My twin sister Meredith is so great and I am so bad. Every year on my birthday, she gets me something cool: a t-shirt, a funny book, something she wanted to get rid of but chose to give to me instead, and so much more. And no matter where I’ve lived, she’s always either sent the gift in a package or saved it to give to me later.
And I’m the worst brother because I never get her anything for her birthday. Generally, I don’t get someone a birthday present if they live far away, so I usually don’t get her ANYTHING even though she always gets me something.
I mean, I guess it could be because we live very different lives. I’ve been living the single life of parties and traveling while she’s been married and has two kids. It’s like I feel that I’m not quite an adult so I don’t need to give people things but they should give things to me.
Anyway, I decided to do something very heartfelt to show her how much I appreciate her (plus, she and her husband are the ONLY ones in my family planning to visit me in Taiwan, so that deserves a special shout-out).
She is VERY social media, so for her 28th birthday (which is TODAY!), I recreated 28 of the photos she posted this past year. By looking at these photos, you’ll see how cool she is! Check it out!
She wears cool pants and hangs out with white cars.
She goes to VERY cool stores.
She is America’s Next Top Model (TYRA HIT HER UP FOR CYLCE 23).
Nature-conscious but so so holy.
She also has witch powers which she’s decided to use for good (notice I’m not floating because I’m NOT a witch).
Clever and swanky.
She looks great, but I just look like an extra on The Walking Dead.
She is also a selfie QUEEN.
She’s also really talented at Snapchat.
We spend HOURS talking (usually about how impossible rice is #whole30).
Even when puking she’s FLAWLESS.
She just got into yoga and she makes it look so easy. (This pose reminds me of when we were in Womb together.)
But I learned through experience that it’s not as easy as she makes it look.
Not at all.
She’s a great mom to her two kids.
She hugs them,
takes them to Disneyland,
and lip-kisses them.
Not only that, she volunteers as a doula to help other women who like to have babies too!
This photo sums her up perfectly.
Happy 28th Meredith! Hope I can catch up to you someday!
“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.
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?
This building is Naboo-worthy.
And cosplay-worthy (or is this another wedding)?
“I’m so glad you came to my wedding at the Taipei Museum of Drinking Water.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy some refreshing shaved ice while reminiscing about the last time you filled a toilet to maximum capacity.
Have some chocolate soft serve while embracing what you’ve always thought about it.
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.
Even the bathroom (aka the “VIP Lounge”).
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).
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.
A small mountain town next? Cool.
A breezy coastline? Easy.
Hot springs after that? *Cake.*
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:
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.