Choosing compassion

My 34th birthday is coming up. It isn’t really a “milestone” year, but since entering my 30’s I’ve tried to use birthdays as a reason to set a goal for myself — kind of like a secondary new year’s resolution. Sometimes it’s crossing an item off my “bucket list” and other times it’s a permanent lifestyle change.

On my last birthday, I decided to quit smoking cigarettes. I procrastinated a lot, and then went “cold turkey” shortly after St. Patrick’s Day. I won’t pretend to have been completely smoke-free this entire time — but I think I’ve done a good job overcoming most of the mental triggers that used to make me want to smoke. Nobody ever talks about how hard it is to quit when you’ve been self-medicating your anxiety with cigarettes, but fellow quitters tell me it’s an ongoing process and eventually stops being a struggle.

Although I didn’t plan it, another thing I quit last year was meat eating. I was a vegetarian once before, in my early 20’s. I didn’t really think about it again until I had a routine physical exam that showed my cholesterol levels were not ideal. It was a disheartening thing to hear, since I’d assumed I was leading a pretty healthy lifestyle up until that point. For the last couple of years, I’d been mostly following a “paleo” style diet, which advocates eating more meat, ditching grains/legumes, and replacing processed foods with animal products (for example: putting butter in coffee, cooking with lard). When I told my doctor this, she didn’t seem too surprised. As it turns out, a diet full of saturated fat was bad for me. :(

A game changing moment for me happened when I read a book by Dr. Michael Greger called How Not to Die — it really drove home something that I already knew, but didn’t want to admit about myself: “thin” does NOT equal “healthy.” Reading the book prompted me to begin doing more research, which led me to the conclusion that if I wanted to be proactive in avoiding the health problems that run in my family (including colon cancer, IBS, ulcerative colitis, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia), I would likely be much better off adopting a plant-based diet… for life. It’s not a panacea by any means, but it would likely help my odds.

Unlike cigarettes, I didn’t quit meat “cold turkey” (pardon the pun) but over the months that followed, I drastically reduced my consumption of all animal products. I didn’t feel deprived of anything; in fact, I rediscovered how delicious something like a simple bowl of beans and rice can be. I started having more energy for physical activity, and felt genuinely good about how I was fueling myself. At a follow-up with the doctor, my cholesterol had dropped and I’d lost a little bit of weight. I’m sure running a marathon also helped, but I hoped a plant-focused diet would make it easier to be healthy while not actively training for a race. (So far, it has.)

Most people are supportive when someone quits smoking, drinking, drugs, etc. for their health — yet they often aren’t so supportive when someone quits eating meat for the same reasons. Still, the majority of people I know were pretty chill about it, but I would sometimes hear things like, “That’s cool, just don’t become a vegan.”

Hey, y’all! Guess what?

While a plant-based diet is simply about what you eat, being vegan is a lifestyle approach in which the aim is to not intentionally exploit, kill, or be cruel to animals. [More information here.]

Going plant-based was just about addressing my own health, and I’d never considered going vegan before. However, as I did more research, I found myself falling down a rabbit hole that led me to re-evaluate many aspects of my worldview that I’d heretofore taken for granted. I think it may be extremely difficult to go plant-based and not pick up something about, for example, the interconnected nature of animal agriculture, public health, environmentalism, and ethics. I watched a few documentaries and TED Talks on these subjects, and everything I saw seemed to point me toward going vegan. I used to be one of those people who thought veganism was just a fringe movement adopted by people who live on trust funds and take private jets to Burning Man. When I went on YouTube, I mostly found regular, average people (who work full-time and live frugally, not ‘trustafarian’ hipsters) sharing their views — and I was actually agreeing with a lot of what they were saying.

For me personally, I don’t see how I can be a secular humanist, a feminist, someone who mostly agrees with libertarian principles of non-aggression, and NOT also be a vegan. It seems logically consistent with the philosophies I hold as moral and ethical guidelines for my own life. In a capitalist society, I also have the freedom to be an educated consumer, vote with my dollar, and feel good about the things I’m buying… which is about the most that an average person can feasibly do.

However, despite feeling that, just like quitting cigarettes, this was a positive lifestyle change I wanted to make — I was afraid to say anything about it to anyone. If you want to know the hardest part about going vegan, I’ll tell you: it’s other people.

Unless you want to be my friend. Because I love salad.

Vegans are everyone’s favorite punching bag. I have social anxiety, so the last thing someone like me wants is to feel like everyone secretly (or perhaps openly) hates me. I was worried that my family and friends would think I had become “militant” since that’s the common impression people have of vegans… some kind of carrot-wielding Stalin, marching meat-eaters to the gulag.

(Even though vegans are the ones who are stereotyped as being aggressive and intolerant… if you want to make a normally levelheaded person flip over the table and ragequit, just try to have a conversation with two magic words: “I’m vegan.”)

Of course it’s possible for vegans to be dogmatic, but that could be said about almost any group of people, and the presence of a few extremists doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think the problem is that many people believe ​that everyone has to have the same morals/ethics, which leads to creating an “us vs. them” mentality between meat-eaters and vegans. This simplistic, binary view of “good vs. evil” is pretty common, but I reject it. Just thinking something is wrong doesn’t mean I always think that people who do the thing are inherently evil. There’s a lot of nuance that many people miss.

But since I had no idea how to communicate this to anyone, I just kept all my wacky plant-eating ideas to myself. I would often share pictures of vegan meals on social media, but I never came out and declared myself to be a vegan; in fact, I would try to dodge answering if someone asked me about it. I thought, as long as I don’t say those two dreaded words {I’m vegan}, then nobody will hate me! Problem solved.

Unfortunately, by not saying anything, it became harder and harder for me to socialize because it seems like 90% of all human interaction somehow involves food. I was either anxious that people would suddenly hate me for wanting to go vegan, or anxious that people would think I was being rude to them because I kept refusing food — creating an ouroboros of anxiety. The only other option I had was to eat something even if it contained animal products, and then feel bad about it.

When I figured out that I wanted to “officially” go vegan this year for my birthday, I thought I should probably say something about it, since I wanted people to understand where I was coming from rather than hear the word “vegan” and jump to conclusions. It’s easier for me to write out my thoughts and share them in a medium that everyone can digest at their own pace.

It’s probably silly that I even have to say this, but I don’t expect my approach to be flawless, nor do I expect the whole world to be vegan too. My intention isn’t to put myself on some high horse of perfection. It’s about doing my best to be mindful of what I’m eating, avoid unnecessary violence and mindless consuming, and be more deliberate and compassionate with my choices, since I have the ability to do so.

Cheers to a new chapter!

Don't worry, most alcohol is vegan.

Birthdays in the Bahamas

One of the best perks of living in Florida is, of course, cruises leaving from your backyard (with state resident discounts)! Mom and Devon actually both have the same birthday, and would be celebrating milestones this year: she turned 65 and he turned 40. We decided to celebrate with my dad and brother on a family cruise, sailing out of Jacksonville on the Carnival Elation for 4 days. This was my first visit to the Bahamas.

Day 1: Thursday, June 9

We left Jacksonville at 4pm to sail to Freeport. I’m not even going to show you a picture of the Jaxport cruise terminal. It’s the most depressing place I’ve ever sailed from. Once on board, you’ve got a lovely “scenic” view of undeveloped marsh land, a gravel parking lot, and nuclear plant smoke stacks.

The Elation is one of Carnival’s oldest ships, so the cabins were legitimate relics of the late 90’s, right down to the ancient CRT television crammed into a corner of the room. Our cabin was “ocean view,” which apparently translates to “view the ocean… from a porthole window that doesn’t open.” The king bed was big enough to sleep two people without a problem, and the bathroom was a decent size, though if you’re over 6 feet, you’ll probably have to duck a little to use the shower. It was a comfortable enough place to sleep and shower, but not much else. The rooms were bereft of amenities… Not even a refrigerator. The on-board wifi started at $5 a day and that only included access to social media apps; everything else was blocked, including email (gotta pay extra).

After putting our bags in the room, guests were encouraged to go to the lido deck and enjoy the pool and buffet. Devon and I went right to the pool bar for our first drinks of the trip. We spent the remainder of the day walking around and exploring the ship. At dinner, they brought Mom and Devon each a birthday cupcake and sang to us. I went to bed shortly afterward, but that’s normal for me on a cruise. Alas, the rocking motion of the boat is sometimes a little too relaxing.

Day 2: Friday, June 10

I went for a morning run in the gym, then had an early lunch while waiting for the Elation to dock in Freeport. At noon, we debarked and met up for our excursion. Mom and dad booked the family for the “beach and open bar,” which was just taking a bus to Carnival’s private beach for the day. There did not seem to be much else to do in Freeport other than go to a beach, or pull up a barstool at Señor Frog’s.

At the beach, there were umbrellas and chairs provided for us to use as well as public bathrooms and picnic tables by the bar. If you felt so inclined, there were folks walking up and down the beach selling jet ski rides and parasail trips. There was also a giant water trampoline to play on. The “open bar” bit included local beer (Sands Brewery) and a few rum-based mixed drinks (piña coladas, mai tais, etc). There was a gentleman on the beach selling fresh coconut water (straight from the fruit), so Devon bought me one — and got one for himself with rum and condensed milk added. The vendor said it was called a “gully wash,” the unofficial drink of the Bahamas, and usually made with gin.

Y’all know I’m happy as long as I have an umbrella, a tube of SPF 100, and a book — so I was good for the whole afternoon. Toward the end of the afternoon, some storms started rolling in so we decided to pack it up and get back to the ship. The Elation left Freeport at 7pm.

Day 3: Saturday, June 11

At 8:00am on Saturday we were allowed to debark in Nassau. When you leave the port and enter the city, people will jump in front of you and aggressively try to sell you things, give you a ride somewhere, or braid your hair. (Joke’s on y’all, I just got back from Asia… Come at me bro. I’m immune to your hustle.)

For the afternoon, we’d booked the Rum Runner’s Passage Tour (via Islandz Tours) for the five of us. Our whole group was only 7 people, which to me is highly preferable over enormous tours. It was a walking tour so thankfully the weather was great. We began with rum punch at the Pirate’s Pub. I knew I was going to love our guide, Lindsay, when she opened the tour with, “So, I’m sure you’ve all heard of Christopher Columbus. Well, he was a giant asshole and we hate him here.” She led us through a Bahamas history lesson while we tasted 6 different rums in order from light to dark.

Protip: The Bahamas don’t have open container laws, so you can stroll around with your beverage! (So no need to do what I did and chug a rum punch before leaving the bar… Pace yourself; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.)

The second location on the tour was Hillside House, a 200+ year old building that’s currently in use as the gallery of local artist Antonius Roberts. We were given a snack of fresh rum cupcakes and conch fritters, then more boozy punch to sip while Lindsay regaled us with stories of the Bahamas’ role during prohibition and adventures of famous rum runners like William McCoy (a.k.a. “the real McCoy”) and the “Bahama Queen,” Gertrude Lythgoe (a genuine BAMF; seriously, Google this woman).

Afterward, we strolled to the Graycliff estate, home of a restaurant, hotel, cigar factory, wine cellar, and chocolatier by the same name. We took a short stroll around the hotel and grounds — it is gorgeous. I’m really inclined to stay there next time I want to visit Nassau. Lindsay was a fountain of information; I should have written more of it down. At the chocolate shop, we sampled a white chocolate truffle and a milk chocolate truffle infused with a shot of rum.

The final stop on the tour was the John Watling’s rum distillery, named for a somewhat famous pirate (although I’d never heard of him). We walked through one of the warehouse buildings to see some of the production line. Afterward, we tasted the three rums currently on the market (Pale, Amber, and Buena Vista). At the tour’s conclusion, the bartender gave us each a “rum dum,” John Watling’s signature cocktail — Pale rum, egg white, lemon juice, and sugar with an Amber rum floater.

I cannot recommend this tour enough! It was reasonably priced and a great way to see a few points of interest (and get your drink on) in an afternoon. If you book the tour, ask for Lindsay!

Afterward, my parents and brother went back to the ship. Devon and I met up with two of the local hashers, and got a brief drive-by tour of a few other points of interest (things to hopefully explore on our next visit!) before winding up at a pub to meet up with more hashers and have a few beers while they watched soccer. Nassau has quickly worked its way onto my list of favorite cities — it’s like if Key West and New Orleans had a baby. We returned to the ship quite buzzed, and left at 5pm.

Day 4: Sunday, June 12

This was a full day at sea on the way back to Jacksonville. Devon and I enjoyed “sea day brunch” in the main dining room, which was a welcome change from the breakfast buffet. It was a fairly lazy day. I went to the gym for a run, and then sat by the pool all afternoon. Following dinner, Devon and I watched the sunset from the bow of the ship. It was a wonderful long weekend and a great way to celebrate his 40th!

Atmosphere: I’ve previously sailed with Norwegian and Celebrity, and this was my first time sailing with Carnival. I’ve seen Carnival cruises described as a “floating Motel 6.” At this price point, I’m not expecting luxury. I can appreciate a budget vacation, since I mostly entertain myself, and just want to be left alone to relax. As I mentioned, the Elation is old (for a cruise ship), but was overall very clean and well-kept despite being horribly dated in appearance and desperately needing modernization. Unlike previous cruises, I felt that everyone at Carnival was always trying to sell you something, get you to upgrade, or force you to interact with other guests. It seems like this would be a great vacation if you want Disney style entertainment but can’t afford an actual Disney cruise. The cruise director was constantly making announcements about this or that activity. Unfortunately, most of what Carnival Elation had to offer did not appeal to me. I don’t have kids. I don’t gamble. I’m not interested in scams like “foot reflexology” or buying overpriced watches and costume jewelry. I’m not “single and ready to mingle.” I just wanted to sit quietly in the shade with a book, and occasionally dunk myself in the pool. Much to my dismay, the pool area had a DJ who played every horrible country song, one-hit wonder, and tired 90’s jock jam at max volume. I’m pretty sure the CIA uses his playlist to torture people in Guantanamo. Conga lines, the “Cupid Shuffle,” and “Wobble” are kind of amusing but the novelty wears off quickly the second or third time. Elation’s pool was also far too small for the number of guests on board. It didn’t bother me on the on the first day, but by the end of the trip, it was basically a human stew pot. But there was a water slide, so that was cool.

Staff: Everyone we encountered was incredibly friendly and did their jobs gracefully. They sneak into your cabin like towel-folding, bed-making ninjas! Staff members are always one of the most enjoyable aspects of cruising.

Drinks: The “Cheers!” open bar package was $50 a day with a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks per day. Non-alcoholic beverages such as bottled water, soda, smoothies, milkshakes, and specialty coffee/tea beverages were also included, with no daily limit. I didn’t feel like I really drank $50 worth of anything each day, but the beverage package makes it nearly impossible to overspend on booze, so that’s a plus.

Food: Carnival offers to accommodate folks with allergies or religion-based dietary restrictions, but I’m neither of those. Since I was on vacation I’d be happy just being able to choose vegetarian options without having to interrogate the servers and chefs about ingredients or ask for “special” meals. Overall I was pretty satisfied with the food quality and variety. My complaint is that the buffet and poolside restaurants could not accommodate enough guests, resulting in huge lines at peak times and on days at sea. The poolside Mongolian Grill was the most herbivore-friendly spot on the ship. I could load a plate with veggies/noodles, then give it to the chef to cook and add sauce (choices of black bean, Szechuan, or Thai barbecue). Buffet breakfasts were standard American continental fare; about what I expected — mostly meat. I ate a lot of fruit, plain grits, toast & jam, and home fries. (Not even a dairy alternative for coffee! I thought soy milk was pretty mainstream by now?) Buffet lunches/dinners had a few more choices, but were also mostly meat (including a deli sandwich station and pizza). There was always a salad bar, and usually something else plant-based available, but it often wasn’t exciting. One meal for me at the buffet ended up being a salad accompanied by a plain baked potato and steamed rice. We ate 3 of 4 dinners in the main dining room. They always had two menus; one remained static for the whole trip and the other was new each night. There was least one vegetarian appetizer and entree on both menus, so there were usually 4 or 5 choices I could pick from each night. A few appeared to be “accidentally vegan” but there was nothing on the menu intentionally free of animal products.

The best and worst of Carnival Elation’s vegetarian food — Best: Indian vegetarian entree. Absolutely delicious! Worst: Baked Alaska dessert. Arrived at the table half melted, and instead of meringue, they used whipped cream. (If you remember my Celebrity cruise, I’m now 0 for 2 on baked Alaskas. LOL)

Final Thoughts

Based on this experience, I would not be inclined to do a longer Carnival cruise — at least not on the Elation or any of their older vessels. However, this was an enjoyable low-cost vacation and a great long weekend getaway. I would love to visit Nassau again as well as explore some of the other islands.

A Whirlwind Trip to Asia, Part 2: Taipei, Taiwan

Okay, so I’m not Anthony Bourdain… But I did have a long layover in Taipei, which was actually a lot of fun, and not very expensive!

Let me get real with y’all for a second here… World travel on a budget is not glamorous. One of the obvious downsides is sitting for 10+ hours in economy class. It’s not my idea of a good time, but it’s not completely intolerable. However, one of the other disadvantages is not having the luxury of being picky with your flight times. If you live in a major airline hub city (I miss the cheap, last-minute Delta flights to anywhere from ATL!) then you may have more options. But for the rest of us, choices are limited. In order to get a round-trip from Jacksonville to Bali for less than $1000 per person, we were stuck with a 20-hour layover on the way home. Rather than grump about it, we decided to use it as an opportunity to get out and explore a bit, since neither of us had been to Taiwan before.


If you’d like to read about my trip to Bali, it’s here. Our flight from Denpasar to Taipei was on EVA Airlines, in an amazing HELLO KITTY PLANE.

Yes, there was Hello Kitty toilet paper in the bathroom.

May 23 @ 21:30 (Arrival)

I thought about booking a hotel for the night, but then found out that Taoyuan International Airport has free wifi, bathrooms, and showers! This airport also has sleeping lounges where you can pay by the hour, but while looking for food we lucked upon a group of reclining lounge chairs. The cushion on top of each chair happened to be detachable — so I pulled mine off and laid it down on the floor. It was actually pretty comfortable.

I’d brought a blanket and travel pillow along with my blackout mask and earplugs (I sleep best in total sensory deprivation), so I was good to go. The area also had a charging station, so we plugged in our phones and Kindles, then settled in for the night. The only downside was all the restaurants in the terminal appeared to be closed by the time we arrived. If you’re flying in late, bring food. I had a bag of dried jackfruit chips from Denpasar, so that was my “dinner.” The airport felt kind of cold and clammy with no people in it, and I did wake up once because my blanket had shifted and I was shivering, but overall it was the best airport sleep I’ve experienced. Devon did not have such an easy time with it, but the chaise was unfortunately not designed with a 6’5″ person in mind.

May 24 @ 6:00

I was awoken by Devon, who had gone to find breakfast and returned with a hot tea for me. We packed up our stuff and headed for customs. Taiwan offers (depending on your country of residence) a “visa on arrival” for a stay of 30 days or less. The best time to go through immigration is apparently at 6am. The only people around us were a janitor and the guy at who stamped our passports. After we were out of the terminal, we took some time to freshen up, brush teeth, etc. Next we paid to store our bags for the afternoon (about $15) and bought bus tickets to downtown Taipei (about $6 for the one-way trip). We chose the #1960 route which would drop us off at Taipei City Hall. From there the plan was to walk to Taipei 101 for some sightseeing. We didn’t bother buying new sim cards since it seemed like a lot of places in Taipei had free wifi.

8:30

The buses ran every few minutes, so we didn’t have to wait long. We were the only people on the bus along with a Taiwanese woman who spoke English (she and her husband seemed to split their time between Taiwan and the US). She explained to us that China’s president recently put restrictions on travel to Taiwan, because Taiwan’s president would not acknowledge the island as part of China… or something like that. Anyway, that explained why immigration was a ghost town this morning. Usually tons of mainland Chinese tourists flood Taiwan on a daily basis. The bus ride to City Hall was an hour, even taking an express lane the whole way. Taoyuan airport is waaaaay outside Taipei.

9:45

French cruller with matcha glaze.
French cruller with matcha glaze.

We got off at the City Hall bus station and Devon wanted to grab a snack before we started walking around. We grabbed a couple of pastries at Mister Donut, then stopped by 7-11. They had a whole counter full of hot food, similar to 7-11s in the US, but instead of yucky hot dogs and stale nachos, there was a big pot of eggs (pickled, or maybe century eggs?) and racks with steamed buns… to which I sighed wistfully since I couldn’t read Chinese to determine what any of the fillings were. There was a plethora of drinks and snacks; all manner of jellies, puddings, biscuits, chips, noodles, baked goods, and candies to be had in addition to water, milk, aloe drinks, and coffee.

10:15

Taipei 101 doesn’t open until 11am, so we walked around to kill some time. Across the street from Taipei 101 is ATT 4 Fun shopping mall, where a few stores and restaurants were beginning to open for the day. One of my silly traditions is trying McDonald’s in other countries — the “Egg McMuffin with Vegetables” turned out to be just a standard McDonald’s egg with lettuce and tomato.

Taipei 101 looking a little creepy in the morning mist.
Taipei 101 looking a little creepy in the morning mist.

11:00

We strolled into Taipei 101 and hit the counter to purchase tickets for the observation deck. Since it had just opened, there was no line to get tickets or wait to get in the building. The entrance fee was $15 for adults. Around the ticket counter is a gift shop with tons of souvenirs and merchandise, if you don’t have time to visit the top and want to just buy something to say you were there.

Taipei 101 used to be the tallest building in the world at 1671 feet, but has sadly been demoted to 8th tallest (5th tallest in Asia). However, it does still boast a Guinness record for world’s fastest elevator, at 37.7 miles per hour / 55.22 feet per second. As you wait to board the elevator, someone will take your photo, which is available to purchase. Unfortunately, I didn’t want the souvenir because we both looked in need of a shower and change of clothes. (Hmm, almost like we’d spent the night on the floor. Ha ha!) Sadly, there are no windows in the elevator (likely to keep squeamish guests from vomiting), but during the ride, it goes dark and the ceiling illuminates with multicolored lights that undulate in patterns to mimic a starry sky, while some cheerful music plays. If you’re sensitive to rapid pressure changes, like I am, your ears may pop!

The elevator let us off at floor 88 for the enclosed observation area, where you can buy snacks and souvenirs while enjoying the view. From this vantage point, clouds look like wisps of floating cotton candy surrounding the tower; buildings and cars on the ground look like toys. The sky was kind of gray and appeared to be threatening rain, so the view was sporadically obstructed by opaque curtains of vapor.

The observation area had English translations for most of the informative signs and videos. Every detail of Taipei 101 is intentionally symbolic: the tower is built in the style of a traditional Chinese pagoda and evokes a stalk of bamboo (symbol of growth). The 8 stacked segments of the tower are split into 8 floors (the number 8 symbolizes good fortune). Various other design elements adorn the building’s exterior, including stylized dragons and ruyi (power symbols), Chinese coins (for prosperity), and circles/squares (for a balance of yin/yang).

The tower is designed to withstand winds of up to 134 mph. Suspended from the 92nd to the 87th floor is a giant steel ball which serves as a damper to counterbalance the tower under strong gusts. Apparently the damper was so popular with tourists that the city had Sanrio turn it into a mascot called “Damper Baby,” fashioning the ball into a Hello Kitty-style character. Large “Baby” figures are placed throughout the observation deck for photo ops, and plenty of merchandise is available for purchase.

Taipei_06

Cool Black clearly has swag.

We were allowed to take the stairs to the exterior observation deck on the 91st floor; however most of the area had been closed off, and we were basically standing inside a cloud, so I couldn’t see much at all.

In Disney fashion, we were forced to exit through another gift shop before we could leave the tower. This was a serious gift shop… We walked past shelves filled with giant, elaborately carved dragons and Buddhas made from coral, jade, or amethyst; rows of glass cases filled with every kind of jewelry you could imagine; globes of varying sizes covered in a mosaic of iridescent shell pieces… really expensive stuff.

The only thing I purchased at Taipei 101.
The only thing I purchased at Taipei 101.

13:30

Below the Taipei 101 tower is an entire shopping mall, so we decided to explore a while. Sadly, the majority of stores were luxury establishments like Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc. Even if I was in the market for high-end shopping, with the currency exchange I wouldn’t save any significant amount of money compared to buying back home — although if you are a foreign traveler, you can bring your sales receipt to a “tax refund” counter to have the 5% value added tax returned to you. Hey, at least wifi was free.

While Devon went outside to have a cigarette, I decided to shop a bit by myself. Oh, bad idea. Apparently the aggressive sales technique I experienced in Bali is common all over Asia. As soon as you enter a store, a salesperson (or multiples!) will begin orbiting you and repeatedly asking you if you need help. Although, maybe they just don’t like tattoos, and thought I looked shady and was going to steal something. At this point I really wished I’d bothered to learn some Chinese phrases — “no thanks, just looking!” would’ve been helpful. It seems like stores don’t want you to touch the merchandise; the salespeople will shadow you and immediately snatch anything you pick up so they can hold it “for” you while you shop. I guess it might have been a different experience had I been able to communicate with them. Y’all know I love Asian skincare products, and I was super excited to find a L’Herboflore kiosk!… But the salesgirls were insanely aggressive and a little overwhelming (seriously, half a dozen people working one kiosk), so I didn’t buy anything.

Be not deceived; the counter girls employ used-car-salesman levels of aggressiveness.
Be not deceived; the counter girls employ used-car-salesman levels of aggressiveness.

14:00

We walked back across the street to ATT 4 Fun. On the ground floor we found a Watson’s drugstore, which was blissfully free of obnoxious salespeople! I was able to shop alone and ended up purchasing some more of my beloved Biore Watery Essence sunscreen, a couple of foot peels (Baby Foot cannot be described, only experienced), and a box of My Beauty Diary sheet masks. On the first 3 floors we meandered through some interesting stores with all manner of amusing trinkets and souvenirs, in addition to clothing and home goods.

The 4th floor seemed to be focused on sweets and desserts, with an over-the-top “Alice in Wonderland” theme, which included acid-trippy holograms, gigantic white rabbits wearing waistcoats, and plenty of playing cards, clocks, and tea cups floating around.

Cute details from the Alice floor.
Cute details from the Alice floor.

On the 5th floor was the “Food Bazaar” with more restaurants. Devon wanted to stop for another snack, and we briefly considered eating at “Nola Kitchen” because I was both scared and intrigued to find out what a Taiwanese interpretation of beignets and crawfish étouffée would taste like. (They also had chicken & waffles, which isn’t even from New Orleans.)

We ended up being lured away from Nola Kitchen by other enticing edibles, and found a seat at a Japanese okonomiyaki (translates to “grilled as you like it”) restaurant. We were given an English menu that was just 2 pages, as opposed to the Chinese menu that was about 12 pages. (I’ve really got to learn some Chinese before I come back.) The English menu had pictures so we could at least point at what we wanted to order. Devon got some meat and noodles with an egg; I had a small plate of takoyaki (octopus fritters).

There were 5 more floors above the food bazaar, including a night club and a rooftop bar! However, at this point we were getting ready to head back to the airport. This mall is definitely a great place to occupy yourself for a few hours. There is also a 4D movie theater next door, which would be a great place to spend an afternoon. It would be easy to occupy yourself for a whole day in this one city block alone.

16:00

We grabbed one of the cabs parked outside Taipei 101, which was quicker than trying to figure out a bus. Devon managed to communicate to the driver where we were going, and the fare was about $30.

17:00

Back at the airport, we picked up our luggage and checked into our flight to NYC. Before going through security, we stopped at the food court to grab a few more snacks “for the road” (just in case I slept through all the meals again), and I got a gigantic boba tea. I couldn’t read most of the menu, but I saw “black tea with milk” so I ordered that. Taiwan is the birthplace of boba tea, so I really would have liked to explore the city and find some cool places to drink it, but that can be another thing I can do the next time I visit.

And I manage to look pissed off while drinking boba tea?? I was super tired, y'all.
And I manage to look pissed off while drinking boba tea?? I was super tired, y’all.

Getting through security didn’t take too long. I think we probably could have spent another hour messing around town before coming back to Taoyuan, but we didn’t want to end up running late and missing the plane. We had some time to chill out before the flight, so I decided to walk laps around the terminal since I knew I’d soon be sitting for 15 hours. Taoyuan airport is great for last-minute duty-free shopping. I thought maybe here I could be left alone to browse some shops at my own speed, but no such luck. If you aren’t bothered by aggressive salespeople then you’ll probably enjoy it… there’s tons of expensive skincare products and cosmetics, all the fragrances anybody could want, handbags galore, crap loads of whiskey (much love for American bourbons and Scotch single malts on this side of the world), toys and electronics, and some of the cheapest cigarettes I’ve ever seen. (Taoyuan airport also has a smoking lounge.)

19:10 (Departure)

I loved my short visit to Taipei and would definitely welcome another long layover there! It would be nice to visit the night markets or see another part of town next time, but even the airport alone is a comfortable enough place to while away a few hours.