Monday, November 28, 2011

Luodong: The farms, food, and baby animals grand tour

Thanks to my twisted ankle, hiking and other forms of walking-intensive travel were off the plate for a few weeks. But don't worry, I've still been keeping busy. For starters, Christine and I figured out how to bake muffins in a toaster oven (a general lack of conventional ovens in Asia is just one of those "cultural differences" I'm learning to get over).
Experiment #1: Pumpkin cream cheese muffins
If you can't tell, we voted them a success
Then, Christine, Cherrica and I got to go on a scooter-tour of Luodong with my host dad, Jason. As you may have inferred from my blog post title, baby animals and food figured heavily in said tour (my host family has already figured out my two favorite things).

After a wonderful lunch of homemade pork and green onion dumplings, we started off our tour at a goat farm/baby animal petting zoo/cafe/kid's carnival. I realize that that's a really bizarre description but I don't know how else to explain it. Anyhow, we skipped the carnival rides and headed straight for the animals.

Jason says, "bahh!"
The piglets were my favorite. I was sorely tempted to take one home with me (side note: this farm lets you rent piglets by the night, so taking one home with me was a legitimate option).

The farm also lets you buy milk by the bottle to feed to the piglets and the baby goats.

Awww! So darn cute! 

The farm also had some friendly free-range chickens and turkeys wandering about the cafe and the neighboring playground.

 Feeding the goats was also an option.

Of course, not all of the goats were strictly interested in eating grass.

And, just in case you still haven't reached your cute quote for the day, here's a baby bunny:
Happy year of the rabbit!
When Cherrica and Jason finally managed to drag Christine and I away from the animals, we headed to the night market for lunch (despite the somewhat deceptive name, many parts of Taiwan's famous night markets are open during the day as well). After a quick ride around town during which Jason pointed out all of the good places to eat, visit, or park a scooter, we stopped to pick up some 蔥油餅 (green onion pancakes) from the most popular stand in Luodong. For desert, I tried 豆花 (a desert made of shaved ice, tapioca pearls, and sweet tofu pudding) for the first time. 

 Lunch! Christine (right) got traditional 豆花 with peanuts while Cherrica (left) went for tried grass jelly (I promise, it tastes a lot better than the name makes it sound).

Next, we headed out of the city and into a beautiful patch of countryside to visit Happiness 20, a farm/restaurant/park with its own orchard and an emphasis on DIY crafts. Again, weird description but "farms" I've been to in Taiwan are just so different than most farms back home. I think maybe a tourist-friendly organic farm run by hippies in Vermont is about the closest you would come in the US.

Two of Jason's friends opened the farm a few years ago, so parts of it are still being built and expanded. One of the most fun things about the farm was their DIY pizza station, complete with a brick pizza oven (which Jason's friend constructed after watching an instructive YouTube video). We built a fruit, honey, and marshmallow dessert pizza and the owner's kids joined us to make a more traditional ham, tomato sauce, and green pepper pizza.

 We used honey for sauce. Other toppings included, pineapple, bananas, marshmallows, 
tomatoes (they're a fruit in Taiwan), and cheese. I feel like this should also be filed under 
"sounds weird, tastes wonderful."

After they put our pizza in the oven, we got to feed the goats while we waited for the food to cook. No offense to Dixie Crossroads, which will always be a special part of my childhood, but this was way more fun than feeding the fish while you wait for your dinner.

When they were ready, both pizzas were delicious. 

And we had fun herbal flower tea, complete with edible flowers, to go with it!
What more can a girl ask for?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How I twisted my ankle (and then proceeded to make it worse by climbing a mountain)

So let me begin by apologizing for my radio silence of late. All I can say is:
現在生活是瘋了 (My life is crazy right now).
Anyhow, here's a quick story about my complete lack of grace and how I ended up limping around Taiwan for the last few weeks.

It all started with Taipei's annual Gay Pride Parade, which is the biggest gay pride event in Southeast Asia. Sadly, one of the reasons for the magnitude of this event is that in many countries here being gay is still considered a crime. So once a year LGBT citizens from all over head to Taipei to celebrate and protest. This year's there was "Discrimination get out!" A group of us Yilan-ers all decided to head up to Taipei for the afternoon to take in the festivities and show some anti-discrimination solidarity. We knew it would be a fun afternoon when this is what greeted us when we got off the subway:
Yes angel dog!
There was also your usual cast of colorful characters:

One of several Lady Gagas to make an appearance
There were a significant number of protesters from Malaysia, a predominantly
Muslim country where gay rights are still nonexistent 
All in all, it was a very fun event. If you want to know more, there are some short articles about the Gay Pride parade here and here.

So back to the point of this story: my poor busted ankle. After the parade was over, Christine and I were wandering around the Da'an district searching for a famous cookie shop and generally killing time until we could meet up with my friends Stephanie and Colleen (who had planned to come to the parade with us but were running rather late due to some unexpected circumstances). Right about the time they were supposed to show up, Christine and I were walking out of this really cute (but kind of bizarre) candy store.

I say cute because of this:

And bizarre because of these: 
Please note that the chocolate band-aids say "Queer-aid." Not sure what that's about. 
Seriously, who would ever think it was a good idea to market candy pads?
I don't think I can think of anything less appetizing. 
As we walked out, I didn't notice the step down from the entrance, so I stepped my foot totally wrong. You would think that with how often I trip over my own two feet I would have learned to catch myself by now. But no. Instead, I received my first real twisted ankle. Actually, as it turns out, I did worse than that. I managed to give myself a partially torn ligament. Ouch. But I didn't know that yet. So I convinced myself that it wasn't really all that bad and doggedly limped after my friends the rest of the evening.


The next day, we had planned to go hiking in one of the many forest recreation areas in Yilan county. However, given the very swollen state of my ankle by the time we got home from Taipei, we ruled that plan out. Instead, we decided to take a nice, leisurely scooter ride over to Plum Blossom Lake. It's a beautiful area and you can rent these ridiculous 4-person bikes to ride around the lake (For some reason, I find multi-person bikes very funny).

On the little island in the middle of the lake
And now we come to the part of the story where I took my already busted ankle and managed to make it worse. You see, in addition to ridiculous bikes, Plum Lake is also home to the largest Taoist temple in Taiwan. Unfortunately, it's on the side of a mountain that you're not allowed to take bikes up.

Of course, my friends wanted to hike up and see it. I tried to just stay with the bike but they convinced me that I just had to come. For the record, hiking up a mountain the day after you sprain your ankle: not such a great idea. If I weren't so darn stubborn, I would have done the smart thing and given up after a few yards. But I have to say, the view from the temple was great. The temple itself was very pretty as well.
We made it! 

By the time we had climbed all the way back down to our bike, my ankle had given up for the day. It was pretty much me and an ice pack for the rest of the evening. 


When the swelling in my ankle didn't go down after a few days, Christine, who as a ballroom dancing instructor has had ample experience with sprained ankles, knew something wasn't right and finally managed to drag my butt to a doctor (resisting and insisting that I was fine the whole way, of course). He took an ultrasound of my swollen ankle and found that I had a partially torn ligament. He printed off a picture of it "for my scrapbook" and told me to get an ankle brace and stay off my feet as much as possible for a few weeks to let it heal. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Halloween in Taiwan Part 3: Pei Cheng

Funny faces, everyone!
When planning out Halloween activities for Pei Cheng, I was told to wear my Halloween costume on Wednesday and Thursday and that all of the English teachers would tell their students that, if they dressed up on either day, they could go trick-or-treating in my classroom. However, the school decided at the last minute that there were simply too many kids who wanted to participate so we had to move trick-or-treating to the courtyard because the principal was afraid it might become a safety hazard if all of the kids tried to come my classroom at once. That's right, we had to adjust our plans in order to avoid a candy-driven riot of adorableness. I love my job.

In the end, the way the Halloween festivities at Pei Cheng ended up going down kind of made me feel like a mall Santa (okay, more like a twisted Nightmare Before Christmas-type mall Sandy Claws in a bat costume).

Getting ready to see all the good little boys and girls
It was a two day extravaganza. The school set up a whole display stage on which the students could (between classes) come up and trick-or-treat with my co-teacher, David, and I. Instead of helper elves, I had the 6th grade hall monitors (in the purple vests) working as my bouncers all day. They had to set up little orange cones for crowd control. We even set up a festive holiday background for kids to have their pictures taken with me in front of.

My bouncers getting ready for action as the class bells ring and the kids run
to get in the trick-or-treat line
We were a popular attraction
Posing with the Halloween background board.
Note: I don't think Christmas boy's parents really understood the whole
"Halloween" thing when they were dressing him this morning
(which only made him all the more adorable)
Perhaps the free candy had something to do with it, but Halloween at Pei Cheng was a big hit. The kids loved it (some of them even switched costumes with their friends and tried to come back 4 or 5 times over the 2 days we had trick-or-treating) and even the principal got involved. He dressed up as a "killer" and helped hand out candy. One of my Taiwanese friends later informed me that this is very unusual (her actual word was "shocking") since, in Taiwan, principals are known for always being very serious and professional. I guess I'm just lucky to get to work with a principal who likes to have fun!

Hanging with spiderman and Pei Cheng's "killer" principal (heh heh heh, puns)
Candy for everyone!
Long story short, teaching in Taiwan has given me just one more reason to love Halloween. For more pictures (including close ups of some of the kids' adorable costumes), you can go to the school's photo album at:

Happy Halloween to all and to all a good night!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Halloween in Taiwan Part 2: Party at Dong Sing

See? Teaching is fun.
Have I ever told that you that I love Halloween? Because I love Halloween. Don't get me wrong, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are great too but, for my money, Halloween just about the most entertaining holiday around. So imagine the sheer joy I felt when I showed up at Dong Sing Elementary last Tuesday for our school Halloween party only to discover that Halloween might, dare I say, be even more entertaining as an export.

I've always been a sucker for homemade costumes and creativity and my students my kids had both in spades. Who knew that trashbags and paper could be such versatile costuming materials?

Siena and I with our 3rd graders. Confession: we didn't get a lot of work done in class that day (and it was awesome!) 
Homemade goodness
That's right, he made his own flamethrower. Never underestimate the creativity
of little boys given permission to make their own weapons.

The principal let Siena and I organize a school wide Halloween party after lunch. All 138 students had to wear a costume of some sort (as I mentioned, the vast majority were homemade). The teachers all pitched in and a some of the parents even came in to help out. While it's been gaining popularity over the past few years, Halloween isn't really celebrated here in Taiwan. So it was really great how everyone was so willing to go out of their way to help me spread this little piece of American culture.

My very happy 2nd graders
Here are some highlights from the festivities:

1. Cookie-on-a-String Eating Contest (adapted from the donut-on-a-string race)

We decided that buying a donut for every student would be too expensive, so we switched to cookies. It took Siena and I an hour to tie all of the cookies up but it was totally worth it. Watching all of my students struggling to eat a cookie without their hands? Priceless.

We had a little too much fun
preparing for the cookie race.

The kids are chanting "Chi diao," which basically translates to "Eat it all!"

2. The Mummy Race 

Mummy Siena lending a hand
The toilet-paper-mummy race is an all-time Halloween favorite of mine. The students at Dong Sing all seemed to approve as well : ) 

Get ready...

... get set... 


3. Pin the Tail on the Cat

A Halloween-y twist on the classic party game. For the record, it was originally supposed to be a black cat (but whatever).

4. Trick-or-Treating

We finished off our Halloween party with a quick trick-or-treating run around the neighborhood. Siena talked with the neighbors who lived closest to the school and all those that volunteered to help out were subsequently engulfed by a candy fueled mob of cuteness. 

Somehow, I don't think they minded.

 Of course, as with most aspects of American culture that have been imported by Asia, I don't think everyone quite got it. Instead of giving candy to the trick-or-treaters, one older gentleman in the neighborhood handed out tea eggs (basically eggs that have been hard boiled in tea instead of water).

"Gabby teacher, what am I supposed to do with this?"
Then again, who hasn't been given something completely random and decidedly not sugar based while trick-or-treating (a toothbrush, a box of raisins, plastic army men, etc)? I guess it's an American Halloween tradition after all.