Jan 10, 2012

New food on sticks

Very similar to the old food on sticks

New sticks
Fish boat

Part of our explore-the-city mission is to find places to eat other than our beloved sticks pavilion. With that in mind, last week we got gussied up and went out.

Our intention was to finally hit up one of those boat restaurants we see along the river. Turns out - and we totally should have expected this — they are fish restaurants. You can even go pick out which fish you want. Unfortunately, we wanted zero fish, so we left. Strike one.

Looking for a rotating restaurant

But, we had heard about this rotating restaurant on the top of the Luzhou Hotel! So we went to search that out. When we found it, it looked like the whole building had been closed for quite a while. Strike two.

Fancy pants chain

Our next thought was to try this street near our house where we had seen several indoor eating establishments that looked cool. We picked one - and it was more food on sticks! It was a little more upscale than our favorite outdoor place - there were wooden benches instead of plastic stools and there was a wider selection of food. We got a bowl that was split in two, one side with super spicy broth and the other with a vegetable stock. It was a nice change of pace to have a similar meal with different flavors.

It was slightly more expensive than our usual place, but we’d definitely go back.

Dec 26, 2011

The search for salt

What are we missing?

One of the interesting things here is seeing what we can easily find and what we can’t. For instance, I can find the same exact brand of face wash that I used in the states and replacement razor heads for my razor. But they don’t have leave-in conditioner. Also, for our party, we found disposable cups and bowls … but our guests were amazed that we had them. They were also astonished by the colored tea lights that I had found at a local gift shop; it was something they had never seen before!

But something that we’ve had a really hard time finding is table salt. We’ve looked at several grocery stores, and we just can’t find it. We can find plenty of MSG, but no salt. But it’s not that they don’t use salt here: We see it at restaurants all the time. We live two hours away from the salt capital of China! (Zigong, if you’re interested.) Our neighbors brought over some salt to cook with for our party even, so it’s not a rare thing. We just can’t find it anywhere.

It’s a mystery!

Dec 5, 2011

Gaoxing, gaoxing!

or, Always bring the camera

“Always bring the camera” is the rule we’re supposed to be living by, and its importance was reiterated Saturday night.

We were just going for sticks, a dinner which has been well documented, so we left the camera at home. And most of dinner was uneventful. Delicious, but uneventful. However, just as we were down to our last few sticks, a group of local young men (we estimate mid- to late-20s) invited us to join them.

Two things: In Chinese culture, an offer to host you for food is a very serious piece of social currency. We could have said no, but it just would have been very uncool (jumping ahead - when they offered to pay our bill as well, we gave weak protests but relented easily, because in a related way it’s incredibly impolite to refuse such an offer). Also, part of our strategy for living here is to say yes when ever possible.

They didn’t really speak any English, but I told them that we were Meiguo (American), and they loved that. They made several toasts to us, and we started having a tentative good time. But there was still the issue of dinner. We had already eaten a lot, and their bowl of broth was filled with mostly meat. One of the boys got on the phone and handed it to me. A woman’s voice speaking pretty good English explained that they wanted us to eat with them. I told her that we were very grateful for the offer, but we had just eaten a lot. But we would like to sit with her friends and have a drink or two.

More toasts resulted. “Gaoxing!” the boys kept saying, which we figured out meant “happy.” Soon we were all yelling “Gaoxing! Gaoxing!” which was to be our mantra for the night. Karaoke was proposed. Karaoke seems to be the main form of nightlife around here, but Peter and I had yet to go. It wasn’t something that we would do on our own, and while there had been talk about going to KTV with some of our Chinese friends and coworkers, there had been no action.

We were curious, but we also have a 10 pm curfew (it was almost 9). The phone was brought out again. Our faceless translator explained they wanted to take us to karaoke. I explained about the curfew.”What about 11?” she asked on behalf of the boys. “We live at a school, and they’re pretty strict,” I explained our somewhat embarrassing circumstances.

Finally a plan was made. We’d abandon dinner and go to karaoke NOW! And they would make sure that we got home by 10. Everyone made the gesture for 10, so it was clear we all understood.

In the car on the way there, the boys were furiously working the phones. I heard the phrase “Meiguo pengyou!” used several times, which means “American friends!”

The karaoke place - or perhaps I should say karaoke palace - was amazing. It was on the second floor, and the elevator doors opened onto a gaudily opulent lobby, with every filigree gilded in gold. The people who worked there were all wearing bellhop uniforms, and one such guy led us to our private room. It was huge, with a giant screen taking up one wall - for the karaoke-ing, obviously.

The attendant brought in beer (and filled our glasses as quickly as we could empty them) and a few fruit plates, and we set to work picking out songs to sing. The guys all wanted to hear us sing, and since I was more willing than Peter, I ended up singing the first three songs. One of them was a duet in Chinese - they brooked not the fact that I knew neither the song nor the language. I was able to pick up the tune, kind of, and they didn’t seem to mind that the noise I was making was not even close to words in any language. (I figured out when we got home that the song was “Beijing Welcomes You,” which was hugely popular in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. I think they just couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t know it. When they sang the chorus (because everyone sang the chorus), they changed it to “Luzhou Welcomes You,” which was very cute.)

More and more people arrived, and the party really got going. Everyone wanted to meet the Meiguo pengyou, and some of them actually had a little bit of English.

There was a little spinner on the table for a game, and a few of us sat down to play. The rules were simple: spin the spinner and do what it says. Most of the commands were drink related (you drink, you choose someone to drink, everyone drinks!) and karaoke related (sing the next song).

Then the room demanded a duet between Peter and me. They chose “I Want It That Way,” by N’Sync, a song Peter didn’t really know. But again, no matter. I sang and Peter made some supportive noises, and they loved it! Later, Peter told me that this was the very first time he had actually sung at karaoke.

Sadly, after that, it was time for us to go. “Eleven! Eleven!” some cried. But we really did have to go. We said our goodbyes and we got a cab, bummed that we had to leave the party early. And super bummed that we didn’t bring our camera.

Dec 5, 2011

An afternoon in Zhongshan Park

A greenspace in the grey

Lovely greenery in Zhongshan Park
Check out our full album of Zhongshan Park.

We’d seen it on many maps: Zhongshan Park is a large greenspace in the center of Luzhou’s Jiangyang District (which is also where we live). On Saturday, we finally found it.

Zhongshan Park, Luzhou

Zhongshan Park is actually a name for many parks around China, according to Wikipedia, as a way to honor Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. But beyond the name, our Zhongshan doesn’t betray that history. It’s just a park. Though a nice one.

It was a crisp and wintry 55 degrees out, but we still saw many other people enjoying the rare non-rain. The park has a lot of carefully landscaped nature, as well as a few ponds where you can go on boat rides, and some little amusement park rides: go-carts and the like. There was also an outdoor public pool; closed for the winter, but we’re guessing it gets jam-packed in the summer. It gets really hot here.

But even in the relative cool of a southern Sichuan winter, it’s a pretty place. Because it’s not actually that cold, the leaves on the trees are still intact, and a few people even brave the boat rides. We’re definitely planning on returning. There’s a zoo and an aviary we’d like to check out, as well as a tea house which seems an idyllic spot for sipping some tea.

Dec 1, 2011

A little help from the kids

Noodles and shoes

Most days at lunch, I like to go out to a little noodle stall by our house for a bowl of spicy noodles. (Peter generally naps during our break.) I bring a book to read, and every once in a while some of my students will spot me, and come over to sit and talk.

Today, some of my junior students came to sit with me. Their English isn’t so good, so the conversation was pretty slow and repetitive, but it was fun, nonetheless. They also translated some questions that the non-English-speaking adults that run the stall had. “Do you like the soup?” being one of the most frequently asked. Of course I like it. I eat it every other day!

I finished, and they asked if I was going back to the school. I told them I had some shoes I was going to drop off to be polished at the shoe shop a few doors down, but after that I was going back to school. They offered to walk with me, which turned out to be very helpful.

I do think I could have accomplished the transaction completely through gestures, but the girls very nicely translated for me - which was funny from my end, but must have looked hilarious from the POV of the people at the shoe store: this American comes in with two eleven-year-olds who conduct business for her. But now I know for sure that she said come back in three days, not three hours. They’re also going to re-sole them for me, too, which I can use because I walk the crap out of my shoes.

Nov 22, 2011

Back at home

It’s time for sticks

After waking up way too early (4:30 am) to catch our flight, we’re back in Luzhou. Signs that we’re back:

  • The smell of the Old Cellar distillery; It’s stinkier and stronger than ever.
  • All the kids greet us enthusiastically in English. We’re special again!
  • No one besides our students speak English. It’s amazing how quickly we forgot in Hong Kong that most Chinese do not speak our language.
  • On the menu for dinner tonight: Things on sticks!