Christmas and two New Years: Enter the year of the Dragon!... Sausage ;)
It's been a while since I last posted and there have been a few changes at work. For the most part things are pretty much the same as they ever were at school. A teacher has left and a new one has arrived. The kids are still amusing me immensely and yet driving me insane at the same time. Test scores are pretty consistently high so generally things are pretty good but of course there is always the odd snag in the workplace and I'd sooner forget 'misdemeanors' than rant about them on here.
Some recent goings on in my classroom since the last time I posted include a kid bending over and slapping his backside to a group of spectating parents and the amazement and wonder kids find in discovering the application of verbs like pout and fart. However, to be honest, I'm a little bored of classroom antics and am starting to think that I've seen pretty much everything in the last couple of years or so.
As I have recently signed a contract extension taking me up to March 2013 I've decided to do stick to travelling around Taiwan for 2012 and save as much money as I can before heading to Thailand or Vietnam to try my luck teaching there. Ultimately, I need to save money so hopefully keeping my breaks short and well spaced and not really venturing too far will keep my travel bug satiated while simultaneously allowing me to save for a three month foray into Southeast Asia. My original plan was to save for another two years and do a massive trip through India, Nepal, Mongolia and China before hitting Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam but I think it better to split the monster journey into two trips to give me something to look forward to in the near future.
Christmas this year was actually pretty good. I perhaps could have had more time off but that wasn't such a major concern with the impending break for Chinese New Year. An English expat who has been living here for over 20 years annually throws a massive dinner and an open invitation. The setting was brilliant. He lives on a mountainside overlooking the Danshui river. You can look both north to the Danshui estuary breaking into the East China Sea and also south over the Taipei basin. I must admit that the southern view of the Taipei basin at dusk is incredible – and I'm really jealous that he lives there. We had dinner on the mountainside with an incredible view of the streetlights of Taipei and the imposing presence of the Taipei 101 superstructure juxtaposed against the mist-soaked mountains surrounding the city on the borders of Yang Ming Shan National Park. That however was not the highlight of the Christmas weekend for me... he also cooked a pretty mean dinner with roast turkey, ham, stuffing and veggies and he followed it up with an amazing apple crumble. It was awesome and also my first roast dinner in over two years!
Our New Year celebrations were also pretty good and pretty much entailed good food and wine surrounded by more expats. This time the group of friends I spent the holiday with were from the town I live in and not guys living in the Taipei area. My friend Nicky – a German golf teacher here – threw a party in his apartment and we made an excursion to the roof at midnight to countdown the new year and let off some impressive Chinese fireworks. Ultimately though – again - I have to say the highlight of the evening for me was the grub. Real guy food. There were meatballs and chilli and curry and naan bread and it was all really well done. Washed down with some plonk spelled for a pretty decent night... from what my memory will allow me to recall at least!...
I think there is a bit of a tradition during Chinese New Year, in terms of the weather at least, as apparently it always rains. That seems to be the case this year too!... Every time I look out the window of my apartment it seems to be raining at the moment. It's not always heavy but it's always wet!... Nevertheless my plan for this Chinese New Year – as I've barely seen any natural sights in Taiwan – was to check out 'Taipei's natural playground' otherwise known as Yang Ming Shan National Park. There are thirty or so mountains in the national park but luckily many of the trails are well marked and pretty accessible. I'm on a bit of a skinflinting mission at the moment to keep costs down while I save to pay off my overdraft and contribute some of the cash I've saved to a deposit on a new place. This made Yang Ming Shan an even more attractive prospect as a hiking destination. With this in mind I had planned a trip on Monday to visit Siaoyoukeng fumaroles and Qising Shan (Seven Star Mountain). We managed to climb to the summit of the mountain and it was pretty cool although after the first 0.4km uphill I was dying. I couldn't believe how unfit I was/am and I'm sure my constant panting and resting for the first 30 minutes or so was quite amusing for my colleague Mike who is definitely more active than me. Nevertheless, I managed to haul my fat arse up the side of the mountain and made the summit at 1120m I was pretty happy with myself by this point. It's also nice being able to say that you have successfully climbed the biggest mountain in Taipei. In UK terms it's just marginally higher than Snowdon. It was a great feeling to be so high it was just a shame to be shrouded in mist and unable to see anything with prevailing winds and ceaseless drizzle I think we did quite well. We got to view some small fumaroles and smell the aromatically stale fart smell of the sulfur that they emit. After the main peak we headed down towards the east peak and then from there down to Lengshuikeng where there was a car park and cafe and a whole load of people that were wrapped up warm and didn't seem to be doing a whole lot.
Tuesday was spent sleeping and being really tired and was quite a lazy day but fine nonetheless but I did nothing except watch TV. I woke up early on Wednesday morning and decided to return to Yang Ming Shan. I had my mind set on a flat hike to go and see a waterfall but was silly and a little confused at the bus stop and ended up getting on the number 5 bus instead of the number 15. Regardless I had printed off plenty of maps and instead of heading towards Juansih Waterfall I thought I'd hike up a small lesser known mountain called Mt. Shamao. My reasoning was that there are a few troupes of formosan macaques that live there. The hike was nice and pleasant. The walk to the peak took little under an hour and was completely forested which was quite nice. I wasn't fortunate enough to hear or see any monkeys but I did see three different species of bird. It's just a shame that I have absolutely no idea what they are. When I started looking at the list of bird species found in the park I kind of just gave up seeing as there are about 150 different kinds in that park alone, some 500 can be found in Taiwan if you include the migratory species. I think I saw a buzzard and if I did it was the only one that I managed to get a semi-decent view of. Despite the relatively good weather it was still quite difficult to get a decent photo of the mountain tops as the mists had already started rolling in by about 11am.
After another lazy day I decided to head to the seaside village of Yehliu. The village is famous for it's rock formations, and while they are unique, enduring the crowds wasn't really worth the reward or the mundane public transport that is necessary to get there. Places in Asia also have a strange idea of what a 'tourist experience' is and usually have some kind of crap music or cheesy show... this time it was crap music and as partial as I am to The Marcarena when I'm tipsy, this time it did little to 'boost' the 'tourist experience' at Yehliu. Luckily there was a festival in Nankan celebrating the year of the dragon and there were plenty of dragon lanterns and fireworks and streetfood stalls to keep me occupied. I had something fairly close to a doner kebab – although it was way less greasy than is necessary to be excellent.
All in all it was good to get a week off work and have some me time to relax and chill out for a few days. I am really hoping to leave my apartment soon and will hopefully be moving into a new place in the not so distant future. After having just finished my first day back after the holiday I can say that I missed one of my classes. I bought some toys today so that the kids have some new games to play during class sometimes as I'm just about out of creative ideas. One of the toys I bought was a pair of guns that fire those suction-pad darts that kids find so fascinating. With these guns came a pair of yellow glasses and one of the kids – bear in mind that he is only about 8 – shouted “Wow... X-Ray glasses”. I don't know where he learned that because it certainly wasn't me who taught him but I'm very proud to say that he spent several intervals during the class trying to get them to work and rather cutely he kept putting them on upside down :) … He's a hero!... But he is no future action hero... Even I could get them to work!