R21 reading series

I wrote books 4 and 6 for this CLIL-based children’s reading series.

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Taipei Hikes

This article was published in en Voyage, EVA Air’s inflight magazine in 2016.

Taipei is a sprawling city of skyscrapers, busy roads, and high-rise apartment blocks, but it’s also a hiking paradise. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains that afford a wealth of hiking options that range from barren, exposed peaks to hills with dense, jungle-like vegetation.

During your stay in the city, you should get out and experience at least one of these trails.

 

 

Elephant Mountain

Elephant Mountain is one of a number of peaks that border Taipei’s Xinyi District. At 183 meters in height, it’s really more of a hill than a mountain, but from its top, you will be afforded fantastic views of the city.

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Several paths lead to the top, but the easiest to follow begins at the Elephant Mountain MRT Station about 600 meters from the trailhead. The route is well signposted, and moderately fit hikers should get to the top in about 30 minutes. Once there, the most popular place to stop is a small area with large rocky outcrops that people can clamber on and get great views of the city. The scenery is amazing during the day and possibly even better at night. If you are interested in a nocturnal walk, the route is always well lit.

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This is a popular hiking path, and the noise and activity means you’re unlikely to see many of Taiwan’s more unusual animals. However, squirrels, birds, dragonflies, and death’s head spiders are common sights.

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Elephant Mountain is one of the “Four Beasts,” a group of peaks that resemble the animals they’re named for – the others are Tiger Mountain, Leopard Mountain, and Lion Mountain. It is possible to walk over each of these hills, but the routes can be difficult to follow. A better alternative for those who want a longer hike is to follow the signs for 9-5 Peak. You’ll be taken up into the hills and high above the Taipei skyline. Depending on your level of fitness, expect a return walk of two to five hours.

 

Seven Star Mountain

At 1120 meters, Seven Star Mountain is Taipei’s tallest peak. Getting to the top is no easy feat, but your exertions will be worthwhile, as on a clear day, the views you get of the city are unparalleled. Even when the skies are overcast, this is an amazing walk that offers a wealth of geographical and geological features. The reason for this is that the mountain is actually a dormant volcano – the “seven stars” referenced in its name are the various peaks on the crater left by the mountain’s last eruption. In the surrounding Yangmingshan National Park area, you’ll also find hot springs and sulfurous fumaroles.

Getting to the hiking path’s trailhead requires a combination of buses and trains – or a much more expensive taxi ride. The easiest method is to take the MRT to Jiantan Station and from there, take either the 208 or Red 30 bus to their terminal stops. From there, follow the signs to the Visitor Center, where you can get maps and any extra information you might want. The route is well signposted, though, and even without a map, you’d struggle to get lost.

The walk from the Visitor Center to the Seven Star Mountain’s Main and East Peaks is only a few kilometers long, but it is steep and you’ll need to be reasonably fit to make it to the top. You should also come prepared for hot and sunny and also cold and rainy conditions. This is a fairly tall mountain, and unlike most of Taipei’s hiking routes, it’s very exposed and open to the elements. The weather can change quickly, and even if you leave central Taipei in warm sunshine, you might still encounter rain and fog on the mountain.

 

Maokong

Maokong is an entire area rather than a mountain or particular hiking trail. It’s famous for its plentiful tea plantations, but the truth is that apart from these patches of cultivated land – often terraced hillsides – the area generally resembles an expanse of barely tamed jungle. Despite these appearances, Maokong is fairly easy to visit, and hundreds of visitors make their way there every weekend on the Maokong Gondola – a cable car ride that starts near the Taipei Zoo MRT Station.

A number of trails wind their way around Maokong, and whether they take you through tea growing areas, camphor plantations, or dense undergrowth, they will give you an amazing sense of the area and the conditions that there were once normal in this part of the world before Taipei’s rapid development into one of the world’s most important cities.

In addition to going hiking, visitors to Maokong should also go to one of the area’s many restaurants to try the local tea and sample foods flavored with tea leaves. Another local attraction is Zhinan Temple, which can easily be reached via the Maokong Gondola. This huge Taoist temple dates back to 1882 and features a number of elaborate chapels and statues. A popular local belief about the temple states that unmarried couples who visit it together are destined to break up. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

 

Teapot Mountain

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Teapot Mountain is a fairly small and easily climbable hill at the eastern edges of New Taipei City. Its slopes are exposed and weather-beaten, its summit is crowned by an outcrop of rock that really does look like a teapot, and the views you get from the trail are amazing: narrow ridges and valleys spread out like fingers to the nearby ocean. Teapot Mountain is an incredible day trip.

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The easiest way to get there is by taking bus 1062 to the Gold Ecological Museum in Jinguashi. Once inside the museum’s grounds, follow the signs that lead toward the trailhead and head up the mountain. When you reach the top, you’ll discover that the “teapot” is actually a cave that you have to climb through to continue on your journey. On rainy days, the rocks can be slippery, but otherwise, the cave is surprisingly easy to navigate.

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Depending on your energy levels, you may want to go back down the hill and wander around the gold museum or continue along the path up to the taller mountain of Banpingshan. To reach the top of this peak, though, you will have to scale a 30-meter-high, near-vertical cliff. There are ropes to hold on to and holes in the rock for your feet, but it’s still a nerve-jangling ascent. The 360o views from the top, though, are well worth the effort.

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TOEIC 3000

A couple of videos of me talking about my TOEIC vocabulary book.

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TOEIC 3000

My latest textbook was recently published by Caves. It helps students develop their vocabularies and prepare for the TOEIC test.

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Excel

A four-level series of textbooks I wrote for Shane English Schools.

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Hike your way around the world

This article was published in en Voyage, EVA Air’s inflight magazine in 2016.

In an age when speed is the traveler’s watchword and when sights and destinations are collected rather than experienced, it’s good to slow things down and really take in the sights and sounds of the places you visit. There’s no better way to do that than grabbing a backpack and making your way along one the world’s great hiking trails.

 

The Inca Trail, Peru

Undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous hiking routes, the Inca Trail leads hikers 43km through the Andes before spectacularly terminating at the 15th century Incan city of Machu Pichu. The ancient settlement is the highlight of the walk, but the trail would be on many trekkers’ bucket lists even if the city had never been built.

The trail starts at an altitude of 2,800m, climbs to 4,200m at the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass and finishes at a height of 2,500m. Along the way, you’ll pass through forests and jungles and encounter towering mountains that, between June and October, are capped with snow. You’ll see scores of Incan ruins, tunnels and paving stones laid well over half a millennium ago.

It’s now impossible to hike the Inca Trail without a guide, and since permits for the route are limited, you should plan your adventure well in advance. Most tours last four days, which may sound like a long time for a 43km walk, but doing it this way means you can properly enjoy the scenery and avoid suffering with altitude sickness.

 

The Narrows, the US

The Narrows is the most spectacular of Zion National Park’s many hiking trails. Like so many of the other routes in this Utah hotspot, the Narrows winds its way along the base of a huge canyon with dizzyingly tall pink, cream and red sandstone cliffs. What makes this path so special is that while it’s around 600m deep, the walls are little more than 6m wide in some places. These dimensions leave hikers with a sense of the natural world’s awesome power.

Any hike through the Narrows will require that you get feet wet, as you will be walking along the bed of the Virgin River, but in the hot summer months, the cool water around your feet and shins can be refreshing.

Many people start their walk at the bottom of the canyon, heading upstream before turning round and heading back. However, if you get a permit, you can make your way downstream and cover the full 16km trail. While some hikers make the journey in a single day, others prefer to stretch it out over two, camping under the stars somewhere along the way.

 

The Coast to Coast Walk, the UK

Although not particularly old, this walk in northern England is iconic. It was originally devised in 1973 by celebrated Lake District hiker Alfred Wainwright, and it immediately became popular. The route is 309km long and goes through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks.

Though hikers can start on either coast, the original, and still far more common, route is West to East. That means beginning at St Bees in Cumbria, where Wainwright advises walkers to dip their boots into the sea. From there, you make your way over several Lake District fells, along the area’s deep, beautiful valleys and through some of the world’s most picturesque villages. The rolling hills of the Dales provide slightly different landscapes, and walkers pass through the market town of Richmond before heading over Yorkshire’s vast, open moorlands. The walk, which is normally done over 1-2 weeks, ends at Robin Hood’s Bay, where you should, once again, dip your boots in the sea.

 

Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya

At Hell’s Gate National Park, the idea of a walk on the wild side is taken one step further as you’ll be in an area with huge numbers of untamed animals. Africa’s big cats are not usually seen here, but over the last 50 years, lions, cheetahs and leopards have all been spotted. The park is home to giraffe, warthog, hyena, gazelle and buffalo, which are regarded as one of the continent’s most dangerous animals. Despite the dangers, you can walk here without a guide, and many trekkers say exploring the park on your own affords you a lot more freedom.

The park is around 90km from the capital city of Nairobi, so it’s fairly easy to reach, and it’s popular with hikers and cyclists. In addition to the wildlife, they come for the beautiful and varied scenery which is a mixture of grassland, rock towers and gorges with ridged, water-eroded cliffs. Hell’s Gate is also an area of geothermal activity, and it has a number of hot springs and geysers.

 

Overland Track, Australia

The Overland Track in Tasmania is a 65km trail that winds its way through some of Australia’s finest and most varied scenery. The trail, which most hikers take six days to complete, starts beside one of Tasmania’s top tourist destinations, the 1,500m tall Cradle Mountain. From there, it goes south through rainforest, alpine meadows, swamps and glacial valleys. The path also passes a number of dolomite mountains, which more enthusiastic and energetic trekkers climb as additional side-trips, before ending at the picturesque Lake St Clair.

Inexperienced hikers are advised to tackle the track in the summer, but since this is the popular time, you will have to book and pay for your trip. From June through September, hiking the trail is free but also more difficult due to poorer weather conditions and shorter days.

 

The Holy Ridge Trail, Taiwan

Possibly the most punishing of these hikes, the Holy Ridge is not suitable for inexperienced hikers. Even for those used to hiking in the high mountains, this is a tough path that includes steep climbs and a number of roped, near-vertical slopes. When you factor in the extra challenge of carrying all your equipment, this is one challenge that definitely shouldn’t be taken on lightly. The pay-off for those brave, fit and skilled to try is a unique ridge walk and unparalleled views of Taiwan’s incredible Central Mountain Range.

At a minimum, you’ll spend four days on the trail, though those in the know say five would be preferable. You’ll be above 3,000m on each of those days. Given the route’s difficulty, a permit isn’t easy to get hold of, and you will need a guide. If you want to take on the ridge, contact a local tour group. Taiwan Adventures www.taiwan-adventures.com is one of the best.

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The beauty of Taitung

This article was published in en Voyage, EVA Air’s inflight magazine in 2015.

Taitung is a place like no other in Taiwan: It’s cool, laid-back and care-free. Life moves slowly, and residents and visitors alike cannot help but be infused by its relaxed pace of life. Taitung and its surrounding areas are the perfect destinations for travelers in search of rest, relaxation and beautiful scenery.

 

The Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta

Every summer, hot air balloonists from around the world make their way to an area of elevated grassland a few kilometers outside Taitung City. Since its creation in 2011, the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta at Luye has grown to become one of the country’s most popular events.

Visitors are able to take hot air balloon rides from 5.30 to 7.30 in the morning and from 5.00 to 7.30 in the evening. Tickets go on sale at 5am and 4pm, and spaces usually sell quickly. A 30-40-minute flight over the surrounding hills and valleys costs NT$9,000, but for NT$500, you can take a 5-7-minute flight on a tethered balloon.

Even if you don’t have a head for heights and want to keep your feet on the ground, the event is still spectacular. You can walk around inside an inflated balloon, and the sight of huge colorful balloons set against the green grass the brilliant blue skies that are common in Taitung at this time of year is something you won’t quickly forget.

The fiesta opened on June 27 and will until August 9.

 

Chulu Ranch

Just a few kilometers down the road from Luye, Chulu Ranch is the perfect place to take a young family for an afternoon. Its pastureland is home to around 350 Friesians, and popular activities for visitors including milking cows and bottle-feeding their calves. Children can also take rides on ponies, and there are fun activities like racing down the ranch’s hillsides on grass-sleds.

The cows might be the main reason that people go to Chulu Ranch, but the reason that most enjoy their time is the local scenery. Verdent, rolling hills and clear skies coupled with black and white mottled cows is hard to beat.

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Jhiben Hot Springs

Jhiben is known throughout Taiwan for its hot spring waters. The minerals in the water, unlike those in other parts of the country, don’t give off a strong smell. However, they will help improve blood circulation and clear up skin complaints. To take a bath, you can either check in to one of the town’s many hot spring hotels for a couple of hours or use the outdoor public baths.

If you’re feeling active when you’re here, you could go for a hike in Jhiben’s National Forest Recreation Park. With a number of paths crisscrossing the park, walks here could last anywhere between 2 and 5 hours and lead you past suspension bridges, streams and banyan trees alive with monkeys.

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Dulan

Only a few years ago, Dulan was just a sleepy village north of Taitung. It’s still a sleepy village, but one that’s now home to a burgeoning art community and some of Taiwan’s best surfers. For surfing, windsurfing and paddleboard lessons, contact Wa Ga Li Gong (http://wagaligongtaiwan.com/). Or, if that sounds a little too strenuous, just relax on Dulan’s clean, uncrowded beach.

The local art community is centered on the Sugar Factory, a disused sugar plant that artists moved in to years ago. It houses artists’ studios and works of art, and every Saturday night, the site hosts live music from a mixture of Western and local musicians.

 

Beinan Cultural Park

When builders were working on Taitung’s new train station in 1980, they uncovered thousands of ancient coffins, which, they later discovered, were part of a huge settlement that may once have been home to tens of thousands. The artifacts, including the remains of prehistoric houses, date back 2,000-3,000 years and belonged to the Beinan people.

The area is now home to the National Museum of Prehistory, which houses many of the relics dug up at the site. There are also a range of interactive exhibits to help you understand what life was like for Taiwan prehistoric settlers.

 

Xiaoyeliou

Taitung has some stunning coastal scenery, perhaps the best of which lies in Xiaoyeliou. The name, which translates as “little Yeliou,” alludes to a place in northern Taiwan that’s famous its amazing rock formations, and the geology down here is also amazing. Different types of sandstone have eroded at varying rates leaving behind pot holes, dimples, mushrooms of rock and checkerboard formations. It’s a truly incredible site, and though it may be a lot less well-known than its northern counterpart, that actually makes it even more attractive as a tourist destination since it’s almost never overcome with crowds of camera-carrying sightseers.

 

Taitung Forest Park

On the edges of downtown Taitung, you’ll find what is arguably the city’s most beautiful and relaxing destination. The Taitung Forest Park is a haven of peace and tranquility, and within its boundaries you’ll find a wealth captivating scenes to enjoy and unwind in. The park’s finest attraction is Pipa Lake, a wonderfully picturesque location of low-hanging trees and crystal-clear waters.

Bicycles can be hired at the park’s main entrance or from along the nearby seafront, and a lot of tourists enjoy a cycle around the park.

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Tiehua Music Village

Taitung has always been known as a hotbed of Taiwanese musical talent, and Tiehua Music Village is the perfect place to watch local bands and singers perform. It’s a wonderful venue for music, a place simultaneously relaxed and alive with the energy of musicians and music-lovers. Since it’s an open-air site, you get to sit under the trees, enjoying the summer evening breeze with a beer or bottle of wine.

Music performances are held in the evenings from Wednesdays to Sundays, and on weekends, there’s also a craft market at the village. Tiehua is right in the heart of the city, but once you arrive, you’ll forget all about the rest of civilization.

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