Monday, August 29, 2011

Moving day & how I almost got struck by lightening

Last Friday, I moved.  I pretty much didn't sleep the night before because I was dreading having to move again. I mean, really, packing up all my stuff and moving to a new city twice in one month is a little bit excessive. Thankfully, I had Siena to help me move from my temporary apartment in Yilan to my permanent apartment in Luodong.

Good news: Luodong is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL city! I'm in an awesome apartment building that's surrounded by cute little restaurants and right across the street from the Luodong Sports Park (which is huge, very green, and comes complete with a lake and a public swimming pool). My new place even has two balconies.
The front balcony facing the Sports Park (and what appears to be a castle)
A panorama I put together of the view from the balcony by my bedroom
The entry way and courtyard of my building
The bad news is that the apartment was trashed (literally) when we moved in. My new bedroom is right next to the kitchen and all the trash in the apartment (possibly several weeks of it) was left piled up in my doorway. Which meant that there were bugs. Lots of bugs. For our first order of business as the new tenants, Christine and I sorted and bagged up all the trash and threw it on the back porch so it wouldn't keep attracting creepy crawlies to our kitchen. Then came the Raid. We pretty much used an entire can of Raid on the kitchen alone. 

Our LETs were nice enough to take us to the store to buy cleaning supplies before they had to go back to school, so we got to spend the rest of the day mopping, scrubbing, and generally disinfecting everything in the apartment. By the time we had finished and unpacked, it kind of started to feel like home. My new room even has a window to the outside world!
My room
The kitchen. I promise it's cleaner right now!
Then came the part of the evening I'm sure you're all wondering about: how I almost got struck by lightening. The trouble all started with the fact that Christine, Lauren, and I had all moved to Yilan while our bikes had not. So, of course, the only logical thing to do was go get them and ride them the 5-6 miles back to Luodong. At night. During a massive pre-typhoon thunderstorm.

The plan started out innocently enough. We were going to get one of Christine's LETs to take us back to Yilan at around 3pm, a reasonable time for a leisurely bike ride to be sure. Then she had to push the time back. Then she had to cancel. By the time our replacement ride dropped us off at our old apartment, it was around 5:30 or 6 and darker out than it should have been at that hour because of the clouds that had just rolled in. But, we reminded ourselves, we were already there and didn't have any other way to get home. We had to ride our bikes and, besides, it was hardly even drizzling outside.

In the beginning, the ride was actually rather nice. Between the light rain and the fact that it was getting dark out, it was the first time it had felt cool outside since we arrived in Taiwan. Then, as we got to the bridge connecting the two cities, the thunder started. Very loud thunder and very close lightening. Christine, deciding that she was definitely going to get struck by lightening if she stayed on the bridge, declared "every man for himself" and rode like the devil to the other side. I myself have a greater fear of getting hit by a speeding vehicle than I do of getting struck by lightening, so I proceeded with a slightly less frantic pace.

On the other side of the bridge was a bike path along the river. On a sunny day, I'm sure it was beautiful. When you're riding your bicycle 5 or 6 miles in a thunder storm, the lightening is a little more breathtaking than the view. When we finally made it to the far side of the Luodong Sports Park (which was totally deserted), we stopped to take refuge at the little cafe by the lake right as it started pouring. We had a nice little ice cream break under the overhang while we sat out the worst of the storm. After it had more or less rained itself out, we finally got back on our bikes and rode the rest of the way home.

We were so happy to have made it back to our nice, dry apartment in one piece that Christine and I decide to just get some take out food from the dumpling place next door for dinner, watch some reruns of It's Always Sunny on my computer, and call it a night.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The English Village

This week, we were introduced to the English Village. This is the Yilan County English Village:
Basically, the EV was created in order to share the Fulbright love or, as our director Dr. Vocke put it, "To spread you guys as thin as possible." Since there are 72 elementary schools in Yilan County and only 16 Fulbrighters, the students at many schools don't get the opportunity to interact with us (even though many of us were placed at two schools). So the EV is a way for the 5th graders at every school in the county to get to learn from a native English speaker, even if its only for the duration of a field trip one day a year. I (along with half of the other Fulbrighters) am scheduled to man the English Village every Friday morning. 

The inside of the English Village is actually pretty cool. They have set up 6 stations to provide real life situations in which the kids can practice their English. 
The Shopping Station, where we get to make the kids play our own
version of Supermarket Sweep!
The Health Care station, where I get to be a medical professional. Who would have
guessed when my sister went to nursing school that I would beat her to the punch?  
The Airport/Customs Station. Complete with a legit mock up
of the inside of an airplane. 
See? Real seats and everything! 
They also had a big pile of airplane life vests to play with!
I've always been tempted to inflate one, now I don't have to.
Siena has a serious face because "We're all about to crash into the ocean and die."
The other stations are a mail center, TV studio, dance studio, and coffee shop/restaurant. I'm not really looking forward to commuting to Yilan bright and early every Friday morning but, all in all, it's a pretty interesting place. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about it later.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


When I was a child, people always had problems saying and spelling my name. As a result, I now have a kind of obsession with names. Once, I even wrote a term paper about them for sociology. So it's only appropriate that I have a post about what people are calling me here in Taiwan.

The Chinese name Kelly (one of our program directors) gave me when I first arrived is 丁柏雅 (Ding Bo-ya). 丁 (Ding) is just a last name that is similar to Dean. Technically, it translates to "nail" in English. 柏雅 has a bit more meaning to it. 柏 (Bo) means cypress or cedar and 雅 (ya) means elegant. So, in English, my Chinese name literally translates as "elegant cypress,"which I'm cool with. I don't mind being an elegant tree. And I'm rather proud to say that in the past three weeks I've actually learned to respond to my new Chinese name (well, most of the time).
The Taiwanese are very proud of their Taiwanese cypress trees. This cypress was
in the annex when we went to our press conference at the county office.
As far as my English name goes, Taiwanese people in general have a lot of trouble pronouncing Gabrielle. So everyone has taken to calling me Gabby instead (Gab is also a challenge since most Chinese words end in vowel sounds instead of consonants). But, funny story, my LET has since informed me that "Gabby" sounds just like the Taiwanese word for "coffee." Then again, I guess having my students address me as "Teacher Coffee" all year is somewhat appropriate when you consider that I was the only ETA so attached to my morning brew that I brought a coffee press with me to Taiwan.
My trusty coffee press. The awesome cover is
compliments of my very talented sister!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Teaching demo

Today I taught my first English class! School doesn't actually start until next week but, in order to give us all a chance to practice with out LETs before our first day, everyone in the program made a lesson plan last Friday and participated in teaching demos today. An, happy day, my lesson went really well!
My LET, Siena, and I taught a group of 1st-3rd graders. Our lesson was based around a cute little book of opposites that I got from the dollar bin at Target. We made up little actions to illustrate the meaning of each of the phrases and taught them to the kids. They really got into it.
As you can see, the kids were adorable!

After our lesson was done, I became an honorary student in the next lesson to even out the odd number of kids. We played rock, paper, scissors and the winner had to name and point to a body part in English while the loser pointed at a different body part.
Paper covers rock! One of the few times I beat my partner.
All in all, it was a fun day. I made some new friends and we even had a surprise guest wander into the classroom during Christine's lesson:
I guess she was an honorary student, too
Group shot of all the students, ETAs, and LETs in group A. What a fun bunch!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The day I climbed to the clouds

Yesterday I climbed Mt. Qixing. Now, for most people, mountains might not be a big deal but, to a Florida girl like me, mountains will always be something awesome and foreign. I mean sand dunes are about the closest thing Florida has to hills, never mind mountains.
So my day stated with a very early (but still not quite as early as we had intended) bus ride to Taipei, where we met up with Stephanie and then hopped on another bus to Yangmingshan National Park.
When we got there, we had to hike .6 kilometers from the public bus stop up to the park visitor's center. Little did we know when we arrived all sweaty (Taiwan is very hot and humid in the summer) at the top that that was only the first and easiest of our trecks for the day. Since the park is huge, we had planned on taking the shuttle bus around the park all day but when the buses that drove by were all too full to even bother stopping, we decided that perhaps we should just hike where we wanted to go. 
A display at the visitor's center
We all wanted to climb to the top of Mt. Qixing but we had planned to take the bus to Mt. Qixing park (a little over halfway up) and then hike to the top. When it became clear that that was not an option, we decided that the best plan of action was to just climb the whole darn thing. No sweat, right?
The view from the bottom
Looking beautiful (and, okay, a little moist) at the midway point
By the time we reached the midway point, we were out of breath and water. So we made a pit stop at the scenic Mt. Qixing park for lunch (peanut butter and jelly, of course) and made a few new friends.
Christine + these dogs = BFFs
Then, after a much needed break, it was back to the trail and to the top!
加油 Christine! We can do it!
While the first 1.2 km of the hike had a lot of stairs, the last 1 km was pretty much all stairs. Big, mossy, somewhat uneven stairs. Not gonna lie, it was rough. But it was totally worth the rivers of sweat running down our legs when the tree canopy opened up and we realized we were quite literally hiking in the clouds.
Even so, we were all relieved when we finally reached that all important trail marker telling us we were almost there!
All smiles with .2 km to go
Okay, this is how we really felt
Triumph and relief! I've finally made it to the peak!
The top of Mt. Qixing was like another world! It was so beautiful up there! Not to mention that this may be the only time in my life I can say I was literally getting hit in the face with clouds. It didn't even lessen our sense of accomplishment (much) that the four of us arrived at the top huffing and puffing and covered in sweat after being passed left and right by packs of retired Taiwanese people the whole way up. We made it and that's what counts!
We went back down the other side of the mountain, which is covered in volcanic steam vents. (Note: the walk down was also significantly faster than the walk up)
One of the vents on the path
The huge steam vent at the bottom of the mountain
From the parking lot at the bottom, we finally managed to find a shuttle bus with (barely) enough standing room to cram us on and proceeded to have the most terrifying ride ever to get back down to the park entrance. The bus driver was happily cruising along all those curvy mountain roads at speeds that, judging from the number of times we almost hit the guard rails and other vehicles, could not have been safe. My hand went numb halfway through from gripping the overhead handhold so hard.

But we're survivors, so we made it out of the park and, eventually, to Danshui (an old fishing village that's now a sea-side district of Taipei) for dinner. We went to snack street and tried all the local specialties: fish ball soup, 阿給 (a-gei: tofu packets stuffed with vermicelli noodles and covered in seafood/tomato sauce), and really tall ice cream cones! Then, just for fun, I had some squid balls. It was all delicious.
Mango/green tea swirl ice cream and friends, always a good way to end the day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It is decided! (a.k.a. placement part II)

Well folks, Monday was the moment of truth for the Yilan county's ETAs: the program managers finally announced which school(s) we would be teaching at for the next 10 months. And, lucky me, I got my first choice! I'll be teaching at two different schools this year: 北成國小 (Pei-Cheng Elementary) and 東興國小 (Dong Sing Elementary). 
The big reveal!
Both schools are in Luodong Township, which is about a 20 minute train ride south of Yilan City, so I'll be moving into an apartment down there at the end of the month. I'm very excited because I think both schools will be a great fit for me and my interests and, since one is a huge school in the city (Pei-Cheng) and the other is relatively small and a little more rural, working in both places will give me a unique opportunity to get to know the Taiwanese school system a little better.
Newman from Pei-Cheng and Siena from Dong Sing
Siena, my LET (Local English Teacher) for Dong Sing, is very nice and she's big into environmental education and using outdoor activities to teach. I'm thinking a game of red rover is in order! The only thing I'm a little bit nervous about is getting there everyday. It's too far from my apartment to walk or ride a bike, so I'll have to get a scooter and drive out there twice a week. So I've got my fingers crossed that I can pass the scooter test and get my license next week!
Dong Sing Elementary
I have yet to meet David, my LET for Pei-Cheng, but the school has sent two other teachers, Newman and Tolisa, to meet me and attend this week's orientation activities. They've both been awesome, so I take that to be a good sign. And the school has a ton of great facilities, including a television studio and a huge swimming pool in the basement (all the kids there take swimming lessons)! The school also has a Chinese calligraphy club that I'm allowed to join and art is one of the subjects the school as a whole places an emphasis on.
The float the school made for the Luodong Ghost Month parade (see last post for more info)
In short, my schools rock and I'm pumped to start the school year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's good to be a 外國人 (foreigner)

This past Saturday, my friends Cherrica and Christine and I decided to go on a daytrip to explore some new part of Yilan County. So we hopped on a commuter train down to Su'ao, about a 30 minute ride south from Yilan City. Su-ao is well known in Taiwan for its cold springs and, in the dead heat of summer, that's exactly where we headed! The water temperature definitely lived up to its name but it was really nice since it was in the mid 90s and very humid out.

After soaking for a few hours, we decided to grab some lunch at a noodle place and head on to our next destination: the Baimi (白米) Clogs Museum. I know what you're probably thinking: clogs in Taiwan? You're kidding, right? Interestingly enough, Taiwan was a Dutch colony during the colonial period. So it was that the village of Baimi turned to traditional clog making as a part of a community redevelopment project after the area's mining industry collapsed. 

The only problem with our plan? We couldn't find the bus stop we needed. We found the correct street and we found the stop going in the opposite direction but, despite our best efforts, we finally had to give up and ask for help at a comic book store. After trying the people working there argued about where it was for a few minutes, the store manager grabbed her cars keys, asked us where we were trying to take the bus to, and drove us to Baimi herself. I think I can safely say that this was our first experience with the famous Taiwanese hospitality everyone's always telling us about!

When we got to the museum, we had another stoke of foreigner's luck. There was a pretty substantial crowd waiting to go in and the girl working at the front desk told us there was a two hour wait for the tour. Then she paused for a minute, looked around, deliberated, and said (in Chinese), "Well, since you're foreigners and you came all the way from America to see our museum, maybe I could bump you up on the list a little bit." She called her boss, told her all about the two 外國人 (foreigners) from America and their friend who "spoke Chinese like a local" (a.k.a. Cherrica) and 10 minutes later we were on the tour. They even found a tour guide for us who could speak pretty good English!

Here are some photo highlights:
Cherrica and I tried on the two person clogs.
Four legged race anyone?
Carving a clog
I think they fit!
Just a few of the awesome clog bottoms they had to choose from
Getting fitted for my new shoes
The finished product! 
We managed to find the bus to get back to the train station from Baimi and took the train back up a few stops so we could end our day with a visit to the Luodong night market. They were having a big parade and festival to celebrate the Ghost Festival (which marks the middle of Ghost Month) and the end of the Luodong Arts and Crafts Festival. 
Ghost children dancing in the parade
The ghost/demon hunters weren't far behind
The monkey king!
Bonus: Night market means exciting food! Crepes filled with taro ice cream,
shaved peanut brittle, and cilantro are a specialty of Luodong.
Sounds weird, tastes amazing!