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

Dinner at Sticks from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Pretend you’re there with us and enjoy:

Feb 2, 2012

Happy New Year: Karaoke time!

Let’s sing

Karaoke on New Year
More karaoke pictures here.

Karaoke New Year’s from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

The night after they first invited me to celebrate the holiday with their family, Wendy and Xi Xi invited me again to their clan’s continuing New Year’s party. (Peter, again, was still recovering from his cold.)

After another great feast, we all went out for karaoke. It took some doing to find an open room; this is apparently what all families were doing that night. But eventually, after many phone calls and some driving around, we found an open spot. In addition to the singing, there was also a lot of dancing. You can see me, in the video below, dancing with Xi Xi’s uncle, the evening’s host. You can also hear some of the karaoke-ing going on. Make sure your volume’s not too high.

Feb 2, 2012

Chengdu: Xiao Tong Alley

Where the hipsters are

Hanging out at a funky bar on Xiao Tong Alley
Here’s an album of photos from Xiao Tong Alley.

I’ll wrap up the story of our stay in Chengdu with a little bit about the area where our hostel was. (As I mentioned before, it was funky!)

We were on a street called Xiao Tong Alley (remember, “Xi” is pronounced “shə”), which we learned was a newish neighborhood that sprang up in the past year. It’s attracted a really young, vibrant, artsy crowd; I joked to Peter that we had found the Bushwick of China.

Whereas in the southern part of the city everything was huge and stark and modern and neon (the generally desired aesthetic of modernizing China), here everything was small-scale, home-made, rustic and, our favorite, artist-run. These places were decorated by someone who had an eye; we found edgy murals and distressed French-countryside chic - stark contrast to most of what we’d seen up to this point: the two dominant stylistic modes seem to be sidewalk roughness or super-sterile luxury. It was really cool to find “Alterna-hip.”

We spent a good chunk of each night somewhere on the street, and everywhere we went, we found someone who wanted to talk to us - and, importantly, who we wanted to talk to. From the bartender from Luzhou who was excited to jam out some Clash tunes with us, to the London-educated finance grad who now works with a bar-owning artists’ group, we mingled with some really interesting people who belong to the emerging creative class of China.

It was a Paris-in-the-’30s/Soho-in-the-’70s vibe that we weren’t sure that we’d find in China, but were supremely glad to do so.

Jan 31, 2012

Spring is just around the corner

Even though it’s very cold

We’re smack in the middle of Chinese New Year — aka, Spring Festival — and while most people have returned to work, there’s still a party atmosphere in the city (and a ton of firecrackers). Today, also, was the first sunny day in a while. And, the weather is starting to get warmer.

All of this added up to: “Too nice to stay inside.” So we took our camera and got out there.


A group of musicians giving an impromptu performance by the river.

We found a new bar! You can hear people doing karaoke in the background, of course.