As the clock winds down on my journey to Taiwan, I keep wondering what else could I do to show some of what I have been witnessing and experiencing these past ten months. As I stroll the area, I see flowers that are so beautiful in color, shape and design as well as fragrant beyond describe. Others enjoy the flora as well because children bring little containers to school filled with flowers to share with each and every teacher. I tell you, the smell must be a bit like heaven, so soft, subtle and lingering. Families meet their children after school and head for a park to allow a bit of rest and play after a hard day of studying. Others take a side trip to the Temple to spend a while praying, burning lucky money and offering gifts of food to one of their eight immortal gods. Because I live in the seat of the Chiayi County Government, there are many official government buildings and parks in the area. Most are lit at night with beautiful markings, lighting displays, monuments and fountains.
You cannot imagine how many e-mails I’ve received from others wondering about my experiences half-a-world-away. Do I get homesick? How do I handle the language? Are the people friendly? Did I have trouble adjusting to the food? How are my students? Should I apply to take this opportunity? The questions vary depending upon who is asking the questions and why? Curiosity, interest in applying, maybe planning to make an extended visit…”Inquiring minds wanted to know!” Well, this particular blog entry is my response to anyone even thinking of visiting this part of the world. How could you not, if the opportunity presents itself? I have yet to regret my taking this past year to live and experience another culture in Asia. Fortunately, Taiwan has been wonderful to me. I am a Spirit-filled individual who put her faith entirely into the hands of my God. I prayed about my decision to come and a very loving husband said he would support whatever decision I made regarding teaching in Taiwan for this school year. Once God put it upon my heart to accept the invitation, our plan became a reality. My husband would visit several times, as he had other responsibilities at home. Thank heavens for this decision as my father became quite dependant upon my husband’s caregiving. I have had such wonderful experiences while being here the past seven months. My co-teachers at Siang-He Elementary are awesome. They have treated me as one of them and continually offer their expertise and assistance. All 525+ students are truly blessings to this teacher of 28+ years. Smiles always greet me no matter where I am…in school, shopping, at church, or just riding my bike around the area. Parents will stop, park their vehicle and cross a street just so their child(ren) can come speak to me using their English. I am embarrassed to say that the children far exceed me in their new second language acquisition. I continue work on the very basics…yet I’ve had no language problems being understood as to what I am wanting or trying to say. Bless sign language! My My My travels around the Island and off of the Island have been extensive. My Principal Huang and Director Cerita Hsu marvel at my independence but…well, I’ve just always been that way. Had strong maternal influence and paternal encouragement. I have traveled to Taipei, Tainan, Kenting, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Hualien, Kinmen Island, Alishan Mountain and Fenchihu as well as Sansia. I toured the Taroko Gorge where due to plate techtonics occurring 4 million years ago, high pressures and temperatures compressed and metamorphosed the original rock turning it into marble. A recent weekend on Kinmen Island, just a few miles off of mainland China, was an eye-opening. Because its proximity to China, it was the site of many great battles between China’s Communist Party and the KMT troops who fled to Taiwan in 1949. Millions of artillery shells and bullets have been showered on the small islands of Kinmen and now Kinmen is a national park, known for its pottery, wine, peanut candy and marvelous knife cutlery made from artillery shells. Some pictures are included to show Maestro Wu as he makes renowned knives of the old bomb and artillery shells left on the beaches of Kinmen. Even today, workers, many from South Africa, continue to work on the beaches to remove the unexploded bombs of not so long ago! The work continues to be quite dangerous but the workers say the pay is very good and allows them to help their families back home. I’ve included pictures of the marvel of nature and man but trust me, your mind’s eye has to see to appreciate this, in person. I’ve been thinking, our United States is a lot like this Island. You have all of the seasons, although somewhat modified here with no snow except on extremely cold mountain tops. I’ve traveled from the Strait of Taiwan to the Pacific Ocean. I’ve seen fishermen who make it their living. I’ve watched the rotation of crops from corn, tomatoes, red peppers, melons, cabbage to rice and other crops, I’m uncertain of. From the third floor of my school building, last Tuesday, I actually could see the mountains east of me. I’ve been here for seven months and this was the first day that the healthier air quality allowed me to see the mountains without a haze. I was in awe. I hadn’t realize how close I am to the mountainous view! Although I am well-traveled in the United States, I don’t think that I have actually SEEN America. That will change now that retirement is in my very near future. I want to see and appreciate the Grand Canyon and really notice the Tetons in Wyoming. I can’t wait to once again smell the pines early in the morning in Flagstaff or witness the tree lines of Colorado. I have learned not to take so many of God’s gifts for granted. Ours is a wonderful world but we mostly get to see and experience just a small bit. As for my eleven months away from home, what a marvelous experience. I can’t think of a single regret, hesitation or change I would make, if I had it to do over again. Oh, once last thought. You may wonder why the children, teachers and others have English names. That is kind of a custom here. Taiwanese families allow themselves the privilege of selecting an English name…I really think they do this because we have such a hard time pronouncing their Chinese names. I even have a Chinese name that I’ll proudly share with you, when next we meet.
It is said that times flies when you’re having fun. Well, I must be having a grand time as I cannot believe that it is April already and our students are preparing for mid-semester exams. As I’ve shared earlier, our students have such a diversified day with many subjects and extra-curricular activities squeezed in between class sessions. Since the weather has become more spring-like, students are planting seeds in their study of plants. During a mid-morning break, fourth graders provide a musical interlude for their peers. It was a standing-room-only crowd with some students seeking a higherpoint in which to view the pianist and drummer. Being the photographer, it is often difficult to share pictures of myself in action with my students; however, on this particular morning, I was able to get one of my co-teachers to catch me in action as I worked with second graders on phonics and learning a new song using my grandson, Caleb’s, new Teddy Bear. Of course, I mailed it to him as soon as we finished learning our newest song, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear. The children had a grand time putting action to the song, following Teddy Bear’s lead. Our classmate reads the song to us as we listen. Recently the students of Siang-He were invited across the street to the Taiwan National College of Physical Education to attend a Chiayi County Track and Field event. High schools from all over the county sent athletes to participate and we got to see a bit of the opening ceremony. The following are pictures of various high school bands performing in their respective uniforms. Many had wonderful stories of their heritage to tell through their music and performance.
Well, here I am at just over the midpoint of my journey here in Taiwan (R.O.C.). I have seen and learned so much while here. As I’ve shared and others in their respective blogs, the Taiwanese people are warm, welcoming, extremely helpful, and lovers of their country. I have yet to meet a native who does not speak highly of their country…the beauty, the people, and especially, the food. I am constantly encouraged to “try this because it is a Taiwanese dish.” I’ve yet to have a meal which I didn’t enjoy thoroughly.In this particular posting, I want to share some of the many unique observations I’ve encountered. There will be a mix of photographs but they are just that, a mixture with little or not relevance to what I am writing about but just enjoy the snapshots of my recent Winter Vacation spent with Gene visiting and our traveling from Alishan Mountain, one of the highest peaks on the Island to Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan.. Taiwan is a very musical country. It seems that everywhere music can be heard. My first encounter was upon arriving in Sansia on that Sunday in September, I saw a large yellow truck with curtained windows, playing music as it slowly progressed down the street. To my surprise, I was told that it was the trash truck which daily…seven days a week… travels its route playing music to alert the residence of its presence. Unique was that fact that first, it had curtains on the windows. Second, it was playing a melodic tune and finally, it picks up trash daily. To my knowledge, all of the elementary schools play music to signal the end and beginning of the next period. At Siang-He, soft music is played over the intercom system during lunch and believe it or not, the students are quietly enjoying their lunches. Another musical scenario I witnessed recently was a school van that played music to announce its arrival to pick-up or dispatch students. Being a lover of all types of music, I am really enjoying the sounds of Taiwan. Unique is the custom of school children sharing birthday buckets of treats with all of their classmates and every teacher and helper in the school on their birthday. New parents give gifts to family and friends depending upon the sex of the newborn. This past October, one of our second grade teachers had a baby boy. Within a month, she visited school one afternoon with wonderful bakery gifts for the entire faculty. Her car was loaded with cartons of goodies. It was a wonderful surprise and thoughtful tradition.Taiwan Unique is that when traveling on expressways, there will be tolls to pay and specific lanes to travel and should you get into a lane specified as PASS and not CASH and you’re wanting to pay cash, you will be pulled over and issued a ticket for being at the wrong toll gate. Traveling the streets by car, scooter or bike can be quite an experience. One could say that you take your life into your own hands, if you aren’t familiar with the unspoken ‘rules of the road.’ I’ve been told that in Taiwan, there is a ‘No Right Turn On Red’ rule; however, it’s like a fire drill…a free-for-all. Cars, scooters and bikes go when ready. Red means…’if I want to’ and yellow and green mean ‘if I want to,’ as well. I mean…crossing the street, as a pedestrian can be a harrowing experience. You’ve got to learn to look left, right, left, up, down, left, right, down and up…and then you still take a chance crossing the street even if the light is in your favor. Remember…’if I want to.’ Thank goodness that I live in a quiet part of Chiayi County but still, I am very careful when walking or riding my bike. So far so good!?! Oh, did I mention that the moving vehicle drivers WOULD brake for dogs but not people? Trust me, I’ve witnessed it. Airports are interesting…you park wherever you want until you catch a glimpse of flashing red/blue lights and then watch out for the runners headed to move their cars. I had never seen such a comical mass movement. It was as though the quarterback had made an inaudible football call. Thank goodness no one was in the way of the exit doors. Earlier I told you about the musical trash truck. Well, using public transportation has been a pleasure. Clean restrooms, constant cleaning on the MRT, HSR, and RTS…. public trains and buses. On the HSR (High Speed Rail) I even experienced a dropped piece of paper on the floor of the restroom being suctioned into a hidden tube.WOW! ! Taiwan Unique is respect paid to both adults and children. I’ve witnessed discipline being administered and at the conclusion both teacher and student bow to each other. Discipline is rather military in style…much dialogue, standing at attention, absolutely no talking except when solicited by adult and complete respect that the punishment is just. Unique is the fact that a large red lighted cross denotes a Christian church or community. That is how I found The Grace Place Church, which I attend. Despite the fact that only 4-7% of the population is Christian, I have seen and visited three Catholic communities, one in Puzih City, Fencihu, and near the Budai community. Near Taichung,there is a major Christian hospital community.As for the recent Chinese New Year celebration, red envelopes are shared and given as gifts. The Taiwan Unique is that money is secreted in the red envelopes. Want to see a Taiwanese child smile…just mention ‘red envelopes.’ And watch their eyes light up.As the sun sets over the beautiful island of Taiwan, Gene and I continue to keep you in our prayers and wish you a prosperous 2008 Chinese New Year!
From Dong-shih Fisherman’s Wharf to Lotus World As I have shared, the people of Taiwan are so very warm and welcoming. On two separate weekends lately, I was invited to join two families as they spent their respective Saturday and Sunday doing family-type activities in Central Taiwan.
I joined first grade triplets, Jack, Eric and Tim, along with their parents as we headed to Dong-shih Fisherman’s Wharf on the Strait of Taiwan. I had never heard of this particular park, as it is relatively new to the area. It is actually an old fishing wharf, which has been converted into a beach-type play area for families. Some of the older fishing boats are anchored to add to the scenario.
Sand is trucked in and there are many water play areas for both young and old alike. As it is fall here, most Taiwanese say that it is too cold to play in the water park fountains but the kids had a ball in the sand. I say kids but actually all ages were enjoying the very
coarse, clean sand.
Late afternoon, we departed Dong-shih Fisherman’s Wharf where we headed into Puzih City for dinner at a most unusual restaurant, in this area. It was the Scandinavia Factory Restaurant. The restaurant featured wonderful art works by the owner and the aura was Finnish yet the food, definitely Taiwanese/Chinese. It was delicious and for seven year olds, Jack, Eric and Tim were really hungry little boys. They sampled everyone’s selections!
After dinner, we took the boys to a local Christian Community Center where they enjoyed another 90 minutes of supervised play, while we, adults, shopped for fresh fruits and veggies. We all had a very enjoyable day and I’m positive the boys slept well that night.
Last Sunday, I met second grader Angel, her first grade brother, Viter and their Mom, in front of Siang-He School at 8:30 in the morning. I knew we were going someplace but had absolutely no idea as to where. Well, it proved to be a really full day of surprises. First, we picked up Grandmother, a farmer; met Brother, who was playing with his son and their remote-controlled boat; and then began a road trip to visit Mom’s sister, brother-in-law and their three children in Tainan County. I’m not exactly sure where in the county but I so enjoyed the openness of the area and the welcome into their home.
After seeing their soy sauce manufacturing factory; visiting the chickens and dogs, we ate sliced pears while the children decided we should bike to the Ba Lao Ye Dairy Farm/Animal Petting Farm about five minutes from the house. Again, having no idea what was in-store, I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw at the dairy farm…rabbits, goats, a hog (reminded me of the Razorbacks), and of course, cows. The children got to bottle feed two of the calves.
After returning from the dairy farm, we next, headed to Lotus World Restaurant. I was totally overwhelmed by the huge lotus ponds, which although fall, still had blooming lotus. My hosts shared that in spring and summer, the full effect of the blossoms is overwhelming…the types, colors, and sizes. They even have guided tours and performances to highlight their flowers. Once again, the food was plentiful and we all enjoyed.
Next, we took a short ride to a large store, which sold all types of wines and spirits. The canisters were works of art, in themselves. Believe it or not, entertainment and a gift shop were also on the premises.
Finally, we headed back to the sister’s home. We chatted with several translation books present, listened while the children sang Karaoke and three of the adults played flute, saxophone, and violin. Oh, Angel graced us with a very quick rendition as she wanted to return to playing with her cousins.
The evening concluded with another meal and tired children falling asleep on the way back to Puzih. It was quite a memorable day, once again.
Students have been practicing for weeks. Teachers have been plotting and making key decisions with the directors and Principal as to what will make this dedication of Siang-He Elementary School one that will be talked about for many months to come. The dignitaries have received their beautiful invitations and parents have scheduled time off from home and work duties to be present for the festivities.
The campus is sparkling with gorgeous planters; beautiful floral bouquets from community friends of the school and very special tributes commemorating the generous donations make for the success of the Siang-He Elementary School addition. Siang-He Elementary School first opened in 2003 for kindergarten. Since then, the population has grown to 500 students through fifth grade and last year construction of the newest building was begun. The opening of the current school year found teachers and students moving into the new facility while maintaining studies. The results of their hard work and planning have paid off with a wonderful facility, which I have described in earlier blogs. Today’s ceremony was full of pomp and circumstance. Dignitaries from the magistrate of the Chiayi County Government to a hospital administrator were our honored guests. The local hospital was a major contributor to enabling the addition to Siang-He School. Plaques were unveiled and wonderful Chinese characters were presented to honor the occasion.
Performances were many and varied from a class of kindergarten students who played drums and danced to “We Will Rock You,” to fourth and fifth graders performing their second place Chiayi County competition prize winning number. Student violinist performed with a couple of moms performing with them. The harmony of the students performing with their recorders was heavenly. Cheers were led by another group of older students while a dance class showed their skills with red pom-poms.
Director Dorio is a member of a photography club, which displayed many of their wonderful photographs taken while bird watching. Also they displayed some photographs of the most unusual butterflies I’ve ever seen. The birds in the photographs left me speechless.
The day proved to be well worth the wait and a true success for all who worked so very hard to make Siang-He School’s dedication a real success!
What an amazing weekend I had recently with nine year old Ray, his parents, grandparents, four uncles, their wives, two little cousins and a very good friend of Grandfather. In total there were twenty one of us who traveled from Puzih City to Budai, by the Strait of Taiwan, to Fenchihu in the Alishan National Scenic Area of the Alishan Mountains.
Because this large family is so close yet a few members do not live in Taipei, they often get together for trips to just visit and spend time with each other. I was invited to join them on a luxury bus journey to the above mentioned places.
Before leaving the eastern part of Chiayi County, I got to see a huge mound of raw salt which is now only an attraction for tourists; The cousins had fun climbing, as you can see. Next, we stopped for lunch at one of the region’s largest seafood restaurants. The fish is freshly caught daily and with at least nine courses, everything I tried was delicious. Ray’s family wanted me to try a bit of everything so needless to say, I was ‘stuffed’ once we departed to continue our journey to visit a local rice growing community. We learned how the rice is grown from preparation of the soil to the harvesting of this wonderful rice and burning of the fields in preparation for the next season. Elegant Lan Li Rice is said to be the best rice in the country.
The tour bus we traveled on was pure luxury. The couple who owned the bus provided us with wonderful varieties of tea as we traveled, karaoke to sing along with and a video which featured the farmer who grew the Elegant Lan Li Rice. We actually got to meet him on our tour of the village. What a gracious personality!
After a couple of hours on the bus, we reached the My Landscape Hotel, where we would spend Saturday night. Of course, dinner was awaiting us and after another delicious multi-course meal, we walked to a nearby shopping area to see wonderful woodworks and visit a tea shop which belonged to one of the uncles’ former students. We were treated royally to all types of tea. Finally, I began to ‘fade’ and Lyn, Ray’s mother told me to select whatever I would like to have in the shop as the proprietor had said that every thing was free to us that evening. Wow! I counted 17 bags of merchandise belonging to our group. So very generous of the Uncle’s former student. I left the family still enjoying each other and the tea.
Arising early the next morning, I had hoped to see one of the famous sunrises; however, a fog hung over the mountainous area and I didn’t get to see the sun rise. Lyn told me that the Chinese feel that that is an indication that the gods want you to return another time to see the sun rise over the Alishan Mountain. A beautiful thought to remember. After breakfast, we checked out and boarded our bus for Fenchihu, which is the halfway stop to the top of the Alishan Mountain. In Fenchihu, we got to see the Alishan Forest Railway Station, walk through wonderful wooded cypress forest trails, visit a market and I had a wonderful donut which would rival Krispie Kream but the most amazing thing I felt was bamboo that appeared to be round but was actually rectangular in shape. Quite amazing.
On Saturday before last, I was invited to spend the day with Brandon, his Dad and an associate. The plan, I thought, was to visit their home. I certainly was surprised when the Professor shared that we, instead, were headed for Tainan to visit the old Fort Zeelandia, which was built by the Dutch during their 300 years occupation of Taiwan before Koxinga drove the Dutch out after 1662. During the Japanese occupation, it was rebuilt and named Anping Old Fort. Today, the root of an old banyan tree on the wall of the outer fort’s brick remains a witness to the fort’s long history.
We were able to climb to the top of an observation tower to gain a perspective as to what could be seen from the old fort. Tainan’s location on the Strait of Taiwan proved to be an invaluable port those many years ago. Thus the long history of struggle to control Taiwan by the Dutch, Chinese and Japan.
A Day At Siang-He Elementary School
The day begins at 7:30 when the gates open for the students. They arrive on foot, by car, scooter and bikes. All enter with big smiles to friends, classmates and teachers. On Tuesday mornings, the students assemble on the front lawn by class, pledge, salute and sing their anthem. Some announcements are made and recognitions made. On this particular day, a second grader is recognized and awarded a gift for his entry in an art competition. As you can see, he is quite pleased.
Physical fitness plays a very important role in Taiwanese education and twice a week, students and their teachers begin their day with group physical activities. As you can see, the exercises very according to the teacher and their respective class. Some spend time stretching, jogging, running, and even working on their ping-pong skills. This, too, is considered a form of exercise.
The students have eight forty minute classes each day with 10 minutes between classes to enjoy playful fun. This ranges from free play to a quick game of basketball or badminton.
After five morning classes, it’s time for lunch and the older fifth graders serve the younger students within their respective classrooms. Each student brings their own bowl, cup, spoon and chopsticks…nope, no forks or knives.
After eating, each student rinses their bowls and utensils and puts them back into their lunchbags to be taken home. Brushing teeth is the final routine before a few minutes to socialize, then it’s 30 minutes of quiet, rest time. Music is played throughout the campus and everyone takes a quiet rest until afternoon classes commence.
Depending upon the grade level, afternoon classes may be Taiwanese, Chinese, English, math, science, art, music, PE, and more. Some of the students stay until 4:50 p.m. to take additional classes in orchestra, violin, karate, tai ji, Chinese character painting, or even rollerblading.
One of the fourth graders has taken me under his wing to help me with learning Chinese. Most mornings, he meets me and quizzes me on the words he’s given to me so far. At this point, his English is proving to be far better than my Chinese but I definitely intend to do better!