Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chess, Pirates, and Goodbyes

My last few weeks with my First Grade class.
(*Dawson & Tim in the back, Amy and Fiona next to me)We covered the concepts of treasure, pirates, puzzles and passwords. Last semester, with Mr. Joseph and for the graduation theme, my kids participated in a song/dance/skit, performing a song called, Shiver Me Timbers, and would often burst into song during my class. (*Dawson and his hook ^_^)

So I made up a map, had them go through a treasure hunt, figuring out clues and giving the passwords to other took us a week to complete.
The kids had to figure out the password from the clues, then tell the teachers in the adjoining classrooms the password before they had permission to search for the next clue. The kids did great, and figured out all the clues without my help.
(*Keith (with the sword) and Tim (with the eye patch))
(*Jack, Dawson and Tim. Tim has the treasure chest on his head, and is carrying all the clues)

Just when I started getting used to teaching this class, I had to learn how to teach another class. lol. Funny how things work like that.
(*Fiona, Natasha (the sisters), Tim, Keith, Amy (sweetest child in the world), and of course, Dawson in the front ^_^ Always a ham)
(*Jack and Dawson are doing the "handsome" hand signal ^_^)
(*Their "scary" faces. Well, except for Dawson, still doing his handsome face)
(*The sisters. And Dawson ^_^)

(*Amy and me! We had a rule that if you didn't get your name on the board for a week, you would get a small prize, usually some type of snack)

(*Tim, Amy and me)

During this semester, during break time, I taught the kids a few games. It turns out they loved learning Chess. And they were very good at it! After my first few games with them, I had to stop being nice to them so they wouldn't beat me. ^_^ lol. I'm a little kid sometimes and hate losing, so I had to be mean to them sometimes. hehe
(Tim and Keith playing Chess)

Both Tim and Keith just learned the game this semester. Dawson was very good at it already. In addition to English cram schools, Advance Chess is also a popular cram school.

(*Keith and Dawson playing. Tim watching the game)

I miss these kids already.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hualien, Toroko Gorge

Early, on Saturday morning, I left for Hualien. I took the train and got there six hours later. Because Nathaniel and Michelle were still in Green Island, I had the entire day to myself. I met up with Blanchard, the couch-surfing host we were staying with, went on a whale/dolphin watching tour, sat around and watched a free concert in the park, watched a movie, got a shoulder and neck massage by a blind masseuse...all alone. It was interesting because I like being alone, but not when I'm traveling. I want that experience to share with other people.

Sunday, we tried to find the local ward, and found the chapel, but it turns out they changed the meeting times to earlier. We went to watch a free aboriginal show later that night.

On Monday, we rented bikes and biked down Toroko was beautiful. Breath-taking cliffs, waterfalls, deep chasms... I was reminded how much I love the cool wind, running water, and green mountains. The water off the mountains was supposidly so pure that you could drink it, and we saw people pull over from their cars, go to the side of the road where water was dripping, and fill up their water bottles and drive off. So we did too.

From Toroko, we biked down to Hualien. I think it was around 25-30 miles in total. Definitely worth the trip, if only for that. We got daught in the rain while biking. It has been a long while since I've been caught in the rain. Everyone here is so paranoid about acid rain, they all wear ponchos...I forgot how wonderful the rain feels on bare skin. ^_^

We basically just relaxed the last day I was there. It was good. I wish I had more time just to get a feel for the area, but it was good as it was. ^_^ It was a very nice, relaxing weekend trip. I'm glad to be home though, and in my element teaching.

In November, there's a marathon, half-marathon, and 5K in Toroko Gorge. I'm wondering if I should do the half...

Etc:Blah, blah, blah

By age 24, I thought I'd have more of my life together. I would be self-assured, confident.

Instead, I find myself often plagued with the same insecurities that followed me throughout my entire life.

Am I really this shallow? I will never look perfect, I will never feel graceful. I'll never be the brilliant mind, the type I admire so much. People don't expect me to have all that though. I'm not as great as I try to make myself out to be. I'm not fooling anyone. I need to set up a realistic self-image of myself.

But on the other hand, I never know if that image is correct either. I keep fluctuating between self-adoration and delusions of grandeur, and self-loathing with a hyper-awareness of my flaws and mistakes.

With me, there's rarely a happy medium.

As my mid-twenties are hitting me smack in the face, I'm getting worried; Career? Money? Marriage?

Questions and deadlines I have always been aware of, just not concerned with are now hitting me with a renewed sense of panic. Will I be able to fit everything in within the deadline I set for myself? Why on earth did I set a deadline anyway? Just so I can panic now??

And yet, I'm still relatively at peace and happy. I still say and do the wrong things, but I have to keep reminding myself that eternity isn't forever. It's made up day to day. Hour to hour. Minute to minute. So I screw up. I can still reach salvation in the next minute. It's not all lost. I can still save myself.

Happiness, for sure, is an attitude. I can choose to be happy. I can choose to let things defeat me, or I can defeat them.

However. Joy is much harder to choose. Happiness is only on the surface. Joy is something else. Peace. Hope. Trust. Along with Happiness. For me, hope is the one that flits in and out. Sometimes it fills me to the brim. Other times, I feel as if the void will swallow me whole.

When I have that Hope, peace comes naturally. I have the trust that everything will be ok.

Sometimes I get so frustrated because language is so limiting. But language defines our reality. It sets the perimeters, gives absolute structure to the world so we can make sense of it. We must confine it, tame it, control it, and gain absolute control to be able to aptly express ourselves.

The accuracy of your ideas depend on your ability in the language. Even Art, which can speak to our deepest emotions even more than words ever could, is limited by space and time. Paintings, sculptures. Music, which can wash over you in pure emotion, is limited by time. Even the most moving of melodies wouldn't speak to us the same way if it were sped up, or if we played it all simultaneously.

But all these language inspire the creative mind. Isn't that interesting? The creative mind. The mere fact that humans can create. We are all mini-gods in our own micro-universe. We have the power of creation, even in something as "left-brained" as language. Creation. Now that's empowerment.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Toilets, Concerts, Buddhas & Miracles

It's been a busy week. A busy, fun week.

On Thursday, after classes, Erin and I took the HSR to Taipei to see Linkin Park, Hoobastank, and All American Rejects in concert. Even though the typhoon had passed, it was still somewhat rainy. Because we taught our classes until 4pm, and the concert started at 6pm -- with the travel time including two taxis, and the High Speed Rail -- we got there at 6:20pm...just making the end of the set for All American Rejects. But it was ok, since I wasn't that familiar with their music (I stopped listening to music in the 90s...). :P

Hoobastank was awesome. Linkin Park was amazing; I absolutely loved them. The energy from the crowd was palpable. They donated most of the money from their ticket sales to help the victims of the typhoon here. It was a great concert in all.Notice everyone is wearing ponchos...if it wasn't for the acid rain, I probably wouldn't care that it was a little wet.

On Friday, my friend Nathaniel and Michelle made it to Feng Yuan. Nathaniel and Michelle had been backpacking around the Philippines for a week, then they came out to Taiwan where they will spend a total of three weeks, then back to the Philippines for a few more days.

I would love to be able do that. But right now, I'm happy where I'm at. It was good to see Nathaniel again. I hadn't seen him in almost three years.
On Saturday, I took Nathaniel and Michelle to the pink temple and we attempted to find the 5 God Tree...we only made it to the temple. We decided to lock up our bikes and walk up the temple, which is pretty large. I'm always amazed at the view from up there...the temple is nestled into the hillside, which is overlooking the city. It's beautiful.

We went down, and when we got to our bikes, we realized I gave Michelle the wrong key to the bike Nathaniel took the locked bike on the back of his bike, and I took Michelle on the back of my bike. lol. My legs got quite a workout.

Then we, and Sarah, Lindsay, Wendy, Sunny (fellow teachers), Joanne, and Angus (Joanne's brother), decided to go to Lukang, the historical harbor town. I love how quaint it is, and I never get tired of walking down the old brick streets, stopping to read the plaques.

Sunny, Nathaniel, and Joanne looking at a street seller's goods.

After Lukang, we stopped in Taichung to eat at Modern Toilet. Ah, it never fails to make me laugh. Cute little poo everywhere.

Michelle and her toilet!

Sarah, washing her hands in the "sink." The chairs to the tables were made out of toilets too.

On Sunday after church, we went farther south to Chuanghua to see the large Buddha. I realize I travel very strangely. I usually have a vague idea where I’m going, then just figure out things as I go along. Most of the time, this process gets me lost. This time it worked out for me, as there were many maps at every major intersection.

The Buddha was pretty cool, not as large as the one in Hong Kong, but still pretty impressive. You could see him from a far distance, above the city, partially hidden in the mountainous trees.

Early Monday morning, at 7am, before classes, Wendy, Michelle, Nathaniel and I decided to try to find that elusive 5 God Tree again. The beginning of the journey was fine. I had previously asked Molly how to get there…but I think I misinterpreted the directions. We got a little lost, and it turned out to be just a really nice bike ride in the mountains. Then we decided to stop, and go along a path that was only about four feet wide, with brush on one side, and a drop-off on the other.

Leading the way, I decided (now in hindsight, stupidly), to try to bike up a particularly steep portion, when I realized I probably couldn’t make it, I second guessed myself, then tried to reach the ground by taking my feet off the petals, then not being able to because of my short, stubby legs….I could feel myself falling toward the edge. I knew if I tried to regain my balance, I would probably keep stumbling and fall off the edge. So I decided to aim for the ground instead.

My last thought was, “This is probably going to hurt.”

Luckily, it didn’t. I just got a few scratches. My bike somehow landed upside-down, and teetered on the very edge. Everything from my bike basket ended up on the ground near the river 10 feet below, but Nathaniel was able to retrieve them.

I honestly feel like it was a miracle I didn’t go over the edge. We went back to our bikes, and AGAIN realized we had the wrong keys to the wrong bike lock…so this time, Nathaniel carried Wendy on the back of his bike, and again, I took Michelle on the back of my bike. I believe someone wise once said that Experience is recognizing the same mistake you made before, as you are doing it I think it fit this situation. My legs will be pure muscle by the time their vacation is over.

Later, we used a scooter to go back into the mountains and, with the correct key (again, I’m really sorry Shannon for taking your bike and making you worry!) made it down safely. I made it in time to shower and get ready for my classes that day, too.

Tae Kwon Do class has been extremely fun lately. I was supposed to take a test today, but I wasn’t able to make it, since on Tuesdays I teach a writing class from 7pm to 9pm. But I feel that it was a good thing, since I don’t feel confident on my new material yet. I learned two new forms in the last week.

This week is also my last week for Summer Chinese classes. Fall semester starts in September, so I’ll get at least a week break. This Saturday, I’m heading over to Hualien where I’ll meet up with Nathaniel and Michelle as they continue their adventures in Taiwan. It will be nice to have a four-day break from classes. Hopefully, I’ll meet up with one of my old Writing Class student who is going to school now in Hualien. It should be a good week.

Last Sunday, with the typhoon winds still howling, I went to make dumplings with Joanne and her family. Her younger brother Angus was there, her dad, and her grandma. Her grandma speaks mainly Taiwanese, a little Chinese, and very little English. I speak no Taiwanese, barely any Chinese, and only was so much fun to be able to be a part of it.

Her house reminded me a little of our house in Kahului. It was very cozy, and even though the wind was howling and the rain was pouring outside, inside it felt very calm. We made a lot of dumplings, and ate a lot of dumplings. I felt bad, since I'm not a perfectionist, and there is a specific way to make the dumplings...well, at least fold it. My dumplings were the ugly ones.

I've decided I need to cook more. Every Sunday, I am going to try to make bulk, so during the week, I can just pull it out of the freezer, warm it up or cook it, and eat it. Yesterday, it was so nice to be able to just pull out the dumplings and boil them and eat them with some edemame and tofu.

Tonight, Erin and I had Tuna Tofu Miso burgers...and they were delicious. I definitely want to try out new recipies...but during the week, it's just so hard to find time between classes, teaching and other things I try to fit into the day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Typhoon Morakot


In Thai, Morakot means "emerald."

It was the first Typhoon this season to make landfall on Taiwan.

It reached a Category 3 before smashing into the Eastern side of Taiwan.

It has created the biggest flooding in 50 years.

Southern Taiwan got 80 inches of rain on Friday and Saturday.

It has caused an estimated NT$800 million in agricultural damages (25 Million USD).

Several people are missing, mainly from rural villages.

1 million people in China have been evacuated from the coastlines.We thought it would be a mild typhoon, mild winds. But it wasn't the wind that caused the most damage, it was the rain. Mudslides, flooding. Still today, even as the typhoon has passed, it is raining and windy -- almost with more strength than when it was "technically" a typhoon. It's now considered a Tropical Storm because the winds aren't strong enough. But it hasn't stopped raining. And church was canceled today.

Somehow, saying, "Be careful what you wish for," sounds trite. We needed the rain to fill our reservoirs. There were concerns about water rationing in some areas. We just didn't need all the rain to come at once.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prayer, Answered

Yep. Typhoon Days don't come much better than when they fall on Fridays. For some odd reason, Typhoon Days always seem to fall on Fridays, creating those much-desired 3-day weekends...we must've done something right in a past life to get this. ^_^

When Sue, one of the secretaries, came up stairs to deliver us the news that we wouldn't have school tomorrow, I nearly hugged her. Unexpected and overwhelming joy in finding we didn't have to teach tomorrow led us roommates to dance giddily around our room like schoolgirls.

Being able to spend the day playing my guitar, drawing, reading a good book and catching up on homework, sounds absolutely fantastic right now. Tomorrow is going to be a good day. ^_^ From what I've been hearing, the storm has been recently downgraded to only a Category 2 tomorrow, so hopefully there'll be minimal damage.

Apparently Taiwan is somewhat in a near-drought state, so this rain will be very good for it.

Father's Day in Taiwan is happening this weekend, August 8th. The number 8 in Chinese is Ba (first tone), and the Chinese word for Father is Ba Ba (first tones), so the date 8/8 is like saying Ba Ba. I think it's a cute way to say Father's Day. ^_^ Hopefully all the families will just stay in and enjoy the long weekend together.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prayer to the Typhoon Gods

We haven't had any typhoons cancel school yet this semester. This same time last year, we already had two days canceled. We've had a few typhoons pass over the island, just none that were big enough to cancel school. My kids tell me it's terrible to wish for a typhoon to hit Taiwan. Typhoons do cause a fair amount of damage due to flooding. But, it's hard to get over the initial excitement of the possibility of having a day of school canceled, just like having a snow day.

Right now, it's pouring. The typhoon, even though it won't hit hard until Friday, will be a small one (or so tells our students).

This morning, though, was beautiful. Clear blue skies.

Wendy (a new teacher) and I went biking before classes. I took her to the temple in the mountains, past the water wheel, down the bike path. I had forgotten how much I love that area of town.

Instead of the concrete-city-like atmosphere, it's much more rural. Biking in that area always reminded me of the tiny roads in Alaska. Unlike in the States, most kids here never get to experience having front lawns or backyards to play in. They do sometimes have a roof top where they put swings, or a sidewalk area to play in (which is usually blocked by scooters and cars). One of my old students, Jennica (about 4/5 years old) lives right next to Berhan, and I often see her just sitting on a chair on the concrete sidewalk, right next to the road, watching scooters and cars pass (with her incomparable happy smile on her face, just tickled to be watching people). It's definitely interesting.
Rice Fields, right off the bike path.
Incense burner at the top of the temple.

But, out in the more rural areas, where the farmers make their living off wide-open spaces utilized for farming, it's a lot more peaceful. More open. More air to breathe.

When Molly and I were training for the marathon, we tried for find as many places to run as we could around the city. This meant we basically just ran around roads for hours, just to fill up our time and be less bored than running on the bike path. Molly was much more adventurous than I was, and she would always tell me about other things she discovered. She's the one that told me about this temple.

Next week, I want to find the 5 God Tree. Or the 5 Tree God. That one sounds fun. ^_^

1st Grade

I only get to teach my first grades until August 28th. Quite honestly, when I first learned I was going to be teaching this class instead of my normal (for the past year) Afternoon Kindergarten, I threw a tantrum. It was quite embarrassing, actually. I acted like a spoiled little 2 year old just because, as Kindergarten Head Teacher, I had assumed I would get to teach my kindergartners... That's what I get for assuming. ^_^

But now, after teaching this class 15 hours a week, I love them. And I'll be sad to see them go. I have Jack, Keith, Tim, Dawson, Amy, Fiona, and Natasha in this class. This is the strangest class ever...they actually want to learn! Whenever I give the option, they always opt for the "more homework" option. They are absolutely brilliant. I used to teach Keith's little sister (Sharlene) and Jack's little sister (Eve) in Afternoon Kindergarten, so it's pretty funny to see the same faces (except for the gender), and similarities in personalities. Or complete opposites. lol. Keith and Sharlene are so funny. ^_^
(*Amy, Dawson in the front. Keith and Tim in the back. Jack in the FAR back ^_^)

Many of them never had a banana split sundae before, so today, I treated them to make our own. I sugared them up quite a bit...which leads to another thing about this class. After attending my class for 3 hours a day, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they have to attend another class, Miss Shannon's class, for another 2 hours. So I'm very sorry Shannon. The extra sugar probably didn't help.
This is Jack, Eve's older brother, scarfing down his food.
Dawson and Tim. Dawson was sick today, so he couldn't eat anything cold. So he just ate a lot bananas and chocolate. Tim is the biggest sweetheart ever.Ah, Natasha. She's my Hermione. She is absolutely brilliant and always has her hand up in the air before everyone else. Her little sister, Fiona is in the class too (but didn't want her picture taken)...and I must say, it's tough having siblings in the same class.Keith is incredibly smart. He rivals Natasha to be the best in the class. They constantly fight to be the fastest, and best student in the class. So funny. So different than his sister, who is more funny-strange. lol. But she's growing out of that phase.

I only have three more weeks with this class. I still don't know what my schedule will be like for Fall Semester, but I hope it'll be just more of the same: adorable little kids.