Who is this Uncle Foreigner?


Uncle Foreigner is all over YouTube

We’re all foreigners to somebody, and these foreigners are Emily and Peter. We’re two Americans who have been living in China since 2011.

We’ve also been blogging about it, of course, though our blog has changed a lot over the years. We started HelloUncleForeigner.com as a easy way for our friends and family to keep up with our exploits in China — actually, we were a Tumblr way back then, if you can believe it! These days, we’re aiming for a general audience, and since late 2017, we’ve shifted our output primarily to video work, which we host on YouTube. Subscribe to us there at Hello Foreigner, Hello Uncle Foreigner, and Western Toilet.

Hello Foreigner, aka the Vlog, hosts short films that examine the challenges facing us all in this multicultural world, with humor and moxie. And it’s where we indulge our absurdist tendencies. Early vlog posts explore the standard subjects of living abroad — food, travel, culture, language. These days, the giraffe speaks for us. She’s a nervous vlogger approaching China with a reluctant sense of adventure. And she’s still here!

At Hello Uncle Foreigner, the podcast, Emily and Peter drop the personas and get (semi-)serious; it’s an in-depth conversation about the filmmaking work that we do. Insights, encouragement and lessons learned are the topics of these weekly vidcasts, and we even share some behind-the-scenes stories and trivia.

And last, but not least, there is always Western Toilet, the music. Peter has been composing original scores for all of the vlogs, and they get to star in their own music videos. They are also available for your listening enjoyment on SoundCloud.

Not in the mood for a video? Our original posts still are still online. You can find them at this link. They span from small, proto-Twitter observations to thousand word pieces with accompanying photo essays, and we personally really enjoy having them as a journal of our early-China experience. You might enjoy them too!

Where to start

If you’re new to Hello Uncle Foreigner, we recommend the following five videos to get to know us better.


“What living in China is like … for Hello Foreigner” We can’t make any claims as to anyone else’s experience, but this is what the China life is like for us. Our current channel trailer shows you a little bit from all of our work, giving you a taste of the Uncle Foreigner aesthetic.

“What if I leave the city behind” We take a walk out into the countryside outside of Luzhou, and find peace and tranquility and goats! It’s a perfect afternoon.

Fish mint at your own risk The giraffe shares her experience with an herb that’s … an acquired taste. And we haven’t acquired it.

“Keep your freaking money” Wondering how we get all of this movie magic accomplished? This video takes you behind the scenes of our operation. We give you all the deets!

“Why we’re NOT leaving China … number 8 will surprise you” We can’t say more without giving it away.

Our story

Peter does the snaps, Emily does the text

We are Emily and Peter, a couple of 美国’s abroad. We’re both ex-New York media types — Peter, with a background in the graphic and visual realms, and Emily in writing and web work. These days we’re calling China our home. And we’re sharing our experience of it in multimedia, here on our blog and on YouTube.

Our story started in mid-2010, when Peter, in the midst of a frustrating job search, joked, “We could always just go teach in China.” After about a week, Emily asked: “On the chance that you weren’t joking … I’d go.” And after about a year of research and preparation, we were on a plane to Luzhou City, Sichuan Province, China.

What? You’ve never heard of Luzhou? Well, that’s because this small town (of 1.7 million people!) is considered somewhat of a backwater in China. (Though it’s local liquor, Luzhou Laojiao, is known and drunk throughout the country.) But it’s a city with ambition. We watched it grow over the four years we spent there (check the archives for stories), and as we said as we left, “Luzhou will always be our Chinese hometown.”

But leave it we did. To head even further west to the city of Lijiang, in Yunnan Province. Lijiang, while not yet well known to foreigners, is China’s premiere domestic tourist destination. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Lijiang is strikingly gorgeous. They’ve got mountains, lakes, hot springs, and more. The locals are a mix of different ethnicities not found anywhere else in China and — though some of it is prepackaged and sold to wealthy travelers — their heritage is still living and vital.

And then … after a year we came back to Luzhou! We love Sichuan province so much that we couldn’t bear to be away. But we’re more active than ever. Our main focus is cross-cultural communication, and we want to help the world’s people share their stories with one another and forge new bonds. If we can get some good snacks along the way, all the better.

Travel the world through your screen

Emily having dinner with new friends in Guangzhou
Emily eats dinner with some new friends in Guangzhou.

We’ve been very lucky to do a fair bit of traveling while living in Asia, and then writing about that traveling. Here are some of our favorite destinations:

  • Chongqing and Shenzhen, China, 2017OK, so according to the internet, 十八梯 was a famously old neighborhood that attracted local sightseers for many years. Now it’s a pile of rubble still attracting lookie-loos who haven’t heard the news that it’s being cleared out for a new housing development. There are still a few remaining restaurants boldly advertising their 十八梯 connections, but mostly what’s left are street vendors, hawking everything from porn to hand-crafted silver. And I had been wandering through it all along without knowing!”
  • Vietnam, 2015 “To reset the stage, it was winter break, just before Chinese New Year. We were in search of good food and warm weather – both of which were in ample supply. I remember complaining about it a bit, but from this vantage point, it was a good trip! Let’s go back someday.”
  • Jiuzhaigou and Songpan, China, 2014 “They showed us all the best views, where to take the pictures, which walks were the most interesting, when it was advisable to take the bus between sights, and even where to sit on the bus for the best vantage point. The lakes of Jiuzhaigou are startlingly brilliant and even in person unreal looking. “I know. It looks Photoshopped,” Lisa said.”
  • Penang, Malaysia, 2013 “Our guidebook tried to sell us on some of the more out-of-the-way beach and fishing villages on the southwest of the island — Batu Ferringhi is all concrete and hotels, they said — but our normal daily life happens off the beaten path, so we felt pretty OK not being so hard core on our vacation.”
  • Kunming, 2013 “We were ecstatic to find that among the wide range of experiences that Kunming offers is a lively art and music scene. There’s a small but growing network of art galleries, and you can find live music somewhere, every night of the week. People make stuff here! Creative stuff!”
  • Qingdao, China, 2012 “We started with an appetizer of roasted asparagus with some sort of hard cheese shaved over the top. (It was something delicious and fancier than Parmesan, is all we can remember; one lesson of this trip was: take better notes.) This was the first time we had seen asparagus anywhere in China, and so we anticipated the dish hungrily.”
  • Chengdu, 2012 — The Lost Passport Saga “But that doesn’t mean there is no rock in China. It’s just something you have to do a little digging for. One of the mainstays of the Sichuan scene, we heard, is the New Little Bar in Chengdu. (New Little Bar is the younger brother of Old Little Bar. Both were founded by a hip collective of musicians and artists.)”

Ogle our favorite meals

A giant fish head at Line Clear in Penang
This giant fish head is still waiting for you at Line Clear in Penang, Malaysia.

We very much love eating, and then writing about that eating. Here are some of our favorite and most interesting meals meals remembered in some of our favorite pieces.

  • What’s that you’re eating? “There are 33 distinct Chinese terms for cutting, according to our Sichuanese food guru Fuchsia Dunlop and 63 shapes into which food can be cut. And that’s just the specificities of prep work. When you scale it up, a pot of 豆花火锅 (tofu soup) is an entirely different thing than 串串 and neither of them are what people mean when they’re talking about traditional Sichuan 火锅.”
  • Yak Meat: The king in the North “It’s not bad. Yak is kind of gamey, with just a little bit of sweetness. The winner for us was the cured yak, which was nice and smokey and paired well with the crusty Tibetan barley bread that was all over the place in Songpan.”
  • Winter break: Eat this nasi kandar “We weren’t really sure how to get the process started, but as we stood and stared hungrily at the piles and piles of food, two servers kindly rushed to our aid. One of the guys scooped a plate of biryani rice for me and pointed out the options: ‘Chicken, mutton, chicken, fish …’ I went for a chicken and another chicken. He delivered two healthy portions, flooded the plate with extra sauce from other trays, and pointed me toward the check-out.”
  • The eating continues “The search for new has also put us in the position to consume much more culture and language. (Yum! It’s all delicious!) One of the boys at 串串, where we’re still regulars, has started teaching me vocabulary. 醋, he said one evening, as he delivered a small pitcher of vinegar. And then there was 芫荽 or, cilantro. He’s become one of my best teachers.”
  • Pizza party II “The girls arrived as the grill was getting hot; we were using our good friend Martha’s grilled pizza recipe again. They oohed and aahed over our new grill — ‘You know how to cook with this!?’ — and were generally very impressed before the food even came out.”
  • School lunch … and dinner “The cafeteria occupies an important position at the center of the campus and serves three meals a day. The student hall is three floors that center around a large spiral staircase. One wall of each floor is a bank of serving windows where an army of cafeteria workers dole out food from large steam trays. The kitchens are right behind these, and if you’re nosy, you can poke your head in and see mad chopping, stir frying and steaming going on.”