2014-04-20

Taiwan Animals Everywhere

Sorry I haven't posted in a really long time. But to be perfectly honest, not too many things have been happening that are worth posting.  Traveling has been minimal, and school has been pretty calm. The only thing is I am very ready to come home. I haven't mentally checked out yet, but once June hits, I'll probably start packing with great excitement. Although to be fair I'll probably need a month to sort through and organize what I want to leave and what I want to take home.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Green Island, one of only 3 places in the world with salt water hot springs.  I got to experience these wonderful hot springs, but I really couldn't tell the difference between them and normal ones (at least until some water got in my mouth).  No special health/beauty effects seen post- salt water hot spring soak.  We also got to go snorkeling on the coral reefs right near the beaches of the island, and that was absolutely incredible (unfortunately no pictures since I don't have a water proof camera).  And the final cool observation about the place was.... the goats.  There are wild goats seen all over the island and it was kinda cool to see them running up and down the side of these steep cliffs.

Wild goats!

On a cliff overlooking the ocean surrounding the island



Weather wasn't so good... so here is how you travel in Taiwan during the rainy days (full body ponchos)... only NT$75 at 7-11!
Last week, the Taichung ETAs took a little trip to a small town called Lishan, up in the mountains towards the center of the island.  It was COLD there.  Recently, most of Taiwan has been experiencing a comfortable 81 degree high recently (although honestly, with this humidity, feels more like 90 which is not as awesome).  But up in the mountains, I was pulling back out my coats.  In this small town, we put on a day English Camp for the students there since they don't have much access to foreigners/native English speakers.  It was an amazing trip, and I feel so lucky that I got to see all this.  Up in the mountains of Taiwan, I felt like I was in the Alps or something.  It was breathtaking...


Yes, we were high enough to be at cloud level



Teaching has been going great, and my knowledge of children's psychology goes up every day.  But the most exciting thing to happen this past week was this beauty... see if you can tell what it is you should be looking at....

Do you see that massive spider in the brown/clear container? If not, look again.  Luckily, I did not have the misfortune to trap this monster.  Now, I know you're probably thinking... "Oh it can't be that big... we don't have a reference point to compare it to...etc".  Let me give you a reference.  This is a species of spider in Taiwan that eats not only mosquitoes, but cockroaches as well.  Taiwan cockroaches. In case you didn't know, Taiwan cockroaches are about the size your middle and index finger put together (side note: when I get back to the States, I will never fear a cockroach again).  So to bring it back to our spider friend in the picture... one of his legs was as long as my middle finger.  One of the deans found it in the school and caught it.  My co-teacher and I were like "why didn't you just kill it????"  But she wanted to release it outside after school.  Which in hindsight was probably the best idea.... it kills the cockroaches so it must be our friend.... and that would have been a lot of spider guts to clean up.

Happy Easter everyone! He is Risen!

2014/4/22 update: Apparently a teacher took the spider home because she wanted to release it in her father's house which currently has a cockroach problem.  Yes, she willingly released that into her house.  Also, apparently it's not poisonous/dangerous to humans. I personally beg to differ.


2014-02-08

Korea Kicked Our Butts



To keep the good times rolling, I went to South Korea over the Winter Break (the Winter break here runs from January 20- February 9 because of Chinese New Year) for 9 days!  Some posts will be shorter than others due to unforeseen circumstances….

Day 1 (arrival):
A bright and beautiful day, comfortable temperatures, excellent airline service (seriously, Asian airlines could teach American airlines a thing or two about not cutting when it comes to customer service and comfort).  A wonderful landing in Seoul with it’s brisk weather…. Abruptly followed by me emptying the contents of my stomach on one of the Seoul subway platforms.

Gas masks available in the subways in case of an attack by a certain country
Day 2:
Out of commission due to stomach flu.

Day 3:
Feeling slightly better, but a little weak (and having 0 appetite), we headed off to check out the more traditional sights of Korea.  We visited two palaces: one was the main palace and the other was more of a vacation/retreat-to-in-case-of-emergency palace with a “secret” garden (called so because only the king, queen, and any special guests they allowed in could enter the garden). Because of Chinese New Year, all admissions were free and there were even some special events going on.  

Rooms in the "Retreat Palace"

More of "Retreat Palace"

Frozen pond, pavilion, and island that they would strand scholars on if they couldn't come up with a poem in the time it took them to float out to the island in a boat (all in the Secret Garden of the Retreat Palace)

At Main Palace... Changing of the Guards ceremony

Intricate details of some of the paneling in the palaces (can you find the bat? Bats were supposed to bring good luck and fortune in Korean culture)

Intricate gold dragon fixture on the ceiling of throne room in Main Palace

A lot of Korean women (and tiny girls) wore their traditional Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) in public as part of celebrating the New Year and it was beautiful to see the different colors and styles… even on the subway.  Pink seemed to be an overwhelmingly popular color. 

We also tried to check out a Korean night market, but it was all shut down because of the Chinese New Year.  Actually, a lot of things were shut down because of the New Year.  Some restaurants were still open (and our hostel owner supplied us with an overwhelming amount of ramen and other snacks), so we weren’t going to starve.  But after the New Year was over, we realized just how much of the Seoul nightlife we had been missing because of it.

Day 4:
Out of commission due to my boyfriend’s contraction of my stomach flu.  Needless to say I got to watch a lot of movies that day.

Day 5:
Find Eat Your Kimchi Day! So in case you don’t know, I follow some bloggers known as Eat Your Kimchi who are a Canadian couple living in Seoul.  They blog about Korean music, culture, living abroad as foreigners, and are just plain hysterical.  Anyway…. I really wanted to find their studio, especially since Google maps showed it was so close to where we were staying.  And success!

I didn’t get to meet them unfortunately, nor did I get to go inside the studio (1- it didn’t look like anyone was home, 2- I couldn’t find an entrance, and 3- my creepiness was only gonna go so far).  But it was still cool to see where the magic happens.

We tried to go to this REALLY cool café, but we didn’t find it.  As it turned out, they had moved locations, and the address I had was the old location. Luckily we had success the next day (so I won’t tell you what the café was just yet).

One of the big stops on our agenda was the Korea War Memorial/Museum.  I never knew much about the Korean war and it’s not something we cover thoroughly in any US History class I’ve ever taken, so it was really interesting to learn more about what caused it, why many thought it was necessary to get involved, and the impact the war still has on the Korean peninsula today. 

Memorial outside of the Museum

Day 6???:
After I finished writing this blog post I realized I was missing a day.  Or maybe I'm putting too many events on one day... hmmmm.... I was sick people, ok? Anywho... at one point we went to Namsan/Seoul Tower. Check out the view of Seoul!

Day 7:
Many dreams came true this day.  First, we found the Coffee Prince Shop.  For those of you who don’t know, I watch some Korean dramas/tv shows.  My favorite one is called Coffee Prince and, in case you couldn’t tell, quite a bit of the store takes place around this coffee shop called Coffee Prince (the concept of the coffee shop in the show is that all the waiters are handsome guys, so hence the “prince”).  Once filming was done, they turned the location they had outfitted into a coffee shop for filming purposes into a real coffee shop which follows the same theme from the show… all “handsome” male waiters and baristas.  It was a really cool/bizarre, just like walking around in the show (since it was the actual location for filming).  Slightly overpriced coffee though.

 

We also checked out this pretty cool "river" in Seoul. Not sure how natural it is as you can see from the pictures.  And in case you were wondering how to find it, just look for the big unicorn horn. 



So… remember that REALLY cool café I was talking about earlier? We finally found it! Welcome ladies and gentleman to the Bau House.

Yes, it is a café full of dogs.  You can bring your dog there to socialize with other dogs or just walk in to enjoy spending time surrounded by beautiful fluffiness.  You are required to buy at least one drink, but that was by no means a problem.  They had a smaller area for people who had smaller dogs/felt more comfortable around small dogs and then a huge area for everyone else.  I saw some of the biggest dogs that I’ve seen since arriving in Asia at this café and it was awesome.  Most of the people there were just there to play with dogs (not many people brought their own).  The staff there was great too.  Super on top of cleaning up any accidents going on and keeping the dogs under control.  They also seemed very close with all the dogs.  As it turned out, the café (or maybe the café owner?) owns about 10+ dogs (they gave us a little flyer with all their pictures, names, and ages) that “work” there.   Talk about an awesome life! They get to lounge around where they want (literally, anywhere they want. I’ve never seen so many dogs climbing on tables before), get fed treats all day, have someone throw a ball for them all day, and get petted as much as they want (this one dog came right up to me when I sat down and just wanted to have her tummy rubbed. As soon as I stopped to take a break, she got up and walked right over to someone else to get petted).  Many people in Asia seem to gravitate towards smaller dogs as their personal pets, but many of the dogs at the Bau House were huge (a couple tiny ones though).  So in my heart of hearts, I dream that these dogs were adopted/taken in off the streets and brought to the Bau House as their loving home. 

 

Day 8:
DMZ tour! Actually, we got an email the night before that said, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the tour for tomorrow will be canceled….” NO!!!!!!!... “because there will be negotiations about reunions between North and South Korean families who were separated by the war.” Oh. Well I guess that’s ok \^-^/  Luckily, we were able to be rescheduled for the next day. Instead we went to…

Lotte World! What is Lotte World you may ask? Only the world’s largest in door theme park! They had roller coasters, theme rides, spinning cups, hot dogs, funny cakes, roast corn (wait, what? Ya roasted corn is a pretty popular snack food in Asia), ice cream, funny ears, etc.  And a trade mark greeting/parting wave of double hand jazz hands.  Need I say more?

They even had an outdoor section full of rides and awesomeness.


Day 9:
South Korean soldiers standing guard at the blue houses
DMZ tour! For those of you who don’t know, DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone.  Which is ironic because it’s heavily armed, constructed with military strategies in mind, and full of military personnel on both sides of the line.  This was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it for any travelers to Korea.  What I didn’t learn about the Korean War at the museum, I learned here.  Plus more about what’s going on there today.  We got to see the Line of Demarcation, North Korea’s Propaganda Town, and a whole bunch of other cool things.  I even stood in North Korea for about 5 minutes (one of the buildings used for negotiations that is under the control of the United Nations crosses the boarder into North Korea… so no need to panic).  

Now for fun facts:
·      The North and South are technically still are war, and you can truly still feel the tension along the line.
·      North and South Korea even still have petty competitions. Examples:
View of North Korea's building and the tiny addition to make it taller
o   When South Korea built a building in view of the boarder to North Korea, North Korea had to respond in kind and add an additional structure on top of their building to make it taller than the one the South Koreans built. 
o   When South Korea put up a flag pole (~100 meters tall) in view of North Korea that was taller than the North’s flag pole, the North once again responded by putting up a new flag pole substantially taller (~160 meters tall?) and with a flag that has a dry weight of ~600 lbs.  So in other words, the North Korean’s flag is huge, but hardly ever flies unless a serious amount of wind is blowing.  And they have to take it down in inclement weather conditions because it’s own weight could cause it collapse.  Our US Military security escort/tour guides also mentioned something about a $1,000,000 reward (not sure if that’s American dollars or Korean won) to anyone who can bring a piece of that North Korean flag back to South Korea.  Not sure who’s funding that competition though.
The super tall North Korean flag pole and heavy flag
o   There was once a meeting between the North and South that lasted 11 hours straight because no one wanted to get up to use the bathroom in fear of looking “weak” to the opposing side.  Now there is a rule that there is a mandatory break every 2 or 2.5 hours (?) during meetings.
·      The South Korean soldiers stationed directly at the North Korean boarder are hand selected from the Korean military.  They have to be above a certain height (in order to look more intimidating), have a certain physical athletic ability, and be black belts in Taekwondo.  Their uniform is also chosen to make them look more intimidating towards North Korea, and their stance they have to hold adds to that as well.
·      There have been multiple skirmishes over the years between North Korean soldiers and UN soldiers in the past that have led to several deaths on both sides.  From what the stories said about the incidents, North Korean soldiers were always starting it.
·      At the Bridge of No Return, the POWs from both sides were allowed to choose which side of the line they wanted to end up on, but after they made their decision they could not go back (hence the name).  Many of the UN Forces’ POWs opted to stay in South Korea (1- because they had been forced to fight in the first place, 2- many were Chinese and didn’t want to go back to China, and 3- North Korea executed many of it’s returning POWs because they shouldn’t have gotten caught in the first place and might have told the enemy secrets.
·      We weren’t allowed to take pictures of certain areas of the South Korean side of the line for security reasons.  We could see things from our vantage point that the North Koreans couldn’t.  If those pictures were put on the internet, the North Koreans could piece them together and use for their advantage in case of an attack.

Bridge of No Return

Site of Ax-Murder Incident
Kick-butt South Korean solider (standing on North Korean side) as described in blog post.
There’s probably lots more I could say on the visit, but I don’t wanna make this post any longer than it is.  If you have any questions, shoot me an email or comment on this post and I’d be happy to talk to you about it!

Conference table for North and South negotiations. Everyone else is standing on South Korean side. (which means we're in North Korea)
Day 10:
Fly home.  Early.

Seoul was fantastic, and is truly an incredible city.  The subway was clean and efficient, the food was great, and it’s easy to get around without knowing any Korean.  And it was cold.  Which was a relief from the 80 degrees in December which has been Taiwan’s weather (although not everyday, but you get my point).  Much to my own surprise, now that I’m back in Taiwan, it feels like I’m returning home.  Kinda weird to be “coming home” when it’s still a foreign country.  Maybe it’s not so foreign anymore!



2014-01-31

Momma Bear, Papa Bear, What do you see?

To summarize the end of the Summer/Fall/Winter semester (yes, literally I sweated from every inch of my body, walked comfortably around in long pants and t-shirts, and froze every bone in my body.... all in one semester), all I can remember was a deep realization into child psychology.  Small children's worlds exist in their own bubble... they have their favorite toys, their favorite people, and their favorite thoughts in said bubble... but no other children's needs can penetrate this bubble. And it is only with maturation and growth do they finally come to realize that if they have a question they should raise their hand or wait in line.  And that LITERALLY hanging off my arm pleading "Amanda Teacher! Tell me the answer!" does nothing but make me want to assist in anyway what so ever.  But comedic events aside...

Towards the very end of the semester many of the ETAs here realized one of 4 situations was happening: A] our patience was about 1/4 of what it had been at the beginning, B] the students' patience in class had dropped to about 1/4 of what it had been at the start of the semester and restlessness had increased 2x, C] our tolerance for "bad"/rowdy behavior had dropped to about 1/5 of what it had been, or D] (and this is what I like to think was the case) some combination of B and C. Fortunately, my co-teacher informed me this is perfectly normal and many teachers experience this at the end of the semester so it's ok!

But I was very touched and honored to have so many students coming up to me, with pitiful eyes and somber looks to ask me, "Amanda Teacher, will you be back next semester? Or will you go back to America?"  And after I smiled and happily told them I would be back, they cheered and gave me a hug and then went back to playing with their friends since they didn't have to deal with our imminent goodbye just yet.  Overall though I'm very excited for next semester. As I wrote in my mid-year report, the first semester is all about learning how to teach and getting to know your students, and the second semester feels like when fun things really can get rolling!

PARENT VISIT

My parents came to visit!  As I told my parents while they were here, you really don't realize how much you have changed/how much you missed people/how much a place has affected you until someone who has been there your whole life (aka parents) comes to see you in your new environment.  I mostly spent a lot of time showing them my life in Taichung (my school, gym, shopping districts, and favorite eateries of course), but we took 2 mini vacations: one to Kenting and one to Taipei... and then they had to leave :(
My dad's favorite performance at the End-of-Semester Show
Kenting!

This is the Florida/Hawaii/awesome vacation spot of Taiwan. It was beautiful, it was the first time I had thawed out in months, the food was great, but the best part was... the hotel room.






Smokey Joe's... had a spunky, old-America style to it, and I highly recommend it. I managed to get us a great deal online and we had a suite with free fruit cups every day and tons of free drinks (wine + others).  2 separate rooms each with queen bed, 2 bathrooms (one with a huge tub)... and check out that pool! But it was too cold to swim :( Oh well... guess I'll just have to go back \^-^/

Pictures of Kenting natural beauty...










Taipei!

Parents and I got to see a lot of cool things that I have never done in Taipei before (mainly because I've never really spent days there to just go around and see stuff).  We found an amazing pizza restaurant, an amazing Chinese style restaurant, a really cool old-Chinese good street, saw Taipei 101, saw Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, and went shopping :)












To summarize it was a beautiful trip, and I've missed my parents a lot. They are the greatest, and I feel so blessed that they were able to make the trip out here so I could share my life with them. I love you guys!