Monday, February 23, 2015

Deja Vu

Our long break from school is nearing an end.  Tomorrow we return to classes.  However, we have definitely made the best of our break!

After we completed the two weeks of our scheduled internship work, we substitute taught English classes for two and a half weeks.  That's the first deja vu.  We both taught full-time so it felt like we were teachers again.  We would even come home and discuss what to do to make a class better and what certain students did today just like we used to do.  It was amusing because James actually taught most of my old classes at my old school.  He finally understood why I had funny stories about some students and complained about others!

For the first time, I experienced teaching 2-5 year olds.  I taught at "kindergartens", aka day care preschools, everyday.  I realized that I really didn't know how to teach the younger children. Their attention spans are about 3 seconds if you're lucky and they don't know much English.  It was quite the challenge but the learning curve was steep.  Each day got better especially with the never-ending hugs and high fives from the students.  I've never had to sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Hockey Pockey" so much in my life! Also, even the Taiwanese two year olds say "No" continuously all day long.  How do all toddlers learn to do that?! Also, the children could barely say "Hello" yet they can all sing the lyrics to "Let it go." Disney truly is amazing. 

One weekend day we visited this mysterious place called "Green World." We've always seen signs for it while we are driving to nearby mountains, but we've never been there.  It's basically a zoo in the mountains which includes a lot of flowers and forests.  It's pretty neat but I'm sure the flowers are much prettier in the warmer months!  The animals also have a lot more freedom and space to move compared to most zoos.   

The Alpaca House with great scenery.  The alpacas are allowed to roam around in the field. 

The baby alpaca named Pinkie. So cute!

Sonic the Hedgehog

Parrots playing basketball

I always feel the birds in the bird house are a bit too close for comfort.

The website said the bathrooms were beautiful and they weren't kidding! 

There were a lot of cute animals in the Cute Animal Area.  

Another weekend day, we (deja vu) re-hiked the Taoyuan Valley historic trail on the northeast coast. We blogged about this hike last winter.  It was so cold and rainy the day we hiked that we tried to get a taxi half way through the hike.  This time the weather was much better, but still overwhelmingly windy!!!!! Did I mention it's nice not having homework on the weekends? 

Super runner James!

Clear views

Why are there water buffalo in Taiwan? So random!

After the teaching marathon ended, we decided that we must do something fun during the real Chinese New Year holiday.  Even before the true holiday started we were already having deja vu from last year in Hsinchu.  All the restaurants were closed and locals were setting off fireworks everywhere at all times of the day.  It sounded like a war zone! 

We decided to head south for warmer weather.  All of the train tickets were sold out but we managed to get a seat on the Aloha Bus for the trip to Kaohsiung.  Deja vu in Kaohsiung.  We visited this city on the southern part of the island as our first trip in Taiwan in June 2013.  This time, things were much easier.  Knowing a little bit of Chinese will do wonders! 

The Aloha Bus was like sitting in first class on a plane...well....sort of. Huge seats, blankets, water, cookies, coffees, personal TVs, bathroom and even a vibrating messaging chair.  Although I couldn't tell if it was on or not with the bumpy bus ride! Luckily we didn't hit any traffic on the way to Kaohsiung (3 hour trip).  Interestingly, the highways were guarded with policemen.  If a car did not have at least three people in it, it was not allowed on the highway.  Good thing we didn't rent a car! We hit a lot of traffic on the trip back to Hsinchu (7 hour trip).  We really enjoyed the comfortable seats then!

First thing in Kaohsiung - renting bicycles and enjoying the bike paths once again. 

We saw a man doing falconry!  James' sister loves falconry so it was cool to take some videos for her.  His sister thinks this is a golden eagle.  

Bike path in the Art district

The second day we went to Monkey Mountain (deja vu).  Except this time, unlike last time, we got off at the right bus stop and got to hike more trails.  

We probably saw about 100 monkeys.  Once again for me, it was a bit too close for comfort. 

One of our classmates lives in Kaohsiung.  Him and his friend showed us some neat spots on our last night in Kaohsiung.  This is a cathedral in town. 

We also saw a great night view from Monkey Mountain and took our picture with the LOVE letters (deja vu..see below for picture taken in June 2013). 

After a couple of days in Kaohsiung, we headed to a small island off the southern coast of Taiwan, Little Liuqiu. We went from one island to another! The island is a coral island. The weather was perfect! We rented bikes to go around the island and see the attractions.  The full perimeter around the island is only seven miles.  

Lots of cool wildlife on the island

Gorgeous beaches

The island is famous for sea turtles.  We saw several from a distance.  It's hilarious how excited everyone becomes when they spot a sea turtle! The red arrow in the picture is pointing to the sea turtle. 

There were lots of caves on the island and coral to maneuver around.  Watch your head!

Crazy roots!

Blue and turquoise waters.  Are we still in Taiwan?

We even found a vegetarian restaurant on the island that was open!

This is our campground resort. Great views of the sunsets and the cleanest bathhouses I've ever used!

And on Feb 23 (the last day of our holiday), James ran a 45km low-key race near our house.  He found a group of local Hsinchu runners that put on a holiday run.  He got LOTS of time to practice his Chinese with the group of people he was running with.  And he was the King of the Mountain!    

Random Photos...

Michigan is everywhere!  One of James' students while he was substitute teaching. 

This is my favorite student, Jenny. I tutor once at week at her house and enjoy a vegetarian meal with her family.  Great company and delicious food!

 A random picture of a fun run with our running crew.  We were enjoying the sunny winter weather in Hsinchu!

Happy Chinese New Year!  (Deja vu of the whole new year thing for 2015, too.) 新年快樂!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

好久不見! Long time no see!

I apologize to our loyal followers for this long period of time with no new updates!  Fortunately, most of you our on facebook, so you've seen James' albums of our most recent adventures.

No need to chit-chat!  We'll begin where we left off, life after Hong Kong.

Needless to say, the semester started off busy and non-stop.  Through sorting out Visa issues, studying, sore brains, and substitute teaching, we were finding ourselves rarely enjoying the beauty of Taiwan since the semester started.  Well, Mr. Fun decided to put an end to that.  He took advantage of the time right after midterms where you can catch a breath of fresh air and planned a hiking trip!

James planned a backpacking trip to do the Wuling Four Shows.  It's four mountain peaks that can be reached through a three day/two night hiking loop with cabins along the way.

The beginning of the hike was a bit rough, as I was no longer used to hiking with a big bag on my back. Well, except the days on campus where I needed a lot of books!  But anyway, we pressed on.  Throughout the three day hike, we were able to hit all four peaks! For two of the peaks, we had awesome clear, views!

The cabins were nice.  However, the temperature dramatically dropped around 4:30 pm each afternoon. We would go from hiking in shorts and T-shirts, to putting on all the clothes we brought and sitting in our sleeping bags (studying Chinese and Accounting).  In the mornings, we got to experience the crunching of ice under our feet!  It's been a while since we've seen ice!

First peak, but not such a great view

Freezing and studying in sleeping bags after dark

Cold, icy mornings

Perfect weather and views during the second day!

Final peak and a coconut water to celebrate!

Every semester our class takes a "Knowing Taiwan" trip.  In early December, we went to Wulai.  James and I went there last summer.  Since it was a bit cooler this time, we got to enjoy the famous outdoor hot springs.  We also discovered a fun ropes course at an amusement park area later in the day.  

Wulai Ropes Course with classmates


The most popular hike in Taiwan is the hike to highest mountain, Yushan (Jade Mountain), standing at 3,952 meters.  The problem is with it's popularity, it's near impossible to receive hiking permits for the trail and cabin.  However, Mr. In-the-know found out that if foreigners apply for the permit 35 days in advance for weekdays, they are guaranteed permits!  So, we invited our hiking buddies along with a few other students from our school to join the trip.  Well, James was right and we received our permits! We didn't need to skip classed but a couple of friends did...

Unfortunately, the day before leaving for the trip, we received an email from the National Park that the trail to the main peak had been closed due to a landslide.  EEK! There are several peaks within hiking distance of the cabin that were in safe condition, so we decided to carry-on with the adventure.  This time, I was more prepared for the cold.  I brought several of the hot hand warmers and stuck them in my socks, gloves, pockets, etc.  I think I had about five warmers in my sleeping bag that night.  Those things really work!!!!!

Our group included people from America, Honduras, Sweden and Austria!!

Sea of Clouds on the hike up to the cabin

Sunset from the cabin

Enjoying a round of the game Dominion in the cabin after dinner.  No studying this time!

Cold morning hike to the Yushan South Peak 

Yushan South Peak - We were freezing!  We did not take the time to enjoy a coconut water to celebrate this time!

Good views and good weather for the descent

Happy to finish the trail!

Christmas and New Year's Eve were nice.  We enjoyed Skype calls and lovely packages from family on Christmas before our 9 am class, as well as a nice dinner gathering at our Pastor's home.  For New Year's Eve, the weather was nice, so we hopped on a VERY crowded train after class to Taipei.  We enjoyed welcoming in the new year with the fireworks show at Taipei 101!!!!

An awkward Santa at our school library...weird.

Taipei 101 on New Year's Eve (The pictures online are much better than our pictures)

We joined some running buddies for a race in early January in Puli.  James did the marathon distance and I did the 9 Km (5.6 miles).  We both did well and enjoyed the quite warm winter weather in the central part of the island. Please note, there was some confusion before with this picture, I did not run in jeans.  I changed out of my sweaty clothes after the race into jeans!

Last but not least for our adventures was our celebration trip the day after finals ended!  Mr. Find-all-cool-hikes discovered a hike along the south east coast of Taiwan.  A shipwreck was still on the rocky coastline. The ship wrecked in September but the boat remains.  It was a windy, rocky, long walk along the coast with a few friends.  Well worth the unique experience, but I never want to walk that stretch of coast again! 

So random!

Now, we are enjoying our five week break between semesters which includes Chinese New Year.  My brain needs a big rest! We are currently working internships (required for our program) during the first two weeks, then substitute teaching at English schools for the next two weeks, then doing something to enjoy the Chinese New Year holiday (TBD) AND studying Chinese everyday to prepare for next semester (sigh...such a difficult language).  

The internship is with the global branch of the chain of English schools we worked at last year.  I am working with the Marketing Manager to assist in launching a new website and creating a commercial for the school (so neat!).  James is working with the Business Director (who of course is from Michigan) on the regulations required to open a Study English Abroad school in New York City (so boring...sorry James). 

Our first semester was good.  It's interesting going to school with such a diverse group of students from around the world!  Most of the time it's neat, but it can be frustrating when working together on group projects.  Just another lesson in patience. James and I were always the official proofreaders for our groups since we are the only two native English speakers in our program.  I find it quite impressive English is everyone else's second (or third and sometimes fourth) language! We both worked very hard this past semester and spent a great deal of time in the library. We thank God sooo much that our hard work is reflected in our grades.  

Sorry about the novel!  I'll try to be a bit better about posting next semester, but no promises.  It may be until the summer after our second semester until I find the chance to write another blog!  

We miss y'all!!! Thank you for everyone's love, prayers and continuous support for our crazy adventure abroad.  One down and three more semesters to go!