Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hiking in Sijhih

“Tony, Tony, Come Around
Something’s Lost and Must Be Found”
-Jules to St. Anthony

This past weekend was quite eventful, and will thus make up a couple of separate posts.

If you have been a swell reader, then you'll know that the Ghost Festival in the middle of Ghost Month was this past Sunday. Interested in catching some of the festivities, I began discussion with an adviser and friend about how and where to get the best view. She recommended the Keelung (Jilong) Festival, as previously mentioned, one of the largest in Taiwan. Keelung is a harbor town East of Taipei (Northern Taiwan) and about an hour and a half from our homes in Yilan. The Festival was on Sunday night, and so to make a full weekend adventure out of it, we decided to have fun up North on Saturday as well.

9 ETAs went to Taipei for a Tap Dance Performance called Tap Together; it was the culminating performance of a long period of international dancing exhibitions. I am told they had a great time, enjoyed the show and drinks, and the hostel, not so much.

3 of us however decided to take our adviser up on a generous offer. She, with her husband/partner (an apparently common arrangement for Taiwanese not wishing to have children is to remain committed as dinghezu, a term which tells potential pestering friends, parents, and grandparents to quit worrying about future children; hearing “married” tends to incite questions of kids, as this is an extremely family oriented culture, but this term stops even the most curious), own a number of (expensive) homes, including a location in Taipei, one near a river/lake (forget at the moment), and one in Sijhih, a kind of suburb of Taipei, slightly less developed. Hearing that we wanted to head to Keelung on Sunday, she offered for us to crash at her place and do some hiking on Saturday.

We were greeted by her dinghezuren at the Taipei station, who offered us a bag of crackers and cookies, some instructions for hiking, and some gloves for rock climbing. He was on his way to a mandatory temple attendance (Both he and our adviser are Taoist, and though the Festival to which we were heading is significantly more Buddhist, Ghost Month comes with required ceremonies for Taoists as well; in fact, most Taiwanese, whether they formally adhere to a religion or no, follow a mix of religious customs, such as celebrating this festival), and so ushered us into his car, to a small restaurant for some food to go, drove past some cultural sites, entertained us with welcome small-talk and genuine warmth, and then dropped us off at the foot of Xiang Shan 象山 or Elephant Mountain.

The mountain was beautiful. Stone stairs wound up and down and left and right in a variety of networks (I am sure we only traversed a few of them, and were wowed enough by the variety of vistas, scenery, and nature in just over two hours). A large temple stood at the base of the mountain, with speakers blaring recorded chants; the voices sounded female, and despite being rough recordings, very evidently technological and thus out of place in the natural setting, they lent an air of calm mystery to the place that even full daylight and high humidity could not abate). There were temples patchworked all over the mountainside, and trails that branched left and right in various states of less-traveled disrepair (earth- and rain-ruptured blocks curtains of mosquitoes showed that even around temple-side agricultural residences, nature reigns supreme – damn thing reigns over 98% DEET, too, so says my itchy face, arms, and legs).

****Little Guy Outside one of Many Little Temples****

****The mountain was highly populated, with tourists visiting, locals worshiping, farmers living on, and a health-conscious population exercising, such as this man****

****Jules/Michelle at Strategic Lookout****
The main path was easily visible, and though we did not make it to the rock climbing site our new friend had recommended, we did find a magnificent lookout point, where you can full appreciate the size of Taipei 101. Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building until about a month ago, but it nonetheless is impressive. The perspective is harder to get right below it, but from up here, size it up to the other mammoths of the city, and you know why it’s an item of Taiwanese pride.
****Giant Spider Attacks Giant Building****

The way down, back up, and across lead us through lots of colors and reduced our English to instructional level: “That’s so beautiful! It’s so big! That’s so green! It’s so amazing!” (Dr. Collins would have been proud). Really though, the wonder of the scene was difficult to fully appreciate, even there in the midst of it. Birds were chirping in Taiwanese tongue I’d not yet heard from any wildfowl; faint sing-song Buddhist chants broke around the large boulders off the paths; stray dogs, frogs, giant spiders, and fuzzy golden ants were only some of the animals that most identifiably decorated the woods; there are many times I’ve expressed disbelief that I’m really on this trip, living in Taiwan; this was a time of word-stifling wonder that I could really be in this life, that anything and everything really is alive.

****Jules and some Ferns looking for Sunlight****

Taipei is a pedestrian friendly city, and so the walk down from “so amazing” kept the spirits high. We hit Taipei 101(an amazing building that I will have to explore more of during another trip to Taipei; for now I know there’s a large mall with mostly US and European stores, a large foodcourt, and a grocery store with the best (still mediocre) selection of imported beers I’ve found here – finally tried the Belgian Delirium Tremens (Zach and Pat: It not only has the large pink elephant here, but dancing alligators and dragons on circus balls on the label]), and met our adviser/friend who brought us to the essential bubble tea, her lovely apartment (rooftop garden and public space, complete with fluffy bunnies in residence), and then to a Thai restaurant for dinner.

The Thai food was amazing; I particularly enjoyed the "green papaya salad" or "tom sum" (thx, Jules) shaved into thin strips and heavily spiced. Our adviser’s husband (for ease of labeling, see earlier for explanation) met us again and we talked camera shop for a little while.; he published a photography book in Taiwan 30 years ago, instructing a burgeoning upper- and middle-class how to use a flash in outdoor situations, and encouraged me to pursue putting some photos up in a show in Yilan and possibly Taipei.

Dinner also offered the chance to learn a few jokes for Chinese dining. The words for “want rice” sound like the word for beggar, so “wo yao fan” is “I’m a beggar.” You can ask a guest if they “yao fan,” illiciting a smile for sure, and laughter from the rest if they don’t know the joke and agree. Be careful when ordering though; ask the waitress to “qing (please) gei wo fan (gimme rice)” rather than tell her you’re a beggar. Along the same lines, if you eat your rice too quickly, you might be called “fan ton” which covers both the large table rice-bowl and calling someone lightly stupid. Rice on your cheek? Then you “dai bian dang” or “are wearing a lunch-box (typical lunch food),” not dissimilar from our “saving that for later?” These have already become dinnertime hits.

Post-dinner/dessert they brought us to home 2 of 4 in Sijhih, part of a nice gated community for retired folks. The next day involved waterfall hiking (make you wanna drop trou’ and swim waterfalls), Michelle working past a fear of heights, and then meeting the rest of the crew for stage two: Biker Gangs and the Ghost Festival. Check Back Soon.

****Photo Courtesy of Tall Mountain/Hopeful Pearl****

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Children's Festival

****Oops, this blog is about 5 days behind - Check back soon for Sijhih Hiking, Keelung Ghost Fest, und so weiter****

Yesterday involved a field trip to the International Children's Folklore and Folkgame Festival at an Yilan water park along the Dongshan River (冬山河). This festival is a month long event that showcases a variety of cultures from around the world. The park was complete with a Chinese Top Museum (historic Taiwanese pasttime: the little toys on strings you spin that even has a competition culture here), a Cultural Museum (some displays of Taiwanese modern culture such as drugstores, candy shops, etc. with a 1950's feel), and markets with cultural toys and arts.
****History of the Apparently Beloved****
****Taiwanese Cultural Dance****
****The Ceremony included a race, male against male, female against female, and then the winners bamboo pole to bamboo pole; race-up and first one down with the feather's a winner****
The amusement waterpark included a bouncing arenas that felt like waterbeds covered by a giant octopus, water slides, a water halfpipe (sit backwards on a tube and go straight down, up the other side, and down again - guys, don't forget to tuck them up before you hit the middle at the bottom; still sore), and my favorite part - a 20mX20m fountain area that served as a dancefloor, aside from other things. The scene was completed by incessant dance music (water rave?) and jets, sprinklers, and hoses pouring water over everything. It really was a riot, even in the rain.
****Jules/Mitcho - Evidently Serious Business****

****Early Evening WaterPark********Jules********Dance Floor Jets****

***Dance Floor at Night****
****Octo-Bounce Floor****

A little bit about Taiwanese water culture:
For those geographically challenged, Taiwan is an island. It's interesting position at the Northernmost region of the Indonesian Islands, Southernmost tip of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, and off the coast of China have made it a strategic and coveted political and economic region through much of history. The culture is imbibed with a long history of fishing, seafood, and typhoons, thus the Taiwanese have a healthy respect for the ocean.

The spiritual culture of the island also encourages a healthy respect for levels of existence often overlooked elsewhere; Taiwanese are often to a slight degree superstitious, and this cultural feeling extends to the water. Though there are a great wealth of areas ideal for diving and snorkeling or even just swimming, many Taiwanese prefer not to submerge their whole bodies in water. They believe that underwater they are particularly susceptible to attacks or possession by spirits.

This does not mean that they avoid the water. They love their hot and cold springs (a mountainous island, there are many areas ideal for collecting this refreshing water; upscale hotels in these parts have hot spring water flowing directly into rented rooms, and I've heard rumor that some of the more illustrious private residences have channeled the water as well), are often found near the beaches, and know how to have a good time at a waterpark.

The main differences can be seen in attire. Most Taiwanese wear t-shirts and other clothing while swimming and prefer long shallow beaches that they can wade in and keep their heads above. Some go in full attire, like this little one:

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Real Live Kids"

****Playground at the Crab Musuem: Photo Courtesy of K80****

Today we had our first teaching experience with what someone referred to as "real live kids" (as opposed to counterfeit or dead ones?). Class will not start for another 10 days (at which time I will have been assigned to an Elementary school and teach grades 1-6, 2 forty minute sessions per grade each week - reminds me of a fun art teacher I know in Athens who gets all the best of all the grades in her fun class). This was an English day for the winners of a speech contest in Yilan last spring, known as English Easy Go! The children thus came from the top of the English speaking class, and so were not necessarily exemplary of the average class at their age. However, it was a great learning experience, and really motivated me to get into the classroom.

The ETAs (12 total) were divided into two groups (3rd and 4th graders, 5th and 6th graders) and given 3 hours of instruction time in the morning. Our group (5th and 6th) decided to have an hour of introductory lessons (vocabulary, get-to-know-you games), an hour and a half of "centers" (four centers with different topics, all emphasizing certain language aspects - reading, writing, listening, speaking, total physical response/TPR), and then a culminating activity to bring together all of the knowledge from the day.

As aternoon plans involved informal education as we accompanied the children to the Crab Museum (Taiwan has a great marine culture), we chose a beach/sea theme, and thus modeled our activities and vocabulary off of this. Each student was given a "passport" to be stamped when they went to their centers. The centers included a Fun and Games Center (TPR), Mural Drawing, Environment Comics, and a PhotoBooth (like one would find on a boardwalk). If you only know me from the blog, you might be inclined to say I would have wished for a hand in the photo booth, but for those who know me, this should be easy.

My comics involved students appreciating concepts like "environment," (Me -"Why should we protect the environment" Student - "Because some people want to do bad things to it" Me - "Exactly, and since we all live in the same environment, the earth, we have to protect it!"), "recycling," and "litterbug." We all discussed the words, then read a model comic strip I made up (way too late in the evening last night), and finally had the students make their own strips (fill in the blank) in their groups.

****Comic Strips****

Some notes on what I learned and would do differently in the future:
Things that Worked
-Group Discussion (small size) is great. If I cannot sit with every small group like today with 6 teachers in the room (ie, most of the time teaching), it would be beneficial to devise group work that encourages students to talk amongst themselves about a shared task.
-Acting out words with realia, or real life things, is a great way to get vocabulary across. Luckily I had a leftover milktea cup from breakfast and used this over and over during my "litterbug" example.
-Do not allow lesson planning to let you overlook spontaneous classroom environment use for helping with concepts. I had students show me where the recycling bins were in the room (Like I've said before, the recycling program in Taiwan is much more developed than the US, with bins in a semi-outdoor tiled area in every classroom; students rinse out old cups and lunch box materials and sort on the spot), and used these bins with each group during my center.

Things to Improve
-More prep time! Sometimes extensive lesson planning can bog down a lesson or remove an organic feel. However, I need to find that line between rigidity and having a lesson plan that will satisfy both my and the school's objectives despite slight alterations. Even here I'm being difficult. What I mean is: work out what words and/or concepts I want them to understand and know them in and out so that even my "spontaneous" dialogue and ideas encourage this. Things worked out today, as the students all seemed to pick up on "litterbug" and why being one is bad, but realizing how much they learned without as well-thought out a structure as it could have been, I know I can teach them more.

Our culminating activity really showed that the kids learned and had fun (the two most important objectives). They played a version of Jeopardy, gunned for the high points, aced all the answers (using all their new vocabulary), and smiled the whole time. It was a great way to reinforce listening and speaking while reviewing what they did at every center.

So, go "Real Live Kids;" I'm definitely excited for this year. Look for more on lessons soon!

Crab Museum Fun Facts:
****Disclaimer: Being hearing impaired, I reserve the right to withdrawal all statements inaccurately translating facts from everyday speech, even if it is from my own native language; listening is hard****
-2,000 Varieties of Crab around Taiwan
-Portonus varieties are the most edible, with paddle like back legs used for kicking up off the sand
-Dorippidae Varieties have carapice ridges and four legs pointing up (opposite their walking legs) designed to carry stones when building homes
-Claws are used as weapons and for dancing (nature's link between physical capacity for violence and sexual attractiveness?)
-The flying crab, the fastest crab (featured at the museum at least), can hit 3.4meters/second, however can only maintain this speed briefly
-Xanthidae crabs are the most poisonous with no known antidote. However, it is not the crab itself (and thus its pinch or bite) which is poisonous, but the internal buildup of poisonous algae consumed regularly; don't eat them.

****Just for Fun: Easy Rider Does Taiwan****

Typhoon Day (For Real this Time)

This past Saturday the team was in lock down because of "Super Typhoon Sepat," complete with 160mph winds. We all battened down the hatches and settled in for a long day of, well, bland noodles, online television, and (not) lesson planning, all with a smidgem of cabin fever.

The first two typhoons that came across the island since we've been here turned out to be duds, at least for our region (see previous post "Typhoon Day in Taipei" to see how we might not take this one seriously). Knowing this one would be bigger, we counted on staying indoors all day. Prep in Taiwan for a typhoon includes taping up the windows to prevent shattering, stocking up on dry food (instant noodles) and water, and making sure candles are within easy reach.

The wind blew intensely all day, and rain came down in varying torrents off and on; I was in an apartment in Luodong, where the whistling of the wind through the windows was the worst part. Apparently one of the Yilan apartments had some degree of leaking and a bouncing kitchen ceiling.

Here are a few photos:

****Feigned fight against the wind and rain in the apartment lobby - was really blowing though. Photo courtesy of K80********Wind against the trees, out the window****
****Kate with Windows Taped****
****More Taped Windows; Necessary Precaution****
****Laptop, Cheap Wine, and Charades'll Get you Through****

****Uprooted Trees the Day After****

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sum Food

Here's a look at a little bit of the good food in Taiwan. We are surrounded by fresh seafood, noodles of every variety, hotpot (personal pots of boiling water for your chosen ingredients, dipped in your selected sauce), steamed dumplings, egg pancakes, and Japanese style lunchboxes (rice, pickled veggies, egg, mini-eyes-staring-at-you fish, delicious tofu, etc.). There is much to say about the food here, so I will let the photos do the talking. Look for future posts on desserts, vegetarian dishes, etc.

****HotPot Buffet - note the seafood (squid, octopus, shark, etc)********Mushrooms, Taro, Fish Products, Green Beans, Yum****
****Fill up your plate as you please, add desired spices to pot, boil, and voila!****
****Different Restaurant: Deep Fried Tofu (Doufu) - less heavy than it sounds; light and crispy on the outside, warm and soft inside****
****Tea and Pastry - lots of good bread and pastry stores here***
****Night Market Steamed Dumpling Deals****

More on Ghost Festival

Great Website about the Keelung Ghost Festival, including origins, mythology, and photos from past events:
Ghost Fest!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ghost Month via Luodong Night Market

****Click on Photos to Enlarge****

****Not Dead/Only Sleeping****

I'm going to preface this with part of an email I wrote two days ago; it describes the basics of Ghost Month in Taiwan. Afterwards, look for photos from my experiences day 2 of the month.

"Last night was the beginning of Lunar Month July in Taiwan, which means that mid-month (15th) falls on Sunday, August 26.
Ghost Month is unique to Taiwan. It is marked by the opening of the gates of hell, and all "hungry ghosts" (Rough Guide 2007 52) come out to haunt individuals. Taiwanese do not want to talk about the ghosts, because they believe it attracts some of the angrier spirits; that is why we were not told about the parade or start of the holiday yesterday. To appease the spirits and show respect, people pray, burn incense, and burn money in offering daily, though only three days are mandatory for shelling out the cash, the beginning, middle and end of the month (Vickie and Anita).

Not all of the ghosts are bad, or at least, not guaranteed to behave maliciously. According to Kelly, they are not called ghosts, as this attracts the negative ones. They are instead talked about as "hao zhong di" or "hao peng you" (good brother or good friend).
The Ghost Festival in the middle of the month involves the burning of boat effigies and (of course) more money, as well as offering of flowers and fruit, and sacrifices of chicken/duck, pig, and fish (Rough Guide 2007 52). In Keelung, thousands of water lanterns, small floating boats or something of the sort, are released at night over the river with the special intent of calming the spirits of the drowned."

The group participated in a three-team scavenger hunt through the Luodong Night Market this evening, looking for assigned food items that are native to or a specialty of Luodong. Night markets are an important part of Taiwanese culture. They are carnival like in feel, with lots of noise, food vendors, knick-knacks for sale, and games, games, games for kids.
****Julie Playing a Marble Game/Drinking Bubble Tea****

However, they offer quite a bit more in the way of commodities, as a lot of clothing, accessories, and household shopping can be accomplished. There are many families, including grandparents, attending simply out of necessity, looking for practical purchases at the best price.

social development, acting as a neutral ground where groups of teenagers can meet and be asThey offer similar social functions as carnivals or fairs in the United States as well, and are leaned on for these roles more frequently (night markets are nightly, as opposed to the annual county fair). For example, according to one of our Taiwanese advisors, people, particularly teenagers, do not really date too often in Taiwan. Night markets provide a playground for equally interested in each other on a one-on-one level as if they were dating. There are plenty of good things to eat, fun stuff to buy, and friends to talk to, and so it provides an ideal relaxed environment. Many parents bring children to the markets as well, making them quite familiar stomping grounds by the time you are a teenager and looking for anywhere that could possibly allow you to feel confident in front of others.

The Luodong market had a number of fascinating additions in honor of Ghost Month, which included long tables of fresh foods, dead animals, and unopened beverages all arranged delicately and surrounded by clusters of constantly burning incense.

****Fruit/Incense/and a Note written about Next Year (97)****

****At the front of each road/aisle was a slaughtered/flayed pig, complete with writing on the side and a pineapple in the mouth****

****The tables were laden with detailed carvings as well, such as this apparent sage confronting a tiger****

****Some Images were carved out of Standing Watermelons and lit from inside****

****In addition to sacrificed food, people offer incense...****

****...and burn paper money and other paper for appeasement****
We bumped into Ellen, one of the co-teachers, with her 7 year old daughter and 10 year old son. They were on a crowded corner in front of a small grocer. In the middle of the intersection was a stage, blaring music out of mediocre speakers. Songs were sung by nearly-nudes, and everyone was in rapt attention. The majority of onlookers were young or middle-aged males, but couples, children , and young girls were not exempt. Thongs, an open changing room at the side, and music at that volume seem to catch everyone's attention. Both
of Ellen's stood with their ears covered, the youngest girl transfixed by the naked bottom on stage. Sex sells because we're human; smart business to take advantage of instinct. Anywhere under the patriarchy and it's typically female sex being sold by males; clearly they train them young as well. Ellen tells us that the women and song are a feature of Ghost Month; apparently the dead don't mind being reminded they have no bodies for the food or sex they see during the month.

****Too Loud For the Performers on Deck****

****Too Loud for the little one, but she can't look away****

****Laura Happy - Loves Ellen's Kids, Not the Girlies****