Oct 13, 2011

Lonely God

It's a snack

Lonely God is delicious

We saw these snacks for the first time today, and they’re really tasty. Like sweet tomato-flavored curlicue chips.

And I am sensitive to the fact that the English mistakes we see over here are still 2,000 times better than anything I could say/write in Chinese, but I still find the misuse of language hilarious.

Oct 13, 2011

In Chengdu

Our short trip to Chengdu wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

We were housed in an industrial-looking hotel on the very outskirts of the city, and had to have some complex negotiations even to go outside for a walk. We were basically ordered to have room service for dinner via phone, a command which was enforced by our Chinese-only speaking minder. I know that the motive behind it was kind, “we need to help out these crazy kids who only speak English,” but I would have much rather fended for ourselves - this is pretty much true of the whole trip.

But anyway, after we ate to the satisfaction of our guy, we negotiated a release. The neighborhood was far from the hip, young Chengdu we were expecting, but we’re still in a stage where crossing the street is an adventure. So we did just that, and crossed the street to the East Chengdu Rail Station.

It was huge, and pristine. It was about 8 p.m., and there weren’t many trains leaving that night so it wasn’t that crowded, but there was still a guard making sure people didn’t lay down on the seats. We found a western restaurant that served Coronas and Johnnie Walker! The Walker isn’t quite rare, but it isn’t super common either, so we were excited to have some real Scotch. It took a while to be served after we ordered - but then we noticed that someone actually had to run out to somewhere else to get a bottle. We enjoyed a few drinks before our 10 p.m. sustenance curfew (we were having physicals the next morning, and they said no food or drink after 10) and then headed back to the room.

We took the long way, wandering through the apartment complex where our hotel was located. They had a large courtyard, and they were showing a movie in the middle of it. We stopped to watch for a bit, and ran into our waiter from the restaurant!

The next morning, we woke up early and were taken to the International Hospital for our physicals. This was in Chengdu proper, and we did get a good glimpse of the city. It looks cool! Now this physical we got is mandatory for: foreigners staying in China for one year or more, Chinese who are going abroad for more than three months, and Chinese who work aboard international vessels or handle food and water in a port that services international vessels. You can only get the physical done in certain accredited establishments. So, this place was processing a lot of people at once. But they’ve got a system down.

1. You come in and register. They give you the appropriate paperwork for what you’re having done and the bill. In China, you always pay up front for healthcare.

2. You enter the assembly line: First you stop at the window for the urine cups, fill it (in the restroom, thankfully) and drop it off at the appropriate tray. The technician sticks one of your barcodes on it (your paperwork includes a sheet of barcodes that will get stuck to your various fluids and measurements). The technician also marks off on your sheet that you’ve hit this station, which everyone else will do too.

3. Blood sample. There’s another window which you stick your arm through, kind of like at the bank, but you give them your arm (and some barcodes) instead of money. They take your blood while the people on line behind you wait, sometimes very closely behind you. (An aside: We had heard before coming that the Chinese don’t really do queues - instead of lining up, everyone just amasses near the goal. We actually haven’t found this to be true - at checkouts and things, people are pretty orderly. Mostly. Our conjecture is that this is a recent development, and some people still do things the old way. I left a little space in front of me on line at the grocery store once, and this woman just fit herself right into it. This doesn’t happen often, but you do have to be a little more aggressive not to lose your place.)

4. Next is a series of different rooms with doctors taking your height and weight, ECG, ultrasound of your organs and chest x-ray. There’s no chit-chat and everyone is very efficient.

5. Finally, you sign out at the front desk where they give you a receipt and a juicebox of milk (a milkbox?). It was all over in about 15 minutes. Having come from the states, where this same exact physical took Peter and I two hours (not even counting the trip to another location for our chest x-rays), it was a bizarre experience. For what it was, I’m glad it was brisk and businesslike, but if I needed a real consultation … well, I miss the “care” part of healthcare.

So then, we made a few stops to drop off some other paperwork relating to our residence permits - Chengdu is where all the government offices are for Sichuan Province. And then our guy took us to McDonalds for lunch. Chinese McDonalds is a little different from American McDonalds - they have a few different items to cater to the local palate. And the quality of chicken in my sandwich was the best-quality fast food chicken I’ve ever had; McDs is comparatively expensive here - for the cost of the large fries, Peter and I can make a whole meal for two of us - so I think the meat has to be better quality than they can get away with in the states. There are chickens running around the streets everywhere; if you’re going to serve it, it better be good. That’s my opinion after a sample of one sandwich, anyway. (Another aside: Most people are pretty skinny here, but I’m noticing a few chubby kids in some of my classes. No one’s obese, but a couple are out-and-out fat. This is just what I was thinking about in McDonalds.)

It wasn’t the greatest night away, but it did give us a taste for traveling. The bus ride isn’t terrible - about 4 hours, but the buses are really clean and comfortable. And we had legroom for miles. I seriously couldn’t even reach the footrest on our trip home. When we got home, right away we started looking up day- and weekend trips that we can take from here. We still want to do a little more work on the apartment this weekend, but we’re hoping to get right back on that bus to Chengdu quite soon.

Oct 10, 2011

A surprise trip to Chengdu

There may be pandas

Home of the Panda (Photo via: sanfamedia.com)
(Photo via: sanfamedia.com)

Some geography to start: Luzhou is a small city of about 1 million, located in southern Sichuan province. Since we’ve gotten here, many people have told us, “This city is so small. You should have gone to Chengdu.” Chengdu is the big dog of Sichuan, the one that if tourists come to the area, they visit. It’s also home to the “Western Hospital.”

So, OK. Our story: In order to get our temporary resident permits, Peter and I have to undergo a physical in Chengdu. We’ve actually been planning on visiting there, as everyone has been telling us, like I said, since day one that we should go there. This afternoon, our coordinator came by to tell us that we should be on a bus to Chengdu in an hour so that we could get our physicals done tomorrow morning. Peter was still in class. Yikes!

So I furiously packed (and washed our dirty dishes!) while our girl made the arrangements. When I came back in to check with her that someone was going to tell Peter that he’d have to leave class early so that we could go, she informed me that, actually, we’d be leaving tomorrow night, and, oh yeah, Senior classes were cancelled tomorrow and Wednesday because they had two days of testing. Also, Friday afternoon classes were going to be rescheduled for some other reason. And, the power was out. For reasons unrelated to our impromptu trip.

We’re getting the idea that this is just how things are done here. A generation ago, your employer might have chosen your spouse for you. So I don’t think the unknown powers that be (our girl is at the mercy of many bosses, I’m pretty sure) think anything of asking you to make an overnight trip as suits them, with no prior notice. But when the trip went from “in less than an hour” to “tomorrow afternoon,” it made all the difference. Like I said, we were eager to make the trip to Chengdu sooner or later - it’s the home of a giant panda reserve! So, instead of teaching classes for the next two days, we’re going on a little trip. With our own guide; the school’s fixer, Mr. Joe, will be accompanying us.

We’ll report back with tales of the big city.

Oct 10, 2011

We’ve all got our reasons

Me: Why are you learning English?

Student: So I can have an American wife.

Oct 9, 2011

That Luzhou smell

Ganbei!

It's strong stuff, be careful

Luzhou is actually a pretty clean city. There really isn’t much pollution, which is a pleasant surprise; I think that it’s mostly the eastern cities that have the smog. But there is something in the air here: Luzhou Laojiao. This is a kind of white liquor that the city is famous for. Some translate it as wine, but it’s really more of a digestif-type thing, like ouzo or a punch in the throat. I think it’s distilled from rice or sorghum, and the Sichuanese have been making it since the Ming Dynasty in the 1500s.

We live right near the main brewery (which is a popular tourist destination we’re hoping to hit soon). You can definitely smell when the liquor is in production, and it doesn’t smell great. Kind of like rancid salami. But the taste? Nothing like salami. Not really like anything good, but not salami. We’ve only had pretty low-end stuff, but I’m not optimistic about the good stuff. Peter actually likes it OK, mixed with mango juice - which is not traditional.

So, come quaff with us! It’ll help us forget the smell.

Oct 9, 2011

Back to work

The National Day Holiday is over, and we’ve gone back to work, teaching make-up classes for Saturday and Sunday. Both Peter and I are feeling more comfortable in the classroom. It’s easier to plan our lessons, now that we know what the kids are and aren’t capable of.

I’m finding the way I can be most helpful is with pronunciation - so I spend a lot of time just making noises, both with the seniors and juniors. This week, I’m showing the seniors “th” vs. “s.” I’m pretty sure that all of them can hear the difference, though some have a really hard time doing the “th” themselves. It’s really cool, though, when a kid gets it. The whole class applauds — they’re big on applause as positive reinforcement.

I did have a kid in one class today say that Justin Beiber has a haircut like a girl. And that wasn’t even off topic — our lesson for this week is describing people. A lot of the kids love him, but some of them like him only “just so-so.”

Oct 8, 2011

Who?

Observation: It’s hard to teach the concepts of Aunt and Uncle to the only children of only children.

Oct 7, 2011

Our first date in China

Let's eat

Today is the last day of our holiday - from what I understand, the Chinese government only allows schools to give kids 3 days for a holiday, but schools like to give kids five days in a row, so they just do make up days this Saturday and Sunday - and after we finished our lesson plans for the week, Peter and I went out on a date.

We walked down to the river (of course) where we met these girls.

River friends

They had been giggling behind Peter while he was taking pictures of something else, and when we started to walk away, they called out, “Hello!” They each took pictures with us on their phones. We said fair is fair and took pictures of them with me.

Our restaurant

Here’s where we went for dinner. We ordered food with the help of our list of translated foods. We kept pointing at dishes until we found two that this place served - our waitress was very patient.

Peter and the food

We ended up with spicy tofu, spicy cucumbers and steamed rice. It was very delicious, and very spicy. The meal, including 3 beers, cost $7.

Emily

Did I mention the food was spicy? The hot pepper flavor really fills us up quickly, even though we love as much as our foreign little mouths can take, so we took the rest of the tofu to go. I’m getting quite good at pantomime.

At the bar

After dinner, it was still early, so we walked up to Tower Square, where there was a western-looking bar. We attempted to order some whiskey (oh, the tastes of home!), but we ended up with two Budweisers instead. But at least they were cold; the Chinese drink their beer light and warm. On the way out, I took a photo with one of the workers. He spoke a little English, so he sat and chatted with us on his break.

We have class early tomorrow, though, so after that, we headed home. All in all, a lovely night. By the way, it’s in the mid 70s here.

Oct 6, 2011

A sunny day = long walk through the city

And slideshows galore!

Baizitu Square

Today was our first real sunny day here in Luzhou, and we definitely took advantage of it. We successfully took the bus west to the bank of the other river (which we found out is called the Tuojiang River) and scoped out the area around Baizitu Square. This square, one of our colleagues told us, is also referred to as the 100 Children Square, for the 100 children that are carved into the pillars around this amphitheater. We can’t find anything online to back this up, but it sounds good. The city holds concerts here from time to time, which we’re looking forward to seeing.

But the whole area along this river is very nice. We saw a lot of families out for a stroll. It’s evidently a very historical spot, though everything is in Chinese, so we’re not sure what kind of history.

A boy on the stairs of the 100 children square
Click through to see a full album of Baizitu Square.

After we soaked up the mystery history, we turned down Jiangyang Xilu (which means West Road of Jiangyang district, our neighborhood) for a long walk back toward our house. The architecture and neighborhood structure is very variable in Luzhou, which we could especially see on this walk. The main road will have big expensive looking stores and government/utilities buildings, but branching off from that will be little lanes with tiny shops and chickens running everywhere. New construction sits right next to buildings that are falling apart, and its hard to predict where a given path will take you. We traversed a dirty lane that passed by falling down shacks, luxury apartment construction (I’m coming back to that in a second) and a fancy looking mall. We also saw a gorgeous park; a posted sign said it was Datibu Culture Square, the Luzhou government website calls it Terraced Square, but there’s further information on neither. Though I can say with authority, it was, like all public spaces here in Luzhou, hopping.

Back to the construction: There are luxury apartment buildings going up at an incredible rate here. Construction crews work around the clock (we hear them all night), and there just seems to be a mad rush to get things built. Is there such a demand for the space? It’s tough to say, especially only having been here for two weeks. But I can say that there’s more development here than in New York City, and developers there are still having a hard time filling their buildings.

The west of Luzhou city
Click for a full album of Jiangyang Xilu.

Then it was back to the Yangtze, our favorite walk. It looks a billion times more inviting in the sunshine. We ran into a couple of our students here, and they said the river walk is very popular with their peers; the street has a lot of karaoke places where the kids like to go. We were starving, so we bought scallion pancakes from a street vendor - these are quickly becoming our favorite street treat.

Pancakes by the Yangtze River
Click for a full album of the Yangtze River.

Oct 6, 2011

A tofu success

Get there early, fools

We found the tofu and cooked it all up

We’ve had kind of a problem finding tofu around here, which was kind of surprising as it’s a Chinese dietary staple. Turns out, we were getting to the market too late, when everyone was sold out.

This is smoked pressed tofu (which is exactly what it sounds) with cabbage, green beans and peanuts over noodles. Instead of our pre-made chilli sauce, Peter used fresh hot pepper, garlic, scallions and ginger. Spicy goodness.