When Travel Comes Knocking, to Boston We’re Flocking!

At four hundred hours, both of our alarms go off and we jump into action, silencing the buzzing sounds. We then take a few minutes to adjust to the fact that it’s morning, the sun hasn’t risen yet, and we have to take our showers and prepare for our day. The consensus? It’s way too early.

After brushing our teeth, showers, the usual last minute packing for the odds and ends, and hugging John’s mother, Patty, goodbye, we tout our backpacks, grab our hats, and settle into the car for the ride to the airport that John’s father, Jeff, was kind enough to offer. We head to the Richmond International Airport to the soundtrack of metal and Ozzy Osbourne. John’s working on something for a VPN from home and so his father and I chat on the way in. For the most part, we’re talking about other drivers and how anyone that’s not the person driving the vehicle you’re in is a terrible driver. Jeff’s also telling me a bit about music, both rock and metal. Considering neither are really in my usual easy pop internet radio stations, I don’t have much to offer but the occasional nod and promise to look up an artist or song.

Finally, we arrive at the airport and gather up our things – which is easy when all you’re taking is a backpack and hat – and say our farewells to Jeff.

Richmond International Airport isn’t overly large, so getting checked in is easy – John simply sticks his credit card into a kiosk and it gives us our tickets. In minutes, we’re through security and waiting at the gate. By 0630 EST, we’re in the air and headed for Boston. The flight is only an hour long so we watch a couple of episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. These particular episodes are pretty action-packed (the ones where Ed and Al confront Scar about the Rockbell’s for those not in the know – and no, you can’t really count that as a spoiler after six years) so the flight goes by quickly. The stewardess comes by periodically and we both get water. When she offers us snacks, he takes the tiny cookies while I munch on Cheez-its.

At last, we land. The view from the plane as we’re coming down is pretty – amazing, even. We’re in Boston until 0500 EST, so we’re pretty excited. John’s planned the layover so we can explore for a bit since he’s got experience here. We take the Silver Line bus into the Metro and change over to the Red Line towards Alewife and South Station. We were both impressed, by the way, with the way the diesel engine swapped onto the trolley grid and vice versa on the way home. (Here’s a nifty tidbit – the Silver Line is free, which means getting from the airport and transferring onto the Red Line is free, too! We got out into Boston for free, though we did have to pay for our tickets coming back. Admittedly, $2.75 per person is still way better than what we’d be paying in DC.)

We get off at Park Place and explore for a bit. We’ve already decided that the first order of business will be food since we woke up at the unholy hour of four in the morning. We were thinking about looking for the usually advertised fare in Boston – clam chowder – but the first thing we see coming up to the street level through the elevator is a Burger King.

“Besides, nothing’s actually serving food right now,” John tells me, reminding me once more that it’s way too early in the day to be awake. A good day for me starts with me waking up no sooner than ten in the morning. He cushions the blow a bit by adding, “And I really just feel like a whopper.” Well… Okay, if we’re not going because it’s the only thing open, I can accept that.

Of course, that’s when we ran into our first snag. We crossed the street to get into the Burger King, but… they’re only serving breakfast food. I cringe a little and go with the egg-normous burrito (which really is too big) and he gets a croissant with bacon, egg, and cheese. While we’re waiting for our food, I get a good look at the rules there – and wow is it strict.

The bathroom is only accessible to customers who have already purchased food – a specification that surprises me. Another note is that those who have purchased food are only to take fifteen minutes to consume their food before they’re advised to move on. Holy cow – so much for enjoying my food.

Still, it starts raining while we’re there, so we ignore the latter notice, deciding that we’ll venture out when it lightens up a bit. After a few minutes, we find the rain is sprinkling more so than drumming, so we head out, going around the corner to the right to find the Starbucks. I greatly need caffeine despite my distaste for the bitter drink called coffee. Yuck! He wants to get some work done and I need to wake up so we head over and get our respective drinks – a mocha latte for him and a caramel macchiato for me, both at child’s temperature. David, the barista, told me that the drink would be sweet. Upon tasting the beverage, I immediately feel betrayed. My taste buds are assaulted by the too-strong taste of coffee, coffee, coffee and I’m squinting at my drink as John rolls his eyes at me and leads me to a table behind the counter since all the window seats are taken. “Just because he said it’s a sweet coffee doesn’t change the fact that it’s still coffee,” he chides me. Eugh.

It’s at this point that we take our break from pretending to be normal human beings. I log onto Final Fantasy XIV and train the FC birds before going to harvest the Krakka Root I’ve got growing at my house. My connection is tenuous at best, so I stick to crafting some basic mats – hard leather and boar leather (I know they’re very different levels, but that’s what I had on hand. So sue me. :P). John tries for a nap but gets told no rather bluntly by one of the workers, which is fair.

Still, I’ve done pretty much all I feel up to in FFXIV for the time being and he’s sorted through what he was working on. It’s time to put the laptops away and go on a little miniature adventure.

We’ve asked around a bit for good clam chowder places, so we have an idea of where to go. It doesn’t take very long for us to work out where we should be headed between Google Maps and the compass he wears whenever he travels. It’s a bit of a trek, but we make it there in one piece – I even steal a dog treat (a milkbone) from the Info booth so I can play nice with the dogs (I’m a dog person, can you tell?). The waitress is a bit confused by the random dog treat, but eh. We really only saw people with multiple dogs or with children. I’m not particularly fond of explaining to children why they don’t get dog treats or making adorable doggies sad because I’ve only got the one treat, so I held off.

Lunch is a bowl of lobster bisque and clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods. It’s surprisingly good and we split the two bowls of soup between the two of us (because there’s no point in traveling with your significant other if you can’t have the best of BOTH worlds!). It’s a little pricier than I might have liked, but the soups are both tasty. The atmosphere is very, very nice and the bathrooms are impeccable. My only complaint is that the staff doesn’t introduce themselves by name or wear name tags so I can refer to them by name and/or recommend them to others. There is no denying, however, that they’re very well-mannered, polite, and checked in with us frequently even though we made it obvious from the beginning that we were only there for soups. Not once did anyone make unnecessary suggestions about what we might eat and nor did I feel that our treatment – wearing backpacks and dressed in comfortable travel clothes – was different from the treatment that they gave to a group of three gentlemen all dressed up in nice suits with ties who had clearly ordered entrees.

After lunch, we’re feeling renewed – it’s time to check out the Boston Commons! We trek through Chinatown on our way to the park, but it’s a nice walk after eating. Once we get there, John’s excited to take me out on a Swan Boat, Duck Boat Ride Thing. No, that’s not the actual name, but I’m sure you all get the picture. When we’re walking up, though, they’re swabbing down the deck and closing up. “We close for the rain,” one of the employees explains.

Well, darn. Disappointed, we walk around the lake to see the ducks from the shore if not the water. At one corner of the park, we spy a series of statues – duck statues! John immediately suggests they might be “Make Way for Ducklings”, a book that he’d wanted to show me before we departed from home.

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I snagged a picture of him being adorable – at his protests, really, but it was totally worth it.

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On our way out, I note that the flowers by the corner are pretty and remember that grandma loves pretty things. I don’t know if she’ll be able to see the picture, but hey – it’s worth trying, right?

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We cross the street for lack of anything else to do and find ourselves excited when we see what’s unmistakably a carousel in the distance. That’s right – you read it properly. A carousel. I’ve got a picture of him on it as proof! He decided on a chicken, the silly boy, but I went for a goat! Don’t knock goats, guys – they’re stubborn little butts.

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The carousel itself, though, is admittedly rickety and bumpy. It seriously needs some oil, but at least comes with a bonus sticker on the way out advertising the Frog Pond. It’s not the worst ride we’ve had, but probably not worth the $3.00 per person we paid to try it out.

Afterwards, we walk over to said Frog Pond – it’s basically a large wading pool with a fountain in the middle for children (or adults!) to run through and refresh themselves. I take a break – I’m pretty sure I’ve got a bit of boot shock going on because these are new leather shoes and we’ve walked about five miles today.

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John goes around the pool twice – like I said before, it’s a nice size – and I get a sneaky picture of him on the way out but on his way back, he saw the camera and started posing. I still managed a goofy one, though, because I’m bad enough with a camera to make even a great pose look silly (and besides, he’s naturally derpy anyways).

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He urged me to go around with him so I left our stuff to the dutiful eye of a lifeguard (with her permission, of course) and shucked my shoes and socks, rolling my pant legs up so that I could go around with him. It was startlingly cold – and no, it’s not the kind of cold you get used to after diving in since there’s not enough depth to properly drench yourself unless you’re appropriately tiny.

We relaxed for a bit to take in the sights and dry off. I asked a nearby mother for a few baby wipes to clean my feet while John made fun of me for being Asian, as though it’s just an Asian thing to want to be clean! Bah, he’s a derpity derp, as I’ve already mentioned.

We set off for the park exit which, to my great joy and happiness, is just next to entrance we’d come up! I say this because we walked rather a great deal more than either of us typically does in a given week, much less in a day.

In the station, waiting for the Red Line in the opposite direction, I was approached by a young Asian woman who hesitantly caught my attention and nervously asked, “Chinese?”

I’m sorry to shake my head and say, “No, Korean,” but John is already working on the problem – he’s in the process of looking for Google Translate on his phone. Unfortunately, he doesn’t yet have it, but as someone that often needs to translate words from Korean to English or English to Korean, I happen to have it handy. I set it to translate from English to Chinese (simplified) and typed in, ‘Where are you trying to go?’

It’s really quite convenient – I have absolutely no idea what the kanji in the app says, but it’s enough to get the meaning across and the woman shows me the texts she’d been exchanging with someone else telling her that she needs the Orange Line to a stop at the end of the line. Now, it becomes obvious to both me and John that she needs to transfer which is easy – it’s the very next stop.

We’re able to communicate this to her with body language and get her onto the train and off at the next stop so she can get to where she needs to be.

It’s amazing what a little bit of effort and a handy tool like Google Translate can do for not only you but the people you encounter. John and I are in great moods on our way back to the airport.

Of course, when we get back to the airport, we hit another snag – this one’s a bit more concerning to me because this isn’t something that I’ve really encountered before. Rarely have I had to worry about things like layovers and flights running over, but since it’s my first time doing a series of layovers without my parents, it’s immediately a bit scary to me.

Our flight to Duesseldorf has been delayed by two hours. We booked the following layover to Sweden at the same time, so the Air Berlin woman at the counter is immediately able to inform us of the new layover we have with Scandinavian Airlines, which allays some of my concerns. It’s the next part that really scares me.

In Sweden, we hope to meet with Mia and Ben, friends of John’s. We’ve actually got a flight from Stockholm to Gothenburg, but since we didn’t book it at the same time, there’s no way for us to make any quick changes to that flight or change it out for another.

I’m officially panicking, but John’s not as concerned. He calls up Scandinavian Airlines, who we were planning to flight to Gothenburg with to see if anything can be done, but there’re no easy fixes there and we’re redirected to Expedia. John calls them up and gets a nice woman who immediately introduces herself as Diana. It doesn’t take long for him to explain the situation and the two go over our options. After about ten minutes and a few internet searches, John relates the details to me and we decide that we’re just going to get to Stockholm and see if we can’t organize something with the Scandinavian Airline workers there, perhaps by taking advantage of the fact that we’re foreigners. Worst case scenario? We end up paying about $120 total for the both of us to book a last minute flight to Gothenburg. Apparently, there are frequent flights between Stockholm and Gothenburg so there’s no concern over price gouging or losing out too much on the money we’ve spent.

It’s a major relief and I’m 100% okay now that we’ve established a plan. There’s nothing that concerns me as much as having a sudden change and not knowing how to deal with it. If nothing else, I’m really glad that John knows how to deal with things like this. I might’ve panicked and cried if I were by myself, but now that I’ve seen how John handles it, I’ve got an idea of how to deal with this kind of chaos on my own if it happens in the future.

We’ve got a few unexpected hours so go through the usual motions of travelers everywhere – we locate our gate and go in search of both power outlets and food. Boston’s airport was absolutely amazing when it comes to the easy access to electricity. A great deal of the seating comes with outlets built into them! We settle for Sbarro pepperoni pizza and find a nicely sized table near the windows that has a power outlet just below it. It’s a major find and we grab it as soon as the previous couple leaves.

We’re pretty happy there for the next few hours, playing games and going through whatever online errands we need to attend to.

At 1920, we catch the announcements for boarding and pack up to board our flight and we’re off to Germany!

Ring the Bell Quazimodo – How I ruined my body with sitting.

It’s my third day in Taiwan, Abigail is busy so her best friend Catherine takes me to Elephant Mountain to climb what I called “The Endless Staircase”. One third of the way up I have to stop. Probably 100 stairs.

“Catherine… I need to take a break, my legs are screaming in pain.” –Me

“Oh~~ Okay. You know, old people climb this staircase every morning to stay in shape. Without stopping” Catherine teases. We sit down for a minute before continuing.

Sound like you? Or maybe lower back pain, knee pain? If not you are lucky.

I am actually in pretty decent shape. I try to eat healthy food and I go to the gym on a regular basis.

I would say I fail at the following 3 things, and they are all related:

Posture

Flexibility

Endurance

I can run a mile in a decent time no problem, I practice that at the gym on the treadmill. But where do I fail? Earlier this week I was at Disney all day. 12 hours of walking with Abigail and Catherine. By the end of it, it was clear I had a problem.

I had to sit down, my feet were killing me, I couldn’t stand another minute. They didn’t seem the slightest bit tired.

I was shocked. Since I got to Taiwan, I have walked 10 or so miles most days. Just light gentle walking. It still exhausts me. So I began to wonder why I haven’t improved.

I thought being tired after a day of walking like this was normal. All of my American friends would be exhausted. Catherine and Abigail didn’t seem the slightest bit tired.

I looked at Catherine and Abigail, and how they were walking and imitated it. Straight back, hips forward, shoulders back, head high, toes forward.

Suddenly the pain went away.

I couldn’t maintain that position for long, my muscles were fighting themselves. I could feel my chest pulling my shoulders in, and my hips being pulled forward again. My slouch returned with the pain.

I began to look around at all of the Japanese around us. In Japan, most people don’t use cars. They walk EVERYWHERE. They were maintaining this position with ease.

So I began researching, like I do

I would estimate of the last 15 years of my life, I have spent 90-95% of my waking time sitting.

As a child, less than 11, I lived in a city. I could walk to the store, my friend Andrew’s house, the doctors office, to the bus stop etc. Mom also made me go play outside with the other kids, for some breathing room and exercise. We had recess in elementary school where I would run around for 30 minutes climbing, jumping etc.

I don’t remember anyone telling me I needed to stop “slouching” until I was 13 or so.

We moved out to the country. I moved around in a car everywhere. I sat 8 hours per day in one of those plastic school chairs. When I got home, I spent 2-3 hours doing homework in a chair. My hobby after homework, was to work on the computer. Either videogames or tinkering with it.

Each day I probably spent only 20 minutes walking.

We weren’t meant to sit all day.

There are two basic parts to your standing posture. The lower body and the upper body.

The upper body is the most noticeable, hunched shoulders, head sticking out. This is the part that people see.

The lower body is what causes the upper body to happen. When you are sitting, your leg muscles are relaxed. All day. The front muscles of your thigh and hips shorten when you are sitting.

The hamstrings on the back of your legs are longer when you sit.

Since your hamstrings are longer, your glutes(your butt) relaxes as well.

So what happens when you stand?

Since the muscles on the front of your leg shorten, they pull your pelvis forward.

Additionally, your leg bones naturally want to turn inward. What stops this from happening is your glutes. If your glutes are lengthened and weak, then your femur will turn inward.

To counter act this, you will place your feet outward to make your knees straight. This makes someone who sits an especially long time, like me, naturally walk like a duck. This feet position also causes your arch to collapse, giving you flat feet if you do this for many years.

If your leg bones are inward, but you twist your feet outward, your pelvis will also tilt forward. This is called the

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Most people in modern society suffer from this to some degree because of all of the sitting we do.

I can test this by putting my feet parallel to eachother like they are supposed to be. If I look down at my knees, I can see they are pointed inward.

My legs feel awkward in this state; which is why I want to put my feet outward.

If I flex my glutes while standing(imagine trying to hold a penny between your butt cheeks) my pelvis will immediately straighten since the main job of the glutes is to rotate your femur, your knees will then straighten too.

Suddenly, it doesn’t feel weird to have my feet parallel.

If your pelvis is tilted forward all day, what does that mean for the rest of you?

Your lower back will have to curve backwards. You can pick out people with pelvic tilt, which is most people, because their back curves in first.

The worse your tilt, the more the curve is.

This backwards curve would cause you to permanently lean backwards and look at the sky if your spine didn’t curve again.

So, a person with pelvic tilt will pull their shoulders, arms, and head forward to maintain balance. This makes an S shape. Suddenly my posture makes sense.

A person can cheat and pull their shoulders back forcefully. Which is normally what I do when someone tells me to fix my posture . That does not actually fix the tilt and won’t fix your standing and walking.

You can only fix the shoulders and head after you fix the pelvic tilt. If you were to try to fix the shoulders and head first, you will be thrown off balance.

So what is the plan?

First, every morning I will do the lunge stretch. This stretches the quads, top muscles in your thigh; and your hip flexors, basically the little part that attaches your pelvis to the quads.

When I do this stretch, I immediately notice my pelvic tilt isn’t as bad and I naturally want to straighten my back.

Second I will stretch my chest by moving my arms back as far as I can. I learned this stretch from Abigail’s uncle, it makes your shoulders able to rotate into a normal position.

Third, I will watch the way I walk all day; trying to maintain a posterior tilt throughout the day, which is when you flex your glutes to pull your pelvis back into normal position.

I will try to keep my feet as straight as I can when I walk, which will force me to pull in my pelvis to rotate my legs properly. This feels very awkward, but it’s how everyone else walks. I am sure after a while with the stretches this will become normal.

Lastly, I will try to wear my Earthrunner sandles more often. These are minimalist shoes; which means that there is almost no sole on the bottom. My feet get sore when wearing them, because I actually have to use the muscles in my feet. From what I have read, going barefoot and wearing minimalist shoes will restore the arches in my feet. This is good, because I think this is one of the reasons I have foot pain after standing or walking for a long time.

These are the resources I used to come up with my conclusions. There seems to be a lot of competing talk about this online, so I had to throw out a lot of sources. If you find anything in your own search that contradicts what I have discovered here please let me know. Good luck! J

Mother’s Day in Taiwan

Mother’s Day has always been a big deal in my house. When I was young, we would make cards for our moms in school during the week. Sunday morning would come, and I remember making mom toast so she can have “breakfast in bed” while I gave her the card.

The second Sunday in May is also Mother’s day here in Taiwan. But unlike in the US, it doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal.

In fact Belinda, my host mom’s daughter, has never made breakfast for her mom. So I spent an hour planning out Mother’s Day. It doesn’t seem that any of my Taiwanese friends normally do much for their moms either. This made me sad because I like to spend Mother’s Day showing mom how much I appreciate everything she does. I decided this was going to be the best Mother’s Day my host mom has ever had.

We got back to the house late, so Belinda and I had to quickly head to the international market in Taipei 101. With only 15 minutes, we had to get a taxi. Dozens of taxis went by before one was available. We got inside a taxi, but the cabbie ended up turning us away. He didn’t want to have to deal with the traffic.

Belinda and I sprinted two blocks. For a moment I jokingly suggested we should steal a car so we could make it on time. “Go ahead! Would be exciting!” she replied. I doubled over laughing as we spotted a taxi to take us the rest of the way.

At the base of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world, we ran inside. We raced down 4 flights of stairs, and sprinted across the food court to get to the international market on time. Exhilarating.

As we entered, the closing music had already started playing. In Asia, when stores are closing, they play this happy music through the store to let customers know they have to leave. Yes. You must leave. If the store closes at 9PM, it will close at exactly 9PM here.

We picked up all the ingredients to make bacon, eggs(cooked in butter of course), and I snagged a box of Bisquick pancakes. We made it.

The next morning I woke up super early to make breakfast. I prepared everything very similar to how mom always made it, but with my own flare(I have my own little cooking style now).

Came out perfect, Pancakes came out perfect. Melisa, my host mom, gave me a huge hug.

I also got Melisa an ocarina CD as a gift. I actually play the instrument myself, so it had a bit of a personal touch to it. Melisa has a huge music collection, and she listens to a CD nightly after work. It was a perfect gift for her.

Upon receiving the gift she cried a bit. It’s really cool how a seemingly small gesture, like spending an hour on a breakfast and a CD can affect someone. Melisa has been taking care of me every day since I got her to Taiwan, getting me food, making sure I have everything I need. You know, being a super mom.

The least I could do was give back a little, and it made all the difference in the world. It doesn’t matter what culture you are from, a thoughtful gift goes a long way.

What do you do for your mom on mother’s day? J

Recovering from Failure

I slept until 2PM yesterday, surfed around on the internet, I just couldn’t get productive.

This meant that I ended up missing my blog post, didn’t get the work done that I wanted to, and felt miserable because I was aware of it happening. Worse yet, I spent most of the day before catching up on Game of Thrones as well which meant I had about 36 hours of unproductivity.

Today I woke up refreshed and motivated. I have already gotten more done today, than the past two days.

I really beat myself up about my unproductivity. When you are that down, it’s hard to remember how productive two days ago was. Negative thoughts crept into my head, what if I am not cut out for this? Yesterday, I decided to catch up I had to write two blog posts. That was the wrong reaction because it meant I didn’t want to write anything at all. So today, I am going to focus on just completing one.

When you make a mistake like this, it’s best to settle yourself, recover, then get back to it.

After floundering around for about 4 hours yesterday, I decided to leave the house and visit Yvonne. She took me out to get delicious dinner, rode around on her scooter, and went for a walk through the top university in Taipei. The university was particularly interesting and the whole night really boosted my mood.

When I got back, I worked a bit with Doug on a new website, caught up with my buddy Travis back home, and finished the day with a 30 minute meeting with an important client.

So, my day wasn’t that unproductive after all.

When doing my day planning, there are three cycles that I focus on.

Expansion – Items that give me personal value and reward, like working on this blog post.

Maintenance – Any other obligations I may have for that day. Working on obligated projects etc.

World – Go out and do something meaningful.

Next time I will remember that when having an unproductive day I should make a decision to either cut my losses, or press on. After failing at the expansion and maintenance cycles, I moved directly to world. I went out and did something meaningful, which reset myself for the next day.

It might also be a good idea to just lower expectations of that day. That was the reason I was “beating” myself up over the unproductivity. I have very high expectations for myself. I expect quality work done every day.

Last week, I failed to floss my teeth one day. The next day I flossed twice to reinforce that skipping that habit is unacceptable. But I don’t think that works with everything, forcing myself to write two blog posts so early in my habit building was a bad idea.

I was also struggling with my new mantra of “Do Things for Reasons” .This was because I didn’t plan on having a bad day, and here I was just randomly surfing the internet seemingly out of control. I do have to remember that the work that I do does take a toll on my mind, and some days it might just shut off completely. Better to cut losses, rest and relax, then try again the next day.

What do you do when you are having an unproductive day like this?

Stuck in Cleveland. Why you should use AirBnB to plan your next trip

Snow was beginning to fall as I came up a big hill outside Cleveland, Ohio. Winry’s engine was screaming, my trusty 1996 Winnebego Rialta RV.

“Come on girl, you can make it, just a few miles more!” I shouted.

Thump. Engine still running I pressed the gas pedal to the floor. No power to the wheels. Transmission was gone.

Winry shuddered to a halt. Snow falling on the windshield, wipers still moving, I knew I was stuck. I got towed to AAMCO https://plus.google.com/105094349506333149661/about?gl=tw&hl=en where Murphy, the amazing owner, told me it was going to be 3 weeks to have my Rialta transmission rebuilt.

So. I was stuck in Cleveland.

It was December 3, Christmas right around the corner. That meant that plane tickets home to my mom’s house in Virginia were around $700.

I called the local Motel 6, they wanted $55 dollars a night.

The local Marriott wanted $100 dollars a night. If I went with that option, I was looking at the least $2100 for 3 weeks of lodging. No thanks.

Then I remembered AirBnB, which I had never used before.

Excited, I downloaded the app onto my phone and began searching. Then I found this:

Andrew was the most amazing host, and has since become a good friend of mine. He and his fantastic roommate welcomed me into their home, and into their lives.

The most amazing part about AirBnB is that the people you meet through the program are normally travelers, minimalists, nomads, and eccentric folk. When you stay at a hotel, you get a room to yourself, but when I stayed with Andrew I had a small family for a while. You learn from locals where all the best local places are.

You can learn about your host before you even go. For instance, Andrew has over 200 positive reviews due to his incredible hospitality. After reading through the reviews, I felt like I knew him before I was ever introduced.

Andrew wasn’t the only one though.

In Kansas, my air compressor seized causing me to get stuck there. I had to get towed from the middle of nowhere to Topeka.

This time I stayed overnight with Patricia, an incredible woman with the best stories. She was great, told me a fantastic story about her getting stranded in Boston and she had to work at a local store to pay for

a ticket home. Together we ended up going grocery shopping, and she cooked pizza for me. The room was warm, and comfortable. It was incredibly relaxing after my stressful day.

Recently, I used AirBnB with Abigail here in Taiwan. Our AirBnB apartment only cost $20 per night. We didn’t have a host, but got our own little place which was great.

I hope I have convinced you to give AirBnB a shot. If you have a guest room in your home, I highly recommend adding it to AirBnB and trying to rent out the space. When people want to use your room, they apply for the space and send a request. You can then check to see the reviews from that person’s previous hosts. This makes it convenient and safe since you don’t have to accept anyone that you do not feel comfortable with.

If you are a guest or a host, this service provides you with an opportunity to meet some fantastic people.Stuck in Cleveland. Why you should use AirBnB to plan your next trip

Deaf and Illiterate, Why You Should Learn the Local Language

The image is of a bamboo menu written in Chinese. I have no idea what it says because I am illiterate. Very pretty menu though! 🙂

Today with my Taiwan family, we watched a movie called Beyond Silence about Lara who is the daughter of deaf parents.

An emotional scene with her father, he finds out that Lara plans to go to Berlin to study at a dinner with extended family. The only people at the table he can understand are Lara and her sister, since both of them know sign language. The rest of her family speaks German which her father cannot hear.

Lara’s father feels completely alone because he cannot hear the conversation. Her aunt is saying something… what is she saying? He does not know. There is an argument, but he can’t participate. Her father only gets 80% of the conversation.

This is a source of conflict the entire movie, because Lara’s father is an intelligent man, but has to rely on others. When Lara comes home from school, her father needs Lara to speak on the phone for her. She signs what the person on the phone says, her father signs back and she relays to the person on the other end. He feels like a child.

There are many arguments that arise out of this. Both Lara and her father are incredibly kind people, but when things get lost in translation it gets frustrating for both of them. Luckily Lara and her father love each other dearly, so they are willing to work through the difficulties.

I can sympathize with Lara’s deaf father, and this movie really hit home for me. I am currently in Taiwan, where I do not speak Chinese. Due to the Chinese writing system, I can’t read at all either. Like Lara’s father, I am an intellectual who often has no means of communication and I have to rely on others.

I want to take a bus, but I can’t because I cannot read. The bus schedule is in Chinese. When I go to a restaurant, I have to hope that my best friend Abigail understands what I like and picks something good. I am lost, but cannot ask for directions. Where is the bathroom? Gosh… I have no idea.

I got in a taxi the other day, who misunderstood my destination. He started taking me in a random direction across the city. Both of us, good people, got very frustrated with one another because of the situation. I was going the wrong way, and the taxi driver couldn’t fix it.

I am really grateful for my adoptive “Taiwan” family around me. It’s a lesson in humility for me, because I have to trust whoever I am with 100%. Being someone who likes to take charge, and make decisions, this is incredibly difficult for me.

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Volcano Hank took me to today. There were some sulfur rocks with water, the water was boiling.

It is difficult having your support family speak a different language. I went out today with Hank and my two “Taiwan” moms. The three of them spoke around 80% Chinese, so I only got to participate in 20% of the conversation which was always directed at me. Any general conversation was in Chinese, like how beautiful the scenery was, and I couldn’t even participate in that.

Two weekends ago I went with them to Mao Kong Gondola. The experience was great, but I have no idea what was said the entire time. It was like I was deaf.

The other week I was with Abigail walking down a nice quiet street. Along each side there were little shops, most of the shops were for selling things during Chinese New Year. As we passed each shop, I was looking inside to see what they sold, then I realized. The signs, in Chinese, that were hanging over each shop said something that meant something to Abigail. She and I had completely different perspectives of this street.

She saw signs and store names “Fabrics, Food, Snacks, Toys”. I saw pretty symbols “出口, 火, 人” (My Taiwanese friends will get a laugh out of that, because that’s the only Chinese I know)

Make sure you spend at least a month doing Rosetta stone, or Pimsleur, or take a class before going to a foreign country. Especially if you intend on living there for more than 15 days, it is important. Even if I couldn’t understand everything going on around me, knowing the words for time, person, counting, food, hungry, thirsty, water and being able to ask where the bathroom is valuable. I still wish I could attempt a conversation with Abigail’s uncle or her dad. Both seem like incredible people I want to get to know, but due to communication issues it is difficult.

 

Don’t Coast! Do Things for Reasons!

My best friend Hannah has inspired me to think about the great things happen when you take control of your life. I am super excited for her, because she recently got a promotion at her job.

Her employer provides an opportunity for employees to get college reimbursement. I am sure many of her co-workers do not take her employer up on this offer, but she decided she is going to take advantage of the opportunity and go back to school.

This morning she was telling me about how she spent several hours going over her class plan this summer, and next fall. Hannah has life plan and is now putting it into action.

I thought about my own life, and considered the places where I have coasted.

Why did I go to Virginia Commonwealth University? Because the opportunity was given to me, I didn’t choose it. I went on a class field trip to VCU, decided that day to apply. They accepted me and I went to that college.

I didn’t even look at or consider other options. I was lazy about it. It ended up being a good thing, but I can’t really take credit for steering my life in that direction.

I have met some students who actually went on to get their masters or PhD’s because it was easier. School is all they knew and so they just decided to keep going into their major. It actually takes less willpower for some people to continue in school than to submit applications and find a job.

On the other hand, an old friend of mine Justin recently got a job at Microsoft. FREAKING MICROSOFT. This made me so happy because he is kind and genuine, one of the best people I have ever met and I honestly believe he can make a huge difference there. Why is this impressive to me? I never submitted Microsoft an application. There was a time I was interested in doing that sort of job, but I never had the guts to do what Justin did. I may have even gotten the job.

Many of my posts are directed at 20-30 year olds, which makes sense because I am a part of that group; however, for those of you who have kids I recommend encouraging them to Do Things for Reasons. I played soccer for most of my childhood, but I hated it. I was never really bothered to tell mom I didn’t like it, it was simpler for me just to keep going to practice.

If you are doing something, make sure you are doing it for a reason. I came home tonight tired, not wanting to write this post, and sat down on the couch next to Belinda. She was watching the news, so I just started watching with her.

After sitting there for 15 minutes I asked myself “Why am I watching the news, is there some specific information I want to know? Especially since this news is in Chinese, you don’t speak Chinese….”. I had no reason for doing what I was doing, so I got up and started working on this post.

Walking home from visiting Yvonne tonight, I looked around in the subway car and thought.

“Is everyone here in Taiwan here because they were born here, or because they chose to be here”

“That woman over there, is she married to that man because she picked him among a bunch? Or was he the first guy to ask her out” (Very common here)

I wondered about how often we go with the first available option.

I think its human nature to just sort of go with the flow. To go against the flow takes a bit of willpower.

When you do get that motivation, be like Hannah and Justin and own it! Get your plan in action!

*****************

“Do Things for Reasons” is a quote from Sebastian Marshall’s book Ikagai. I highly recommend it.

http://www.amazon.com/Ikigai-Sebastian-Marshall-ebook/dp/B006M9T8NI

John’s Guide to Taiwanese Food

We’ve had one breakfast yes, but what about second breakfast?

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I have never been a place where a group of people eats so often. Many of the meals are small, but some days I ended up eating 4-5 meals per day. If you ask someone who visited Taiwan what the most memorable thing was, I would bet it would be food.

My first week here, Abigail’s uncle took me out to breakfast one morning. We had four breakfasts, two different restaurants. The food was incredible, I especially liked the egg “pancakes”, which are essentially these small egg omelet rolls filled with various toppings.

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Giant bowl of soy milk and egg roll pancakes I had with Abigail’s uncle!

When cooking at home, often 5-7 different dishes are served. These dishes are actually a fairly decent size, and everyone at the table shares them.

If you have ever been to a sushi restaurant in the US, you’ll be familiar with the ordering style at restaurants used here. Your party is given a sheet of paper that you write on. Next to each menu item, you indicate how many of each thing you want. Just like when cooking at home, it’s normal to choose 5-6 things here for a lunch for two people. Portions are small, and you get to try a variety of things. It’s great!

Be prepared for a difference in food etiquette from a western country. Here in Taiwan, cooks bring out the food as it is ready. Soon as it is out on the table, you are allowed to begin to eat; which is different than the US where usually you wait for everyone to receive their meal. This was difficult for me to get used to at first, but everyone will feel weird if you insist on waiting since they feel like you are waiting on them.

Also, since food is served buffet style, with 5-7 plates on the table you just reach with your chopsticks to whatever food you want to eat. Everyone at the table just reaches over everyone to grab various foods. It’s strange, but you get used to it.

I hope you like soup. In fact, it is common for no beverage to accompany your food choice even at restaurants. Taiwanese soup is normally water, some sort of meat, seafood or vegetable; and occasionally some noodles but not always. The water from the soup serves as your drink for many meals here. At first I complained about all of the soups we had, but over time I have gotten used to it and enjoy them now.

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Taiwanese “hamburger” with pork and cork soup.

When searching for restaurants, a common phrase you will hear is “This place is famous!”. It’s important to choose a place that is “famous” because the places that aren’t “famous” generally have poor food quality. You can spot a “famous” place a mile away, because there will always be a gigantic line/queue to get your food. Finding famous places is similar to Yelp or Google reviews in the US.

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Clearly, this place is famous. The food here was excellent

Last night Abigail and I went to a night market, where the food was so famous the wait to have our order cooked was over an hour and a half! Remember, people in Taiwan love food, so if you have Taiwanese friends you will likely spend 50% of your time traveling searching and eating food at “famous” places.

Three great examples of popular Taiwanese food that is most unique and interesting are pig blood cakes, Taiwanese sausages, and stinky tofu.

Pig blood cake is Abigail’s favorite food. They combine pig blood with rice and press it into a square. These squares are then either put onto a plate, or onto a stick for convenient eating. The cakes are often topped with ground peanuts, but can be ordered without the peanuts if you have an allergy or do not like them.

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Pig Blood, Photo from http://www.taiwan.gov.tw/

By far my favorite food here in Taiwan, is Taiwanese sweet sausage. The sausage looks similar to Spicy Italian Sausage, but its main ingredients are sugar, red/white wine, and soy sauce. The flavor is like a sweet Virginia honey ham, but made of sausage. Abigail is the best, because she ended up combining two of my favorite foods, Taiwanese sweet sausage and fried rice!!!

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An older woman prepares me some Taiwanese Sweet Sausage

My least favorite Taiwanese food is stinky tofu, but of all of the foods I think it is the most important thing to try. It is made from fermented tofu which is fried in oils then cut into squares. It is one of those foods that you will either love it or hate it. It is so popular here, that the majority of food stands here sell it. You can smell this stuff a mile away, to the untrained nose it may smell like a public toilet. How do you tell if the tofu is high quality? The stinkier the better!

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The stinkier the better!

Heading back to Taipei today, if you have suggestions for posts please let me know in the comments! Special thanks to Danny for suggesting this post on food!!

Importance of Simple Days

Back before I became a minimalist, I would have thought you were crazy if you told me that I would have fun sitting at a waterfall for an hour. Each moment I always had to be doing something, in fact my highschool sweetheart once told me “John, You don’t always have to be doing something.” There is a lot of meaning to those words.

Abigail and I just left Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. There, life moves at an incredible rate: people move quickly through the subway(almost running), eat their food in less than two minutes, and drive at a reckless pace. All to squeeze an extra minute out.

Trains and buses are filled with people staring at their smartphones, finding the next click, the next little nugget of information they don’t need.

I was like that. I would always be listening to an audiobook while driving to fill that dead time. After waking, I’d immediately leave to work to avoid “wasting time”. On the way home I would grab some fast food before starting whatever personal project I had. Before going to sleep, my phone would be in my hand as I read about something on Wikipedia, or watched an insightful video. I would use my phone until I was so tired I would pass out, and start again the next day.

For people on vacations, at least here in Taiwan, it’s like that too. People all pack into busses, and try to see as many sights and go as many places as possible before going back home.

Yesterday we rode 30 miles through the mountains, crossed two rope bridges 500ft in the air along the difficult hiking trail, walked around 12 miles, explored the Water curtain, and rode back in the rain. We were so exhausted we just got food for delivery.

Today was different.

We took our time. Started the day at this small local place where we ate breakfast. We slowly ate our food, and watched this old man around 75 years old work at his simple shop. He fixed bicycles, and he was working on this woman’s wagon. Huge smile on his face, he excitedly went to work. So strange, but it was fascinating seeing this.

cave

We rode toward Liyu Lake, and ended up hiking through this fantastic cave to the waterfall where we ended up spending close to an hour. Abigail asked me “If you are bored, we can leave”. But I wasn’t, I really just wanted to sit there listening to the waterfall. I explored around, stretched, and even played some music on my Ocarina. It was very relaxing.

cave_mouth

It was raining, as we rode back to the lake and stopped at this small coffee shop. The coffee shop overlooked the lake, and we rested there for another hour. We just listened to the rain and watched as a team of kayakers glided across the water. We had some good conversation, absolutely perfect.

Sometimes you need a day to take it easy and just go with the flow. Don’t forget that J

 

Problems with Packing Ultra-Light

Mistakes were made. My pants are soaking wet right now.

Today Abigail and I went to Taroko National Park, easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. As we wound through the mountain passes, I was glad my buddy John Wes Dukes convinced me to get my motorcycle license.

I thoroughly got to test out my gear today, all of it got used. We went to Baiyang Waterfall. It was impressive but not as nice as Shifen; however, next to it was a path to the Water Curtain.

The Water Curtain is this bizarre cave where a huge torrent of water comes out of the ceiling in places. According to the information sign, it was caused when miners attempted to dig a tunnel through the mountain. Cracks appeared in the rock above, and water from a reservoir above poured through.

taroko_national_park

Photo special thanks to holidaysSG.com

At the entrance to the curtain was a giant pile of rain ponchos to borrow, but I didn’t need one. In my pack I had with me my trusty Marmot Precip, the successor to the Mica that Tynan recommends. I also put my shoes into my pack, and took out my Earthrunner sandals.

Abigail and I charged into the cave, my belongings protected by the jacket and my waterproof Tom Bihn 19L Synapse backpack. Everything stayed dry, but I ended up being forced to use my smartphone as a flashlight for us. Not a good idea.

Everything stayed dry, and the Precip was able to keep all of the rain off my body and kept my pants dry. I was so proud of myself at my preparedness.

How did my pants get wet then?

Abigail and I got lucky with the weather to the top of the mountain. Absolutely stunning views, sunshine, warm. Perfect day.

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On the way back we encountered a rainstorm.

My Icebreaker wool clothes kept me warm, but the sitting position I was in on the scooter meant the Precip couldn’t protect my legs. My pants, socks, and shoes got completely soaked by the rain. Also, I didn’t pull the jacket tight around my waist, so water was getting in under the jacket, and it was also going down my neck because I didn’t Velcro the strap.

When I got back I checked the pockets of my jacket. The jacket has perforated pockets on the inside, so that when you stuff the jacket into its own pocket(which makes it pack down super small), it can dry. I thought the jacket would protect my phone, cash, and my notebook. All three were super wet, my phone was okay but my handy-dandy notebook was completely ruined.

Worse yet, I am only traveling with a single pair of pants. I thought I would be able to get away with it, since these pants convert into shorts and the material all of my clothes are made to resist smells. I just wash my shirts and pants in the shower and hang them up before bed.

Now I realize how critical it is for me to have a second pair of pants. Normally it’s not a big deal because I travel alone, but since I have a traveling companion I need pants. I reallyyy need pants.

I suppose adventure filled days are perfect for me to test out my gear so I can make some changes and plan ahead. Until then, looks like I have to dry these pants with a hair dryer ;D