This past Monday morning I awoke with what seemed like an impossible task ahead. Three parents nights in a row. Ten mini scripts to remember for my five primary school classes and a smiley happy face for parents to wear through all six unpaid hours of it.
The white light at the end of the tunnel pulling me through was my first ever river tracing expedition on Sunday. But I guess I should talk about TEFL, the reason I am in Taiwan to begin with, first. Once a semester we have Parent’s Night for both kindergarten and primary school classes. The kindergarten night was a simple class demo, as were both last semester. This semester however, for primary school classes each class was given a short story to “perform” (mechanically memorize) and a song, both in English. The short stories were fable esque, some classics, (i.e The Little Red Hen) and some seemingly nonsensical ( i.e The Boy Who Sold Butter) all equally riddled with awful grammatical mistakes, where these stories came from I have no idea. However, now I have video evidence of my rowdy fourth graders singing Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to use against them anytime I deem necessary.
In turn each class rotated story/song/story/song/story/song in high school cabaret style, until they had all gone twice. Complete with an intermission Bingo game for the parents. With none other than yours truly on stage holding the cardboard boxes full of balls (look at our exotic young teacher).
The grand finale was the kids all singing “You Raise Me Up” to their parents (I know it is in vain, but I hope I never hear that song ever again in my life), and reciting a poem they memorized, chosen and drilled into them Taiwanese style (repeat memorize, repeat memorize, repeat memorize) by yet again yours truly.
This three times in a row. Getting out Friday night at 9:30, I was consoled by the fact that 36 hours later I was on my way to completing another Taiwan(ese?) goal.
A lot of friends and family have asked me what river tracing is since mentioning my choice for weekly adventure. The best way I think to describe it is extreme playing in a river while hiking up it. The closest thing I can think to compare it to is a hike my friends and I did in Zion National Park in Utah called “The Narrows”.
The Narrows would be considered “canyoning” while what I did on Sunday was in an open live and active river. Fist we needed special gear, everything provided and organized byhttps://www.facebook.com/WahahaRTC the same guys that I went surfing with last week. They are really awesome and did a great job.
We were outfitted with helmets, specific river tracing shoes, life vests, dry bags, and optional wet-suits, I opted for no wet-suit which was dumb later on when it started to drizzle and actually got a little cold.
It started as a sweltering May day in Wulai and our newbie group of about 25 was eager to hit the water. It was everyone’s first time except for the Wahaha boys and they told us the rivers in Wulai were the kindergarten level of river tracing. I looked at my life vest a little unsure if the word kindergarten was getting lost in translation.
We had a short hike from the parking lot, somewhere in Wulai,( I forgot the extremely long hard to pronounce Chinese name of the river) to a spot along the river where we just kind of made our own path down the hill to the river and jumped in. We started in a calm spot, listened to our leaders brief safety orientation and were on our way.
It took some getting used to the feel of the rocks and the water constantly pushing against you to get the hang of balancing and maneuvering through the river. It was a perfect day, just hot enough so the water felt good and not too hot that it was impossible to hike. It had been raining all week so the water level was higher than usual for May, but not as high as it gets in the end of summer.
There were a few smaller groups of tracer’s we passed along the way, mostly older until we ran into a few young couples near the swimming hole at the end. We walked/hiked/traced for about 20 minutes before stopping at a man made damn to jump in after everyone jumped and got their action shots taken we proceeded, one thing I do hope for in my river tracing future is smaller groups and people who can keep a decent pace (O.K two things).
Most of the time the water was knee to waist deep, with a few spots we had to wade across because it was too deep across. The mountains in Wulai are gorgeous and being out in them, really in them on a beautiful day made me forget all about the painful week of parents night and the fact that I’d have to do it all over again on Monday. This is the Taiwan that I love. We went down the river for maybe an hour more then stopped for lunch break. Whatever you brought along in your dry bag was your lunch, including instant coffee our organizers ingeniously thought of, brewed up on a small camp stove. Hot coffee, cold water, amazing mountains. Perfect.
After our lunch break we hiked for about another hour and stopped along the way a few times for good spots to jump in and one natural water slide along the rocks. See, extreme playing in the river. Our guides had copious amounts of ropes for safety, though at no point during the trip did I feel unsafe. Maybe I am ready for first grade. We saw several water spiders about as big as my hand (including the legs) and one water snake about three meters long, not poisonous someone determined by the patterns on it’s back.
The end of our path was a deep spot that formed a kind of natural swimming hole deep enough to jump off the surrounding rocks into. At this point it was drizzling and I was shivering cold but took a jump because I knew I’d be mad later if I didn’t. After everyone had their fill of lackadaisical swimming and jumping we headed back up the cliff to the actual hiking trail back to the parking lot.
The whole experience for me was consumed by a prevailing sense of deja vu, since it was my first time river tracing I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until on my much less exhilarating trek back to Taoyuan county, it hit me. All those years of playing in the creek in my grandmothers back yard this is what was going on in my imagination. Fifteen years later I get to make it become a reality. Extreme playing for grown-ups.
I think I discovered my new favorite outdoor activity.