Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Don't be a Sad Crab (Adventures in Okinawa, Japan)

The past several days I had the chance to catch up with a college friend, along with hanging out with some of the other girls on the team (Team Taiwan), in Okinawa, Japan. I've been to Japan before, but this was my first time in Okinawa; the same was true for my friend from college, Rebecca, who now lives and teaches in Tokyo (and who I visited there last year).

Summer camp classes ended on Friday, and Saturday around lunch time I started the trip to Okinawa. The flight itself was a short hour and a half from Taipei, and I arrived in Okinawa around 8:15pm. Originally, Rebecca and I were going to meet up near the mono-rail. After clearing customs, I was glancing around arrivals looking for a restroom when I heard someone calling my name. Surprise! She, and her friend - Angela, were waiting for me there. There were some short discussions about whether we should eat first or check in first. Check in first won, so it was off to find the hotel. First stop, the mono-rail. It was maybe a half hour ride before arriving at our stop, and then a fifteen minute walk from there to the hotel. As we walked, we noticed that the neighborhood was getting interesting. We looked at each other, made some jokes, and kept walking. Eventually we found our hotel and worked on checking in. Some of my friends from Team Taiwan were also coming up to Okinawa (although they'd arrived earlier in the day than I had) and were staying at the same hotel as us, so we were trying to explain to the hotelier that the second half of our group would be arriving later, but that they didn't have a Japanese phone number, so that there was no way to get a hold of them. Thankfully, both Rebecca and Angela speak Japanese, so we got it was all squared away. The rooms were simple, a little old, but clean. The three of us dropped our bags off and headed off to a nearby restaurant called Steakhouse88, one of the few restaurants still open by this time. Much to my surprise, aside from a lot of steak, tacos and something called "taco rice" were on the menu. Of course, I had to try this. After dinner, we went back to the hotel (and the other three girls had arrived), and hung out for a bit before calling it a night.

Taco Rice: TexMex seasoned beef, lettuce, cheese, tomato, salsa, and rice

The next day, Sunday, we had a lazy morning, with Rebecca and I finally heading out around 9am. We were supposed to meet up with Emily, Rachel, and SJ (who had gone to Emily's cousin's church in near the base in Okinawa) around noon. By the time we found a place to chill it was 8:30am, so we just sat at a Lawson's near the bus station and people watched. Once the others arrived we went to a little cafe for lunch before flagging down two taxis to cart the six of us to the Underground Command Center/Tunnels left from WWII that are open to the public to visit. Before going into the tunnels, we wandered around the memorial outside and the museum above ground.


The memorial

After walking through the museum and reading about the war and how it affected the Okinawans, we went down into the tunnels. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be down there for any sort of significant amount of time. For many of the tunnels, they were just tall enough for me to stand up straight and wide enough for one man to walk through. Although there was a sign that said that even in WWII there was electricity down there for lights, there wasn't really any sunlight, so it felt dark. Things were cramped. To the point that one of the signs said that men had to rest and sleep standing up, because that was all there was room for. June 13, 1945, when the commanding officer realized that there was little chance of things ending well for the men in the tunnels, they committed suicide using grenades. There are still pock marks in the walls from when they went off. Walking through these tunnels was a very sobering experience.

A sign at the bottom of the stairs telling us how far down we were

A passage from one room back out to the main hall

The commanding officer's room
Outside of the tunnels were chains and chains of paper cranes made by the Japanese in the aftermath. It's said that if you make 1,000 cranes you get a wish. Many of them wish for peace.

When we exited the tunnels, the world outside was crying. When we put in you could see the ocean from our vantage point, with the rain it was just grey in front of you. No city. No ocean. Just sheets and sheets of rain. Thankfully, when it rains that hard, it passes quickly. After putting Emily, Rachel, and SJ in a cab so that they could walk on of the touristy streets, Rebecca, Angela, and I started our walk to the mono-rail so that we could visit Shuri-jo Castle. On the way we were sidetracked for a bit as we stopped for a tea/coffee break at a cute little cafe. But, after a refreshing bite and caffeinated beverage, we were on our way again.

The castle is massive (as I suppose all castles are). It was an impressive sight passing it on the mono-rail and it was even more beautiful walking up to it. We decided to walk through the castle first. This is one of the castles in Japan that was built with a Chinese influence, so there were lots of reds and golds once you made it to the inner court. As I walked through the simple but beautiful wood and tatami mat business area, I could only imagine what it would have been like at the time, with the doors flung open, discussing business and foreign affairs, a beautiful view in front of you, and gentle sea breeze blowing through. After the business part, we came to the ornate central part of the castle. This section housed not only the throne room, and a lesser throne room, but was also were the women's personal quarters were located, along with where many of the celebrations and ceremonies would have taken place. The ceilings were higher on these floors and here was were the red and gold color scheme, along with ornate carving were at work. It was very beautiful!

The second gate of several that we had to walk through to get to the inner palace

The outside of where the throne room, etc. were located

The throne room

The view of Okinawa from one of the windows at the side of the palace

Unfortunately by the time we finished touring the castle, the walls were closed so weren't able to walk along those at all. But it was still really cool to see!

We stopped for sushi and then ice cream on our way to back to the hotel.

Monday morning I was awakened (for a brief moment) by knocking on our door. The typhoon that we'd all been watching for a week had changed direction just enough to be heading right for us! Angela volunteered to run to FamilyMart quickly and pick up some food, just in case. And we had a lazy morning, most of us sleeping in as the rain poured down and the wind howled outside. Around 10am I headed over to Rebecca and Angela's room to hang out for a bit, shortly thereafter Emily joined us. We watched Japanese television for awhile. First there was a program teaching English. And then we watched a cooking show teaching viewers how to make pudding (which here is more like flan).

In the afternoon, Rebecca and I watched "The Three Idiots" (there's nothing like a good Bollywood movie to take up an afternoon stuck inside). But by 4pm all of us were getting restless. We'd been cooped up inside for a long time. The typhoon was supposed to have passed by the evening, so we started discussing what we wanted for dinner. Several options were thrown out. Finally we settled on walking to a mall about 20 minutes from where we were (we all wanted to stretch our legs) and at least seeing what they had for food. Ultimately, we ended up walking a little further down the street to a traditional Japanese restaurant were we stopped to eat dinner.

A traditional Okinawan appetizer: chicken cracker, which was purchased for us by another guest at the restaurant.
After dinner we did a little shopping and then stopped for ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning was an earlier start for everyone. Rachel, Emily, and SJ were off to the aquarium (which is quite the bus ride from our hotel). Rebecca and I started to head out for the day. Originally we were going to stop for coffee and then take me to the airport, but the coffee shop was closed, so we went straight to the airport. After checking in, Rebecca and I grab a bite to eat. Then it's time for me to get in the line for security (which was REALLY long since tons of flights were cancelled due to the typhoon on Monday).

Although my flight took off about 45 mins late, at least the sun was coming out and I could see the sea from my gate.
And now I'm back in Taiwan.

A few more days left before there start being office hours, and then school starts next week. Life is never dull.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Outdoor Adventures (Summer Camp 2015)

Another summer camp has come and gone. For the past two weeks, I have been teaching "Spider" (the oldest of three groups) class about insects. We've talked about bees, beetles, and butterflies. We've looked at what they eat, where they live, and their life cycle. All in all, I think the kids have had a good time of it; and I wasn't really suffering either.

This week we looked specifically at beetles (dung beetles, stag beetles, and rhinoceros beetles) and butterflies. We watched Magic School Bus - The Rot Squad and also The Bog Beast. We read about insects life cycles and where butterflies' colors come from. We watched clips from Youtube on life cycles, beetles, and camouflage. The kids decorated their own butterflies and presented them to the class, explaining why they had chosen the colors they had picked. Today we went outside and the kids had find pictures of four different kinds of butterflies that had been hidden all around the track field.

Practicing using their new vocabulary words

The life cycle of a butterfly illustrated by Jessica
Decorating their butterflies
Presenting to the class
Looking for "butterflies" outside

Aside from the in-class stuff that the students have been working on, this Wednesday the summer camp students and teachers headed to 劍湖山世界 (Jian Fu Shan), a theme park about 40 minutes from school. Groups of two teachers had been assigned to twelve students for the day. Tien and I were put in charge of some of the "Firefly" students (they're the youngest class). Most of our kids weren't tall enough to go on very many rides outside of the Kiddy Zone. But they still had fun. We rode the Ferris Wheel where several of my girls kept telling me it was too high and that they couldn't look, only to open their eyes and squeal with delight. We also rode the kiddy coaster. Students went home tired and content at the end of the day.

Picture at the end of the day (courtesy of Tien)

At the end of next week office hours for the actual school year start up, and a little over a week from today school starts.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The First Week Back

It's a bit hard to see, but there they are.
I flew from Phoenix, AZ, to LAX, to Narita, and finally to Taipei, arriving in Chiayi around 11:30pm Monday night after about a days worth of traveling. After deboarding the plane at LAX which basically let me off at the gate for my next connection, I noticed that something was a bit strange. First of all, there was a huge camera and boom mic. Second, there were police officers. And several people seemed to be crowding around the boarding line with their phones out taking pictures. Seeing an employee standing nearby, I asked what all the fuss was about. Then I saw that Terry Bradshaw, William Shatner, and George Foreman were all standing there. Sure enough, they were on the same flight as me to Tokyo, Japan. (Later on I Googled the three of them and Asia to see if something was going on. It turns out they're a part of a reality TV show following their adventures navigating Japan, South Korea, and Thailand). All in all, flights went smoothly, and I arrived in Taipei on schedule. Since I had to teach Tuesday morning, I decided to bite the bullet and take the HSR (High Speed Rail) back to Chiayi. It's more expensive but cuts the traveling time in half. Once in Chaiyi, I caught a taxi back to school where I was then going to borrow a friend's scooter in order to get my luggage back to my apartment. In spite of the taxi driver assuring me at the station that he knew where the school was, I ended up having to give him directions as he tried to take me in the opposite direction. Eventually we made it there safe and sound. And after a long day of traveling, it was nice to be home.

Tuesday morning then I started teaching. It's just summer camp right now, and this year's theme is Outdoor Adventures with a focus on bugs and plants. It's already week four for the students, and they were talking about bees and beekeeping this week.  Monday, before I'd returned, they'd learned about bee communication and had watched the Magic School Bus episode on bees. Over the next few days we read more about beekeeping, watched clips on bees, and practiced some new vocabulary they'd learned. Just for fun on Thursday we watched the animated Bee Movie. The kids did a really great job demonstrating what they'd learned both by being able to discuss stuff in class and also by writing about it. I was really proud of them! And they seemed to have fun while they were at it. According to their writing, some of the things they learned this week included:  

- Queen bees can sting many times because of their smooth stinger.
- Smoke makes bees eat a lot, and then they're tired and don't want to sting you.
- Worker bees are girls.
- Bee's wax is used to make many things, like: candles, decorations, and moisturizers.
- Bears hurt bees.

Aside from teaching since I've returned, the two new teachers this year joining Team Taiwan have arrived! Tim and Hannah will be at CELA. And all of us have been showing them around, taking them out to eat, and trying to help them adjust/answer any questions they have about work and life here in Taiwan.

It's also been interesting to see the remnants of the typhoon that blew through Taiwan right before I got back. Campus is still buried under neatly stacked piles of tree branches and leaves that broke off and blew down during the typhoon. Although it appears that most of the buildings escaped unharmed, there is one wall that has a small chunk missing where a branch landed on top of it. And it's not just campus. As I biked through the city Wednesday to take my bike in for a tune up, I noticed branches and trees down as well that were waiting for the clean up crew to come and pick up. I am very thankful that my friends here were all safe while the typhoon that caused all that was going on! Praise God.

Next week is the last week of summer camp, and before you know it, school will be starting. Time flies!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Catching Up and Reunited: Part 2 - Arizona

Part two of Catching Up and Reunited happened between my trip to Guatemala and returning to Taiwan, and took place in Arizona. This was my first trip to the Southwest. And it was for my friend, Emily's, wedding which would be taking place in Pinetop a couple days later. Emily and I met here in Taiwan and worked together for a year and a half. It'd been awhile since we'd seen each other, so it was great to be able to catch up a bit prior to the wedding!

Wednesday after landing in Phoenix, I picked up my rental car and started the drive to Pinetop. I drove via Globe which was a beautiful mountainous and canyon filled drive. Very different from the long stretches of road that we have here in the Midwest, but very pretty!

I arrived in Pinetop in the evening, and, after checking into my hotel, I headed over to Emily's house. Her fiance, Andrew, had already arrived so I met him and Emily's family. The next couple days were spent hiking and doing wedding stuff. Andrew's family arrived Thursday around lunch time. In the afternoon we decorated the church and just enjoyed hanging out. Friday was also spent doing a combination of wedding prep and relaxing. And then Friday evening another friend from Taiwan, Zach, arrived in Pinetop.

Picking flowers for Emily's bouquet
Saturday was the BIG day. Rachel (another former Team Taiwan-er), Zach, and I headed over to the reception site to help decorate in the morning before the wedding. We uncovered tables, cut flowers, and decorated until we had to head out for the wedding itself. The ceremony was lovely! And Emily looked stunning!

Church decorated? Check.
Ready for the ceremony to begin

Exchanging vows

Table decorations

After the ceremony there was a relaxed buffet lunch. God blessed us with great weather for the day! Once both Andrew and Emily, and the guests had a chance to eat, Emily and Andrew started going from table to table to say hi and thank people for coming. They'd asked if I would be willing to help take pictures, so I did. After finishing visiting the tables, the best man proposed a toast, and then Andrew and Emily cut the cake.

After the reception, since Zach and I were both flying out of Phoenix Sunday morning, his parents, he and I headed down to Phoenix.

It was so wonderful to be able to catch up with some good friends from Taiwan who I hadn't seen in a year (or more)!

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival." C.S. Lewis