Monday, July 7, 2014

American Summer Week 1: Readjusting, the Fourth, and Georgia

A little over a week ago I arrived back in the States. I've been keeping busy, not nearly as busy as I could be, but that's probably a good thing since I need to catch up on sleep sooner or later. Every time I return to the States after another year in Taiwan I have to readjust to different things or different things stand out to me. As usual there's the time zone (which is less difficult to adjust to after 27 hours of traveling), portion size, and the overall heaviness of America food. Some other things that have stood out to me or caught my attention though this year also include: just because someone's speaking English doesn't mean that they're talking to you, and just the different sense of what it means to "be friendly." Adjustments aside, it's been great seeing family and friends and eating Mexican food. :)

So, what have I been up to with my first week in the States? Well, here are the highlights...

Saturday night, after twenty-something hours of traveling from one side of the globe to the other, I finally made it back to Wisconsin. After being picked up by my mom and niece at the bus stop, we visited my grandpa (and picked up my dad, sister, and Charlie the dog) before heading to Red Robin to meet up with some of my friends for dinner.

The next morning I spoke during Bible study about Taiwan. Afterwards, I met up with my friend Sam and his fiancee Laura for lunch at El Azteca. I miss Mexican food a great deal in Taiwan, so I always joke that I have to eat a year's worth of it while I'm back in the States in July. :) 

I had several days to just veg and readjust to the time zone before Joe and I headed to Georgia on Thursday. The first flight went really well. I enjoyed some frozen yogurt at the Atlanta airport while waiting for our next flight. Come to find out, said flight had been grossly overbooked, Joe and I were afraid we wouldn't have seats on the plane, but it all worked out. I even got seated in an exit row. Yay extra leg room! After being stuck in a holding pattern due to weather for so long that we had to detour up to Savannah for fuel and then head south again, we finally landed in Florida. Ben, Cait, and Savannah were all there waiting for us. We piled into the car and headed off to Mi Casa. Ben had heard that I'm a big Mexican food-y. Delicious! The next day was the Fourth. We played games, picked up a friend, Will, at the airport, and went to a BBQ one of Ben's Navy buddy's was hosting. We had our own fireworks. And overall, I'd consider it a successful day. Saturday was also very chill. We were able to go to the beach for a bit, which I always enjoy. Our trip was cut short due to the lifeguards making everyone get out thanks to an approaching storm, but at least we got to go. We picked up some ice cream for the road at a nearby ice cream shack, which isn't a bad consolation prize in my book. :) It started to rain on our way home, we ordered carry out Chinese food for dinner, and spent the evening playing more games and hanging out. Sunday morning I headed to church with Ben, Cait, and Savannah. After which, we picked up the boys and headed to a local dive dinner for lunch. I ordered an omelet and corned beef hash. Really nice! Then we walked around Crooked River State Park enjoying the wildlife and the scenery, and trying not to be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. We hung out back at the house before having to head to the airport and return to Wisconsin. It was a really nice trip! It was great to see my brother, to hang out, and to relax. :) 

Playing Munchkin.

At the beach.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! :)

Some flowers along the trail in Crooked River State Park.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's Good to be an E6 Student

Perhaps a couple weeks ago back when all the big middle school entrance tests were being given, this was not a true statement, but this week, it's good to be an E6 student. At least, if you're an E6 student at C.E.L.A. Since the kids all graduated from their regular Chinese schools last week, this week at C.E.L.A. our E6 students have been doing different activities everyday instead of having regular class.

To be honest, Monday was sort of a wrap up day. Students had a chance to present their final book reports to their classmates along with both Whitney and myself. Not every student actually brought their book report, so those who didn't just got to talk about E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and share three things that they remembered. After everyone was done, we watched Wishbone's The Pawloined Paper.

Tuesday, then, was graduation day, but it was no ordinary graduation. From 9-11am we had a series of stations and activities that students needed to complete. At the end of each station, they'd receive a riddle that once solved would lead them to their next destination. Stations and activities included, but were not limited to: a three legged race, a chopstick relay, story telling, and madtakes (similar to Madlibs). Each activity gave the students a chance to showcase their English ability, and some of the activities also allowed them to test their athletic prowess. Once all the activities had been completed, an actual graduation/award ceremony was held. Around noon the kids started making their lunch. Each team was given a BBQ set and with the help of other teachers prepared their food. After lunch was a rest period and then the kids were allowed to go outside to play. Some of the girls and I played with a volleyball and also kicked around a soccer ball for awhile. It was fun to just be able to hang out with my students. :)

Zany Events - students Rebecca and Sophie have to pass a ball to each other without using their hands.

The story telling station, where students had to unscramble vocabulary words and then use them in a story.

Zany Events - Brain J. and Benson prepare for the three legged race. 
BBQ for lunch
It was off the kitchen on Wednesday! Students broke into five groups with each group having five to six students in it. At each table was a bowl, spoon, measuring cup, and recipe. Once the groups were settled at their table, I went through the recipe with them. I explained the different measurements and we talked about the different ingredients they'd be using. Although a few groups wanted to rush ahead of the recipe, over all I thought they did an AMAZING job! While the cookies were in the oven, the students cleaned up the kitchen. The cookies looked and smelled great when they were done baking!

Hard at work or hardly working? :)

Mixing in the M&Ms

Every groups cookies were a little different, but they all looked great! :)

Weather permitting, we'll be having an outdoor scavenger hunt today (Thursday). School's out at the Middle School so we have all of campus that we can use. Whitney and I came up with a variety of things for the students to locate, answer questions about, and take photos of. Since many of the students will be starting middle school here in the fall, I think it's kind of a neat way to get oriented around campus as well. Tomorrow, then, we will have a movie day. I think we're planning on watching Ice Age 4. If it's raining this afternoon, we'll swap the two days' activities.

Either way, it's a good week to be an E6 student. :)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Two Weeks to Go...

This week marks both the final O.S.F. and the last Friday Night Bible Study of the semester. With the story telling contest over in school, classes continue to wind down. Final chapters of books are being read. Final writing projects are being completed. And all the Americans are starting to prepare for their trips back to the States.

For Thursday's O.S.F. we wanted to do something fun. Graham put together a slideshow of pictures from different O.S.F. events of the year. We sang a few songs. And then... we had a good, old fashioned ice cream social. Starting with a bowl of vanilla, students had a plethora of toppings to choose individualize their dish ranging from M&Ms and chocolate syrup to fruit and nuts.

My E6 students are finishing up their final writing projects for the semester as well: a letter to the editor. I found a couple different articles online that I let the students choose between and then write a response too. The past couple weeks then they've been making outlines and rough drafts. I have to say, that although the idea of outlines seemed to throw my students for a loop and it took them awhile to get the hang of it, ultimately many of the students produced truly excellent letters with decent, or at least interesting, arguments.

Yesterday was a busy day. A few friends and I woke up early and went to McDonald's to watch the opening match of the World Cup: Brazil vs. Croatia. That match started at four a.m. here in Taiwan. Along with the four of us, there were also about nineteen others who crowded into the small area at the back of McDonald's to watch. With Brazil winning, 3-1, the game ended around six a.m. I drove back to my apartment and slept for a few more hours before heading into the office. Last night then was the final F.N.B.S. of the semester. As usual we sang a few songs and then it was class time. The story was Philip and the Ethiopian. I was leading the children's group and had only put together a short lesson, then we went outside and I let the kids run around and play ball. Usually Winston, one of the kids who has attended FNBS regularly since I've been in Taiwan, brings a book for he and I to read together after class. This week, he asked if I'd like to read a second book with him, so we read two. :)

And now, we're down to two weeks of class left.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

一點點的歷史和文化:端午節 (A Little History and Culture: Dragon Boat Festival)

This past Monday, June 2, classes were cancelled for 端午節 (pronounced Duānwǔjié), or as what we call in English: Dragon Boat Festival. This is not a literal translation, being that in Chinese it's actually talking about the start of summer. The English title comes from the fact that one of the ways 端午節 is celebrated is through dragon boat races. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

There are two main stories that are associated with Dragon Boat Festival and what it commemorates. More widely known (and also where the dragon boats come from) is the story of the poet, and adviser to the king, Qu Yuan. Some of the other ministers in the cabinet did not like him and said unkind things about him to the emperor. Eventually, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself. He was beloved by the people though who immediately went out in their boats to retrieve his body. To keep away the fish they banged drums and through sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves in the water. This is also where 粽子 (pronounced zongzi) comes from. You can find both sweet and savory 粽子. Savory 粽子, which I prefer, is a glutinous sticky rice filled with duck egg yolk, meat, lotus, peanuts, and mushrooms that is wrapped in a bamboo leaf in the shape of a triangle. The other story is where we get the date from: the fifth day of the fifth month. Wu Zixu was an adviser to the king. He gave sound advice but it was disregarded and he was forced to commit suicide by the emperor. He died on the fifth day of the fifth month. 

In the bowl towards the front is 粽子.

Aside from the dragon boat races and eating 粽子, there are several other traditional ways to celebrate
端午節. People often buy little necklace sachets filled with plants to keep away wild animals (tradition talks of it keeping tigers away) and other bad things. Nowadays they come in a variety of designs from the same triangular shape as 粽子 to popular cartoon characters like Hello Kitty. Having the sachet in the image of whatever year it is can also be popular (for example, this year is the year of the horse, so you can buy horse shaped sachets). It is also said that this is the one day a year that you can make an egg balance upright on it's end. 

How I spent my 端午節...

My first year in Taiwan, I had the opportunity of going and watching the dragon boat races in a nearby city. The boats race down to a buoy with a flag on it. The man sitting at the point of the boat grabs the flag, the boat turns around the buoy, and races back to it's starting point. It was an interesting experience. It rained the whole time. This year, aside from eating 粽子 over the weekend, I just enjoyed having Monday off and took it easy. I munched on some cupcakes that I'd baked over the weekend (having been thoroughly excited to actually find yellow lemons). You could've fried an egg on the pavement, but the weather was beautiful, and it was a pleasant day.