Robert Whiting In search of awesome

Taiwan day one


arrival day

Travel is amazing, exhausting, and full of stressfully memorable moments. So much has happened already that I want to capture a few of the memories before they disappear in tomorrow’s events.

the flight

The first flight to San Francisco was short, but far too long for the kids. They both asked how much longer it would be multiple times, which made Becca and I concerned about the upcoming 14+ hour flight to Taipei. The layover in San Francisco flew by. We found the kid play area and ate greasy food.

flight cart

I had forgotten how claustrophobic those plane seats are after a few hours with no overhead luggage space and ever expanding kids junk all over everything. I had the classic experiences of long-leg airline travel: the passenger behind me kept kneeing me in the back and grabbed my chair to shake it every time he wanted to stand (which was often), Jack’s audio port on the built-in screen didn’t work (so he contentedly watched movies without sound!?), I had a glass of (thankfully) water spill from the beverage cart all down my leg, and I slept restlessly because my neck hurt. Some good things happened too though: we gave the flight staff some chocolate and a card so they were excited to hear our story and help us out, the kids ate food and slept, and no one threw up.

getting to the AirBnB

After we landed and gathered our things, I kicked myself for my selection of travel snack. I had forgotten that you can’t bring dried meats across boarders, so I had to toss my nearly full bag of sausage sticks. Then we stood in line for currency exchange, and sim card purchase. It was fun to listen to the questions of the people in front of us: does google maps work here? can we buy a sim card outside of the airport for cheaper? if we text, what number do we text from? I chuckled a little inside. Bringing the wagon was a lifesaver because we could pile up all the carryons in one place while the children melted on to the floor.

By the time we finished with the sim card line, the immigration line was empty, but due to the size of the wagon, we were directed to the “strollers and wheelchairs” line (that oddly was much further away) and they quickly processed our arrival cards, passports, pictures, and fingerprints.

Because we were so far behind our peers, our luggage was easy to spot and pile up on airport carts (vastly superior to folding carts in everyway except compactness) before heading outside to get our Uber. The kids started trying to get themselves sick or injured (rolling on the sidewalk or lunging toward the road) while I attempted to request an Uber. I got two “payment method declined” messages before going inside to ask the info desk about the taxi situation. She told me that Ubers weren’t allowed in the airport–news to us, so we piled into what appeared to be a too-small SUV for a 30 min ride to our AirBnB.


It was a quiet ride that ended in some dark back alley with technically the right address, but the door code worked, and we all crashed into bed.


Despite the late bedtime for the kids (10pm local when they usually go to bed at 8) everyone was up at 2am (11am in Boise). I let everyone stay awake for an hour then back to bed from 4 to 5. A worthy compromise that paid off.


In the morning, we needed breakfast, so Becca ordered some UberEats from a place that had pictures and vaguely familiar food (fried bread, dumplings, and egg-crepes). Nothing was open near us, so I went on a walk to explore. We needed water and eggs.

I love the green-space between the roads on our street. The cool morning breeze, familiar scents and sounds of south east asia were welcoming to me. In my short walk, I found two different groups of people doing tai chi in parks (or maybe qi gong, I didn’t watch long and probably wouldn’t be able to recognize the difference anyway). I found a temple where people burned incense or prayers. I did end up finding a fruit shop and a Family Mart with a 1.5 gallon of water but no eggs.



After delivering the water, we all went to the fruit shop to pick out guava, starfruit, pineapple, Taiwanese apple (wax apple), and dragon fruit. The communication wasn’t great but effective with our grasp of numbers and his grasp of a calculator and pantomime. We had an awesome breakfast of fresh fruit and delivery.


We still wanted to get some actual groceries (coffee, bread, pb&j, oil, eggs, etc) so we could cook some breakfasts and snacks at home. I found a nearby grocery store that we could talk to (that is if you don’t walk the wrong direction for 3 blocks first). RT mart was at least 3 levels below ground and reminded me of a Shopco. they had a furniture section, clothes, and groceries. But we couldn’t find the eggs.


Between the meats and cheeses, we did find some eggs, but they were all boiled or aged or ducks. The lady who bags and tags fresh produce (they do that in its own stand, not at checkout) pointed us back where we saw the other eggs. Then we saw them! In someone else’s cart! now was our chance to use our 1st semester Chinese!

Becca bravely approached the older man, pointed at the eggs in his cart and said, “Where are the eggs?” (in Chinese)

He said something we didn’t understand (so just about anything) and pointed down the aisle away from the place we had already searched for eggs–a good sign! He then looked torn, as if he was contemplating something, then gestured and started walking. We followed. What a kind old man who was going to walk the helpless foreigners to the eggs.

We followed him out of the food part of the store before we started questioning the situation. He then muttered something to a passer-by who intercepted us. In English she pointed back where we had come from and said, “Eggs.” Embarrassed that we had just followed this old man around for no reason, we turned around and went back. Soon a store employee showed us the small shelf space where the eggs should be and apologized that they were sold out. I guess there isn’t a whole refrigerated section devoted solely to eggs here. Lesson learned.

Another observation: That old man had taken the last normal chicken eggs in the store, so he was probably telling us to get lost and find another store before we started following him around with our two complaining kids.

Anyway, we avoided the self-checkout, paid for groceries, packed them in my backpack, and went back home.


After that adventure, we still needed to figure out lunch. We found a place with pictures that looked good and walked that direction. The place we found was a mini-food court (two food vendors and another Family Mart) adjacent to a tech college. The food was distasteful to the kids and we were intimidated enough by the line to abandon that plan. On the up side, we saw a delivery truck outside with a lot of eggs. Mental note noted.

Back down the road, we found a place with numbered pictures including burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets! When we started perusing the menu, the owner held up a menu and shouted, “English one?” After the day so far, we were very grateful. We ordered American food for the kids and noodle bowls for us.

I saw the Line Pay QR code, but I hadn’t figured out how to setup the payment method, so I paid cash and got flustered and looked like and idiot who can’t do simple math, but the owner was gracious, got my change and made us some delicious lunch that everyone ate.

Line Pay (related to the communication app called Line) is apparently not available to US residents (or people with USA as the country in the Google Play Store), so that explains why I couldn’t figure it out initially. Everything appears to be payable by Line Pay, it’s more prevalent than Apple Pay in the US but far more used.

naptime chores

But Dad takes no naps. Dad figures out how to provide for his family.

First order of business: eggs. I walked back down to the Family Mart near the university to get coffee grounds for me, more water, eggs, and metro cards (to use the subway/lightrail system). There were no eggs. In retrospect, the quantity of eggs delivered was more food-stall or restaurant, not mini-mart size. They really don’t sell eggs in the 12/24/48 packs like they do at WinCo. There were no coffee grounds, or rather, there were no coffee grounds that were not part of a kcup pourover mashup or instant. The largest water wasn’t very large.

So I went to the counter with only my phone in hand to ask around the metro card. Words were exchanged for a bit with little to no comprehension on either side. I tried to show the picture of a metro card on my phone, and she said brokenly, “No, student ID works.” That’s when I realized that this particular Family Mart literally touched one of the dormitories.


I walked away in search of the legendary 7-Elevens. Only a few blocks away, I found it! And inside, I found eggs in 8 packs! No ground coffee, but I did find a big 1.5 gallon of water. With my 2 packs of eggs and big water, I went to checkout. She rang it up quickly, and I tried to show her the metro card picture. She clearly thought I was trying to figure out how to pay, so she raised an eyebrow, pointed at the card reader and said some things I won’t repeat because I don’t speak the language. I switched to Google Translate and typed in “metro card” and showed her the results. She shook her head. I paid and started putting the eggs in my backpack. With a look of horror on her face she said (in English), “Egg break!” I assured her I’d be careful and hauled my water and eggs home.

Everyone was still asleep.

We still needed metro cards. And coffee. I considered going to the first Family Mart, but why not go to the actual Metro station? So I walked there. Might I interject here to note that between every place in this day, I saw amazing sights and towering buildings, tiny alleyways and corner shops.

At the bottom of the escalator, I found a multi-level subterranean city packed with stores, signs, and people. I took in my surroundings and identified two places of importance: the information desk and the automated kiosks. I passed them both and tried to find a quiet corner to gather my thoughts and maybe call a friend for help (Hsin, if you’re reading this, that’s you).

Overwhelmed and emotionally drained, I walked up to the Information desk. We had an initially rocky start, but her English was pretty good, and mine is passable. I purchased four EasyPass cards, two adult and two children (though not children enough to be free) and put \$100 on each. I must have looked like an idiot when she told me the price because my brain switched to US dollars part way through the conversation (my eyes must have bulged a bit), and I thought she meant, “It’ll be \$400 for these for empty cards and \$400 to put \$100 on each.” Which is all true, but the total was \$800 Taiwan dollars (~\$27 USD) not \$800 US dollars. Disaster averted, I guess.

The heavy task completed, I started to talk back the way I entered, but then I remembered that I could checkout the mall over the metro station. I turned around, and (again) due to embarrassment, I didn’t want to pass the information desk again. I went left instead. Down a long long long hall with shops on both sides. I suspect it went for miles (or more logically, kilometers). When I exited the long hall of stores, I was face to face with a Starbucks.

Believe it or not, Starbucks is on the Taipei bucket list. Not for the coffee but for the “been there” mugs. I purchased two suitable mugs to add to my collection and put them in my backpack.


I checked the map, assuming I was at the Starbucks fairly near our AirBnB and somehow turned North. Nope, I had continued East underground for a while. I walked a long way back. One of the memorable sites I saw was in front of a 20+ story glass building. 5-8 business suit clad people, men and women, stood around a tiny fire pit burning what I assume to be prayer papers.

I had one last stop to make before going home for my nap: Coffee grounds.

Just a block or so from our AirBnB, I saw a place with a coffee sign. They almost definitely sold coffee. I know I just left a Starbucks, but if I’m going to fly all the way to Taipei, I’m not going to drink Starbucks coffee there.

I walked up and noticed a man wrestling a ~50 lbs bag of coffee into a cardboard box. This was certainly a roaster that sold in bulk. I did see normal size bags of coffee in the window display though. I pointed at the coffee bags in the window and he shouted into the store.


A young woman stood up from her cubical and came outside to talk to me. This shop had a back room full of mysteries (coffee probably), four cubical, and a front area with the coffee bag displays so small I didn’t know if it made more sense to perform negotiations outside (which is unfortunately what I did). I started with my trusty Google Translate, “Ground coffee.”

She smiled and said a bunch of words. I scrunched my face in confusion and shrugged my shoulders. I always wanted to try the conversation feature of Google Translate. I’m sure works in a sterile environment, but in the field, things are missed. I said, “I want one bag of dark coffee, ground” and showed her the result. She nodded (a good sign) and said a bunch of things Google didn’t catch. I tried pushing other buttons and she tried again and eventually we got “what flavor.” I responded, “dark roast” and she pointed at two options on the board (100% Chinese). I pointed at option 2. She pantomimed an old school grinder and said words that google missed. I nodded. She asked what size (several times until google could hear her through the background noise and facemask). I pointed at the one in the window because as fun as it would be to bring a whole suitcase of ground coffee beans back from Taiwan, my wife would likely object.

We walked inside and I stood in the tiny space behind the window while she typed up something on her computer. She handed me a receipt and pointed at the amount. I reached for my debit card, she shook her head. I gave her cash, she rummaged around in her neighbor’s empty cube for change. Then she sat down and continued whatever work I had been distracting her from. The grinder sound in the back room subsided, and she got it for me. I thanked her and walked home.

Emotionally spent. Being the village idiot is extremely emotionally taxing. But I suppose it’s only taxing if you’re aware of it (which I definitely am). I went home and fitfully napped for 30 min. In that time, my brain panicked and tried desperately to remember the difference between the Chinese words “and” and “or.” Stupid brain, that’t the least of your problems. If two years in high school and a year of self-study before this trip wasn’t enough, a day of panic won’t be.

Taipei 101

Children love being woken from deep sleep in what their bodies believe to be the middle of the night to see a tall building. And by love, I mean whine and complain the whole way to the metro station.


After the metro, we walked for 15 minutes. That is too many minutes for my two older kids after the day already chronicled. Jack started crying and itching his legs every 10 seconds. When we started jogging across an intersection to catch the light he stopped, I scooped him up and finished the last 3 seconds of the light at a run before setting him down. Angry tears are not how I planned to visit Taipei 101, the most iconic landmark of Taiwan, but it’s what we got.

than taipei 101

taipei 101

We found the food court and got McDonald’s for the kids (sometimes it’s time for trying new things, sometimes it’s time for putting calories in their faces). Becca was also emotionally exhausted (she walked with Jack after “the incident”), so she bravely said, “I just want something with rice, I trust you.”

I slowly walked around the whole food court in one of the most famous buildings in the world, and exhausted from all the conversations and choices that day, I settled on a picture of what looked like rice, sliced fried meat, and gravy. When I bought it, I realized it was a curry, not a gravy, which is a step up. I felt like a failure, but I was so tired.

When I picked up the meals and rejoined the family, another family sat down at the same long table. The oldest man in the group (patriarch? grandfather?) pointed at my meal and gave me a thumbs up. Encouraged, I poured the curry and ate some of the most amazing food I’ve tasted. Granted, I was tired, jetlagged, hungry, an in need of a win of any kind, but I found it in this meal. MAiSEN pork chops, right next to McDonald’s. You can’t miss it.


We did not take the metro back. We took an uber home. We were asleep quickly.