Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Taroko Gorge by Taxi

Price Summary (in New Taiwanese Dollars)
Train Ticket from Taipei to Xincheng per person = 311 or 403 (one way); 622 to 806 (round trip)
(price depends on express or ordinary train)
Taxi Rental (4 hours round trip to Xincheng Station) = 2500 
Entrance to Taroko Gorge.
When I asked my Taiwanese friends (and others who have been to Taiwan) for recommendations about the country, most mentioned Taroko Gorge. For someone who likes hiking, it was a must. Mountainous terrain with stunning scenery--really, how could I resist?
One of the bridges in the park.
View of one of the ravines.
There are many places on the Internet where you can find different attack plans for the Gorge. Some people stay over in Hualien city either before or after whereas others commute from Taipei or other areas of Taiwan. Here's one more post among the many about what we did (March 20, 2017).

As my mum and I had only a couple of days together in Taiwan before coming back to Korea, and I knew she would have more luggage, I didn't want to find another place to stay in Hualien, despite the recommendations to try out the nightmarket and other sites within the city. That being said, we opted to do a round trip from Taipei but instead of booking a company tour, we did it on our own. I think you can technically buy train tickets the day of, but one of my new friends helped me reserve seats a couple nights before just in case they sold out. We booked our train tickets to Xincheng (this stop is closer to Taroko Gorge than Hualien).

Because I wanted to make sure we got the most of our day, we were on the earliest train (7:08) and we arrived at the Taroko around 10 in the morning.

Eternal Spring Shine from a distance.
The trails jut off at different points along the road. For some trails, you need to reserve a permit in advance whereas others are come as you please (see http://old.taroko.gov.tw/English/ for more details). The Internet revealed that the main methods of maneuvering through the park are by using the bus, if you are okay with potentially long wait times; scooter, if you have a license to rent one; on foot, if you don't plan on going very far very quickly; taxi rental, if you have the money.

My mum and I were originally thinking of taking the bus. One of my friends did it a couple weeks ago and said it wasn't too bad and that they still were able to see a lot of the park. When we went, the forecast predicted thundershowers and as we weren't planning on spending a lot of money on other parts of our trip, we decided to splurge and use a taxi for the day. The taxis are waiting right at the station and the first we approached had a laminated sign with English. Listed were different day-trip options along with prices for one-way vs a round trip. My mum and I chose the 4 hour round trip.
Don't forget a hard hat!
Our driver didn't speak any English, but we managed to communicate. We drove to different spots and he would motion to our cameras for a photo op, or to a trail for us to explore. At certain points, we did out-and-back trails while at a couple other points, he met us at the end. My mum and I were quickly confused by the curving nature of the roads. Without the taxi driver, we doubt we would have seen as much as we did. Plus, four hours was a good amount of time. We probably could have pushed ourselves to do more, but both of us were tired and content at the end. No regrets.
When we rounded a corner and gasped in surprise, our taxi driver pulled over and told us he'd meet us up ahead.
We were lucky, too, in that the rain was at our backs and as we went deeper into the park, we could see it coming, but it didn't catch us until we were on the way back to the station. I had originally reserved our return tickets for the evening, but luckily there was space on an earlier train and we were heading back to Taipei just after 15:00. We arrived back in the city around 17:30 and enjoyed an easy dinner at one of the nightmarkets. All in all, a day well spent.
The storm, coming over the mountains.

And now you're in the know.

Love and Hugs.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Language Learning and Free Practice

I would like to think that I've improved in my Korean language ability, and maybe I have, but honestly, I feel like I'm at a bit of a plateau.

I started a new Korean class (level 4!) recently and eagerly picked up my new textbook. I really like how this class ties the vocabulary to the grammar points. Sometimes there is an overwhelming number of new vocabulary words, but at least it gives me a goal (whereas some of my other books introduce very few new words and I feel like the examples are repetitive, despite the new grammar structures). And yet, in compared to the previous book in this series, I was struct by the number of "free practice" exercises. What do I mean by free practice? When the instructions give you a picture or prompt and then tell you to talk about it with a buddy.

In level 3, there were more scaffolds in place that helped guide the conversation. I didn't realize how much I relied on those scaffolds until they were gone. Now, I stare blankly at the prompt. It's a lot more difficult and I'm of two minds.
Scaffolded Speaking Exercises (Level 3) 
Level 4 Speaking Exercises
A part of me knows that if I take the time, I could do it. I could create sentences--perhaps broken sentences--and answer the question or describe the situation. I recognize the value of these exercises as they push me to practice more skills. I know that as I take the time to create these complex sentences, it will become easier and I will be able to better receive and generate language.

But, right now, it's hard.

Level 4 Writing Exercise
It takes a lot more brain power than the scaffolded exercises and it's more frustrating. Where I once felt like I knew what I was doing, I now feel more tongue-tied and stupid. I stare at the page and I can't think of where to start. Where are all the vocabulary words I know? How do they all fit together again? The exercises that ask me to generate a longer block of text? I'll come back to those later. Eventually. Maybe. Probably not...

Thinking back to my classroom and my English Language Learners, I think I understand more what my students go through when we ask them to generate writing. Following a prompt in another language can be challenging. And I would have thought free writing is easier, but it is overwhelming and it can be hard to decide where to start. Especially when you are used to following prompts. I construct basic sentences over and over in my head but am never sure how to build off of them or connect my ideas together. And what I want to say is beyond my level of vocabulary and grammar. Ugh.

With practice, yes it will be easier, but how do I convince my students when right now it just makes some of them feel incompetent and stressed out? Many of them are resistant to anything that requires them to use their brain (shocker), but now I wonder, too, if it's because we've used too many prompts in the past and thus they choose not to try, hoping more prompts will come later... Right now, the effort that they need doesn't seem to outweigh the ultimate reward of becoming more proficient.

So then... how do I inspire that desire? And how do I ensure that I'm not over using my scaffolds like a crutch instead of  support?

...

The jury's still out.
Love and Hugs.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Jeju Field Fire Festival

"This world is on fire." 
"Burn baby burn."
"B-b-b-b-b-bonfire."
"Set fire to the rain."
"'Cause baby you're a firework."
Saebyeol Orem on Fire
*Insert more song lyrics about fire here*
ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ
I haven't been to many festivals in Korea but I really think I need to change that. Jeju's Field Fire Festival (제두들불축제) was a lot of fun with various events, perusable booths, and delectable street food.

While the festival is three days long, the highlight is on the second day when they set the hill ablaze. This year, that was Saturday, March 4th. My friend and I decided to hit up the festival early and we rolled in around 2 in the afternoon. The sun was warm--almost to the point of feeling too hot--and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll past the numerous tents. We saw face painting and colouring booths as well as other areas for crafts and games. Fresh produce, silly trinkets and other objects were available, too, but at the time, we were on a mission to see horsemanship and archery.
Booths lined the streets leading toward the Orem.
A slew of wind chimes that I liked to hit.
At the start of the horse show. 
One of the acrobatic feats. 
When we arrived at the horse ring, I was a little worried since it looked so small. And yet the performers used the space well. Around and around they went, twisting their bodies over and around their horses in intricate and amazing ways. I can only image how much practice and training it takes to be able to do some of those stunts--especially on a moving horse. And all that muscle! 

From the top of Saebyeol Orem, you get a killer view, and for a brief period, a mini-concert, too.
Looking back over the festival grounds.
Looking away toward the coast
Looking at us! :P
It was a long day, and the highlight was still to come. As the sun set, the temperature dropped drastically and my friend and I huddled for warmth as we waited for the burning to begin. I wish we had had a blanket like the groups of people camped out around us! As the day wore on, people arrived in droves and the pathways were soon packed. In fact, there were so many people that my data stopped working. ㅎㅎ. 

When the evening program finally began, it was quite the show. A parade of torches and fireworks built up until at last they ignited the field. It seemed both slow and fast as the fire ate through the dead, dry grasses. The reason for the festival is to celebrate (in a way) the coming agricultural season. In burning the old grasses, we also burn away the weeds so that the year can start fresh. A very cleansing tradition.
Fireworks lighting up the night atop of Saebyeol Orem
More fireworks.
I feel so cool taking firework photos.
The Orem burning...
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Jeju in time to check out this festival, I highly recommend it. Even if you can't see the orem burning, there are lots of other things to do and see. ^^ The traffic is gross (especially after the burning), but so worth it. (Definitely bring a blanket or really warm clothes for evening shenanigans!).

Love and Hugs