excursions

Salvation Mountain, California. AKA The Will-I-Ever-Get-There Roadtrip

Salvation Mountain is an art project started by Leonard Knight that’s roughly 35 years old. The version that exists today is the second iteration, after the first crumbled, and is now maintained by volunteers since Knight passed away in early 2014.

You don’t need to know anything about Knight, or even about the mountain, before you go. Because no matter how much you’ve prepared for it, once you show up all you can really do is say, “Huh.”

asf

An iPhone pano of much of the site, featuring my shadow

I drove several hours to and from Slab City, a makeshift, tiny community that exists because people say it does. It’s just north of Niland, California, off Beal Road. There are RVs and other mobile homesteads that make up the area, which was originally the location for the WWII Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. At least, that’s what Wikipedia says.

Slab City

Slab City, as seen from the top of the mountain

This area is roughly 180 feet below sea level. It’s just east of the Salton Sea, which is even lower. Driving out there, especially solo, makes you wonder if you’ve lost your mind. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you kind of are. You drive up 111, desperately scanning the area for this three-story-high supposed mountain, and feeling like you’re never going to get there.

When you finally start seeing other vehicles that are obviously not local, you start to feel better. You follow them as you turn onto Main Street/Beal Street, go through a humble “neighborhood”, and pass the slightly creepy, dilapidated, graffitied, Romanesque, abandoned building on one corner.

That building needs all those adjectives. I didn’t get a picture, but I should’ve. It was something.

Soon you go over a tiny bridge and pass a concrete stand on the right side of the road that looks like a great place to cook meth. But painted boldly on the side facing you is “Slab City. The last free place. Almost there!”

the shack

I considered parking there because I assumed “the last free place” meant for parking. I lived in Dallas too long.

the road

Continue past the welcome shack and around the bend

Around the bend, you see it. And you cock your head to the side and go, “Huh.”

sign

They make it obvious where to turn in

Salvation Mountain isn’t imposing. When I first got there, I didn’t think much of it. Then I started to explore, and soon I felt good about coming. And not because I’m a Christian in a place that has “GOD IS LOVE” painted as high as I am tall – because, honestly, much of Knight’s Christian message is fire and brimstone. Which isn’t really my thing.

the mountain

The mountain and one of the painted vehicles

But for some reason, this pious place brings people together no matter what they believe. I parked, pulled out my camera, and locked my car, with the rest of my gear and my purse fully visible inside. I was safe, surrounded by people who were there because they wanted to be there. I felt a sense of community.

It’s weird.

I wandered around taking pictures, venturing into the two biggest side projects: awkwardly roofed rooms off to the right of the mountain.

side thing

The larger of the two side projects. Once you walk in it’s expansive, with little rooms and the trippiest ceiling ever. “Ceiling”.

Pictures boggle your mind a bit, even if you were the one who took them.

dfbg

There are also painted vehicles, a simply painted boat, and the creepiest swing on the planet in the parking lot.

swing

As for the mountain itself, there are a number of signs asking people not to climb; there is, however, a “yellow-brick road”, as signs call it, that leads visitors to the top.

road sign

You get to the top, by the cross, and you turn to look around. And the thought that comes to mind is, “Huh.”

It’s not an arduous climb. You don’t have some kind of incredible view at the summit. You see the sliver of the large Salton Sea. You see the humble mountains. The sky is pretty, but you’re staring directly into the sunset. It’s not really anything special.

The view from the top of the mountain. That's apparently the Sea of Galilee, and you can see five vehicles. And a boat.

The view from the top. That’s apparently the Sea of Galilee, and you can see five vehicles. And a boat.

But still, you kind of want to just hang out there for a minute and take it in.

So I sat. I didn’t have any deep thoughts. I didn’t feel closer to God. But I was content.

A few minutes later, I stood and went behind the cross. I saw Slab City at my 11 o’clock, and the two squat abandoned water tanks, embellished with their own art, at my 2 o’clock.

water

Abandoned water tanks, now artists’ playgrounds

I considered walking to the tanks for a closer look, and if I go back, I will. They were only a quarter-of-a-mile away, give or take, but I was thinking of the 3ish-hour drive back to San Diego. I didn’t want to get on the road too late.

If you enjoy kooky art projects and road trips to the middle of nowhere, go. If you’re a hippie, go. If you’re a photographer, go – there were lots of us there. It’s a unique experience, to say the least.

the mountain

One part says JESUS in giant, baby pink letters and then, underneath, in bright red, FIRE. JESUS FIRE.

Taiwan photos: 51-60

One:

giant

Sunny messaged me at 8am one morning and asked if Sabrina and I wanted to see something cool. Two hours later, we were at the base of this incredibly happy Buddha. It was part of an enormous complex we weren’t able to enter.

Two:

tea mix

After giant happy Buddha, we went to a traditional Hakka tea house. For the snack, we had to grind up sesame seeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and green tea until it was a thick paste.

Three:

Hakka snack

The paste was then served in bowls with hot water and rice puffs. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted, which is saying something. Sabrina and I both really liked it.

Four:

rose tea

Accompanying the snack was rose tea.

Five:

red tea boxes

The small shop offered a number of different teas and snacks made in the area.

Six:

snake character

On a handmade sign, a snake.

Seven:

textures

We left the tea house and walked to a temple. Once again, there were building-less doors scattered around. I don’t know what it is about Taiwan, but there are a lot of interesting looking doors discarded everywhere.

Eight:

balanced

A shop near the temple.

Nine:

ET

Later, in Neiwan, Sabrina met ET.

Ten:

pots

Small potpourri pots – pour scented oil into the narrow mouth, then roll the ball trapped inside to release the scent. It’s a pretty cool idea.

Halloween Massive 2010 in Taipei

I originally posted this on my LiveJournal, but I want all of my Taiwan posts in the same place. So, after a three-month hiatus from proper blogging and over three years after the actual event, I present:

Halloween Massive: photo proof I was there, and I was awesome.

DJs Roger Shah and Benny Benassi were playing a rave on Halloween in Taipei, and when I found out, I was pumped. I decided on my costume, began working on it on Wednesday, and by Saturday night was a dancing, fist-pumping can of Taiwan Beer.

Taiwan Beer Halloween costumeOnce I knew what I wanted to be, I found the supplies and began working on my costume. I wanted a costume that would require no explanation and very little financial burden, and this was perfect – everyone in Taiwan knows this beer, and it cost me $15 US to make. Quite a few hours went into the creation, but I didn’t mind. I’m actually not bad at recreating stuff with a marker and a canvas.

a lot of work...Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday afternoon: I worked ten hours or so with tape and permanent markers to create my beer can. It was done by freehand, very slowly and deliberately, with some artistic license taken when I got tired of working on a particular section.

so close!I finished the tab headband first, then the can face, then hung the apron from a modified hula hoop. I finished in time on Saturday so that I could help Gretchen and Juan with the finishing touches on their costumes – Gretchen was a flamingo, as you can see from the pink boas in the first picture. Juan was Evel Knievel, and I helped him with the markings on his helmet.

Saturday night at 8:30 we hopped in a cab and made our way to the High Speed Rail station in Jhubei 15 minutes away. We bought our tickets, ran into some other foreigners, boarded the train, and took an entertaining 20-minute ride to Taipei.

posing on the HSRThe foreigners were all in costume and looking ridiculous, while the local Taiwanese stared, smiled, or shied away from the craziness. We exited and made our way through the station to the subway. Normally this would’ve been a five-minute endeavor, but we were stopped numerous times to take pictures with strangers or pose together.

group shotAs we took the above picture, literally 20 Taiwanese were taking our picture with cell phones and cameras. We were quite the sensation. Anytime we saw fellow foreigners or people dressed in costume, we’d all yell and wave, causing an even bigger commotion. It was hilarious and more fun than I’ve had in a while.

We pre-partied at a Family Mart (7-Eleven’s cousin) with a few dozen other revelers, and I took the opportunity to take a picture with my family… of Taiwan Beer.

cheersI was a certifiable hit. When a man walked toward me, looked me up and down, then bumped his beer against my costume and said, “Cheers,” before walking away, my night was made.

Finally, around 11:30, we entered Taipei’s World Trade Center to the insanity of thumping bass, thousands of people dancing in costumes, and lights and lasers darting around. It was incredible. We made our way to the front, near the stage, stopping to take pictures with strangers as we pushed forward. In front of the stage, ten people back, is where I made my home for the next 4.5 hours.

Roger ShahI had a blast. Dancing, waving my arms, jumping, celebrating the night with an awesome crowd; at one point during his set, Benny Benassi looked at me and waved. After I waved back, he smiled, nodded, and ramped up his set.

I had water the entire night, and while I was surrounded by people who were trashed in some form or fashion, it didn’t take away from the wonderful atmosphere. Everyone was smiling and enjoying the rave.

Benny BenassiIt was my first rave, but it will not be my last. Even as my feet began to ache and my costume became cumbersome, I stayed in my spot until the last sounds of Benny Benassi’s set faded and the lights came on at 4am. Fifteen minutes later security began encouraging people to leave, and our group went back to the Family Mart to figure out the next step. I ended up taking a cab with another girl back to Hsinchu at 5:45; for a 1.5 hour cab ride, we paid around $50 US. I crashed into bed at 6:30 or so, slept until Gretchen and Juan called me to let them into the building at 8:30am, then fell asleep until 12:30pm.

It was the best Halloween I’ve ever had.

#3: Visit the Dallas Museum of Art

The Dallas Museum of Art is free in the summer, and Klyde Warren Park is right across the street. Briana, Michael, Brooke, and I arrived at the DMA at 11:30am, half an hour after it opened. Around 2pm we went to the park for lunch, and then returned to the museum until it closed at 5pm.

I didn’t think I could take pictures inside the museum. Surprisingly, you can take as many pictures as you want in the permanent exhibits, so all these pictures were taken with my iPhone.

It was my second time to go, and my favorite exhibit is still the European Paintings and Sculptures on the second level. Come to Dallas and go to the DMA. I recommend it.

Caitlin! The full itinerary and more Taipei

Caitlin was in Taiwan for eight days. I was quite intent on introducing her to the cuisine, transportation, and trying to show her the basics of Taiwanese life. At times I went a little overboard, shoving all kinds of weird experiences and foods down her throat, but she was a great sport.

During Caitlin’s entire stay, Typhoon Tembin was like, HEY! I wanna hang out, too! Thus, this lovely little storm circled back for a second trip to Taiwan. Luckily, it didn’t affect her trip too much.

Friday (August 24), her first day, I’ve already detailed: we went to Taipei for the National Palace Museum, Modern Toilet, and the Xilin Night Market (where we visited a large temple).

Saturday (August 25) we went back to Taipei and went to the top of Taipei 101 and visited the Jade Market.

Sunday (August 26) was spent in Hsinchu. We had brunch with many of the fine ladies and gents of the foreign community. Since it was raining, I’m pretty sure this was the day we saw ParaNorman! at Big City.

Monday (August 27) we traveled back to Taipei to fulfill a promise I’d made to a friend to take pictures of a missionary’s grave at Christ’s College in northwest Taipei. The weather was beautiful, and Caitlin and I both marveled at the mountains. After we visited the college, we took 45-minutes’ worth of metro rides to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. We intended to see the Salvador Dalí exhibit there, but our timing was off. It didn’t matter, though; the memorial grounds were beautiful and welcoming, and it was there that I spent my two-year Taiwanniversary.

Tuesday (August 28) I showed Caitlin the two main temples in Hsinchu. For dinner we met up with some of my students, Sunny, and Annie’s Mom at the Train Station Night Market. Caitlin tried stinky tofu, and I gagged down some, too, at the kids’ insistence.

Wednesday (August 29): Sunny, Jack, and Jessica picked Caitlin and me up at 8am. Annie’s Mom, Annie, and Ting Ting were in a car behind us. Our crew drove to the other side of the island to Yilan, where we played in a river, saw a waterfall, ate incredible seafood at Su-ao Pier, prayed at a temple, visited a cold spring, and had shaved ice. We returned to Hsinchu at around 8pm, and I immediately jumped on my scooter and joined Yvonne, Polly, and some other work friends for dinner at a restaurant.

Thursday (August 30) we joined Hannah for dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant downtown. Other than that, I packed, ran errands, and tried to get ready for my move back. I had drinks with a few friends at Chocolate’s bar, but it was a very mellow day overall.

Friday (August 31) was similar to Thursday. I transferred my scooter to my friend Amanda, who promised to love and cherish it. That evening we had dinner with several friends to say goodbye, during which there were back-to-back earthquakes centered in Hsinchu/Miaoli. During the first, I punched Caitlin in the arm out of excitement.

She experienced the full Taiwan: typhoons, earthquakes, west coast, east coast, Taipei 101, Taiwanese hospitality, stinky tofu, street food, night markets, temples, scooters and trains and the metro and traffic. She did it all. Posts with pictures from Hsinchu and Yilan are on their way.

And then, it was all over. Early Saturday morning, September 1, 2012, I boarded a plane and left Taiwan.

Caitlin! Day One.

My friend Caitlin came to visit, and her trip marked my last week in Taiwan. Showing her my life in Taiwan and introducing her to the country I called home for two years, as well as to some of the most important people in my life: it was the best way I could have said goodbye to the island.

Her trip coincided with Typhoon Tembin’s attack on Taiwan, though we lucked out with great weather and very little rain most days. The first full day she was here, Friday, we headed north to Taipei. We visited the National Palace Museum, where I finally viewed all the exhibits (and didn’t see Steven, sadly). After a long afternoon there, we went to Modern Toilet, a restaurant near the Xilin Night Market. We then walked through the market, stopping in a temple hidden behind several stalls. Not too much later, we headed back to the metro station: we had a metro ride, a train ride, and a long scooter trip ahead of us, and we were both exhausted.

All photos taken with my Nikon D5000 with my nifty fifty lens.

My compliments to the chef

Taiwan is known for some of its more interesting food, like stinky tofu, but there’s a  community of chefs and people who appreciate fine cuisine, too. I’ve had some incredible meals here, and their plating was delicious visually, and the food itself was a wonder.

When I went to Tainan with Yvonne and Larry to visit her parents, we were treated to a meal at a restaurant up in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range. The decor was a stark contrast to its natural surroundings, but the multi-course meal was a revelation, at least to my naive palate.

What follows is proof that while Taiwan has some interesting dining options, it absolutely holds its own in the international fine dining community.

Too bad the internet isn’t scratch and sniff.

We chose our soup, entree, and post-lunch beverage, but the rest of the courses were chef-selected. The per-person cost: $30-40 US.

No large napkins, just wet wipes above the spoon and a plate of cocktail napkins.

Mango shaved ice with a tiny twist of lime on top

A fork skewering a shrimp over a goblet of scooped mixed fruit with yogurt.

A bite-sized sweet potato tart. I ate the garnish, too.

Mushroom with… stuff on top. I don’t know exactly what this was, but it was divine.

I don’t know what the far left was, but I liked it. Do you think they have to special order those forks?

Crunchy yellow stick: I have no idea. I forgot to taste the sauce at the bottom of the plate… I was too busy making inappropriate noises as I ate.

Thank you, Mr. Snail, for your sacrifice. I absolutely appreciated it. Light mashed potatoes complemented the snail and inner-shell sauce nicely.

Soft dough surrounding a seafood mix inside. I would’ve taken another picture of the seafood, but I mangled the dumpling when I sliced it open.

Mussel and onion soup and a roll. It was good, but the least creative part of the meal. Really, though, how do you jazz up soup?

A glass for ants? How can we be expected to enjoy the palate cleanser? The glass has to be at least… three times bigger than this!
Small chunks of pear (assumed) in a light pear vinegar (assumed) that was delicious (confirmed).

No. You can’t have any. Mine.

We interrupt this broadcast to show you exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of what happens when three photographers go to a fine-dining establishment.

Duck. It slid off the bone and nearly melted in my mouth. The ONLY thing I didn’t completely finish were the veggies on the side. Who invites peas to a party?

That’s cabbage under a thick blanket of melted cheese. Next to it, salt that I dipped each bite of duck into. The red berry burst when I tried to chew it, and I don’t know what it was.

This was considered the salad course. A bit of roe atop spun noodles and greens with a vinaigrette. Thanks to my etiquette courses, I remembered not to slurp the noodles.

Peach custardy-thing and a chocolate mousse with lemon and raspberry sauces. I think. I need another for verification.

Mousse and berries inside a dark chocolate shell shaped like a teacup. I did not use my fork or spoon; I picked it up by the handle like a lady and ate it. Pinky finger UP.

Cakey on the outside, custardy on the inside. Swoosh of chocolate I couldn’t fit in the frame on top. Mouth-watering all around. And yes, once again, I ate the garnish. Leave no food behind! (Except the peas. Buzz off, peas.)

Leaning glass of passion fruit juice. Probably not from concentrate.

BENDY STRAAAAAAAAAW!

This is the inside of the restaurant. The waitstaff wore white cotton gloves on their serving hands, and each course came as soon as we all finished the course before. I was full in the Goldilocks kind of way: I felt just right. And then I fell asleep in the car on the drive back into town.

Taiwan’s southern tip: Kenting (47 photos)

We set off at 4:30am Saturday morning (June 30) from Hsinchu. Eight kids, six parents, and me: we drove south to Kenting, a beachside resort town, for a weekend of beautiful weather, mountains and beaches.

Amazing fact: I didn’t get sunburned.

Obvious fact: Now I want to move to Hawaii.

I tried water chestnuts, fried flying fish eggs and coconut water, all for the first time. Food was an unofficial theme for this trip. The scenery was, y’know, pretty decent, too.

Hsinchu Temples and Markets (28 pictures)

My previous post had nothing to do with living abroad, Taiwan, being an expat, or the challenges and fears of moving back to the United States. The only “map” I used in the post was the one leading to frustration and quite a bit of venting. I don’t like collecting that kind of map. Job search maps, in my experience, are no fun whatsoever. Zero.

To make up for it, here are pictures. I don’t know if you were able to glean this from my previous entry, but I live in Taiwan. I do stuff here. I chill with the natives.

Like a lamb to slaughter

I was rushing through Taipei Main Station, worried I was going to miss my train to Hsinchu, when a tall Taiwanese 20-something approached me.

“Hi. Can you help me practice English?”

After a rushed conversation, I gave him my phone number and told him I’d come back up to Taipei sometime. Roughly a month later I met him on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Our plan was to visit the National Palace Museum, somewhere I was anxious to go. We watched the rain for a few minutes while making small talk, then ran to a bus that would take us to the museum.

I learned he was an “agent”, which I puzzled together meant real estate agent. He mentioned an interest in bodybuilding, and we talked about the differences in body shapes between most foreign women and Taiwanese women.

He asked me about the word “curves”, and I told him not to use it to describe men. “Curves include breasts and hips, and men don’t want to have breasts.”

He smiled. “You have curves. You have… big hips?”

“Yup,” I said. “Most Taiwanese women are straighter, but my bones are different. I have wide hips.”

He nodded appreciatively, and after a few moments we realized we’d missed our stop. We quickly got off the bus, and I immediately put up my umbrella in the driving rain. We made our way to another bus stop to go back. He kept his umbrella closed in his hand.

“Don’t you want your umbrella?” I asked.

“No. I want to use yours!” he replied, putting his arm tightly around my shoulders and walking hip-to-hip with me. My umbrella, meant for one person, didn’t cover either of us entirely, and my purse and right side were getting wet. I was a little surprised at the impracticality, but he seemed excited to be sharing.

After catching a second bus, we rode the short distance to the museum. I again took out my umbrella as we climbed the stairs to the entrance.

“Hold it with your left hand,” he said, leaning in and pulling me close as I switched the umbrella to my other hand. As we walked up the stairs we ran into low-hanging branches, and my right side was drenched. I laughed, but kept thinking about his unused umbrella. This was a downpour; what was his deal?

Finally inside we separately purchased tickets and then made our way to the restrooms. I used paper towels to dry my skin and clothes; once I emerged, I found him and proceeded to happily watch a local school orchestra play in the foyer. We talked for a minute as I took in the performance, but soon his arm was around my waist, pulling me away from the music. “Let’s go.”

“Can I put my water and umbrella in your bag?” he asked. As we made our way through the throng of people, I stuffed his dry umbrella next to mine, which I’d slid into a plastic rain sleeve, in my purse.

Once we were back upstairs, I looked at the signs. “Where do you want to start?” I asked. I checked out a map on the wall.

“You’re so serious. I’ve been here a lot. I want to see the vegetable.”

We walked up a wide flight of stairs. “You have a good body,” he said, matching my steps and wrapping his right arm around my back. This would become the theme for the day: him handling me, and me ignoring him or pulling away.

We found the exhibit. I made my way around, reading signs and inspecting the artifacts. His impatience was palpable – literally. He’d come over to me, put his hands on my shoulders or hips, and pull me close. Each time I’d pull away and walk to another sign.

While we were viewing the jade cabbage exhibit, which was supposedly what he’d wanted to see, a small crowd encircled the showcase. He stood behind me and murmured, “That woman in red is pretty.”

I was confused. I was wearing red, but there was a woman on the other side of the showcase that was quite pretty, and she was also wearing red.

“Hmm?” I asked.

“The woman in the glass in red. She is beautiful.”

I checked the glass, which reflected nothing. I figured he was referring to the other woman. Good, I thought, maybe he’s getting my signals.

We discussed the difference between pretty, beautiful and gorgeous as we wandered through the exhibits. He commented that I was beautiful.

Standing in front of three large paintings, I told him that I had a boyfriend back in the US, hoping it would calm down his advances.

“He is far away,” was his response.

I asked him about what he liked to do.

“You’re serious. I like to draw. My parents do not want me to draw. They say I cannot make money. So I don’t.”

Pandora’s Box: this opens a whole new conversation, a scolding, about how lucky I am that I can be selfish and do what my parents don’t want me to do. I was to hear about my selfishness multiple times that afternoon.

I countered, feeling slightly attacked. “It’s not that I’m doing what my parents don’t want me to do. They want me to be happy. If moving far away makes me happy, they want me to do that.”

He seemed unimpressed and was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke about how foreign girls were stronger than Taiwanese, how we have our own thoughts and do what we want.

“Well, some are, some aren’t like that,” I responded. “Just like Taiwanese, we’re all different. I want someone who is equal, my friend. I don’t want him to think I’m below him or above him.”

He scoffed. “Many Taiwanese men are weak. They date and marry Vietnam, Thailand, or Indo girls. They can’t get Taiwanese girls.”

“Wait,” I said. “There are a lot of great girls from those countries.”

“They are not pure,” he continued. “One out of ten children in Taiwan is mix. They are not pure. The men are weak. They cannot get Taiwanese girls. Taiwan girls are too picky. They want money, good job.”

I furrowed my brow. “But you want to be with a foreign woman. You don’t want to be with a Taiwanese woman, either. And not all Taiwanese women are like that. There are a lot of good women here.”

“I don’t want to get married. I don’t want kids. I want a big house in Hollywood with Ukraine and Russian women everywhere.”

“You will be a good mother,” he says suddenly.

I smiled. “Yeah, I hope so. Someday.”

“You will be very serious. Eat at 7:30. Go to bed at 8:00!”

“I won’t be serious. I think I’ll have fun.”

More and more I realized that I was on a date, whether I wanted to be or not. Apparently I was a terrible conversationalist, because he stated opinions about me that were fairly insulting. There was zero chemistry. He invaded my personal space every chance he got.

I was happy our plans didn’t extend into the evening.

Exiting a hall, I looked around, a little lost. I wasn’t sure which exhibits we’d already seen.

“Sorry. I keep forgetting which ones we’ve already gone to.”

He laughed a little too loudly. “Forgetting already! You are very old!”

“You’re only three years younger than me,” I said. “I’m not old.”

We went downstairs. Once we were in an exhibit, he moved close and smelled my neck and shoulders, taking in deep, loud breaths.

“Wow, your hair. It smells so good!” he said, taking fistfuls and leaning into me.

“Uh, I use shampoo?” I hunched my shoulders as his nose assaulted my ear.

“You use champ!” He laughed and sauntered away.

I stopped at a display. Suddenly I felt his body from behind, pushing hard into me. His hands clasped onto either side of the exhibit, caging me in, and he brought his face to the back of my neck. I ducked, wiggled out of his grasp, and forced a laugh. “No, no, no. Can’t do that here!”

He found a bench, sat, pouted, and then motioned for me to sit next to him. I started to walk out. I turned and told him to get up, but he patted the bench again. I relented and sat with a large space between the two of us. He beckoned me closer.

“Nope. I’m good,” I said.

He reached around my waist with his left arm and yanked me next to him.

I leaned away and tried for a new conversation.

“Do you have a mentor?” I asked.

The conversation was dead before it began; I did most of the talking. At least he didn’t touch me for five minutes.

I got up and motioned that we should keep moving. He mentioned going to the restroom and that he was cold. As we looked for the bathrooms, he asked if I was cold, too.

“No, not really. I’m good.”

“Help me be warm!” He wrapped his arms around me, and I walked with my hands pinned to my sides. Was I really not being obvious enough? I wasn’t touching him, I wasn’t flirting. What was going on with this guy?

He wanted to leave after we visited the bathrooms. I’d only seen half the exhibits, but was fine with the decision.

Outside it was muggy, but no longer raining. I started taking pictures, and he told me to pose. When he lifted his phone, I shook my head and told him to take a picture with mine. He took two: one with his phone, one with mine.

I told him to take a picture with me.

“I don’t take pictures.”

I wasn’t having it, so I got a picture of the two of us.

I’m almost 30, for goodness’ sake. You’d think I was smarter than this.

He turned and leaned against the railing while I stood looking out over the grounds. He indicated the railing next to him. When I finally joined him in looking at the scene in front of us, his hand found his way to my shoulder and pulled.

I could tell he was getting frustrated with me, but I couldn’t believe he persisted. We began walking to the parking lot, and he brought up chess.

“Let’s go to my home. I will teach you chess and play my guitar for you.”

“No, I need to get back and get ready for my night.”

“Do you want to take a taxi?” he asked, grumpy.

“No, the bus is fine,” I replied. I looked to the other end of the parking lot and saw one waiting. We boarded and sat together.

“You won’t come to my house. Why are you scared of me?”

“I’m not afraid of you, but I have to be careful and take care of myself.”

He was quiet for a while. Then:

“How many boyfriends have you had?”

I considered my answer, then replied, “Three.”

He seemed surprised.

“What about you? How many girlfriends have you had?”

“25.”

Oh. We weren’t talking about relationships.

He asked me to have dinner with him at Taipei Main Station before I boarded the train back to Hsinchu. I agreed. We rode the metro downtown, him constantly on the lookout for a seat and leading me through the cars. Finally he gave up, and we leaned on the car wall.

“I feel like a tour guide.” He had a sourpuss expression on his face, and I laughed.

“I’m sorry if today wasn’t what you expected.”

He glanced at me. “Will you give me a kiss?”

With that he grabbed me, and I pushed away and turned my head.

“No! I don’t kiss on the first date. Sorry. I don’t. It’s not you. I just don’t.”

His feelings were hurt, and I started explaining my reasoning, but he didn’t care. We reached our stop and make our way through the terminal. He was distant.

Then we saw another white woman. She was heavier than me by 20 pounds, at least, wearing unflattering black pants that showed a thick pantyline. He grabbed my arm.

“Did you see that girl?”

“Yeah,” I responded. I expected him to criticize her appearance or call her fat.

“She is another foreigner,” he said, and I saw his eyes. And then I understood.

“You want to go get her number? Go! I’ll wait over here. No problem.”

He brightened up at my permission. The realization hit me like a bowling ball to pins: this 27-year-old Taiwanese, a hypocrite and general curmudgeon, was a chubby-foreign-girl chaser. And he had chased me. And I, the gullible prey, had been caught.

He came back, telling me he’d gotten her number. “But I talked to her before. When I texted her, nothing. No reply.”

We made our way around, and he told me to hold his arm. When I reached for it, he kept his arm limp at his side.

“When a girl holds your arm, you should crook it like this-“ I moved his arm into a 90-degree angle, “-so she can hold it like this.”

“You’re too serious.” His voice was glum.

I let go and walked in silence. We found a place to sit and eat. He mentioned again that I was lucky I could be so selfish.

“Well, you like your job, right?” I asked. “You can keep working and do what you want to do.”

“I don’t like my job.”

“You don’t? I thought you were a real estate agent.”

“I’m not. I lied.”

“Oh. Okay, so what do you do?”

“I work in my father’s factory.”

We talked for a moment about this. I told him he could still do something he enjoyed.

“No I can’t. I didn’t go to college.”

“Oh, I thought you did.”

“No. I lied.”

We talked a bit more, about how I was selfish and very lucky, about how he’d slept with six foreign women since he started bodybuilding, and how unfair life is. After I was chided again for being privileged, we sat in silence.

Then: “You have good, big thighs.”

“I need to make them smaller.”

“No! Don’t! They are good!” He took my left thigh and wrapped his hands around it. I quickly stood and told him we should go so I could catch my train.

“Let me take your picture,” he said, motioning for me to stand in an open space. “I’m going to take five pictures.”

I stood, awkwardly, ready to go. He took one. He shuffled around and took a couple more, and then he moved to take a profile picture.

“Nope, that’s enough. Let’s go!” I said, suddenly uncomfortable. As I walked, I realized he wasn’t next to me like he usually was, and I turned around. He was walking a bit behind me, using his phone to record me walking.

“Don’t do that. It’s weird,” I chided. He laughed. A few seconds later I turned around again, and he was still taking video. I walked to him, put my hand over his phone.

“Quit.”

He laughed.

“I should make you pay me for the pictures and the video,” I said.

“I will pay you. 1,000 dollars.” He considered. “I will pay you 2,000 dollars if you take off your jeans.”

“Uh, no. If you thought I was strict about kissing, you have no idea.”

“How about a goodbye kiss?” he asked, and suddenly he was forcing me close again. I fought my way out of his grip.

“No! I told you. No kiss.”

“Can I touch your big booty?”

“No.”

“Just a little touch?”

I could feel his hand tracing down to the waistline of my jeans. I turned out of his reach.

“No.”

After a very awkward, weak hug goodbye, I went through the gates to my train.

Abruptly the adrenaline subsided, my amusement faded, and I sat in my seat, stupefied. I was finally angry once I got away from him and was alone, able to digest the past several hours.

“You’re too nice,” my housemate Cameron told me, his eyes wide after hearing the story.

He’s right. I should have been blunt; I should have said, “Stop touching me.” I shouldn’t have laughed to ease the tension. I shouldn’t have worried about his feelings, because he certainly didn’t care about mine. I shouldn’t have allowed him to have dinner with me.

I should have left. I definitely should’ve thrown his phone against a wall.

This past year in Taiwan, culminating in last Saturday, has evidently been to teach me not to help strangers. Every time I do, I get in trouble. I’m too nice, and that makes me weak.

I’m done being weak.

…and hey, Steven? 我希望它腐爛。