Hello Uncle Foreigner


Oct 2, 2013

Luzhou: Drinking beer at the mall

Hoops and Tsingtao on a hot summer night

Echo picks up our beer carafe.
Listening at workAt a beer festival, you've got to have snacks.This guy is a pretty famous Chinese basketball star.Mom takes a turn at the basketball game.I try out soccer.

At our friendship dinner, Listening mentioned that he had picked up a job as a videographer at the Tsingdao Beer Festival (the first of its kind in Luzhou), which just happened to be that weekend. He wrote down directions for me and we promised that we’d stop by.

The festival was set up outside the Southwestern Trading Center of China, the giant mall on the outskirts of the city, and it was huge! At the main entrance there was a stage set up with live music, and there were booths galore selling food and, of course, beer. We had to text Listening to get directions to his area.

He was manning a camera at the basketball exhibition, where there were various carnival games set up, as well as a small court and a bar (where he hooked us up with free drinks in exchange for posing for the camera as Americans enjoying Tsingtao). “All people [are] stars,” was the theme of the area. Shortly after we arrived, a very tall man trailed by a large entourage took his turn at the games. “Is he a Sichuan basketball player?” I asked Listening. “Absolutely,” he told me.

After the excitement died down, my mom and I tried our hands at the games. We were not as good, although my mom did alright at the “Get as many baskets as you can in a minute,” or whatever it was called.

Corina and Echo popped by, and we abandoned Listening to his work to go try out some of the special-flavored festival beers. There was the pineapple beer, which tasted like soda, and the stout, which tasted like amazingness. There were a lot of families at the festival, which was kind of surprising given, well, beer, but kind of not, given China. We did see a small fight break out, though: Someone was selling fake beer tickets, and the duped parties were not pleased to find that they had been duped.

The threat of rain meant that it was time to go home, before we became witness to/participants in a fight over taxis. (Kidding! Kind of!) We said goodbye to the girls with promises to talk soon

In the beer garden

Nov 1, 2012

Finding Golden Hans

Always remember to look up

Beer and meat at Golden Hans
The KegsThe buffetSome meatA table full of plates

A week or so after our return from Beer City, China, we were taking a walk by the river and Peter happened to glance up to a second story window.

“Beer, beer, beer, beer!” he said, or something more thoughtful than that. Because, visible from the street, there were four silver tanks, just the right size for a microbrewery.

On the banner below the window was pictured a cartoony German man and some prices. We had to know more.

Upstairs we found Golden Hans, a German-themed churrascaria with Chinese characteristics. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet, waiters carried be-meated swords from table to table, and they served honest-to-goodness, brewed-on-the-premises beer. A wheat and a stout that both beat the pants off of Tsingtao. (We love you Tsingtao!)

The place had probably been in Luzhou much longer than we had, and we had walked that strip of river many, many times before. But it was not until after we had traveled halfway across the country to drink beer out of a keg that we looked up. Luzhou is a vertical city, and there are a ton of businesses that are on the second floor, or above, of any given building. But we’re just not used to looking for things above street level. I think we’re missing out on a lot.

Golden Hans, anyway, was a terrific find. The food is unmistakably cooked in China, but they capture “western” better than any other local western restaurant. There are plenty of vegetable dishes at the buffet, and the meat-on-swords cuts range all over the place, from “too weird for me” to “honey BBQ pork, please give me much more!”

We usually spend a little more than 100RMB there, which is more than twice what a meal at sticks costs, so we’ve made it a special occasion place. But, with at least 4 return visits in the past two months, we’ve found reason to celebrate a lot of special occasions.

Oct 18, 2012

Summer vacation: Bathing Beach No. 2

A quick dip in the sea

Qingdao bathing beach No. 2

(It’s a balmy 79 degrees here in Luzhou, so it feels appropriate to still be talking about our August beach vacation. Bear with us as we slowly catch up to the present, won’t you?)

Tsingdao beer was the primary attraction when choosing our summer vacation destination, but we were also interested in the prospect of visiting the seaside. Both of us grew up on the coasts of the US, and from time to time we miss the roaring waves. The Yangtze is wonderful, but it’s not the same.

The men
The men gathered around an intense card game.

Beach No. 2 is the nicest beach within Qingdao city limits. It’s much bigger than Beach 6, there are ample changing facilities/showers, and the sand feels clean. And while it’s plenty popular, it’s not too crowded.

As some well know, I am not overly fond of sand, and Peter and I both need to be careful in the sun. But this was our one chance this summer to go for a dip in the sea, so I took it. (Peter was happy enough just to stand on the dry side of the waves.) The water was clear and refreshing, and the sandy bottom felt well-maintained; there was a happy absence of slimy and/or jagged rocks for feet to find. I lasted about a minute or two before I started remembering that I was sharing that body of water with other sea creatures — not that I saw any, I’m just really squicked out by the idea of bumping into fish.

But I achieved swimming in 2012!

After my swim, I dried off in the sun while Peter snapped photos of people who actually liked the beach, and then we called it quits on our second (and, spoiler alert, final) beach visit.

Photorgaphic proof: We're at the beachPhotorgaphic proof: We're at the beach

Listen to this one: Two Americans walk into a Russian bar in a former German concession in China …

Oct 2, 2012

Summer vacation: Finding that Spark

Beer and pizza still works in China

A wide sampling of the Spark menuReal microbrewThe Spark exterior

Just up from May 4th Square is The Spark, a modern little microbrew pub specializing in fancied-up American diner food. The whole menu is tantalizing (and we were seriously tempted to come back for brunch), but we ultimately settled on a pizza, a salad, a steak sandwich with fries, and pickles. (Pickles are emerging as a surprise contender in the “what do we miss most” game.) And, of course, beer.

Beer was the big reason we sought out the Spark, having read that Beer City actually had its own microbrew. And though we were well full up on Tsingtao (this was the meal had after our brewery tour), we did have room for one more — especially one more made small-batch, on the premises.

It was absolutely fantastic. The beer had a golden honey color, a good head, and it was cloudy and full of flavor. The food, also, did not disappoint. Everything we ordered was comforting, authentic and delicious. The steak on my sandwich was beautifully marinated, and it was served with hard-boiled egg slices, making it extra hearty. Peter’s pizza did pretty well by the standards of pizzas we’ve had in China.

We read about this place on some expat boards (obviously; we still don’t speak Chinese). But, as we’d seen in most of our western dining experiences in Qingdao, the Spark’s patrons were a good mix of westerners and Chinese. And everyone looked to be having a good time.

Now that we’re well fed, let’s get out on the water …

Sep 28, 2012

Summer vacation: Beer Street

Where the streets are paved with suds

Tsingtao Stout
Lovely Beer Street
Of all parts of China, here’s the place to sit and have a beer — a cold one, if you’re lucky.

So, the Tsingtao Brewery Museum is conveniently located on a nice strip of pavement called Beer Street. Makes sense.

In addition to the museum, restaurants (mostly seafood) with ample outdoor seating line the block. We had plans to go downtown for dinner, however, so we just stopped in for a quick drink at one of the quieter places. This is where we found the elusive Tsingtao Stout — a beer not commonly stocked in other parts of the country. And it was good! Since it was bottled, it lacked the metallic taste of the canned German stouts that we buy in Luzhou.

Room for one more? How about some non-Tsingtao Qingdao beer?

Sep 27, 2012

Summer vacation: Tsingtao Brewery Museum

The secrets of “China’s well-known trademark”

Inside the Tsingtao Beer MuseumInside the Tsingtao Beer Museum
Here is me, sticking my head in their giant copper vat. It was for display only, nothing was inside.
Inside the Tsingtao Beer MuseumInside the Tsingtao Beer Museum
There are beer cans on the roof of the museum!

Brewery tours everywhere are pretty much the same: “Here are our grains, here are our giant copper vats.” But you can’t go to Beer City, China1, and not visit the place where the beer was made!

It turns out, actual beer making plays only a small part in the Tsingtao beer museum. The bulk of the two-building installation takes you through history of the brewery. The early German era is represented mostly through advertising from the time and recreations of old equipment. The intervening years, in which the brewery hit some hard times in the form of both quality control issues (ex: a bottle of beer shipped with a brush inside) and a tanking economy post-World Wars, are summed up in text on a couple of placards. The exhibit really gets going in the modern age, when Tsingtao started to get its stuff together as an international brand.

Touring the Tsingtao Beer MuseumTouring the Tsingtao Beer MuseumTouring the Tsingtao Beer Museum

This period is treated with a slew of corporate speak, and a lot of attention is given to the slogans the company used. In the ’90s, Tsingtao made the huge step of changing their expansion strategy from “First bigger, then stronger,” to “First stronger, then bigger.” There’s a photographic display of the Tsingtao brand around the world: a Russian pop star drinking a bottle, an American with a 纯生 tattoo (translation: “pure draft”), a neon ad in the movie “The Mummy 3,” etc.

After catching up to the present, the installation turns toward environmentalism. There are large posters outlining Tsingtao’s commitment to the green movement, but also a small display explaining what environmentalism is and why it’s important. They suggest Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as a good starting point, if you are unfamiliar with the concepts discussed.

Touring the Tsingtao Beer Museum

Then comes the bar. Like all good tours, this one includes a (small) free sample of the product. But surprisingly, the tour isn’t over there. Outside the bar area, there is a little display on beer making throughout the ages. We completely breezed on by it. Next, we walked through some pretty big replica fermentation tanks and other machinery, all staffed by grotesque plaster figures. It’s tough to say if this would have been more interesting before or after the beer.

After a pass through the gift shop, there was another bar! This time, this really was the end. Our tickets had a stub good for another free beer, which of course we redeemed. It was early evening and we were on vacation, so we also bought a small pitcher. As we drank, we sat at the end of a long wooden table and watched the Chinese tour groups disgorge from the tour. You could tell who was with who, because each group had its own member hat or backpack.

At the end of the tour

We watched group after group ganbei and skeddadle. As we’re learning, Chinese generally do not linger over meals or drinks; It’s consume and go. Which is alright, because it gives us slow pokes plenty to watch.

One of the funniest things we spied happened several times: the reverse photobomb, in which nearby tourists tried to sneakily capture us in a photograph of their friends. The giggling usually gave it away.

Follow us as we stumble out into the street …

1: The beer is called Tsingtao because that’s how 青岛 was Romanized back in 1903. When pinyin was adopted in 1949, the spelling of the city’s name changed to Qingdao. But it’s the same place. (See also: Peking duck, from Beijing.)