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Dragon Boat Festival

I'm assuming this man made these models...

Today was Dragon Boat Festival (or, more accurately, 端午, which has nothing to do with dragons or boats, but rather the lunar calendar).  It’s a holiday for everyone, which is nice in that I get a holiday, especially from my junior high class, but a bummer since I don’t get paid for today.  The holiday is celebrated with dragon boat races and eating tamales (no, really, an official website called them glutinous rice Chinese tamales), but since that all happened over the weekend, today was mild in terms of noise and commotion on the streets.  Since I subbed on Monday and Tuesday, I had absolutely no down time for two days, and I decided there was nothing wrong with a day of minor errands and hard-drive-TV time.

But let’s talk about the weekend.  All the weeks of practicing and waking up distressingly early on Sunday ran up to this, and it was not a disappointment.  It was gray all weekend, but still pleasant, even when the rain was coming down.  The races were held under the same bridge where we had practiced for the last 4 weeks, but instead of empty concrete and locked up huts, there were crowds of people and rows of vendors.  Along the river, teams lounged under awnings and waited for their turn in the races.

As the flagcatcher, I knelt up in the front, back to back with the drummer.

At our last practice the Sunday before, I had been chosen to be the flag catcher, a position unique to Taiwan’s dragon boat races.  Since I was nervous about it and there were 2 hours to kill before our race time, I watched a race to gauge how high the flags were and when I should jump up on the nose.  I relaxed once I saw that I wouldn’t be risking falling into the Keelung River, holding onto the boat with one toe and reaching desperately down at a dangerous angle.  There’s actually a video on facebook, and I’m tagged in it so it shouldn’t be too hard to find (I think it’s the only video I’m in!).

In our first race, we took second place with 2:32 (500 meters in that time, everybody!), which was good enough to qualify us for Saturday’s heats.  Saturday’s call time was similar to Friday’s, late enough that I could sleep in a bit, but early enough that everything would happen in daylight, and the weather was similarly gray but not bucketing down.

Two teams from earlier in the day make their way back to the dock.

On Friday after the race, I asked to paddle for the second race–after all, I had not practiced for 2 months to just lay on the dragon’s snout and grab a flag: I wanted to get involved like I’d practiced!  I got my wish, but it was a little bit of a letdown since we placed last even though our time was 6 seconds faster!  Our start was very weak, and that’s really where the race is decided.  Nonetheless, it was really fun, and after the race since we had three hours until the opening ceremonies, I wandered the mini-bazaar with some teammates.

Of course, there were 粽子, and since this is Taiwan, there was also stinky tofu and fried meats of all sorts, but I also found some new delicacies like fried huge white mushroom.  Okay, it has a name, but that’s really the best way to think of it.  In English, it’s called king trumpet mushroom, and in Chinese it’s almond abalone mushroom, or 杏鮑菇.  Whatever you call it, it’s amazing.

The opening ceremonies were underwhelming, mostly because I couldn’t see much, although there was a dragon dance that seemed cool from what I saw.  When I was starting to get really bored, someone tagged me to help them get our complimentary Cokes, zòngzi, and …cakes.  By that time, teams were slinking away, and our started to as well.  At that point, however, the Philippine National Team did a performance which culminated with dudes whipping off their shirts, and some of us felt compelled to stay a little longer.  The performance after that was a guy dancer with a strobe light style, who was then joined by some girls who did more standard hip-hop kind of dance, like you might see in a high school or college dance troupe.  We bailed after that, and took the MRT over to dinner, which was very enjoyable.

I’ll cover Saturday night and Sunday later, since this is getting long and your eyes and I both want to take a break!

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3-day weekend!

This weekend was quite eventful, and I really enjoyed it. Friday was essentially a day off from work, although I still went to class and then taught kindergarten, but Saturday and Sunday were as vacation-y as it’s possible to be when there are obligations like race start times and opening ceremonies. I look forward to perfect freedom next weekend, but this weekend was great for socializing and getting me out of Xinzhuang.

Even the non-stop rain was not terrible, although I am worried about my shoes now.  I don’t want them to mildew; they’re the only good pair I’ve got!

To tide you over until the next posts, wherein I will really talk about the weekend, please enjoy some crazy fast food toys I took pictures of a while ago in a weird sushi-burrito place with Rebecca and Steve.  Please note that these are not available from the restaurant, but are probably the owner’s private collection.

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Next week

…had better be an improvement on this one.  Somehow, I got sick (I’m blaming the kindergarten monsters), and I’ve been really busy with the start of school, a new kindergarten class, and my normal workload.  At least I had payday at the beginning of the week!

And today… today, 2 out of 3 children got hurt in my kindergarten class, which is a frustrating and worrying occurrence.  I reassured myself that the injuries were way below minor and that the class is all boys, but I still wish they’d behave better.  On the bright side, the cook at Rong Fu is a wonderful woman who set aside a lunch box for me and will continue to do so until I don’t work there anymore.  See, on Thursdays I have two sessions of Chinese, and this means I miss my free lunch, and if you know me at all, you know I am all about free.  At least I got one thing at Rong Fu running smoothly.

Tomorrow is our first dragon boat race, and that at least will be very fun.  The forecast shows rain, but we’ll already be soaked in the filthy Keelung River, so the rain will actually be an improvement.  Unless I can wrangle my way out of being the flagcatcher in the first race, there’ll be a lot of pressure in that race, but if we make it to the next level, I’m absolutely pawning the task off onto one of the slackers who didn’t come to 2 or 3 practices.  Do they really want my eyes, depth perception, and hand-eye coordination to be the determining factor in our success?  Talk about building your house on a shaky foundation!

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June gloom

June gloom arrives early in Taipei, and is remarkably inconsistent.  May is the drab month here, but we’ve had some remarkably bright (and hot) days– just never on the weekend!  I lie; yesterday was quite nice, but I procrastinated going out to a nearby national park to go hiking and just enjoy nature because I thought it would be easier to do it today after dragon boat practice.

I woke up bright and (over an hour) early this morning to a power outage and the jackhammering of generators.  Since I couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to stay up to take a cold shower to mitigate the 5am humidity and pack my purse for the day (hiking and work out clothes in the bag, dress for city wandering on me, tape to protect my hands– forgotten, washcloth to dry off with after practice– forgotten).  Somehow, I still wound up arriving at the MRT station a little to late to walk to practice, so I grabbed a cab and wasted 115元.  On the bright side, I didn’t sidetrack through a construction zone or shimmy under a fence today, which is more than I can say about last Sunday.

Practice went well despite increasingly heavy rain from 9am on, and afterward, I walked barefoot through the pouring rain with some teammates to the closest MRT.  It was excellent!  After talking with Rebecca, I decided to kill some time at Taipei 101 where there’s an excellent bookstore with a wide selection of English books.  I hadn’t been there before, but I got directions and set off.  Unfortunately, I set off in the wrong direction and had to hop out and retrace my steps back along the blue line.  It was a little irritating, but it cost me nothing but time.

Let me tell you: Page One is awesome.  I spent over 1500元 and I only regret it a tiny bit.  Their only flaw is that they don’t have enough cushy chairs.  The food court at Taipei 101 is also awesome, and I had a lunch I couldn’t finish for about $3.  The soup was an intriguing mix of guts and starchy vegetables topped with cilantro (I love how popular it is here!), and the rice with meat sauce and vegetables with meat sauce were delicious.

I met up with Rebecca and Steve and we went to Miramar to see Shrek 4.  I wasn’t too keen on the choice, but it was the lesser of 8 or 9 evils, and turned out to have a few good laughs.  It was also really nice to see my friends again, and it topped off a good day perfectly.

Parentheses overuse!  I do apologize.

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Let’s get physical

I ate a fish eye today.My shoulders still hurt

In other news, I signed up for the HESS dragon boat team and had the orientation meeting last night and the first practice today.  The locations are rather far, but at least I’m not coming from Keelung or Sanxia like two or three people on the team!  I’m going to say that’s something like Irvine to San Diego?  It should only take me an hour to get to the practices on the bus and MRT, and there are only 5 or 6 more.  I think I need to go to Carrefour or Costco and buy some free weights for the weekdays, though!

The practice was pretty awesome aside from the running.  We practice along an LA River-esque trickle, in the shade of some freeway overpasses.  It truly looks like a place you could dump a few bodies or have a rumble with the Sharks.  We stretched out and ran a very short but overwhelming distance (I didn’t walk at all and I was very pleased with myself), then sat around a huge tank of water to practice rowing.  There are 20 rowers and 3 other positions, but there are about 30 people showing up to practices.  This meant we had a fair amount of shufflingThat water is pretty nasty. around the tank today, which was perfect, since even two minutes at a stretch is strenuous!  The technique is nothing like canoes or kayaks, which are my only rowing experience, and involves keeping your inside arm elevated and powering the stroke from your back and stomach by twisting.  The coach, a local named David, pulled me and another girl up to the front seats to demonstrate, so I’m either doing fine or wrong.  I think I was the good example, but it was hard to tell.

Practice ended with running: “sprints” of at least 150 meters, guys vs. guys then girls vs. girls, with the penalty being to drink a sip from the rowing tank.  That got a good laugh out of everyone, but fortunately I did well enough to not worry about it, joke though it was!  Then we split into 3 teams and had a race, which my team won because we snuck off the starting line and then mobbed around the end point so the others couldn’t touch it.  All is fair in love and conditioning, after all.

Now, back to the fish eye.  About a third of the group decided to grab lunch, so we started walking and found a Thai place, which I wasn’t too pleased about owing to previous painful experiences, but I didn’t feel like looking for something else.  Good thing, too, because it was amazing.  It absolutely turned me around in my views on Thai food, and it was marvelously cheap.  I spilled some sauce on my workout pants, and I’m so glad of it because now I smell like delicious food.

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