Is LA even cool?

I hopped off a plane at LAX with two of my travel buddies on Sunday night after our crazy Taiwan adventure. We’d driven to LA (to fly to Taiwan) together from Provo and intended to drive back together, but since one of the dudes had never really been to California before (he’d only ever driven through Northern California) and since we were pretty jet lagged, we decided to spend an extra day in LA.

Honestly, though, I’d always thought LA was just big, ugly, and dirty. There aren’t very many hills or trees to break up the endless concrete landscape, all the buildings look like billboard-plastered boxes, and the beaches are dry and dusty. In my opinion, San Diego is cooler than LA: it’s hilly, there are trees, the beaches are nicer, and there’s a nice mix of old, new, big, and small buildings.

After getting a full three hours of sleep (Asia jet lag is the worst), we headed out for what I figured would be an uninteresting and ugly day in LA. We let the first-timer plan what he wanted to see: the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, the LA Temple, and the beach.

Even though I’d grown up in California (San Diego/Red Bluff) and had been to LA, I’d never actually been to Hollywood before, but I expected to be unimpressed.

Going out to the Hollywood Sign was an adventure. It’s on the outskirts of LA right where all the film studios are (because it’s Hollywood). I saw Walt Disney Studios on our way, so we stopped to see if we could take a peek inside. Turns out, you aren’t allowed inside if you don’t work there and they don't do studio tours, but it legitimately felt so special to sit in the driveway of Walt Disney Studios as security explained all this to my travel buddy. I’ll never forget it.

Then we drove up Hollywood Hills to the sign. The sign itself is pretty far off the road, so it’s hard to get a good view of it unless you take a small (45-minute) hike out to it. We thought you could drive right up to it and were not prepared for a hike, so we parked at the Griffith Observatory, hiked out 10 minutes, got some pictures with the sign way far away, then got back in the car.

As close as I got.

It was cool to be next to such an iconic landmark even if I didn't get a great view of it. WAY SPESH.

The drive from the Hollywood Sign to the Walk of Fame was cool. Hollywood is an older part of town, so the buildings give off a 1930’s vibe, there are trees, and it’s not too crowded, kind of giving it an old-timey feel.

The Walk of Fame is (of course) on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s just a couple blocks of sidewalk inlaid with famous people’s names. I got a couple shots with some of my favorite Hollywood stars.

Walt Disney!
John Stamos!

Also on the Walk of Fame is Brahms Chinese Theatre (spelt Canadian style). Outside the theater are the hand- and footprints of yet more famous people (BUT NOT ONE DIRECTION -- SMH).

The cast of Harry Potter!
The cast of Star Wars!
If Twilight made it, so can you.

The theater is an actual theater that shows actual movies, so I think it’d be nift to see a movie there someday.

Along the Walk of Fame are neat little stores that sell neat little things. We went into a candy shop with cool candy murals!

After that, we went to the LA Temple and that was cool, then the beach (and yes it was dry and dusty).

LA Temple
Ocean and I. I hate you.
So Hollywood is actually really cool. It gives off an old-town vibe, but you also get to see world-renowned landmarks at the same time. Best of both worlds. If you’re in LA, you should come and see.


Picture vomit: Taiwan

These are some pics I took of some places I went during my last week in Taiwan. ;)

Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple

After being in the big city for two weeks, it was nice to bust out and get into nature. We (my fellow white American teachers and I) were able to visit rural areas, including this temple on a secluded lake in the foothills of Taiwan. The grounds are pritt, the temple is made from granite and jade with super cool carvings, and there's a stairway with 365 steps leading down to the lake (one step for every day of the year). You gotta check it out.

View of the lake from the temple.

Steps leading down to Sun Moon Lake.
Took the liberty of taking a shot with my birthday stair.
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.



Crowds block traffic because #nightlife.

So these were my some neat places places in Taiwan. I appreciated them.


I cried in public and all the Asians filmed it.

Everybody’s afraid of something. However, we don’t always know what we’re afraid of until we find ourselves facing that fear.

For example, once I was on a date at the park. We were doing a picnic by a pond when ducks started approaching us. At first, it was just a couple ducks and I thought it was pretty cool that they were getting so close to us. But then it was five, then a dozen, then at least twenty ducks swarming around my date and me. To be clear, SHE was fine. But the closer and closer the ducks got to me, their beady little eyes staring at me, their nasty beaks pecking and quacking for food, the smaller and smaller I involuntarily curled into a ball. I was curled into a ball of fear surrounded by ducks while a girl (who actually did go on more dates with me) laughed.

So that’s when I found out I was afraid of ducks.

Tonight, I had a similar experience.

Some people in our group have been wanting to do that Asian thing where you have fish eat the dead skin off your feet (or whatever) and, while we were out tonight, we saw a tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa place with a tank of those fish outside on the street. There were families (parents and children) just sitting knee-deep in the tank, swarms of little fish gathered around their feet.

While getting my feet manicured by fish wasn’t on my Taiwan bucket list, I didn’t have anything better to do and I was tired of walking, so I handed over 100 dollars ($3-ish USD) and got ready to put my feet in the tank of water.

My expectations were: tiny fish will come and eat the dead skin and junk off my feet.

What happened:

One fear I KNOW I have is SHARKS. Hate them. This summer has been the worst because there have been lots of super-publicized shark attacks. There were a couple in North Carolina last month and there was another one at a televised surf competition last week. Holy crap don’t go in Ocean.

Anyway, so I took off my sandals and rinsed off my feet before putting them in the water. You have to walk to the tank of fish in a specially-provided clean pair of flip-flops after you rinse off to keep your feet clean to prevent the tank from getting contaminated. After walking to the tank, you sit on a bench on the edge of the tank and slowly lower your feet into the water. It’s important to do it slowly and not move your feet once in the tank otherwise you’ll scare away the fish and ruin their appetite (an Asian told me).

So I lowered my legs into the tank up to my calves and the fish started surrounding them. They were little fish, about the size of small goldfish but brownish-colored.

The fish quickly swam up and started eating the dead skin and junk off my body. And then I started freaking out.


It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel good. It felt like they were biting me, but their mouths were so small that it didn’t hurt, but KNOWING they were BITING me drove me bananas. (And no, it didn’t feel ticklish, I just felt TERROR.)

Not only was it terrifying that they were latching onto and eating me, but I saw that when people took their feet out of the water, sometimes a couple fish would stay stuck on and they’d have to wipe them off. The idea of having to do that scared me so bad.

Even though I was being attacked by a million little sharks (essentially), the “treatment” was supposed to be 20 minutes, so I figured I’d just grin and bear it.

Except my form of grinning and bearing it was a mixture of heavy breathing, sporadic squeals, burying my face in my hands, yelling things like "OH MY GOSH" and “WHO INVENTED THIS?”, and stroking the beard of the man sitting next to me. In the middle of a public street in Taiwan.

I guess my reaction wasn’t typical (there was a little girl sitting three feet away with her feet in the tank --  she mainly just looked embarrassed for me and tried to avoid eye contact) because a big crowd of Asians gathered around. They just laughed and laughed, I imagine the same way white people watch Japanese game shows. I think they really enjoyed it cuz a lot of them took pictures of videos of me.

In the end, I hadn’t stayed very still, but I’d kept my feet in the shark tank for the whole 20 minutes. I had done it. And no fishes stayed attached THANK LITERAL HEAVEN.

Of course, I had a little headache, my throat was sore, and my eyes were bloodshot. Even though no tears came from my eyes, I had essentially cried in public in Taiwan and the Asians filmed it.

The dude who ran the shop seemed a bit annoyed because I’d made so much noise, but there was a 40-minute wait after I came, so I think it’s safe to say I attracted attention to that tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa shop.

And I discovered that I’m afraid of ducks, sharks, AND small fish.



A travel expert's advice on Taiwan

It's me. I'm the travel expert. I’ve been in Taiwan for TWO WEEKS, so that makes me a tiny expert on how to travel here. So sit back and relax: I have your whole trip planned.

1) Language: In my travel group, there are about five Mandarin Chinese-speakers and they’ve been a big help, especially since Chinese tones make anything written in pinyin impossible to pronounce correctly (for example, “Tansui” is pronounced “Dan-shway”), HOWEVER a lot of people in Taiwan know simple English. The main things you need to know are directions and how much stuff costs.

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

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

Not pronounced how you think it is.

**On a side note, Taiwanese people are so nice. They’re very polite and (a lot of the time) excited to speak/help with Westerners. Also, I’ve been in a big city for two weeks and I’ve only seen ONE drunk person. So.

2) Transportation: Get an EasyCard or TaipeiPass. These cards allow you to use public transport and get into state-run places (like museums and the zoo). The TapeiPass only works in Taipei, but is very cheap (about $25 USD for a week’s use or $7 USD for two days). The EasyCard works like a debit card: you put money on it and use it to get on any public transport anywhere in the country. It only requires a minimum deposit of $100 NTD (New Taiwan dollars) to get one.

Taipei MRT (metro)

3) Bring extra deodorant and TP. In Taiwan, deodorant isn’t really a thing, so they don't really sell it. A lot of people don’t wear it, so if you want to stay fresh, be sure to bring your own. Also, many bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, so be sure to have some with you AT ALL TIMES.

4) Avoid effing stinky tofu. Stinky tofu is fermented tofu. It is the most repulsively regurgitative thing I have ever smelled. It smells like crotch sweat mixed with dog breath mixed with rotten milk. Terrible terrible blegh blegh blegh. It’s sold at a lot at street markets, so be prepared to be smacked in the nose by the devil and all his angels.


5) Eat at bakeries and fruit stands. As I’ve mentioned before, the food here is a strugg for me, BUT I’ve discovered that if you want a quick tasty meal, bakeries and fruit stands are the way to go. The bakeries here make breads with a variety of flavors: sweet and sticky, savory and cheesy, chocolatey and nutty. It’s all very delish and I highly recommend it if you’re a weenie when it comes to Asian food (like me).

The fruit here is way good. Stop by any fruit stand and grab a mango or dragon fruit to eat with your bread and you’re on your way. Just be sure to bring your pocket knife and get ready for sticky fruit-covered hands (I’m duh-rooling right now).

6) Bring sandals and a raincoat or umbrella. It doesn’t rain every day here, but when it rains, it POURS, so be sure to have a something to keep you dry (if you’re into that type of thing). Sandals are also a must because they dry a lot quicker than shoes when they get wet.

7) This phrase: The most useful and only thing I know how to say in Mandarin is “mon-go bing-shah” which means “mango smoothie.” Just walk up to the smoothie bar, say the magic words and bingo! You got yourself heaven.

Coco is bae.

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

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


I locked myself on a roof in Taipei

View from ZhuWei High School
Me and the other white folks I’m with have been working at a high school on the edge of Taipei near the very tip of Taiwan. It’s jungley and lush and the ocean’s close by. It’s beautiful.

Every day, I thought, “I need to take some pics so I can show the peeps back home,” but every day I didn’t.

But since today was the last day at this school, I set out to take those darn pictures.

The high school has five levels (it's an outdoor high school made of concrete). I wanted to get pics from the fifth level to get the best view, but when I reached the fifth floor, I saw there was another flight of stairs going up, so I thought, “Sweet! Rooftop view!” and went up.

On the landing, there was a door with a sign (in Chinese) leading to the roof. I wasn’t sure whether the sign said that I was allowed on the roof, but my rule while traveling is “I’m American so it’s OK.” So I ignored the sign and went on the roof, making sure not to shut the door behind me just in case it locked.

Just as I got on the roof, I got a message on my phone telling me I was needed in the school gym. So I turned around to go back through the door, but it was a closed. I tried to open it, but there was no knob, just a key hole and I didn’t have the key.

I looked around and found another door leading off the roof, but it was only open a little bit and wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pulled. Since it's summer, we were the only people at the school, so there was no one around to shout to.

So I called the only other person in our group with cell phone service, but his phone answered the call without him knowing, so I was yelling, “Can you hear me??” while he sang to himself. (?)

The only other people I could call were Asians and I didn’t know how well the language barrier would facilitate a conversation about my current situation. Plus, they’d be like, “Why’d you go on the roof?”

I don’t really panic ever, but this is a situation where I kinda started panicking. I was sure people would notice me missing after an hour or so, but it was humid and especially hot on the roof. Plus, my data has been super sketch and I didn’t want to sit on the roof for an hour without internet. :(

So I noticed a ladder leading to a higher part of the roof, so I climbed it, thinking maybe there’d be a door leading down.

And there was! There were two trapdoors in the floor. I opened the first and saw a tiny room full of water (I’m not making this up). I opened the second and saw the same thing. I was like, “What the fetch is this place? Some torture chamber? Some Asian video game simulation thing?” (In hindsight, I think one was cold water and the other was hot. They were probably containers for the hot and cold water in the school.)

So the view was incredible, but I was still stuck. I was so panicky I didn’t even take pictures.
In my mind, I only had three options: climb off the roof somehow, post a plea on Facebook (if my data worked) and hope someone in Asia saw it, or pry open that second door that was stuck mostly shut.

I went back to the second door and tried pulling again. Nothing (again). I calmed down a little bit and thought, “Jason Bourne’s been to Asia. What would he do in this situation?”

I looked around for something to pry the door open with. I saw an old chair lying on its side. All I needed was a long stick to pry the door. So I threw the chair against the wall and broke off a long piece of wood. I tried to use it to pry the door open, but the wood was too old and the door was too stuck.

So, summoning the strength of Jason Bourne, I pulled on the door again. I put my foot on the wall I was pulling so hard. This time, it came loose and opened.

I was uber sweaty, but I outsmarted the roof.

And no, I never got the pictures.

Literally one of the two pics I got of this place.


Is the food in Taiwan good????

I kno I already talked about this, but I don’t love the food in Taiwan, BUTT I like to keep things positive on PFB, so I’ll get the negative out of the way real quick:

Do you ever see Asians post pictures of food? No because it’s all just rice.

Have you ever seen a fat Asian? No because all they do is sweat and eat rice (see this post about humidity).

What I’m saying is that all they eat is rice. There’s some steamed veggies and meat too, but everything is rice. I'm able to eat until I'm full, but overeating is a struggle because the food's not super tasty and that's what gets me. :(

But let’s move on to what’s tasty in Taiwan:

Dragon fruit
Sometimes white, sometimes purple inside, it has the texture of a kiwi and is mildly sweet and juicy. If you eat a whole purple one by yourself, it dyes your poo purple for the next day or two.

Tbh, I never really had a mango until I came here, so I can't compare them to the ones in the states, except I know these ones are at least twice as big and (duh) a lot more fresh. Hecka juicy and squishy. So sweet. I love them. FYI: I'm eating it wrong in this pic. The best way to eat them is to try to chop it in half (avoiding the big white pit in the middle), cutting it into squares (like a checkerboard), turning the skin inside out, then eating it. That's confusing.

Basically any fruit here
It's all good and fresh and juicy, but pro tip: bring a pocketknife so you can chop up and open the fruit you buy from fruit stands.

Anything mango-flavored
Mango ice cream, mango smoothies, mango shave ice, mango juice, it's all good. And mangoes are so sweet that I SWEAR they don't add any sugar if it's mango flavored. I'll swear it a million times.
Pot stickers and dumplings
They're the same thing, just pot stickers are fried and dumplings are boiled. They usually have pork or some veggies inside. I prefer pot stickers because SALT butt w/e.

Dolphin water
I don't really believe in non-water drinks, but in Taiwan you sweat so much (because it's so HUMID) that it's worth throwing some random electrolytes back into your body. There are a lot of waters that have extra energy-boosting junk in them. This one is dolphin water and it's good and tastes like dolphins.

Steamed pork buns
Who knew you could cook a whole bread thing just by steaming it? Asians, that's who. The steamed roll is really spongy and the pork is side is v tender. It tastes a lot like pulled pork. All it needs is some BBQ sauze.

Asian burrito
It's just a giant spring roll. I don't actually like spring rolls, but I know lots of folks do, so I thought I'd show you a pic.

This whatever
Next to mangoes, this is the most delightful thing I've had in Taiwan. It's like a naan bread with eggs, ham, cheese, basil, and a spicy sauce inside. It might be Vietnamese, but it's REALLY good.

So, even though I'm not gonna get fat here, there are plenty of goodies to snack on. Yes plz!!


Taiwanice people

Taiwanese people are the nicest. According to my Taiwan boss lady, Taiwan is the second safest country in the world (rumor has it that Norway is #1, but we'll let Google be the judge of that). Of all the countries I've visited, this one is the only one that hasn't had random nasty teenagers wandering around the streets (except for Norway). They're all too busy doing school.

Seriously, these poor kids go to normal school, then they go to "cram school" so they can study to get accepted to high school, where they'll only study hard so they can go to a good university. :(

That's not the only rough part of Taiwanese life. Taiwan is an island the size of Delaware and Maryland combined (I don't actually know how big that is, I just know it's SMALL). A lot of these people have never left the island. Can you imagine spending your whole life in a area that small????

On top of that, they eat the same thing for every meal: rice. Rice with cabbage, rice with sausage, rice with noodles, rice, rice, rice, rice, rice. What the fetch? How about mixing things up from meal to meal? Maybe some pancakes for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a whole pizza to eat by yourself for dinner while you think about how all your old roommates and friends are married now? Butt rice is life for them. Bummer for them all.

Anyway, I feel very safe in this country. I wake up every morning, run to the park, and do some intense muscle pumping. I feel completely fine wandering around alone any time of the day. I know I stand out like a man in bra shop because I'm white and don't know any Mandarin Chinese, but they're all very welcoming. A lot will wave and say, "Hello!" in English. My first morning when I was looking for a 7-11, a little dude handed me a badminton racket and wanted me to play. (I took a swing at it, but ran away when I missed my own serve.)

I'm been staying in a city outside of Taipei called Taoyuan. I went to Taipei on Saturday and it was very cool. I haven't gotten out of the city to see some plants and stuff yet (which is a big bummer for me), but I hopefully will be able to next week!

Stuff I seen I want you to see:
Detail of a temple roof in Taoyuan.
Street art in Taoyuan.
Welcome to my cave of wonders.
Taipei 101 (a VERY tall building in Taipei)

Breakfast+Lunch+Dinner. NOT COMPLAINING
LDS temple in Taipei.
A neat building in Taoyuan.
View from up top. (Taiwan boss lady's apt.)
  1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.
This dude just sits in the CKS Memorial Hall all day. I call him Asiabraham Lincoln.