A Song From the Space Station

It seems that I am still catching up a little with what was going on around the world while we were on vacation. And in this case, I literally mean around the world. In early February, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performed the song I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) with the Barenaked Ladies (BNL) and the Wexford Gleeks, a show choir from Scarborough. The coolest part? Hadfield is currently in space, and he will become the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station this month!

Hadfield and Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies cowrote the song – a commission for the celebration of this year’s Music Monday. Music Monday is a day to celebrate music education, and this year (on May 6 at 1 pm Eastern time), I.S.S. will be performed by students across Canada. But enough from me. If you haven’t heard it already, you really should!

The Lyrics for I.S.S. Is Somebody Singing

Chinese New Year Vacation Part One: Singapore and Malaysia

With the arrival of Chinese New Year and a 2 week vacation, Mike and I set out for a whirlwind tour of parts of Southeast Asia.  The plan: to fly to Singapore and make our way mostly by surface travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia over 2.5 weeks.  We spent the first week with my dad’s girlfriend Olivia’s family in Malaysia and Singapore before hopping onto a plane to Koh Samui, Thailand for some relaxing on the beach. 

Here’s the travelogue for the first week of our trip:

Cycling Weekend: Neiwan

With good weather forecast for the weekend and no hot water at home, we decided now was the time to go on our first overnight bike trip here in Taiwan. There’s something really satisfying about travelling away from home under your own power. We chose to head over to the relatively nearby mountain town of Neiwan, home of lots of delicious food, hot spring spas, a suspension bridge and go-karting. It is a very popular day-trip location, yet it has a number of places to stay, so we thought we’d take our chances and see about finding a place for the night once we arrived in town. We had no trouble finding a spot, and ended up staying in a wonderful little B&B type place that overlooked the town.

It took a couple of hours of nice (generally uphill) riding to get into the little mountain town. There were some stretches of road that were a little busy, but it was definitely a popular route for local roadies – we saw many happy cyclists along the way.

arriving in Neiwan

The boardwalk is the first thing we saw when we arrived in Neiwan.

Once in Neiwan we rode around for a while looking for the B&B that we wanted to try first. It took a while to find the way, but we made it, and they had room! We showered up, changed into street clothes and hit the Old Street for lunch. We had some brightly coloured rice buns, pork skewers, glutinous rice tamales and some local oranges. Yum! We also bought some spicy peanuts, sesame cookies and a bottle of local honey to take home. After checking out the bridges and the boardwalk, we looked in on the local hot spring spa, thinking a hot bath would be a great way to relax our legs. However, it was a popular spot, with all the private rooms booked for a couple of hours past our arrival time. We decided to get dinner back at the restaurant that was part of our B&B and see if we still felt like the spa after dinner. In the end, I was pretty tired, so we had a couple of beers and enjoyed the scenery from the suspension bridge, and then hit the hay. There is an old theatre-turned-restaurant in town, and it is apparently a beautiful spot for cherry blossoms in the spring, so I’m sure we’ll be back again!

lunch in Neiwan

Rice buns: just some of the delicious food we had for lunch!

The next day we traveled upstream a little further, before taking an alternate route back to Hsinchu via Beipu. We took far quieter roads, but had a couple of big (category 4) climbs and I was completely cooked by the time we set foot in our apartment. The ride today was the longest I’ve done since we lived in Ontario, and I’m looking forward to logging many more kms and going on a few more overnight trips.

Looking forward to 2013

Well, we are firmly into 2013 now, and after quite some thought, I have decided to record some aspirations for the new year. I say aspirations because I would like to set some weekly goals, however I know already that these goals will at times not be met (for example, during our travels at Chinese New Year).  That’s ok, I just want to have something recorded I can work toward achieving to the best of my ability. 

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Happy New Year!

新年快樂 (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè)!  Happy New Year! 

I had gotten myself into quite a bind about how to spend New Year’s Eve here in Taiwan.  Part of me wanted to go to Taipei to see the fireworks at Taipei101.  The pictures and videos I have seen in years past have been amazing, and to date I have never seen fireworks launched off the sides of a building before.  However, with such spectacle comes crowds, an overloaded public transit system and expensive hotel rooms.  Friends suggested we go into the mountains for a view from above, but Mike and I just were not sure.  In the end we procrastinated until the only rooms left in the city were many hundreds of dollars a night, which was beyond our budget.  We thought about taking a taxi or the train up for the evening and then going home in the wee hours, but it had too much potential to go sour.  Plus, we had another, fantastic offer, right in Hsinchu City!  We decided to catch the celebration at Taipei101 on the news and see what our own town had up its sleeve.

Our fellow Canadian friend, Cynthia, just happens to live right downtown, where Hsinchu’s New Year celebrations were set up.  There was a huge stage with live music, a night market and lots of commotion in the hours prior to the stroke of midnight.  She has access to her roof, so we gathered with a bunch of other foreigners up there with a bag full of bottle rockets and some Gold Medal Taiwan beer to toast the New Year.  We had been told that Hsinchu’s fireworks display is none-too-shabby, and when the clock struck midnight, there were explosions EVERYWHERE!  The city provided a very nicely choreographed display of some huge fireworks, set off from 3 different locations behind the stage, and everyone else had brought some too.  Our building was literally surrounded by booms, sparkle and the smell of gunpowder.  The city display went on for about 10 minutes, and those lit off by other revellers continued late into the night.  What an awesome way to ring in the New Year!

Games for EFL Classes

My awesome co-teacher Erica shared a new game with me. Games are a great way to reinforce learning in a fun way.

The new addition to the arsenal is The Pizza Game.

Draw a big circle and then another just around the outside (to mark the crust). Divide the pizza into wedges, one for each child. Write their names in the wedges.

Have the children take turns. They must answer a question, and then get to throw the ball. If it lands in their wedge, they get an extra line (extra topping). If it lands in someone else’s wedge, the student gets to “eat” some of the pizza (erase a line). Two bites and the student’s wedge is out (but they can to continue to throw). The last one with a wedge wins!

Spelling Battleship and variants

The easiest way to play spelling battle ship is to split the class into two teams and have the children take turns answering a question or reading a passage before they can make a guess. You can either use a battleship game if you have it, or make a board and photocopy as needed.

If the children are unfamiliar with the game, you may choose to have the class simply try and find all the hidden “ships” as a group.

For older students, I like to play the following variation:
List 8-12 words on the board. Each student or team must choose 5 or 6 of the words and place them in a battleship grid (backward and upside down are ok but no diagonals). They then take turns guessing, and can fill in any letters they can figure out themselves. The first to find all the words must verify them and provide definitions to be the winner.

The Piggy Game
This is the absolute favourite game of my class of 7 year olds. Create a 4×4 grid on the board. In this grid are hidden the following objects:

  • Pigs
  • Switches (two arrows pointing at each other)
  • Bombs
  • Super stars
  • Stars
  • Money ($)

The super stars, stars and money are all worth positive points. The finding a pig results in a loss of points, and the bomb resets the player to a score of 0. The switches allow the player who finds it to swap their score with someone else’s.

As always, the students must answer a question before being able to choose a location on the grid.

Bingo and a variant
You can make up bingo cards ahead of time with vocabulary words. I like to have the students take turns pulling a word out of a hat and reading it to the class. To make the game last longer, we play until someone has 3 or 4 “Bingos”.

Especially with older students, you can play this game on the fly. Have them draw a 5×5 grid and then as a class come up with 25 words (put them on the board). Then each student may write these words anywhere they want on their grid. Finally, each student takes turns calling out a word (instead of pulling them from a hat). It adds some strategy to an otherwise simple game of chance!