Perfect day in Taipei: Top 6 things to see

Say you want to have an awesome time in Taipei, but only have a day or two to be there. What do you do? What do you see? How can you plan the perfect day in Taipei?

While living in Taiwan, I went to Taipei almost every weekend and discovered the top 6 things to do and see in Taipei. If you’re limited to only a day or two in Taipei, doing these 6 things will maximize your time and make your trip a hit!

 1) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek is a huge figure in Taiwanese history, so of course there’s a giant memorial for him.

The Chiang Kai-shek memorial is one of Taipei’s main attractions and an awesome photo op. There’s also a museum inside and it’s FREEEEEE!

Chiang Kai-shek aka Asia-braham Lincoln

2) Taipei Taiwan LDS Temple and Yongkang Street

Right smack in the middle of Taipei’s hustle and bustle is the Taipei Taiwan Temple.

It’s actually very small inside and doesn’t function all hours of everyday, so be sure to check the temple schedule before showing up if you plan to do a session.

The temple is also right next to Taipei’s famous Yongkang Street food district, so after visiting the temple, you can stop for lunch.

Jianbing: The BEST Taiwanese food.

Also, if you want to attend church in English in Taipei, the English ward meets in the stake center next door.

3) Taipei 101

Named for its 101 floors, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2009 and is currently the 8th tallest in the world.

Obviously, you should be several blocks away from the building itself to get a good view of the whole thing.

Or you can hike Elephant Mountain (Shiangshan) to get a view of it sticking out of Taipei’s skyline.

You can also go inside Taipei 101 itself. You can shop, eat, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) take a high-speed elevator to the top (cost 500-600 NTD).

View from the top.

4) Maokong Gandola

The Maokong Gandola is a cable car suspended in the air that takes you on a journey above the forest between the Taipei Zoo and the outskirts of Taipei. You can enjoy a nice view of Taipei and the surrounding hills.

5) Beitou Public Hot Springs (aka Millenium Hot Spring)

Taiwan is covered in hot springs and Beitou is the best place in Taipei to soak in one. Beitou Public Hot Springs is a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT Station. Changing rooms and showers are available. Entry is 40 NTD.

6) Shilin Night Market

A night market is a place where you can buy cheap stuff and eat weird stuff. Visiting night markets is a famous Taiwanese pastime.

Shilin Night Market is one of Taipei’s most popular night markets. It’s right off of Jiantian MRT station. You can’t miss it.

 

And BAM! There’s your guide for the perfect day in Taipei! If you follow this list, you’ll hit Taipei’s top hot spots and go to bed feeling like a Taipei pro.

Note:  Everything on this list is easily accessible from the Taipei MRT and is organized in order of what you should see leaving from Taipei Main Station. If you follow this list in order, you’ll see everything in the most efficient way.

P.S. I recommend buying an EasyCard if you’re going to spend any time in Taipei. They’re cheap and make using the MRT super convenient. You can buy one at any 7-Eleven and most MRT stations.

Yo yo yo yo, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

In my hometown, there’s a church that my family calls “the fish church” because there’s a big metal fish on top of it. Some churches put crosses on top of their buildings, others put angels; this one has a fish. (Maybe fish are God’s favorite animal? idk.)

Even though my family is Mormon, the fish church is an important landmark to me because it’s where my mom went to church when she was younger. I wouldn’t describe either of my mom’s parents as super religious, but they were good Americans who made sure their only child had a Christian baptism.

Mom says that on the day of her baptism into the fish church (whatever religion it was), she prayed beforehand and asked God that she would be baptized the way he wanted her to be baptized.

Obviously super introspective and super spiritual (but still super young), Mom went to the fish church when possible and read the Bible.

It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she found the Mormon church and started going to church there. After several years of attending, she decided that she’d found the baptism God wanted her to receive and was baptized a Mormon, along with her mom.

I’m very grateful for my mom’s example of faith and searching. Because of her, I know the importance of prayer and finding a personal connection to God. Because of her, I know that God listens to and answers prayer. Because of her, I know that I can read and study to find answers to my own questions instead of wandering in doubt and hopelessness.

She was just a little kid and teenager when she made the most important decisions in her life, but it turns out that these decisions have not only blessed the rest of her life, but have also blessed the entire lives of me and all my brothers and sisters (there are 7 of us — oh boy!).

When I see the fish church, I think of my mom’s faith and how it started at a young age. I think of baptism and searching. I think of love and family. I think of my own spiritual journey. And I think of fish.

Love you, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!

   also can i borrow/have $200?   

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Sorry I couldn’t crop out my ugly brothers without it looking weird. :\

She met with Mormon missionaries and then what happened?

After she went to church, Taiwan Grandma started meeting with missionaries. Taiwan Mom had been asking her to meet with missionaries for forever, but Taiwan Grandma had never accepted the invitation until she came to church in September.

After a couple weeks of meeting with the missionaries, Taiwan Mom told me that Taiwan Grandma had decided to be baptized in December. I was surprised.

To be honest, I had been skeptical while Taiwan Grandma was meeting with the missionaries. From what I’d seen of her, she was an aloof person who liked to do her own thing. The people I’d taught and baptized on my mission were open and curious, excited to learn more about God and faith. When I’d gone to church with her, Taiwan Grandma hadn’t seemed very interested. So why was she getting baptized? I figured she was probably doing it to make Taiwan Mom happy.

So last weekend, Taiwan family and I drove down to Kaohsiung (where Taiwan Grandma lives) to see her baptism.

Turns out, I didn’t know the real Taiwan Grandma. At the baptism, she was bubbly, huggy, and super friendly to everyone who came. Taiwan Mom said she’d always been that way. I just hadn’t seen it because of the language and cultural barriers between us.

Her baptism was very cool. She said that she chose to be baptized so that she could be with her family for forever.

I think that people who aren’t familiar with Latter-day Saints assume that missionaries are basically salespeople taught how to give a sales pitch about joining the Mormon church.

But, in reality, the only way to be an effective missionary (or be an effective ANYTHING) is to be yourself and care about other people. I think in the past missionaries were pretty wooden, but nowadays, there’s a huge emphasis on being natural, really believing what you’re teaching, and listening to what people say. (To watch a cool documentary about what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary, click here.)

The missionaries who taught Taiwan Grandma were both Taiwanese, which is super cool since she speaks more Taiwanese (a dialect widely spoken here) than Mandarin.

What a good way to start out the New Year! Taiwan Grandma got baptized and I realized that even though I’m a “world traveler,” language and cultural barriers still prevent me from seeing some really cool things. I still have so much to learn, man!

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That’s me, Taiwan Brother (he baptized her), and Taiwan Grandma.

To read the Taiwan Grandma Saga, click here:

She told me I smell weird.

Let’s be Catholics.

MONKEYS GOT HATERS TOO

Bye, Grandma

 

Dear Future Russian Missionary

I remember when I got my call to serve as a Mormon missionary in Russia. My literal thought was, “Seriously? I’ll go, but I’m gonna die.”

When I submitted my mission papers, of course there were places I would have liked to serve — England, Australia, SPAIN (ugh, little brothers) — but I was okay serving anywhere. I didn’t have very many friends on missions, so I didn’t have to compare whether or not I was going some place “cool.” I was okay serving anywhere — EXCEPT Russia or Asia (which, ironically …). The cultures of those places didn’t interest me and the languages seemed impossible to learn (which, ironically …).

So when I got the call, I called my twin sister Meredith (who was graduated from college and married and pregnant and WE’RE NOT REALLY TWINS) and our conversation was basically, “Russia for two years … that sucks.”

But I knew the call was from God. The Russian people needed the gospel just like everyone else on the planet, even if they had a weird culture and language.

As I prepared to enter the MTC everyone had something to say about what life as a Russian missionary would be like:

“They don’t like Americans over there.”

“You’re going to see poverty like you’ve never seen before.”

“They don’t smile over there.”

“The people are hard to crack, but they’re real nice on the inside.”

“They’re all communists over there.”

“You’re going to be in the MTC for 12 weeks?!” — it’s 9 weeks now — “That’s torture!”

“You won’t get a whole lot of baptisms over there.”

Or my favorite from a lady who captured everything she knew about Russia in one sentence: “Cold Russian wind blowing through Red Square … Stalin!”

None of this really scared or surprised me since I already figured I might die. But the only piece of useful advice I got came from brother-in-law who’d actually served his mission in Russia. He told me to go without any preconceived assumptions. I didn’t know what it would be like to live outside the US or be a missionary, so it was better to figure my new life out as it happened than to expect the best or the worst.

And he was right! There was so much on my mission I saw and experienced that I would have overlooked if I had been expecting to see something else.

For example, on the bus from the airport to the US embassy, I saw real Russians walking down the street, laughing and smiling, holding hands and talking. These weren’t the tough-to-crack, communist drones I’d heard about. They were real people who laughed and smiled just like Americans. If I had only expected to see unsmiling faces and unhappy people, I wouldn’t have noticed their smiles.

Russia was a lot safer (although still crazy) than I expected it to be. My previous notion of dying on my mission had been based more on ignorance than bravery.

And when you get down to it, everybody who told me about Russia had never actually been there (everyone except my brother-in-law). Everything they knew about Russia, they’d learned from Cold War politics (which are still alive) and James Bond movies (which are also still alive). They knew as much about Russia as you do right now.

So prepare yourself by being willing to see what very few Americans will ever see or believe: that Russians are normal people.

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Rant #1 in the series Rants About Russia.

If you have any questions about serving in Russia (what to pack, etc.), hmu on my contacts page. I’ll be posting more about it too.

Faithful Muslims

“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:

  1. 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.

Fancy in Taiwan

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

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

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

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 ….