Teacher and Staff Gatherings

It’s almost the end of our first school year in Taichung.  What a great experience this has been.  The people and the location have really surpassed our expectations.  We are trying to fit in a few last minute things before the group scatters for the summer.

I’ve been talking for months about having a cooking class for the teachers and staff.  I finally realized that it was now or never for this school year.  Last week we had the first after school American cooking class for teachers and staff.  We made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (really tasty since I accidentally doubled the butter), quick pasta sauce, carrot raisin salad, and classic macaroni and cheese.  Drop me a line if you want the recipes.  Amazingly we finished all these recipes in just under an hour.  The real advantages to teaching the teachers and staff instead of 9 and 10 year olds are that the conversation is better and they clean up after themselves!  I’ll teach this group again any time.

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The other big event last week was the year end dinner.  There’s a great restaurant on the 27th floor of Hotel One in Taichung.  It was a beautiful evening so we had a great view.  The food was wonderful as well – buffet salads, good bread, and soup followed by a choice of entrée that was some of the best Indian food I’ve had here, and then the dessert buffet.  I’m a little embarrassed to say we ate like Americans.  We loved it.

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I really haven’t wrapped my mind around missing the daily presence of those teachers who are leaving. It’s an inevitable part of working in the international teaching world.  But it does occur to me that now we have people to visit in more parts of the world.

My brother is so very cool.

My brother plans the most intense vacations ever.  Every day has at least two major places to visit and one (or more) evening events.  And it’s all weird and wonderful.

My brother can find the most interesting and unusual things to do or see anywhere in the world.  I don’t know how he does it.  He can find fascinating things going on in your hometown in places that you never heard of.  How does he do this?

My brother makes his dreams come true.  Want to visit Nepal or the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?  He goes there.  And once he’s there he wrings every experience possible from it.  I can hardly wait to see what he does with retirement!

My brother plays mandolin in the most amazing band (3rd Sunday String Band out of Chicago).  They just keep getting better. They are clearly having fun together and so is their audience.  To really appreciate this you need to know that I learned in high school that my brother should never again play the violin.  Please.  But I love hearing him on the mandolin.  And I really love hearing his band.  When is your CD ready, Andy?

My brother is one of the most caring people I have ever met.  He demonstrates this every day.  It is a privilege to know him.

And I hope he had a very happy birthday.

Andy recording

Weekend in Hualien

(note: this is a long post because it was a packed tight weekend.  Vickey is now an honorary Norton for her adventurous spirit, detailed planning, love of good food and ability to laugh in the pouring rain.)

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Vickey had a last minute space on a fast weekend trip she planned to Hualien and Taroko Gorge.  It sounded like great fun so of course I jumped on board.  Vickey had planned travel train through Taipei to Hualien and back, a whale watching tour, a bus tour of Taroko Gorge, and a splurge on a seaside hotel.  it was so nice to have someone else do such a thorough job of planning. All I needed to do was show up ridiculously early Saturday morning with my overnight bag in hand.

We weren’t able to get on the fast train but I think the slow train was in some ways better.  We had a much better view when the landscape wasn’t whizzing by.  Plus it gave us time to grade papers and get our homework out of the way before the weekend began.

One of the owners of the hotel, Juan, met us at the train station in Hualien.  Wow – this hotel (Hotel Bayview) exceeded our expectations!  The room was beautiful and comfortable with a great view. There was a nice dining area with always available tea, coffee, and cookies.  The breakfast buffet the next morning was enough to keep us going all day – good food and a good variety.  This is definitely on my list of hotels to stay at in the future.

Juan assisted us out with all the tour arrangements.  His English is perfect which was very helpful for us.  There had been landslides recently in Taroko Gorge so some of the tour arrangements had changed.  This was shoulder season so some things were still “getting ready for the real tourists” as we say in our family.

We settled on whale watching on Saturday afternoon and a shorter Taroko Gorge tour on Sunday before catching the train home.

Whale watching turned out to be … interesting.  It had been raining on and off all day. We assumed that of course the whale watching boats wouldn’t go out if the water was too rough.  Wrong.  Or maybe we were all wimps.  Once we got past the breakwater the rain was pouring down, the spray (the saltiest water I’ve tasted) was slapping in our faces, and the boat was bouncing.  A lot.  We saw dolphins jumping and that was pretty cool, but what we are most proud of on this trip was that neither of us got sick.  Unlike at least a third of the boatload of tourists.  The trip was shorter than advertised but no one was complaining.  It was a pretty quiet and queasy group that made it back to the dock.

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After we got back to the hotel we took a short walk on the bike path by the ocean to clear our heads.  In the hotel room we showered off the salt spray, changed to dry clothes, and  headed out to dinner.  I dragged Vickey to our favorite restaurant in Hualien (Jia Curry).  Fortunately she loved it.

We thought about going to the stone market but instead wound up at a used bookstore.  A used bookstore in a converted house with English language novels, nooks and crannies with armchairs, quirky drawings, a coffee bar, three cats, and a sleepy dog.  Heaven!

Sunday morning we tried a little bit of everything at the breakfast buffet.

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Then we went for a longer walk on the bike path before the Taroko tour.  The bike paths in Hualien are great – long stretches of smooth pavement and wonderful views.

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We had tried to get an English language taxi driver for our tour but the usual people were not available.  Instead we joined a Chinese language tour.  Fortunately several people on the tour spoke excellent English and could tell us the key points.  We also got to know a nice American woman on vacation from her job in China.

The rain was pouring down by this point in the day.  The one thing I forgot to pack was any sort of raincoat.  Or an umbrella.  The hotel gave me one of those ubiquitous disposable raincoats which ultimately meant that I was wet on the outside from the rain and inside from my sweat.

But oh, the view!  When Dan and I drove through Taroko Gorge I was so ready to be done with the drive that we didn’t’ explore much.  Now I know that there are some great paths I would love to explore further.  What a wonderful place.

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I guess the tour time needed to be padded out so it ended up on a beach just down from our hotel (where we had already spent plenty of time exploring the beach).  Vickey tried to just stay put in the nice dry bus, but it was “all tourists off the bus” so she had to stand in the rain with the rest of us until they let us back on.

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One quick weekend, a whole lot of rain, a long train ride, a queasy boat trip,  and a tour in a foreign language – we had a great time.

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Bread Pudding

Yesterday’s cooking class was on stuffed French toast (basically a sandwich made with cream cheese and jam or Nutella and bananas and dipped in French toast goo before frying).  Some of the students noticed that the bread was past its sell by date.  That’s great for French toast which should be made from stale bread.  But the students were very concerned.  Several were convinced that they should not risk their health and well being on out of date bread.  Sigh.

That left me with half a loaf of stale bread.  This morning I tried Mark Bittman’s Maple Bread Pudding.  Yum!  Particularly with a banana sliced on it and a little cream drizzled on top.

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Maple Bread Pudding (adapted from Mark Bittman’s Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times)

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 pound white bread, cut or torn into chunks no smaller than 1 inch in diameter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 banana
  • heavy cream to drizzle on top

Butter a square baking dish and put the bread in it.  Cut the remaining butter into bits and combine with the other ingredients.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread and be sure all the bread is pushed down into the liquid.

Bake 45 to 60 minutes (until just set but not dry) at 350.  The top will be crusty and brown.  Serve with sliced banana and heavy cream and maybe some more maple syrup.

Lion’s Head Mountain

(another guest post from Casey)

I spent much of the drive up to Lion’s Head Mountain with my head hanging out of the window like a puppy dog. There is a large temple on the mountain and also beautiful, lush, jungle.

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My dad and I, the half of the expedition without canes, clambered up the tricky, uneven stairs to the top of the temple.

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I kept admonishing the view to ‘stop it’ since everywhere I looked was over the top, ridiculously picturesque: mountains rising up into the haze, colorful dragons on top of orange tiled roofs, flute music wafting through the air, tropical flowers, etc.

 

When I was a small child one of my favorite places ever was a plant conservatory in Vancouver. The air smelled delicious, the humidity would cause strangers to remark on my curly hair (relieving me of the responsibility of insisting that my hair was, in fact, curly in the face of well meaning, “what lovely wavy hair you have” comments), and since the whole place was a relatively small bio-dome, I could wander around by myself in what felt like my own personal jungle. I adored it, and secretly hoped each time we had a vacation that we would go back and visit it again.

With that in mind: the drive up to Lion’s Head Mountain and the surrounding area are a giant, real version of my perfect childhood place. There are even butterflies! My dad, the great naturalist that he is, pointed to a butterfly and said, “I call that one a ‘white butterfly!’” (Please feel free to make fun of him for this.)

There are vendors spaced around the temple selling food, trinkets, walking canes, and musical instruments. I got a little distracted by the musical instruments. I was entranced by the flute music and asked to try one out. The straight flutes were tricky to get a sound out of, so the man selling them handed me a smaller one that played more like a recorder. He tried to teach me to play a scale and started singing solfege syllables to me. Since I speak solfege we had a common language! I wasn’t allowed to leave until I could play “happy birthday” without messing up.

 

Standing on the top of a mountain, surrounded by tropical mist, smelling burning paper, struggling to play an unfamiliar instrument while being patiently taught by a man I share a total of eight common words with.

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Lightheaded and out of breath we continued on trying to figure out if we could snake around the back to get back to my mom and grandma. We were unsuccessful and instead found another flute seller.

 

ETREMELY light headed (I am not a wind instrumentalist) we made our way down the mountain and found the rest of the family.

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