin impossible to pronounce correctly (for example, “Tansui” is pronounced “Dan-shway”), HOWEVER a lot of people in Taiwan know simple English. The main things you need to know are directions and how much stuff costs.

Because so many people know simple English, they know how to say numbers, so figuring out how much something costs isn’t a big struggle. Also, it’s very easy to learn the Chinese finger counting system (hand gestures they use to count from 1 to 10). It’s very handy (pun!) and helped me buy a smoothie once (click here to learn).

Directions are tricky regardless of whether or not you’re speaking the same language, so using a combination of your smart phone and finger pointing is the best bet (kinda like dating in Provo).

Not pronounced how you think it is.
**On a side note, Taiwanese people are so nice. They’re very polite and (a lot of the time) excited to speak/help with Westerners. Also, I’ve been in a big city for two weeks and I’ve only seen ONE drunk person. So.
2) Transportation: Get an EasyCard or TaipeiPass. These cards allow you to use public transport and get into state-run places (like museums and the zoo). The TapeiPass only works in Taipei, but is very cheap (about $25 USD for a week’s use or $7 USD for two days). The EasyCard works like a debit card: you put money on it and use it to get on any public transport anywhere in the country. It only requires a minimum deposit of $100 NTD (New Taiwan dollars) to get one.
Taipei MRT (metro)
3) Bring extra deodorant and TP. In Taiwan, deodorant isn’t really a thing, so they don’t really sell it. A lot of people don’t wear it, so if you want to stay fresh, be sure to bring your own. Also, many bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, so be sure to have some with you AT ALL TIMES.
4) Avoid effing stinky tofu. Stinky tofu is fermented tofu. It is the most repulsively regurgitative thing I have ever smelled. It smells like crotch sweat mixed with dog breath mixed with rotten milk. Terrible terrible blegh blegh blegh. It’s sold at a lot at street markets, so be prepared to be smacked in the nose by the devil and all his angels.
Y DO U EXIST ?
5) Eat at bakeries and fruit stands. As I’ve mentioned before, the food here is a strugg for me, BUT I’ve discovered that if you want a quick tasty meal, bakeries and fruit stands are the way to go. The bakeries here make breads with a variety of flavors: sweet and sticky, savory and cheesy, chocolatey and nutty. It’s all very delish and I highly recommend it if you’re a weenie when it comes to Asian food (like me).
The fruit here is way good. Stop by any fruit stand and grab a mango or dragon fruit to eat with your bread and you’re on your way. Just be sure to bring your pocket knife and get ready for sticky fruit-covered hands (I’m duh-rooling right now).

6) Bring sandals and a raincoat or umbrella. It doesn’t rain every day here, but when it rains, it POURS, so be sure to have a something to keep you dry (if you’re into that type of thing). Sandals are also a must because they dry a lot quicker than shoes when they get wet.
7) This phrase: The most useful and only thing I know how to say in Mandarin is “mon-go bing-shah” which means “mango smoothie.” Just walk up to the smoothie bar, say the magic words and bingo! You got yourself heaven.

Coco is bae.
One more thing: Once you’ve made it to Taiwan, you can fly to other parts of Asia for hecka cheap. Taipei to Bangkok roundtrip for $329, Taipei to Hong Kong roundtrip for $225, Manila for $268, Sydney for $700, I’M CRYING WHY DIDN’T I PLAN THIS BETTER????? But, once again, the lesson is: Once you get out of the States, flights are a lot cheaper.

So that’s Taiwan. It’s a great place except for the stinky tofu. Avoid avoid avoid. 

Is the food in Taiwan good????

I kno I already talked about this, but I don’t love the food in Taiwan, BUTT I like to keep things positive on PFB, so I’ll get the negative out of the way real quick:
Do you ever see Asians post pictures of food? No because it’s all just rice.
Have you ever seen a fat Asian? No because all they do is sweat and eat rice (see this post about humidity).
What I’m saying is that all they eat is rice. There’s some steamed veggies and meat too, but everything is rice. I’m able to eat until I’m full, but overeating is a struggle because the food’s not super tasty and that’s what gets me. 🙁
But let’s move on to what’s tasty in Taiwan:
Dragon fruit
Sometimes white, sometimes purple inside, it has the texture of a kiwi and is mildly sweet and juicy. If you eat a whole purple one by yourself, it dyes your poo purple for the next day or two.
Mango
Tbh, I never really had a mango until I came here, so I can’t compare them to the ones in the states, except I know these ones are at least twice as big and (duh) a lot more fresh. Hecka juicy and squishy. So sweet. I love them. FYI: I’m eating it wrong in this pic. The best way to eat them is to try to chop it in half (avoiding the big white pit in the middle), cutting it into squares (like a checkerboard), turning the skin inside out, then eating it. That’s confusing.
Basically any fruit here
It’s all good and fresh and juicy, but pro tip: bring a pocketknife so you can chop up and open the fruit you buy from fruit stands.
Anything mango-flavored
Mango ice cream, mango smoothies, mango shave ice, mango juice, it’s all good. And mangoes are so sweet that I SWEAR they don’t add any sugar if it’s mango flavored. I’ll swear it a million times.
.
Pot stickers and dumplings
They’re the same thing, just pot stickers are fried and dumplings are boiled. They usually have pork or some veggies inside. I prefer pot stickers because SALT butt w/e.
Dolphin water
I don’t really believe in non-water drinks, but in Taiwan you sweat so much (because it’s so HUMID) that it’s worth throwing some random electrolytes back into your body. There are a lot of waters that have extra energy-boosting junk in them. This one is dolphin water and it’s good and tastes like dolphins.
Steamed pork buns
Who knew you could cook a whole bread thing just by steaming it? Asians, that’s who. The steamed roll is really spongy and the pork is side is v tender. It tastes a lot like pulled pork. All it needs is some BBQ sauze.
Asian burrito
It’s just a giant spring roll. I don’t actually like spring rolls, but I know lots of folks do, so I thought I’d show you a pic.
This whatever
Next to mangoes, this is the most delightful thing I’ve had in Taiwan. It’s like a naan bread with eggs, ham, cheese, basil, and a spicy sauce inside. It might be Vietnamese, but it’s REALLY good.
So, even though I’m not gonna get fat here, there are plenty of goodies to snack on. Yes plz!!

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 ….