Thursday, June 30, 2011

a Haulien Weekend

To say we have been busy feels a bit like an understatement... so I'm sure you understand that we haven't had much time to write lately, right? Crazy to think that we will fly out two weeks from today!

This past weekend, we ventured with our friends, Helen and Jaspher, to the eastern coast of Taiwan, famous for its rugged mountains and costal views. Initially, a typhoon threatened the whole trip, but we rearranged our schedule a bit and were still able to make it happen- yay!

We left eeeeearly Saturday morning. Helen and Jaspher were amazing hosts and tour guides for us, as they took us around to all of their favorite places. Without further ado, here is the photo tour...


with Helen... love her.

the Haulien train station

the Haulien train station




Pigs feet for lunch, anyone?

(they were actually quite delicious)


Night market excursions...






Ben made a friend.






It was a great weekend... we loved the chance to spend so much time with these friends, especially as we are leaving so soon.

More to come...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lantern Festival

This post is a bit late in coming, as lantern festival was 6 months ago, but we've had a request for the history of it. is some history swiped from Wikipedia. Enjoy! 
The first month of the Chinese calendar is called yuan month, and in ancient times people called night xiao; therefore, the day is called Yuan Xiao Festival in China. The fifteenth day is the first night to see a full moon in that lunar year. According to Chinese tradition, at the very beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve puzzles on lanterns, eat yuanxiao ('元宵'in chinese) (a glutinous rice ball, also known as simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tāngyuán) and enjoy a family reunion.

Origin legends
There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival, however, it is likely to have had something to do with celebrating and cultivating positive relationships between people, families, nature and the higher beings that were believed to be responsible for bringing or returning the light each year.

One legend tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteen dragons at his beck and call and he decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, after whom China is named, all the emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people.

Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BCE, he proclaimed it to be one of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.
Yet another common legend dealing with the origins of the Lantern Festival speaks of a beautiful crane that flew down to earth from heaven. After it landed on earth it was hunted and killed by some villagers. This angered the Jade Emperor in Heaven because the crane was his favorite one. Therefore, he planned a storm of fire to destroy the village on the fifteenth lunar day. The Jade Emperor's daughter warned the inhabitants of her father’s plan to destroy their village. The village was in turmoil because nobody knew how they could escape their imminent destruction. However, a wise man from another village suggested that every family should hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth lunar days. This would give the village the appearance of being on fire to the Jade Emperor. On the fifteenth lunar day, troops sent down from heaven whose mission was to destroy the village saw that the village was already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Satisfied, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrate the anniversary on the fifteenth lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers and fireworks.

off it goes!

Another legend about the origins of Lantern Festival involves a maid named Yuan-Xiao. In the Han Dynasty, Mr. Eastern was a favorite adviser of the emperor. One winter day, he went to the garden and heard a little girl crying and getting ready to jump into a well to commit suicide. Mr. Eastern stopped her and asked why. She said she was Yuan-Xiao, a maid in the emperor's palace and that she never had a chance to see her family since she started working there. If she could not have the chance to show her filial piety in this life, she would rather die. Mr. Eastern promised to find a way to reunite her with her family. Mr. Eastern left the palace and set up a fortune-telling stall on the street. Due to his reputation, many people asked for their fortunes to be told but every one got the same prediction - a calamitous fire on the fifteenth lunar day. The rumor spread quickly.

Everyone was worried about the future and asked Mr. Eastern for help. Mr. Eastern said that on the thirteenth lunar day, the God of Fire would send a fairy in red riding a black horse to burn down the city. When people saw the fairy they should ask for her mercy. On that day, Yuan-Xiao pretended to be the red fairy. When people asked for her help, she said that she had a copy of a decree from the God of Fire that should be taken to the emperor. After she left, people went to the palace to show the emperor the decree which stated that the capital city would burn down on the fifteenth. The emperor asked Mr. Eastern for advice. Mr. Eastern said that the God of Fire liked to eat tangyuan (sweet dumplings). Yuan-Xiao should cook tangyuan on the fifteenth lunar day and the emperor should order every house to prepare tangyuan to worship the God of Fire at the same time. Also, every house in the city should hang red lantern and explode fire crackers. Lastly, everyone in the palace and people outside the city should carry their lanterns on the street to watch the lantern decorations and fireworks. The Jade Emperor would be deceived and everyone would avoid the disastrous fire.

The emperor happily followed the plan. Lanterns were everywhere in the capital city on the night of the fifteenth lunar day. People were walking on the street. Fire crackers kept making lots of noise. It looked like the entire city was on fire. Yuan-Xiao's parents went into the palace to watch the lantern decorations and were reunited with their daughter. The emperor decreed that people should do the same thing every year. Since Yuan-Xiao cooked the best tangyuan, people called the day Yuan-Xiao Festival.

Early practices
Young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. Matchmakers acted busily in hopes of pairing couples. The brightest lanterns were symbolic of good luck and hope. As time has passed, the festival no longer has such implications.

Those who do not carry lanterns often enjoy watching informal lantern parades. In addition to eating 'yuanxiao (food)' (Chinese: 元宵; pinyin: yuánxiao), another popular activity at this festival is guessing lantern riddles (which became part of the festival during the Tang Dynasty), which often contain messages of good fortune, family reunion, abundant harvest, prosperity and love.

6th century and afterwards
Lanterns at the 2011 Lantern Festival in China 16 February 2011.Until the Sui Dynasty in the sixth century, Emperor Yangdi invited envoys from other countries to China to see the colorful lighted lanterns and enjoy the gala performances.

By the beginning of the Tang Dynasty in the seventh century, the lantern displays would last three days. The emperor also lifted the curfew, allowing the people to enjoy the festive lanterns day and night. It is not difficult to find Chinese poems which describe this happy scene.

In the Song Dynasty, the festival was celebrated for five days and the activities began to spread to many of the big cities in China. Colorful glass and even jade were used to make lanterns, with figures from folk tales painted on the lanterns.

However, the largest Lantern Festival celebration took place in the early part of the 15th century. The festivities continued for ten days. Emperor Chengzu had the downtown area set aside as a center for displaying the lanterns. Even today, there is a place in Beijing called Dengshikou. In Chinese, deng means lantern and shi is market. The area became a market where lanterns were sold during the day. In the evening, the local people would go there to see the beautiful lighted lanterns on display.

Today, the displaying of lanterns is still a major event on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month throughout China. Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, for example, holds a lantern fair each year in Culture Park. During the Lantern Festival, the park is a virtual ocean of lanterns. Many new designs attract large numbers of visitors. The most eye-catching lantern is the Dragon Pole. This is a lantern in the shape of a golden dragon, spiraling up a 27-meter-high pole, spewing fireworks from its mouth. Cities such as Hangzhou and Shanghai have adopted electric and neon lanterns, which can often be seen beside their traditional paper or wooden counterparts.

Yuanxiao'元宵' is a glutinous rice ball. It is a round food, and is eaten on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year. "元宵" has a long history in China. The first Yuanxiao was made 800 years ago. Chinese people believe it will give them a good life.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hiking Taiwan

Over the past few weekends, we have been madly rushing around, trying to see as much as possible before we leave. It has recently sunk in that we have limited weekends remaining and we are motivated to get to those few last places.

Two weekends ago, we went with a few other friends on the Caoling Historic Trail, a hike that Lonely Planet highly endorses, "If you can only do one hike during your stay in Taiwan, make it this one." Let me just say, it wasn't for the faint of heart. Most hikes here have concrete paths and stairs that lead you to the top (we think that is because the trails would easily wash away in typhoon weather otherwise), but it was still a strenuous 16km. At the beginning, we kept passing this middle age man who was taking his time climbing the stairs. We would fly past him and go pretty well for about 10 minutes, but then he would pass us while we were taking our "water" (oxygen) breaks. He'd just smirk at us and keep up his steady, slow pace. At one point, he said, "Just enjoy." That was the last time we saw him. As we continued our trek, we imagined getting to the end and seeing him sitting at a small sidewalk cafe sipping a pina colada after having smoked us. In short, it was a beautiful hike along the coast.

fellow adventurers

our fellow adventurers

Taiwan's eastern coast

wild water buffalo

wild water buffalo!

rice fields

passing rice fields along the way

Last weekend, we hiked the Sandiaoling Trail. This hike was much shorter, but very interesting. We passed three different waterfalls, and enjoyed a rope bridge and steep inclines. Following the trail to the train station, we met a random group of about 20 middle-aged hikers who asked us to have lunch with them. They didn't speak much English, and our Chinese is quite limited, but it was a fun, cultural experience anyway. The food was good too, a typical Taiwanese meal. The hardest part for me was to get down (believe it or not) my beer. A guy came up to me and said, "San bei! San bei!" (three cups!). I nodded, smiled, and tried to look friendly. Thankfully, Beth quickly declined the three cups, and he instead poured me one. I downed it as quickly as a could to get rid of it. I should have known that was a mistake because he came back over and gave me more. Seeing as how I was with such a gorgeous woman and I had put back my glass and a half of beer with the ease of a veteran, they must have thought me a man of the world because after lunch I got a couple different cig offers.








Hard to believe these Taiwan adventures are coming to a close so quickly...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Thanks to Dragon Boat Festival, we enjoyed a nice, long, three day weekend. This major holiday was originally a time to ward off bad spirits, but has become a celebration of the life of Qu Yuan, a Chinese Poet. Qu Yuan, a minister to the Zhou emperor during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC), was plotted against as a traitor by jealous fellow ministers. In his years of banishment, he collected legends and folk tales, and wrote poetry, all the while maintaining his patriotic love for his emperor. When the Qin warriors overthrew the Zhou rulers, Qu Yuan despairingly threw himself into the Miluo river. The townspeople rushed to their boats to try to save him, tried to prevent the fish from eating his body by throwing rice dumplings into the water, and beat drums to keep evil spirits away.

粽子 zong zi
This day is memorialized still by eating rice dumplings (粽子zong zi) and racing dragon boats; adults drink xiong huang wine and children wear fragrant silk pouches to guard against evil spirits.

And so we ventured out to Dajia Harbor to enjoy the festival.

...and they're off!


the winners

In Chinese culture, Dragon Boat Festival has been an important holiday for centuries. In recent years, however, dragon boat racing has become an international sport. And the competition was fierce! I thought if we were staying another year, I would race next year. Ah, well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

featuring Level C...

Storywriting is an integral part of my classes, and I love watching my students develop in creativity. I thought their unintended humor too enjoyable to keep all to myself.

Best one-liner:

The cowboy is sit on cactus and he ouch!!!!!!!!!

the wheels are turning.

Disclaimer: these are all unedited

A long time ago, an Indian and a cowboy met in the park. The Indian shot the buffalo with bow and arrow. Cowboy said, "Wow, not me, I didn't ues the gun." They took the buffalo to the hospital. So, the buffalo didn't die.


One day, the Indian ate a buffalo. They so liked buffalo. Cowboy liked buffalo too. He saw Indian have a buffalo. He think, "I want that buffalo." He wrote a letter. Indian saw that cowboy is so so so so so so so so bad. He have a gun. He want play basketball. He catch a ball and jump and win. He's so happy. And he think, "The Indian is not bad. I don't want a buffalo. I want a basketball." Indian is so so so so so so so so so so happy. Evening, Indian is slept in the teepee. Indian have so many bows and arrows. They ate buffalo.


One day, an Indian and a cowgirl met in the park. They read the book, sang a song, took a walk. The Indian loved the cowgirl, but the cowgirl didn't love the Indian, so the Indian was sad.



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