Tuesday, 29 October 2013

School Trip to Feitsui Reservoir

Taiwanese public schools run two trips a year per class, and I tag along on my son's trips whenever the opportunity arises. In his first year we managed to do three because he moved classes, so he went on one class trip, then moved to another class and went on his new class's excursion, too.

The destinations seem to depend on the wealth of the majority of the parents. At my son's previous school the parents were lecturers, business owners and professionals of various kinds, and the trips entailed some cost, such as our trip to Baby Boss. This is a venue where children dress up and act out a work role, such as a doctor, dentist, pilot, nurse etc. After their working day of half an hour is over, they receive wages, which they can then spend in the shop. This is very popular among parents of younger children but I have to say we won't be returning to Baby Boss in a hurry. It was so crowded that we spent hours queueing for about one hour of entertainment. And the division of work roles between the sexes - such as the assumption that  girls want to be flight attendants and boys want to be pilots - was depressing.

Another trip we took was to Pingxi Mining Museum and the nearby Shifen. This was far more interesting as it was an introduction to the history of ordinary Taiwanese people, the poor, hard-working mining families of the area. It was also an opportunity to get into the mountains on a beautiful, warm day. What more could I ask for?

At my son's current school the trips have been less ambitious and entirely free, if you don't count Easycard use on public transport. This is probably because the parents at this school are shopkeepers, labourers and other poorly paid professions. Volunteers and English speakers are also far fewer than at the previous school. It's an interesting insight into different aspects of Taiwanese society for me.

From our perspective the school suits our needs well. Previously, my son knew lots of children who spoke enough English to translate for him, and who also liked practising their English with him. Now, he has to speak Chinese if he wants to be understood. And because the school is small, which isn't popular amongst most Taiwanese people, he can get lots more attention from the teacher. As far as I can tell there's also less academic pressure. In fact, after hearing tales from parents whose children are inner city schools, I'm sure this is the case.

Trips with our current school have included the Children's Recreation Center, the Fine Art Museum and the Lin Family Mansion followed by nearby Xinsheng Park. I find it enjoyable being out with the children my son talks about all the time. He refers to them in terms of their class number, which seems to be standard terminology for talking about your classmates. For example, he was telling me today that number 4 got told off for running in the corridors, so he said it wasn't him, it was number 8.

Our most recent trip was to Feitsui Reservoir. We had bad luck because it rained heavily all the way there, during our visit, and all the way back. The days before and after were fine and sunny. Instead of walking around the beautiful emerald waters of the reservoir, we spent most of the time sitting in a lecture hall listening to an entertaining presentation of a member of staff and watching a film about the flora and fauna in the area. We braved the rain for twenty minutes or so before we returned to school.
The reservoir received plenty more water the day we visited.

The water on the left retained the typical emerald color.
As well as the beautiful scenery, a Taiwanese friend was telling me today you can buy some kind of delicious ice treat near Feitsui Reservoir, and the stories of all the wildlife and insect life in the area were intriguing. Another place in Taiwan we must visit again!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Qingnian Park

We are spoiled for parks and easy access to the mountains here in east Taipei. Both apartments we've occupied have had green views and if we ever feel like a hike in the fresh mountain air we only have to go a few stops on the MRT. West Taipei is flatter, busier, less planned and more noisy but it has its share of green areas too, as we found out yesterday when we went to the Wonderland of Animals and Insects in Taiwan outdoor exhibition in Qingnian Park, Zhongzheng District.

Although the park is difficult to get to by MRT, with no stations within easy walking distance, our journey wasn't too difficult in the end. We caught a taxi from Guting Station, and the driver not only understood where we wanted to go, he even took us to the correct entrance for the exhibition, knowing why we were going too.

Known as the Youth Park in English, the area is easily large enough to accommodate the many giant models of insects and animals of the exhibition, including a 63 metre whale. There are a baseball stadium, golf driving range and water park on site, as well as large hothouses (oddly enough it might seem, but they house cacti and other plants that can't tolerate the heavy rain). We also saw a playground and small ornamental lake, and, looking at the map, Qingnian Park adjoins the riverpark, giving more options for walks in green areas and cycling with rented bikes.

The highlight of our visit was walking through the huge model of a whale. We had to queue for about twenty minutes but it was worth it. I'd been expecting just a blue tunnel through the interior until we were, as my son put it 'pooped out the back end'. But we found instead that the whale was full of models of things you might, or might not, expect to find in a whale's stomach.

Huge jellyfish and squid were standard whale fare, we thought.

And a sunken ship was also a reasonable guess at what you might find inside a whale.

But the volcanoes were stretching it just a tad.

The rest of the exhibit was fun, too, though for the older child visitor I would say there needed to be more things to actually do. It was mostly just a look-see kind of exhibition. We loved the sense of humour, though.
 This giant mosquito was dressed as a nurse, giving an 'injection'. If only real mosquito bites were beneficial.

And this praying mantis was wrestling a truck.

The place was packed the day we went, which was to be the final day, but I read recently that the event will run for another week.

Outside the exhibition area the park itself was a pleasant environment to enjoy. My son had fun getting dizzy and dirty rolling down a hill seemingly built for that exact purpose.
Although Qingnian Park is a little out of the way for us, we'll definitely return, probably in the late spring next year when the water park re-opens. With the river park nearby, playground and plenty of open space, it's healthy, open air entertainment for a whole day.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Cycling in Fulong

The last time we went to Fulong, a rogue wave (okay, it was about 6 inches high) drowned my towel, my book and me, and my son got stung by a jellyfish. So this time we thought it was safer to stick to cycling.

Just outside Fulong station there are two bicycle hire shops, where you can rent a bike for as little as NT$100 (about £2) a day. The bikes are reasonably good quality, and children's and tandem bikes are available too.

Bike tracks run along the beach to the temple (to the right as you stand with your back to Fulong Station), adjacent eating areas and beyond, and as far as I could tell, to the left as well.
The temple side of the beach is signed as unsafe for swimming, due to undertows. But it's is free to enter and there are toilets and changing areas, so it's popular.
This was taken towards the end of the day
We didn't go to either beach in the end because we spent most of the day cycling, but I think I would take the advice of my friends, who are trained lifeguards, and use the left hand beach. There's a small entry fee, but the water is safe for swimming and the sand is fine and clean.

As well as the bike tracks that run along the beach, there's a track leading from the road directly outside Fulong Station. After a couple of kilometres it enters Caoling Tunnel, which takes about 20 minutes to pass through.

At the end of the tunnel, those with more time and energy can continue along the Fulong Coast bike path and all around the Northeast Cape.

On our way back, I realised that spider season is with us again.
But this one wasn't quite as wide as my hand, so nothing too much to worry about. I must be getting used to living in Taiwan.