Hello Uncle Foreigner

culture

Jun 20, 2014

See our desk, see our desk!

And all the rest…

Our new desk, at home
The delivery truck
All packed up and ready to go.

Instead of an apartment, we bought a desk. To replace the precariously wobbly glass table that our computer had been living on for the past two years.

We bought it out at the Southwest Trading Center of China mall, which now has actual stores in it. Arranging for delivery was ridiculously easy. “Is today OK?” the shop clerk offered. “Like, right now?” The movers drove us and our new treasures home in their pickup truck, and blammo, new home office.

Jun 19, 2014

Apartment hunting in the countryside

You’ll pay extra, but that river view is fantastic

In 2012, the construction was just beginning
In 2012, the construction was only beginning its invasion of our countryside campus.
The golf cart takes you through the incomplete housing estateYuzixi International Community is sprouting up across the street from our schoolLooking at the property
Yuzixi International Community is a nearly completed condo development across the street from the school.
The incomplete bottom of the buildingPut on your booties
Our tour guide walked us through an active construction site to the show apartments. We were provided with booties, right, for cleanliness.
With real western toiletIt's a kitchenThe show apartment living roomThe show apartment bedroom
The show apartments were way classy.

The area around the New School has been subject to intense development over the past two years. What was once hilly countryside has been levelled, and is now home to luxury condos!

The afternoon that we made our fourth year official, in the mood for adventure, we took a detour to the “Yuzixi International Community” across the main road from the school. We were actually drawn by a sign advertising a bar/restaurant, which turned out to be just for show, but the management office had a scale model of the planned finished development and an army of helpful young women selling condos. So we joined a tour.

“Are you looking to buy today?” our guide asked us as we rode the golf cart across the grounds to the model apartments. She didn’t seem too bothered that we weren’t. The show condos were on the 7th-ish floor, in a building that was still actively under construction. (It was hard to keep count, as some of the flights of stairs were actually make-shift ladders.) But the apartments themselves were beautiful.

A luxury apartment on the outskirts of a prefecture-level city in China will run you between 780,000-1,280,000 RMB, we found, depending on the size. (That’s US$125,468-$205,897.) The larger apartment has two master bedrooms and one small bedroom — perfect for a couple, their parents and their one kid.

The most surprising thing about our visit was discovering that, if we stopped traveling and just saved for a few years, we could actually afford a down payment. It’s really more space than we need, though, so we probably won’t.

The condos have stolen our river view

Jun 14, 2014

The victory lap

Leveling up in Luzhou

The kids and us at Egg Bar, with the boss
Our buddies at Egg Bar, in Tai’an
Briefly, there were hot dogs
Sadly, after a strong opening, the hot dog guys fell prey to a decline in quality and we haven’t actually seen them in a few weeks.
The Luzhou pig cakeTaste that savory meat
猪儿粑, or Pig Cake, is a delicious Luzhou specialty that our friend Listening introduced us to earlier this year.
Post-flood Yangtze RiverThe river walk today
Left: One month after the 2012 flood, makeshift tea houses reclaimed the crumbled banks of Yangtze Riverfront. Right: These days, the walk along the river has been greatly spiffed up.
Far-away-hot-potThe crew of far-away-hot-pot
Far-away-hot-pot has some truly delicious meatballs.
At Chinese Bar with Claude and MaybellDownstairs Chinese Bar
After a spicy meal at far-away-hot-pot, we love to stop at Chinese Bar for an old-fashiony night cap.
The kids at Around the Corner restaurantSome buddies at Snaggles'More young friendsA friend on the road
We’ve made all kinds of friends out in the village of Tai’an.
The old, rickety carnival by the riverShiny, new Spirits Land
Left: The old carnival by the river; right: The rollercoaster at Spirits Land
Is it a Transformer?The X-Men branded swings at Spirits Land
At Spirits Land, everything looks a little familiar.

A new vendor appeared at the bottom of the hill behind the Old School in early April. Next to the ladies selling dumplings, cold noodles, and fried 串串 snacks, two young guys set up the Little Bear Hot Dog stand. And their efforts were delicious: Perfectly savory dogs — the Chinese tube meats we’d come across before tend towards the sweet — on homemade buns served with pickles and real French’s mustard (“It’s American, just like you!” said the guy in the mask, in Chinese). We quickly made Little Bear part of our Old Campus routine. And joked to each other that this represented a huge level up in our ongoing RPG of a life. “Achievement unlocked: American-style hot dog.”

As spring progressed, it felt like less of a joke. Luzhou is changing and we are changing, and everything feels a bit more comfortable. For maybe the first two years, I’d look back every few months and think, “I have no idea how we even survived without the knowledge and experience that I’ve just gained. We were such ignorant fools until now!” But recently, so slowly that I’ve barely noticed, my mindset has become, “Hey, we’re doing pretty well these days. China’s awesome and we’re awesome!” Some of that’s due to small things, that are really more Luzhou’s doings than our own, mostly having to do with what gets stocked in the imports section at at the supermarket. There was even butter, for a short while.

But, we’re the ones who’ve found the fun at far-away-hot-pot and Chinese Bar. Far-away-hot-pot is our latest hot pot find: A place that does it up Chongqing-style, located 15-minutes in the direction away from the city center from our Old Campus apartment (hence our name for it), right on the Yangtze River. It has a beautiful view, a friendly staff and fantastic meatballs. We introduced it to our friends Maybell and Claude, and they too really liked it. Chinese Bar is the actual name of an historically themed Chinese restaurant, where the waiters dress in old fashioned river worker costumes and we drink rice wine out of ceramic bowls. Both establishments seem to be where the young and cool of Luzhou hang out. And now, it’s where we hang out, too.

We’ve also established ourselves out in Tai’an, chatting often with both the locals and the many construction workers who are in town to make this little hamlet into a city. I’m working pretty hard on my Mandarin, and these conversations are more in depth than ever before. People are starting to accuse me of speaking the local dialect, even.

The lovely spring weather has seen us get out and about nearly every weekend — whether to destinations remote and spectacular, like the Bamboo Sea, or far flung corners of Luzhou city, like Spirits Land. Spirits Land is the English translation of Luzhou’s new amusement park. According to Listening, Crela and Echo, after the flood of 2012 wiped out the scrappy old rides by the river, the city carved out a space to rebuild all that kind of thing on the outskirts of town. When we visited, mid-May, the park was only half complete, but 100% safer looking than the river carnival had been. The new park had multilingual signage in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French and English; and willy-nilly copyright infringement: The Krusty Krab and the Chum Bucket were places to buy snacks, X-Men characters festooned the “Hurricane Fly Chairs”; and good-old Mickey ears sat atop the entry ticket booth.

During all this travel and fun, Peter and I talked constantly about our upcoming move, and how much we were going to miss Luzhou. The more we reveled in our first Chinese hometown, the more fiercely attached we felt to it. One afternoon, in conversation with our boss, we successfully floated the theoretical idea of a raise. “What if we stayed?” we started wondering.

After the first time that was voiced, it didn’t take too long for our “Say Goodbye to Sichuan Province” tour to turn into a campaign advocating for “Bonus Year in Luzhou.” Over lunch at corner restaurant (we call it that, because it’s on a corner) we called our boss Linda to sign on for another year. “God bless you,” she said.

Kunming will still be there in 2015, and we’ve finally found our footing here. So we’re staying, to revel in our achievements and to enjoy the comforts we’ve worked so hard for. Bonus round: GO!

An afternoon at Baizitu

Apr 25, 2014

Snaps: Crosstown traffic

You gotta get where you’re going

This baby stops traffic

Traffic is notoriously terrible here in China, but locals of all ages take it in stride.

Apr 19, 2014

Return to Longan Forest

A walk in the (now finished) park

The longan forest park is very big and beautiful
A pavillion with a tea houseWedding photos
In China, wedding photos are a big, multi-day production and you can get them done anytime, any place, in many different costumes. The big white dress is not traditional here, but more and more popular as China looks to the west for style tips.

Early April in Luzhou is that sweet spot between the cold, rainy winter and the relentlessly sweltering summer — I guess you call that spring — so during that time, it’s priority for us to get out into that sweet, sweet sunshine as much as we can. This year’s Qingming Festival gave us a three-day weekend at the beginning of the month, and Peter and I (and hundreds of Luzhou families) took advantage of our holiday Monday to visit the Longan Forest Scenic Area, which is just a short walk from our countryside campus.

Our first visit to the park was more than a year ago, when it was still under construction. It’s finished now, and really pretty — all manicured greenery and delightful garden paths. It’s big, too. We spent hours walking the hilly grounds from end to end, and it was a 30 kuai cab ride back to our neighborhood afterwards. (Generally, a taxi from the city center out to the new school is half that.)

When the walking started to become more tiring than fun, we stopped at a tea house for a flowery cuppa. Now a stationary target, we attracted bunches of children who wanted to show off their English and parents who wanted to show their kids foreigners. It’s all part of the job.

Water everywhereA man-made waterfall

Apr 15, 2014

The international dinner

Let’s get together, and eat some beef

An international crowd at beef hot pot
An international crowd at beef hot pot
The international roundtable. Top, clockwise from Emily: Maybell, Claude, Andrea, Alex US, Alex UK. Bottom, continuing clockwise from Alex UK: Echo, Crela.

The occasion: We knew some cool people and we met some other cool people, and we thought they should meet, so Peter and I put together a small dinner party a few weeks ago.

It was a truly multi-cultural ‘do. The Chinese side of the guest list was composed of Echo and Crela, and Maybell and Claude. For the Westerners: There was Andrea, an Italian businessman who has lived in Luzhou for nearly a decade. He got in touch with us through Flickr when he recognized the city in our photos. And there were Andrea’s friends, Alex from the U.K. and Alex from the U.S. (“A Double Alex!” Claude exclaimed when we ran down the roster.) The two of them are ESL teachers at a school just south of Luzhou city.

It made for a nice mix: a crew of teachers, current/former Chinese students and a long-time expat Luzhou-ite. Shop talk, tips and advice passed in all directions. We also covered general language and cultural differences — translating jokes for one another that didn’t always make it into the other language. The food got eaten and the beer got drunk and people seemed to have a good time. Hosting success!

“You promised an international party, and it really was an international party,” Crela told us afterwards.

Mar 30, 2014

Snaps: Please, won’t you let me hold your baby?

Oh, I hope he doesn’t pee

I'm finally holding a baby!

Ever since we’ve arrived, I’ve been singing a little song to Peter that goes, “Please, won’t you let me hold your baby?” Because the babies are everywhere and oh-so-cute. Until recently, this request has gone unfulfilled, because who wants to let some strange woman hold a baby.

Then, last week, it happened! Some mother gave her child to me to hold!

A relevant fact: Instead of diapers, a lot of kids wear split crotch pants and just widdle wherever when they feel the urge. So my first thought — after, “Yes! It’s finally happening!” — was, “I hope he doesn’t pee on me, like a gerbil.” Peter’s response, “You didn’t think of that before?”

Mar 29, 2014

The girl gang

Pinkay and friends down Qian Dian Alley

I run wild with the girl gang by Changjiang River

Down Noodle Street — aka Qian Dian Jie — by the old school, there runs a pack of girls, daughters of the business owners there. Pinkay, 9, as the oldest and boldest, is the undisputed leader. Her parents run a restaurant; as do the parents of Shuper and Little Sister; and those of the Not-Twins, who are styled the same but are different ages. Lovely Rita, who probably doesn’t remember this is her English name, belongs to the shoe repair shop. And Ling Ling, the youngest, comes from a small hotel down the way. Sometimes she bounces around on all fours like a puppy, and it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.

We know them because we eat down that street at least twice a week. They’ll hover over our table as we dine, peppering us with questions, and then walk with us as we pick up some nighttime shopping and head home. Pinkay is the best conversation partner I’ve ever had, chiefly because she doesn’t believe that I can’t speak Chinese. She’s willing to repeat herself endlessly, and accepts all kinds of faces as legitimate responses. Our chats, naturally, hew closely to my recent language lessons. (Thanks, Hello Mylo!) Can you swim? Aren’t these flowers pretty? I can’t play badminton. Can you dance?

At a recent dinner, we had an especially sensical convo. We talked about families and our animal signs. I’m a goat. This is when I asked if they could dance. They said yes so I asked them to do it, and THEY DID! From now on, I’m asking everyone to dance.

They pop up now and again, in different configurations, and basically have an unsupervised run of the neighborhood. They’ve got beef with the dog at the hardware store, but other than that, they’re tolerated and sometimes welcomed everywhere.

Peter and I have started checking out their parents’ restaurants, this week hitting the BBQ place owned by the parents of Shuper and Little Sister. “The girls won’t be around until Saturday,” mom informed us. But we were there to eat. Pinkay, Rita, Ling Ling and a new girl showed up as we were finishing. We talked fruit names, they gave Peter a Chinese name — 圆绿帅, or Handsome Green Yuan — and then they walked us home.

Me and the girls at chuan chuan
From left to right: Shuper, Rita, Pinkay, Ling Ling and Emily

Mar 29, 2014

Down time in Luzhou

Walking and eating

The new old buildings by Changjiang River
Hanging out on the parapetI chat with Listening and CrelaOthers frolic on the "old" templeI'm an angel
We spent some time goofing around in a small photography studio which provided costumes and backdrops for your shutterbugging enjoyment. Crela and Listening accompany me as I get my wings.

In the interim between vacation’s end and school’s start we received just enough invitations out to keep us from going stir crazy (though not too many that they cut into our glorious just-us time). Listening was home from university, so we got together with him and Crela and Echo for a lazy lunch date one January afternoon.

Our local friends introduced us to pig cake (zhuerbao), a Luzhou specialty dumpling with a glutinous rice shell and a savory pork filling. They are rich and delicious, and a steady supply came streaming out of the kitchen in bamboo steamers stacked higher than a man’s head. The kids talked about their various plans to get to America. We advised that waiting tables would be a better situation than washing dishes, but all three of them seemed eager for any opportunity.

After lunch, we walked down by the newly facelifted riverfront. Down toward the city center, there’s now a giant, “ancient” city gate and temple. “The [local] government has too much money and nothing else to build,” Listening told us when we asked about the “why”. The doors to the temple are locked, and there’s nothing inside. He pocketed his camera, not desiring photos of a tourist trap. We’ll take pictures of anything, though.

Jan 28, 2014

Take good care of yourself

Have a fish, why don’t you?

Our reflexology guy
Peter tries some meatPeter tries more meat!Peter loves eating meat!
The road to meat acceptance

Peter is “pre-sick,” according to our reflexologist. “If you went to a hospital, they’d say you were fine, but I can tell you’re very unhealthy,” he told us through a translator.

Now, reflexology is bunk, but massages are lovely, so we go back. The beauty of working essentially part time is that there’s plenty of time to pamper yourself. And our reflexology guy runs a nice place; massage is a social event in China, so neighborhood kids are always about, and pop-in friends and other customers are always up for a chat. It’s actually a great chance for me to practice my Chinese while our aches and pains are soothed.

Chinese medicine is all around in China. But most people take it as seriously as Americans do their folk beliefs such as “no swimming an hour after eating,” or “cold weather + wet hair = instant cold.” Our Chinese friends are quick to recommend drinking hot water as a curative for about everything, and cite the restorative benefits of certain foods, but they’ll also take ibuprofen for a headache and antibiotics for a bacterial infection. We’re not practicing witchcraft, over here.

“Do you eat fish?” our reflexologist asked Peter during one visit. “You should.” This actually seemed pretty reasonable to Peter, who had recently been connecting the dots between his feeling terrible all the time and his vegetarianism. So that night, he welcomed animal proteins back into his life with some nibbles of chicken. And he’s feeling a lot better. (Nutritional science! Now that’s a thing.)

Our reflexologist hasn’t said anything, but he’s stopped squeezing Peter’s big toe and saying “Your stomach is bad.” Healthy meat, healthy feet, I guess.