Bryan in Taipei: Arrival and Adjustment Period

September 7, 2018

It’s been a few days since I’ve arrived in Taipei and moved in to my apartment. Upon arriving I almost immediately noticed the towering, bamboo-inspired Taipei 101 in the skyline. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from it, so it’s a very lively yet local area with lots of restaurants and cafes. Taipei has a very convenient metro and bus system, which makes accessing the rest of the city incredibly easy. Even beaches and mountains are accessible. There are plenty of possible day trips.

Elephant Mountain

My first “hike” here has been up Elephant Mountain. Lots of tourists and locals gather here and spread out on some rocks to see the city. We tried to make it by sunset, but unfortunately we underestimated the amount of stairs going up! The perch overlooks the city and offers a view of Taipei 101 that’s hard to beat.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung specializes in Huaiyang cuisine (also known as Jiangsu cuisine), which is among the ‘Four Great Traditions’ or schools of classical Chinese cooking

Having travelled to Taipei for a short week when I was 16, I already had a pretty decent idea of the abundance of good food in this city. That being said, I knew my very first meal had to be at the much-acclaimed Din Tai Fung. This restaurant is known for its world-famous Xiaolongbao. It has spread throughout Asia and is even in the United States, but I had to go to the original. It was even better than I had remembered and the service and atmosphere were phenomenal as well.


View of Taipei at sunset from a local rooftop restaurant

In retrospect, it was a good decision to come before orientation and school started. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the city and get comfortable with everything before starting classes. I’m excited for the semester to start so I can see more of the school and clubs and activities on campus.

Bryan in Taipei

Naomi at Akita Week 8: UNI-eed to read this

October 27, 2016


Who has the bluest hair? Patrik and Isabella have a competition going on and Isabella is winning as of now. I don’t know why but in this picture, Patrik’s hair actually looks pretty blue compared to Isabella’s but in real life, Isabella’s is much darker. They have both dyed their hair twice in Akita. They both brought dye from back home…dedication, huh? Every time they see each other, the blue hair is mentioned at some point. You can hear Patrik’s heart break a little each time someone tells him Isabella’s hair is bluer. Lots of people on campus think they’re a couple too. It’s a great time.

I asked my mom to send me my heat techs (clothes from Uniqlo meant to keep you warm) that I left at home so she ended up sending an actual care package full of American and Okinawan snacks. I shared some with my friends. Well, mostly American friends and they were all excited and nostalgic with the taste of fruit rollups. There’s a picture of Tristan putting the fruit rollup tattoo onto his tongue! I don’t know why my mom sent me a package of fruit rollups because I never ate them growing up as a kid…she probably sent it because of the Halloween packaging. She also sent me a huge 240-piece bag of assorted chocolates – Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Twix. Too much candy.



Over the weekend, our school set up another bus trip for us to the Oga Peninsula. We headed to the GAO Aquarium first. We could see the ocean and it was absolutely beautiful. I missed hearing the waves crash. Anyways, the aquarium also had some animals, in addition to all the fish, frogs, jellyfish, and eels. It was Patrik’s first time seeing a polar bear and penguins! There were seals awkwardly floating in the water. They looked like grandpas; it was so kawaii (cute in Japanese). There was also an exhibit with the fish that eat at your dead skin cells. The fish were in this container that had holes where you could stick you finger in so I did it and it felt…funny? The fish were nibbling away on my fingers. I bet if I stuck my foot in the container I would’ve never stopped laughing because of how ticklish it can feel. We also saw a vending machine that sold solely food and it was weird, as the food included hot dogs and takoyaki. Japan really gets invested in their vending machines. You can’t go 100 meters without seeing at least 3 vending machines. That’s not an exaggeration.


Really quick, there was a room with tanks on the side of different types of fish. In the middle, there was a big cage with two turtles in it. Isabella and I didn’t pay attention to what was in the cage because nothing was moving so we just went straight to the tanks. However, right as we were leaving the room we noticed the turtles inside the cage. It wasn’t moving at all. It was completely still. We both started staring at the turtle wondering if it was a toy. As we were staring, Isabella asked, “Is it real?” and RIGHT after she asked that question, the turtle blinked. Needless to say, we both freaked out and yelled a bit.


After the aquarium, we headed to Nyudozaki Cape, the northernmost cape on the Oga Peninsula, for lunch. All the food was too expensive for us college students, so we ended up just exploring the lighthouse and the ocean near the restaurants. Thankfully we stopped at a grocery store before the aquarium so we weren’t that hungry. The picture of the menu shows a picture of a bowl of rice topped with uni (sea urchin). I took a picture to send to my mom since she loves uni so much. I’m not a picky eater; I eat everything, but the only thing I cannot eat is uni. My mom plans on visiting me at the end of November and I’m sure she’s going to want to go to this cape solely to eat that bowl of uni. Delicious.

I tried taking a picture of Annabelle, Isabella, Tristan, and Patrik jumping but they could never get it together. Someone was always still on the ground. Tristan didn’t jump in one of the pictures. I ended up giving up and going to the coast. We found some stairs, stairs as in a bunch of rocks lined up, which led down to the ocean. There were a bunch of hermit crabs crawling in the water and a couple of small fish swimming around. We jumped from rock to rock to get deeper into the ocean. It wasn’t too cold, the wind felt nice against our faces, and the sound of the waves was relaxing. I can’t tell you how much I missed the ocean.


After the cape, we went to the Namahage Museum and Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum. There’s a story titled the Legend of Namahage: The 999 Steps. The Han emperor brought five demonic ogres with him to Japan that constantly stole crops and young maidens from the villages. The villagers decided to trick the oni (ogres) with a proposal. The villagers commanded the oni to build one thousand steps to the Goshado Shrine in a single night, if they could then the maidens would be offered to them, if not then they would have to flee the village. The oni made it to 999 steps before a villager mimicked the crowing of a rooster, making the oni believe it was the morning. They ended up running away in panic. We actually watched a short performance on the banter between the Namahage (oni) and the household head. Although we didn’t understand much of what was said, we found the Namahage to be hilarious with their sluggish/deep yelling. After the show, we walked around the Namahage Museum filled with costumes and demonic masks. We even saw a man carving the masks by hand!


The last place we visited was Mountain Kampuzan. There was a rotating observation deck at the peak of the mountain but we had to pay 540 yen. No one ended up going on it because the view was already beautiful enough. There was some performance going down below and you could hear someone banging away at the drums. It was a nice way to end our day trip. Once we got back on campus, everyone was too tired to do anything, despite it being a Saturday night. I pushed myself to finally do my load of laundry that I’ve held off for the past week. Isabella ended up cooking pasta for us so I didn’t have to worry about making my own dinner. She was worried the garlic red sauce tasted like seafood but it tasted just fine. We ended up watching Friends afterwards and called it a night.




Naomi at Akita Week 6: きりたんぽ and 栗駒山

October 14, 2016

This past weekend we had a four-day weekend due to the AIU Festival!! It was two long days of food, performances, games, food, and food. Many students/clubs came together and set up food stands. There was even an Okinawa Soba (my favorite food from home) stand! Some of our friends were selling food as well like cinnamon waffles, which were amazing by the way, hot dogs, curry udon, fried meat/cheese/pumpkin, and bubble tea. I was able to go on the outside of a bridge connecting two of our buildings to snap a picture of some of the stands. Unfortunately, I had to crouch down and go through some barriers that were filled with spider webs but it was worth it. The web did get on my cap but I was able to refrain from yelling. Also, halfway through the festival, Patrik decided to take a break and re-dyed his hair blue. I helped him out since he couldn’t see the back of his head. When we returned to the festival everyone pointed out how blue his hair was and of course, he responded with “I swam across the China Sea and back and the ocean rubbed off.” Oh, wait, he had another response that is my favorite: “I married a mermaid.”


Before we headed out the first day, I went to Patrik’s room to get my daily dose of coffee, of course. Unfortunately, he ran out of cup noodle containers so I had to use an actual mug. After inhaling some coffee, we met up with some other friends and walked around. ワン (One), the school’s mascot, was walking around so of course, I told Patrick to take a picture with it. This is the pose he chose.

I took a couple of pictures of some of the events/performances that were held during the festival. Well, the first picture is of two of my friends from Colorado, Isabella and Annabelle, practicing for their dance performance. They’re both in a hip-hop club. Patrik tried practicing with them for a minute, as he was in the hip-hop club for about a week before he dropped it. He couldn’t recall any of the dance moves though so he ended up just moving in weird motions. There were about 5-8 different dance groups that performed that night. One of the groups danced to Michael Jackson, which made me super excited. I was dancing towards Patrik while we were standing in the crowd and he just laughed at me; it was a great feeling. On the second day of the festival, I woke up super early…well, 10:00am, to watch some of my friends perform. Two of my friends that attend AIU sang a couple of American songs and it was beautiful. Bea’s voice was so soothing. Afterwards, I went up to them and saw Bea holding a stuffed animal of Woody’s horse from Toy Story. I think the horses name is Bullseye? It was so random but apparently, Bullseye is their third member of their small band who couldn’t attend. I thought it was cute and worth mentioning.

The second day of the festival also started with me going to Patrik’s room to drink more coffee. Well, I went to his room after watching my friends perform earlier in the morning. I told him that I was going to buy a bowl of きりたんぽ (Kiritanpo) for breakfast because it was cheap and also something I needed to try while living in Akita. Patrik still ate breakfast though: a container of yogurt with his milk coffee and bread chunks mixed in. That right there is the definition of poor college life. He still ended up buying a bowl of Kiritanpo though, as did another friend that joined us. Kiritanpo is a famous dish in the Akita prefecture. Freshly cooked rice is mashed and wrapped around bamboo sticks, forming a cylinder shape, then toasted. That’s the main part of the dish but there are also mushrooms, chicken carcass, green onion, ginger, shirataki noodles, and burdock root. Two ladies working behind the stand tried talking to us about the chewy smashed rice. They wanted to teach us that it was made of rice. Patrik and I understand some Japanese so we were able to respond; they were so 元気 (lively) and their smiles made our day. Griff, Patrik, and I took our bowls and went to the side to eat our bowls of Kiritanpo. It wasn’t too cold out but the hot soup was perfect. The three of us finished our bowls so quickly then headed over to buy some cinnamon waffles.


My friend, Isabella, invited me to join the Wandervogel Club. I ended up joining along with a couple of other friends and man, what a great decision. Emil, the leader of the club, sets up monthly trips and this past week we went hiking on 栗駒山 (Mountain Kurikoma). It was the perfect time to go because of all the fall colors. We still had an hour left to drive before we made it to the mountain but made a pit stop for a bathroom break and the view was already so beautiful. Takao (right of the picture above) took my camera and snapped pictures of everyone. Every time I’m around him with my camera he asks to take pictures. He’s even thinking of buying his own now!


Emil told us that it would be -3 degrees Celusius at the top of the mountain so everyone obviously dressed in thick layers. I was wearing pants under a pair of sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a t-shirt, long sleeve, sweater, rain jacket, and jean jacket. I need to buy a winter jacket…but yes, the point is we were all wearing a lot of layers of clothing. Probably 13 seconds after we started hiking, everyone started stripping off their clothes. Halfway up, some of us were sweating. I even sweated through my shirt and onto my backpack. I’m not going to lie, I’m very much out of shape so hiking up the steeps parts of the path was slightly difficult. I was messing around and jokingly yelling while making the trek. Okka started singing “Marry Me” by Bruno Mars and some people started joining in. Isabella practically free-styled for some of the trek. I think the pain from hiking was getting to us. The pain was definitely worth the view climbing up though. The vibrant colors of the trees were beautiful. The way the trees were set up made it look pixelated in some areas of the mountains. We started getting higher than the clouds. We even saw a helicopter in the distance surrounded by clouds and it was the coolest thing; I wish I took a picture of it but my camera wouldn’t be able to zoom in that close.

Look at the clouds! It was such a beautiful sight. We were all so relieved when we finally made it to the top. The last minute of the hike was the hardest because of the steepness but we all forced our way up. As soon as we got to the top we took a quick group picture with the flags that Emil made. A minute later, we immediately started getting cold and put back on the clothes we initially stripped off. Emil brought some pots to boil hot water for everyone so we could all eat cup noodles. We stopped at Family Mart (convenience store) before driving over to the mountain so we could buy some breakfast and cup noodles. Oh man, it was delicious. Takao was sharing his snacks with us while we waited for the water to boil. My mouth was watering for the noodles though. The hot spicy soup was delicious. It warmed up my fingers momentarily so I was able to use my chopsticks correctly. For the next five minutes, everyone was slurping away at their noodles.


After we made it back down the mountain, we realized that we were two hours behind the schedule Emil set up for the day. Fortunately, no one was in a hurry to get back on campus so we all agreed that we would go to the onsen (hot springs) and get dinner together. We drove about an hour to the onsen. It was a life changing experience. I recommend everyone go. It may be uncomfortable for you to undress completely in front of other people but here no one cares so it gives you ease. The girls and boys are obviously separate so it’s not bad at all. Isabella and I practically ran into the locker room after paying our 600-yen. We were both so cold and I know Isabella had been waiting all week to go to the onsen. She was practically yelling “ONSEN!” with every step she took up that mountain as motivation. It was my first time so I didn’t know how hot the water would be; my skin was on fire! It was so refreshing though; I felt like a new person. We had an hour in the onsen and I knew I wasn’t able to take the heat for that long. I was hanging off the ledge with my arms hanging on the side. Isabella ended up just laying on the ledge so I decided to join. The cool wind felt wonderful. I still can’t believe I was comfortable laying out completely naked like that in the freezing cold. Afterwards, we all took a shower and headed to a restaurant. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but it served set Japanese meals. I sat with Takao, Adiya, Bea, and Isabella. Takao, Adiya, and I all got カツ丼 with a side of Miso soup. カツ丼 is a popular Japanese food with a bowl of rice topped with deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, and sautéed onions. The egg is cooked in a sweet and salty broth as well and it’s so delicious. I wanted to eat another bowl. After dinner, we drove another hour and a half back on campus. We didn’t get back till 12am…we left campus at 6am the day before! All of us were so tired but it was worth it. I can’t wait till next month’s trip!

Jack in NZ: Flops

September 29, 2016

14:00; 2.5hrs until Bluff to Oban Ferry leaves; 2hrs until boarding but they’ll probably be flexible; 2hrs 50min drive from Dunners to Bluff; 1hr 50 mins to go; adequate safety margin for rest stop; ferry takes 1hr; getting me to Stewart Island at around 17:30; leaving a few hours of daylight to crank out the first leg of Rakiura; might have to do some hiking in the dark; that’s cool; might spot a kiwi; someone said they come out on the trail at night; campsite is by the beach; might see some there; what’s that song; the popular one; with the ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’?; also night hiking isn’t that bad; kinda fun; no navigational concerns; trail is well marked; have a headlamp; should be fine; do I have everything else?; tent; pad; bag; hiking clothes; sleeping clothes; Closer; binocs for birds; bird book; knife; fork; Chainsmokers; that’s the one; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; pot; stove; fuel; no pot lid though; that’s fine; use a little more fuel to boil water; have plenty; should be fine; socks; extra socks; extra underwear; book; definitely will have down time for reading; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; no extra headlamp batteries to read in the dark if they run out; notebook; pen; same deal w.r.t. writing in the dark; probably ok; replaced batteries recently; should be fine; rope; sunscreen; first aid supplies; food; tea; ‘we ain’t ever gettin older’; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; enough food?; yeah; plenty; should be fine; will be eating a lot; hike is 32km in three days; not bad; done worse; pack is pretty light; solo; should be fine; clear head; chill; meditate; read; write; enjoy outdoors; exercise; did I bring a towel?; yes; definitely; ‘we ain’t ever gettin older’; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; first night at Maori Beach; like 3hr hike in; might be able to hitch to trailhead; small island; people are friendly according to guidebook; 3hr walk in dark will be kinda cool; also some daylight for walking; next day wake up and do inland portion to North Arm; like 4 or 5 hrs; seafood possibilities there; then hike out next day; ‘we ain’t ever gettin older’; like another 4 or 5 hrs; Allan’s base camp on way to town; hang out; rest; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; go to town; maybe hit the pub; suss out kayak options; kayak out to Ulva for birds next day; then do some fishing; have rod; will need to get bait or scrounge some mussels or something; should be fine; kayak back to town; night at Allan’s; out early next morning; ferry at 8; need to save phone power for alarm; it’s plugged in now; turn low battery mode on; only use for pictures; should be fine; ‘we ain’t ever gettin older’; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; I wonder if the same flip flop driving rule applies in New Zealand; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’; ‘we ain’t ever getting…’; no…; no…; I didn’t…; did I?…; yeah; yep; yep; definitely did… [various redacted expletives]… what time is it now?; can’t turn around to get them; would miss the ferry… [various redacted expletives]; well… looks like I’ll be hiking in flip flops… ; … ; …should be fine; ‘doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo’…


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