Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week 34/35, day 3

Tuesday: Sea World! We had a marvellous time at Sea World. We started out watching the dolphins. We happened to arrive at feeding time. Visitors may spend $6 for a tray of fish to feed to the dolphins. We felt that since we'd already paid over $200 for tickets and parking, we didn't need to pay to feed the animals as well, but we got to see the dolphins pretty well after they'd eaten their fill. They even splashed us!

We visited the reef and sharks exhibit next, which was similar to many other aquariums I'd been to. uShaka, a similar park in South Africa, cost about a fifth as much and the aquarium section was better. Ari explained to the kids how fishes' gills have the same function as our lungs, namely getting oxygen into the blood.

We ate lunch (like many places, once they have you trapped they can charge what they like for food, particularly given their "no outside food" rule), and went to see the orca show. That was impressive, though we were a bit annoyed by the TV screen with images competing with the leaping orcas. It was hard to tell when they wanted you to look at the animals, and when they wanted you to look at the screen. Perhaps people who own TVs are better at paying attention to both simultaneously, but I maintain that they can't do a very good job of either in that case. However, there was a baby orca (born this January) which accompanied its mother while she did her tricks. After the show we hung around for a few minutes to watch the orcas just swimming, until they kicked us out in order to clean the stadium.

The second show we went to changed my mind, and made me feel that the price we paid had been reasonable. It featured belugas, dolphins, macaws, and amazing humans. It was beautifully choreographed, something like a circus show but with more of a sense of beauty and wonder. Divers swept through the water, propelled by fast-moving belugas on whom their feet rested. Synchronized swimmers, divers, and trapeze artists in fancy costumes performed amazing tricks. As one performer climbed up and down long red sheets attached to a hoop in the ceiling, red-winged macaws swept past. I had never seen people do such amazing things, and the way they combined their act with the trained animals added to the sense of awe.

We next went to the sea lion show, which featured a mini-play featuring sea lions and an otter. It was amusing, but didn't really give you a sense of what sea lions or otters are like - just what they can be trained to do. However, after the show, we were able to see them swimming around their enclosure as people fed them (again, for $6 per dish of fish). There was a 2-day-old sea lion nursing from its mother, and we were able to get a good view of it. The area had a faint smell of fish, vaguely reminiscent of a seal-filled island near Cape Town that I saw when I was five, but it was clear that Sea World keeps its facilities much cleaner than seals in their natural habitats do.

After the sea lions, we gave the kids the option of watching the orca show again before looking at the penguins and heading home. We were glad that they chose to, because it meant they weren't burned out yet. The second show was quite different from the first. The animals decided not to cooperate, so we heard a lot more about how the animals are trained. The keepers reinforce positive behaviour, and ignore negative behaviour - they spent much of the show time ignoring the orcas. Ari commented that this wouldn't work with kids, because kids left to themselves will put themselves in dangerous situations and will cause destruction to property, unlike orcas in a tank. We enjoyed the second show more than the first, because we could see more of how the orcas naturally like to behave. We actually got a better view of the baby orca as well - when its mother felt like leaping from the water (not in response to a trainer's request), it leapt too - beautiful.

Since it's southern winter, the penguins' enclosure was kept dark. This made it hard to get a good view of them, though a few of them were swimming around in their near-freezing tank. The puffins, on the other hand, were fun to watch - they're northern hemisphere creatures. In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day, and I'm glad we did it, even though it was a total of about 7 hours in the car. San Antonio is about as far as one can reasonably go from Houston for a day trip.

Wednesday. After P and E got back from "Oma Day" and I got back from my flying lesson (which unfortunately didn't involve flying, due to extreme turbulence and low clouds), P went to her violin lesson. Her teacher is moving her fast and expecting a lot of her, and she is reluctantly rising to the challenge. I think it's good for me as her teacher to see how someone else interacts with her in a learning situation. Since I know her really well, I can understand her better than the violin teacher can, but it's good for me to see just how much the teacher is expecting of her - it makes me feel happier about my own high standards for her.

After the violin lesson, we did school. P read a new reader (the next to last one), did the day's copywork, and completed her math worksheet. We read a book about Nigeria, as well as a story from Stories from Africa about a Nigerian girl whose father made her live with the goats when she became a Christian and refused to steal the neighbours' hen. I plan on having P make her book about Nigeria tomorrow - I think spreading it over 2 days helps a lot.

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