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Horseshoe crabs bring Taiwanese, French students closer

2018/01/22 22:23:57

Taipei, Jan. 22 (CNA) Students from Jinhu Junior High School on Taiwan's outlying island county of Kinmen are excited about an upcoming visit from their French penpals, whom they are determined to impress with local glamour and horseshoe crabs.

Jinhu's English teachers have been brainstorming an itinerary that will make for an unforgettable trip to Kinmen in April for the visitors from College Pablo Neruda in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a small town in the northeastern suburbs of Paris.

It's a return visit after Jinhu students and teachers flew to France in November 2017 for a visit to their counterparts at College Pablo Neruda based on a connection first built through exchanges of letters between the students.

They plan to take the French visitors to search for Kinmen's iconic Wind Lion God (風獅爺) and visit living fossil horseshoe crabs during their trip, said Andrew Stewart, who teaches English at the Jinhu school, in an interview with CNA.

The guests will also be treated to a boat tour, a rarity for students from an urban school, he said.

No one is taking the preparations lightly as the Kinmen school of about 440 students get ready to host their foreign guests -- a group of 14 students and two teachers -- who are scheduled to visit Kinmen from April 12-20.

The Pablo Neruda students will stay with host families, attend classes with their Jinhu penpals, visit tourist and cultural attractions, and call at the Kinmen Fisheries Research Institute, where they will get to see horseshoe crabs up close, Jinhu principal Hsieh Chih-wei (謝志偉) said.

Horseshoe crabs, called Hou (鱟) in Mandarin, have played an important role in facilitating this Far East trip by French students from a financially disadvantaged town of 80,000.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), France's national statistics bureau, Aulnay-sous-Bois had a poverty rate of 26.3 percent in 2014, much higher than the national average 14.1 percent.

The median annual income of town residents was 17,036 euros in 2014, far lower than the national average of 20,150 euros. Furthermore, the unemployment rate stood at 19.7 percent, almost double the national average of 10.4 percent, according to the data.

Those numbers highlight the financial situation faced by the families of some Pablo Neruda students.

It's the island of Kinmen and the horseshoe crabs, which do not exist in Europe, that first attracted Yann Reby, an English teacher at Pablo Neruda who first initiated the student exchange program with the Kinmen school in 2013.

"By talking about a small island, about horseshoe crabs, we raised sponsors' imagination," Reby told a CNA reporter based in Paris.

And there's a big difference from "we plan a field trip in common places like Europe, Ireland or Britain because that doesn't impress people as much," he said.

According to Reby, horseshoe crabs increased sponsor interest in the plan. They managed to secure funding from Bank BNP Paribas, the local government and several associations for a 19-day trip to Taipei and Kinmen.

Kinmen, an island group off southern China, is one of only a handful of places in Taiwan where Asian horseshoe crabs -- widely known as "living fossil on tidal flats" because they have existed for at least 400 million years -- can still be observed.

Once a common sight in coastal areas of Taiwan, the largest mudflat invertebrate has only been rarely spotted in Chiayi County, Taichung and New Taipei's Tamsui in recent years, due to the destruction of its natural habit by land development, according to Li Chin-chao (黎錦超), a specialist at the Kinmen Fisheries Research Institute.

To Ghizlaine, one of the Pablo Neruda students due to visit Kinmen, the animal only found in America and Asia is not strange at all, thanks to Reby's teaching.

Holding a horseshoe crab specimen, the 13-year-old Ghizlaine told CNA: "It is from Taiwan and at risk of extinction because people use its blue blood to examine whether medical devices are clean."

Asked about her upcoming trip, she said she wants to know how Taiwanese people live and "of course the food."

(By Amy Huang, Emmanuelle Tzeng and Elizabeth Hsu)