Friday, October 29, 2010

Fire Lion Festival

The past few weeks have been very busy for Erin and me; mostly for Erin as she has attempted to adapt to teaching three new English classes in a different school and different country.  While I have some planning and grading to do for my two classes, it is nothing compared to the piles of work she brings home each night.  With first quarter grades due two weeks ago and parent-teacher conferences this week it has been our primary focus.

Last weekend, with grades in, it was time to relax and celebrate.  Erin went out Friday for a "Lady's Night" as I stayed at home and relaxed.  Then on Saturday morning we both got a full-body massage.  The place had been recommended by one of the teachers at school because the masseuse was supposed to be gentler than the hard massages people seem to prefer here.  I say "supposed to" because we still found it very hard.  We probably should have said something, but the two hour massage did feel good aside from a few sharp moments.  Then again we were both sore for the rest of the weekend so I'm not sure I'll go back.

The most exciting part of last weekend came on Sunday when we were treated to VIP status at a local Fire Lion Festival at Lotus Pond.  We arrived at our school (which is a few blocks away from the pond/lake) around 4pm and walked with a tour guide as he described the history of the area.  We went to a local temple to a god of medecine and learned the lengthy ritual to get a prescription for chinese herbs (let's just say it involves a lot of random picking and block tossing).  We then went to two pagodas that sit on the lake with a tiger sitting in front of one and a dragon in front of the other.  You walk in the mouth of the dragon and out the mouth of the tiger for some traditional reason (after the medical god prescription process I was starting to lose interest).

We then walked over to the other side of the lake to take part in the Fire Lion festival.  This involved writing our wishes for our family, friends, and future on little slips of paper that would be attached (or bound up) in a large paper lion that would be burnt taking our wishes to heaven.  With that written up and attached to a line we took a trip around the lake in a boat as we learned more about the area.  It was a very nice evening as the temperature is finally starting to get cooler and more comfortable.  After the boat ride we walked over to a very nice hotel for dinner.  The dinner was a nice banquet style meal though we weren't particularly fond of the food.  Once we were finished it was dark out and time to head back for the fire lion parade.

It was at this time that we began to realize our true VIP status at this event.  As we rushed back to the lake we found ourselves walking in front of people watching the parade so that it was the parade going one way in the road, us walking the other way in the road, and everyone else standing on the side of the road watching it all.  Our tour guides led us toward a main stage where we were soon given front-row seats to watch the festivities.  There we were given up close performances by dancers and martial artists with incense, flaming staffs, and flaming swords.  At one point the mayor of Kaohsiung (apparently the third most politically powerful person in Taiwan) arrived and greeted us.  It was all very exciting, though a little embarrassing, having so much attention lavished on us.  You can see more about the festival on the city's website here: (warning: music player in upper-right hand of pages)

Finally the lions which had been brought up earlier were set on fire with a cavalcade of fireworks and a water show out on the lake.  It was all very spectacular and we were glad that we had the opportunity to participate.  It was a reminder of why we're here and working so hard to adapt to this foreign culture. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Living it up in Kaohsiung

These past two weeks Erin and I have been getting to know Kaohsiung a little better rather than traveling out of town.  That's mainly been driven by a need to get caught up with work more than anything else.  It's always fun to get out of town, but it also involves more planning and can be stressful dealing with yet another foreign place.  So the past two weeks have been a bit more easy going.

During that time one question that we've been struggling with has been what to do about transportation.  After watching how chaotic scooter drivers can be in the city and even noticing two in minor accidents we soon ruled that out for the city (we still like to get them in less populated areas).  Next we considered a car and started the process for getting one.  However, we soon learned that our apartment doesn't come with a parking space which would mean we would have to rent it ourselves.  At about US$75 a month it would be a major part of owning a car.  What's more, finding car parking in the city can be difficult and driving can be stressful.  Well, we finally decided that our current practice of walking, taking cabs, and using the subway was working just fine.  We're pretty lucky to live very close to a subway stop that allows us easy access to much of the city.  We may get something else in the future, but for now I think we'll just stick with that.

Staying in town on the weekends we've been going on to eat much more often.  A week ago Friday Erin went out with some girl friends to watch a movie and have margaritas while I met a friend from college who happened to be in town.  On Saturday night we made reservations and ate at a wonderful rooftop Thai restaurant downtown.  The views were great and the food was delicious.  It's definitely a place we'll be going back to.  On Sunday we rented and rode bikes down the river to an outback Steakhouse for a large Western-style dinner.

During the week we've gone out to a variety of places as well.  We've been out for Italian, Indian, Thai, Western, and local cuisine.  We're even going out for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner tonight (same kinds of food, different day).  Back in the States I don't think we would have been able to eat out so much, but here it is one of our few expenses with our place already paid for.

Getting to know the city we had a chance to walk around the Central Park last weekend.  Then last night we took a five-minute ferry ride across the harbor to Cijin island.  It was nice to rent a bike and ride around.  We got to check out the lighthouse and an old fort as well as some beautiful views of the city that they provided.  It was also nice just sitting and listening to the waves on the beach before going back and having some dinner and shaved ice with mango.