National Day

Jun 22, 2013

Snaps: It’s a parade

… of savings!

Going on paradeGoing on paradeMore Parading Still parading

Shortly after our arrival in Luzhou, way back in September 2011, China celebrated the National Day holiday — meaning a few short days after we were thrown into the classrooms, we were given a week-long break. No one had told us much about what the holiday means or what people do, only that we had time off. From our apartment, we could hear drum corps marching down the streets, and so we assumed there must be some sort of holiday-related parade that we were missing.

Nope. We have since run into these roving bands of drumming women many, many times. They’re advertising local sales. Of course.

Nov 23, 2012

Holiday shopping

Don’t miss out on the National Day sales

Outdoor market
Emily's new coatPeter's new coat

Whereas Mid-Autum Festival is a harvest feast holiday like American Thanksgiving, National Day Week is a time for shopping … much like the day after American Thanksgiving.

We didn’t really intend to do much shopping — saving’s the name of the game for us — but we both scored new coats; Peter’s at a phenomenal sale price of 300RMB [US$48] down from 1,200RMB [US$192]. For most of the week, however, we just enjoyed the window dressing. A big strip of new stores went up in late summer along Middle Road, and the merchandise there was much higher end (and covet-able) than what was there before. We didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to see what could have been (in our closets).

Where there’s shopping, of course, there’s eating. For the holiday week, the vendors who sold snacks in the streets around the city center were allowed to set up right in the main pedestrian plaza, creating a big outdoor food court. Except this was no Panda Express/Blimpie-type operation. You could choose from noodles, spicy potatoes, crispy pancakes, meat on sticks, sushi and much more, and it was all delicious. Even on a rainy day, plenty of people stopped to pull up a stool under the tarps. Everything was a little wet, but no one minded too much.

Nov 22, 2012

Tofu soup and spelling contests

And shampoo jeans

Alex introduced us to tofu soup

During the National Day holiday, we made a date to meet up with our pal Alex. He was preparing for a big speech competition that was to be held in the following month, and he had asked for our help. Of course, lunch was part of the deal as well.

He took us up a windy road to a set up that looked a lot like our 串串, with burners set into the middle of tables and a bubbling pot on top. But, in fact, it was something totally different: A tofu soup!

(Now Peter and I both enjoyed tofu in the states, but coming to China we’ve realized that the way tofu is served in the US is often the most totally boring way you could do it. No wonder no one likes it. Here in China, tofu is treated as a real food and seasoned and cooked with accordingly. So when you read tofu soup, don’t think “Ugh,” think “Yum!”)

The soup was a live bubbling broth with tofu, veggies. beans, and a delicious cured pork. We ordered some extra cabbage from an extremely long menu of side dishes (“I don’t even know what everything on here is,” Alex said.), and a few lunch beers. It was vacation after all.

Alex showed us his speech, which was an incredibly thoughtful meditation on being a teenager and what your youthful opportunities and responsibilities are. I copy edited the crap out of it, and tried to reassure him that I’ve marked up native English speakers’ work as much. And then we just chatted. For the kids willing to take advantage of it, fluent conversation is really the best resource Peter and I can offer in terms of English language acquisition. It’s fun to have friends, but it’s also really cool to know that we’re helping those friends just by sitting around and talking.

At this lunch, we also solved a mystery that we’d been thinking about for the past year. Our favorite Chinese pop song came on — a song we had been calling “Shampoo Jeans.” And I started to sing along with our made up words. “You know this song?” Alex asked. We explained to him what “shampoo jeans” is and he laughed at us and revealed that the song is actually called “伤不起” [pronounced Shang Bu Qi]. Give it a listen and try not to hear “shampoo jeans” in the chorus.

Nov 22, 2012

Manchester United

The best bar in Luzhou

The barPeter with a Luzhou martini

How often have I whined about the dearth of decent cocktails here? Very often.

But I never gave up hope. And during our National Day explorations, we found Manchester United. The bar is in the square around the White Tower — an area with a ton of bars that serve lukewarm, expensive Budweiser. But ManU had a cocktail list in English and an Anglophone bartender.

Service is kind of slow — despite the fact that the bar has this menu, I think those drinks are rarely ordered and the bartender has to look up what’s involved. But they make a decent Black Russian. An even higher recommendation is that the crowd seems much older and relaxed than in other places we’ve tried, and there’s 100% less vomit on the floor of the bathroom there.

We can and do make better and cheaper drinks at home, but it’s nice to finally have an option for an occasional fun night out. Before returning home in time for 10pm curfew, that is.

Nov 18, 2012

100: What’s for lunch?

Bellying up to the celebratory buffet

After we changed out of our dressy Anniversary Celebration clothes, we hit the cafeteria — because we were hungry and it was the only place we knew of (at the time) to find food out in New Campus Land.

Instead of regular lunch service, however, we found a special Anniversary Celebration buffet! Which made sense, because if you cart thousands of special guests out to the countryside for a four-hour long assembly, you’d better feed them. The food was typical cafeteria fare (which is actually pretty delicious; we’ll get into that in a coming post), but because it was a party — and our school’s sponsor is a beloved liquor company in the city — everyone was encouraged to take beer or Luzhou Laojiao with their meal. (It’s been really hard to suss out if China/Luzhou has a drinking age or what it is. On this special day, anyway, the kids were able to grab a beer without ruffling any feathers.) This made the atmosphere extra convivial. A few happy parents/alumni came over to toast with us as we ate, and we were happy to be included in their fun.

After lunch, the anniversary was solidly over … and the National Day Holiday began! Everyone had vacation from school for the next week, so we packed up some things and joined the throngs of students catching the bus back into the city. (While our new campus apartment was nicer, it didn’t yet have internet.) Let the relaxing commence!

Nov 12, 2012

100: Getting ready for the big day

Polishing the rocks and painting the roses red

Preparation for the anniversary party
Preparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary party

We started hearing about Luzhou Laojiao Tianfu Middle School’s 100th anniversary shortly after our arrival last year. In fact, it was a major enticement for us to stay for this second year. There were big plans in the works, and everyone spoke really excitedly about the event.

This fall, however, after experiencing several school happenings, we adjusted our expectations downward despite the big talk. The various assemblies, recitals, etc., were tons of fun, but very charmingly low budget. I mean, we’d seen kids wear garbage bags as costumes.

But things started to ramp up in the week leading up to the October 1 celebration. (October 1 was also two days after the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the kick-off to National Day, so it was a very exciting time.) A large stage was being erected in the stadium area, and the students were practising dancing and singing routines during any scrap of spare time they could find. Classes were even called off for a few school-wide dress rehearsals.

Construction wasn’t quite finished, but everything looked presentable. Anything that wasn’t done was camouflaged with some fancy signage.

The day before the big day, our boss Linda ran up to us to say, “I have a big surprise for you!” The surprise turned out to be: Foreigners! Heidi and her husband Richard. Heidi worked for Tianfu’s North Carolina-based sister school, Charlotte Latin. We all sat down to a lovely lunch together. We intended to get a photo with them the next time we saw them. Little did we know, we would all be too busy for next time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and observing the last minute preparations. While watching the tech rehearsal, we met a recent alumn of the school — English name Michael. He’s currently at university in San Diego, but he flew back to China to join the festivities.

Foreign guests? Transoceanic alumni?! Tech rehearsal!?! This one may be big after all …

Preparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary party

Nov 11, 2012

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival (Belated)

Have a sweet and savory snack to bulk up for winter

The mooncake

This year, Mid-Autumn Festival, or 中秋节, fell on September 30. It’s timing coincided with our National Day holiday — which is actually a week-long holiday kicking off on October 1 — so it felt extra festive.

Mid-Autumn Festival sounds very similar to our Thanksgiving. It’s a celebration of the harvest where you have a big meal full of fatty foods with your whole family. Instead of turkey, however, the star is the mooncake — a dense pastry that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, and often delivers the equivalent of a half-day’s worth of calories. (You are supposed to share, though.)

Earlier in the week, the school gave all the teachers a large box of mooncakes, which I chowed down on for days. They were delicious with a cup of tea. Peter did not partake, because — Surprise! — part of the filling was candied bacon. All the better … more for me!

On the afternoon of the actual holiday, we ran into some students who gave us some mini mooncakes, so that night we had a tasting party, with me on point to sniff out any meat. Flavors were as follows: bland Fig Newton; Meaty Fig Newton; sunflower and cranberry autumn delight. The last one was obviously our favorite.