Passport RPG

Jun 27, 2012

Replace your passport: Return to Chengdu

More eating

☆ Side Quest: The Sultan and The Shamrock

Objective: Eat something delicious

The Sultan front doorA delicious Middle Eastern meal

Back at Bookworm, we had picked up a flier for a Middle Eastern restaurant called The Sultan. They prominently touted their vegetarian options, and the word online was good, so we figured it was worth a try.

And it was delicious. In an attempt to try everything on the menu, we ordered way too much food. Beautiful hummus, felafel, shawarma (for the meat eater), peppers stuffed with homemade cottage cheese, Turkish naan (made with real butter!) … It was too good to leave anything behind, so we ate it all with the intention of walking it off.

Rolling up on the ShamrockDrinks

Along our walk, we passed by The Shamrock, an Irish bar that we had checked out in the winter. We actually didn’t really like it in the wintertime - it was smokey and they played horrible music really loudly - but they had an outdoor area that looked palatable, for one drink, at least.

And it was pleasant. Some European soccer tournament was on, so all the seats facing the TVs were taken. But as non-sports fans we were happy to sit at an obstructed-view table. The place still had kind of an impersonal super-pub vibe, but a martini under the stars provides its own atmosphere.

And, green olives! Back in the fall, when there was no sign of them in the grocery stores in Luzhou, I tried to order some from an ex-pat grocery delivery service. They told me that to deliver to our small city would cost around $200, so, dead end. Occasionally we see “martinis” on a bar menu, but they’re usually served with black olives, which isn’t quite the same. We’d came to accept that living in southern Sichuan meant no green olives. Which is really not a bad trade-off for everything wonderful that we’ve experienced.

But, at Shamrock, these magnificent libations had our precious green olives. We were so psyched we even briefly considered buying a jar or two from the bar. (Though we both realized that that was the gin talking.)

The world tour continues …

Jun 27, 2012

Replace Your Passport: Snaps: Puppets!

Get your tickets now!

☆ Side Quest: Puppets of the World

Objective: Visit the World Puppetry Festival

The world puppetry festival is not to be for us

While we were in Chengdu, we saw a bunch of signs for the 21st UNIMA Congress and World Puppetry Festival. And then, out for a walk, we actually stumbled on the site of the festival. And a show was starting right then. It was all perfect. We had to go!

Except it was all sold out

OBJECTIVE FAILED

The quest gets back on track tomorrow …

Jun 26, 2012

Replace your passport: Luzhou interlude

Meet Alex

Chapter 4: Luzhou Laojiao Tianfu Middle School

Objective: Wait for your passport to be ready

Back in Luzhou, we wrapped up our teaching duties and said goodbye to all of the kids. We also busied ourselves with creating our essay/video diptych depicting our experiences.

As part of my farewell to the kids, I gave them my contact info, including my QQ number. (QQ is a Chinese IM service.) They get in touch for little chats, though we don’t discuss anything too deep; they usually say hi, ask how I am, if I’ve eaten, apologize for their poor English (to which I always say: “It’s OK, you’re learning!”) and then they say goodbye.

Introducing Alex Ling

Which is part of why I was so impressed with Alex. One afternoon, on the way back from grocery shopping, he introduced himself to Peter and me. He’s a senior 2 student from a nearby middle school, and is absolutely crazy about America. In the short walk back to our school, he peppered us with questions about our home country, including “How can I move there?” (“Save up a lot of money,” was sadly the best we could offer.) I was impressed, first of all, by his moxie in approaching us, and then, secondly, by his skill in English. Even my better students tend to trip over their insecurities, but Alex was a smooth conversationalist, even if his grammar wasn’t perfect. (And his grammar was very, very good.)

It would be great to have had him as a student, but it’s even nicer to have him as a friend.

After waiting the requisite 10 days, an email from the U.S. Consulate informs me that my passport is ready for pick up. Back to Chengdu …

Jun 25, 2012

Replace your passport: Time for fun

Book shopping is the best

☆ Side Quest: Bookworm and Le Sud

Objective: Have some big city fun (and possibly a pizza) before catching the bus back to Luzhou

Reading and drinking is pretty much the best
By the way, the mint candy soda at the Loft is tops!

We were finished at the consulate by noon, but both Peter and I agreed that it was just too soon to get back on the bus to go back to Luzhou. Also, the silver lining of the passport mess was that we got to revisit a city that we really liked. So we agreed to stay another night, and set about enjoying Chengdu.

First thing: We were in need of lunch and new books, and The Bookworm is only a short walk from the consulate. It was a no brainer.

After lunch, we wandered around the city, soaking up the cosmopolitan atmosphere until our feet started to complain. We retired to the Loft courtyard to enjoy some minty refreshments while we read our new books.

For dinner, we had our sights set on pizza. You may have noticed that people love to argue about things on the internet, especially food. So the search for “Best Pizza in Chengdu” turned up many conflicting results. But French-Mediterranean restaurant Le Sud kept coming up as well-liked, and they had very few detractors.

And, just to put this out in the aether: There seems to be a little confusion online about whether the restaurant is closed, be it for renovations or permanently. But a man answered the phone when I called, and was really excited that we might be coming in for dinner later.

So, the restaurant was empty, but the meal was delicious enough

When we got there, the restaurant was empty. It would remain so for the duration of our dinner. So, for the record, Le Sud is open, and it’s delicious! The pizza had a delicate, thin crust with just the right amount of tomato sauce (that’s an issue with Chinese pizza), and cheese, lovely cheese.

After dinner, we retired back to the Loft for a healing sleep, and then it was back on the bus for us.

The action resumes in back in Luzhou …

Jun 24, 2012

In which we are invited to take a brief trip back to America, sort of

Or, What happens when your passport is stolen in China

Prologue: Don’t look now …

We’d gotten a little too comfortable at sticks, I guess. I had fallen into the habit of putting my purse down on a chair next to us, and then keeping a not-so-watchful eye on it. Eventually, this garnered predictable results.

This would have been a minor inconvenience but for the fact that someone along the line had told us that it was a good idea to keep our passports on us at all times, in case we were ever questioned by the police. (Later, I would be asked repeatedly [including by the local police] why on earth my passport had been in my purse.) So I was now a player in the extremely boring RPG, “International Bureaucracy: Replace Your Passport!”

On our RPG adventure

Chapter 1: Luzhou — Exit/Entry Bureau

Objective: Collect a Statement of Lost Passport from the Exit/Entry Bureau of the Luzhou city government

With the help of my coworker Chris acting as translator, I filed a police report, which I then took to Exit/Entry. The officer there processed my paperwork and gave me the Statement of Lost Passport.

I could now make an appointment with the Consulate General of the United States in Chengdu to apply for a new passport.

Chapter 2: Luzhou-Chengdu Highroad

Objective: Keep yourself from going stir-crazy!

Get on the bus

By the end of our quest, we will make this journey 4 times in two weeks. This trip is long. And boring.

And, departing from Luzhou, we spend almost an hour idling at three different bus stations before even leaving the city, the inefficiency of which drives me crazy every time.

Jack ... Rose ...

They do play movies during the drive. In English even! Unfortunately, they’re usually terrible. Though on this first trip, the movie was “Titanic.” This movie is hugely popular here, and, well, it’s watchable enough.

The monotony of the drive is interrupted about halfway through and replaced with horror at the Rest Stop Toilets of Doom. Both the men’s and the women’s rooms contain a smelly canal, over which you squat (there’s a half wall for the least-private privacy ever), and down which water is sluiced every five minutes or so. We both try to plan our liquids so that we don’t need to visit this convenience, but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way.

When we pulled into the Chengdu bus station, The Titanic was still sinking. It had been for more than an hour - though we’d miss the very end of it; it turns out, “Titanic” with Bus TV commercials is even longer than the drive from Luzhou to Chengdu. Good work James Cameron! That’s truly epic.

☆ Side Quest: Xiao Tong Alley

Objective 1: Find a place to eat
Objective 2: Find a place to sleep

Back at the Loft

Our love of this area is well documented. Part of our excitement at returning to Chengdu was that we’d get to stay at The Loft again. So our second objective was easily accomplished. They put us in the Erykah Badu room this time. And the rooms have TVs now!

Objective 1 was trickier. By the time we got settled we were both starving, but it was after 10 pm on a Tuesday and most of the restaurants in the neighborhood were closed. We trudged around the block, grimly entertaining the idea of a dinner made from convenience store food. But then we spotted it: 串串. This is the Chinese name for what we call “food on sticks.” That’d do it!

We laughed at the fact that we were in a city with so many more options than Luzhou, and yet we were eating the same meal that we eat almost every night. But it’s delicious and we love it. And, at this place they used very different spices. So it was really almost like a completely different meal.

We returned to the Loft for a healing sleep so we’d be ready to resume our quest tomorrow.

Chapter 3: The Consulate

Objective: Apply for a new passport

Out in the street

The U.S. Consulate in Chengdu is in a fancy part of town, just around the corner from a bunch of flagship stores for international luxury brands. So we took a photo of that, instead of the nondescript government building guarded by men with guns.

The inside looks just like a typical American government office - imagine your local post office, with a bunch of Chinese nationals waiting on line to apply for a visa. Even the bathrooms felt American: There was no wastebasket for used tissue, which meant that the plumbing could handle toilet paper! … Am I obsessed with bathrooms? I’m starting to wonder. Although in my defense, we read later that Chengdoo magazine rated the bathroom at the consulate one of the six best public restrooms in the city. It really is something to see.

Once I filed my paperwork and paid for my new passport, I had to raise my hand and swear that all the information I provided was truthful to the best of my knowledge. They gave me a flimsy receipt, told me not to lose it and come back in 10 business days.

The saga continues …