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Taiwan versus Japan

Written October 21

Several people have asked me which I liked more, Taiwan or Japan. For a while, I was undecided. In Taiwan, I thought I would like Japan more. In Japan, I waffled, often in favor of Taiwan.

Enough time has passed that my opinion has settled. Taiwan was better. Discounting my excellent company in Japan, of course.

The Taiwanese were so welcoming, and the country so vibrant. Every downtown had a busy street market full of Taiwanese youth enjoying their evening, and vendors who spared no effort in helping me find a menu item with plenty of pork. The food was fresh, plentiful, and cheap. So tasty, too. After this trip, I think I prefer Chinese food to Japanese.

Being a rare native English speaker in Taiwan, I enjoyed special attention. People wanted to talk to me and did me a couple of small favors. I had great conversations with a couple of Taiwanese cadets on the subway and a family in Alishan with the sweetest three kids. A hotel owner in Fenqihu treated me to a free traditional Taiwanese breakfast. Being so young ingratiated me to middle-aged Taiwanese; I was told many times in a marvelling tone, "You're here alone? You're the same age as my son/grandson!" I saw more enthusiasm for America among the Taiwanese citizenry than I have seen in the States. There are, of course, obvious geopolitical reasons for this.

The country was beautiful too. One of my favorite days of the whole trip was a rest day when I just read a book at a mountaintop teahouse in Maokong.

But Taiwan wasn't all smooth sailing. On June 26th, I had an awful time trying to explore Yangmingshan. I rather undersold how unhappy I was in my post that day. Google Maps failed me with incomplete bus route data, I couldn't read the Chinese signs, translation apps failed too, and the park was so empty that sometimes I didn't have anyone to ask for help. I was also excited for Japan, so after that day, I looked at plane tickets and found a last-minute price drop: a $50 ticket from Taipei to Tokyo. I genuinely considered buying it and going to Japan early. I am so glad I decided otherwise.

Not knowing Chinese was thus a hinderance in some ways. But it was a boon in others. It gave me a reason to talk to the people around me: "where's the subway entrance?", "which dish do you like?". And frankly, the peaks of my journey are elevated for the troughs like Yangmingshan.

In Japan, knowing Japanese had its advantages. It let me meet the old man in Kumamoto who took my brother and me to Kumamoto castle.

Japan is the more beautiful country. I was in awe at the rivers and mountains of Kyushu on the bus ride to Takachiho. Verdant slopes plunged sharply to a vast river, flowing smoothly like a viscous blue-green fog. At night on the islands between Shikoku and Honshu, I heard the same quiet that people heard thousands of years ago and grew a little more familiar with them.

Japan is famous for its cleanliness, and it earns that fame. That increases its beauty too. Taiwan was a little less tidy in comparison—the sidewalk was often blocked by parked motorbikes, and there was more noise all around.

But I saw hardly a piece of litter in either country. And the relative chaos of Taiwan added to its lively charm.

Finally, I acknowledge some biases. I discovered travel fatigue, and I often said to people during the trip, "Sometimes I need a vacation from my vacation"—a day of doing basically nothing. Since I went to Taiwan first, maybe my experience of Japan was unfairly colored.

I was travelling alone in Taiwan and with people in Japan. That created friction for spontaneous excursions and took away a reason to talk to the locals. It also provided great company, which improved my overall experience. But that company had the flavor of home, meaning my perception of Japan was diluted.

Both countries are very worth visiting, but if you have to go to one, especially if you would like to meet the locals, go to Taiwan.

Top 10 Onsens

Written ~August 20

Owen and I visited many public baths. Some of them technically aren't onsens, but I'll call them onsens from here on because I am an ignorant foreigner (Note Oct 7: I think they're "sento"s). We have compiled a list of the top 10 onsens we enjoyed.

Rank Name Location Notes
1 Tana Yu Beppu Built on a hill overlooking the whole town of Beppu. It is part of a large resort complex, so there are lots of other cool facilites nearby. But you don't need to stay at the resort to bathe. The big hot bath is an infinity pool that extends to the view of the city. My brother and I spent 5 hours there on July 20.
2 Manyo Club Yokohama The baths had a view of Tokyo Bay, and rather than being separated by tiles, the outdoor baths were separated by greenery. There was a wide selection of baths too. It was a little crowded, but everything else about the bath more than compensated. On the roof is a foot bath with a view of a nearby amusement park and downtown Yokohama. The park's Ferris wheel is enormous, maybe 15 stories tall. The wheel, park, and city light up at night to beautiful effect.
3 Poppo no Yu Onomichi A charming local establishment. It felt like a community center, where parents would bring their kids, with delicious locally-made noodles in their restaurant. The baths were typical of a super onsen. Uniquely, a cloud of mist was constantly sprayed over the sitting area—appreciated in the summer heat. It was cheap too. Almost every onsen on this list costed 2000 or more JPY to enter. Poppo no Yu was just 800 JPY.
4 La Qua Bunkyo, Tokyo Located in a complex with a mall, water park, and roller coaster. All of which are visible from the lounge, on the 7th story of its building. Enormous—two cold baths, four saunas, and many large hot baths, three of which were outdoor.
5 Thermae Yu Shinjuku, Tokyo A super onsen. It had a large selection of baths and the best steam room of every onsen on this list.
6 Tokyo Somei Onsen SAKURA Toshima, Tokyo A super onsen. It had comparatively few baths. The food there was the best of any onsen though, roasted garlic is hard to beat.
7 Edo Yu Sumida, Tokyo A super onsen. Many people were there, but everyone was very quiet, even compared to other onsens. It made for a quite relaxing atmosphere. There was a big bucket suspended from the ceiling, automatically filled with water, which you could overturn and dump on yourself by pulling a chain.
8 Asakusa ROX Taito, Tokyo A super onsen. Had a view of the Tokyo Skytree and a booth wherein a wide high-pressure stream of water would pound your back.
9 Tama no Yu Kyoto The first onsen we went to. The highest ranked non-super onsen on our list. Small, but had a nice local feel, and a solid selection of baths. It had everything you need to relax.
10 Yakushi no Yu Kawaji Onsen, Nikko Baths were lukewarm, but the atmosphere and the view of the river sort of compensated.
H Genji no Yu Uji Most things about it were nice. Pretty outdoor area and a wide variety of baths. Modern facilities. But there was a loud TV overlooking the whole (otherwise nice) outdoor area. It avoided last place by the skin of its teeth.
H KAI Kawaji Kawaji Onsen, Nikko This onsen was part of the ryokan. It had only two baths, both lukewarm. One of them was outdoors, but without much of a view. Unimpressive.

(H = Honorable Mention)

August 15, 2023

On the plane home, I met another guy named Jack, who is a new employee at the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. What are the odds.

August 14, 2023

Shipped some sticks. Went to a book store but they didn't sell scrolls. Went to bath.

August 13, 2023

Owen and I went to a wood block print store, Mokuhankan. It is run and owned by a man named David, and apparently he has over a hundred thousand subscribers on YouTube and streams on Twitch often. Most of his customers are fans, he told us.

He was blunt, knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. After I told him I was looking for something to put on my wall, he told me wood block prints are not good for hanging on walls, and directed me to some other stores where I could find wall scrolls. I bought a wood block print anyway, partially as thanks for his help, and partially because it was sick.

August 12, 2023

We all went to conveyor belt sushi in Shibuya.

Then we parted ways with Nathan and Blake. They took a train out of Tokyo to avoid the coming cyclone.

Nils, Owen, and I went to a public bath that night, after which we parted ways with Nils too. The bath's attached restaurant was very tasty. No one can roast garlic like Tokyo Somei Onsen Sakura.

August 11, 2023

We all (Nathan, Blake, Nils, Owen, me) ate dinner at a Michelin-starred ramen restaurant then went out for karaoke.

Hot, we went to an ice cream shop afterwards where I got some sake-flavored ice cream. It tasted like sake without the alcohol, just a pleasant rice-ish flavor.

August 10, 2023

Written August 13, 2023

Nathan, Blake, and I hiked Mt. Fuji.

I woke at 6:00 to catch the bus direct to the trailhead, and we got there at 9:30. We stocked up on water and bought walking sticks, which the mountain huts selling food and drink on the way up would stamp with a hot iron. A very cool souvenir.

We started at 10:06, quickly, because the last bus out was at 18:40 and a typical hiker would take 5 hours up and 3 down, leaving us only 40 minutes to spare. Just meters in, we were already as high as the surrounding mountains. It was a typically hot and humid Japanese summer day—Blake had to take off a layer he had worn for the cold summit.

After a couple of kilometers, we began to pass mountain huts and accumulate stamps. The trail grew steep—it ascends 5000 feet in about four miles. We left the woods behind and started up the barren basalt that comprises most of Mt. Fuji. The air cooled.

Higher up the mountain, we began to pass through torii gates and shrines. Fuji must have been a holy site since men first set foot in Japan—it dominates the landscape. The wind became fast, buffeting us puny hikers away from the mountain. It was nearly freezing. My head began to ache, from altitude or thirst. Perfect for such a divine place, I thought. The summit of Fuji isn't a place us little humans can enter without trial and pain.

The summit was spectacular. We were three times higher than anything else in sight, and than the clouds, whose many shadows crept along the forests below. We could see all the way to the ocean, to a distant city, and see over the mountain range which separated the city from another to that other city.

Opposite the view was Fuji's enormous caldera and a path which circumnavigates it in an hour. We did not have time to walk it because we had already passed the five hour mark and our projected arrival was rapidly approaching the last bus's departure time.

We began descending at a fast pace, restrained only by my bad knee. The trail was so steep and loose that we half-skated down, kicking up pebbles and a cloud of dust quickly carried away by the whipping wind.

Soon we had to slow because of pain in my knee, then pain in Nathan's too, but it gradually became clear that we would catch the bus without issue. So we did at 18:40.

But our journey did not end there. While the bus to Fuji was direct from Shinjuku, the bus back only took us to a small nearby town. From there, we had to take two trains back home. The bus was delayed by a missing hiker (who was found soon after, safe), so we missed a train. We had many more transport troubles, aggravated by our exhaustion, which I won't bother to recount. I finally returned home at 23:30, spent.

August 9, 2023

Written August 11, 2023

Owen and I visited an owl cafe.

Then we met with Nils, and with Nathan and Blake for the first time. Yay! We shopped together then went to a fancy public bath near to a water park and rollercoaster.

August 8, 2023

Owen and I visited Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden with AJ, a Canadian man we met at the hostel.

We met Nils and ate dinner on Omoide Yokocho, a fun narrow street packed with izakaya-type (beer and fried food) shops.

Then Nils and I explored downtown Shinjuku. I won 11 umaibo ("delicious sticks") at a crane game and I ate 9. I have felt better.

August 7, 2023

Owen and I moved to a hostel in Shinjuku. Our last one had basically no A/C, we hope this is better. We met Nils and went to another public bath.

August 6, 2023

Written August 7, 2023

We went to teamLab Planets today, an immersive art experience set up in a large warehouse. It was incredible.

In the exhibit, we walked down a dark hallway lit only by a row of dim aqua squares positioned ankle-height along each wall. Before us, pairs of aqua feet faded to blurry gray hips, which disappeared into black at the chest.

First, we came to a pillar of water falling ceaselessly from the ceiling above, illuminated by a subtle butter-yellow light. Then we climbed a slope flooded by a shallow steady stream of water, lit a bright white, which cleaned our bare feet, and darkness remained in every direction but down. Just past, we crossed an enourmous bean bag alongside twenty-odd other visitors, huffing and puffing, hopping and stumbling. It was the first well-lit area.

The mouth of an inscrutible black hall swallowed us and spat us out at the first exhibit.

Crystalline poles of white lights hung from the high ceiling to the floor. Every surface was a mirror, allowing the lights to extend to infinity. They flashed, pulsed, and sparkled independently, turning from a night sky to a tunnel of racing light in an instant.

We wondered for a while, then continued through the darkness to the next exhibit.

We waded through thick white water, dyed with a compound which somehow left no residue on the skin. It rose to knee height as we entered, and we beheld another endless room. Softly glowing koi fish, all colors of the rainbow, swam among the people. They would tend away from a person when she walked toward them. Slow, enchanting music played, like in a movie when two lovers meet at the threshold of dream after one has died.

That exhibit was my favorite.

We continued through other "universes": endlessly falling flowers, mirrored blobs in a moss garden, and a garden of hanging flowers which moved up and down. Finally, we left and ate dinner together.

August 5, 2023

Written August 7, 2023

In the morning, I met a friendly heavily tattooed German man. He would need to be wrapped like a mummy before he was allowed into a public bath (tattoos = yakuza in Japan). We talked for a while then shared a shot of German liquor he had transported from Germany to Vietnam, then to Malaysia, then to Hong Kong, then finally to Japan. It tasted like candy cane. Yum.

August 4, 2023

We explored Akihabara today: figure, comic, video game, and trading card stores.

August 3, 2023

We travelled to Asakusa in Tokyo. We decided to see the Tokyo Sky Tree tonight.

First my brother and I bought smoothies at a shop called Panda Juice. The smoothies were tasty, and the woman who owns and runs it was nice. We talked for a while with her and an old man sitting at a table who seemed to know her well. They were funny, and a bit tipsy I think. The shop sold only smoothies and spiked smoothies. We took a photo.

Then we met Nils and ate at a Russian restaurant with a waitress/owner who was kind but a bit pushy—she kept trying to get us to order her recommendations.

The Tokyo Sky Tree was beautiful. The city below us shone like a dragon's golden hoard deep in the misty mountains.

As I wrote this, a French couple at the hostel where Owen and I are staying sat by me and we talked for a while. I am learning that I love talking to Europeans and English learners. Or at least the ones who one tends to meet travelling.

August 2, 2023

We spent a day at sumo.

The event started with comedy matches. There were about fifteen high schoolers learning sumo wrestling facing three professional-looking sumo wrestlers, probably their coaches. They wrestled one-on-one, and the coaches played up the difficulty of the matches, letting the kids throw them now and again, rolling all the way off the stage where the ring was. The wrestlers seemed to be having fun, and the audience was cracking up.

Then lower-division wrestlers competed. I got a feel for the different ways a match could end: a wrestler could be pushed out of the ring, thrown to the ground, or occasionally picked up and carried out of the ring. Before each match, the wrestlers would walk around, slap their bellys intimidatingly, stamp the ground to ward off evil spirits, and generally play mind games with each other, appearing ready to start then backing off at the last minute. This preparation took minutes, and the actual match was usually over in 10 seconds. Frankly, watching all the matches was a bit of a slog.

Thankfully, other acts continued to punctuate the schedule. There was a song about how damn hot it is in Japan right now sung by six wrestlers in colorful raiment.

Next was another comedy fight between two pro-looking wrestlers. They threw each other out of the ring, threw chalk at the referee, at each other, and were just generally menaces. It was like WWE. Probably my favorite part of the day.

Finally, we saw the top division fights. They lasted longer than the earlier fights and were quite fun to watch. The heavy clap when the wrestlers first collide commanded the attention of every observer who was distracted by their phone. I recorded one here, save minutes of posturing beforehand.

Sumo was far more entertaining than I expected—I would love to go again. And maybe I'll try watching WWE too.

August 1, 2023

Came to Tachikawa. Ran. Vibed.

July 31, 2023

We tried to go to a public bath today, but it was closed. Outside there was an old woman talking to herself in Japanese, and I believe the subject was us. I talked to her, and she was surprised I could understand her a bit. She was 89. She and her husband either frequented the bath or ran the place, I couldn't quite figure out which. Common sense suggests they don't work, but I've seen enough shops run by very old people that I don't rule it out.

Owen and I went to a noodle shop for dinner (Nils was nearly in bed already). We were the only two in there and the shopkeeper was friendly, we got a photo with him.

July 30, 2023

We came to Oyama and saw fireworks.

July 29, 2023

We ate a tasty lunch.

As Nils made a call, my brother and I hung out by the river. The river was cool but not cold, I got in easily. River water clears and restores the mind—I noticed the valley again like the first time.

After, I lay on a rock and admired the river ecosystem. So many dragonflies hovered overhead, jerking left and right on their patrol for prey, that a freeway intechange formed above me, one lane of dragonflies buzzing over another, up to a hundred feet in the sky. Two dragonflies raced through the lanes, bumping each other angrily, up the river and into the sky, clearly in a fit of road rage.

Every once in a while, a small bird swooped through the traffic, perhaps hunting the dragonflies.

July 28, 2023

Today was chill. We walked around Kawaji. It is so remote that there is nowhere to do laundry.

The town is small, built at the confluence of two rivers. Many buildings are abandoned, vines slowly reclaiming their land.

We soaked in an outdoor onsen next to one river. It was a no-swimsuit onsen, and it had a view of the sidewalk across the river. A couple fortunate passers-by were graced with view of my bare behind. Truly a traditional onsen.

July 27, 2023

We left Inawashiro today. We visited the aquarium briefly before leaving. Again the wonderful hosts drove us. Troubles plagued us while we tried to get to the train station. Some cell providers were having an outage, and some taxi services' phone systems were malfunctioning. But with the help of a kind Japanese man operating a nearby store, we summoned a taxi to the station.

We took three trains to get to the ryokan where we will sleep tonight. We missed our stop on the final train, alighting one stop late.

That stop was remote. We walked into a cement tunnel in thick mist. On our left the tunnel extended to black. On our right, the tunnel opened to a bridge three hundred feet over a wide river. We were in a national park.

We decided to walk back to the previous station. Trains ran so rarely that the hour walk was the faster option. We followed that wide river through mountains blanketed in greenery. Fog was blown among the mountain ridges, animating the otherwise still scene. Our ETA cut too close to our check in time, so we tried to hitchhike. Lo, a Pakistani man named Mustafa picked us up and drove us to the ryokan. He sold cars and machinery in Japan. We were very grateful to him.

July 26, 2023

Written July 27, 2023

We decided to hike Mount Bandai today. Georgia came with us.

There was no way to get to the Happoudai trailhead by bus, so we rented a car. I drove on the left side of the rode for the first time, at first with a vow of silence demanded of everyone in the car, then more comfortably and amicably after twenty minutes of practice.

The guest house hosts, in their generosity, drove us to and from the station where we rented the car.

The hike was steep and hot, but beautiful. Thankfully there were two small shops near the top which sold food and drink. Nearby was a fountain of potable water straight from a mountain spring.

The summit was stunning. There was a clear view for miles in every direction. The house where we slept was visible from the summit. Lake Inawashiro stretched out towards the horizon, halting at a line of mountains which surrounded it on three sides. Georgia commented that it was like a scene from Kimi no Na wa. She was right.

July 25, 2023

Written July 27, 2023

We went to Inawashiro, a town beside Mount Bandai. Mountains surround the town, and Bandai stands clearly above the rest.

We stayed at Inawashiro Guest House ~Hanbog~. An Australian girl, Georgia, was staying there too. She was friendly, and as fellow travellers in Japan and students of Japanese, we all had much to talk about. She was bike-packing around Japan, and planned on doing so for the next two years.

The hosts were kind and friendly too. The main host invited friends, a couple, over to chat because the man of the couple wanted to practice speaking to foreigners in English. They were also sociable and surely just enjoyed conversation. A middle-aged Japanese man was staying at the guest house too.

I, my brother, Nils, Georgia, the main host, his couple friends, and the other guest sat on the deck. We watched the sun set, then a small distant fireworks show by the foot of Mount Bandai. Our conversation started with simple topics in English so everyone could follow along, then split into to two, English and Japanese, as we drifted to more difficult topics. When one lulled, they tuned in to the other and the conversation was one again. The middle-aged guest was thrilled to hear that I really liked onsens, and after hearing that I went quite regularly in Japan, dubbed me "Onsen Otaku." Our dance in one-two-one-two lasted a few hours until we all headed to bed.

July 24, 2023

We went to Tokyo via a six hour trip, where we have joined forces with Nils. God, I have spent more time on public transport on this trip than in my whole life before. We will slow soon, and I hungrily anticipate it.

July 23, 2023

The bugs come out in Kumamoto at night. A two inch cicada sang us to sleep from the opposite side of our window. On the stairway out of the hotel, there was a two inch rhinoceros beetle. He lifted his head and tracked me with it as I walked by.

Public transport to the train station in the late morning was infrequent and slow. As my brother and I stood on the side of the street debating how to get there, a white car pulled up beside us and rolled down its window to reveal an old Japanese man inside. He offered in Japanese to drive us to the train station, as he was going to the same area. We agreed, thanking him excessively.

He was happy and talkative. After hearing that we had not been to Kumamoto castle, he told me the significance and history of the castle. It was near where we were going, so I commented that we might visit before taking the train. He became our tour guide, he drove us to the castle. We got out, and he guided us through praying at the nearby shrine and explained how the castle had been damaged in a recent earthquake. A priest took a photo of us with him in front of the castle.

As we drove to the station from the castle, he said, "The repairs of the castle won't be finished for twenty more years. I probably won't live that long," and chuckled. Jolly old men are my favorite sort of person.

Then we took the train to Fukuoka. We went to a fishing shop to get gear and instruction for tenkara fishing. I was still inspired by The Old Man and the Sea. I learned that few people do tenkara and gear may be hard to come by. The shop had none.

July 22, 2023

We saw Takachiho Gorge.

We rented a rowboat and cruised around the green-blue river at the bottom.

Then we rode a bus to Kumamoto, aided by a nice Taiwanese girl and Japanese man. Divers of the citizenry, high schoolers in track wear and old men in suits returning home, endeared the city to my brother and me as we walked to our hotel at night. It was not crowded, but a steady trickle of quiet, yawning people proceeded through the major streets. Kumamoto is welcoming, oddly familiar, comforting, and charming.

July 21, 2023

We took two trains and a bus to Takachiho. There were many good views from the second train.

July 20, 2023

My brother and I went to Beppu, the hot spring capital of Japan. We soaked in a beautiful onsen overlooking the city for about five hours. We saw the city and ocean in the sun, saw afternoon turn to evening turn to night, then admired the city lights.

July 19, 2023

We finished biking, the path was even more beautiful today.

It rained for a while, but fortunately we were eating lunch at a supermarket. We talked to a couple Englishmen who were biking across Japan, south to north. One was a truck driver who trasported fine art.

My brother and I parted ways with our parents.

July 18, 2023

We began to bike the Shimanami Kaidou today. It was pretty.

We stayed at a rennovated traditional Japanese home in the country. The doors were constructed of wood and paper. They slid open. I couldn't stand upright in half the home because the ceilings were too short.

I sat in the front yard at night, peering at the black mountains and contemplating mankind's role on earth, happy.

I want to spend more time in the country. I read The Old Man and the Sea today, so I want to learn to fish too. Maybe I should learn to fish in Siberia.

July 17, 2023

Today, we took a train to seaside Onomichi. Tomorrow, we will bike along a path over bridges and islands, the Shimanami Kaidou.

We walked to a public bath. It was hot, even mild effort dampened my shirt with sweat. As the ocean faded into the distance along with the towers of downtown Onomichi, we began to pass older houses built in a little valley between two short forested hills. Though there was room for the town to grow outwards, the houses huddled like penguins for warmth and security, few sideyards separating them.

Further along, the houses dispersed. Some were large, with Asian hip-and-gable roofs lacquered so thouroughly that they shone silver.

The bath was pleasantly crowded. Many fathers and their sons were there. The bath seemed like a great community institution. Their restaurant's fresh, tender ramen noodles were made by a local noodle shop.

July 16, 2023

We went to Akou, Hyogo Prefecture. I slept too little and thus didn't do anything besides eat some delicious Indian food for dinner. It was funny to speak to an Indian guy in Japanese.

July 15, 2023

We saw Kinkakuji and went to the Gion festival at night. We listened to five Japanese men chant a tune, advertising their temple. There were so many people. Surely tens of thousands. I reckon a hundred thousand.

I recorded the men chanting.

July 14, 2023

We went to the deer park in Nara. When you have deer cookies, the deer come up to you and bow to you. Then you feed them. When many come up to you, they compete for the food and sometimes nip you.

Then we went to another public bath. A "super" public bath. There was a pretty outdoor area.

July 13, 2023

I ate ramen for breakfast with my brother. The restaurant, Ichiran, was unusual. You never speak while ordering your food, and you never see the face of the person who serves you. The ramen was great.

We all explored Fushimi Inari today, the famous shrine with thousands of torii gates.

We finished the day at a public bath again.

July 12, 2023

We took the Philosopher's Walk today. We started at Ginkakuji, a samurai retirement home that became a Buddhist temple.

We continued along the path to several Shinto shrines and one more Buddhist temple. I prayed at each of the Shinto shrines. I felt well after. It was an opportunity to consider my values, desires, and what actions they demand. I was reminded how to live with purpose. I'm coming around to this prayer thing.

After returning to our hotel, I went to a used book store we had walked by. I bought a Japanese book from 1800 with interesting drawings that I can't interpret with much confidence. There are instructions on how to write and fold origami; drawings of live fish, dead fish, and dead birds; portraits of people, perhaps historical figures; and a drawing of a constellation and variously shaded circles, which I assume are phases of the moon.

The clerk told me it was a textbook for elementary school students. The text is annotated with furigana (which ease reading), so maybe I can decode it with time.

We finished the day at a public bath. There is nothing more relaxing.

July 11, 2023

We saw Osaka Castle.

In the line to get in, I talked to a woman from Michigan whose husband had come to Japan for a Force of Will (Japanese card game) tournament. He was commentating in English. Apparently he has a big YouTube channel. She told us of a deer park in Osaka, where you are encouraged to feed the deer, and when you bow they bow back.

Later, in a nearby restaurant, I spoke with a Taiwanese man on vacation with his wife and kids. He worked on "car lighting" for a Fast and Furious movie. He invited me or my parents to stay at his guest house in Tainan. A very nice man.

We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant. I thought not that Japan was a place to eat good Italian, but I was proven wrong. The food was delicious. The restaurant was operated and probably owned by a kind elderly couple, perhaps 75 or 80.

July 10, 2023

I spent my last days in Taiwan lying back and resting before Japan. I read a lot. I visited Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, and bought a shirt. I talked with many people at the hostel. I met a French girl who majored in Chinese and went to Taiwan to study abroad. The night before, I saw her having a proper conversation in Mandarin with some Taiwanese in the hostel lobby and I was very impressed. She was very talkative, with a good sense of humor. She was appalled at what some restaurants in Taiwan had done to some French dishes and accused me, "You Americans are not innocent either!" We checked out a bookstore together, found some goofy children's books, and ate dim sum.

I also met a Korean guy who had been travelling the world for a year and a half, working through WorkAway in exchange for room and board. He went to 24 countries, and he said one of his favorites was specifically, "Oklahoma." For a month, he lived in a small town of 500, doing construction, and expecting racism. Instead he met a warm welcome and barbeque better than expensive steakhouses in Texas. He said it was like being in a Western movie.

Now I'm in Japan, and I am with my family once more! We goofed around for a good while tonight after eating some amazing fried chicken.

July 7, 2023

I woke up at 4 AM to see the Alishan sunrise by taking a 10 minute ride on an old logging train to a popular viewing area. Then I travelled back to Taipei for my last couple days in Taiwan.

July 6, 2023

I hiked through a bamboo forest near Fenqihu, where I met and chatted with another solo traveller from Singapore for a while. We planned our trips using the same blog post (Nick Kembel's), so I saw her twice more later today in Alishan.

Then I went to Alishan and first sat on a table contemplating my next move. An old man holding a meal was eyeing the table too, so I invited him to sit with me. We chatted for a little while, though our topics were limited by his vocabulary. After some time, three kids, one little boy and two little girls, each perhaps 5 to 8 years old, came up to the old man and spoke to him in Chinese. The only bit of the conversation I caught was the old man encouraging the kids to try to speak to me in English.

I talked to the kids for a while, they were quite capable. As their shyness faded, their excitement (and my own) grew, and they leaned in closer. We were all smiling, and one of the girls would hop up and down triumphantly when she conveyed a more complicated sentence. I learned that they were the children of the old man's brother, and their English names were Austin, Olivia, and Emma. I cannot convey how cute they were.

I finished the day by taking another short hike through the woods of Alishan and catching the sunset.

July 5, 2023

I took a train through the mountains to Fenqihu, where I am sleeping tonight. The town and my hotel are beautiful. I hiked this afternoon.

July 4, 2023

Written July 5, 2023

I decided to take a trip to Fo Guang Shan Buddhist monastery, the biggest in Taiwan. I drove there in a rented car, and I am fairly sure that I broke a traffic law on the way there, but no one honked at me. Thank you, calm drivers.

First, I ate lunch at the Non-Duality Cafe at the entrance to the monastery. There was another group of junior high school bikers there, apparently that is a common summer activity. One boy approached me and helped me with the menu in English, and another gave me a spoon as the group left.

As I walked through the monastery, I passed through a courtyard filled with hundreds of white stone Buddhas waving, smiling, and staring passively at me. I saw a bald brown-robed monk driving a golf cart. I reached the main shrine, where I offered a prayer to a Buddha with the help of a patient lady by the entrance. In it were three three-story tall golden statues of different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The most impressive area was at the end. It was a half mile long courtyard girded by six-story towers which led to a two hundred foot golden statue of the Buddha atop a four-story stone pyramid. Due to a misunderstanding with a security guard caused by his poor English and my near-complete ignorance of Chinese, I was later apprehended by that same security guard and escorted off of the property before I could get a good look at this area. It is closed on Tuesdays, but you wouldn't know that from the signage. I was allowed to re-enter from another entrance.

I was miffed. But I still explored a little more. As soon as I walked back in, I was beckoned up to a balcony by an excited monk. She let me ring a huge bell using a large log suspended by two ropes. My mood was lifted. My earlier prayer to the Buddha must have been answered.

The drive back was uneventful. I moved to a new hostel in Chiayi.

As I sat in my new hostel to begin writing, a Saudi Arabian man asked me for help with the washing machine. We wound up talking for two hours, until my bedtime, so I couldn't write this post that night. He was possibly the most unique man I have ever met. He was in Chiayi for business—something to do with heavy machinery. He kept asking me if I was from the CIA. He urged me to visit Saudi Arabia and corrected some misconceptions I had about Islam (apparently Ramadan has nothing to do with the star and cresent). He told me the Muslim version of the Book of Genesis. He served in the Saudi military in Texas for ten years, 2000-2010, but he doesn't really like Americans any more. He is apparently a pretty successful guy in Saudi Arabia; he offered to organize a trip to Saudi Arabia for me, have "his people" pick me up from the airport, etc. After talking to him, I actually do want to go to Saudi Arabia, but I probably won't take him up on his offer.

July 3, 2023

I went for a run this morning and felt great after. Unfortunately being on vacation does not relieve the body of the need for exercise! Then I took the high speed rail to Kaohsiung. I ate dinner at a night market and nearly ordered successfully in Mandarin.

As I sat in my new hostel's lobby, a polite mob of junior high school students dressed in biking gear flowed into the room, shushing each other and doing their utmost to keep out of other peoples' way. Later, a few of them came up to me and asked me in English to sign a poster the group was carrying around the country on their bike trip. They were trying to get a hundred signatures. He and his friends were pretty nervous. After, their teacher came up to me and asked me to take a photo with the group, and I agreed. They were all very cute. One girl asked me, "do you speak Chinese?" and the group erupted at her, and she mock-slapped herself. Their jerseys had the name of their organization on it, "Boyo Social Welfare Foundation," and one of its goals is teaching the students English.

July 2, 2023

I took a guided tour of Taroko Gorge. A couple highlights: the gorge itself

And a mama monkey with her baby!

I wasn't a huge fan of the format of a guided tour though, I probably won't do any more.

July 1, 2023

I came back to Taipei. I have done quite a lot of reading while I have been here, especially today. I finished A Tale of Two Cities in my first week here. Wow, what a good book. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. Today I read a good quote from psychologist Carl Jung: "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."

June 30, 2023

Back to Hsinchu for the TSMC Museum of Innovation. I hoped to see some big machines, maybe get a picture of the inside of a fab. But nope, it was just pictures and videos about how innovative TSMC is and how important the CEO thinks innovation is. I was a little unimpressed.

June 29, 2023

I went to Sun Moon Lake. I rented a bike and rode along a path that goes around and sometimes over the lake. There, I met an Austrian guy named Max and we hung out for quite a while.

First we went to Wenwu temple together. The walk there was beautiful and the temple even better. We were gushing at each other for a good minute at the top of the temple.

We ate some hot pot together.

And finally grabbed beers and hung out on the dock. A good day.

June 28, 2023

I just walked around downtown Hsinchu. Got some boba from a 7-11. Hung out at the park and talked to some chickens. Successfully ordered a meal and asked where the bathroom was in Mandarin. I must be getting better!

June 27, 2023

I moved from my old hotel to this new hostel in Hsinchu. I'm in Hsinchu for a tour of the TSMC museum.

On June 24, I went to the National Palace Museum. There were lots of old Buddhist statues, old Chinese books, and old Chinese art. Fewer than half the signs had an English translation, I found myself wishing that I knew more Mandarin and also that I knew more Chinese history to really appreciate what I was looking at. Nonetheless, I stood meditatively in front of several art pieces for five to fifteen minutes each, so I call the visit a success. I saw only a third of what the museum had to offer, I'd like to come back some time.

Afterwards I went to a toilet restaurant (thanks Nils). It was more of a family place than I expected, there was a ball pit for the kids. I sat alone, and several minutes later another man who had come there alone too was seated next to me. He was also from California and we had a nice chat.

June 26, 2023

I went to Yangmingshan today, a national park near Taipei. It was pretty. But I spent five of my six hours out either sitting on a bus or waiting for a bus. I had the fortune that the visitor's center's one monthly closure was today. I have had better days.

June 25, 2023

I took a gondola to Maokong for some tea. The ride up was gorgeous.

I rode one with a transparent floor.

You could see Taipei 101 standing over a nearby mountain. Only then did it really hit me how massive that thing is. Standing under it downtown, you can tell that it's taller than all the other towers, but not how much taller. Taipei 101 had its head, shoulders, and full torso over this mountain, and no other tower around it was even visible. Wow.

I got in some good reading over my tea.

I am still somewhat sick, but feeling alright still.

June 24, 2023

My hotel is right next to NEO TRUMP, the up and coming new Trump hotel. No one tell the old Trump, we should surprise him. (The NEO is small and gold atop the T, it's hard to see)

Nathan (Wachholz) suggested that I post what's in my bag. It might help those who will join me in Japan decide what to pack. Or hey, maybe it'll simply be interesting.

Full list here.

I bought the two short-sleeve shirts and the sweat shorts as soon as I got here. The prospect of washing my clothes, even quickly, in the sink every day became very unappealing once I was actually here. And everyone's outfits were so good in Taipei that I stood out in my humble backpacking attire.

I brought my safety razor but didn't have any luck finding blades for it. It seems everyone here uses disposable straight razors. Hey, they're fun to use.

I have two swimsuits since I didn't bring one to the hot spring, thinking it was one of the ones you go in naked, and I had to buy one there.

Yesterday, the forecast said there would be no rain, so I didn't pack my poncho. Boy, did it rain, harder than I'd seen in my life. Each drop hit the ground like a hunk of pork thrown on the cutting board. If you stood in the rain for just five seconds you'd be completely drenched. At the apex of the storm, thunder clapped every minute or two. I ran to a 7-11 and bought an umbrella, but not after I'd gotten quite wet.

I learned today that the water had gotten into my pack and done some damage to my passport. It's still totally legible, but the pages are bent now, and the covers more so. I thought passports were more durable, like US dollars. My advice is to put your passport in a plastic bag in your backpack.

June 23, 2023

I am still sick, but feeling a bit better. I caught 8 hours last night so that helped.

Just before the sun finished rising, I took a short hike up Xīangshān mountain (in Taipei, not to be confused with Xiàngshān mountain in Beijing—my dictionary was confused). The mountain was wet, green, and full of loud bugs. I recorded my hike here (19 min 6 sec). That'll take some time to load, so here's a photo too.

I went to the Taipei museum of contemporary art. It was mostly just artsy videos. One of them was pretty entertaining. A man and a woman sat on a circular platform, pushed in circles by a man dressed as a Roman slave, followed by a man dressed as a Roman legionary who cracked his whip every minute. The two were asked pretty serious questions, like "What do you think are the main causes of the rising cold war between the US and China?" The woman responded "It's just men seeking power. I think women should rule the world!" When she was pressed for a more serious response, she dodged the question. After some time it became clear that neither of the speakers were really qualified to answer the questions they were asked, and that made the whole scene even more entertaining.

June 22, 2023

I am sick. Basically all I did was move from my old hostel to a new hotel, eat, and lie in bed.

June 21, 2023

I woke up this morning feeling pretty crummy. I have not managed to catch more than 6 hours of sleep since I got here. So, I chalked it up to sleep deprivation and allergies. I resolved that I would go to bed early and the only thing I would do today is go to a hot spring.

Getting to the Xinbeitou hot springs was trying. Every few minutes on the subway there, sleep summoned me then sent me away just as I approached it. The air in Xinbeitou was hot, humid, and still. When I sat still, the air felt more like a liquid. Google Maps took me to the wrong place. Perhaps I should have used OpenStreetMap instead. But then I just walked around, staring uncomprehendingly at the map, my headache worsening and my temper shortening, until I at last found a hot spring, and an outdoor one at that.

It was heaven. In the spring, my headache disappeared and my grogginess left me. I chatted for a bit with a diverse group of four: a Japanese student studying in Taiwan, his friend who was visiting, a British Youtuber, who is allegedly fairly famous, with two hundred thousand subscribers or so, whose channel's name is WorldAviation 4K, and a Japanese woman whom he met in Osaka and was now accompanying him.

The area was beautiful. Huge towers rose from the dense woods. I wish I'd taken a photo. The area looked a lot like this photo.

That night, I starting coughing more. I thought I might be sick.

June 20, 2023

I walked to a couple of temples. They were very pretty.

Then I took the subway to Daan Park. I got a little lost and a very nice man who spoke little English came up to me and asked me where I was going. He walked me all the way to the subway entrance I needed, about 5 minutes away. We didn't really talk. But he had a very cute cat. The park has trees which grow brown hotdogs.

June 19, 2023

I took the subway to Sculptor Barber for a haircut this morning. It was a very relaxing affair. The barber told me I was free to fall asleep during the haircut. I thought he was joking about how sleep-deprived I looked (jet lag) and I replied that I might, but he wouldn't be able to cut my hair anymore. But he insisted, "No, I'll manage." I'm still pretty sure he was joking and he just meant to encourage me to relax.

Then I walked to Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world from 2004 until 2010 when the Burj Khalifa was built. The view was really something.

June 18, 2023

I was given several brochures by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's desk in the airport. I'll have abundant inspiration these weeks.

I bought some boba. It tasted better than anything I have got in the States, and it costed just $1.50.

June 17, 2023

I had an 18 hour layover in Japan. I slept at a hotel next to the airport that had a spa on the roof, which was 12 stories up and had a spectacular view of the Tokyo skyline. As I bathed myself in a traditional Japanese shower with a bunch of naked Japanese men to get ready for the bath, I felt my excitement for Japan rapidly growing. I even began to dread leaving to Taiwan. But I know Japan will be here in 3 weeks, and I will really enjoy Taiwan.

I found this sign in the airport. There must be a story.

June 16, 2023

The adventure begins with one sleepy and excited man. I am flying across the Pacific for the first time, and I didn't know an 11 hour flight felt so long. I took one final photo of the US as I was leaving.

The shortest path between two cities on Earth is never a longitudinal line, so my plane from LAX to HND flew over Alaska briefly. Unfortuntely it was very cloudy. I still glimpsed Alaska though, I really must go some time.