Tag Archives: Asia 2009-2011

Day 1 – San Francisco to Vancouver to Hong Kong

Oh my goodness. I somehow am in Asia having a rocking time.

So the night before I left, I couldn’t sleep very well at all. It was like trying to close your eyes while standing on the edge of a cliff. I’ve been using a lot of similes over the past few hours to relate these experiences to others, I think to make them more understandable.

Got up and left for the airport in my parents’ new car, which was weird because it was the first time for me ever being in and driving that car. Got to the airport on time. I had just a little trouble at the gate checking in, for some reason I had to see an agent, but whatever it was they got it solved quickly.

While waiting in the gate, I read a few pages of On The Road. I think I’ll find little pieces of irony in all the cracks of this trip. His characters are damned interesting and I’d love to be one of them. Maybe I already am.

The sky slowly recovered from a fresh purple bruise color to a nice mellowy orange color. I thought about how there were so many uncertainties ahead, and how I’m treading into a chatoic world. Walking into a dark room I’m not familiar with and I’m wondering what furniture I’ll trip over. Very nervous.

Got on the plane, and almost immediately I made a friend! The guy sitting next to me was Vergil, a local of Hong Kong studying abroad in Vancouver. We started talking and it was great because he was a very cool guy. So over the course of the flight we chatted about movies, games, traveling, where I should go, so on and so on. And I even am planning to hang out with him on Saturday!

On the plane I watched a few movies. Coraline, Dragonball Evolution, Watchmen. Managed to keep myself not bored. And actually it turns out I didn’t sleep too much.

I’m cutting the journal here because technically that was the end of the first day!

Trip Notes

Random Notes
Today I met another Hater Hippie. I’ve so far found two in my travels and I suspect many more to be dwelling around the Asian continent. These people have left western culture and joined the Orient, usually sometime far back during a war like Vietnam, and they spend their time being angry and hateful towards both development, globalization, and the past. Maybe it is just when they are talking to travelers, but they seem to be just livid about anything Western. Today I met a man who “moved from the Wasteland” back in 1968. He seemed like he really wanted me to listen to all his hate against “those fuckers”. I understand the world is unfair and tragic, but singing crude and lewd outdated chants, like he did for me, is a little… insane. They also seem to keep stock examples of how criminal the United States has been to other countries. I see these people as a bit pathetic, or even creepy.

Everything that could be wrong with a country short of canablism is wrong with India.

I wonder if people in rocky environments would understand Japanese rock gardens

In Nepal, everyday is Halloween and the kids want sweets

I think I’ve learned more about what is valuable in life.

My head is an aquarium of phrases from different languages swimming around

India – I’ll never do it again

Asia: where your cell phone costs more than your house
Ghetto: where your car costs more than your bail

Chinese scrabble would never work

Never give your laundry bag to the laundromat
Never believe a deal that is too good to be true
Never drive too fast on a motorcycle
Always ask the price before buying
Don’t lend things to other people

Hilarious situation: put a redneck American on a Punjab bound train from Delhi

Saw goats standing on a car to reach leaves on tree

Famous Large Mountains I’ve Climbed
– Haguro san
– Ishizuchi san
– Tapsa (Jeonju in SK)
– Huang shan
– Hua shan
– the peak in Cameron highlands
– Kyaiktiyo
– Nwa labu
– Adams Peak

How I’ve changed:
– I use a heck of a lot less toilet paper
– less sympathetic to beggars
– more racist than ever
– less daunted by unplanned excursions
– better judgement of distances
– stronger stomach
– weaker upper body
– less likely to lose things

New Asian Superpowers
– able to cross streets full of traffic
– able to withstand any food put in my stomach
– able to sleep in any kind of bed in any sort of noise
– able to completely ignore touts and beggars
– find things at their smallest price

He dances worse than a gogo dancer at a bar in Patpong district of Bangkok

billion people per million square kilometers
China: .138
India: .391

Painting: Hira Chand Dugar – Dal-lake

This museum is so old it should belong in a museum

Restaurant with a gimmic
I know I know it’s serious

Saw girl wearing shirt- legalize cocaine

The problem with travelers is that they are usually under stress and react more to negative situations and annoyances, causing them to misrepresent their culture as being a bit more like that

(talking about drinking)
“if there’s one thing we know how to do in the navy…”
“it’s look for mines.”
“heh heh, that’s right.”
“and that’s mine drink!”

As someone who enjoys the aesthetics (among other things) pertaining to noir films, I deeply appreciate the similarities between window blinds and coconut tree leaves

I have a new theory on ghosts. If they exist, then they take on a full human form and look exactly like other people, and have physical characteristics too, but they just disappear at times. That’s why more people have not noticed them.
You know how I know there are no ghosts? Because I watched Scooby Doo
as a kid.

I propose a new definition of success: the ability to bypass wealth to find enjoyment in life

Today I was dog tired, but unfortunately it is a dog eat dog world.

Serrated horizon

Roy Chapman Andrews

Kevin told me I “watch the landscape like I read a book”

Localized Adventures

Rubber bands, plastic bags, a knife, bottle opener, tape

Plastic bags on scarecrow arms to make them move

I had never seen a man spit so much. He must have had a grudge against dry land.

Asian Food
I’ve noticed that I kind of dislike a few of the Chinese native foods available. It just has an entirely different smell, taste and texture than I usually would associate with food. And it also sometimes does not seem so satisfying. Like street food. Stinky tofu is beginning to become very annoying because you can smell it a block away and it just smells like someone feet after they’ve walked a marathon. The various types of meat balls also are not that satisfying, as if they lack spices and seasoning. I’m sure some of the street stands do include that, but not many of the ones I’ve visited. It’s also incredibly difficult to eat these foods. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to chomp off noodles when you pick them up with chopsticks, or to slurp them to the end. And sometimes the food is just something that I know if I weren’t ambidextrous, it would become very difficult to eat, especially the ones using both chopsticks and the spoon. Maybe I just need to get used to it all. I know that once I get to Japan I’ll find a lot of good stuff I like.

Also around Asia there seems to occasionally be this waft of smell that I normally associate with tooth decay and old men (maybe related?). Or like old train stations (also maybe related?). There are a lot of smells that seem to be recurring. Not all are good.

I cannot seem to find trash cans when I need them around here. You’re pretty much screwed with the wrappers and skewers you get from street food for a couple blocks. And there are almost no napkins.

The Chinese language is completely alien to me. I was wondering today if it would even be possible to decipher the language if you had no other guide than a bunch of text, as if you were an alien culture stumbling among some ancient human ruins. Just looking at it superficially, it’s like some artist on heroin tried to draw an urban scene involving telephone poles, trains and houses, and many drawers. It just makes absolutely nonsense. And even if I stare at a multitude of these characters and try to identify the same parts, it’s all for naught because I make no progress at all.

It’s already a several day occurrence that I am the only foreigner on a bus or in a restaurant or on the subway. This attracts a lot of looks, and I can’t figure out what these people are thinking when they look at me. These young girls in front of me in line for the subway today kept on giggling and shooting glances at me. Did they think I was cute? or funny looking? or was there a booger hanging out of my nose? I have no idea. Another thing is that I’m a short foreigner, which I suppose is unexpected. Being American means you have to be 6 feet tall at the least. No one has noted this yet directly to me, but I’ve noticed all the other foreigners here are about that height. And I don’t talk to the foreigners either.

I’m also very young, so whenever I go to a place with all these old people we exchange beaming smiles. I feel like I’m bringing youthful energy to those places. In specific I’m thinking about the hot springs in Wulai. They just seemed to love me there, and it was really nice. Even though we communicated in smiles and pointing.

I’ve found a mixture of friendliness and hostility here. Some people are the friendliest, and will try to help me as much as they can. Others just say “sorry” and don’t want anything to do with me. There are a few consistencies. Anyone who is directly trying to sell me things will always be fairly hostile and rude, especially if they don’t speak English, or if they realize I’m not going to buy anything from them. Anyone who is not receiving anything from me, on the other hand, will usually be fantastically friendly. This seems to be true when asking people on the streets for help. This one woman who was hanging around at her mother’s friend’s hot spring spa is a good example of someone who wasn’t directly getting money from me, so she gave me all the good information on what to eat and where to go, and showed me all the different rooms for the spa. Public servants can go either way, like police officers and information booth guides and ticket sellers. Some are friendly, some are not, which by the way has nothing to do with how helpful they are.

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is that there are a few sights that I happen to stumble upon, or experiences I have, that are so much more worthwhile than seeing some monument or tourist attraction. In Hong Kong there was some small kid waving around a realistic looking toy gun and running down the street. I was walking around Taipei 101 and there was this modest looking girl in front of me, with very plain glasses and a blue dress with a simple floral pattern on it. Suddenly a gust of wind came by the path we were walking on and lifted up her skirt so high that I got a very clear view of some very sexy black underwear she was wearing. Then while on the bus coming from Keelung to Taipei, there were some orange LED lights strung along the side of the road, pinned every 4 or so feet, and while driving by it if you looked straight out the side of the window it looked like this crazy bobbing snake of lights. It’s like… all of these things I would love to see so much more than a stupid rock that’s in the shape of a woman’s head. It’s just that those things are not in the right frame of mind to immediately view them as the main sights. These are also not place specific sights so much as they are the rare visual attractions of the world in whole. It’s just unfortunate that those are so under rated. And it seems that they don’t attract attention because they can’t be marketed or expected.

Oh yes. Umbrellas. It seems that the majority of women in Asia have a hatred towards the sun and rain, so they will always be carrying an umbrella to shield them from all things hailing from the sky. Suddenly while noticing this it hit me: Asia in a huge untapped market for umbrella hats. And then the image of all the Asians walking on the streets around me in umbrella has came into my head and I almost cracked up. Just the image would be well worth photoshopping. Maybe I’ll commission Jon to make it for me. But this could be the next million dollar idea.

I’ve also noticed that I can easily mistake an Asian person as Western if viewed from the back. They have the same color as a very tanned person, in fact my arms are now the color of a non-tanned Asian person. Really the only definite different is in the face. The nose and eyes are usually the most different, but also a bit in the ears, and the shape of the face.

I’m getting a little bit more used to the weather, but I’m still sweating quite a bit. Just now, smelling myself, I think my body odor has also changed slightly because of my change in diet. I could just be imagining things, or I’m just soaking in the smells of the places I’ve been to.

I haven’t had too much down time, and this is a problem because I know I need to relax and take this trip slower than I am. I don’t have to go out every day, but I feel like I should because I’m here in a foreign land. Although at this point I feel like I’ve completed Northern Taiwan, at least enough to be satisfied, and I can sit back over the next few days, unless I have some crazy partying with Tiffany.

Day 2 – Arrival in Hong Kong

Landed. I got off the plane and Vergil helped direct me to the right place. I went through Customs really really fast, in fact there were absolutely no words exchanged between me and the Customs Agent except for me saying “Hi.”

Hong Kong is humid. Not as humid as Omaha in summer, but humid enough to feel like you’re wearing another skin, and to make me sweat more than necessary while carrying around a backpack.

I separated from Vergil, and went to the A21 bus to downtown. They needed exact change so I missed that bus and got the next one. The windows had a poetic kind of fog that slowly evaporated. And it actually took me quite a while to realize that HOLY SHIT WE’RE DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! I had forgotten about that detail.

Managed to get off at the right stop, but immediately I was bombarded by Indian people trying to get me to stay in various hostels. There was just a flood of guys trying to get me to stay in their special low price room.
I suppose me being white and wearing a large backpack, I looked the their perfect target.

Got to the place, though was a bit skeptical about the location. Actually it turned out being a pretty good place. In total it cost me $260 Hong Kong Dollars, which is about $33 for two nights. Carrie had booked me the room, and soon enough they showed up! They were a bit exhausted from their day, but I hung out with Carrie, Greg, Karen and Michelle. Went out into the Hong Kong night a bit, stopping at a bar here and there, and meeting various people. Then came back and exhaustedly fell into a sleep.

Day 2 – Arrival in Hong Kong

The first edition of my trip’s Underground journal, the one with details my parents don’t need to know about.

Saw a store called Lukfook Jewelry, and instantly a great slogan came to mind: “One luk and she’ll fook you.”

Ok now to talk about the evening! So Greg, Karen, Michelle and I (Carrie was doing a phone interview) went out to 7-11 to get things to drink to keep cool. Greg and I each bought these huge beers. We took them back to the hotel, drank and talked about great ideas we’ve had. Then Carrie got out of her meeting and we went back to 7-11 to grab more to drink. Since we couldn’t take them out and drink in public, we actually stayed in the 7-11 and had a great party there. Other people were drinking in there as well, and we actually met up with two Australian fellows by the name of Tom (who I kept on calling Tony) and Zack. I had bought some Snake Whiskey, which everyone was having a taste of. It was pretty vile, but it seemed to be very effective at getting me drunk. So once we were all falling all over, we befriended another local named James, who we nicknamed James Bond. We somehow got the idea that we all wanted to go to a strip club, and some of us had never been to one, and James seemed to know the way. Buuut it turns out he was just leading us to some ordinary or lame bars. Kind of a disappointment. WTF Bond. We actually walked into a brothel at one point, but that wasn’t a strip club. It also didn’t help that this was past midnight and things were closed. Anyhow, finally settled at M1 bar, which was expensive and sort of lame, but we danced (we were the only ones dancing). It was good. Then we stumbled home in the rain. It was drenching.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

Awoke to the thunder of a hangover. Only a slight one, but at this point I’m just so pumped up about being out in the world that it doesn’t matter one bit. Yes. I’m so excited that I’m my own cure to a hangover.

I took an advil, and checked to see if the others were awake. The light wasn’t on under their door so I assumed they were asleep, so I went back to my room and took a nap.

It got pretty late in the day actually, but that’s fine since I needed recovery from all the partying the night before. Then we all got up and headed out. First we went to this place to get food, and after we by chance met some random local, we were told to go to this place called The Sweet Dynasty. It was really good food, and I ate jellyfish! Tasted a bit neutral, but the texture was odd. A bit like octopus. I also tried some of Greg’s Congee, which was alright but I wouldn’t order it for an entire meal.

After a bit of decision making, Greg and I went out to find electronics stores and the girls went on a trip to a fortune teller in a far away temple. Greg was seeing what the prices would be on a new computer, since he needed a new one and was told he might get a very good discount in HK. We first went down to the Kowloon Waterfront, but the place there wasn’t very large and it looked like the prices matched the prices in the US. We walked around a little bit, checked out the Peninsula Hotel. While there we saw lion statues that had paws that looked like they had been rubbed for something or other, so we decided to rub it for good luck. We then walked through Kowloon Park, which was really nice and I think cooler than Central Park in New York. We needed to get to Kimberly Street, but didn’t know where exactly we needed to leave the park in order to get there, so we decided to get back to Nathan Road and suddenly there was the road! We decided it was the luck of the lion paw.

So we then went to a camera store where we looked for a wide angle lens converter for my camera. Found one guy who made a call to figure out what there was, and it turned out the converter would have cost quite a bit of money. I don’t remember how much, but I looked it up now and it was about US$150.

Then we walked up Nathan Road to the other computer center, which was much much larger. Greg didn’t really find much better prices either, so he decided to just get the computer back in the US.

It was about time to meet up with the girls again so we took the subway back down and to the hostel. But when we got there, we received an email saying they had waited for us and left to go shopping at exactly the time we arrived. So we gave them a few minutes and then joined them. We then did the walk up Nathan Road all over again, but this time it was at night so the neon signs were all lit up. We went to one of the night markets, and walked around looking at all sorts of stuff for sale. I didn’t buy anything, but Karen got a notebook and Greg got his fortune told.

We then took the subway back down since we had seen a vegetarian restaurant for Carrie and Michelle. Turns out that when we got there, they were just about closing but let us in anyway. Then they acted kind of mean about the situation, asking us to pay early since they were closing. Got some nice sweet and sour vegetarian pork.

After that we went back to our room, and chilled and watched Tropic Thunder off Greg’s laptop. Actually the sound wasn’t working with the television, so for speakers we transfered the movie to my computer, and then tried as well as we could to play both movies on each computer at the same time so the sound synchronized. Took a few tries but finally got it. And that was day three.

Day 4 – Hong Kong

Woke up and said goodbye to Carrie and company. I wasn’t able to find any locker storage place, so I decided to risk taking my baggage to Lantau. This turned out to be a pretty poor decision, but it actually demonstrated the situation I would be in if I had to walk a long way with my backpack.

I got on the train and made my way to the Tung Chung station, where I was supposed to meet Kate. The scenery on the way there was really beautiful. I got to the station but couldn’t find the right 7-11. Apparently 7-11 is to Hong Kong as Starbucks is to Denver. I saw several that were right across the street from each other.

After walking around a lot, I finally asked a guard where the ATM was that I was supposed to meet Kate at, and after I went there I finally found her. After that we went to a nearby restaurant in the mall there and had some amazing dim sum, all summing up to about $80 Hong Kong, which is a bit more than $10 US.

After filling our stomachs up to the brim, we headed out to the Po Lin Monastery, where there is a huge bronze Buddha statue. We took the gondola ride over there, but looking out the window we saw this really cool pathway that would have been a great hike (though we didn’t have the time for it). The Buddha statue was at the top of a lot of stairs, and because I had brought my heavy backpack I was sweating a lot when we got up there. It was alright.

We then followed a path off to the side of the attraction and through some forest called the Wisdom Path. At the end there were these tall halved grey trees with writing on them, and they stood almost mystically in the surrounding fog. It was really cool and more interesting than the Buddha. Plus there weren’t as many tourists in that area. Got some good photos to turn into HDR.

After that we took a roller coaster bus ride over to Tai O. I really liked this ride because it was crazy going down that mountain path at full speed in a bus. And it was standing room only so I had to hang on to the hanging handles for life. We made it though.

Tai O was beautiful and sleepy and smelled a lot. I mean incredibly smelly, with dried fish and shrimp paste and wetlands everywhere. Walking along the roads there were many dried seafood snacks. No cars, just a lot of bikes. We went down a small path near a river to get a better shot of the houses there, and all of a sudden this guy pops up out of nowhere and offers us a boat ride. At first we were a little skeptical, it could be a scam. But we decided to go for it anyway since it was only $10 HK each.

This turned out to be a great decision. He took us to see the “wetlands” which wasn’t really very exciting, and then offered to let us look for the pink dolphins for another $10 each. I knew we wouldn’t see any pink dolphins, but decided to go for it anyway because we liked the boat ride.

On the boat we got a great view of the houses that were all on stilts. That alone, and the view of all the old men with their fishing equipment, and all the slowly rusting houses, it was fantastic. He brought us out to the bay and the fresh wind was exciting. He only spoke Cantonese, so I spoke through Kate to him. I asked him various questions, like how old he was (58 but he looked 40. Said it was something in the food of Tai O) and if this was his main business (He does this and also had a seafood drying business on the side). His name was Wah Gor, or Brother Wah. I really have to thank Kate for this experience because if it wasn’t for her, I would have never been able to do that. We even saw some touristy boats riding along, and I’m sure they paid a much larger price and it would have been crowded with annoying tourists.

We got back and he showed us the large baskets that he used for drying out the seafood. Later we saw a lot more of these with actual fish in them and took pictures. We walked around some more, visiting my first Asian temple along the way, and headed towards the old Tai O Police station. On the way we had to walk by this incredibly pungent smelling area where they were making shrimp paste. The smell was almost unbearable and almost gagged.

Also witnessed a poor little girl reluctantly getting a haircut and crying about it. Interesting to see it in another culture. Also saw a pair of dogs that had the same head and would look in the same direction at the same time.

The police station was blocked off, so we didn’t want to break in and headed back. Kate took my bag at some point, and I kept on checking to see if she wanted me to take it back because she was a lot smaller than I. But she eventually took it the entire way. Strong girl.

Went back to her apartment. I had wondered aloud earlier what the inside of those apartments would look like, and as fate foretold I was in one soon enough. I met her parents there, who did not speak English but were incredibly friendly. Took a shower, which didn’t quite get all of the shrimp paste smell off of us, and rested.

These people were such great hosts and I kept feeling guilty, like they were putting so much effort into making me comfortable. Her father made this very “ho may” (delicious) dinner. This involved fish, scallops, some kind of egg dish, some sort of vegetable in a good sauce, and some kind of pork fried thing that was hard to eat because it had bones in it. As with most meals I’ve had, I kept and open mind and an open stomach and it was good. I tried to force myself to eat until I physically couldn’t, partially to show that I liked it. If someone makes me food, I feel awful if I can’t finish it all. Or if it tastes bad, I won’t say anything and keep eating. Like the fried pork. It was good, but I just didn’t want to be pulling bones out of my mouth.

After dinner I got very tired and took a nap. Then when Kate woke me up to see if I wanted to go to Central to party with her friends, I was just so exhausted that I couldn’t go. She didn’t go either but that turned out to be a good thing since she was so tired the next day.


Day 5 – Hong Kong – Hong Kong Island

Got up and had breakfast with Kate’s family. I’m gaining a reputation as the only white guy in restaurants. Weird being a minority. This breakfast was odd because I’ve never had a Chinese breakfast. All the places in the US seemed to just serve lunch and dinner. It was very filling. It seems a popular item is ramen for breakfast.

Kate and I walked around the market for a little bit and then I took the bus to the subway to HK Island to meet up with Vergil. He actually was quite easy to find, which was surprising. We started off at the Wan Chai ferry pier, and then walked a bit around Central. We went to a high end restaurant that he knew the owner of, which was really awesome. Apparently there were celebrities there, and it was the place where politicians go occasionally. The meal itself was incredibly delicious. Very ho may. Their Pork buns were like a sweet type of croissants, making them unique and great. I had pig stomach, which was ok, and some kind of fruity dessert drink, which was awesome. Pig liver isn’t good though. I’m not a liver type of guy.

After we finished food, we went over to Victoria Peak. Took the tram up, which was on a very steep track, maybe even steeper than the hill I grew up on. We got up to the top and saw an incredible view of Hong Kong. It probably would be great to see at night, but I suppose that’ll have to be saved for another trip, or just postcards.

Took the bus down. Not as crazy as the Tai O bus, but still lots of G Force. Vergil fell asleep for a little bit. Finally got off the bus and walked around the area some more. We were trying to find the Man Mo Temple, so Vergil asked this old man for directions. He had skin that seemed to be dripping off of his arms, and he was lacking quite a few teeth, and he seemed to be always amused by whatever he was saying.

Took the old tram, which was kind of fun like the trolleys in San Francisco. Very slow. Saw the Western Market, which wasn’t so fantastic. I guess the history is important.

Then went to Man Mo Temple, which had a whole bunch of spiraling incense burning and hanging from the ceiling. It looked really cool, but the incense made the room sufferingly thick in atmosphere, to the point where I was sweating something fierce. But got the pictures and went out to the bus stop outside.

Then made a very quick stop at Causeway Bay just to see what it looked like, and it looked like an anthill that had found Willy Wonka’s candy factory, except replace the ants with people. Then I departed from Vergil, and headed off to the Convention Center. There was a food expo happening and I was meeting Kate there.

This was the first time I used Skype, and I have to say I was so surprised when it actually worked. And I checked my credits and I only spent 6 cents for the conversation. Pretty good. Met Kate and her friends, who all seemed to be fun people, and we went into the expo. Kate’s brother worked at one of the booths and got us free admission (though I forgot that he was going to do that and bought my ticket before I met up with her).

The convention was filled with all sorts of different food brands and samples and cheap stuff. There were sooooo many people, a lot more than at any other kind of convention I’ve been to. They were all there for the cheap food I suppose. Went to Kate’s brother’s stand, he gave me free soup, then we walked around trying various samples, got a smoothy, and another drink, and then we thought it was just too crowded and we left.

Then we took the Star Ferry over to the Kowloon, which was alright, and then went to the Harbor view to see the Symphony of Lights. The show was… well… disappointing. There was really only two buildings that made the show, the Bank of China building and one other on the right. I recorded a lot of it with my camera but whatever. Also took a few panoramic photos, and some photos to convert into HDR.

Met up with her friends again, and we all went to a Chinese restaurant nearby. That had very very good food, but because I’ve been filling myself up every single time I don’t eat so much. After we were mostly finished, there were still some things on the table, and everyone played Stone paper scissors for who would eat them. We were all soooo full.
Then we were very tired and we slowly went all the way back to Tung Chung. Once we got back, I tried to play with Photoshop, but we were so tired it didn’t take long to just fall asleep.

Day 6 – Hong Kong – Cheng Chau

Started the day with another huge meal by Kate’s parents. Then traveled to Hong Kong Station where we then got on the fast ferry to Cheng Chau Island. We couldn’t get to the roof section, which was unfortunate because I love that part of the boat. After a short ride we arrived, and walked along the main path along the sea. Came across a bike rental shop, which is what we were looking for, and they were $30 HK each. Kate hadn’t ridden bikes much before, so I had to help her learn a bit. It’s more difficult to explain how to ride a bike that it would first seem.

We made our way across the island to the Rock and Cave area. We first checked out the cave, which required a flashlight to get through. Luckily I had just that! We headed through, and got to the other side. Then took the same route back, helping out a few unfortunate kids who hadn’t brought flashlights for their school trip or something.

Then we went down this very long pathway that I thought would lead to something interesting, but just led to a few other sites and a small beach. Saw a few guys fishing off the side. The rock, if it was the one I’m thinking of, wasn’t interesting at all. The whole place was pretty trashed. Litter everywhere, which was kind of sad.

Went to a small temple there. Nothing too special. Then came back to the main part of the island. Riding the bikes around was a lot of fun, though the streets with lots of people made it difficult to ride through. Got some food, which was kind of like a hot pocket with curry beef inside. Also drank Blue Girl, which is the most Hong Kong beer you can get. It was alright. Then we got dessert at a nearby place. I got creme brulee, which I always like, and Kate got some cool flaming rum dessert.

Biked around some more. Went to the beach and bought some fish balls. Put our feet in the water, and it was a comfortable warmth, but there were wayyyy too many people on the beach. Plus the sand was pretty coarse.

We returned our bikes, and headed back home. Stopped at a mall’s food court, where they had food from all different Asian countries. Kind of gave me a preview at what I was getting into. I got some dumplings and some hot and sour soup. Then we went home and pretty much straight to sleep. We were tired.

Day 7 – Hong Kong – Kowloon and 10,000 Buddha Monastery

Woke up at the same time Kate did. She had to work that day. So I decided to go out into Kowloon and see the things I missed the first day or two. This felt very strange since it was the first time I was traveling while alone.

As I started to pack for the day, I realized that my beloved white t-shirt had some pink spots on it. This is because I had stupidly left some sort of toothpick wrapper that was red in the shirt pocket. I found out later that it washed right out, but for the day I had an objective to get a new white shirt.

Kate left for work, so I had to figure out how to communicate with her mother. It was difficult because she was giving me things to eat for the day and I was completely unable to refuse her hospitality because I just didn’t know how to say so.

I left for Prince Edward Street. Found the Flower Market, but I was so early that not many people had opened shop yet. A few people did, and I took a few photos of those. Maybe I’ll have to check it out some other trip at a more appropriate time. From there I went to the Bird Garden, which was the same deal. I was just too early. But I got to see the way they set up shop. And a few people were open so I got to see what was there. Bags of grasshoppers, and tons of birds in cages. One guy dropped a birdcage he was setting up and the bird looked very frightened.

Then went to the goldfish market. Same thing. These apparently are places you can’t go to in the morning. But the upside is that there is hardly any crowd. Got a few pictures here and there.

I started walking down Nathan Road and Shanghai Street looking for postcards but I just couldn’t find any. I was tired and feeling a bit off, so I rested in a park near a temple. Took out the food that Kate’s mother had given me and ate that, picking out the raisins. Briefly watched the old men in the park play Chinese chess, and briefly went into the temple, then continued on my way.

Finally got all the way down to the waterfront and I guess I accidentally found the Avenue of the Stars. Similar to Hollywood but with Hong Kong actors and actresses. Suddenly I heard a distant bang, and I recalled reading about a noon-day gun. Sure enough, when I checked my watch it was exactly noon. That was an interesting coincidence. And I did end up finding postcards.

I decided to go to the 10,000 Buddha Monastery. After taking the subway, it was fairly easy for me to find following some basic directions, and I started climbing this very long set of stairs surrounded on both sides by many many statues. Stairs and statues shared a common trait there: Lots of them.

Finally got to the top, and there was this very cool temple with thousands of small buddha statues surrounding one very large one. There was also a pagoda, and a few other things. Then as I was about to leave I saw that there were more stairs. So I walked up those and found more statues and more temples. And then I found more stairs and found a last area with more statues, and also a guy making one of the statues. Then I figured it was time to head down so went all the way back.

I decided to go back to Prince Edward Street to look for a white shirt replacement at the night markets. By that time things were up and running. It took a while to find a good white shirt, and it was more pricey than I had hopped. I bargained down from $70 HK to $60, and I probably could have done better but I’m no good at that thing. Got the shirt. Picked up some good street food (fish balls and other meat balls on a stick). Then walked down to a station and went to meet Kate at her job in the HK Station. She wasn’t done yet, and didn’t really have any ideas for anything more to do, so I walked around HK Island some more. There was this very long escalator that went on and on so I decided to take it to the end. There wasn’t any prize, so I turned around and walked back through SoHo and the very westernized expat communities there. Things are expensive around that area.

Went back to the IFC to a coffee shop to update my journal. Then once Kate was finished I met up with her and I think we just went back to her house to go to sleep. I think we had dinner that her dad made again, but I can’t exactly remember what it was.

Day 8 – Hong Kong and Macau

Woke up and spent a while trying to decide what to do with the day. It was a decision between Macau, Hiking in the New Territories, or Lamma Island. I decided on Macau, I think mostly because it was another country, and also I’ve done lots of hiking before.

After another large breakfast, I went out to the ferry pier, bought a ticket, got on the boat, and we headed out. Nothing remarkable to note. Read some and listened to music on the way. Got to Macau, and had to go through customs. That was a bit odd, and actually took a long time because there was a huge line. Once I got on land, it seemed there was no easy way to get into the city by walking. I suppose it was assumed that you would take a cab or a bus. But finally found a path, and headed off.

After walking for a long while, I was really doubting the amazingness of Macau. In fact, this place was really dirty and pathetic. It reminded me a bit of Reno and Detroit. Buildings that didn’t look cleaned in years. Also got a little lost and didn’t quite know where to go. There were sidewalks that just ended in the middle of nowhere, so I had to backtrack. Also found some small little park with dead fish in it’s fountains. Should have taken a picture of that. Eventually I started seeing all this Portuguese architecture that people were talking about, and once I found the main road and followed it to the main square, I finally saw what people were talking about. Yes, it was a very Portuguese themed road, but it was just a small little section of a large dirty city.

Walked along the main touristy area, and picked up 6 of those pasteis that were so popular for being from the area. That was good, and I continued on. Finally got to the Ruins of Paul’s Cathedral, which was a tourist mecca with everyone taking pictures like crazy. Tons of people, which was a bit annoying. I walked around it, and then headed to a nearby park which led up to the remains of a fort. There were hardly any tourists here, which was odd.

As a couch surfer explained to me later, the Chinese tourists always love to go to a place that is safe and people have gone there before, but will make no effort to go off the beaten track. They’re almost afraid of nature, and it’s unpredictable element. They like clean, straight forward tourist attractions. It’s the same thing I encountered at the Po Lin Monastery.

Anyhow, walked around the fort, which was sort of a museum. It was strange that there were all these viewing stations with telescopes, but the only thing you could really see were the hundreds of slums pasted over Macau’s cityscape. Not really something to look at.

There was also this cool room that was one of those pinhole cameras. When you walked into it, at first everyone was pitch dark, but as your eyes adjusted you could kind of make out the small inverse image of the outside world against the wall.

Left the area, and hiked all the way back to the ferry, stopping for instructions once I felt that I had gotten lost enough. Walked into the back foyer of a casino, but decided they probably wouldn’t have an easy path to get to the front entrance. Kind of reminded me of the poorly designed buildings I once walked around in Second Life. Like someone threw a ton of money at someone who had never designed interiors, and voila, Casino.

Forgot that Vivian’s family owned a place there, and I wish I had remembered.

Got back to the ferry. Took it back. No problems with customs. Then called up Kate to figure out where she was meeting this other couch surfer guy to get dinner. I only partially understood her directions, but I got the station. Went there, and 5 minutes past when we were supposed to meet I started walking around the station and luckily found her. We then found the guy just a bit later. His name was something like Chris, and he was from Amsterdam. He was starting a gallery there and was finding photographers in China to put into his gallery.

Walked around the night markets a bit, and got some food at a small restaurant Kate and her friends always went to. Had a few things that looked good, and they were except for the the soft boned fish. The bones were not that edible, and actually one got stuck at the back of my throat. Had to drink it down. Then we went to some bar on the 6th floor of some apartment. Very obscure, but they had a great 6 beer bucket deal, so we played some drinking games involving dice and drank. After finishing off those six, Kate was fairly drunk, and because I had to get up for the airport in the morning we decided to call it a night. Said goodbye to Chris.

I managed to wake up Kate by playing some card games with her, and we made it back and slept pretty much immediately.

Day 9 – Hong Kong to Taipei

Packed upon getting up. Made sure I had all the right tickets and instructions on how to get to Ola’s place (the next couch surfer I was staying with). Said goodbye to Kate and her parents, and headed off. Got a little worried when the bus didn’t immediately go to the terminal, but after a while it did. Got off at a weird entrance to the terminal, which I found out was actually the emergency exit, but apparently some people used it to get into the terminal. Not really any signs to tell me that. Got my ticket and got to the gate. Hong Kong airport is absolutely huge. I had to take a train to get to my gate, which was 60. And I wanted to use the rest of my HK money, so I bought another Micro-SD card at an electronics stand and some water and snacks at the market shop near the gate.

The EVA flight was actually one of the best flights I’ve ever had. I sat at the very front of the plane, I guess because it had multiple floors and economy class was on the second floor. The food was great, a simple chicken and rice with a weird salad on the side. And they served both coffee and tea. There was plenty of leg room. The flight attendants were all friendly good looking Asian women in uniform. And the view out the window was nice as well. I’d love to fly them again to see if it was just a fluke or that really is their typical service.

Landed. Went through Customs. Got on a bus and headed off through Taipei. From what I could tell, it was another large city. Lots of buildings, lots of shops, lots of people, nothing too special about it. I found Ola’s place without too much trouble, though I was nervous about ringing the right bell because I was trying to match up the Chinese characters on the instructions she gave me with those on the door.

Got in, and relaxed at the place. Chatted with Ola for a while. She was Polish, and teaching English over here in Taipei. Didn’t go out for food because I wasn’t that hungry, and instead just slept fairly early.

Day 10 – Taipei

I got up, and when Ola got up we both set off. Although she was taking the bus, and I had decided to walk the city. So we split off, and I walked. I walked and walked and walked. Started out heading west to get to the Forest Garden, but when I came across Daan Street I saw that there was a path through this small section of trees headed up through the middle of the street. I figured that Taiwanese may just have a weird concept of what a park is, and started walking up that. After a while I realized that I was just on a side street and I actually needed to walk another two or so blocks more West for the park. I caught this by the time I was North enough to the top of the park, and so I walked West again and took a short detour through the park. I found a large building, the CKS Memorial Hall, which was kind of excessively gigantic. Reminded me a bit of Paris, with huge buildings somewhat in walking distance of each other, and urban sprawl filling in the between sections.

The main museum wasn’t yet open, but I didn’t feel like waiting 2 minutes, so I walked around and up this large stairway. That was lucky because they opened up the section on top and there were some guards there doing some choreographed marching. They were impressively good with twirling around their guns. They were standing in front of this large brass guy sitting on a throne, much like the Lincoln memorial. I assume that guy was CKS.

From there I walked to the National Theater, another large building, but couldn’t go in. And then walked up to the Peace Park, which was a small walk. They had a small section with these stones sticking up out of the ground, this was for walking over for foot therapy. I decided I didn’t really need to. The National Museum at the top of the park was closed until 10, so I skipped that. Walked to the area with the Red Theater, which was the Ximen area, although I didn’t go through the major section of Ximen. Instead I found some Pearl milk tea and continued walking.

Got to the Longshan Temple, which was a huge temple and it was very very crowded. I still don’t understand what exactly is going on with Asian religion, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out along the way. As it has been explained to me, I’m under the impression that praying is much more about asking for good fortune, as opposed to a way of giving thanks (which seems to be more of a Judeo-Christian thing).

So I walked around a bit more, but decided to go to the Snake alley a bit later, since it was the morning and surely nothing would really be happening. I took the MTR (the subway) up to the northern area of Taipei. From there I visited the Confucious Temple and the Taoist Temple. I couldn’t really tell any difference between the two, which confused me. I also didn’t really find anything relating to the Tao Te Ching which I read in high school. A little disappointed, I decided to continue walking. I wanted to get up to the riverside so I could take a picture of the Grand Hotel, but it was just a huge failure. No matter where I walked, it seemed to be either blocked off or under construction, or just some sort of dead end. Walked past the art museum but had no interesting in going in. Somehow I even passed a taxi resting station, which must be where all the taxis go when they sleep. The park was under construction too, so I couldn’t walk through it.

Eventually I found myself on the map and I headed east to where a Tourism Beauro was on the map. I went in and talked to this guy about where the typhoon hit, and about how to get to the various places I was taking day trips too, and how I would go about renting a scooter to get to Hualien. He suggested I take the bus or train down to Hualien and rent the scooter there, and that seemed like a much better plan. And because the typhoon had hit only below Taitung, I wasn’t going to drive further south than there. He gave me a million maps, which was nice but added a lot of weight to my pack. Then I decided to take the station over to the Shilin night market area. I wanted to try to get to the Grand Hotel again, so went up a secret pathway with signs to the hotel. I think it was the servants’ pathway because I ended up in some back area of the hotel. Walked around front and inside and took a bunch of pictures. From what I hear this place is actually restricted and unless you have a reservation you are not supposed to be there, and the only people who can get reservations are either rich, politicians, celebrities or all of the above. But I looked like I knew what I was doing and no one stopped me.

Headed back down and went to the food square of the night market. Walked around for a while because I was undecided on where to eat, but finally stopped somewhere. Got some kind of “BBQ” beef with some other stuff grilled on a huge flat grill in front of me, very much like Benihanas. It was alright. And Taiwan beer doesn’t have much to be said for.

I Headed back. It was dusk, so I wanted to go to Taiwan 101, the very large building. While on the way, I was walking behind this modest looking girl with plain glasses and a nice blue dress with a simple floral pattern on it. Suddenly there was a large gust of wind and it blew up her dress to reveal some very sexy black underwear. That was a bit interesting.

Anyhow, I got to the building, and though it was a bit pricey I went up anyway. I had missed the sunset but got some dusk photos, and stayed up there until there were lots of lights and I took some great long exposure shots using my camera and the small tripod gizmo I had with me. I spent a long time doing this, and noticed that actually in some of the shots it was blurry because the actual building moved slightly.

After I was satisfied I saw the big counterbalance, and then walked back to the apartment. On the way back, I started to notice people either moving away from me or holding their hand up to their nose. Maybe I was paranoid and just noticing this, or maybe people were concerned about catching H1N1 from foreigners, but I started to think I smelled pretty bad, which was probably true but I couldn’t really tell. Anyhow, went back and took a shower.

Day 11 – Taipei

Since Ola had returned very late from visiting her friend last night, I decided to update my journal once I got up in the morning. After a while I wanted to start my day, so instead of waking her up to say I was heading out I left a note saying where I was and telling her to email me what time I should be back by.

I took the MTR up to Danshui, which was a long trip and I think I took a small nap on the way. When I got up there, my plan was to rent a bike and head around by that method. But even after asking an info desk, I wasn’t able to find the bike rental and was distracted by all the street activity. So I walked up and down the main market streets there, where there were lots of food stands. I walked around until I had a good idea of my options and then tried the omelete balls, which were not so good because I don’t like the taste of egg yolk. Same thing with the blackened eggs. Tried a little of the Almond drink too. Then I tried the stinky tofu, and that was… well… Ok I’ll try it once, but I don’t think I’ll ever have it again. It tastes like feet.

After I was done with Danshui, I went down to Ximen. This is a big trendy area with lots of kids showing off their styles and subcultures. I didn’t really see too many crazy subcultures, but there were all sorts of high end stores. I went into a Studio A store, which is pretty much an Apple Store, and set up very similar to one of the miniature stores I worked in. Talked to one of the employees there, Edick, and borrowed their wifi for a while.

After that I headed over to Snake Alley, which was a bit disappointing because there wasn’t as many snakes as I thought there would be. In fact, there were probably two stores I saw that had snakes out front, and it didn’t look like they had English menus. Whatever. After watching the snakes for a little bit I didn’t really feel like eating them.

I continued walking down the alley, and soon found myself out of the food area and into the prostitute area. I noticed this when some woman offered me something I couldn’t understand. And so I headed back the other way. I thought it was about time to go to Din Tai Fung, which was amazing. It took a little while to find, but it was such good food once I did. After I left, I was so happy and full of food. I walked comfortably over to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial and watched people practicing dance routines and capoeira. And after I was satisfied with that I headed back to the apartment.

One of the things I noticed that day was that so many people stayed in their shops for the entire day. They must get pretty bored… or develop some kind of hobbies while they are there waiting for customers. I couldn’t do that.

Day 12 – Taipei – Yelhiu and Jiofen

When I left in the morning , the brown line of the MTR was closed so I took a free bus to the place where I needed to pick up the other bus. I managed to find the right place with the help of someone there, and managed to get there at just the right time because the bus arrived at that moment.

My first stop was Yehliu, and another helpful person touristing from Hong Kong helped let me know which was the correct shop. It was just a short walk from where the bus dropped me off, and I finally got there. The stone formation in the Yehliu geo park were pretty interesting. It was quite surreal, despite the thousands of tourists walking around. There were rocks in all sorts of shapes, mushrooms, eggs, fungus, checkerboards, all things.

After walking around the main area, I started down some mysterious path. It went up and up and up for a long time. But instead of turning back I was committed to finding out where it ended. Passed by some kind of weird spooky restroom with no water. I got pretty sweaty, but eventually was rewarded with a scenic outlook with a very nice consistent windy gust that dried off all the sweat. I spent a little time there, and then headed back a route that passed by some weird tower. Came back and spent a bit more time walking around the stone formations and then headed back to the bus.

I still had plenty of time, so I decided to try for Jiofen. After talking to a nice lady with a very helpful piece of paper at the Yehliu information center, I was on my way to Jiofen. Because it was early in the day, I don’t think it was as pretty, so I was determined to stay there until the lanterns went on. So I walked around the town. There were many many stairs as this place was built on a hill. Also the lanes were very narrow, so whenever someone stopped to look into a store the whole line behind them was also halted. This made it very annoying and I didn’t really like the whole scene. I walked and walked, pretty much everywhere in Jiofen. I even found the two secret pathways that cut corners. Somehow I even found myself at the base of a huge cemetery. The Asian graves seem to be a lot more interesting than Western graves.

Found some dinner at a random place, and they had a very engrish menu with items that just didn’t make sense. I ordered the most intriguing of the items, and it turned out to be the wild card! I got a bowl full of pretty much every type of meat, and a full whole shrimp (head and everything).

Eventually the sun was setting so I got to a nice scenic lookout and took a nice picture, except the sun went behind some clouds before it completely set. Oh well. I walked around some more until the lantern lights turned on. Took the good pictures of Jiofen, and I was pretty much straight onto the bus back to Taipei.

From what I remember, I went straight back to the apartment from there.

Day 13 – Taipei – Wulai

Today I decided to go to Wulai. Wulai is a hot springs spot. It’s a few minutes south of Taipei, so I started my day by going up to the bus stop and, with the help of friendly Taiwanese, finding my way onto the bus. The bus ride wasn’t all that long.

When I got there I walked along the main street area. This was a lot better set up than Joifen, mainly because the street was very wide and not clogged up with people. This allowed me to walk at a brisk pace, but to stop and check something out if it looked interesting. That’s how it should be.

Walked over a bridge, and down a long path I think was called the Lover’s Path. There was another small town at the end with a few aboriginal restaurants and a waterfall. I went to the aboriginal restaurant, and after staring at the menu for a long time I got the bamboo rice. I wanted to order something else, but I think they misunderstood, and I just had the rice. It was good though! I quickly visited the visitor’s center, and then headed back down Lover’s path.

I stopped at a hot spring spa, and after asking if they had some kind of English menu they got some really lovely woman to help me out. She spoke really good English and actually didn’t work at the hotel. Her mother worked at some place around the area and she just visited that spa now and then. She was also married to a Canadian guy, and was pregnant. Oddly enough, I did not even notice she was pregnant until she mentioned it. So she showed me all the various rooms the spa had and told me what costs each of them were. She also gave me some suggestions for what to eat in the area, as well as where the public hot springs were. I thanked her, and headed off in the direction she pointed to the public hot springs.

This turned out to be such a great place. I went to the hot springs, and since I didn’t really have a bathing suit I just took off my pants in the changing area and was in my boxers (which look like a black bathing suit anyway). I started to get into the hot springs, but an old man pointed to the rinsing station. I then recalled that some guides I had read told me that you were supposed to rinse yourself off before entering the hot spring. So I did so. They had these empty laundry detergent bottles that you could scoop the warm water up and pour it onto yourself. One of the nicest baths I’ve had. Finally I started to get into the water, but once again the old man told me through a system of pointing that I should drink some tea before getting in. So I went to the tea station, where I just guess the tea was free and available to all. A guy poured me a few cups, and upon learning I could only speak English they called over one woman out of the whole site to come over and chat with me. She was a very nice lady who could speak alright. She had a son in Memphis, and a daughter in New York, or maybe it was the other way around. Anyhow, we chatted and drank tea for a while. Some cute girl who kept eyeing me brought over some very strange fruits that were bitter but very watery, and sort of pear like in texture. (She was too young to hit on).

Then I got into the hot springs. It was so warm and relaxing. The old men tried to get me to go into the REALLY hot pool, which I dipped my foot into but it was so hot I had to go back to the medium heated pool. I don’t even know how they could stand being in that kind of heat. I got out now and then and watched people swimming in the river, and diving from a platform. Down the way a bit there was a place to easily get in and out of the river with a kind of hot spring showers at the entrance. I saw some guy who was from Virginia and he commented that between the two of us we had more hair on our chest than the whole town combined, which was probably true.

After a while I was satisfied and happy. I walked around the streets again, and went down to the river edge to skip some rocks for a while. Got some sticky rice cake with honey on it, which was stretchy and weird but tasted good. I also got some dinner of wild vegetables and wild meat of some sort. It was alright. Bought some millet wine as well as these small flavored gummy treats.

Took the bus back to Taipei. I pretty much went right back to Ola’s place because it was late, and I shared my millet wine and gummy treats with her.

Day 14 – Taipei – National Palace Museum

Got up this morning fairly late, and decided to use it to go visit the National Palace Museum. This supposedly was one of the top four museums in the world, so I guess it was hyped up a bit.

Took the bus over, nothing too interesting there.

Plain and simply, the museum was a huge bore. There were two exhibits worth seeing, one was a room full of artwork by this artist who did some interesting Asian styled contemporary paintings. His artwork would be on scrolls, and at the top of the scroll was usually some kind of scene with a sun and then as the painted went down it changed perspectives to look down on the scene, like in a bird’s eye view, and then at the bottom was an upside down landscape similar to the one on top but at night with a moon. It was interesting, though I liked his other works where he portrayed animals and scenes with extremely simplified strokes of a brush.

The other interesting exhibit was with a bunch of carved precious stones as jewelery. There was a famous vegetable carving, which was famous because the coloring matched the vegetable? It was kind of a lettuce, with a cricket on top.

Everything else in the museum was pottery or small trinkets or scriptures written by people ages ago. It might have been more interesting if any of it was in English, but rarely was there any sign that explained what something was in English. All together I did not think it was any better than most of the museums I’ve visited in the past. I left somewhat disappointed.

Went to a nearby cafe and had a small lunch. Then I wanted to go visit the garden because it looked quite beautiful from the palace steps, but when I went around to the entrance it said it was closed on Mondays. Unfortunately it was a Monday. Damn.

So I had the rest of the day left, and I went to the train station to figure out times to head down to Hualien. Saw a fish tank with a huge fish on one side and lots of little fish on the other side. That was a bit amusing. So figured out the right times but didn’t buy tickets because I was meanwhile trying to plan how I would spend the next few days with Tiffany, my old high school friend who coincidentally was going to be in the area.

And from what I can remember, there wasn’t much that happened the rest of that day. I went over to a hostel to see if there was a room available, and they didn’t have one, so I went to another and they did, and reserved a room for the night after this day’s.

Day 15 – Taipei – Down day

This day I decided just to have a chill day not doing very much. Ola was getting a new couch surfer that day so I headed out to the hostel I had reserved a room at. The room wasn’t going to be ready for a while, so I just waited in the lobby and caught up with some things.

I did laundry, which required doing it by hand. I’d never done that before, so I tried to mimick what I had seen in movies or where-ever. Seemed to work out fine! And laundry detergent was $5.

I worked for a while in the lobby next to this very cute polish girl with short blond hair. Her name was Magda, short for Magdalena, which I thought was a strange nickname I’d never heard. We both were a bit hungry and decided to go out together to get food. We made our way to Snake Alley, wandering our way through Ximen and the streets over that way. We got a little lost but got back on track when we asked someone. The whole time it seemed we were paying little attention to what was going on around us and just talking a whole lot about our travels and interests and all that.

We actually weren’t as hungry as we thought, and just kind of bought a snack or two here and there. At one point we passed this night market stand playing some kind of childrens’ learning program on a television, and she started singing and dancing along with it. Very cute.

Headed back to the hostel. A little strange saying goodbye to her since we had made such a connection, and I kinda liked her and wanted to hang out more. But then went to sleep instead.

Day 16 – Taipei – First day with Tiffany

Today Tiffany was arriving from the States with her family, and soon after they landed she contacted me through facebook. We agreed to meet at the City Hall station, and at that time we did!

It was great to see her, since it had been a long time since we last talked. She looked and acted pretty much how I remembered her. Caught up on what each other had been doing. She apparently is now dating Ivan, another character from high school that seemed to drop off the map after graduation.

First we went to get some food in the nearby food court. Can’t remember what sort of food we got. But then we headed to the bookstore up a few levels. I think we played the part of obnoxious American tourists because we were very loud and had people looking at us, but we were catching up on old times and talking of all sorts of things.

After the bookstore, Tif had to do something with her relatives so we split up and decided to possibly meet up later. It turned out that they were just so tired from the trip that we cancelled the later meeting, but scheduled to hang out the next day on a bus tour that her family was doing.

I think I went out just for a quick meal that night, but nothing too special.

Day 17 – Taipei – Bus to Taiping National Park

So the tour bus was leaving for Taiping National Park early in the morning, so I had to get up at around 5 to head out. I made my way to the meeting spot that Tif had sent me, and I got to the exact point maybe 15 minutes early, so pretty good. But it took a while for any of the others to show up. Finally got onto the right tour bus and headed off. Strangely, the bus completely circled the block about 3 times (felt like 5) before we headed off. I don’t know exactly why it did this, and it was a bit strange, but whatever.

It was a long bus ride. It was made even longer because it was a kareoke bus, and filled with old Chinese tourists who all wanted to sing their beloved romantic midi sequencer songs. This was pretty awful, and the television screens in the bus displayed a randomly selected extremely cheesy generic music video to each song. These videos usually involved a couple either fighting or frolicking around. The microphone would occasionally have feedback that startled everyone, just to make sure they were awake and listening to the old dreary voices and high trebble midi. In Italian, it is called sdolcinato.

The natural setting outside the bus was alright, but a bit bleak. We passed by all of these dried up riverbeds. It was dusty and grey everywhere, but mixed in with tropical patches of palm trees and forest. The bus also stopped every couple minutes for a rest room break, which I suppose was for the old people.

Eventually made it to the park. We walked up a set of stairs and took a cute little train. It went a few kilometers, and dropped us off in the middle of a series of paths. There were signs warning of snakes and bees, but the sign could have meant there were snake-bees roaming the forest, flying in and stinging their prey. Kyle, Tif’s brother, kept claiming everything was haunted.

Tiffany and I sort of split off from the others and hiked around, but very quickly realized that all the paths were very short, and not that interesting. The basic trails made a kind of 8 shape, and there were three other main trails off of it, but all three of the main trails were closed due to damage done by the recent typhoon. Iiii wasn’t so sure about that, and Tif and I were going to get bored soon if we didn’t go somewhere, so we crossed over the do not cross line, and started down a trail. It was a pretty trail and seemed to have not been walked all that often. We got down a ways and looked at the time, and figured if we headed back up we would catch the train back at the right time and the bus.

Luckily we timed it exactly and just got back onto the train that took us to the main area. We meandered around there, and got back onto the bus. Travelled back in a very similar way to the travel there, with the kareoke blaring. Stopped at some kind of food place and bought these weird flat crackers which tasted alright but didn’t really satisfy our hunger.

Once we got back to Taipei it was fairly dark, and we decided we would try to meet up for the Shilin night market.

I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit, and realized I would also have time to go back to Ola’s place because I forgot my sandals. So after a while I headed over there, and realized I had actually less time than I thought I did, so I rushed over to grab my sandals. Luckily she had just gotten there at the same time I got to her place as well, so I got the shoes, had a quick glass of apple juice because I was really exhausted, and continued my running to the night market. My luck continued as I just barely managed to make a few trains, and got to the station 15 or 20 minutes later than Tif and I had agreed upon. Once again, luckily we just saw each other as I got there. Because the trains shut down at 12:30, we actually didn’t have too much time to get around the Shilin night market, but we saw a bit and we stopped for this really great shaved ice dessert. It wasn’t crushed ice, but rather something like a block of milky flavored ice that they spun around and shaved off flakes into a bowl. It tasted like a weirdly textured ice cream. I got the coffee flavored one and it was excellent.

Then we said goodnight and I went back to the hostel for sleep.

Day 18 – Taipei – Another Day with Tiffany

Woke up and handwashed my clothes. Getting a bit better at it, and I know what to do. After got all my morning through, I went to meet Tiffany and company at the Ximen station at 1 o’clock. We went to get beef noodles at a nearby place that was apparently famous. Tif’s mother ordered for us, which was very convenient. It was delicious.

After that we walked to the book store area. There was this whole block of a street that had tons and tons of bookstores, filled with who knows how many books. Of course none of them were in English, so it was a little strange of me to be there. A little ironic, a non-Chinese speaking person being in a store full of Chinese. But they did have chapter 54 of One Piece! Of course as I said, I wasn’t able to read it, although it wasn’t readable anyway because it was covered with shrink wrap. I think to prevent people from reading the comics there in the store.

Also this was the first time for me using a squat toilet. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I started by putting the things in my pocket into my day pack so they wouldn’t fall out onto the floor. It seemed very awkward, and of course there wasn’t toilet paper, so I was very lucky I had anticipated that situation and saved some tissues from two weeks ago that I got in Hong Kong. Personally, I prefer Western toilets.

Then we went back to Ximen for some walking around. I thought I knew where I was going, but not really. Eventually we got some more of the shaved ice cream we loved so much, although Tif’s dad got the wrong one, he got the crushed ice with bananas on top, instead of the shaved ice. Apparently it’s a one word difference.

Then we went to City Hall for a snack, and walked to Tif’s fencing practice. Apparently she’s still very into the sport, and had heard of some club there in Taipei that she could practice with. It was a very interesting set up, and I watched people spar. She was pretty good, though she only had practice with the sabre style of fencing and not the styles that they typically used. She played. Tif’s dad and brother and I took pictures and played with our cameras. After a long time we came back and had a quick and sudden goodbye in the station while switching subway trains, and I just went back to the hostel.

Luckily my clothes had dried completely!

Then I met a guy named Nick in the hostel. He had grown up in Kyoto, but he looked and sounded American. He said something like his parents were teachers there. Very international guy, and we got along very well. He dropped his computer, which was fairly tragic… but no worries. We were both hungry so we went out to get an excellent Hot Pot dinner. I hadn’t had a true hot pot before, so this was a great experience. The sauce I made was just a little too spicy, but it worked out and was delicious. I didn’t have much cash with me, so I owed him some money. We went to 7-11 for the ATM but it was out of order, and they also didn’t take card, so that sucked and I still owe him approximately 3 dollars, but I have no idea how to contact him to repay my debt.

We came back to the hostel and met a Swiss girl in our room, I think her name was Muriel, and she looked exactly like my old friend Michelle Lauris. For the next banana bunch of hours we talked and talked in the kitchen of the hostel. And it was all the usual conversations that hostel people have about life and traveling and laws and governments and what not. It was 4 in the morning before we quit and retired for bed.

Day 19 – Taipei to Hualien

Even though I had set the alarm on my iPod for early o’clock, I hadn’t raised the volume on the device. Thus I found myself waking up at 7:30, just about the time that my train was leaving the station. I turned off the very quiet alarm in my pocket and packed up a small bag very quickly.

My idea here was to pack my small day pack with all the necessary items to use over the next 6 or 7 days. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could live out of such a small amount of things, plus I didn’t want to be traveling around down south with a gigantic backpack especially on a scooter. I tried to scrap together the essentials – Toothbrush, shirt, maps, etc. And then I stored my large back at the hostel (which was a very cheap rate per day) and headed out.

I went to the MRT and realized I still didn’t have any cash, and it turned out the ATMs at the station did not accept my cards, which was unexpected. I needed a ticket, and the station attendant was just so nice he bought me a ticket. It was one stop away and not too much of a sacrifice, but it was still an incredibly nice gesture I’ve come to see all over Taiwan.

I went to the station and showed them that I was late for my train and got a ticket for the next one for only $101 NTD (about $3 USD). The next train was at 8:15, so I really only lost 45 minutes. I was tired due to lack of sleep, but I wanted to watch the countryside, so over the next amount of time I switched between napping and pressing my face against the window like a little kid. It was also the first train experience I had in Asia, and it was much like the European trains I took over there. Not really a surprise.

Got to Hualien with three things on my mind – money, hostel, scooter. Teh tourism office was able to quickly and pleasantly answer all these questions. I got to a 7-11 to get some money, then walked a short distance to the Amigos hostel. I got there right as the lady, Chi I think her name is, was about to leave. I was pretty lucky since it was just before their afternoon break.

She helped me out with all sorts of things and knowledge. She rented me a bike for only $150 and I headed out into the world. First off I went to the coast, and headed a bit south. I found these abandoned-looking areas all over with statues and stuff. I stumbled upon some kind of open theater, but it was covered in all this grafitti, most of which was in awesome Engrish. It looked like something out of The Warriors, but even more greek like there should be urban gladiators fighting in the center area. I took a few pictures and then headed North along the bike path. The path was very very long and I passed by all sorts of things. Beaches, fishermen, wharfs, buildings.

At a wharf I was passing by some sort of shop out of a hanger and heard some barking. Suddenly these two very excited dogs darted out of the hanger and start chasing my bike. The adrenaline shot through my body and at first I was kind of afraid they would bite me, but a sudden inspiration caused me to stop the bike and bark loudly back at the dogs. They were completely surprised by this and immediately turned tail and scampered back to their hide out. I think they were so frightened that they ran faster away from me than to me. I’m glad I can at least speak Dog, if not Chinese.

Saw these factories with huge blocks of various types of stone, which looked so cool and got me a bit excited. I’m into stone carving for those who don’t know, and I just wanted one of those blocks to myself to mess around with for a whole year.

I continued up, past a garbage dump, and some old turret stations that I’m guessing were leftover from a war. Then I got to some park. No one was there, and there were crumbling ruins everywhere which made it just a little spooky. I tried to climb one because I thought it would be cool to stand on the top, but once I got up it seemed just a little more dangerous than I had thought and instead of risking jumping to the other platform, I went back down.

Biked back, and on the way figured that the Stone Museum was nearby. Except from where I was on the bike path, the stone museum was up a big hill, so instead of biking around I just picked up my bike and walked up the nearby stairs. I actually was not too far off, maybe a block or two, so I continued there.

I was quite sweaty and tired when I got to the museum, so I was determined to spend my time there. The entry fee was prety cheap, but only after I paid did I realize that half of the museum was actually closed for renovation! The contemporary sculpture part was open so I walked around there. It wasn’t so much sculpture, but rather very interesting stones with multiple veins and marbleization that was cut in such a way to create beautiful swirles. There were weird color variations and with the help of the brain’s pattern recognition, you could just make out entire scenic landscapes with trees, lakes, boats, fishermen, all of that.

Because the rest of the museum was under construction I went outside to a small sculpture park out back and looked around there for a bit. Had a quick conversation with some guy who was probably just practicing his English. Then from there I biked to the Pine Park, which supposedly had 60 something pine trees but it looked like it only had about 10. I just couldn’t figure out the purpose of the place. I mean… it wasn’t exciting. There seemed to be a little history behind the place, but I couldn’t figure that out. It was just a few pine trees. It wasn’t even much of a park either. There was a small glass sculpture exhibit, but that wasn’t too large or exciting. I just couldn’t figure out why that place of all the places I went to seemed to have the most amount of tourists.

Well anyway. Then I headed back to the hostel to relax for a while. Talked to Chi about all sorts of stuff, like why it seemed there was a complete lack of people around. It apparently was a combination of a bunch of factors: the school’s break was just ending, some other things, and also it was “Ghost Month” when people who were superstitious don’t really go outside because bad things are more likely to happen. We also talked about some of the Taiwanese traditions. I found out the hostel is right next to a brothel disguised as a spa, but as I knew this is pretty common throughout Taiwan. After a while I left to check out the Stone crafts street. It was a bit difficult to find, but eventually I did. It seemed more like a jewelery market than stone sculptures, but it was alright. It was just a long string of shops that all sold similar things. There were a few very cool sculptures that I may have bought if I were rich.

Then I headed to the bus station, where there was a free shuttle to Liyu Lake. It was the last night of a large aboriginal water festival. When I got there, I encountered a gigantic crowd of thousands of people all lining up along the shore of this lake trying to get a good view of the show. It was difficult to find a spot with a clrew view of the performance stage. Luckily I found a raised ground under a tree that was actually pretty good. The performance was pretty cool with lit up water spraying everywhere and dancers in aboriginal costumes doing a choreographed dance depicting scenes from aboriginal life. It kind of remineded me of Native American dances and costumes. After the show I walked along the nearby street which was full of street food. I got some lamb bits on a stick, and also some kind of ice cream burrito with shaved peanut candy in it. Oh it was good.

Another performance followed shortly, though it was the same one as before. The only difference was that this one had fireworks, and I think it was their last show of the night. Since I had seen the dancing before I just watched a few of the fireworks while heading to the busses. I took the bus back and biked back to the hostel, where I took a shower and called it a night.

Day 20 – Hualien – Taroko Gorge

Got up and took another shower. On my way back from the shower I met some other hostellers who were also going to rent scooters and go to Taroko. So instead of heading out early on my own, I waited for them to be ready and went with them to rent the scooters. I was really lucky I decided to do that. Mind you, I’ve never been on a scooter before, though I took motorcycle lessons at one time a long time ago. Thankfully scooters are automatics! I was a little nervous that they wouldn’t rent to me, but I think because I went with a group and we had a girl who spoke Chinese, they rented to me without much trouble at all. Gettinging out of the parking lot, I wasn’t used to the sensitivity of the gas or turning, so I shot out into the road and managed to stop before hitting a taxi heading the other way, and the bike fell over. Never the less, I picked it up, dusted myself off, and headed off. We went to the nearest gas station, because they rent out the scooters without any in them to start, and after that we were on our way.

Soon we were traveling at incredible speeds towards Taroko Gorge. I was so excited being on the scooter. This is exactly one of the things I was looking forward to in my trip. Just getting on something new and zooming off. It was a pretty quick learning curve, so I had a handle of my machine fairly fast. I really don’t know the order that we saw the sights in because I was just following my new friends and they knew the way. Taroko Gorge was like a huge fairy land version of the Grand Canyon. It was huge and full of greenery and waterfalls and rock tunnels and a beautiful river going right through it. We saw Swallow’s Grotto, the Tunnel of 9 Turns, and drove the scooter all the way to Tiansiang, which is pretty far down the road. There were all sorts of great beautiful things. Supposedly it was even deeper than the Grand Canyon. We went on a small hike that required helmets due to occasional falling rocks. The hike was very pleasant.

When we were leaving the trail head with our scooters, I was still not used to starting up the scooter while making a sharp turn. I started to leave the parking space, but suddenly noticed I wasn’t making a sharp enough turn and was headed straight for a parked car. In a panic, I pulled on the gas and the bike shot out very fast, so I tried to pull it down to the ground before it hit the car. Things happened fast, but when all the motion stopped I was relieved to find that the car was untouched. The scooter on the other hand was a bit beat up. The front sheild’s plastic had broken up a little piece, and the headlights had been knocked off their plastic holders so were drooping a little. But the bike still worked, and I had a great scrape as a trophy on my arm. I tucked the piece of plastic into a pocket on the scooter. and we continued on our way.

While scootering, we would occasionally stop along the cliffs to take pictures and gaze down the beautiful valley. Then we went to a pagoda several stories high, which gave us a beautiful view. And we stopped for some pork fried rice at a nearby food place. Filled up to the brim and went on.

We went down to what I think was the Shakadang Trail to go swimming. We walked along a short while and found a place where everyone was. It was past a “Do Not Enter” area, but it seems all Taiwanese love to ignore those signs. We went swimming in the beautiful river. You could see the rocks on the ground under the water clearly. It was cool and refreshing, and we had a great time playing around, throwing rocks at a water bottle, and I skipped rocks for a while. We also found some “jade” which was really just a very green rock that seemed to be all over the place. Then we dried off and headed back. We made a quick stop to look at the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was a temple along the path with a waterfall.

We scootered back to the hostel, and asked Chi about a good place to eat. She also gave some good advice on the scooter ordeal. She said we should go to a repair shop she knew and get a quote on what the cost to fix it would be, and then either fix it or give the rental place the money equal to the quote. We did just that, and the repair man said to bring it in the next morning when the parts shop was open and he could give a more accurate quote.

We went to dinner at some Mexican restaurant. I didn’t see a single piece of decor to suggest it was actually Mexican. But the food was good enough. After that we went to the night market near the beach where we bought beer and fireworks. We also bought one of those paper lanterns that you paint, and then light up and they float away into the night. We drew our names, wishes and a naked lady on ours. We let it go and tried to watch it until it went out of view, which was quite a long ways. Then we spent the next two or so hours shooting off bottle rockets and whistlers. We tried to create all sorts of science experiments with the ways of setting off the fireworks. Sometimes we’d put them in bags, or in bottles, or set two off tied to each other, or sett off a whistler and a bottle rocket tied together, it was so great and we started to name our different experiments, and we just drank a whole bunch while doing this. It was such a wonderful day.

After a while we ran out of rockets so we went back to the hostel. None of the clubs were really happening so we just went to the lobby of Amigos, played UNO and drank. And after a very long day we all went to sleep.

Day 21 – Highway 11

Got up early because we needed to go to the repair shop to get the bike fixed. It was $2800 NTD and all I had on me was $2400, so while he was fixing it we went on a quest to find an ATM. The problem was that all the ones we found didn’t work with my card! After going around a bit we finally made it to a 7-11 that worked. That was a relief. And the guy managed to fix the bike in 30 minutes, which was awesome. I was impressed. You don’t get that kind of service for that cheap in the US. So we returned the bikes and the person didn’t notice anything. I remember there was a moment where she went around and closely examined all of the bikes, and by the time she got to mine she just kind of approved and didn’t notice anything different.

The others left to go back to the hostel and I negotiated the rental of the bike for 4 more days. She actually gave me the bike for a lower price, $350 a day, I’m guessing because it was for a long amount of time. That’s a pretty sweet deal, $10 US for a scooter per day? You could just rent it permanently at that rate. No problems. I actually switched to another scooter because the oil was low in that one.

Went back to the hostel and hung out with the group for a few more moments before I left. Once I was out on the scooter, everything was gold. I was so incredibly happy, cruising down the road along the coast. I just couldn’t get over the excitement and I truly felt so peaceful and content. I stopped at the Visitor Center for the coastal road, and no one was there. The place was really beautiful too. There was a huge pond with a pleasant path around it, and lillies and dragonflies. There was one person at the desk in the center who attempted to help me out. She didn’t speak much English, but she gave me tons of maps, and tried to call her friend to help me with English, though that wasn’t so successful. The visitor center had a huge diorama room that was very detailed and well done.

I had this recurring thought throughout Eastern Taiwan: There is this incredibly beautiful place with so much effort put into designs, parks, etc, yet there were almost no other tourists enjoying it with me. Like it was my own private heaven.

Down the coast I stopped at a place named Baci, which was just a scenic view, and close by was a beach named Jici. This place was absolutely deserted. Except for two teenagers who were at the admission counter. Wait, what? I needed to pay for access to the beach? Bullshit. I decided not to pay. Instead I went on a short hiking path nearby. Got a nice view in return for climbing a million stairs. Then got on my scooter and continued south. I realized along the way that there were tons of other beaches that were actually free to access, so paying for Jici beach would have been stupid.

I stopped for a picture of Shitty Fishing Harbor, or rather Shitih.

I stopped for a slurpie at 7-11. There was a dragonfly caught in the store, which was a little strange for me to see.

Then I continued to Shinsantai. I still don’t know how to spell it correctly. First I went to the Visitor Center, which though it also had an incredible diorama, it also lacked someone who could understand English. Anyhow, started out on my adventure to the Island of the Three Immortals. I was not expecting the incredible adventure awaiting me.

The place was basically some very eroded islands connected to the land with a pedestrian bridge which was made up by 8 humps you would walk up and down. As always there was a group of Chinese tourist fresh off the bus, viewing the bridge and islands from a distance. I headed out onto the bridge, which felt kind of like what I thing a miniature golf ball would feel like on one of those hilly courses. After that I was put onto a long wooden pathway with no shade. The sun was relentless, so I took a long break in the shelter at the end of the wooden pathway. Then I headed down one of the paths, and after a bit the path completely disappeared. I could not see any sign of where it continued. So I walked around this very rocky and surreal area full of strange formations. I almost walked into this water area, but I’m glad I didn’t because after looking around I saw some snakes chilling in the water. They had black and white strips, and later I looked up the snakes and found out they were very poisonous. I didn’t really want to disturb them so I continued.

Then I walked over the rocky landscape until I somehow refound a trail. this one led to a tunnel that went through the island, but it was pitch dark. I had left my flashlight behind at the scooter, and because I was a little freaked out by the snakes I decided to get through the tunnel by using the flash on my camera. So I took a few pictures and just managed to see that the path was clear and what direction it went, and then I quickly jogged down the path until I managed to see the light out the other end of the tunnel. Although once I got out of the tunnel, the pathway quickly disappeared again and once again I was free to roam.

I started walking clockwise around the island, climbing up and down dangerous rocky formations. Eventually I came to a watery moat that blocked my way. Yet I could see a hint of another path on the top of the cliffs on the other side. So Not being able to go that way, I had to walk all the way back around and through the tunnel and went the direction of the path I saw.

Sure enough, saw a weird mysterious white building and the start of another path. These were some steps that led up the island. I started up, and saw a lighthouse at the top. I wondered if another path connected to the lighthouse that went down the other side of the island. The answer was no, and nothing was around the lighthouse except a small rocky path that headed up to the tip top of the island. I took that path and there was even a rope to help me up and down. Once I got to the top I was rewarded with an incredible view of the entire set of islands and the Eastern coast I had driven down. It was fantastic. Even a dragonfly friend came up to join me .

After a breath I backtracked all the way back to the rest spot at the end of the wooden pathway, and then not being done I took an alternative pathway wondering where it went since I didn’t see the end of it in my explorations. This actually led to another disappearing path, although this one you could faintly make out where people had walked, and it actually took me to the exit of the tunnel I went to earlier. If I had just gone counter clockwise after exiting the tunnel, I would have returned just fine. But then I would have never had that other adventure. Walking around this place was very much like the video game Myst, except no puzzles to solve.

So I returned slowly on the familiar wooden pathway being beaten mercilessly by the sun. When I got back to the entrance area, I immediately bought a huge water bottle and promptly drank about a fourth of it. That was good. After asking some cute girls advertizing a hotel how to get to the nearest gas station, I headed there, filled up, and continued down South. One thing I’ve noticed about traveling by scooter is that when you reach a city’s limits, you actually get to the city long afterwards. That confused me a bit when I got to Taitung.

Once I got there it was already dark and the visitor center was closed, so I parked and wandered around looking for hostels and food. I found some good food that was also really cheap, but I had a really difficult time finding a place to stay. I asked a hotel how much it was for the night and he said $600. Mind you, the English here was little to nothing. I used my iPod divining rod trick and found a coffee shop with wifi, so I got some coffee and tried to connect to their wireless but with no success. Then I finally found some kind of video game shop with wifi and figured out where the hostel was. Went there and found out it was $650! More than the hotel. I started to leave but the receptionist called me back and said her manager said $600 was OK. When I got to the room I realized this was no hostel at all but just a hotel in disguise. But they provided me with lots of stuff like a razor, 2 toothbrushes, a comb, etc. I stole all of it except one toothbrush.

I washed my clothes in the bathtub and took a bath while I was at it. Then watched a bit of television about some people raising bears, and something about Pakistan, before heading to sleep. Long day.

Day 22 – Highway 9

I woke up and decided to relax at the park, catching up on my journal. I drove up to this Forest Park, which was very peaceful except for the military jets flying overhead about once every 10 minutes. I sat on a bench at a table under some overhang for shade, and alternated between writing in my journal and napping. I also watched a trail of ants trying to carry two small dead catepillars up a pillar. This was the most unorganized team of ants, because over the entire time I was there, there was absolutely no progress in bringing the meal up the pilar. Actually I couldn’t even tell if they were bringing it up or down the pillar, but they certainly were fighting gravity. They seriously needed better management.

I walked around the park a bit before leaving. It was truly a nice park, and a shame that not many people were there.

I went to the Visitor Center after that. Of course the lady there didn’t speak English so I had a difficult time trying to communicate that I was looking for a hotel and a place to eat. And like many visitor centers, she called up her friend that knew a bit of English for me to talk to over the phone. I left with no real answers, even after following some woman on a scooter who pointed to some generic hotel.

Instead of going to the hotel she pointed to I just kind of continued on my way. Found a place near a market to park my bike, and then I spent the next bit of time walking around the market. I picked up some bananas and an orange for breakfast and lunch. Then deciding I was done with Taitung and its lack of English speaking people, I figured I would leave early and head back up North.

This time I was going to use Route 9, which is the East Valley Scenic route. Actually, come to think of it, California is very similar. Highway 1 goes down the coast, and Highway 101 goes up the valley area. It wasn’t as good as the coastal route in my opinion, but it was still very pretty. I drove for a while, but then noticed that the oil “light” (more of just a piece of plastic that rolled from green to red) was now in the red. Hm. I decided to ignore it for the time and head for Liushidan Mountain (Sixty Stone Mt). This was quite a steep slope to climb and I wasn’t sure about the capabilities of my scooter, so now and then I would pull over and let my scooter rest for a minute or two.

Finally made it to the top, and it was all I could have expected. Matching all the photos I saw, the mountain was covered in orange daylilly flowers. It was absolutely beautiful, and there were workers picking the flowers which to be used by several shops along the mountain road. These shops used the flowers as spices, tea, soups, and also exported it dried I suppose to the rest of Taiwan. They would dry the flowers out on huge tarps spreading over their homes and roads, or they also pickled it in some kind of solution. I went to a central pavilion that looked out on the fields and ate some very mushy fruits for lunch. It was messy and unsatisfying. I went down to a food stand and was loitering around looking at what they had to offer, and tried to ask them if the drink they had was made with the flowers. A family that was there actually helped me out with their weak English. They told me the shop down the road had flower tea and other things. I mentioned to them I was a little hungry, so suddenly the mother of the family rushed to their car and returned with a whole bag ful of all sorts of goodies. Candy, some kind of sheet tablet, a crispy milk cake, and a ready-to-eat can of… congee… something. I thanked them as much as I could and said farewell. Taiwanese people are so nice.

I walked around some more. Actually I went to one of the stores and despite being showered with food I wanted to try the flower tea (which turned out to be free) and the chicken flower soup ($50, very cheap). It was alright. The flowers tasted a little strange, and after the meal my mouth felt tingly for some reason. I walked around a little more because it was so peaceful there. Then got on my scooter and headed back down the mountain. Managed to avoid pulling on the throttle at all the entire way down.

After getting down the mountain I continued up the coast. I was concerned about the oil light by now so I decided to stop at the next major town to get it fixed. I had been told it was cheap to get the oil replaced, so I was not so concerned about the price. I stopped at a repair place in Yuli, and pointed to the light. I learned it was called “Jia” or something of that sort, and the place I needed to go was more downtown. I headed back asking all who I could “Jia?” and following pointed fingers. I saw someone walk out of a 7-11 with a “Wisconson” shirt on and asked him. This guy actually had studied English, so I was saved! His name was Liu, and he took some time out of his day to guide me to the oil place. He was actually from Taipei but down there visiting his mother. After asking a few people we were at the oil place. He stayed there and we chatted while the young mechanic did his magic. It only cost $200 ($6 US) and I said goodbye to my savior and continued North. Finally after much driving I was back in Hualien, saying hello to the hostel owners.

I was tired and hungry so I went to a nearby Chinese buffet that was recommended. It was disgusting with a whole bunch of mystery foods, but filling. I accidentally mixed the soup into my tea cup because they were in the same area… Anyhow.

Went back to the hostel and despite exhaustion, stayed up talking to some travellers. I must have passed out because I don’t even remember falling asleep.

Day 23 – Scenic Coast and Goat Milk

This was a designated relax day for me. After all that driving of the scooter I needed a bit of chill. In the morning I took the scooter up the coast, along almost the same path I had taken my bike the first day in Hualien. It was logically a lot easier and faster to take the scooter.

So I drove all the way up the coast to the scenic view. It was quite a beautiful view of the ocean, but it kind of was just a view of the ocean with a beach and bike path. It was also very overcast and sprinkling rain here and there. It was also a little difficult to figure out the tourist map markers telling me where I was, but I got there. Drove past the sculpture park but it didn’t actually look worth stopping for.

The small town up that way was cute, and I decided to find the famed restaurant that serves goat milk in things. In order to find this I decided to not depend on words and waving hands, but rather drew a picture of a goat with an udder, and a cup of tea, and an arrow going from the goat udder into the cup. This seemed to work beautifully because I showed it to some guy at a bike shop and he pointed me in the right direction.

The restaurant itself was actually a lot higher class than I imagined. It had a beautiful view of the ocean, looking out into a stormy world of clouds and sounds of thunder. There was a nice girl who spoke intermediate English and she helped me order. I got a coffee with goat milk in it, and while sipping on that I wrote in my journal. Also came with a little bite of cheesecake. It was all very relaxing. After I finished the coffee I got up to leave because I didn’t have more cash, but when they said they took card and when I saw it was raining a little more I decided to stay for another drink. Had some honey tea with goat milk.

Goat milk is a culinary curiosity. Too many times I’ve poured milk into a cup of tea where the specific tea included some kind of citrus element, and the curdled milk tasted just awful. But putting goat milk into tea seems to give it a sour but soft taste, so it’s kind of like a way of getting around the issue of milk curdling in sour drinks.

I spent some time there just writing, and then headed back down the coast on my scooter again. I headed back to the hostel and relaxed there. Took a nap. Then in the evening I got up, went out to the night market and spent about an hour walking around looking for the perfect cheap replacement sandals. Did I mention that my sandals broke? Ah no. When I came back from the aboriginal festival, I stopped my bike for something near the bus terminal in Hualien, and that seemed to be the final straw for that pair of sandals. They carried me all the way through Europe, and finally broke in Taiwan. Anyhow. After scouring the night market I found a cheap $150 replacement. And when I was leaving I grabbed four pork buns they were selling on the corner for very cheap. Went back to the hostel and ate those, and they were absolutely delicious.

Contented I went to bed.

Day 24 – Mata’ian Wetlands and Sugar Factory

This day I headed out on the scooter to the Mataian Wetlands. It was a little difficult to find, but after scootering around the general area I managed to match up the Chinese characters with the ones on my map and got to the area. I found a place to park by a restaurant, which I decided to visit when coming back. Walked around the area, but the pathways were a little confusing and I seemed to continually run into dead ends and backtrack to where I started. That was a little annoying, but in general the place was very peaceful and quiet. There were large ponds full of lotus plants, but the flowers weren’t really in season so only saw a few of them. The wooden pathway through the area was kind of cool, and there were tons of dragonflies all over the place.

After satisfying my walk around and seeing what I could, I went into the restaurant I parked next to. This supposedly served aboriginal food, so I ordered a plate. It actually turned out to be a really interesting set of different foods and tasted great. I even had some ferns in my salad.

Afterwards I scootered over to the Sugar Factory on the other side. The area confused me because there didn’t seem to be a main building to go into, and I didn’t really see any signs to go to any factory. I apparently looked confused enough for some kind Chinese tourist to come up to me and he helped explain to me that the place was actually just a historical dedication to a factory that used to be there, and really the only thing left was the ice cream. So I went into a store nearby and bought some sugar ice pops. These were “sucrose” flavored.

I ate the popsicle next to this large pond with lots of fish, and all the fish slowly started to congregate near me expecting me to throw something in. When I was done with the popsicle, I let some of the melted sugar drip into the pond and suddenly the fish made a huge fish mob.

Then I went to another ice cream place and got a vanilla and chocolate double scoop in a cone. It was pretty good. Got on my scooter and headed back to the hostel.

Chilled at the hostel for a while, and met Anna, an Australian. We went to dinner nearby, which was delicious, and while eating we had a long philosophical talk about life and all stuff related. Talked about religion a lot. She worked in a place that organized Missionaries so I think she had an interesting perspective on the matter.

Came back and went to sleep.

Day 25 – Hualien to Taipei

Got up early in the morning and left. I had a late train, and checked to see if I could get it sooner and I could so I switched my ticket. Returned the scooter to the rental shop with no problems. Then I embarked on a quest to find postcards for Hualien, but no matter how many shops I went to I couldn’t find any. Finally after a while I went to the Visitor Center that had some crappy artistic postcards, but when I was asking about them the woman behind the desk produced a packet of wonderful postcards that were exactly what I was looking for, and then she gave them to me for free! How awesome is that.

I got on the train and went back to the hostel. I relaxed at the hostel while doing a little bit of laundry to have fresh clothes before leaving. I tried going out into Ximen to find food, but I wasn’t very successful. I even went to the beef noodle place that I had gone to with Tiffany but because I didn’t have anyone to help me order I was too afraid to go inside. Might have settled on some snack from 7-11 in the end, but I don’t remember.

I came back to the hostel and went to sleep. The room was a bit uncomfortable though because the guys sleeping in the bunks next to me were very smelly.

My Journey From Taipei To Northern Japan

3/4/2012 – I found a journal that I wrote trying to recover some missing information since my laptop was later stolen. I only wrote up this section of the trip so I’m going to transcribe it here as I had written it down. I will add to the information after the post.

This journal is being written because my laptop with my notes on previous days was stolen. This means that many of my memories of these places will forever be lost, as I am no good at remembering details unless they are written down. My usual style of writing will also have to change. Because it will be too hard to remember days sequentially, I will record my memories by sequential cities, and whatever I can remember in a varied amount of detail. Hopefully this journal will not be lost or stolen like the last one. But just in case, if you find this journal, send it to the address on the opposite page. – Ben Douglas

My Journey From Taipei To Northern Japan

The flight to Japan was unremarkable. Getting to the Taipei airport was a very long trip and I demand that they place the airport closer to the city next time. I unfortunately flew in to Tokyo during the evening, so I could not compare the actual overview of the city with all the models I saw in Godzilla films. After a quick visit to the tourist center, and purchasing the appropriate train ticket, I was leaving TOkyo northbound on the famed Shikansen type train. Once again, unfortunately it was evening so I did not get a good sense of how fast I was traveling. After a few stations a man came to the seat next to me. He was wearing the Japanese geta, which are wooden sandals, and this completely surprised me. I had no idea that people actually wore those things! Well, we did not speak each others language, but managed to “talk” to each other just a bit during the ride. Suddenly he gave me two pictures he had taken of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Very odd… Anyway, he got off at his city and I continued up North. I ha not exactly planned how I would continue my trip, which led to my next adventure. Upon leaving the train in Aomori, it was pretty clear I could not continue my trip until the next day. Also unfortunate, the information center had closed and the guard to the place didn’t speak enough English. He did give me a sort of “menu” of hotels in the area, but they were all way too expensive. Finding no other choice, I resolved to sleep in the city. I tossed my bags into the coin lockers, and started walking. It got later and later, and I got fairly familiar with the downtown area of Aomori. The city is next to the water, but since it was early September the weather was still pretty warm. I found a nice bench right on the seaside, laid out and tried to sleep. Needless to sy it was pretty hard, and I only got a few hours of sleep before I had to get up and walk around some more. THankfully there are stores open 24 hours. After going around, I found another bench next to this small children’s playground. It was a bit easier to sleep at since there was less wind, but once again I only got a few hours of sleep. I woke up and decided I had slept enough. ZBut as I was leaving my improvised bedroom, I noticed that I actually had been sleeping right behind a police station!


Got in to Sapporo, and went to the hostel. This was the first actual place I stayed in Japan, andI was a little surprised at how extremely polite and courteous the hostel staff was. In the evening I went out to a small alleyway filled with Ramen shops. After meandering a while, I chose a random one that turned out to be alright. The owner bought me a beer because my birthday was coming up and we had a small chat about American movies we liked, many starring Steve McQueen. I went back to the hostel and had a nice chat with a man missing a few teeth. In the morning, I wanted to explore Sapporo before leaving, so a Canadian named Terrence and I set out into the city. It was a very nice city, despite some pretty lame tourist attractions like a clock tower and a European style building and a small TV tower. Our last stop was the Sapporo Brewery, which is really the main attraction there. The place had some cute displays and the beers we tried there were fairly good. We mixed a few of the different ones together trying to make better tasting combos. Got a little tipsy and hungry so we made our way to a less than satisfactory food court. After this I realized the time my train was leaving was closer than I expected, so we hurried back to the hostel. What I hadn’t accounted for was a gigantic shopping mall maze that was between the train’s subway stop and the train station. So I missed my train. No worries though, I caught the next one and just called Sean, the guy hosting me in Saroma my next stop, to tell him I would be late.


Day 26 – Taipei to Tokyo to Aomori

Alright, resuming the journaling of the Asia trip on January 31st, 2012.

I got up from the hostel and got on the bus to the airport. I was a little concerned when the bus didn’t go to the terminal first, but it was just making a few stops before the airport and I was just being paranoid. Got to the airport and I made my way through check in and security without any problems. I stopped at the Duty Free shop to pick up a bottle of Kaoling liquor for Sean, the guy I was going to stay with in Hokkaido, because he said that he wanted some.

After a short flight I got to Tokyo. Went through customs and then to the travel desk. I figured out what trains I needed to take, and information about the rail pass system. I was off on the next super train north with an East Rail Pass good for a month and to use on three days. On the way up the East coast of Japan I sat next to a guy who was wearing very traditional Japanese clothing and wooden sandals (known as geta). He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t really speak any Japanese besides a few words I knew, but somehow we conversed what we could. He showed me his pictures of the leaning tower of Pisa, so I assume he had just been there and was returning home. For some reason, he gave me his photos. This was just the first of many similar strange gifts that people gave me throughout my Japan trip. I think I gave him one of my weird flashlight gifts. He got off around the Sendai, which later was the location of that big tsunami. I hope he was alright.

So I finally got to Aomori at the very top of Honshu. But it was so late when the train arrived that the next train to Hokkaido was the following day. The visitor center was closed, so I couldn’t find a cheap place to stay, so I just put my bags in a locker at the station and started walking.

I walked and walked and walked. It was getting late and I figured the park was as good a place to sleep as any. Japan is a really safe country, and I had no fear of getting mugged or things being stolen. And although it was a brisk September evening, it wasn’t too cold. So at first I slept on this stone slab in a park. It wasn’t comfortable so after a while I got up and walked around the town some more. Luckily there was some 24 hour shop so I got a snack or two. I returned to a wooden bench near the sea. I maybe slept for about an hour. Woke up and walked around a little bit more, then moved to another place. Slept on that bench for another few hours.

This was the first time in my life that I had ever slept on a bench homeless style, but I figured considering the circumstances it was alright. I hear that business men often sleep on benches after missing the last train, so it wasn’t altogether uncommon.

Sadly I am missing all my photos between the last few days of Taiwan and when I ended up in Tokyo a few weeks after this, so I can’t really prove where I slept. I probably could find it on google maps. It’s just north-east of the train station.

So the next morning I woke up to an interesting surprise, which I will explain on the next trip log.

Day 27 – Aomori to Sapporo

After a long night of switching park benches and walking aimlessly around the city of Aomori, I finally found a wooden bench behind some building that was well sheltered from the wind and just good enough to sleep on. The funny ironic punchline to this long adventure is that when I woke up, I found that the building I had been sleeping behind was actually a police station! I’m not sure what the loitering/vagrancy/homeless laws of Japan are, but I hear that many business men who miss their last train home often will sleep on park benches and it is a somewhat accepted practice. I also think that if a police officer had come out and lectured me, he might not of known enough English to tell me what I was doing was wrong. And even if he had, I think the Japanese are too polite to incarcerate ignorant foreigners.

Anyhow. Got up early and went to the station. I slept again in the waiting room for a little bit before heading to the visitor center. Of course they weren’t of any help so I tried to figure things out on my own. The guy at the ticket office offered me a price to get up to Hakodate, but when he saw I was very discouraged at the price he then did something, and the price lowered! Apparently he wasn’t giving me the cheapest price because he thought I didn’t want to take the local trains, which are a lot cheaper.

I finally got onto the local train and was on my journey again. Luckily I had warned Sean, my soon to be host, that I did not know the exact day I would arrive. On the local train the scenery was beautiful and totally worth the slower relaxed experience.

I went through one of the world’s longest underwater tunnels – correction, the Seikan Tunnel is the longest and deepest operational rail tunnel in the world AND the longest undersea tunnel. All in all, it was completely black and not interesting at all. But afterwards the local scenery was amazing. Hokkaido is known for it’s natural beauty. I finally got to the next main city, Hakodate. At the station I bought a Hokkaido rail pass, which gave me I believe 3 rail uses over a period of time. I studied the time schedules and map and decided to use the first leg of the pass to get to Sapporo.

In Sapporo I was able to find a hostel, I think I found it through the visitor center, or maybe using wifi. I walked there and the people were very nice. I put my stuff down and took a shower, then lounged around the hostel for just a little bit. I was hungry so I went out to Sapporo’s famous Ramen Alley. This is about 2 or 3 alleyways with ramen shops lined up on either side. I found a place that was rather normal looking, assuming the more normal a place looked the better chance it would taste good.

The owner was very curious about myself and I told him all about my travels and where I was from. We related over some movies set in San Francisco, like Dirty Harry and Bullit. I told him my birthday was coming up and he bought me a beer! As I said, foreigners get free things all the time in Japan. After a good meal I headed back to the hostel. I talked to people around the table in the evening, specifically chatted with a guy who had missing teeth but he was very cool. And finally to sleep after a long journey.

Day 28 – Sapporo to Saroma

Got up in the morning and had a nice breakfast with people downstairs. Met a friend Trevor or Trenton or Tess something and we decided to explore Sapporo together. We walked around seeing the various tourist sights like the TV tower, Odori Park, the brick government building, the Clock Tower (which was very small and disappointing despite how much it was advertised. Then we walked to the Sapporo Brewery, which was a little ways away. We went through the small cute exhibit they had and then got to the bar. Ordered the sampler and tried three different kinds of beers: Original, Black, The Hop. I think those were the ones. We mixed them to make different tastes, which was okay. Then I got a classic and didn’t like it as much.
Looking at the timing we left, and since we were hungry we got a quick bite to eat (which I remember being not that great in some food court).
Returned to the hostel to pick up my bags but then I realized I was late and I half ran to get to my train.

Showed up there exhausted and definitely didn’t make it on time. The subway to the train is on the other side of a mall and you have to go through a maze of stores and what not just to get to the train station. Anyhow, even though I missed my train I got the next one to Engaru, waited a while and left.

The train must have hit something because we stopped for 30 minutes, and despite the Japanese reputation for being on time and never late for anything I still got to Engaru late. I had been keeping in contact with Sean and what a great couchsurfing host he turned out be, he was waiting for me at the station. What a good guy. So we drove back to his place in Saroma and he gave me some leftover curry he had. Had a beer, chatted a bit, and went to sleep.

Sean is from Alaska by the way, teaching English up in Saroma but not in some organized institution, I think he was working just as an individual.

And somewhere along the way during this day I lost my bookmark and wrote this eulogy:
Today I lost my bookmark. Well rather I know where it is, and I do have the time to return and retrieve it, but it is time to lose it. Simply enough, it is a ticket to a ride at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA. The day I got it, I confessed to a girl that I loved her, after a long walk on the beach and half of the drive home. She muttered something back to me that I didn’t hear, and we just kept driving in silence. I was half glad to have just said it, and partially disappointed to have not heard what she said. Years later we hooked up and I asked her but I think she didn’t remember. That ticket went in the armpit of so many books and literature. It became worn from me playing with it and sticking it in between my lips. It spent a good four years in Moby Dick, like a paper Jonah, slowly making its way over the pages. Finally it carried me through On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which I finished in Sapporo, Japan, and now resides in a book shelf in a hostel. Who knows if the bookmark has been removed or is even used for further reading, or if the book is still there. Sayonara.

Day 29 – Saroma

I got up and put aside the futon Sean had given me. He had to leave for his class, but before going he left me with his bike and a scribbled out map for where to go. The map actually turned out to be excellent – it was more of a nodal representation of the area. I started to ride out but it started raining, so I turned around and biked back to his place. While walking on the way back I saw an old lady walking in the rain without an umbrella so I helped her to her house. She was really thankful and I felt awesome for doing that.
After putting the bike back I didn’t want to just stay inside with the rain pouring so I went out to walk around the town. Saroma is a very cute town, and everything seemed miniature. The streets were small, the cars were small, the flowers, the bridge, the river, the people. Everything was just tiny and cute.
I walked down one of the main roads and once I hit the bridge I turned around and headed back. On the way I stopped at a small bakery and bought a seashell cake, which if I remember correctly was a little too sweet and spongy for me.
Got back to Sean’s and watched some television. He came back and by then it was sunny outside, so he drew me another map of the greater area and told me of this nearby lake town with hiking paths and a harbor.
I took the bike out again and this time rode to Lake Saroma. It was a very nice ride, despite the fact that it was a one speed bike and there were some gradual hills to get over. I finally got to the harbor and explored a bit. I rode near where he mentioned the trail started, and parked my bike outside a hotel. The trail started there and I followed it into a lightly wooded area. I wouldn’t have called it a forest, but it was a small trail. There were lots of bugs, and it didn’t look like many people had travelled the path recently. After going a ways I figured there wasn’t really a loop around so I headed back to the bike. On the way I passed by this other hiker. We greeted each other but after passing I heard him call out to me. He came back to me and gave me some weird postcards of a fox and snow. I was a bit confused, but I took the gifts and thanked him.
I took the bike to a nearby rest stop for cars and got some kind of tempura snack. Behind the rest stop were the actual trails heading up to a view point station. The trail was long and went up a steep mountain with lots of steps. Have I mentioned the stairs in Asia by the way? Asians love stairs up mountains. They’re all over the place.
I got to the very top and was rewarded with a viewing station that was really great. You could see all the area – the harbor, the farmland, the whole coastline. the sun was heading down so I returned to the rest stop. Earlier Sean and I had decided to meet up at that rest stop at a specific time (5:30 I think it was). It was a lot faster going down than up so I got back early. In the rest stop they had some famous Saroma pumpkin ice cream, so I got that and a coke. Then Sean picked me up and we headed back to his house.
He had to head out again, and I finished the day by getting some ramen and beer at the local shop. Then came back and watched some more television and relaxed and slept.

Day 30 – Saroma to Abashiri

Got up and packed
Sean had a headache so decided to call the day off
At around 1 he dropped me off at the bus station to Abashiri
Said goodbyes
Meeting up with June, who would pick up the same bus on the way to her place
After a while I did meet her, she was very fun and reminded me of some eccentric friends I have
We got to her place but she had to head out for work. Showed me her bike and got me a map of Abashiri
I broke her internet trying to get the wireless to work
Headed out for some food
Went to this Nepalese place that was very delicious
Tohu ice cream and Lassi the way it should be made
Walked back, passing by a 7-11 to pick up a beer
Relaxed back at Junes place, cleaned up her place a bit in kind of an apology for screwing up her internet
tried again at fixing it
didn’t work
June came back
chatted a while
Then went to sleep

Day 31 – Abashiri and Shiretoko National Park

Got up and prepared for the day
Headed out to the train station and used JR pass to get up to Shari
Bus from Shari to Utoro
Round trip bus at Utoro
5 lakes, walked very fast
picture of deer drinking at pond
lots of deer
hurried, but very beautiful
made it in record time
to nature center
went on trail
large beautiful field
very windy so waterfall was flowing upwards
back to nature center
chocolate bar
bus back to main area
bought a ticket
short walk
lost ticket
nice lady helped me get onto the bus because she sold me the ticket
back to Shari
train back to Abashiri
Walked back to June’s place
we went out for sushi
delicious sushi
back to her place, chatted a bit
went out for milk
she made cookies
went to sleep

Day 32 – Abashiri to Asahikawa

Started the day biking around Abashiri
Adjusted June’s bike
biked for such a long time up these giant hills, but couldn’t find the museums
tourist map was horribly wrong scale
managed to find drifting ice museum, but everything else was nowhere to be seen
after biking for hours went back to June’s just for a 15 minute nap
went out to pick up Glen from the train station
walked back but June and Alex met us part of the way back
went back to her place, picked up my stuff and headed out
going camping
road trip
stopped at a few places on the way
Free shop! in Engaru
Dinner with a family, the… Simon and gang
Small little kids, so cute
Ended up in Asahikawa
Went to one of Alex’s friends place
He was really chill
then went out drinking at an international bar called The Den
Really small but quite fun
started drinking a whole mess of things
played pool
started hanging with a giant group of japanese girls and we asked each other questions
They worked in some kind of factory that produced weird wooden trinkets
two really cute girls who I talked to a lot, Arisa and Rena
Arisa was very cute, and I was trying to think of a way to somehow score with her, but I had no idea and I was really very drunk at that point
I was so drunk that the end of that night seems like somehow we decided to leave, and June helped me back to Alex’s friends place in a taxi. Glen, Alex and June then went to a ramen shop where Alex’s friend worked and supposedly it was the best ramen ever. I on the other hand dealt with my drunkeness and went to sleep.

Day 33 – Asahikawa and camping

Woke up with a deadly hangover that didn’t seem like much at first but then got worse as the morning went on. I felt very tender and awful.
Reggae music and jamming with Glen, free range chickens
Alex’s friend made us breakfast
Alex spent the night elsewhere, and we waited for her to come back
Then we headed out on the road
went to the mall where we picked up food and supplies for that night of camping
I was still very hungover so kind of just dealing with it
but after a while out on the road I felt better
got to the campsite
unpacked stuff
set up tent
started meeting people
all sorts of western foreigners from various parts of the world
lots of cool people
olympics of some sort
hula hooping, sock wrestling, chubby bunny, origami
got some great food for only ¥500
yakisoba, niku
party had to be moved several times because we were disturbing the japanese people
hung out around this water area with various toys like a waterwheel and some sort of pump device
tiny tree frogs all over the place, and giant moths that looked like dead leaves
after meeting all sorts of people and having a great time, things started to die down, and it started to rain at around midnight, so I retired and went to sleep in the tent
very nice sleep

Day 34 – Asahikawa to Hirosaki

Woke up
packed up the tent and put it into this girl Caroline’s car
drove back to Asahikwawa
Mall for a bit of food, got more shortbread
teriyaki burger from mcdonalds
went to train station and got on a train headed south
updated journal on train because they had plugs in the seats!
got into hirosaki fairly late
took taxi to melissa’s place
taxi driver looked like alfred from batman
got there
ran into melissa
cake with roommates

Day 35 – Hirosaki – Castle and Apples

started day biking
melissa lent me her bike
went to the castle
information center
walked around a lot
the castle was small and unimpressive
took a few pictures
walked around
walked around
then went to nekupo or whatever village
did some drumming
obvserved the museum they had there
played with some toys
observed an asian banjo concert, pretty cool
walked around
went back to the bike
headed in the wrong direction
got very lost
finally found where i was on the map
went to the apple orchard park
woman taught me how to find the good apples
went around the whole park picking apples
found all sorts of different
came back to the main place
picked up some cider
went to check out for apples and they threw away all of them because i was horrible at picking out apples
unsatisfied i rode back to mellissa’s place
took a nap
ate the apple, it was alright but not incredible
mellissa came back
her friends joined us and we all went out for dinner
walked a while but eventually found it
40s restaurant
tried all sorts of things
very good
boob ice cream
went back to the apartment and fell asleep

Day 36 – Hirosaki – Onsen

Got up and headed out without really knowing what i was doing
wanted to go to oirase but i got to the station a little late for that
instead decided to go to an onsen
a few sounded appealing but decided on one not too far away
dake onsen
while waiting for the bus i had a small grilled cheese and ham sandwich, that wasn’t so bad
took the bus there
bus dropped me off right in front of the onsen
the guy working there didn’t speak excellent english but good enough to help show me around
it was raining a little bit
went to the outside onsen first
no one there
i kind of guessed at what to do
undressed in the hut
put my stuff in a basket (seemed logical)
rinsed myself off outside of the onsen a bit
stepped in
hot but relaxing
rain caused bubbles but it was beautiful
chilled a while
when it got too hot i went out for a bit
drank the cider from yesterday
then went back in
then got out and grabbed a beer and chilled in the lounge area of the onsen
went back into the outside onsen
then got out and went to get a small beef noodle lunch, which was good
after that i went into the inside onsen
much smaller and I didn’t like it as much
but met a guy kobeyashi
tried communication
forgot my towel
he gave me his old one
i gave him a flashlight
we got out
i went to the other onsen to pick up my small rag towel
as i was leaving kobeyashi was there
offered a ride
i took it
we talked in the car
he gave me a coffee
and a pen
he stopped for business at a few places
his company sold drinks to stores
he dropped me off at the temple area
i walked along the temples
into a big one
didn’t really know what to do there
heard a “ben?!”
it was kobayashi checking to make sure i had an umbrella
what a nice guy
said our farewells and i headed back to the apartment
melissa was back
so we were figuring out what to do
i suppose the plan was to cook for dinner
got out and they ordered a cake
had an apple pie
went to “hoi”s apartment
she made rice and curry
we played a game about coming up with songs that had a certain topic in the lyrics
tried to get my laptop to play a movie didn’t
watched youtube the rest of the night
went to bed

Hoi was absolutely beautiful, I so wanted to somehow hit on her, but there was no way of doing it.

Day 37 – Hirosaki to Tsuruoka

Left melissa’s place
got the train to tsuruoka
it was a beautiful trip down the coast
changed in akita
got to tsuruoka
information center
went to narakan hotel
barely able to communicate with the person
very strange room
rested there for a while
then went out in search of the internet
found some random free wifi somewhere
on the way back got ramen
it was meh
couldn’t figure out how to order
guy with huge cavity
found out there was wifi at the police station so loitered around there for a while
went back to the hotel
watched a bit of tv
went out to get supplies at convenience store
tried on the yakasu or whatever its called
went to bed in it
took it off midway through the night