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.

Top 3 tips for Taiwan

Taiwan is full of beautiful sea views, mountaintops, and the nicest people ever. But since it’s a relatively unknown tourist destination (many Americans still mistake it for Thailand), there are a lot of hidden treasures on the island the casual tourist doesn’t know about. Lucky for you, I spent a year living in Taiwan and I found the top 3 tips to improve your time there.

If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, doing any of these top 3 things will enhance your trip a bunch!

3) The beach

Since Taiwan is an island, people naturally assume they can visit any beach and have a blast. This is false. Most Taiwanese beaches are rocky, polluted, and unsafe to swim at. But, since I’m from California, I found the best beaches during my year living there. Really, only two stick out: Fulong Coast Park in the north and Kenting in the south.

Fulong is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Taipei Main Station, after which Fulong Coast Park is an easy walk from Fulong Station. There’s a sign at the beach warning you to be careful when and where you swim, but it’s safe; the water’s shallow and the waves are small. (Note: There are two beaches in Fulong. One is a hotel beach you need to pay a small fee to enter. The other, Fulong Coast Park, is free.)

I went to Fulong four times but for some reason this is the only pic I have saved.

Kenting is in the very south of Taiwan. There are a couple beaches there. The one I went to is called Little Bay Beach. Again, the water wasn’t rough at all and the waves were small. The sand was more like small pebbles that got stuck all up in my swimsuit area. I loved it.

This is the best picture I have of Kenting. WHY AM I SO BAD AT BLOGGING ???

2) Shoushan (aka Monkey Mountain)

If you want to get up-close-and-personal with wild monkeys (Who doesn’t?), Taiwan is the place to do it. While you can catch glimpses of monkeys on forest trails here and there, the place where I saw the MOST monkeys was in Shoushan by Kaohsiung. Shoushan is a heavily forested nature park and it is absolutely covered in monkeys. Just take a taxi from anywhere in Kaohsiung and you’ll be there in no time.

Formosan rock macaques

The monkeys there aren’t skittish at all; you can see them ambling along the trail or hanging out in low-hanging branches. Just don’t feed them or get too close (for OBVIOUS reasons). (Note: If you do take a taxi to Shoushan, be sure to get your driver’s phone number so you can call them for a ride back into town.)

OBVIOUS REASONS

(Here’s a post about the first time I went to Shoushan  and here’s a video of my dad and me at Shoushan.)

1) Alishan

Alishan National Scenic Area (also called Ali Mountain) is my absolute #1 favorite place in Taiwan.  High in the mountain tops, you’ll find a quiet cluster of shops surrounded by stretches of ancient forest and jaw-dropping mountain vistas. In the year I lived in Taiwan, I visited Alishan four times.

The thing most Taiwanese do when they visit Alishan is book a hotel in the park, spend the night, and wake up really early to watch the sunrise at Chushan Station viewing area. The only problem is that to book a hotel on time sometimes requires planning ahead several months. Even if you can’t watch the sunrise, though, going to the sunrise viewing area at any time of day still gives an awesome view of the valleys below.

The best view of all.

Other things to see in Alishan include the Sacred Trees, Sister Ponds, and other forest paths. Alishan National Scenic Area is actually really small, so you can see almost everything on a day trip (although I recommend staying overnight if you can).

To get to Alishan, take a bus from Chiayi. The bus ride is about 2 hours, but you’re climbing up into the mountains the whole time, so it’s a really, really pretty ride.

 

So these are my top 3 tips for Taiwan! I know it’s not a perfect list, but hopefully you can build a trip around these places or sprinkle them into plans you’ve already made.

Note: I didn’t include Taipei or Jiufen on this list because anyone who visits Taiwan likely knows about these places already. Plus, Taipei deserves a list of its own.

Iceland: Best and worst

You’ve seen it in your newsfeed, you’ve seen it in movies, and now you’re seeing it here: ICELAND. Not just a geologic hotspot with the occasional exploding volcano, it’s also a tourist hotspot exploding with new visitors every day.

But is it all just hype? Is a trip to Iceland really all that and a bag of selfies? Earlier this summer, I spent a week in Iceland, so I can tell you the best and worst parts about visiting.

Worst

1) 24 Hours of daylight (or lack thereof)

During summer, Iceland is constantly exposed to sunlight and during winter, it sees very little of it. For a traveler recovering from jetlag, this constant daylight or darkness isn’t just an interesting phenomenon; it’s a huge inconvenience. Your body is already confused about what time to go to bed; when you couple that with the sun shining all night long or (in winter) not being there almost at all, you get insomnia-filled nights and very groggy days.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.

2) Expensive food

I’d heard the food was expensive before visiting, but seeing it for myself was unbelievable. Six bucks for a loaf of bread? Five bucks for a pound of oranges?! Even a sandwich in a small café cost fifteen dollars! Iceland is almost literally a giant island of ice, so not a whole lot grows there. Most food needs to be imported, which means it comes with a heavy price tag, both for locals and tourists.

3) Tourism

Iceland is a beautiful country that attracts millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, those visitors are slowly killing the country’s natural beauty. Plastic wrappers and beer cans litter popular attractions. Old hot springs used for centuries by locals are becoming overused and unsafe because of microbes brought by tourists. With the number of tourists exploding from just under 300,000 in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2016, Iceland is seriously lacking in infrastructure, personnel, and laws to keep their island (population 330,00) from getting trampled under tourists’ feet.

Seljavallalaug Hot Spring

Best

1) 24 hours of daylight

While initially confusing, having 24 hours of daylight became a huge advantage in my trip. Instead of fighting my jetlag, I went with it; going to bed at 4 am, waking up at noon. Iceland is a very popular country, especially during summer. By ignoring the time on the clock, I was able to enjoy all the tourist sights without all the tourists.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.
Grjotagja Cave at midnight.
Black sand beach in Vik early in the morning (actually, it was 7 am but for some reason no one was there).

2) Chillest people

I mean, they live in a place named after ice, but Icelanders are seriously chill. When I picked up a car from an Icelandic-owned rental car company, they told me not worry if the car got any scratches or whether I returned it with a full tank of gas. “Just make sure all the doors are on when you bring it back.” When a pile of rental camping equipment cost me five times more than I expected, the outdoor store I was at gave me a full refund, even though I didn’t realize my mistake until 20 minutes after the fact AND they supposedly had a no-refund policy. Maybe I’m just special (which I’m willing to believe), but they are a super easy-going and accommodating group of people.

3) Nature (DUH)

Going to Iceland feels like visiting a land before time, but no dinosaurs. Outside the cities and villages, the only manmade thing you can see is the road. No billboards, no powerlines. Just the road and what God put there (and the occasional crashed airplane).

Glacier lagoon
Svartifoss
Ring Road
Dettifoss
Crashed DC 3 on Solheimasandur

Verdict

If you’re visiting Iceland for jaw-dropping landscapes and awesome selfies, it’s the place for you. If you’re looking for a unique vacation to do things and see places no one has done or seen before, you’re several years too late.

I almost drowned in Taiwan.

It was a rainy day in Taiwan and I was chilling in a hot spring. Cool rain splashed down onto my face like angel kisses as my body lay reclined in a warm pool of water. I felt like a precious baby in the womb.

Next to this hot spring ran a river. It wasn’t a big river, but people liked to swim in it. A rope ran parallel from the riverbank to a pole fixed in middle of the river’s stream. Another rope was tied to another pole a little ways downstream. The idea was to walk into the water while holding the first rope, let go, then let the river’s current carry you downstream where you would grab hold of the second rope and pull yourself back to shore.

I watched as a couple people got into the river and floated from the top to the bottom rope. It seemed fun, so I decided to give it a try.

The water was colder than I expected but I was surprised to find that the river was actually pretty shallow – barely waist-deep. I walked out holding onto the rope, tucked my knees up against my chest, then let go, giving myself up to the river gods.

The current was strong because of the rain and my butt kept hitting rocks because the river was so shallow, but it was decently fun; like going on a waterslide while having your butt hit over and over again.

As the ride was coming to a close, I stuck my hand out to grab hold of the second rope, which hovered about six inches above the water. Unfortunately, I have the hand-eye coordination of a newborn baby’s tongue, so when I tried to grab the rope to stop myself, I missed completely and the current continued dragging me downstream.

I’d been counting on that rope to get me out of the river, but since I missed it, my only option was to swim out. I turned my body and began swimming toward the bank, but the current was too strong and wouldn’t let me out. I’d always considered myself a good swimmer, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any closer to shore. I just kept bobbing downstream, my legs and arms bumping and scraping against rocks on the riverbed.

At this point, I wondered two things.

First, I wondered whether I was drowning. I decided that maybe I was, cuz I’d never experienced this helpless feeling while swimming before, and that’s probably what drowning feels like.

Second, I wondered whether I was going to die. I’ve always thought that I would have an earlier premonition about when I was going to die, like I would wake up knowing that today was the day. Since I hadn’t had any inkling earlier that day, I figured that, no, I was not going to die.

After deciding I was drowning but not dying, I debated whether I should call for help. Since I knew I wasn’t going to die, I figured there was no reason to be overly dramatic. On the other hand, how was I going to get out of this river on my own?

While I was debating all this in my head, I bumped into a small island of rocks close to shore that stopped my progression downstream. I got hold of a big rock, then pulled myself to my feet. I walked ashore, a little tired and scraped, but not drowned or dead (I was right!).

I walked back up to the hot springs and sat down. I watched the river and wondered whether anyone else would try floating down and what would happen in they missed the bottom rope.

Sure enough, another man walked into the river holding onto the first rope, let go, then floated down and missed when he reached out to grab the second rope. I perked up. Would he almost drown like I had? What would he do to get out of the current?

I was amazed to see his solution: he stood up and walked to the shore.

The whole time, the water had barely been waist-deep. I should have realized because my body kept hitting rocks on the river’s shallow bottom. But I’d forgotten and hadn’t realized how simple the solution had been the whole time.

So I almost drowned in Taiwan. Cuz I’m an idiot.

The Handsomest Prince

I wrote this story. I hope it inspires you.

Once upon a time, there was a prince who was handsomest in all the world. Everybody liked to look at him, but the person who liked to look at him most was himself. Whenever he felt sad, he looked at himself in the mirror and was instantly happy for days.

One day while travelling through his kingdom, he met a girl crying.

“Why are you crying?” asked the Handsomest Prince.

“I’m crying because I’m sad,” said the girl who was staring sadly at the ground.

“Well, why don’t you look in the mirror? That always makes me happy.” The Handsomest Prince smiled handsomely.

“But that’s why I’m crying,” said the girl. “I’m crying because I looked in a mirror and saw that I am so ugly!”

“Oh,” said the Handsomest Prince, surprised. “I’m not sure what ‘ugly’ is. Is it common?”

“Yes it is. Many people are sad because they are so ugly. Don’t you already know?” And here the girl looked up and saw with whom she had been speaking. “Oh my!” A smiled spread across her face. “I didn’t realize I was talking to you, Handsomest Prince! My day is so much better!”

“Hmmmm,” thought the Handsomest Prince. “I think I have an idea to help everyone in my kingdom.”

So the Handsomest Prince left to find the hideously ugly witch who lived on the high mountain.

“Witch,” said the Handsomest Prince bravely. “I need you to cast a spell on every mirror in the kingdom so that whenever someone looks in the mirror, instead of seeing their own face, they will see mine. It is the only way for everyone to be happy.”

“OK,” said the witch. “But for the spell to work, you need to give me a kiss.”

The witch was very ugly, but the Handsomest Prince wanted his people to be happy, so he leaned in to kiss the witch’s gross, warty, dry lips. But the instant before his lips touched hers, she turned into a beautiful princess and then they made out.

The spell worked! And from that day forward, whenever anyone looked in a mirror, they saw the Handsomest Prince’s face and everyone was happy and they all lived happily ever after especially the Handsomest Prince.

The End

Moral: Always be the handsomest. The End

TICKED OFF

But honestly though, going to Loch Ness was really cool. The loch was beautiful and it was a close jaunt from Inverness (the city where I was staying). Very cool, you should go.

lochness4

I had one setback, though. To get to Loch Ness, I had walked along the highway on the east side of the River Ness, which doesn’t have much sidewalk. I had to squeeze against the side of the road and jump fences for 8 miles to get there. I was happy when I finally got to Loch Ness but was not looking forward to taking the same route back.

lochness5

Fortunately, when it was time to go back to Inverness, I found a footpath that ran alongside the river. I didn’t know if it would lead all the way back to Inverness and I couldn’t find it on a map, but I decided to follow as long as it would lead me.

Following this path was a lot nicer than hopping fences and walking on the highway. It went through a quiet forest, past small cozy houses, past big fancy houses, through some kind of abandoned graveyard, then back into the forest.

lochness6

Eventually though, the path became thinner and the forest became thicker. Wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, my entire body was rubbing against grass, leaves, and branches.

I’d been walking a couple hours, so I stopped to take a break. I sat down to drink some water when I noticed a small dot on my left leg. It was about the size of a lentil and had four tiny legs (kinda of like a spider), but I couldn’t see the head.

I quickly recognized that the thing sticking out of my leg was a TICK, and after inspecting my leg more closely, I realized that there wasn’t just one tick in my leg but two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!! My only experience with ticks was pulling a blood-filled one off my friend’s dog and reading about Lyme disease in Boy Scouts. So I did the most logical thing: I panicked.

I quickly opened my backpack and found my bug spray (I’d had bug spray the whole time, why hadn’t I sprayed myself?!!) and covered my legs. Then, remembering terrible stories about people finding ticks in their nether regions, I ripped all my clothes off and drenched every inch of my naked body with bug spray.

Since this was my first time having a tick (TICKS) on me, I wanted to get back to my hostel as soon as possible so I could get my tweezers and pull them all out. I was only halfway back to Inverness, but I knew I could get back in less than an hour if I ran. I pulled my clothes back on and ran toward where I thought the highway was; I WAS NOT going back into the forest.

I ran through another field, lots of tall grass, some bushes, over a fence, past some houses and was soon back on the highway. I ran until I was back at my hostel. I was so tired and hungry, but I went straight to the bathroom with my tweezers and started pulling ticks out. One, two, three, four … I lost count after ten. After pulling out every tick I could see, I jumped into the shower — where I noticed yet more ticks sticking out of my leg. I spent at least a half hour pulling ticks out of my leg and cleaning my leg with soap and water.

Visiting Loch Ness is cool, but if you’re gonna walk there, take the path on the west side of the river and don’t wear shorts and sandals in the forest unless you want to get naked naked in ticks.

P.S. No, I didn’t get an STD from the ticks (Scottish Tick Disease).

Get to Loch Ness in 6 easy steps

Most people want to go to Loch Ness and pay their respects to the Loch Ness Monster aka our underwater ally, but also most people haven’t been to Loch Ness, probably because they lack the knowledge of which amulets, rune spells, and passknocks will help get you there. Luckily for all of us, I went to Loch Ness last July and I can tell you how to get there.

If you want to go to Loch Ness, follow my advice. I’m an avid traveller and Nessie fan.

Step 1: Get to Scotland. According to basic geography, Scotland is the country where Loch Ness is. Starting from your country of origin, you can board the closest airplane, bus, boat, scuba driver, narwhal, drawgon (it’s a drawing of a dragon that comes to life and can fly), flying pony, or spacetime jumper and ride it until you get to Scotland.

Step 2: Fit in with the locals. As with any journey, you need to fit in with the local inhabitants if you’re gonna make it very far. Your first option is to dress like a commoner: in Scotland, the men dress like women and the women dress like men. If you’re unsure whether an outfit in feminine or masculine, try a unisex outfit like this:

ladydress

Another option is to wear invisibility garb, which will make you undetectable to everyone but high-level wizards.

invisibilitygarb

A final option is to dress as a wizard, but only do this if you’re prepared to duel regularly.

floralladydress

Step 3: Travel to Inverness. There are several settlements surrounding Loch Ness, the largest and most accessible is called Inverness. Once you reach Scotland and are wearing appropriate clothing, head to this city. Inverness is 8 miles from the loch itself, but you won’t find a bus or train that’ll take you closer.

Even though Inverness is the largest city in northern Scotland, it’s still pretty small, so if you stay there (which you probably will) be sure to book a hotel or hostel ahead of time. You can also pitch a tent next to the river if you want, but be aware of river trolls and kelpies.

inverness

Step 4: Follow the river. To get to Loch Ness from Inverness, follow the River Ness south. You can follow the river by taking a local bus, renting a bike, walking, hitchhiking, running, or riding a forest stallion. Be aware that the preferred currency of the region is nebula amulets, but basically any other amulet will work. Except sparkle amulets. And fart gems.

If you decide to walk to Loch Ness, there’s a safe footpath on the west side of the river, as opposed to the Path of Rage and Gore on the east side. If you encounter a vampire tree on your way, use passknock combination 3R-5R-1L.

IMPORTANT: Loch Ness is 23 miles long and THERE ARE NO bridges that cross the loch or river once you’re out of Inverness, which is good cuz that means there are less trolls, BUT it also means you need to know which part of the loch you want to see before you head out. Are you planning to siege Urduhart Castle? Better take the west side of the river. Looking for the lost graveyard? Better take the east side. Are you taking a boat tour of the loch? Better find out where the boat docks before you leave.

Step 5: Enjoy the scenery. The landscape of Scotland is among the most Scottish in the world. Enjoy the land’s natural beauty, whether you’re sitting on a bus, a forest stallion, or your own two feet.

img_20160723_170804

Step 6: Chill at Loch Ness. If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you’ll arrive at Loch Ness.

Actually being at Loch Ness is pretty weird though. When I got there, people were just, like, water skiing and having picnics and doing other lake stuff, kinda like it was just a normal lake and there wasn’t a giant monster that lived there. Idiots.

I maintained a respectful distance from the lake’s edge and cast a protective spell over the lake and its local inhabitants and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.

lochness1

lochness2

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?   

MOTHER_BOY2

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

I didn’t die in Europe

A year ago, I landed in Europe for a three-week backpacking trip. I didn’t plan to take many pictures, I didn’t plan to blog about it, I didn’t plan to become a full-time traveller — I didn’t even plan to have a good time. I just had one goal: survive.

I’d bought the plane tickets in the middle of the night during my last semester of college without thinking. I tried to refund them afterward, regretting my decision. I would be travelling alone and therefore would probably be mugged/raped/killed.

Unable to refund the tickets and putting a good face on for all my friends at home, I forced myself to get on the plane. Equipped with a new jacket, waterproof boots (at least I THOUGHT they were waterproof), and a backpack with only two outfits, I landed in Europe hoping to survive.

The next three weeks were the craziest, coolest, funnest, most empowering three weeks I’d ever had. I slept on stranger’s couches, tried new food, visited old friends, learned new things about myself, did things I never thought I’d do, saw things I’d always wanted to see, and discovered things I didn’t even know existed. They literally changed me and set a new course for my life.

I’m so grateful to everyone who made last year’s trip possible. Whether it was giving me a tip about new food to try, hooking me up with a couch to crash on, or giving me a ride somewhere, I am so grateful.

I’m also grateful to have so many new friends from all over the world following me now. Your travel tips and friendship make me feel so much safer and more confident as I travel.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity, money, and connections to make travel my current lifestyle. I’m so flipping blessed it’s crazy.

 

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia

russia

 

London Temple in Surrey, England

londontemple

 

Oslofjord in Oslo, Norway

norway2

 

A Roman arch in Verona, Italy

italy

 

Feldkirch, Austria

austria

 

Walensee, Switzerland

switzerland

 

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

germany

 

A vine-covered house in Howth, Ireland

ireland

This was originally a post on my Instagram, but I thought I’d post it here so it’d be easier to find later.

Christmas presents

There was a point growing up when I realized that I wouldn’t always be excited to get presents for Christmas. And that made me nervous. Christmas was my favorite holiday, the best time of the year. Without that excitement, Christmas would become just like any other holiday.

If you asked me why I liked Christmas so much back then, I would have replied with a faithful/dutiful, “Because Jesus.” I’d gone to church my whole life and I knew what I was supposed to say, but the real reason I loved Christmas was because of PRESENTS (duh).

I’m not sure why I got excited for presents. I can’t remember ever getting anything really great as a kid (sorry, parents). But I think it was the excitement of having a surprise waiting in a package, a surprise that had been chosen just for me, something that my parents thought I would like or that I had asked them for (I never believed in Santa Claus – sorry, kids).

That excitement to get those special Christmas gifts started creeping in during mid-November, then steadily built after Thanksgiving when we started watching Christmas movies and eating massive amounts of junk food, and culminated the night before Christmas,  keeping me awake until morning when it was finally time to open those presents.

The rush of excitement to open Christmas presents was the best, most important part of Christmas!

But what would happen when I grew up and became old like my parents? Us kids never got them anything for Christmas. Did they even get excited for Christmas? Maybe they did, but I was sure any excitement they felt couldn’t compare to the euphoric, sleep-depriving excitement I felt.

Sure enough, now that I’m older, Christmas has changed. I still get excited for Christmas every year, but it’s for different reasons than before (and some of the same reasons too).

I’m excited to have neighbors and friends supplying me with a bottomless pile of holiday cookies and candy.

I’m excited to open presents even if it’s just empty boxes (tearing wrapping paper off of stuff is really satisfying).

I’m excited to see Christmas lights because, honestly, I like shiny things.

I’m excited to surprise family and friends with presents that I’ve picked out just for them.

I’m excited to hear Christmas carols because even though they have different words, they all sing about the same thing.

And I’m excited to refocus on Jesus Christ. Even though I didn’t understand what I was saying when I was younger, I really believe it now.

Christmas isn’t a time to just tell the story of a baby born in a stable. It’s the time to tell the story of a man who lived a very humble life: born in a dirty stable, raised as a poor carpenter, spending his whole life with the sick and poor whom he taught and healed, then being rejected and killed by those same people whom he taught and healed, and willingly doing it all because of love.

When he died, he did it for each of us, to help each individual. He died to give me gifts he’s chosen and prepared just for me: healing, hope, and love.

Now, because I understand the true meaning of Christmas, I can be excited everyday, not just during Christmastime.

Merry Christmas everyone!!! Yayayayayay!

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.

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 ….