Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Friends, Art, and Sushi: My Trip to Japan (朋友們,藝術和壽司:我去日本旅行)

In between summer camp/school ending and regular school starting, the teachers at both C.E.L.A. and C.M.S. have around four days to travel. They can choose to go on an office trip (which the school helps to cover) or a trip of their own (then they're on their own). Although for the past three years I've gone on the office trips (two to places here in Taiwan and one to Bali), this year I opted to use the four days to visit a friend of mine from college who now lives in Tokyo, Japan. It was great to see her again, and it was fun to visit a new country!

Let's face it, I tend to have horrible luck flying in or through Tokyo-Narita. Since it was my final destination, I was less concerned than I am when I have to make connecting flights. After making it through security and all that jazz in Taipei, I headed to my gate. I was pleased to see that we were supposed to be boarding and leaving about half an hour early. Because of previous delays, etc. with the Narita airport in the past, I had waited to send her a message about the change of time until boarding had already begun. But sure enough, everyone was on the plane, luggage stored, seats in the upright position, tables stowed, and we were just sitting there. Soon the captain's voice came over the intercom apologizing for the delay and explaining that we needed a new fly pattern to reach Tokyo and that we were waiting for it to be approved and returned. So we sat. And we sat. And we sat. Eventually we took off. By now, I was supposed to be reaching Tokyo half an hour later than my original flight, or an hour and a half later than I had messaged my friend. But, what's a girl to do? So, after landing in Tokyo I booked it to immigration and customs. Thankfully, I hadn't had to check a bag, so I could move pretty fast and evade most of the long lines.

On the other side of the arrivals wall, my friend Rebecca was waiting for me. We stopped to pick up some Starbucks, because I'd left my apartment that morning around 2am to catch the bus, she handed me a Suica (Japan's equivalent to London's Tube's Oyster Card), and we boarded the train. We stopped by her place first so that I could drop of my luggage and we could make a plan for what was remaining of the day ahead of us. One of her co-workers had told her about some fireworks that the city would be shooting off, so we decided to check those out. There was a free shuttle from outside the train station to the area where they'd be shooting them off. People had perched on both sides of the hill near where they'd be. There was also a little traditional market happening at the bottom of the slope on the near side (there was a lake on the other side). The market served a variety of fried foods and foods on a stick. We watched for about half an hour and then decided that we'd head out and find some dinner. We ended up settling on sushi as we perused the food court at a local mall. Afterwards, we headed back to my friend's place and started what would become our nightly routine of putting on our pajamas and watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

People meandering along the market portion finding snacks while waiting for the fireworks to start.


Tuna platter

Day two then was our museum day. In spite of a later first night seeing as we had a lot to catch up on, we managed to roll ourselves out of bed and be out the door between 10-10:30am. First stop was the Museum of Western Art located in Ueno Park. Their standing collection includes works of art by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Picasso (amongst a variety of other artists), and so for less then $5 U.S. we spent several hours admiring beautiful paintings. We ate omelet rice for lunch at the museum's cafe before meandering through the rest of Ueno Park. We stopped several times to watch street performers and their acts, before heading to the next art museum which was having a special exhibit from the Louvre. This exhibit was much more crowded than our mornings adventures had been, but we still managed to make our way through and see everything. We even were able to stop and just enjoy looking at a few of the different paintings. By the time we finished that, we were starting to lose steam, so we decided to head to the Shibuya Crossing where we could people watch from Starbucks. It took us awhile to actually get seats, but it was an enjoyable experience none the less. Shibuya Crossing was what I had pictured all of Tokyo would be like. Millions of people hurrying about. The interesting thing though is that there wasn't a lot of shuffling or pushing, just a lot of people getting where they needed to go. For dinner that night we went to an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe. It was a pretty neat experience!

The Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park.

Shibuya Crossing

Down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

My third day in Tokyo we went to see the Meiji Shrine and visited 100% Chocolate Cafe. Google Maps led us a little astray, but we got there. The shrine was in a park and since it was nice out we walked around and enjoyed the greenery. Then we boarded another train and headed for the cafe. 100% Chocolate Cafe serves a variety of cakes, frostings, chocolates themselves, and drinks all rooted in chocolate. Besides each getting a beverage, we both picked four (from the 56 available kinds) of chocolates to enjoy. I chose a cinnamon chocolate, a red chili pepper chocolate, a Venezuelan chocolate, and one called 95 Chocolate (nice and bitter!). Still being pretty full from our lunch of Japanese curry, I only two of the chocolates while sipping my Chocolate 'Spresso. The cinnamon chocolate was surprisingly grainy but very fragrant, and the Venezuelan chocolate with it's smooth, full, dark body and rich flavor was probably my favorite out of the four that I had. That evening we picked up sushi on the way home, along with stopping at a gluten-free baked goods stand.

The entrance to the Meiji Shrine

More Meiji Shrine


Chocolate. :)

My last day in Japan was pretty relaxed. We watched the season premier of Doctor Who. :) And took our time getting out the door to get me to the airport.

It was a great getaway for a few days! And now... it's just a few more days until school starts back up. How time flies!

“Alice: How long is forever? 
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Field Trip to Yilan (宜蘭)

Towards the end of last week came the big overnight field trip. Last year's was to the aquarium in Kenting. This year we went to Yilan (宜蘭). Admittedly, I'm always a little daunted by overnight field trips. I like having my own time and space. And when you're chaperoning a field trip you're expected to keep eyes on your kids ALL THE TIME. That being said, I've always heard that Yilan is a stunning part of Taiwan, so I was also a bit excited to be able to see this magical, beautiful part of Taiwan that I hadn't seen before. The students had all been divided into groups of 5-6 kids per teacher before leaving. Groups were either all girls or all boys, but different age groups were all mixed together. My group was composed of five girls between second and fifth grade.

Thursday morning around 8am we all climbed aboard the bus and departed campus for the north-eastern part of Taiwan known as Yilan (宜蘭). The school had hired tour guides for the trip, so as we were driving the movies were occasionally paused so that the guide could point something out of interest to the kids. There aren't really highways that cross the mountains that run down the middle of Taiwan, so to get from the west side of the island to the east side you either have to drive up and around or down and around. We drove up, arriving in Yilan (宜蘭) mid afternoon. The only thing scheduled for the day was the International Children's Festival. First we lined up to go on a short sailboat ride, and after that the kids were given time to go and play in the water park area. Between the teachers that wanted to play in the water and the tour guides, any adults who didn't want to get wet didn't have to, so I sat in a chair under a tree reading Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The water park area was crazy! There was loud music pumping through the air, water spraying down from suspended nozzles, inflatable covered platforms, and wading pools. Workers with whistles were patrolling several of the areas. After that it was time for dinner and then we headed back to base for the night. Each group was assigned to a suite of rooms comprising a bathroom, living room, and two bedrooms. One bedroom had two double beds, the other had a queen with two mats on the floor. I told the girls that they could choose where they wanted to sleep. They decided that I'd get to sleep on the floor, because all of them were afraid of sleeping near the floor to ceiling windows on that side of the room. It was fine by me. I'm not too terribly picky about where I sleep. The girls all had so much energy though! And especially the three girls in my room just didn't want to fall asleep. Finally after multiple trips to the bathroom and a few ultimatums though, everyone was sleeping peacefully.

Waiting for the sailboat rides to start up. They could seat six to a boat, plus the "driver".

Some of the girls playing UNO before bed.

Friday morning started around 7am when I started waking the girls up so they could pack up their stuff and get ready for breakfast. We had to take everything out of the room with us when we left to eat. The museum itself didn't open until later, but there were plenty of different little crafty shops and stores to walk through, and that's how our morning was spent. S.J, one of the teachers, bought a traditional umbrella. The kids also bought a variety of different pictures, toys, and food. After lunch we visited a museum where each floor had a theme. We started on the third floor, which was all about the mountains around Yilan. The second floor looked at the plains. And the first floor focused on the sea. There was an actual retired fishing vessel housed on the first floor that the kids could take turns boarding in small groups which they really enjoyed! Then it was time to start heading back to Chaiyi.

Putting the finishing touches on the umbrella S.J. purchased

The museum we visited in the afternoon.

A few of the girls reading a display in the lobby of the museum.

My group of students realized fairly quickly into the trip that my Chinese was good enough to communicate with just that for a multitude of things, which meant that Chinese was their go to when talking with each other and me then. Although sometimes they'd speak English, and if I really didn't understand they'd go back and say something in English. All that functioning in Chinese required a lot more thinking, processing, and paying attention on my part, which made it a little more exhausting, but it was also good practice!

In the end, I think the students enjoyed their field trip. One week of summer camp to go. Then I'm off to Japan for a few days!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Camp: Spain and Picasso

It's my second week of summer camp, my students' third, and we've finished talking about Japan and started learning about Spain.

We started learning some Spanish, mostly family members. I made a matching game with the Spanish words on some cards and pictures of what the words are for on other cards. Then we used the cards to play a memory game trying to match the word with the picture. We also talked about Pablo Picasso and some of his famous paintings. Their craft this week had each of the students making their own Picasso inspired portrait. This is harder than it may at first appear. One of the other teachers had found a video by an art teacher that modeled an easy, fun way to accomplish the Picasso effect, so Tuesday we started with that. Students start by picking out different geometric shapes cut out of construction paper and then draw eyes, mouths, and noses on them - as many as they want. After that, the kids fill in the void of the face with lines, squares, scales, and any other sort of geometric pattern that floats their boat. Then they fill in the background the same way. Today then the students finished their portraits and presented them to their classmates. It was fun to hear the different students explain their pictures. One girl said, "I like to listen, so I put on many ears." Another said, "I like to talk, so I gave mine many mouths." Many of them were filled with bright colors.

For their lunch my class made a take on paella and Spanish tortillas. Thankfully, this week we were in the school kitchen which not only gave us access to all the burners we could desire but also to sinks which made cleaning up much easier. Pearl and I each headed a group. The boys went with Pearl to make our version of paella. It had chicken, bell peppers, and a variety of herbs and spices. The girls came with me and we worked on making Spanish tortillas. I'd never made them before. The girls were very eager to work. Our egg to potato mixture ratio got a little off, so we ended up turning it into potato scramble eggs. Once everything was done, the kids pulled out their lunch-ware and started eating. Other than some of the kids thinking the paella was a bit spicy (different seasonings than they're used to), they seemed to enjoy it. :)

Tomorrow we leave for Yilan for our overnight field trip.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Camp: Week One for Me, Week Two for My Students

After a long journey towards the end of last week, I'm back in Taiwan and back in the classroom. This is the second week of summer camp here at C.E.L.A. and the theme this year is East Meets West with a focus on Japanese culture, food, and history (for two weeks) and Spanish culture, food, and history (for two weeks). For a change, this year on Monday the Americans were given a chance to adjust to the time zone and work in the office. I'm teaching the highest (English/grade) level group: Nachos. Tien, one of my co-workers, taught Monday. She had them read the story of Kiguya Hime. The rest of the week we continued to look at Kiguya Hime watching video interpretations, as a class turning it into a play, and as groups turning it into a story book. The kids also had different crafts, making paper fish hassocks and origami. And once a week the students are in charge of making their lunch.

Today, the chosen foods were: okonomiyaki and miso soup. Okonomiyaki is a sort of cabbage pancake. Around 10am the class tromped downstairs to Office 2 where we all started cooking. First, Judy helped them to make the soup. They cut tofu and dissolved miso paste to put into boiling water.

Who wants to help Judy cut tofu?

Judy helping a student cut the tofu.

One student adding the cut up tofu into the soup pot.
Then it was time to slice bacon, chop cabbage, and shred carrots. All the students chipped in and were able to do something. Then we pulled out another hot plate and started frying the bacon. The kids added handfuls of cabbage and carrots to the mixture. Once it was all cooked, it was taken off the heat, put into a separate bowl, and eggs were mixed in. Then dollops of the mixture were put into the frying pan where they sizzled until done. While Judy was frying pancakes on the hotplate up on the table, I started working at the one on the floor where the soup had been. Students pulled out their utensils and bowls and started to eat.

Later, I asked some of them how lunch was and which part was their favorite. Everyone said that lunch was really delicious! The students I talked to were split between which was their favorite though. Half said the miso soup and half said the okonomiyaki. Albeit a hectic two hours, I think the kids really enjoyed the cooking and being able to eat what they'd made. :)