Hello Uncle Foreigner

Nov 12, 2011

Tea time

Hanging out with new friends

Taking tea with Summer and Hank

The other night we went out for some tea with some of our new Chinese friends. From left, we have: Hank, Sugar, Peter, Me, Summer and Jenny.

We went to a place up by the Tuo River (the river farther from our house), overlooking Baizitu Square. It was really lovely. We got our own private room and ordered up some green tea, beer, a fruit plate, boiled peanuts and pistachios, and we talked a lot about the differences and similarities between China and America. (“Does everyone in America own their own field, house and car? Because we think they do.” Hank, via Jenny, asked.) We also traded some vocabulary: 花生 (huasheng) means peanut. Summer also told us how to ask, “Can you give me a discount?” But I’ve already forgotten it.

There was one little item on our fruit plate that they were curious to know the English name for. It was about the size of an extra large grape, with a small seed in the middle and an apple-like texture. But neither Peter nor I had ever seen anything like it. So Summer looked it up on her phone. Jujube. We both laughed when she showed us. Neither of us knew that a jujube was a real fruit. Summer asked how it was pronounced. “That’s so cute!” she said when we told her.

Nov 12, 2011

Other foreigners

We’re not the only ones

It’s quite possible that we are the only Americans in Luzhou. But, we have been seeing a lot of Middle Eastern people recently in the grocery store — a lot being more than one, more than once. I was talking to a couple of the kids the other day, and they mentioned that they see other foreigners working at Zhongshan Park, which is a small amusement park in the center of the city. “They’re from Pakistan,” the girls told me. Which actually makes sense, as Pakistan does boarder China in the East. They’re still a long way from their home — but they’re much closer to home than we are.

Nov 10, 2011

Snaps: Cart parking

It’s gotta go somewhere

Wheelbarrow parking

This is where you can park your cart.

Nov 9, 2011

Food on sticks

Yum

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been seeing these vendors all over everywhere selling food on sticks. Just an array of lotus root, cucumbers, bamboo, everything, all skewered and stacked on top of each other.

Food on sticks
More food on sticks!

In the past few weeks, we’ve figured out what the deal is. Things on sticks, as we call it, is a meal where you grab up some things on sticks and throw them into a spicy broth to cook. It’s kind of the same idea as hot pot, although it’s not the same. I don’t know why, but when we told some locals about it, they were like, “That’s not hot pot.” Whatever it is, it has become our favorite meal out. Partly because of the level of control we have over the food - you take what you want, and no one’s trying to serve you “duck’s paw”.

The place we frequent is just down the street from our house. You start out by grabbing a tray and hitting the big table.

Sticks 1

Grab all the sticks you want. We’re partial to the broccoli, green beans, cucumbers and red pepper. I like to grab a few porky-looking ones as well. We also like to get a couple different kinds of tofu. (Chinese for tofu = dofu. Pretty easy.) That little silver dish below has a mix of more spices, cilantro, peanuts and some other stuff. It’s really tasty to put on the cooked veggies.

Sticks 2

When the broth is bubbling, throw in your sticks. We often see groups of five to ten people out sharing one pot. They throw handfuls and handfuls of sticks in at a time. We like to do only a couple at a time, so nothing gets overcooked; the more it cooks, the spicier it gets.

Sticks 3

Because we’re out on the sidewalk (oh yeah, this restaurant is basically a few tents set up on the sidewalk), the steam blows every which way. Usually into my face. The white bowls, we use them thusly: When we’ve decided a morsel is finished cooking, we plunk it off the stick and into the bowl to cool off. Maybe we mix in some of the silver bowl spices. Not everyone uses the white bowls, but there’s no shame in it. It’s not like being given a fork or anything. (Chinese people constantly express amazement that we can use chopsticks.)

Sticks 4

Anyway, it’s a really fun, delicious meal. We’ve gone twice so far this week. Every time, you can pick something different, according to what you fancy, so it doesn’t get tired. Last night (our fourth time there), the staff started to chat (in a limited fashion) with us - we’re regulars!

Nov 7, 2011

It just keeps getting better

Revisiting the studio

Now we've got chairs

We bought a space heater and moved the comfy chairs into the studio. This is now far and away the best room in the house.

Nov 7, 2011

I did it! I ordered noodles!

I love noodles

You know how on Chinese menus, they have Lo Mein or Chow Mein or whatever? Well, “mein” is the Chinese word for noodles! It’s pronounced with two syllables, though, something like “mee-yan.” But I said this to a Chinese person and they understood me! Of course, this was in a shop that only served noodles … but they were delicious nonetheless.

Nov 7, 2011

Back in black

Let’s not talk about paperwork

Hello friends,

Sorry again for the slow down. Between some bureaucratic matters (it takes a lot of paperwork to live in China) and us both catching a change-of-the-seasons cold (now it’s in the 60s and rainy every day, instead of in the 70s and rainy every day), we haven’t had a lot of time for adventuring.

The paperwork could be described as an adventure, but not really an interesting one. I did learn that they use the English word “propaganda” to mean information or documentation — which kind of jibes with its original Latin meaning - but it is really funny to hear someone say, “Here. Take this propaganda,” at the police station (no one got arrested; foreigners have to do a lot of checking in with the police in China). Don’t worry. I didn’t laugh.

But we’re mostly well, and near the end of the process for getting our residence permits, so I’m hoping blogging will resume as normal.

Teaser: A short trip to Hong Kong is in the works. I’m excited to possibly find and eat some cheese; Peter’s looking forward to visiting HK’s giant guitar store.

Nov 3, 2011

Dinner with our new friends

Introducing Hank and Summer

We went to dinner the other night with our brand new friends: Summer, the English teacher; Mr. Han, the manager of the music store; Lan Lan, one of the store’s employees; and Sugar and Jenny, English teachers who work with Summer.

It was a lot of fun. We went for hot pot, a local specialty. It works like this: There’s a big bowl of broth (usually very spicy) in the center of the table that’s heated to a boil. You order a bunch of things and then throw them in the broth to cook. When things have cooked, you fish them out with your chopsticks and dunk it in your personal bowl, which usually has some kind of additional flavor.

We had told our friends that Peter was a vegetarian, and they were super accommodating. We got a bifurcated bowl — on one side, there was a spicy chicken broth, and on the other we got a less spicy vegetable broth. I didn’t even know that vegetable broth was an option in this country. They were also really careful to use one set of utensils for the meat side and one for the non-meat (which Peter isn’t actually that strict about, but definitely appreciated). It was super considerate of them, and the first time in this country that anyone fully grasped the whole concept of “vegetarian.” (By contrast, at another hot pot meal, our coworker’s husband offered Peter an egg, which Peter does eat - but in the ladle he had also scooped up the chicken head that was flavoring the broth. Peter declined.)

It’s tough to guess anyone’s age here, but I’d estimate that Summer and her husband are in their mid- to late-thirties, and her colleagues were maybe a little younger. Lan Lan was a mystery. She’s finished school, but she looks like she could be as young as 19. However old they are, they’re a lot of fun. We talked about the differences between China and New York, things to do in Luzhou; they toasted us, we toasted them … it was basically a party. Mr. Han doesn’t really speak any English, but he didn’t let that stop him from a good time; he had lots of questions for us, and well-wishes, and everyone translated for him.

Toward the end of the night, one of the girls mentioned KTV (karaoke). Maybe we’d go with them one night. Now Peter and I hate karaoke. But it’s a huge social event here … and our new friends were so much fun, we were like, “Of course we want to go to KTV with you!”

I also accidentally bestowed an English name on Mr. Han. He was telling us his full name, which we dutifully repeated, but had a hard time making stick. Because Chinese names are made up of phonemes we’ve never used/heard before, they’re really difficult for us to remember. But “Mr. Han” was too formal. So Summer told us that we could call him Han-gu, which is “brother Han” - a designation that is much more friendly. I said, “Oh, that sounds like an American name: Hank.” They loved it! And everyone decided right then and there that his American name would be Hank. Later in the night, Lan Lan asked for an American name, too. I couldn’t think of anything right on the spot, so I said next time I see her, I’ll have one. I’ve thought of something, but I want to see if she likes it before I broadcast it to the internet.

We ate and ate and ate. Everything was so delicious, and the food just kept coming. Our new favorites include lotus root (which we’ve been seeing everywhere) and this tofu that almost tasted like fresh mozzarella cheese. At what we thought was toward the end of the meal, the servers brought in plates and plates of leafy greens to throw in the soup (did I mention that we were eating in a private room?). In China, it seems like they end a meal with the greens, rather than starting with a salad or something. I remarked on such, and our friends just shrugged and said, “yeah, we don’t eat salad.” I don’t know what I was hoping for them to say.

To end the meal, we had little bowls of melon-flavored ice cream. Like everything else, it was sooooo good. There were enough for everyone to have two, but mostly everyone tried to foist their second bowl on us. We were just as full, however, so we had to refuse.

So many of the people we’ve met here are so generous and gracious with us. It’s really been an honor to spend time in this city and feel so welcomed. Definitely part of it is that we’re so exotic - that’s why we get hollered at in the streets - but the people we’ve spent time with are genuinely kind to us. We’re definitely having a great time.

Nov 1, 2011

Relative sizes

I’m finally tall

Many of you asked before we left, “Do you think you’ll be tall in China?”

Short answer: We are tall in China.

More detail: Both Peter and I have students who are tall. I have many boys, especially, who are taller than me. But Peter definitely sticks out as a bigger person. I feel like I’m about the same size as most women, maybe a little taller. Until I notice that a large portion of the women here wear three-inch heels or platform sneakers. I’m finally tall!

Nov 1, 2011

Pengyou! Pengyou!

朋友! 朋友!

Being in the position of having no friends is a very strange one. It’s part of the package of moving to a new city, but it’s still an odd experience and one that does not occur often in adult life.

But one of our big goals here is to really integrate into the community. We not only want to learn the language, but we’d like to understand a little more about Chinese culture, and have fun times with people in addition to ourselves. In short, we want a Chinese friend.

As circumstance would have it - just as we’re in the market for a Chinese friend that speaks English - English-speaking Luzhou-ers are always on the look out for native English speakers to befriend and converse with. Which means that just by running errands and exploring the city, we’ve met a few people that are likely candidates for friendship.

Here’s what happened last week: We went to the music store that’s right next door to our school. (There are actually four music stores right outside the school’s gate, with a fifth one half a block down.) The manager was ringing us up and indicated that he could tape our boxes together for easy carrying (we were buying three guitar stands). Peter indicated that we lived right next store.

“Oh! You’re teachers!” he said. Then rapid Chinese, with enough English interspersed that we understood that he knew an English teacher. He then took out his phone and indicated for me to do the same. This was super confusing. Why would he want my number if he can only speak mostly Chinese? He called someone, and I think he’s going to put us on with her to explain what he’s trying to say. This happens with some of our colleagues, that they’ll call an English speaker to explain stuff to us. But whoever it is didn’t answer the phone.

But then he pulled out, “My wife is an English teacher!” Ah. We’re getting somewhere. And the last piece of the puzzle: I hear him say the word “péngyǒu.” “Péngyǒu! Péngyǒu!” I repeated. Seriously, not the day before, my juniors taught me this word. It means “friends.” He was asking us if we want to be friends with his English-speaking wife!

An English-speaking couple with an interest in music? Of course we want to be friends. After some texting with his wife, we made a date for dinner tonight. We’re very excited. They seem like really nice people.

And this is how a couple of introverts makes new friends in China.