Excited about eating, and happy to BBQ*

It’s mid-autumn festival and time to barbeque with family and friends.

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The students put on their annual school barbeque last night.  At AST we have students who are used to running the show.  They start in middle school with running meetings and making all announcements at weekly assemblies.  By the time they get to high school they organize complicated events with ease.

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I was chaperoning the kitchen activity for the barbeque. All I really needed to do was answer questions about where to find the pots and pans. The students prepped mountains of vegetables, cooked a Taiwanese barbeque, and cleaned up beautifully.  (except for some spills in the new oven which I want to take care of – anyone have good oven cleaning suggestions?)

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Some of the food was unfamiliar to me like these mushrooms and a cross between a gourd, melon, and cucumber.

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Baby corn is almost all husks and corn silk, doesn’t really seem worth the effort.

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The outer layer of the bamboo (?) is peeled and you eat the tender inner bit.

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No one could quite agree on what these cakes were made of….maybe very mild fish?  But everyone agreed they were tasty and well worth eating.

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Lots and lots of volunteers in the kitchen. For some reason the tiny bright pink bunny apron is most popular with the biggest guys.  They run to be the first to get to it.  Seriously.  Every class.

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The barbecue also included a volleyball tournament in the (air conditioned!) gym and a movie for those who were feeling less energetic.  By the time the late bus left at 7:30 that night the high school students were playing very informal volleyball (some of the players switched sides as needed and there was always a helping hand for a serve that wasn’t going to make it over the net), others were playing basketball, and the sixth graders were taking notes on how they were going to be the big kids one day.

Magic.

*the school slogan is “Excited about learning, and happy to be here”  but one of the posters for the barbeque had this version

Upping Our Game

There’s always an adjustment at the beginning of a school year. We have a new crop of teachers and a new crop of students.  Some things stay the same while other things inevitably change.

Maybe this is just a function of us starting our second year, but there seems to be a new level of energy at school this year.  Somehow the new building (gym/cafeteria/kitchen classroom) and the programs established by our new set of very experienced ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers, and the after school programs for the elementary school, and a whole host of other things settling in place has led to a real excitement at the school.  The level of collaboration is amazing.  Just in the kitchen we’ve had science classes and ESOL classes and Spanish classes in addition to the regular cooking and nutrition classes and after school clubs for both high school and elementary school.  But it’s not just collaboration in the kitchen.  Everywhere I turn there are conversations about new things we could do at school – and then they happen!

This is very exciting.  I really feel I have to be doing my best to keep in the game with these colleagues.

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Revving Up for the School Year

It’s almost time for the new school year to begin. The new crop of teachers has arrived and the returning teachers are trickling back from summer vacation.

There are always lots of things needed to settle into life in a new place – stepstools, shelves, baskets, brooms, and more.  Charlene arranged for the new teachers to shop at several kinds of stores, but we felt they could benefit from an introduction to the wonderful Taiwan “everything” stores.  Everything stores are kind of like dollar stores and they are everywhere. The stores sell all shapes of plastic bins, household gadgets, inexpensive dishes, and more, all jumbled together.

At the welcome dinner last night we figured out the car pools and all met this morning at our favorite breakfast place, the Pancake and Waffle Café (which after a year we realized has no pancakes on the menu).  Even Carol and Simo made a surprise appearance, fresh off the plane.

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We coached the new teachers through the extensive menu, dragged them down the block to the everything store when we were done eating, and walked them through their first morning market.

Job well done.

The new teachers are wonderful!  They’re a great fit for the school.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole team together next week.

Rest up, folks!  We have a big week coming up.  Classes start on Thursday.

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The end of the school year

We’ve been in Taiwan 11 months as of today.  What a grand adventure this is turning out to be.  We’re feeling as much at home here as we can without being able to read, understand, or speak the language and without truly understanding the culture.  We’re still learning, little by little.  I’m certainly doing things I didn’t think I would be doing (Dan is still in shock that I am enjoying teaching and I’m more than a little surprised at all the writing I’ve been doing).

Here are my cooking students on the last day of class.  The older student behind me is a senior who was hanging around for the day and decided to sneak into the picture.  He learned early to come by right after class in hopes that there were leftovers he could eat.

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As interesting as it has been to live in another country, it’s really the people we’ve met who have made this such a great experience – the people we work with, the new friends we’ve made, the market ladies and the folks in the building who take care of us.  Recently there was some sort of Dragon Boat Festival party in the building that of course we didn’t know about (because we can’t read the signs in the elevator).  We got a phone call from the front desk telling us to come downstairs for our share of the sticky rice dumplings and bamboo shoot soup.  Here’s a good video from Peggy Teaches Chinese that explains how her grandmother makes sticky rice dumplings.

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It’s quiet here for the next month.  I’m working on putting together my high school course on cooking and nutrition and Dan is cleaning up the computer network at school.  Nearly everyone has gone home for the summer.  In July we will both teach at summer school.  And in August new teachers arrive and the school year begins again.  We’re resting up while we can.

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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