Sunday, 28 October 2012

Day Trip to Taichung

Mid-term tests are looming and the pressure is on, so it seemed to be a good time to take a short break. A friend was going to be in Taichung for the weekend, so we arranged to meet up with her and her family on Saturday.

My son has been friends with her two boys since we arrived a year ago, but now that they're in different schools we have to make an effort to get together so they can play.

This was outside the Botanical Gardens in the centre of Taichung.  Predictably, the boys were more interested in playing than looking at plants. The gardens were a quiet, lush oasis.

The large glasshouse contains a collection of native Taiwanese flora, and a small aquarium.

Outside, water plants form an interesting display. I'd never seen anything like some of the flowers I saw there.

These were blooming in one of the large bowls of aquatic plants that line the route into the glasshouse.

In a large pond outside, bigger water plants were growing. Unfortunately all the signage was in Chinese, apart from the botanical names, so I can't tell you anything about them other than the fact they were very pretty!

Another of the pleasures of the trip was the excuse it afforded to take the High Speed Rail. I love travelling this way. It's so futuristic. I feel as though I should be wearing a silver jumpsuit and eating tablets for lunch (boy, did the futurists of the '60s get that one wrong!).

It's so cheap too. Only roughly £45 for a return ticket for both of us.

The highlight of the day was the afternoon we spent at the National Museum of Natural Science. It was very easy to get there on the free shuttle bus from the HSR station into town, which stops at the museum.

The walkway that leads down to the museum is paved with images of animals in their evolutionary order, starting with the present and walking into the past. This was one of the leviathans depicted in the shallow water channel that runs alongside the path:

And this was at the base of a bubbling fountain at the very end:

Presumably one of the earliest forms of life
I think the walk is to scale as well, because the higher order animals are clustered together at the beginning, while towards the end there are long gaps between the various forms, all of which are in water.

At the entrance to the museum, someone had dressed up for the occasion.

Once there, we went straight into the Space Theatre, which had a beautiful display of the night sky followed by a film on the history of flight. Very impressive, it was projected onto the domed ceiling. We did have to close our eyes sometimes due to motion sickenss, though!

The museum layout also mimics evolutionary history, working its way through time to human origins and the human body at the very end of the tour. Dinosaurs were, as always, a big focus of attention. No holds were barred in making them as scary and exciting as possible. T. Rex and one her babies were animated by robotics.

We spent a long time in the section devoted to humans. There were lots of interactive displays, including one that measured your brain waves. After resting your forehead against a sensor, a screen displayed your brain activity. Yes, mine did show some! Interestingly, if you cleared your mind of thoughts, the waves flattened out considerably. I assume there was no lasting damage caused. I have too few brain cells left to risk losing any more.

More gruesome exhibits were a film about smoking cadavers in Papua New Guinea (to preserve them) and two human brains in formaldehyde: one normal brain and one damaged by drug addiction. There was also the obligatory Egyptian mummy to ogle.

I was surprised how big Taichung is, and flat. I'm so used to the beautiful mountains of Taipei that travelling out of the city feels like going to another land. There was so much more to explore. One day we'll go back.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Birthday Party

Birthday parties are one of the most well-remembered events of childhood, and I didn't want my son to miss out on his just because we decided to move here, so I recently organised a party for him. His birthday is actually in August but I thought I would wait until he'd made friends at his new school (I suspect this is an excuse for procrastination but never mind). We invited the whole class and some friends from his previous school too.

Luckily there are venues here for this kind of thing. We chose this one in the end, though others were recommended. We were going for all the least painful options, so catering was provided by KFC and cakes by a local firm. My days of slaving over a mixing bowl, lovingly making birthday cakes are log over, I'm afraid!

Anyway, the bought-in creations were far better than anything I could have managed.

This character needs no introduction.


The event gave my son's teacher another opportunity to demonstrate her angel-sent-from-heaven status. All of the children in my son's class wanted to come but most of them couldn't because their parents were working, so their teacher volunteered to come to school on a Saturday and escort them there with us. 

These events are always a little stressful. The bus' failure to appear really didn't help matters. We bundled into three taxis and got there a little late. One little girl was sick in the taxi and the taxi driver wanted $300 to clear up the mess. Fair enough. I paid him. This was not the time to quibble.

The kids immediately launched into play. The venue was set up with all kinds of activities that mimicked real life, such as little shops with pretend goods, a small doctor's surgery, a police station and officer's uniform (I was issued with several fines - I'm not sure what for, I suspect police corruption) and a large house frame with empty walls to fill in with blocks. 

The children were amazingly well-behaved. They just played, very nicely. There was no squabbling over toys, no fights, no throwing things around. I was worried about crowd control with about 20 children in a confined space, but there was no need for concern at all. I think the teacher's presence may have helped somewhat too.

Us parents could lounge on sofas and chat, so we did just that. We were served several pretend teas, which were of course delicious. In the meantime we agreed about how nice birthday parties were when someone else provided the venue, did the catering, and tidied up after for you.

I think for my son the only downside was having to wait until Happy Birthday was sung to him three times in Chinese and three times in English before he could blow out his candles. Other than that he, and all the other children too, it seemed, had a great time.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Yehliu Rocks

A few weeks ago we made an unsuccessful attempt to visit the well-known tourist attraction Yehliu Geopark. This park isn't on some remote, inaccessible peninsula hundreds of miles from civilisation, though. It's just that our travel plans went, as isn't infrequently the case, awry.

Yehliu is a small promontory that sticks out of the northern coast of Taiwan. The site is famous for its hoodoo rocks, which have formed interesting shapes, open to wide-ranging interpretations. Like many attractions around Taipei, it's easy to get to by public transport (catch the 1815 bus from Taipei Main Station or City Hall Station) and cheap to enter.

We made a much more successful attempt to go again on the recent 10/10 national holiday. This time, we actually got there. Days off school are rare, so we didn't want to waste the opportunity for a day out. Last year, we went to see the fireworks at Dadaocheng Wharf, which was a brilliant experience. But now that we live further away I decided that it would just take too long to get home if we were to go there again.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Yehliu. As it was a national holiday, the site was predictably quite full, but this didn't restrict us or spoil the day. Here's one of the main areas, and as, you can see, it wasn't too crowded:

It's a fascinating place. The rocks are strange, almost unearthly, to look at, and the sea provides an appropriately rough, natural backdrop.

Small boy takes photos

Beetle's eye view

The site is also famous for its fossils. This is, apparently, an Echinus, or sea urchin fossil.
Most visitors stayed on the rocky and beach areas of the site, enjoying the beautiful autumn weather. (Something has gone wrong, it isn't raining - yet.) We decided to explore the green, hilly cape at the far end of the site.

Once we got onto the hill itself, it was very quiet. We didn't attempt to climb the cliffs, because this sign had warned us what would happen if we did.
There was about a mile or more of paths around the hill. We saw only a few other people, mostly bird watchers. The site is a sanctuary for sea and coastal birds. I managed to get a lucky shot of this one:

The taking of this photo caused a small rift in our family harmony, that my son relates here.

The view from the hilltop was amazing.

We all fell asleep on the bus on the way home. That sea air is just too invigorating at times.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Let's Fun

Yesterday we funned at the Huashan Creative Park. We'd been there before, several months ago, for a UK in Taiwan celebration.

This time, following a friend's mention on Facebook, we attended the Huashan Living Arts Festival, which is running until the end of the month. All of the arts I could think of were represented there, and one or two that were new to me, such as the manipulation of digital images in real time (sorry, you'll just have to go if you want to know more, that's as much as I understood!).

The Huashan Creative Park is fantastic for this kind of thing. It has a range of indoor and outdoor spaces of varying capacities, so that many different activities can run at the same time. There were lots of free things for kids to do and everyone was having a blast.

In true Taiwanese tradition, little children were especially catered for. It almost made me wish I was five again.

Here are some little ones enjoying an interactive story.

An actress in the making

Some enthusiastic artists:

Where there are children, there will always be balloons.

There was much for the more mature visitor too: theatrical performances, art and photography exhibitions, and film viewings.

At one street exhibit I had simply no clue what was happening, at least until later.

There were lots of long, metal tubular objects standing about and a small crowd of people with a speaker at the centre. I couldn't understand a word, so we hung around for a while to see if anything would happen.

While we were waiting, I took a photo of the inside of one of the objects. At the bottom of the tube was a mirror, and this was in the middle. Can you guess what the tubes were?

All became clear when the talk was finished and people spread out to start using them. They turned them towards the light and held a piece of white paper to one side, where light was reflected out onto it.

Yes, the tubes were a kind of telescope, a safe way to look at the sun (presumably for use during solar eclipses and for general scientific curiosity).

We are simple folk, though, and the highlight of the day for us was some traditional street theatre:

What is it that actors say about never working with children?