As I’ve mentioned before, my biggest fear is sharks. I hate them. They will eat you. They will eat you.
Even so, I really like swimming. I’m from freaking California, it’s in my body.
So when I was visiting Hong Kong, I went to Stanley Beach. It’s a nice beach because it’s clean and secluded. Plus, my brother’s name is Stanley, so.
Aside from a couple lifeguards, the only people there were a few white tourists (like me) and an Asian family. I changed into my swimsuit (which is supes skimpy YOU’RE WELCOME) and prepared to enter the water.
But then I remembered my fear of SHARKS. I paced around the beach a bit, stalling, only to notice signs warning on how to avoid shark attacks.
There were shark nets around the beach in the water and shark flags to warn when a shark was close. These were sure signs of a feeding frenzy waiting to happen.
When I was psyched up enough, I finally just ran in! up to my knees. I relaxed and floated in the shallow water, the waves rocking me back and forth as I tried to block sharks out of my mind.
The waves got stronger. I let them move my body wherever they wanted, tumbling head over toe in and out on the shallow surf. After doing this for 5-ish minutes, I realized I probably looked like someone drowning or just a straight-up plastic bag about to get trapped on a dolphin fin, so I decided to get out and dry off.
Of course, my skimpy, skin-tight swimsuit was full of sand, so I went to the showers to wash it out. I would have been all for stripping my suit off and getting the sand out the easy way, but the showers were 50% exposed to the open beach, so I had to do the job by holding my shorts wide open, aiming the shower head straight into my suit, and shimmying around while the shower head sprayed my nether parts with fire-hose strength. I don’t know how it looked, but it felt ~great~~.
I walked to the bus stop wearing only my swimsuit and sandals to let the suit dry. I threw my shirt on before getting on the bus cuz my suit wasn’t dry yet. It probably looked weird since the shorts basically looked like underwears, but I just went back to my #1 travel rule: I’m American, I can do what I want. Plus, I was in a beachy neighborhood; it wasn’t weird.
When it was time to get off the bus, however, I was in central Hong Kong where the are tons of people and no beaches. Just as my stop came, I realized I should throw real shorts on over my suit, so I grabbed some out of my backpack and hurriedly shoved my legs into them, trying to look inconspicuous as I zipped up my fly and did my belt in the back of the bus, then ran to get off.
So I need to see a shark therapist. Any suggestions?
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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.
(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.
As with everything British, everything here was named after Queen Victoria.
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?
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.
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.