Zigong

May 12, 2013

清明节: At long last, Zigong

Our arrival in the big city is heralded by bugs and rain

Outside our hotel window
The bed in the room
Our hotel room wasn’t much larger than the bed, but it was a place to stay out of the rain.

Sarah was baffled that we were going to stay on in Zigong for not one but two more nights — “I’ve already shown you everything!” — but she helped us check into the Rongguang Business Hotel anyway. Our accommodations were basic and small, but cheap and clean. And the TV had CCTV-News. Luxury!

Nestled in the elbow of the Fuxi River, we were ideally situated for tourism Emily and Peter-style, which involves wandering around until we get lost and/or find something interesting, and then seeing what we could find to drink. Our plans were thwarted, however, by the unrelenting swarms of bugs that were everywhere. Seriously, Peter was wearing a bright yellow T-shirt, and every couple of seconds it was completely covered in black. It was almost Biblical.

Out in the marketZigong sceneryPeter found a Spider-Man toy at the bookstore
We found many treasures at the bookstore, including this Spider-Man puzzle!

The problem was, the aforementioned river was running quite low, and the marshy exposed banks were a fertile breeding ground for these icky little guys. The whole region, including Luzhou, had had quite a dry spell, and for weeks the cities had been trying to seed the clouds for rain, our boss Linda had told us.

We took cover from the bugs in a western restaurant, and while we were testing the bartender’s ability to make every cocktail pictured in the menu, the rain finally came. And did not stop until we caught a cab for the bus station out of town two days later.

But, damn the rain! We came here to see Zigong. We grabbed umbrellas and got walking.

The small hill in front of our hotel led up into a pedestrian path lined by small shops. This eventually tapered off into a small market street. Taking a zag up to the main road, we walked by the bigger chain stores that you see pretty much everywhere: Spider King (shoes), Aiyaya (make-up), Septwolves (men’s clothes), KFC (chicken) … All in all, slightly different scenery but pretty similar to Luzhou.

On the way back to the hotel our first evening, a young man greeted us in English. It turned out that this young Zigonger attended the Luzhou Teachers College, where I taught a course this summer. (He wasn’t my student.) We asked him what he thought of Luzhou. “The buses are very crowded,” he said.

Just after we exchanged numbers with our representative of This Small World, we got a flurry of text messages and calls from different Chinese friends. Melody sent a text asking about dinner plans. Young Jane called demanding to know where we were. (For the life of me, I could not get her to understand the word “Zigong.” When I saw her later that week, she told me that she thought I was saying the Chinese for “fish pond.” Also back in Luzhou, Tina told us that one of her classmates had seen us cavorting around the city.) It was a fun moment, to be on the road and realize that we’ve actually made a home in China. And that it missed us.

May 12, 2013

清明节: Two dinners

An adventure for the face

Hot pot in Zigong

The double-whammy of it all is that not only is Chinese really difficult, but my natural tendencies toward introversion mean that every conversation with a stranger is one I don’t want to have. The other night at dinner, I told Peter that if I could just have someone else order beers for us — something that I’ve had more than a year of practice doing — I would do anything for that. Anything but ask, that is.

Given this reality, it’s really very easy for us to fall into a rut. When we order the same thing at the same restaurant every night, they bring us what we want without anyone having to say anything! It’s so comfortable … but also so limiting. Enduring a little social discomfort opens up exciting new worlds of food and vocabulary for us every time. So this Anglophone introvert has to keep pushing herself.

Travel is the obvious way to shake things up. In Zigong, of course we wanted to try the hot pot. There is intense regional competition regarding whose food is the best/freshest/spiciest, and we want to judge them all.

After a meander through the narrow market streets near our hotel, we found a clean, well-lit little place with the tell-tale burners sunk into the tables. “You want the spicy broth?” the server asked, I think. Whatever she said, I said yes. We also ordered cukes, lotus root, winter melon, cauliflower and potatoes. Delicious, and a whole different spice than our Luzhou usual. Hot, but we could handle it.

A new kind of pot in Luzhou

The night of our return from Zigong, emboldened by our recent, we set out to try out one of the Pot Pot restaurants by the river. We had no idea what 锅锅香 was, beyond the fact that a meal seemed to consist of a shallow pot of food atop a bucket holding a heat source. But we had been curious about it since we’ve arrived here, and we were feeling brave.

One of the hostesses beckoned us to her restaurant — there’s a cluster of about five or so in this particular area— and we obeyed. I picked at random one of eight options, and ordered up the beer: 4 bottles, cold please. They brought us out a bucket containing a red hot brick (yes!) and a small pot of pork belly (OK!). It also came with sprouts, cabbage, winter melon, potatoes and glass noodles. This dish, for a change, was not spicy, but more like a hearty pork and beans stew.

This place … is not yet a favorite. The broth and fixins we got were fine, but pork belly is so fatty and I just don’t have a taste for it. I left behind an embarrassing pile of blubber.

But, we went back a second time. This time I ordered spare ribs, which were fantastic for me … but that soup didn’t really come with enough vegetation for Peter. When we’re not Jack Sprat and his wife, sometimes I think we might be Goldilocks.

We’re determined to keep going back, however, in search of the perfect dish for both of us. There are six more things to try. And they already know how we like our beer.

Apr 20, 2013

清明节: Hey, let’s go to Zigong!

A last-minute holiday announcement leads to impromptu travel

Map To Zigong

On April 1, a Monday, our boss Linda gave us the news: We had a school holiday starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Saturday! (Sunday, we’d have to teach Friday’s classes to make up some of the time; that’s just how it works sometimes.) This wasn’t a total surprise to us. We knew that the Qingming Festival, or the national tomb sweeping holiday, was April 4, and we were just waiting for word on which days we had off.

So informed, we put in motion our plan to visit Zigong. Zigong is a Luzhou-sized city about an hour and a half from us, and many of our students are from there, as is our boss Sarah. “They have dragons there,” she told us proudly long ago when she was giving us our initial tour of Luzhou. “Not dragons … dinosaurs,” she corrected herself.

Sarah helped us with our hotel reservations on Tuesday — Zigong’s not high on your average international traveler’s China list, and they don’t have an anglophone-staffed youth hostel there — and offered us a ride with her and her husband the following day.

Wednesday morning, you could feel the pre-vacation excitement; our students were practically buzzing. When that last bell rang, kids and teachers flooded out of the school’s doors. We joined the mass exodus, and it was Dinosaur City, here we come!

Jun 19, 2012

Luzhou Laojiao Tianfu Middle School

Fact Dump

Can you spot Uncle Foreigner?
  • This October, Luzhou Laojiao Tianfu Middle School will celebrate it’s 100th year as a learning institution.
  • The school comprises grades Senior 1, Senior 2, Senior 3, as well as, for the first time this year, Junior 1. Next year they will add Junior 2. Peter taught Senior 1 classes, and Emily taught both Senior 1 and Junior 1 classes.
  • The school day starts at around 7:30 am, and older students may have class as late as 9:30 pm. Our earliest class was 8:40 am, and our latest was 4:50 pm.
  • Older students have classes most Saturdays, and sometimes even on Sundays. We generally worked Monday through Friday because our boss knows Americans like weekends.
  • Chinese classes traditionally place an emphasis on rote learning and memorization. By contrast, our classes looked like unstructured, foreign-language playtime. But learning was going on, I swear.
  • Many students live with their families in Luzhou, but there is a large population of dormitory students who live on campus.
  • The out-of-towners come mostly from the neighboring cities of Zigong and Yibin. Yibin is known in China for baijiu and the Bamboo Sea. Zigong is known for dinosaurs and salt.
  • The boys dorms are right near our apartment. Some nights we can here mischievous screaming coming from the building. One of the students told us that this is because the showers don’t have hot water.
  • The students are responsible for keeping their classroom and the school grounds clean. These activities are overseen, not by a teacher, but by a class monitor who has been chosen by their peers.
  • The class monitor is a responsible student who gets good grades - and is well-liked and respected by their classmates. It’s cool to be smart and hardworking here!