Hello Uncle Foreigner

culture

Nov 10, 2011

Snaps: Cart parking

It’s gotta go somewhere

Wheelbarrow parking

This is where you can park your cart.

Nov 7, 2011

It just keeps getting better

Revisiting the studio

Now we've got chairs

We bought a space heater and moved the comfy chairs into the studio. This is now far and away the best room in the house.

Nov 7, 2011

Back in black

Let’s not talk about paperwork

Hello friends,

Sorry again for the slow down. Between some bureaucratic matters (it takes a lot of paperwork to live in China) and us both catching a change-of-the-seasons cold (now it’s in the 60s and rainy every day, instead of in the 70s and rainy every day), we haven’t had a lot of time for adventuring.

The paperwork could be described as an adventure, but not really an interesting one. I did learn that they use the English word “propaganda” to mean information or documentation — which kind of jibes with its original Latin meaning - but it is really funny to hear someone say, “Here. Take this propaganda,” at the police station (no one got arrested; foreigners have to do a lot of checking in with the police in China). Don’t worry. I didn’t laugh.

But we’re mostly well, and near the end of the process for getting our residence permits, so I’m hoping blogging will resume as normal.

Teaser: A short trip to Hong Kong is in the works. I’m excited to possibly find and eat some cheese; Peter’s looking forward to visiting HK’s giant guitar store.

Nov 1, 2011

Relative sizes

I’m finally tall

Many of you asked before we left, “Do you think you’ll be tall in China?”

Short answer: We are tall in China.

More detail: Both Peter and I have students who are tall. I have many boys, especially, who are taller than me. But Peter definitely sticks out as a bigger person. I feel like I’m about the same size as most women, maybe a little taller. Until I notice that a large portion of the women here wear three-inch heels or platform sneakers. I’m finally tall!

Nov 1, 2011

Pengyou! Pengyou!

朋友! 朋友!

Being in the position of having no friends is a very strange one. It’s part of the package of moving to a new city, but it’s still an odd experience and one that does not occur often in adult life.

But one of our big goals here is to really integrate into the community. We not only want to learn the language, but we’d like to understand a little more about Chinese culture, and have fun times with people in addition to ourselves. In short, we want a Chinese friend.

As circumstance would have it - just as we’re in the market for a Chinese friend that speaks English - English-speaking Luzhou-ers are always on the look out for native English speakers to befriend and converse with. Which means that just by running errands and exploring the city, we’ve met a few people that are likely candidates for friendship.

Here’s what happened last week: We went to the music store that’s right next door to our school. (There are actually four music stores right outside the school’s gate, with a fifth one half a block down.) The manager was ringing us up and indicated that he could tape our boxes together for easy carrying (we were buying three guitar stands). Peter indicated that we lived right next store.

“Oh! You’re teachers!” he said. Then rapid Chinese, with enough English interspersed that we understood that he knew an English teacher. He then took out his phone and indicated for me to do the same. This was super confusing. Why would he want my number if he can only speak mostly Chinese? He called someone, and I think he’s going to put us on with her to explain what he’s trying to say. This happens with some of our colleagues, that they’ll call an English speaker to explain stuff to us. But whoever it is didn’t answer the phone.

But then he pulled out, “My wife is an English teacher!” Ah. We’re getting somewhere. And the last piece of the puzzle: I hear him say the word “péngyǒu.” “Péngyǒu! Péngyǒu!” I repeated. Seriously, not the day before, my juniors taught me this word. It means “friends.” He was asking us if we want to be friends with his English-speaking wife!

An English-speaking couple with an interest in music? Of course we want to be friends. After some texting with his wife, we made a date for dinner tonight. We’re very excited. They seem like really nice people.

And this is how a couple of introverts makes new friends in China.

Oct 28, 2011

Snaps: The studio, in its full glory

A place to rock and roll

Our studio

Oct 28, 2011

When is a house a home?

When you have an amp!

Our new amp

We bought new amps yesterday! (It was prohibitively expensive to ship our old ones.) They’re little 15-watters, but they get the job done for now. And what is the job? Since our bosses know that we both play guitar (they helped us carry three guitar cases up to the apartment) they’ve asked us to perform with some of their students!

At the end of November, the school is having a big concert, and the class that we’re performing with will present a poem, sing the school song and sing a pop song. We’ll be accompanying the pop song, of course. It’s “Which Station” by Yu Quan. (Look for it on the video streaming service of your choice, if you like. I’d embed the video, but at this point we can’t access YT and what we can access, Youku.com, is blocked in the states.) Our first practice is Sunday, so we figured that we better get amped.

In the long term, we’re hoping to get to Chengdu to buy some more heavy duty amps - there’s a big rock scene there and the music shops are a little more pro. But for now, we can at least be heard.

Oct 25, 2011

Some facts of China life

A non-definitive FAQ

We did a lot of research before we moved from New York to China, but there was a whole subset of questions that I had a really hard time finding answers to, mostly dealing with basic daily life. So I’m laying out here some answers I’ve learned (some are educated guesses) just in case you’re curious too.

Do expats drink tap water?

No. But neither do the locals; initially, we thought we couldn’t drink it because of foreign microbes or something, but it turns out it’s just too polluted for anyone to drink. We either boil the tap water or drink bottled water. I’ve found that I’m mostly drinking tea, because once the water is boiled, why not? It feels a lot like medieval times when people used to drink beer because the water wasn’t clean.

What about brushing your teeth?

For this and showering, etc., we do just use tap water. But we never swallow it.

How do you deal with produce?

If we’re going to cook it, we just rinse it in tap water. Because the veggies and stuff we buy are clearly fresh from the farm, they are usually covered in dirt. If we’re going to eat it raw, we’ll soak it in vinegar for a few minutes - fresh from the farm also means natural fertilizer, the germs of which we want to kill, of course. We do this with our eggs too, which even from the grocery store still have visible dirt on them. It’s kind of nice to see, actually, because it’s a sure sign that our food is not the product of a factory farm. “Organic” farming is a matter of course in our area, because no one is wealthy enough to afford big machinery and pesticides.

Is street food safe to eat?

So far we’ve had no problems. I look for: is there a high turnover of food, or has it been sitting out for a while? I’ll take a pass on food that’s been out, but if I can watch someone cooking it in front of me, that’s a go. We also don’t go for any raw fruit - this is just my suspicion, but I don’t really want to eat something that someone else peeled and exposed to the city glunk for however long.

Can I get a cold beer here? I hate this room temperature stuff.

You can, but you have to ask for it. We noticed that even the water restaurants serve is on the warm side. This is not, as I initially thought, because it had just been boiled (though it has just been boiled). But rather, the Chinese think warm liquids are just better for you - there’s an idea that it will help with digestion, where as a cold drink will solidify fats in your stomach, making you ill.

Eating and drinking here just requires a little more care than at home, but it’s not something to drive yourself crazy over. I spent our first week worrying about what would or would not make us sick, but that’s no fun. I’ve gotten food poisoning in America, anyway. So now, I’m willing to err on the side of caution (see: street fruit), but I’m trying to be adventurous. No scorpions on a stick yet - and I don’t know if I’ll ever get there - but there’s plenty of, “I wonder what this is? Let’s try it!”

Oct 23, 2011

A surprise trip to the Old Cellar

We’re, like, supermodels, or something

Luzhou Laojiao

This morning we were awakened by a phone call from one of our bosses: “A photographer who works with our school wants to take photos of you. Can you meet him in half an hour?”

I managed to buy us a whole hour, and we jumped in the shower and made ourselves presentable for what was explained to us as a “3-4 minute photo shoot.”

The disembodied drinker

We met the photographer at the gate of the school, along with two students - Cindy and Alice - who were to be our translators. We followed them, not to a photography studio, but the Old Cellar. This factory, which is right in our backyard, produces a liquor called Luzhou Laojiao. The locals call it wine, but it’s a white spirit brewed from sorghum, and it tastes INTENSE. This liquor has been brewed here for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s the pride of the city. Cindy told us our students receive two small bottles of it as a traditional gift upon high school graduation. She says she doesn’t drink it, because it’s too strong. (She’s about 16, I think, but there is no drinking age here.)

We were met at the factory by another photographer and a tour guide, Angie. It was very surreal. Angie gave us a private tour of the factory - which we had actually been intending to visit one of these days - with English help from the two students. Meanwhile the two photographers were snapping away. They posed us in front of everything. They even took pictures of Peter taking pictures of me. (Peter, fortuitously, thought to grab our camera on the way out the door.)

A bottle of Luzhou Laojiao

The tour itself was pretty simple; because of the language difference, a lot of it boiled down to, “this is a thing.” Having toured wineries and breweries before, I’ve seen how alcohol is made, and it was much the same here; take a grain, heat it up, store it away. It did take about an hour, though, because we had to keep stopping to pose for photos. The photographers snapped us listening to the tour guide, looking at stuff, reading plaques, joking with the kids, sitting on benches …

At the end of the tour, we had a small sample of the liquor in the ceremonial hall. It was about 11 in the morning, but why not? They sat us at this large wooden table with beautiful chairs and served us a small shot in a traditionally shaped porcelain glass. Much like a wine tasting, there’s an elaborate process to sipping the spirit, involving sniffing, sipping and inhaling. They even had us rub a little on our skin, although I don’t think that’s a traditional part of the ceremony.

And that was that. We went back out front, where the photographers had Peter and I kiss in front of the giant rock at the entrance. And then, our modeling job was over.

We exchanged phone numbers with Angie for possible language exchange, which would actually be pretty cool. She was very nice, and we’re definitely in the market for new friends here. But no explanation was offered for what we had just done, or why. Though we did get a nice private tour out of it in English. Check it out for yourself:

>An early-morning tour of a liquor showroom
Check out the full album of our tour.

This city is really serious about the liquor. Luzhou Laojiao is known throughout all of China. You can buy it EVERYWHERE here. There are liquor stores next to liquor stores, all selling those red boxes. Here’s just a small sample of shops that we’ve seen around town:

Stores selling baijiu
So many liquor stores!

Oct 21, 2011

“If you need glasses, you should wear your glasses!”

C’mon, kids!

I’d say probably about seventy percent of our kids wear glasses, at least. But then there’s another good handful of kids who have glasses, but do not wear them. And as someone who wore glasses at that age but desperately wanted not to, I understand where they’re coming from.

Some of them won’t wear them, but hold them up backwards or folded up to their eyes, kind of like opera classes. I had a couple of girls today who were sharing one pair of glasses, even though between them they possessed two pairs. It’s very weird. But most the exasperating is when you come to a kid and ask them a question and they have to put on their glasses to see the board and answer me. This means until I addressed this student directly, they were getting nothing from the lesson! (Which is separate from there are a few kids who I can tell need glasses, but don’t have them. When I catch that, I make them come up front.)

So many of the kids wear glasses that it seems like it wouldn’t be a stigma, but still some of the kids just won’t wear them unless they absolutely have to.