This past week was the ever-anticipated second field trip for my fourth graders. After the last field trip with the clapping lady I was a tad hesitant to traverse over an hour away to Kaohsiung without the help of an adult translator. Lucky for me, however, one of the younger hip administrators was looking for a break and volunteered to go with us. Funny that a group of seven ten-year olds needed two chaperones, but I did not complain. I was just happy to know that there was someone close by who could tell me what was going on. In a way, I was simply along for the ride and that was just fine by me.
We left school at 8 am and met the regular department kids outside to board double decker charter buses fully equipped with karaoke capabilities and multiple movie screens. I thought it was a bit odd that there were about 10 women in yellow shirts with loudspeaker megaphones around their necks walking around quacking at children, but I soon learned that these were our hired tour guides for the day and they were in charge. Apparently, with the fee of $15 that the kids had paid to go on the fieldtrip, these women were hired to show us a good time. Not only were they responsible for taking care of every aspect of our trip, we were also guaranteed 60 high quality digital photos that would document our fun. They even supplied the teachers with breakfast and took our orders for lunch that would magically arrive at our destination around noon. At 8:15, 250 ten year olds loaded six buses and headed an hour and a half away to the Meinung Folk Village just outside of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. This Hakka town is well known for its oil paper umbrellas and we were going there to tour a museum, have a lesson in making a special Hakka tea, and decorate our own umbrella. Again, I had no idea where we were going or what we were to be doing until we actually arrived and got off of the bus. On a positive note, however, I suppose this cultural norm is covertly curing me of my need to be in control and teaching me to like surprises.
Our first stop was a Hakka cultural museum that displayed various relics from the past. Apparently, ancestors of the Hakka began migrating from Mainland China to Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century. Today, the Hakka population in Kaohsiung City is about 320,000 and there is a strong movement to preserve the Hakka language and culture. Thus, the commercial build-up of the Meinung Yuan Hsiang Yuan Cultural Village is one of the ways in which the government is accomplishing these goals. There were maps all over the ‘village’ pointing out special spots of interest, as well as several outdoor mall type establishments selling traditional Hakka wares. The most famous being the paper umbrellas.
|On the bus|
|P.E. Sandy saves me!!!!|
(There are several teachers named Sandy so they add their subject to their name)
|At the Hakka culture museum with the sun in our eyes|
|Fun with sculptures|
|Beautiful Southern Taiwan... taken from the parking lot|
After our tour of the museum, we headed to one of the ‘malls’ in the village for ‘activities’. Again, I was in the dark about what it was we were actually going to be doing, but seeing as we had a guide and everyone appeared happy, I just went with the flow. Our first activity was to make a traditional Hakka tea that consisted of whole dried tealeaves, peanuts, spices, and some sort of powder. The kids got to use this fancy mortar and pestle type ceramic bowl that had a grooved inside which aided in the pulverizing process. All of the ingredients were ground until they gave off an oily residue, then tea powder, puffed rice looking grains, and hot water were added to form a sort of tea soup that we consumed out of small bowls. It was nuttily delicious and everyone except the new girl from America (not me, thank you very much) seemed to devour it.
|Preparing the tea mixture|
Next, we were given ‘free time’, and this is where the secret mission to cure me of my control freakiness kicks into high gear. We gather (we meaning 250 ten-year olds) in the courtyard and are told that we have an hour of free time to stroll around the various stores to shop. You must realize that all of the shops in this ‘mall’ were filled with a myriad of breakable objects ranging from high dollar oil umbrellas and hand made pottery, to glass bottles filled with Taiwanese delicacies. As soon as the tour guides told the kids they had an hour to shop, they scurried off like little mice in all directions. Before my heart attack could fully take hold, I grabbed my kids and demonstrated how turning around with a backpack on could take out an entire shelf of figurines. I also told them that if they broke ANYTHING they would have to pay for it themselves. And with that, I wished them luck, said a little bai-bai, and set them free. I think that was my ultimate test in letting go. Here in Taiwan, children are given so much responsibility from an early age and for them this was completely normal. For me, I am still learning to relinquish control and let kids learn from their own mistakes. I think it is a subtle cultural difference that really makes a big impact on many facets of society.
While the next hour was certainly chaotic and you had to feel sorry for the women who were working in the stores, I have to give the kids some credit. Yes, I did see boys playing with nunchucks in an aisle full of breakable Buddha statues, and yes the store with the delicate paper fans was quite the disaster after the kids got through with it, but I did not see one broken item when it was all said and done. They spent their money like good little consumers, and bought amazing amounts of candy and ice cream before lunchtime. It was actually quite fun and I enjoyed spending time with them in passing, as I too indulged in the shopping extravaganza.
|And the chaos begins....|
|large umbrella, many children|
|Pottery and children... aahhhhh!!!!|
|One of the many tour guides rounding up children to get back on the bus|
After lunch, which was a lovely rice box hand delivered to me by our tour guide, we spent the rest of the afternoon decorating our own Hakka paper umbrellas. We had a splendid time, and best of all we got to miss an entire day of classes. We arrived back at school with enough time to attend the 7th period class, but decided we would much rather stop off at the playground and skip it entirely.
I must say, arriving oblivious for field trips has its advantages and seems to lead to many pleasant surprises. I highly recommend it!