being rock stars

Jan 4, 2014

Rocking the school talent show

Sure, we’ve got the time ...

We played for the whole school
Our little trioLinda on the drums

Linda asked us if we could play at this year’s school talent show, so we asked her if she could find a student who could drum for us. “I’m learning to play the drums. I can do it!” she said. And a trio was born.

Teachers generally don’t perform at these things, but we’re the Meiguos, and people love to have us be a part of things. (I once gave an impromtu speech, in English, to a room full of Chinese speakers because I wandered into the wrong room on Parents’ Day.) We chose Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” because it’s short, peppy, and has a swingin’ bass line. Linda met with us a couple of times to practice, and urged us to trim the 3:30 song. She explained our role thusly: “We’ll come out and it will be a big surprise. And then the surprise will be over!”

On the day of the show, we lived up to expectations. Peter, Linda and I took the stage to a huge roar of applause; we cranked out our song and the crowd clapped the beat along; and then we were done before anyone realized that I had forgotten all of the words and basically sang nonsense syllables for about a minute and a half. It was fantastic.

There’s probably video extant somewhere; half the audience had their cellphones raised in salute. But … I think a still photo makes us sound a lot cooler.

Getting ready to go onstage

Mar 18, 2012

Always be ready to go on stage

That the rule

Rule number one is “Say yes, if you can.” But a good contender for rule number two is “Always be ready to go on stage.”

Yesterday, our boss called to see if we would be around to meet some of the parents of next year’s juniors today. I said yes, so this morning I went to meet her outside the office, expecting to go upstairs for an informal meet-and-greet. Instead, she whisked me away to the gym which was full of hundreds of parents and prospective students. Three of our five principals were on stage talking about the school and the new campus which will open next year. (Linda translated some of it for me. “The kids in the dormitory are safe because they won’t have electricity,” was offered with no other explanation.)

As she ushered me up front, Linda explained that they just wanted me to say a few words along the lines of “we’re happy to be teaching here, I’ll see you next year.” Not a big deal, but certainly not was I was expecting. I’m really glad I dressed up for that.

Mar 9, 2012

Winning a photo contest

And figuring out what it was all about

Some students mistook this for our wedding photo

One of our first weekends here, our head teacher called early in the morning to summon us to a tour of the nearby Luzhou Laojiao factory - a historical hotspot that’s pretty much in our backyard. When we got there, we were met by a photographer and his assistant as well as a tour guide. The team took photos of us for two hours, and then we went home, baffled by what had just happened.

Months later, head teacher called to say that the photographer would like to enter the photos of us in a contest, and would that be OK? “Of course,” we said.

This week, we found out that a photo of us had been chosen as the first place winner! (It’s the one up top. You can see more of that photo set here.) There was a small ceremony this afternoon where we finally put the whole story together: This was a photography contest sponsored by the Luzhou Laojiao liquor company, asking photographers to take snaps of their beloved brewery.

The ceremony, in a normal-looking office building
See all of our photos from the ceremony here.

The ceremony was in a small conference room, and they had made up name plates for me and Peter - although, strangely, not for our photographer, who was also there. The manager of the company spoke first, they showed the winning photos, and then we were invited up front. The MC (through our friend) asked Peter what he thought of the historic Luzhou Laojiao square (“Very beautiful,” he said), and then they asked us to kiss. There were a lot of cameras documenting the whole thing. It felt very strange - kind of like we had been mistaken for famous people and were nervously playing along. They presented us with a gift box of their most expensive liquors and then we sat back down. The judge (or a judge) then spoke about the winning photos, calling the one of us “a masterpiece.”

Once our part was over, we sneaked out (which is ideally how I like to end all meetings - leaving immediately after the attention’s no longer on me) because we both had classes to teach.

Nov 29, 2011

Us, onstage

Now with more photos

Peter and Emily, rocking and rolling

As promised, here’s Peter and I performing with our students.

See a few more photos here.

Nov 14, 2011

Our debut performance

Hello Luzhou!

First of all, today started out with a meeting with our boss, wherein she told us we’re doing great, everyone loves us, the teachers want tips, the students are learning and the principals want us to stay forever. Nice!

From then, the day was pretty hectic. The school talent show was this afternoon, and we were performing with one of my classes - Peter on guitar, me on bass. But we also each had other classes to teach. We grabbed a final practice at home during lunch (lunchtime here is a 2.5-hour break) and then got dressed for showtime: we wore white button-downs with red ties and black pants/skirt. But, before showtime, we had more classes. My juniors were utterly impressed with my gussied-up look; when I entered the classroom, I was greeted with cries of “Oh, beautiful!”

I had a break before the performance, so I ran over to the gym where the show was going to take place (I had some student roadies to carry the gear) and did a perfunctory sound-check while the class did the same. Peter had one more class.

The timeline went like this: 3:30 pm, sound-check; 4:00 pm, Peter’s last class is over and students start filing into the gym; 4:20 pm, Peter arrives in the gym, everyone backstage is relieved, I brief him on the way the sound is set up; 4:30 pm, SHOWTIME! The kids recite a poem and sing the school song before we join them on stage. We walk out to rapturous applause - this is actually my first live rock performance, so it’s a nice greeting. The actual performance was fun - there were a few glitches, but it was a kids’ talent show, not the Hollywood Bowl. There’s another big concert for Spring Festival (which sounds like it happens around Chinese New Year), and there’s already talk of an encore performance!

(There were plenty of teachers taking pictures, so we’re hoping to get our hands on some soon.)

Oct 28, 2011

When is a house a home?

When you have an amp!

Our new amp

We bought new amps yesterday! (It was prohibitively expensive to ship our old ones.) They’re little 15-watters, but they get the job done for now. And what is the job? Since our bosses know that we both play guitar (they helped us carry three guitar cases up to the apartment) they’ve asked us to perform with some of their students!

At the end of November, the school is having a big concert, and the class that we’re performing with will present a poem, sing the school song and sing a pop song. We’ll be accompanying the pop song, of course. It’s “Which Station” by Yu Quan. (Look for it on the video streaming service of your choice, if you like. I’d embed the video, but at this point we can’t access YT and what we can access, Youku.com, is blocked in the states.) Our first practice is Sunday, so we figured that we better get amped.

In the long term, we’re hoping to get to Chengdu to buy some more heavy duty amps - there’s a big rock scene there and the music shops are a little more pro. But for now, we can at least be heard.

Oct 28, 2011

Snaps: The studio, in its full glory

A place to rock and roll

Our studio

Oct 23, 2011

A surprise trip to the Old Cellar

We’re, like, supermodels, or something

Luzhou Laojiao

This morning we were awakened by a phone call from one of our bosses: “A photographer who works with our school wants to take photos of you. Can you meet him in half an hour?”

I managed to buy us a whole hour, and we jumped in the shower and made ourselves presentable for what was explained to us as a “3-4 minute photo shoot.”

The disembodied drinker

We met the photographer at the gate of the school, along with two students - Cindy and Alice - who were to be our translators. We followed them, not to a photography studio, but the Old Cellar. This factory, which is right in our backyard, produces a liquor called Luzhou Laojiao. The locals call it wine, but it’s a white spirit brewed from sorghum, and it tastes INTENSE. This liquor has been brewed here for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s the pride of the city. Cindy told us our students receive two small bottles of it as a traditional gift upon high school graduation. She says she doesn’t drink it, because it’s too strong. (She’s about 16, I think, but there is no drinking age here.)

We were met at the factory by another photographer and a tour guide, Angie. It was very surreal. Angie gave us a private tour of the factory - which we had actually been intending to visit one of these days - with English help from the two students. Meanwhile the two photographers were snapping away. They posed us in front of everything. They even took pictures of Peter taking pictures of me. (Peter, fortuitously, thought to grab our camera on the way out the door.)

A bottle of Luzhou Laojiao

The tour itself was pretty simple; because of the language difference, a lot of it boiled down to, “this is a thing.” Having toured wineries and breweries before, I’ve seen how alcohol is made, and it was much the same here; take a grain, heat it up, store it away. It did take about an hour, though, because we had to keep stopping to pose for photos. The photographers snapped us listening to the tour guide, looking at stuff, reading plaques, joking with the kids, sitting on benches …

At the end of the tour, we had a small sample of the liquor in the ceremonial hall. It was about 11 in the morning, but why not? They sat us at this large wooden table with beautiful chairs and served us a small shot in a traditionally shaped porcelain glass. Much like a wine tasting, there’s an elaborate process to sipping the spirit, involving sniffing, sipping and inhaling. They even had us rub a little on our skin, although I don’t think that’s a traditional part of the ceremony.

And that was that. We went back out front, where the photographers had Peter and I kiss in front of the giant rock at the entrance. And then, our modeling job was over.

We exchanged phone numbers with Angie for possible language exchange, which would actually be pretty cool. She was very nice, and we’re definitely in the market for new friends here. But no explanation was offered for what we had just done, or why. Though we did get a nice private tour out of it in English. Check it out for yourself:

>An early-morning tour of a liquor showroom
Check out the full album of our tour.

This city is really serious about the liquor. Luzhou Laojiao is known throughout all of China. You can buy it EVERYWHERE here. There are liquor stores next to liquor stores, all selling those red boxes. Here’s just a small sample of shops that we’ve seen around town:

Stores selling baijiu
So many liquor stores!

Oct 14, 2011

My Chinese name

Today one of my students gave me a Chinese name (they all have English names): 爱美丽, which is pronounced Ai Mei Li - very close to Emily, if you’ll notice. The kids laughed when he said it, so I was a little worried that it was something bad. But it means “Beautiful Love,” which is kind of sweet.

It’s really hard to not get a big head over here.

Sep 29, 2011

The principal’s office

Today we met one of the school’s 4 principals. It was just an informal meet-and-greet; next week is National Holiday - the whole country has the week off from work - and the two teachers who are in charge of us are traveling to the US and Korea with some of their classes, and they wanted to make sure that at least someone in the administration knew who we were before they left.

The principal was very nice, though imposing looking behind a big wooden desk bedecked with Chinese flags. His assistant poured us some tea (they really do drink tea all of the time) and through our translator, he welcomed us to his school. This is a really busy time for the school, apparently. In addition to the traveling teachers, the school is also preparing to audition to get into the national arts and music program. But they promised us that they will throw us a formal welcome banquet at Christmas time. We certainly didn’t expect a welcome banquet, but they seemed really apologetic that they had to put it off for so long. There’s also talk of English department karaoke night when our teachers get back from overseas. We’re feeling pretty popular.