Hello Uncle Foreigner

culture

Jun 18, 2015

Video: Guitar with Mr. Super

No more school work, let’s make music

Guitar with Mr. Super from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Graduation time is here, releasing a new crop of students out into the world, and freeing up their time for guitar lessons.

Zhang Yu Jie — formerly Mr. Super, an English name that he’s discarded — has been our friend for the past three years. Determined to improve his English, he would practice with us as much as he could, finding us between classes, walking with us wherever, getting in those precious few moments of face time during his busy school schedule.

On our part, we learned that he is a really sweet, hard-working young man. Raised on a farm by his grandparents with his twin sister Lily, he has big dreams. The video above takes from an interview we conducted last spring, and a group guitar lesson Peter gave last month with Lily and a few friends.

Feb 25, 2015

Celebrating the brand spanking Year of the Sheep

Happy Chinese New Year!

Some delicious ducks hanging in an apartment window in Chengdu.
Ducks drying in the window of a Chengdu apartment for a tasty meal

This year, we took our winter vacation a little later than usual, which meant that we were on the road for the start of Chinese New Year. And preparations for the two-week long holiday began before we left, in early February. Restaurants rolled out spiffy new dishes and menus, families brought home nice fat chickens and ducks, and the city hung red lanterns all over everything. Because Spring Festival, as it’s also called, is a big deal.

A significant percentage of China’s population is on the move at this time of year — and the same is true in Vietnam, where the related Tết festival is celebrated. At the start of our journey, when we stopped in at the Pug in Chengdu (where we were greeted like the regulars that we bizarrely are), the staffers were excited about their upcoming 11-day vacation. It’s a working holiday, they told us, at the owners’ new outpost in Bangkok. “It’s nice that everyone can have more than one day off at a time,” the bartender said.

As we continued our travels, the most significant signs of the holiday were the crowded airports and the fact that a lot of stuff was closed. But it was a lot of fun to be a part of the bustle. More and more young people are using the holiday as a chance to travel, not just home but also around, so we made some cool road friends along the way. And now, back at home, we’ve been the surprise guest stars at three different nights out so far. (Watch me kind of speak Chinese in the video above!)

新年快乐, everybody!

Jan 21, 2015

You’re invited to the wedding

By the way, it’s tomorrow!

Wedding from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

The best dressed guestOur luxurious seafood-rich banquet lunch
Right: The best dressed guest had all of the photographers snapping. Left: Lunch was spectacular and delicious.

Wendy called at about 9 o’clock the night before. Her brother’s son was getting married, and would we like to come? The occasion for the invitation was that her nephew was practicing some English to drop into his speech, which made Wendy think of us. (Ultimately, she advised him against using a foreign language; “He’s not that good,” she said.)

This was my first time attending an actual Chinese wedding ceremony, but I had learned a thing or two already. For example, the actual, legal, “we are officially married” thing is not what I would be witnessing. That happens in a government office to very little fanfare. When our friends Maybell and Claude got married, they did this part in matching hooded sweatshirts one morning when they were both free. But then, of course, you have to have a big, flashy party after — and this is what I was invited to.

Wendy’s nephew’s big, flashy party was at one of Luzhou’s premiere five-star hotels. The event started in the lobby, where there was a backdrop for arrival photos and a welcome table staffed by Xi Xi — Wendy’s daughter — and some other cousins. They gave out candy and packs of cigarettes to incoming guests, and in turn, the guests handed over fat magenta wads of 100 yuan bills as gifts for the happy couple.

The ceremony itself was upstairs in a grand ballroom. The bride’s village sat on one side and the groom’s on the other, Wendy explained. She scooted me towards the stage as her nephew walked the center catwalk, starting the proceedings. The bride emerged from under the stage in a shower of rose petals, and the host made an impassioned welcome speech. The whole spectacle was reminiscent of the televised variety shows that are so popular here.

There were more speeches, the presentation of the parents, toasts with tea and toasts with wine, and the all-important red envelopes given from the parents to the couple. The bride and groom sealed their vows with a hug and a chaste kiss. And then there was lunch.

A spillover room across the hall from the ballroom was allocated for last minute invites, like me. I estimate that there were about a hundred of us happy surprises, because Chinese hospitality is no joke. And our banquet lunch was your usual abundance; dishes piled on one another in the center of the table. “This fish is very expensive,” Wendy proudly told me.

Unfortunately, I had to teach a class that afternoon, so I could only join in one baijiu toast (Wendy wanted me to do six!). And then I cut my own celebration short. But the party raged on well into the evening, I hear. And that’s how you get married in China.

Jan 20, 2015

Welcome to the new and independent Hello Uncle Foreigner

We say goodbye to Tumblr and a media empire is born

The new site, Jan 2015

Update your bookmarks: Today, we’re very excited to launch the new Hello Uncle Foreigner under our domain! Tumblr’s been a good home, but Peter and I are looking forward to taking this project even further, now that we can write our own code.

Making the transfer, we’ve had the opportunity to go back through all of our old stories which has been both fun and educational. If you haven’t been with us from the beginning, we invite you to go on back to September 27, 2011 and see how it all began.

Jan 1, 2015

Video: Give sports a try

We’re all the winner

Give Sports a try from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo. Music: “I’m Not Even Going to Try,” David Devant and His Spirit Wife.

The kids of Tianfu middle school don’t have to try; they were born cool.

Nov 29, 2014

Snaps: Winter is here

And everyone loves Peter’s hat

Peter's sherpa hat keeps him warm in the cold.

We may not have 35 feet of snow, but the cold season has hit Luzhou. So it’s time to break out the winter fashions. Peter’s Iron Maiden sherpa hat has been getting compliments all over town.

Nov 22, 2014

Video: Life along the Yangtze

Viewing the world from our perch in Luzhou

Traveller from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo. Music: Devin Townsend, “Traveller”

A typical fall afternoon, hanging out by the river.

Oct 18, 2014

Video: Postcard from the Moon

Fun on the night of the eclipse

Postcard from the moon from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Dancing around after the October 8th Blood Moon. We missed the blood, but we found the dance. Music: Pugwash, “Answers on a Postcard”

Oct 18, 2014

Help and friends, and how that works

Hey, we’re more than getting by …

our new spa chair at home
It was a pretty big ordeal getting our new spa chair home.

Everywhere we go, people know us

When we lose our way, people show us

When we break down, people tow us

And send us on our way with a smile and a little wave

“Meeting Mr Miandad,” The Duckworth Lewis Method

The big question our students ask us basically boils down to: “If you don’t speak Chinese well, how do you get stuff done?” (A close second is, “Teacher, why here?” But to that I say, why not here?)

The answer is, the kindness and goodwill of friends and strangers is overwhelming. In all of our travels throughout China (and, really, the rest of the world, too), we’ve found that most people want to help. And doesn’t hurt that we’re willing to look like fools when necessary; I once, in a prolonged performance, acted the part of a dying mouse to a shop clerk who eventually figured out that we needed traps and showed us where they were.

My Chinese is steadily improving, too, which means daily life stuff is getting easier. But, sometimes a little information is dangerous. Like, for example, in the case of the Man who Helped Us on our way Home with Heavy Packages. We had a massage chair, and he had a taxi — I thought. Fantastic, because we needed a taxi. In fact, what he actually must have said was something like, “Let me help you carry that heavy thing to the bus stop,” because that’s what he did. And it was the wrong bus stop; there was just miscommunication all around.

But, are you going to be mad at that? This guy very sweetly came to our (perceived) aid and helped carry our giant massage chair kind of a long way. With — more! — help from an English-speaking student also at the bus stop, we sorted out what went wrong. Then, all that was left to do was to shake hands and part ways. “朋友,” Peter said to the man as we said goodbye, friends. And we got into a taxi.

Oct 12, 2014

Our surprise friend

A local kid continues our education

We made a new friend who sat and talked with us at River Restaurant

This summer and fall have been particularly lovely in Luzhou: Not too hot, not too much rain and way more blue sky days than you’d expect from a country with such a problem with air pollution. So we’ve been finding every excuse to spend our time outside. And one of our favorite outside haunts, we’ve been referring to as the River Restaurant. (Formerly, My Birthday Restaurant, because the first time we were there was to celebrate my first birthday in China.)

A few weeks ago, we met a new friend — a bold 12-year-old girl who pulled up a chair and sat with us for about a half hour. We practiced a little English, but mostly she peppered us with questions in Chinese. Do you have children? Is New York the capital of America? The usual. She also gave me a rapid-fire lesson on the Chinese holidays; at this point Mid-Autumn festival was just around the corner. We took a photo with her, and she left, with a vague promise that we’d meet again someday.

And then we did see her again, just two days ago. Her home is near the very tip of the Luzhou city peninsula. She walked with us to dinner (this time at Pork Rib restaurant), announcing to the staff proudly that we were her 美国朋友 — American friends — and telling us that the staff were her 中国朋友 — Chinese friends. Then she flitted off into the wind once more.