Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Third Grade ESL Emotions Rap/Dance-off

Happy hump day everyone! I hope you're all having a splendid week thus far. The weather is finally getting nice and warm (and dry!) here in Luodong, so I'm feeling pretty okay despite a minor weather-change-induced head cold.But, however your week has been so far, I hope that what you're about to see can only make it better.

My fellow ETA, Ari, came up with the brilliant idea of having students say their vocabulary words to the tune of a rap beat to get them to practice saying them. This week, Siena and I decided to try this with our third graders. Our students absolutely loved it! They're currently learning about emotions. Specifically, they're learning the words happy, sad, angry, and sick. Having the kids write their own vocab raps soon turned into them also choreographing their own dance routines as well (and, if you don't already know, break-dancing third graders are just about the most adorably funny thing ever). These are some of my favorite results:

Robby may not be very good at English, but he's a great dancer. So he had his team mates rap while he showed off his skills. He pretty much single handedly elevated this assignment from vocab practice to an unofficial dance-off.

And here we have our class troublemaker. He takes things to a whole new level of awkward at about 0:24. When we asked him about it later, he told us that he had picked up his moves from Michael Jackson. Also, be sure to check out his big finale at about 1:21. Priceless.

This kid is just plain adorable. He's the smallest student in his class but he makes up for it with his huge personality. And who knew he was so aerodynamic?!? 

I hope you enjoyed these videos even a fraction as much as I enjoyed being there when they were made! If you're also an ESL teacher and you'd like to try making a vocab rap with your students, try searching "NY rap beats" on youtube. You can find the rap beat I used here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hey you! Go jump off a cliff!

So now that you're finally all caught up on my winter vacation activities, I can move on to more what's actually happening in my life nowadays. So let's start with this: last weekend, I jumped off a cliff. Okay, so maybe jumped isn't really the right word. Technically speaking, I ran off a cliff. But whatever, semantics.
On the mountain top getting ready to go paragliding!
Siena, Christine, and I woke up Sunday morning and drove out to Wai Ao (外澳) Beach in Toucheng (northern Yilan County). The paragliding place turned out to be a ramshackle little shack down a dirt road on top of the mountain behind the train station. In other words, if Siena hadn't been driving, we would never have found it.
Okay, so they don't exactly have a classy headquarters
Their waiting area isn't that classy either. But the view was phenomenal!
When it came time to actually suit up and go, Siena looked over the cliff edge and started getting a little nervous, so I volunteered to go first.
Getting all geared up!
Working the whole backpack/chair look
Siena was the excited kind of nervous
My coach and I getting in place to run

跑步, 跑步! (Run, run, run!) Yeah, my coach didn't speak any English so all my instructions were in Chinese.
Whee!!! Look at me, I'm flying!!! 
The whole flight only lasted about 5 minutes but it was amazing! We flew over the town of Wai Ao, getting a fantastic view as we went, and landed on the beach. Despite her nervousness going into it, when Siena landed, her first words to me were, "Let's do it again!" So I think it's safe to say that fun was had by all. 
We survived!
After we were done with paragliding, we headed over to Mr. Brown's Castle, which is on the same mountain, for some coffee and lunch. And, of course, great views of the mountains, the beaches, and Turtle Island. 

Then, to finish off a great afternoon, we headed to the Lanyang Museum, a natural history museum about Yilan County. The museum is excellent, especially the architecture. The building was created to imitate one of the area's unique geological formations, "cuestas" or cliffs formed by rock layers pushing up from the Earth's crust, leaving multiple layers exposed.
Can you see the cuestas?
Alms for the poor in the local history section
A Nan Fang Ao fishing boat that was donated to the museum 
A picture map of Yilan County. This was one of my favorite exhibits.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

If you've ever seen the movie Tangled, you know what a sky lantern is. 

Well, I can tell you from experience that the magic of sky lanterns isn't just something out of a fairy tale. Every year, the village of Pingxi marks the Chinese New Year with a several week long Sky Lantern (天燈) Festival and fills the sky with so many beautiful lanterns it would make Mandy Moore jealous. 

This year's Chinese New Year festivities started on the Lunar New Year, January 23. It is estimated that every year between 100,000 and 200,000 lanterns are released in the cute little hamlet of Pingxi over the course of the festival. However, the biggest day of festivities falls on the last day of the Chinese New Year, which this year was February 6th. On the final day of the festival, the town organizes a big concert and a mass release of 1,000 lanterns at once (it's amazing, see above video).
I wonder what the measure word is for a group of lanterns? Herd, plethora, murder?
Apparently the tradition of lantern launching in the area first began after the Han settled there. There was so much crime in the area that the settlers began using lanterns as a way of signaling to each other that they were safe. This tradition eventually evolved into a full scale yearly festival after the town;s coal mines shut down in the late 20th century and the villagers needed a new source of income. And, when you go, you definitely get the feeling that this event is the town's bread and butter. Everyone and their brother (literally) sets up booths all along the sides of the road selling everything from stinky tofu and grilled squid on a stick to Turkish chicken wraps and patterned bath robes. And, of course, there are lanterns of every size and style for sale everywhere.
Every kind of dumpling imaginable! 
This guy was selling brown sugar lollipops, spicy snails, and corn on a stick all at one very enterprising stand 
Toy lanterns and night light lanterns for sale next to a stack of  ready to launch DIY lanterns
In some ways, today's lanterns still retain some of their original meaning. The only difference is that now, instead of being a symbol of safety, they are used as more of a prayer for safety in the new year. Nowadays, it's become popular for people paint their wishes for the new year, which usually includes something about health and safety, on a lantern and then light them up and let the lanterns carry their wishes to heaven. The streets and train tracks were swarming with people painting their wishes and releasing them. Some of the lanterns were cute, some were funny, one or two were quite pretty and, in accordance with the Chinese zodiac, dragons abounded.

This lantern reads: "Mega Millions + Super Lotto + (something I can't make out in Chinese) = Billionaire!"

This little guy falls firmly into the cute category 
One of the more impressively painted dragons (yeah, I was a little jealous of their lantern painting skills)

Cherrica, Christine, and I painted our own lantern with my host parents, Jane and Jason.
Jane's side, she wished for health, luck, and peace in the new year.
Cherrica and I signing our side, complete with dino-dragon holding explosives. It says "Happy year of the dragon!"
Christine drew a crowd that watched eagerly to find out if a foreigner can really write in Chinese (spoiler: she can) 
Jason's side
Getting ready to launch our wishes!
There it goes!
Although the whole day was absolutely amazing, nothing can compare to the grand finale mass lantern release and concert. While we didn't get there in time to release a lantern in the first wave (there were already over 2,000 die hards lined up for the noon sign up when we arrived at 11), we were lucky enough to get a place in the third wave of lanterns (and, by default, a better of the first wave when they went off!). It was a great experience and I'm so happy I got to participate in the festivities.

Please note that, while the following pictures and the video at the beginning of this blog are pretty, they just can't do the real thing justice. My advice: If you're ever in Taiwan in early February, you just have to go see the lantern festival for yourself. It's breathtaking!
Setting off the first wave of lanterns

This is what 1,000 lanterns looks like!
Getting ready to set off our (rapidly decorated) lantern

I feel like some sort of "Goodnight Moon" reference would be appropriate here?

Friday, March 23, 2012

A ramen-fueled expedition through Japan

So let's start with some break-dancing robots:

A special performance from Fukuoka's Robosquare.

As some of you may know, last month I hopped a plane to Japan with Stephanie and Christine for our winter break. It was a really wonderful trip. We went to Fukuoka, Okinawa, and Saga. I got to see an old friend, make a lot of new ones, eat delicious food (yes, that includes a LOT of ramen), and go from hanging at the beach to chilling in the snow within a day of each other. And, while I'm mentioning opposites, I also stayed in one of the nicest houses I've ever been in followed immediately by a brief stint at what was (hands down) the sketchiest hostel I've ever laid eyes on.

Fukuoka style ramen
Fukuoka (福岡) is the largest city on the island of Kyushu - which is the most southern of Japan's four main islands. After we flew into Fukuoka, we had a day to kill before we headed to Okinawa. It was a very cool city, both figuratively and literally. It's much too big of a city to see it all in a day or even a week but, dispute a few public transportation related mishaps, we tried our best to at least hit a few of the highlights. Amoung other places, we visited Seaside Momochi Park, Fukuoka Castle, Tenjin, and a local fish market.
Fukuoka Tower from Momochi Park
The old guardhouse from Fukuoka Castle
Stephanie with a wolf shrine at a random temple we stumbled upon while looking for dinner
Also, there was some definite Chopper action on this trip. As far as Japan is concerned, Chopper is the man (and I guess Hello Kitty is the woman?)

Okinawa was probably my favorite place that we visited. Of course, the fantastic sunny weather and beautiful beaches may have swayed my opinion a bit. I stuck my feet in the Pacific, had some of the most amazing sashimi I've ever eaten, and CLIMBED ALL THE THINGS!!!
Warm enough to wear a t-shirt, but not quite warm enough to go swimming...
So GOOD!!!
We found a random rope obstacle course in a park and things immediately devolved into a race to the top.
Climbing the lava rocks at Maeda Cape. It was so beautiful there!
In a funny little bit of serendipity, Glenn Scott, the teacher I had for my senior Communications Capstone class just happened to be applying for a Fulbright in Japan at the same time I was applying to go to Taiwan. (Sidenote: If you're interested, the Comm Thesis paper I wrote for that class was recently published here: Anyhow, he's currently a visiting scholar at the University of the Ryukus in Okinawa and, since he and his family are awesome, they let us stay with them for a few days. Dr. Scott is a great tour guide, his wife is a fantastic cook, and he even took us to a few of his classes so we could get to know some of his students.
At the top of Zanpa Cape Lighthouse with Glenn
Getting ramen for dinner with some of the super interesting girls from Glenn's American Culture class
When one of Glenn's other students, Sato, took us to the American Village, we decided to challenge ourselves with Blue Seal's famous ice cream mountain. Sato told us it has always been a dream of hers to attempt it but she had never been able to convince anyone else to go for it. Naturally, we were happy to oblige. It was 17 scoops of awesome.
Mission completed.

After spending 4 lovely days in the Okinawa sun, we hopped a plane back to Fukuoka to meet up with Christine's long time penpal, Rina, and go on the grand tour of Saga prefecture. Although the two of them had been writing for about 8 years, they had never met, so it was really fun to witness them finally getting together. Despite our major lack of Japanese skills, Rina's family was so warm and welcoming! Their house is lovely and so was the drive through the snowy Japanese country side to get there. It definitely gave me a new found respect for Japanese style architecture. Her grandmother took us to Kyushu castle and to an outdoor hot spring foot bath. Then, the next day, her mother took us to a beautiful temple in Fukuoka. And, everywhere we went, the food was phenomenal!
Kyushu Castle in the snow 
It was cold and I am the quintessential Floridian
Rina and Stephanie at the foot bath 
Tempura and sushi for lunch? Yes, please.  
The temple in Fukuoka
Stephanie and the unicorn-lion (lionicorn?) at the temple

 And here's some photobooth fun we had with Rina and her friend:

I'll leave you with this word to the wise (and follow up to my sketchy hostel comment): If you ever find yourself in Fukuoka, don't stay at the Aloha House Hostel. Seriously. Just don't do it. Even if there are no other options. You'd be better off passing the night at the local Denny's (which, for the record, are super fancy in Japan but still open all night and willing to let you chill indefinitely as long as you keep ordering coffee), a tact which we seriously considered after a very frustrating hour spent talking to the boss and a good look around.