Hello Uncle Foreigner

Mar 5, 2012

A small city looks abroad

Getting out of town

Everyone wants to learn English from me.

Last week, I helped one of Linda’s former students prepare for an interview for a position in the UK. (That’s him above, with Linda, on the left; he took us out to dinner to say thank you.) His English is pretty good; he currently works on an oil rig with American and Canadian co-workers. I mostly added some polish and gave him some advice on Western interviews (for example: Don’t bring up your faults unless they ask you. And then, bring up a fault that actually shows how excellent you are.)

It was pretty cool to help him out, and interesting to realize that he’s one of many Luzhou-ites we’ve met that have a real possibility of going abroad for work or study. In comparison with the rest of China, Luzhou is small. The east coast considers this part of the country backwards and unsophisticated. But the people here have global aspirations. The Singapore kids that we work with are all hoping to go to university in Singapore, and many of our other students are starting to ask how they can go to college in the U.S. A few of our fellow teachers have been educated overseas. It’s not what we expected when we moved to a town that other Chinese people refer to as a backwater. But the longer we’re here, the more we see that our school is pretty ambitious and progressive. They have big hopes for their students, which is a really great thing to be a part of.

Mar 2, 2012

School photo

There are a lot of teachers here

All the teachers at Tianfu Middle School

On (Western) New Year’s Eve, before the sports meeting and dinner, the 300+ staff of the school gathered on the front steps for a photo. We just got our copy, which you can see above. Can you find us?

We’re right in the front row, next to the principals.

There we are!

Feb 22, 2012

Living in a different part of the world

Sometimes it’s the same!

For the most part, living in Luzhou doesn’t feel that different from living in New York. People dress the same here (jeans and Chucks are standard), they participate in global pop culture (one of my kids asked me this week if I had heard about Whitney Houston; we had a good chat about why drugs are bad), and while our neighbors keep chickens, so do these guys in Brooklyn.

And over the past five months, we’ve adjusted to the fact that there’s no indoor heating anywhere, and that we boil our drinking water and throw our toilet tissue in a waste basket instead of the toilet. That’s just the way life is.

But we do live in a developing nation. And the most jolting reminder comes every so often in the form of a power or water outage. Sometimes we get advanced warning and sometimes we don’t, but about every other month, one or the other will go out. (Thankfully they haven’t yet both gone out at once.) And because it happens so frequently, we just work around it. We’ve learned that tomorrow the power will be out, so we have to prepare lessons that we can teach without the use of the computer and projector. (At our school, all information is imparted via Power Point.) It’s not a terrible hardship; it’s more annoying that we spent hours making these beautiful slides that now we can’t use. But it’s still kind of amazing that even without power, everyone will get up and go to school. The kids will sit in darkened classrooms and behave as well as they normally do - which in some cases is excellent and in others, not that great - and the teachers will give the best lesson they can. There will be no slacking off just because the power is out.

That’s just the way life is.

Feb 16, 2012

Chinese New Year: The last night

More and more and more fireworks

Last Tuesday was the last day of Chinese New Year. Now, there had been fireworks every night for the entire two weeks, but the last night display was something. We joined the throngs down at the river to catch the show.

After the official fireworks, people started shooting off their own:

Feb 16, 2012

Happy belated Valentine’s Day

We love you

Fun fact: The Chinese recognize Valentine’s Day. “I think it’s an international holiday,” my friend told me.

I apologize for the lull in posting. School started last week - after a six-week break - so we’re busy getting back into the swing of things. You know how hard those 20-hour work-weeks can be.

Feb 12, 2012

Another afternoon in Zhongshan Park

Hanging with the animals

Our second trip to Zhongshan Park was on a much nicer day than our first one, and the park was abuzz with activity. At the entrance, there was a man making candy in the shape of Chinese zodiac symbols, and a large crowd gathered to watch him. Further into the park, we saw people playing badminton and basketball, as well as renting boats in the two lakes.

We checked out the aviary and the zoo. In the aviary, I bought a little baggie of corn to feed to the birds, which included ducks, chickens, roosters, peacocks/hens and two emus. I was a little worried that I would be mobbed when the birds saw I had food - most of them roamed free inside the enclosure — but fortunately that didn’t happen.

The aviary was spacious and clean, and the birds looked well cared for. The zoo was a little bit sadder. The animals did look healthy, but their cages were definitely on the small side. It was kind of a weird experience. Made weirder by the fact that one of the zookeepers latched onto us to show us around. He didn’t speak English and didn’t seem to care that we didn’t speak Chinese, but he very nicely led us around and pointed out all the animals to us.

We wrapped up our trip with a stop at the tea house. This time we both got flower tea - which is only a tea in the sense that it’s a plant soaking in hot water; tea doesn’t always equal caffeine here. But it was tasty.

Feb 9, 2012

The return of the Karaoke Kids

This time, with less karaoke

Karaoke kids know how to have fun

After our initial outing with the Karaoke Kids, they called to invite us out again but I had a bad cold and we had to refuse. This happened twice (they were eager and my cold was a lingerer). And, we could have called them after I got better, but we got busy and forgot. It looked like our adventures with our new friends were over before they began.

Which is why we were so excited to run into them again last weekend, at sticks! They called us over to eat with them, which we did, and we stuffed our faces. And we made many toasts to each other. (I learned over the holiday that toasting your host is a sign of respect — which makes sense.) We didn’t do karaoke, but there was a renewed promise of future good times.

Feb 8, 2012

Luzhou: The Jiucheng Hotel

Luxury at home

A liquor store near the hotel
Take a tour of the Jiucheng Hotel in our photo album.

We live down the road from one of Luzhou’s swankiest 5-star hotels, and during our vacation, we decided to pretend we were fancy-pants and spend a night there.

And, as you can see from the pictures, it was totally luxe! (The first photo is me buying a real bottle of wine — it’s not always readily available and it is expensive, but it was a special occasion.) The lobby was huge and decked out in marble, and our room was maybe bigger than our apartment in Brooklyn. We stayed on the Executive Floor, so our room even came with a full office kitted out with a computer and a fax machine.

For dinner, we dressed up in our finest and went down to the hotel’s Korean restaurant. We didn’t have huge expectations; foreign food just isn’t that big here, so I’m pretty sure most of that stuff is pre-packaged and microwaved to order. Here, however, that wasn’t the case. The food was pretty good. It also was not Korean, which was a little disappointing, but we tried some new dishes and had a good meal.

It wasn’t a terribly wild night and we were just down the street from our apartment, but it really did feel like we were on a vacation.

Feb 6, 2012

A night of dancing by the river

Chatting with the locals

The weather’s been lovely this past week — it’s getting warmer, there’s less rain — so the other night we grabbed some beers after dinner and went down to the river. (Don’t worry, there are no open container laws here!)

There were tons of people out for a postprandial stroll, of course. But they were also just hanging out … and dancing! In the video above, you can see our older gentlemen bench neighbors who struck up a conversation with us. What you maybe can’t tell is that neither party speaks ten words of the others’ language. (OK, I can speak almost 10 non-number words of Chinese. [Brag No. 1.])

We have a lot of conversations here that are just like those scenes in “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” where the English-speaking Ghost Dog talks to the French-speaking Haitian ice cream truck man; somehow it’s meaningful to talk, even if you can’t be sure of being understood.

Anyway, I did understand that they thought I should dance. So I danced, even though I didn’t know the steps. I did pretty well for myself (Brag No. 2.), watch and see.

There are a few more videos at this link.

Feb 3, 2012

Dinner at sticks, now with video

It will definitely get loud

Pretend you’re there with us and enjoy:

Dinner at Sticks from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.