Saturday, February 11, 2017

Lantern Festival 2017

Lantern Festival marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. It's a time when people gather together and remember loved ones who are gone now. They write messages to those loved ones on giant lanterns, which they then send up into the sky.

One of the largest and most well known Lantern Festivals in Taiwan is held in PingXi (平溪). PingXi is about an hour outside of Taipei, so it requires a little planning to make it to the festival. Usually, the Americans are just returning to Taiwan from their international Chinese New Year holiday travels, and so although I've always wanted to attend Lantern Festival, I've never had a chance. However, this year, we were a little more proactive and because of the way our Chinese New Year break fell, four of us decided to make the trip North to experience the festival for ourselves.

I didn't know exactly what to expect. Although they call it a "festival" I'd only ever seen pictures of copious quantities of lanterns lighting up the sky as they drift up and wherever the wind takes them. And it was certainly quite the sight! But there was more than that to do and see as well.

From Taipei, we took the MRT to the end of the brown line (Taipei Zoo) where we stood in line with hundreds of other people waiting to catch a shuttle bus to PingXi. The bus ride took us into the mountains and through several small cities. Lanterns were set to be released starting at 6pm, when the sun had started to set, and our shuttle bus was pulling up to PingXi right around 6pm. It worked out well! From the windows of our bus, we could see some lanterns already being released. Most of the lanterns are red, and if you stand next to them, they're about as tall as an adult (me). They were ascending from various parts of the little village and mountains around us. Twinkling in the sky like very bright stars as they drifted off.

We disembarked from the bus and everyone was "Oohing" and "Ahhhing" as they first caught sight of the lanterns. Many people pulled their phones and cameras out too, trying to take pictures. But the mass of people was also moving, pushing people along like the current does the stream. As we headed away from the bus, we saw (and smelled) that the streets were lined with food vendors! There were also several places where you could buy lanterns (either red, orange, purple, or some places had multi-colored lanterns), write messages on them, and send them off. Further down and off to one side there was a stage set up with music playing that resounded across all the noise of the market and masses in the streets. And periodically masses of lanterns were released into the night sky causing everyone to stop and look up.

Up, up, and away! 
The four of us decided to split the cost of a lantern and send one up ourselves. None of us had ever done this before, but it was easy enough to figure out as we went along. We chose a vendor that was a bit off the main drag. There were clothes lines set up, so after you bought your lantern (which was conveniently folded into a nearly flat circle) you unfolded it and using two clothes pins hung it up on the line. There were then tins of black ink and brushes tied to the posts the lines were strung from, so that you could write your message(s) on your lantern. People come from all over the world for this particular lantern festival, so around us, messages were being written in Korean, Japanese, English, Chinese, and a slew of other languages as well. Some people even painted pictures on their lanterns. There was a small open space nearby then were people would take their completed lanterns to be able to get the paper to burn inside and send up their lanterns.

Hannah and SJ writing on our lantern.
We'd purchased a traditional red lantern (red is a lucky color in Taiwan, so almost everything holiday related is red if it's traditional) and set off to find a spot to write our messages. Hannah, SJ, Emily, and I each took turns writing on a different side. Once we were done, we carried our lamp over to where we could get the paper, light the lantern, and release it. There were tons of people all wanting to do this, so it took us several rounds of watching releases before we finally managed to snag some paper. Then, a nice guy nearby offered us his lighter so that we could send up our lantern. We filled it with some air, lit the paper, and set it on the ground for a moment to let it fill with hot air (and smoke). Then, we released it up into the sky.

After that, we meandered through the streets lined with vendors, stopping for food or to look at other people's lanterns as the mood struck us. Looking up at the sky with wonder every so often watching all the lanterns drift up and across our paths.

Some other people releasing their lanterns from a different vendor

A whole flock of lanterns ascending into the sky

Yum! Street food :) 

Eventually we get back in line for the shuttle bus back to Taipei. There were so many people! We stood in line for an hour, and we weren't even in the line that was going to get seats on the bus when we finally reached one. In spite of it being chilly, the four of us took the time in line to catch up with each other, tell stories, and admire the lanterns that were still being sent up into the sky.

We ended the day by picking up "ice cream" from the 7-11 below our hostel for a pre-bedtime snack. Then it was lights out. It'd been a big day!

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" John 8:12

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Unleash Your Creativity - C.E.L.A.'s Winter Camp

Although, this week we have been back in the classroom, for the C.E.L.A. students, regular classes haven't started back up yet. Instead, this week students who wanted to come could attend a week long winter camp titled "Unleash Your Creativity." Students were divided up into four classes: E1, E2, E3-E5, and E6. As usual, the E6 students are prepping for their middle school entrance exams during the morning. The other classes have been looking at a variety of topics from holidays to food to recycling and composting in their morning sessions. The afternoons then are either spent going on field trips or outside playing organized games.

Regular kindergarten classes have started back up though, which is where most of my week has been spent, but I have been able to participate in some of the Winter Camp activities as well...

Monday afternoon was a field trip. The students went to a rose garden/nursery about 45 mins from school. They were given a tour of the grounds by the owner, and then also had time to play games (both indoors - board games; and outdoors - frisbee). One of the teachers who was scheduled to chaperone ended up not feeling the greatest, so I went in her stead. Tien and I led the frisbee section of the field trip. Depending on the age of the kids, we played slightly different games with each group, but the last five minutes of frisbee time was spent with Tien and I throwing frisbees and the students running around to retrieve them. The kids seemed to have fun being outside, even though a few of them complained that it was too hot.

Group Photo 

The Human Knot
Tuesday and Wednesday, around my afternoon classes, I served as an extra pair of hands and helped out with the after organized games outside. Tim had come up with a slew of activities for the varying age groups including a variety of relays, the human knot, and crab soccer. Wednesday afternoon we ended up being inside in the kindergarten gym, and we found one of those huge parachutes that make every (inner) child leap for joy! So, we played a bunch of games related to that, including a theme and variation of Sharks and Minnows.

Because who doesn't love a giant parachute to play with? 

Wednesday and Thursday I also taught some of the E2 Winter Camp classes. We looked at a couple of childhood classics: Green Eggs and Ham, Thunder Cake, and Diary of an Earthworm. We talked about foods we like to eat (or don't like to eat). We talked about what ingredients you need to bake a cake and where they come from. The kids then did a small scavenger hunt to find pictures of the ingredients hidden throughout the classroom, just like the girl in the story had to go and gather the ingredients that she and Granny needed to bake their thunder cake. We talked about the importance of taking care of the earth, and things like recycling and compost. We did the Hokey Pokey, because one of Earthworm's diary entries was all about the school dance, and how they could only do, "Put your head in. Take your head out..." Peggy taught periods where they made Mean Old Nellie Peck Hen themed snacks or butterflies out of clothespins and bags of cereal. She also worked on a variety of sentence patterns with them, including having them write their own diary entries. So, although there were a lot of fun activities thrown in, the students still had a chance to practice their reading, writing, and speaking.

Friday is the last day of Winter Camp, and there will be a field trip in the afternoon. Then, on Monday, regular classes will begin for the elementary school aged students as well.

**Several pictures courtesy of some of the other teachers: Tina and Peggy. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Oh No! Where is Fluffy?!?!"

"I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:7 

It was the last week of class for the first semester, and since we'd completed all the Bible stories allotted, I chose to teach the Parable of the Lost Sheep in K3. Not only is it a personal favorite, but it's always a hit with students of all ages.

The students learned about Jesus' first miracle (a miracle being something amazing that God can do that people can't) of turning water into wine last week. And the point that this particular children's version of the story hit home was that Jesus wants to help us, all of us, and He can. Even if it's as simple as turning ordinary water into wine so that no one loses face at a banquet.

So as we started to talk about the parable (a story Jesus told to teach us something about God) of the Lost Sheep, the first thing to notice was that the shepherd loved his sheep and took good care of them. He led them to where there was good grass to eat. He made sure there was clean water to drink. He kept them safe. With that in mind, the story continues... every night the shepherd would ask, "Are all my sheep here?" And he'd count them to find out. All is good and well, until one night, the shepherd notices that one of his sheep (I always name it Fluffy) is missing. The students count the sheep on the board, and I take one away... usually "Bahhhhhh"-ing as I go and put it elsewhere in the classroom. At which point, the shepherd cries out, "Oh no! Where is Fluffy?!" Then, one of the students takes the shepherd, and searches for Fluffy, returning both Fluffy and the shepherd to the board. Then the shepherd says, "Woo-hoo! Yay! I have found my lost sheep!"

What does this mean? It means that God, just like that shepherd, loves us and wants to take care of us - help us, if you will. And when we stray, whether on accident or on purpose, God will always come looking. And, just like that shepherd knew Fluffy's name, God knows ours. And when someone says, "I love God" or comes to know Jesus, God rejoices.

We then sang "I Just Want to be a Sheep" which kids always enjoy. We even got the verse, "I don't want to be a Sadducee" in there, making our saddest faces!

Some of the "sheep" during our last class of the semester together. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Because God is Good

This week, two of my K3 classes had to reschedule (just to days later this week) due to activities going on during their regular class times. This is not entirely unusual with K3 (or any kindergarten class), since there are sometimes field trips planned where all three K3 classes (or nine kindergarten classes) go, or they have something special going on as they prepare for "graduation" at the end of the year. This morning, I had a make up class with Bee, and out of the mouths of babes...

Since Christmas, we've been looking at how Jesus is God's Son. We talked ever so briefly about the gifts the wise men brought: gold (because Jesus is a king), frankincense (because Jesus is God), and myrrh (because He was the sacrifice for our sins). We looked at Simeon and Anna, who were awaiting the birth of God's Son and celebrated how God keeps His promises when they saw Jesus at the temple as a baby. We read about Jesus staying behind at the temple when He was 12 years old, and how He said, "Didn't you know that I'd be in my father's [God's] house?" And last week, we looked at Jesus' baptism ("This is my [God's] Son") and temptation.

It's always interesting to me what my students pick out from the stories. Although they didn't know the word "Satan" or "devil," they instantly recognized him in the book as "the bad man." Using five different pictures, we retold the story. The first picture is of Jesus sitting in the desert, and the story begins... After Jesus was baptized, He went into the desert. He stayed there for 40 days. It's hot in the desert, and there's no food. So, Jesus was hungry! The students are listening by this point. I was surprised how many of them remembered the forty days. And then, comes the second picture, the bad man arrives. And while He was there, Satan came and said, "Jesus, if you're really the Son of God, why are You hungry? You can do anything. Just turn these stones into bread." But Jesus said, "No! I trust God." The kids all like saying, "No!" with me. The next picture goes on the board. Next, Satan took Jesus to a tall, tall building. He said, "Jesus, if you're really the Son of God, jump down! You won't get hurt. You're God." But Jesus said, "No! Don't test God." Again, the children all chime in with the "No!" Some of the students with this one even help out with the, "Don't test God" line. Up goes the third picture. Then, Satan took Jesus to a very tall mountain, and He showed them many beautiful cities. "All this {arms sweeping} I will give to you - these beautiful cities, You will be so rich and handsome and strong - if you just pray to me," Satan says. But Jesus said, "No! Only pray to God." The kiddos exclaiming, "NO!" The final picture is put on the board. Then Satan left Jesus. He'd be back later. And God sent angels to take care of Jesus. And, Satan wants us to do bad things too sometimes. He doesn't want us to listen to God. But, we can say, "No!" just like Jesus. God will always help us. 

This morning's make up/rescheduled class was the fourth time we've looked at this story, so the students know what's coming by this point. And Bee class is usually the most rambunctious of all my K3 classes, but every class when we get to this story (in Bee and my other K3 classes) the students settle down. They're happy to say, "No!" but then they also go back to quietly listening. But today, much to my interest, various students of Bee class thought that the line "(because) God is good" should be added. "...But Jesus said, 'No! I trust God. Because God is good.'" "...But Jesus said, 'No! Don't test God. Because God is good.'" "...But Jesus said, 'No! Only pray to God. Because God is good.'" 

Because God is good. 

And to me, this was especially interesting, because it isn't a concept that I've talked about a lot. We've talked about how God is strong, how God does what He says. We've talked about Jesus' birth. (Maybe one of their other teachers talked more about God being good?). And sure, it is sometimes said in class, "God is good," but as far as I can tell, they more or less tied it to this story today on their own. God works in many and mysterious ways.

He is many things, and there are certainly some bigger theological words that can be used to describe God's attributes. But, right now, for my five year olds, I can be content that one of the things they learn about Him is that: God is good. And that they know that even though life isn't always easy or perfect, God will always be there to help them. It's not always by sending angels or doing miracles, but that doesn't mean He's not there.