Hello Uncle Foreigner


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.

Oct 8, 2014

Video: Hello, Uncle Foreigner!

What if we were living a sitcom?

Hello, Uncle Foreigner from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo. Music: Josh Pike, “Clovis’ Son.”

We bought a new camera. Can you tell?

Oct 6, 2014

Video: Impressions of Luzhou

About town, 3 years

An original Whoop Wu production. Original score by Peter Sikoski (with some familiar voices).

Oct 2, 2014

The Dragon’s Eyes are ripe

And there’s no escaping them

Emily-the-model poses in Zhongba Woods
We went for a photo shoot in the Longan Forest. This tree is more than 100 years old.

Longan fruit — a cousin of the lychee — is a Luzhou specialty, and they’ve recently come into season. Also known as the dragon eye fruit, these little fleshy baubles grow on trees all over the countryside around here, and when it’s time, farmers and salespeople cart them into the city by the bushel. You can buy them in the markets and from the street vendors, even along the highway. And, really, you don’t even need to buy them.

It started a few weeks ago when the owner’s young daughter at Around the Corner restaurant showered us with handfuls of the fruit upon our arrival.
Later that evening, we were small talking with some fellow diners and one asked us if we had eaten any longans yet. His buddy pointed at our piles and said, they have some right now, you goof!

Since then, our local shop owners, friends, and strangers keep sending us away with arms filled with the fruits. Last weekend, our photographer friend brought us out for a photo shoot in the park near the school. (Oh yeah, we’re models in China.) The Zhongba Woods Park is a landscaped upgrade of a hundreds-years-old longan forest, and our friend took many, many pictures of us picking, eating, and throwing the fruit. We fed each other the fruit, we posed with other park goers whose arms were also full of fruit, we avoided bees that were fat and drunk on the fruit. And we somehow went home with more longans than we started with.

The thing is, we don’t really love longan fruit. The actual meat is succulent and tasty, but thanks to a tough outer skin it’s a lot of work to get at, and each piece has only a little bit that’s edible. But the whole city is excitedly celebrating the longan fruit season, and it is fun to be a part of that.

Aug 12, 2014

Snaps: The Guitar Lesson

The best way to learn is by teaching

Crela teaches Echo some things she learned on the guitar
Our friend Crela, left, has just had her first guitar lesson with Peter, and now she’s showing what she’s learned to our other friend Echo.

Something we hear a lot from our students and friends is that they’d love to learn guitar, but their teachers, parents, et al., agree that there’s no time and it would be distracting from their school work. But! Once high school is over and the high marks are in on the all important gaokao, the kids are allowed some measure of free time. And then, they finally get to pick up that guitar.

Jul 9, 2014

Happy birthday, Mr. Hu

Stopping by the bar on a summer evening

We toast Mr. Hu, the birthday boy
Here comes the birthday cake

We dallied outside Chinese Bar for a few minutes before going inside; though it’s called Chinese Bar, it’s actually a restaurant with a closing time of 9:30, but they serve the best rice wine in fun little ceramic bowls. At nine o’clock, there were still plenty of people eating, so we went for it.

Up on the second floor, we settled in a few tables over from a large party. We ordered our regular small carafe of 米酒, and one of the woman from the other table approached us. I am from Tianfu Middle School, she told us in English, we are having a birthday party for our friend and we invite you to sit with us. And thus our nightcap turned into party time.

Mr. Hu, the husband of a history teacher from our school, was turning 52. The group included some Tianfu junior school teachers — some of them who taught one of Peter’s classes — and politics teachers from other schools. We caught them at the tail end of their dinner, but our arrival occasioned a new round of toasting. They were drinking the good stuff, Moutai, and they were considerate enough to pour us small sips, as that stuff is potent!

After the cake, it was time for karaoke. Here’s the thing about KTV: I always find the most boring part is when I’m not singing, but being a guest at these kinds of events, I don’t want to hog the mic either. Peter, on the other hand, doesn’t sing and hates all of it. But it’s the default of socializing here, so we both get it together and do what we need to do. And we had a lot of fun with our new friends. And we left, before things got too wild.