Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Taroko Music Festival

Good news: My poor busted ankle has finally recovered enough for me to do some hiking again. To celebrate, I headed down to Taroko Gorge National Park to support my friend, fellow Fulbright ETA and French horn playing pro Dan Severson, who was playing in the annual Taroko Music Festival. To celebrate Taiwan's 100th birthday, this year the festival organizers decided to bring in 100 French horn players for one epic concert in Taroko.
Dan doing some last minute rehearsing before the concert
 They had free shuttle buses running from the train station to Taroko's visitors center (where the concert was being held). When Christine and I boarded our bus, the volunteer tour guide on board got on the loud speaker and started giving everyone all of the details about the concert and the day's events. But the highlight of her speech was when she announced: "And this year, we have two foreigners in the French horn group!" Although our fellow bus riders had been pretty quiet up until then, at this announcement everyone gasped and started excitedly discussing whether or not the foreigners were "shuai ge" (handsome boy) while Christine and I, the only non-Taiwanese people there, tried unsuccessfully to contain our laughter.

We got to the park at about noon and Dan's concert didn't start until 2, so Christine and I met up with Dan's wonderful LET Angela, who was also there early, and decided to hike Shakadang Trail.
Angela and I at the trail-head (which is actually a big staircase that leads to the base of a bridge)
Taroko is famous for it's great hiking and absolutely breathtaking scenery and I can tell you it doesn't disappoint. The lovely afternoon weather didn't hurt either (it didn't start raining until later). The trail we took ran along a long cliff overlooking the bluest river I've ever seen.
Look how blue it is! *I swear no photoshop was  involved in the making of these pictures*

But, just to make sure that you don't let the beauty of the place lull you into a sense of false security, the park has lots of signs like this to remind you that you just might die there at any time and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it:
"Falling rocks no stopping." 没办法 (mei ban fa), I guess you'll die.
By the time we got back to the concert venue, the show was about to start. All the chairs were full, so Christine and I watched the beginning of the concert from a tree (Angela refused to climb up with us). We soon became a source of great interest for all of the photographers and camera-men who were covering the event.
Making a scene as usual
The concert itself was very fun. I can't think of a much cooler venue than the bowl in the middle of a ring of gorgeous green mountains. My favorite moment of the day was when they played the "Jurassic Park" theme song since the whole area felt like something out of Jurassic Park already. Whoever made the fantastic decision to add that song into the repertoire, I salute you.  
Just wait... the raptors are coming...
Hangin with the star of the show!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanksgiving in Taiwan

This year I had my first Thanksgiving away from my family (not to mention my first Thanksgiving in a foreign country) so, to make up for it, I had two Thanksgivings. After all, Thanksgiving is a strictly American holiday and what's more American than drowning your sadness with an abundance of food, wine, and good company during the holidays? (That only sounds super melodramatic. I mean it as a joke.)

The first party was held in Taipei by the American Institute in Taiwan. It was held on the top floor of a ritzy apartment complex right by Taipei 101 and the Fulbright staff and all of this year's recipients were invited. All the food was delicious, especially the bread pudding, and William Stanton, the director of AIT, carved the turkey.

William Stanton and the head chef tackle the turkey
The whole Fulbright Yilan crew!
While the AIT Thanksgiving party was held the Friday before Thanksgiving, the second shindig was a somewhat more low-key event on Thanksgiving itself. The girls at the Zhongshan apartment (where I lived for the first month after I arrived in Taiwan) were awesome enough to host a great big pot luck for all us Yilan-ites. Turns out that, when we pooled our resources, we had just about everything traditionally required for Thanksgiving dinner (except maybe green bean casserole) and a few distinctly Taiwanese things to boot.  

One of our food tables (there was a separate salad/sandwich table and a third for drinks and desserts)  
Through a funny twist of fate, we even ended up with a big fat turkey with all the fixins from a fancy restaurant in Taipei free of charge. Of course, then the problem was actually getting the turkey from said restaurant to the party in Yilan. But Vivian (who lives in Taipei) came to the rescue, volunteering to pick up the 6kg turkey and bringing it all the way to Zhongshan apartment in a taxi. 

Christine, the only one of us who had ever carved a turkey before, shows off her handiwork

*Sappy moment of the day* This Thanksgiving, I was thankful that, even though I was about as far away from my home and my family as I could possibly be, I was still fortunate enough to be surrounded by good food and great friends. 
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us in Yilan!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich

Let me begin this story by saying that, as a child, I loved Shel Silverstein. So, when it came time to pack up my life and move to Taiwan for a year to teach English to elementary school children, I reveled in the idea of getting to share this particular aspect of American culture and language with my new students. Despite the weight restrictions on my luggage, I ran to the store and picked up a copy of my favorite book of his poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I've just been itching to use it in the classroom ever since.

Then, my day came. My fourth graders at Dong Sing Elementary were learning about food and, since it was midterms week, we didn't want to start a new lesson yet. We wanted to do something fun but still somewhat on topic, a review activity of sorts. So I turned to good ol' Shel and found "Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich." It goes like this:

by Shel Silverstein  
A hippo sandwich is easy to make.
All you do is simply take
One slice of bread,
One slice of cake,
Some mayonnaise,
One onion ring,
One hippopotamus, 
One piece of string, 
A dash of pepper-
That ought to do it,  
And now comes the problem... Biting into it!

Siena and I read the poem with our students and taught them a few new vocab words like "bite," "hippopotamus" and "mayonnaise." Then the real fun began: we assigned all of our students the task of writing their own recipes by changing the animal and all the food words in the poem. The best part: since Shel Silverstein's poem had an illustration, I made all of my students illustrate their poems as well. Some of them are, admittedly, a little bit gruesome if you think about it too much but they're just so funny I had to share. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Looking like it just stepped out of Sanrio, Lily's elephant sandwich was one of the cuter submissions 

Roger decided to add a few sprinkles of rainbow to his whale sandwich

I don't know if you can see it but this cat sandwich comes complete with a "slice" 
of dog (or at the very least a mini dog strapped to the cat's back)

Don't forget to add one car and some jam next time you make yourself a "pig sandwich"

Davis and his recipe for a dog sandwich (although it's really more of an impressively 
drawn wolf sandwich if you ask me)

And, last but not least, we have my absolute favorite: Vic's dog sandwich.
It was my favorite mostly because of Vic's unflinching realism. Unlike all of his classmates with their happy smiling sandwich centerpieces, Vic went to great lengths to reinforce that the dog in his sandwich is, in fact, dead. Just in case it wasn't enough that the dog's eyes X-ed out and its tongue is lolling, at the last minute Vic grabbed his pencil and added the dog's angelic spirit rising from the sandwich. And let's just stop for a minute and reflect on how very proud he looks about the whole thing.
Here's a close up in case you couldn't see the angel dog in the other shot: