After a week of exploring Taipei, and another week spent trekking down Taiwan's east coast, Marisa and I are now holed up in Taiwan's 2nd largest city of Kaohsiung, where I'm working with my friend Simon (who's generously hosting us) to make a super cool game about rice farming! I'll be posting an overview of our trip down the east coast shortly, but for now, here's a look at one day in the process (Nov. 11), complete with trekking, hitching, lunch with our ride providers, hot springs, and beautiful views.
We started the day at our beach-side campsite on Highway 11:
From there, we walked a little bit, enjoying the clear skies (it was our first truly sunny day in Taiwan), then hitched a ride further down the coast in the back of a pickup:
We had a snack in the small town of Fongbin, walked a bit more, then hitched another ride inland a little ways, to Taiwan's Guangfu, in Taiwan's East Rift Valley (once again, try to ignore my eczema, which makes my face look gross):
The man who took us to Guangfu was kind enough to invite us in for a home-cooked meal with his family, in their house which also served as a store-front for every kind of hardware supply (and a talking bird):
At Guangfu we caught the train further down the Rift Valley...
... in search of Taiwan's only naturally carbonated hot springs, in the town of Rueisuei. The hot springs weren't quite as easy to find as we expected, but after walking several miles through farmland, and asking numerous people for directions, we finally got there!
Here's a little map of the ground we covered that day (click on it to get an interactive view, with pictures):
You can also check out more photos on Flickr.
After leaving Taipei Marisa and I headed for Taiwan's northeast coast, where we did some camping and hiking. I'll post more about our experiences when I have the time, but for now, I thought I'd upload a couple of videos we took from our tent. These won't show you much of Taiwan, but they'll give you a bit of an idea of what it's been like camping and trekking in the rain... monsoon season on the east coast is late summer, but the aftermath has been hanging around this year, so that we've only seen two dry days since we've been here (and sun only once).
First night out camping:
The following morning:
That day we hiked the historic Caolin Trail, in the drizzle (click here for more pictures):
And spent the night at a temple in Dali (click here for more pictures):
This is where we live. Yes, it's awesome.
To me the most interesting aspect of this video is how critical the Korean government seems to be of its own education system--Obama's compliments notwithstanding. Thanks to Marisa's dad for passing this on.
This past weekend we took Jed on a quick trip to Jeonju to see the traditional Hanok village. They have one of the largest surviving groups of traditional Korean houses there and it's a big tourist destination in our province. We were lucky enough to go on the same day as some sort of festival; we think they were celebrating the deity in a tree. We made a little video about our experience, some things to look out for are: jump roping, a cute puppy and Marisa dancing.
Keep watching, and you'll get some crazy hops starting at 1:20.
We hear the Korean version of this song almost every day here. It is much loved by our middle school girls. Now it is apparently much loved by American middle school girls as well. Notice how the beginning of this music video is obviously just a dubbed version of the Korean video--and yet the thing still managed to do well on MTV...
Korea is fairly new to the world hip hop scene. But when Koreans started b-boying they did it in typical Korean fashion: without reserve, determined to become the best. And now they are. The best. "Battle of the Year," a tournament often called the World Cup of break dancing, takes place annually in Germany. Out of the past seven years Korea has won four times. The other three years they were runner up. America, the mother of hip hop, has by contrast won the tournament twice in nineteen years.
This is all a lead in to say that while we were in Busan this last week we stumbled upon an international hip hop competition taken place on the beach. At one point it was raining pretty hard, so it was like seeing Step Up 2 live; the Koreans were ready with ponchos for everyone, so the show went on unfazed. One thing that surprised me about the competition was the number of girls involved, including an all-female Korean crew, which I thought was great (hopefully their parents think the same). Here's a little highlights video:
Does anyone know where Croacia is? For the life of me I couldn't find it on the map...
For more about break dancing, hip-hop, and Korea's dominance, I would highly recommend the film Planet B-Boy.
A few weeks ago, my country school had its Sports Day. It was very thrilling and I got to go home early.
This last week we went up to the far north-eastern province of Gangwon-do to take party in the largest and longest-held Korean cultural festival, Danoje. We spent the night and were taken on tour as part of the special week-long foreigner program (the festival itself is a month-long afair).
Here's a little video of the experience (pictures will be up shortly):
While we were up in Seoul last weekend to get our certificates of residency from the American embassy, we decided to stop in for a service at Yoido Full Gospel Church. Yoido has the largest congregation of any church in the world, with over 850,000 members--it will probably be the first true "Gigachurch." They have around eight services on Sunday (we went to the 3pm one), and have live translation into 8 languages via headsets. For those of you who are interested, here's a look inside the church:
Enjoy this short video, and give a shout out to my Dad and his special skills.
If you want more of our experience in Seoul, check out this video. It's long, but has many exciting parts, like when I film in the electronics market which is apparently illegal and when we get stuck on the elephant cart in the snow. Special memories.
Here is video proof of the madness we experienced.
This week we had a little change of pace with our English camp. We worked with the 60 best English speaking fifth graders of Gunsan. The kids' English was quite spectacular, they were well behaved and younger than we are used to working with, so it was a fun experience. There were twenty kids to a class with two native English speakers and one Korean teacher, so even if they had wanted to misbehave, they wouldn't have gotten far. Jordan and I were able to work together, and since the Korean teacher we worked with was uber-prepared, We didn't have to do much but read sentences for the kids to practice their pronunciation and listening skills. We did have some time to teach them Heads Up, Seven Up, which was a huge hit, depsite Jordan's doubt that it was a fun game. In fact once we taught them the game, they never wanted to do anything else. Heads Up, Seven Up is apparently a universally loved game by fifth graders. I've never played with my middle schoolers because I figured they would cheat, but the fifth graders are young enough to do what they're told. And they never ceased to be surprised by who put their thumb down. Jordan and I even played a few games, and I must admit that it's still as fun now as when I was in fifth grade.
We also got to have some good bonding time with the other native English speakers since they were also working at the camp. Jordan now has a virtual golf date with some of the guys who apparently play every week and I met a woman who scrapbooks. So we are planning to have a scrapbook party soon, probably when the men are out golfing.
There were two highlights of the camp. The first was when we discovered that the school was right across the street from our apartment. The first day we got into a taxi and showed him the name of the place we wanted to go, and after much gesturing we discovered that the school was back around the corner. So we had a pleasant 5 minute walk to school each morning which was extra nice because there was lots of snow and the roads were icy. The second highlight was that we got free lunch everyday at the nearby Italian restaurant. If only everyday could be a pleasant half day with the smart students and free lunch...
Last Friday was my last day teaching at Napo Middle School until March 5th, 2009, when we will start a new year. The Korean school year starts in the Winter (usually February, but delayed this year by holidays), rather than the fall, so the winter break here is equivalent to the summer break in American schools, and lasts two months (with a mystifying brief week in the middle to celebrate graduation); the summer break is only a month long.
My classes on the last day consisted of watching Transformers and playing Soccer (I proved to be quite out of shape, but was still able to make an amazing goal which won the hearts of the graduating third-year's forever). Anyway, in honor of the last day I have decided to finally post some pictures and a video of the school which I took about a month ago. See the flickr album for the full set of photos.
I really enjoyed teaching at Napo (the small class sizes and laid-back atmosphere are wonderful), and am looking forward to going back.