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Published: August 26th 2010
Last Sunday I got on a train and headed to the northeast part of Taiwan to work at a summer camp for a week. I decided to be cheap and instead of taking the high speed rail, I took a train that took twice as long, but was half the price. I stared out the window, ate, read and slept my way through the 6 hour train ride. During the last hour of the trip from Taipei to Yilan, the train rounded a corner and headed down the east side of Taiwan. My face was glued to the train window as I got a 180 degree view of the Pacific Ocean. I got off the train in Yilan around 5pm and since the camp coordinator wasn't supposed to be there until 6, I decided to try to make my way down to the beach. It proved to be more difficult than I had planned and without a map and carrying my big ass backpack, I ended up stopping at a coffee shop and waiting for the coordinator to call. (It was pretty funny being a big white woman with a big backpack walking around the small town. I'm used to getting
Took a few tries, but I finally got that bugger while it was still.
stared at occasionally in Kaohsiung, but here, people literally stopped dead in their tracks and watched me pass by). Around 6pm, the coordinator called me to say that he was just leaving Taipei and that I should just take a cab to the camp. Upon arriving, I realized that this summer camp was going to be much different than I had pictured. The camp ended up being a "resort farm" which is a glamorized way of saying a motel on a mountain that has a couple of animals, a few fruit trees, and a lot of bugs. The owner of the place showed me around the hotel and gave me a map of the farm. I dropped my stuff off in my room and since it was still light out, I made my way down to the main road. The ocean was just on the other side, but it was such a tease. There were big cement blocks that lined the beaches, so I could only look at it from the cement wall and never even got to put my feet in. The swimming and surfing beaches were much further up the road and there wasn't much around where I
was besides what looked like some fishing businesses. It took me about 30 minutes to get down there and by that time, it was starting to get dark, so I made my way back up to the camp. I talked to the coordinator before going to bed and agreed to meet him at 8:30am for breakfast to talk about what I was supposed to do.
On Monday morning, I woke up to meet the coordinator who showed up late. I was starting to get nervous because the bus of kids had arrived and I still had no clue as to what I was supposed to do. At 9:30, Jumpman (the coordinator that told me to call him by his nickname which he had gotten because he always wears air jordan gear), finally came downstairs. I realized that this was going to be much more lax than I expected. I don't know if this is how the camp always is, but Jumpman told me that this was the last camp of the summer and that there were only 12 kids during this session. I didn't actually teach on Monday- I only had to interview the students. Normally these interviews were
used to determine which class the students would be in, but since there were only 12 kids, they were split up by age and not by ability. So, I taught a 3 hour class to 6 older kids in the morning and a 3 hour class to 6 younger kids in the afternoon. This made my job of lesson planning a little harder because I had a kid who was practically fluent in the same class with a kid that barely spoke 2 words in English the entire week. Each group of 6 kids had 2 Taiwanese counselors. At first, I thought these counselors were there to help me out, but I soon realized that they spoke less English than many of the campers. Their job was to annoyingly take pictures the entire time.
This was definitely a Taiwanese summer camp. The counselors took pics of the students and the kids were sent CDs after the camp was over so that the parents could see what they did. I was instructed to give out as many handouts as possible, so the kids would come home with full binders showing all the English they had learned. The kids started out
the day by getting their temperatures taken which was recorded in some sort of log. After dinner, the kids all pulled out their cell phones and called their parents. Often, their cell phones would ring during dinner and they would answer it and talk to their parents at the table. I couldn't believe it! This was definitely not like any summer camp I ever went to... there were even TVs in the rooms! I think most of these kids were forced to come to the camp by their parents. It seemed like almost all of them didn't enjoy the outdoors and many of them had little interest in speaking English. Needless to say they didn't enjoy my lesson plans as much as I did. I figured we'd go on nature walks and talk about things in English. The first day, we talked about living and nonliving things. Then we walked around and they wrote down as many living things they could find. Many of the trees and plants had the English names on them, so I thought it would be kind of fun for them to search for the names. We even stopped and fed the goats. After about 10
minutes, the students who could speak English began to complain: "Teacher, I'm hot", "Teacher, I'm tired", "Can we go back?" I thought my other lesson plans were pretty creative- we went to a look-out-point where we had an amazing view of the ocean and talked about fish and other things that lived in the water. On another day, we walked to the duck pond where we talked about ducks, fed them, and played duck duck goose. The kids seemed more interested in sitting in an air conditioned room than going out and doing any of the activities I'd planned. By the end of the week, I stopped doing the nature walks, but then I got the complaint: "Teacher, my butt hurts. We've been sitting too long". Needless to say it was a long week.
The week was made even longer by the fact that I had nothing to do during the break time and after dinner. I had a break from 12-2, so I went on a hike a couple of times, but honestly, this was not the best time to go outside for physical activity especially in the middle of August. I usually came back soaking wet and
in desperate need of a shower. The fact that I didn't have a scooter or any other form of transportation left me kind of stranded on the farm. I also had very few people to talk to. At meal times, I usually sat there in silence as everyone around me spoke Chinese. I felt like I was in Charile Brown's classroom and that all the students talked like the teacher: Wah wah wah. Half the time, I had no clue what was going on. The Taiwanese staff would tell the kids to do something and I'd have to lean over to one of the better students to ask what was going on. I was always on time to teach my classes and do the evening activities which always made be about 30 minutes early.
Monday night's activity was playing games and once I realized that these games were all in Chinese and that someone would have to explain everything to me, I decided to spend the night reading and watching TV. The next night, we went to see the fireflies. In my mind, I imagined going out to some meadow and seeing twinkling lights all around. I guess it's
not firefly season... we saw a total of 2 fireflies the entire evening. It was pretty boring, however, I did see a dead grasshopper that was being carried by a colony of ants- whooh! Wednesday night's activity was a BBQ which I kind of had to participate or else I wouldn't have eaten dinner. Grilled up some tofu, mushrooms, and bell peppers that were pretty good. On Thursday morning, I thought we were going to hike to the look-out-point to see the sunrise. I was downstairs at 4am, but (surprise surprise) the campers weren't there until 4:30. Then, instead of hiking, we all piled into a van that drove us to this other look-out-point that wasn't nearly as good. It was at that point that I decided to lower my expectations, so that I'd have a better time. Surprisingly, it worked. The sunrise was amazing. It was surreal to think that I was watching the sun RISE over the pacific. It totally made me realize that I was on the other side of the world. I started to think about how the sun was setting in California at that moment and I felt like Fievel and almost started singing: "Somewhere,
out there..." 😉 That night we made sticky rice which is a traditional Taiwanese dessert. It's made with an over sized, wooden mortar and pestle and after the rice is made sticky, sweet seasonings are added. On Friday night, we made the traditional red lanterns and wrote wishes on them. Then, we set them on fire and let them go. It's believed that when you do this, your wishes are being sent up to the heavens for the gods to read them. It was fun to do and very pretty to watch, but I just kept thinking that it didn't seem very eco-friendly. That was our last night of camp. On Saturday morning, we went to the Culture Museum where I tried a few traditional snacks like tomatoes covered in a sugary syrup. Around noon, it was time for us to head home. The camp had a bus that would stop in Taipei and then head down to Kaohsiung. I decided to be cheap once again and take the free bus home. After several stops along the way, I finally made it home... 8 hours later. Overall, it was a good experience and it was great to see another part
of Taiwan. I definitely want to go back to Yilan before I leave, but next time, I'll go for vacation and not to work 😉
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