vlog

Apr 18, 2018

Sell all your stuff and move across the world

And then buy more stuff

Before you start to exist in China, you’re going to need to pack. The easiest way to pack for a move abroad is to sell all your stuff! It’s the ultimate in light packing. And China is full up with new stuff that you can buy when you get here.

Most of what we packed was clothes. The one thing that is hard to find in China is big enough clothing for your western butt. As for the rest of it, we took a multi-pronged approach to getting our stuff out the door. The media — books, CDs, DVDs, comic books — we sold to the appropriate shops. The book buyers at the Strand are famously mean, but they’ll give you that cash if you’ve got good stuff, and we did! The furniture went on Craig’s List (or, some of it to my parents’ basement). And the guitars went on the plane! We weren’t leaving those behind.

Like it says in the video, these days we’re back up to a small moving truck’s worth of stuff, so I guess we can’t move back. I don’t know where to sell used books in Luzhou!

Apr 17, 2018

What’s in a Chinese school lunch?

I don’t always know, but it’s free for me!

These days, about twice a week, I get food from the kindergarten cafeteria. I could take lunch every day, but two out of five is good enough for me. I like it because it’s healthy and free! I eat what the babies eat; tomorrow we’re having pork and pumpkin, with a tofu soup on the side. It’s usually decent, I think, though Peter turns his nose up at it. It’s comparable, anyway, with the Tianfu Middle School cafeteria food.

I have a two-and-a-half hour lunch break — teaching kindergarten is the best — so I bring it all home in my super-duper lunch box. Watch the video to see this engineering marvel that keep my hot food hot for my entire ten-minute commute home.

Apr 16, 2018

TV star or teaching, Foreigners in China can no longer have it all

Also, don’t hit kids ... c’mon now!

In my life, I keep getting on TV kind of by accident. It started when I was a small baby, and my mom through a wedding party for Luke and Laura that was covered by our local news. You may have heard that it’s really easy to get on TV as a foreigner in China, and that’s pretty much true … but to actually make a career of it is no longer as easy as it once was. I find it much less challenging to find teaching work, and then let the cameras come to me :).

My latest work is a cameo in a PSA against child abuse in Chinese schools. I’m a big supporter of the cause, and my colleague called me and said, “They want to film you playing with the kids. Can you come to school a little early? It’s sunny now, so we need to do it NOW!” Luzhou sun is very fickle. It’s actually just for the school’s moms and dads, but one of our parents works at a local production house, so even the school’s in-house promos are pretty well produced.

This video kicks off a series this week exploring what it’s like to live and teach in China these days. Fame, or the struggle for it, is just one aspect to life abroad. You can watch the whole “Teachers Exist in China” playlist over on YouTube, and we’ll be posting them here on Uncle Foreigner every day through Friday.

Apr 11, 2018

We would follow the Pug anywhere in the world

Our favorite restaurant has left China, but it’s rocking in Bangkok

In China, watch on YouKu.

It’s no secret that we’ve been obsessed for years with The Lazy Pug restaurant in Chengdu. We planned entire trips to the big city, just for a taste of their Taco Thursday. Danny, one of the owners, turned us on to Carrefour, the French-owned supermarket with all the expat goods. Ah, we were so naive back then.

Sadly, the Lazy Pug closed down last summer … we didn’t even get to say goodbye! But, we revisit the good times — as well as the reborn Pug, this time he’s Smokin’ in Bangkok — in our latest Eating Places special. If you find yourself traveling in Thailand and itching for a taste of home while abroad, we highly recommend the new place.

Just watch the video, friends, and then head on over to YouTube to subscribe to our channel!

Apr 7, 2018

Haircuts in China while curly

I’ve started letting other people touch my hair

In China, watch on YouKu.

As a curly-haired girl, I’ve gotten a lot of bad haircuts in my life from hairdressers who just didn’t understand that I didn’t want to blow my hair out every day and live life like a straight-haired person. No. It’s going to curl, it’s going to fluff, and it’s going to frizz unless you treat it right. When I lived in New York, I found a stylist in Tribeca who got it, and paid her every penny she asked for.

I remember the last haircut I got before I left for China, and I remember giving the girl (a different girl in Brooklyn, who was also quite good but significantly cheaper) the absurd instruction that I was leaving New York for good, so I needed a haircut that would grow out gracefully. And then I didn’t get another professional haircut for five years.

I hate the feeling of hair on my neck, though, so for those five years I would either wear it up every day, or give myself the old palm tree cut over the toilet. It wasn’t great, but my foreign-ness was so distracting that people told me I was beautiful anyway.

The thing keeping me from going to a Chinese salon was that old fear of a straight-hair biased barber, and the fact that I didn’t feel confident in my Chinese. Problem two was solved on a trip to Hong Kong last year, when I got my hair cut by a Lamma Island barber. As he cut, he told me all about growing up on Lamma Island. His English was really good; he said he just picked it up over the years from his English-speaking clients.

With that threshold crossed, I just started bringing pictures to the salon — like you’d do in America anyway.

On my latest visit, the stylist gave me Chinese boy-style #5 — girls do wear their hair short here, but she didn’t quite achieve the curly, feminine pixie I showed her. But the cut itself was an enjoyable experience. And like I say in the video, it was the same price as a men’s haircut!

Apr 3, 2018

Egg Bar: Countryside Chinese Restaurant

aka the best Chinese dumplings

In China, watch this video on YouKu.

Emily and the adoring kids, outside of Egg Bar
Emily poses with some of the neighborhood kids, just outside Egg Bar.

It was a hot summer day when we stumbled upon Egg Bar for the first time. (Why is it called Egg Bar?!) It was back when we lived just outside of Luzhou city, at the countryside campus of Tianfu Middle School. One afternoon, we hopped aboard a bus going further out into the countryside, on the mission for a small town adventure. That bus ride actually took us out to the Luzhou Laojiao baijiu factory, which was not as fun as you might think. So we found a small convenience store and stopped for a couple of beers. (That kind of thing is done in the countryside.)

On the way back we took a different bus, which passed through the tiny suburb of Tai’an — just the thing we had been looking for. Just a few bus stops away from the school — closer than Luzhou proper — and with a few decent restaurants, Tai’an became our regular hang out when work was done for the day. Egg Bar, down a busy alleyway, was our favorite place to go. The woman in charge took good care of us. She knew we liked the dumplings best, but when she was making up something special in the kitchen — hello, seasonal fava beans — she’d give us the hook up.

It was the neighborhood hangout for all the old men, but the kids playing just outside were fascinated by us. Some days, they’d totally leave us be, but other days, one brave kiddo would come ask for our autograph or photo … and then word would seemingly spread for miles around that foreigners were making an appearance. I signed the ripped-off back of a cigarette box once. When they got too annoying — to us, the boss, the other customers — boss lady would shoot them off until another day.

There was one girl in particular who had some decent English. She was given dispensation to chat with us, and on high-volume kid days, she was kind of their leader. She’d also help translate with me and the other older people whose Luzhou-hua (the local dialect of Chinese) was too thick for me to understand. She blew my mind one time when she told me about a recent trip to Japan that she had taken with her family. I had totally assumed that Tai’an was a poor neighborhood! International travel?! Oh, well. “Ass out of you and me.”

Now we live about an hour by bus away from Tai’an, so we are not able to get out there really at all. The last time we ate there was probably more than a year ago. But, we’ll always have our memories. Though we never did get that goat. What am I talking about? Watch the video … and stick around to the very end to see a photo from our very first Egg Bar visit!

Mar 31, 2018

An adventure into the Stone Sea, Yibin, Sichuan

I finally make good on a student home visit

In China, watch us on YouKu.

The visit to a student’s home, we assumed, was an English-teaching standard. After all, Peter Hessler was close to all of his students. The offers must come flying, one after another. But after a solitary invite my first year teaching, that we were unable to take advantage of, I had to wait four years for my next one.

Lydia had been my student at Tianfu Middle School in my first year teaching and then again in my last year. From the very first, she was a hard-working young woman. The junior class she was in was somewhat rowdy, but I could usually count on her to answer my questions. Except for one day, when she wanted to do her homework in class. “We’re in the middle of my class,” I told her. “You can’t!” What I didn’t add, but was desperately thinking was, “I need someone to be paying attention.”

In our last year at Tianfu, Lydia and her friend Serena — who was Peter’s student — would spend their afternoon break at our office hours, asking us about our lives and practicing their English. When they found out I was studying Chinese, they’d bring me lists and lists of idioms and contemporary slang so that I’d sound cool. And that Labor Day, they planned a full-day event for us — an adventure out into the nearby Stone Sea geopark. It’s one of the lesser-known places to visit in China, but in our neck of the woods, it’s a big deal.

I had set Lydia up as a pen pal with my cousin in Minnesota, and the day of our outing, she was texting with him during our morning drive. “Have fun on the family field trip,” he wished us. It was great to have this time with the girls. I sat in the back between Lydia and Serena so that they could each have a side. It was reminiscent of family trips with my own sisters, when they would make me sit in the middle because I was the shortest. This time, I was not the shortest, so I could eventually request a window seat.

We got to talk about everything through the course of our day: boys, future plans, even specialized English vocabulary — Karst, limestone, sinkhole, cave. It was a long day, but the girls were so proud to have arranged it. They thought of everything, from car snacks for the early morning drive to a visit to a flower show while dinner was being prepared. After dinner, when the men started smoking, we took a walk down Jiangmen’s main street. Lydia’s younger cousin joined us as a tag-along. She hadn’t been interested in English before, but now that we were all speaking it, she was dying to know what we were talking about.

To cap the night off, all of us went out for post-meal BBQ with more friends and family, including Lydia’s former English teacher. It was funny to have a snack after such a nice meal, but it was a holiday! BBQ was much more relaxed than the formal dinner. Lydia and Serena relaxed, too, and the focus was finally off entertaining The English Teacher. Everyone asked me about the girls, for a change. How they were doing out in the world, in the big city high school. They were genuinely proud to see their girl speaking English so fluently, and I was proud too.

Mar 26, 2018

Toys R Us China, still going strong

We still had to order Iron Fist on Amazon, though

Our latest Special Report looks at some of the hubbub around the closure of Toys R Us — which here in Luzhou is nil, because Toys R Us is still open. Babies gotta have their toys. Toys R Us has actually been a big part of our China life, because Peter likes to hunt out the Marvel Legends figures. In addition to Toys R Us Luzhou, we’ve been to two in Chengdu, one in Shenzhen and at least two in Hong Kong. It’s actually given me some insight into the appeal of collecting as a hunt, rather than an act of acquisition.

That being said, we also recently figured out you can find Marvel Legends figures on Taobao for cheap.

In the video, we also go into the Bret Michaels Effect, which may explain why so many people are heartbroken by the loss of a corporation, and give you the scuttlebutt on what other western chains are coming soon to Luzhou. It wasn’t until we shot this video that I realized that the Starbucks was going in right across from Mix C — home to our beloved Peter’s Tex Mex — and next to the Dairy Queen.

It’s weird to think that just five years ago we had trouble consistently finding sliced bread.

Mar 23, 2018

Finding a cure for the common cold

Or, a much less traumatic experience with Chinese healthcare

In the past year, I’ve been getting pretty comfortable with the clinic two blocks from my house. The doctor there has a better hit rate than the pharmacy, and she works really hard. She’s there all day, so she has to do a bit of living out in public; When I went in for a follow-up visit recently, she was doing an afternoon mud mask.

Anyway, check out the video above to see what a basic visit to the Chinese clinic is like.

Mar 10, 2018

Happy Lantern Festival

A time for dragon dancing


I started a job at a new school this term, and my first official duty was to perform as the head of the dragon for the teachers’ dragon dance on Lantern Festival. It was a whole thing. I had been sick with a cold for weeks, so the dance nearly killed me, but it was a fun way to meet the kids. Now they love me!