Hello Uncle Foreigner

culture

May 26, 2016

Sitting on the porch, watching the sunset

Intermittent vlog #1

Lijiang Thoughts from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

There was a lovely little youth hostel near our Lijiang apartment — the House & White Lakeside Lodge — where we loved to go hang out when we had free time. They had cold beers, a piano, and a porch that overlooked the reservoir. It was a great place to spend the evening and think about life.

May 24, 2016

School is in session

What is it that you actually do?

Teaching from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

We don’t talk a lot about teaching on this blog, because … well, that’s just not what we’ve decided that this blog is about. But, as both a teacher of English and a learner of Mandarin, language is a huge part of my life. Recently, I’ve been really into phonics. Not because perfect pronunciation is the be-all and end-all of language success, but because learning to hear a foreign language’s phonemes properly goes a long way towards making that language a comprehensible set of inputs, rather than just some strange noises. And I think that process is fascinating.

Lily and Lisa are good friends with each other, but they have slightly different abilities in language learning. Lily is much more focused on reading skills, while Lisa has a lot of energy that can be channeled into lively activities. They are a goofy pair of nine-year-olds, curious and outgoing. Their class was a lot of fun for me, because they were eager learners with just enough inclination for getting off task as to keep me on my toes. Tangent-prone kids are often the most interesting.

The video above is an hour lesson condensed into ten minutes. We hit the four critical components of language — speaking, listening, reading and writing — and, of course, do a little phonics work. Check it out.

Dec 28, 2015

Merry Christmas, from Lijiang!

In which Peter and Emily attend a party

Xmas from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Our school threw a little party for the kids this Christmas. And Santa was there. It was lots of fun.

Dec 28, 2015

The Ballad of Sprinkles and MacNeil

Meet the neighbor dogs

The puppies!A rare Sprinkles sightingPeter, making friends with the dogs
Top: The puppies! Left: Sprinkles is the white one. She’s both more skittish and clearly the boss of MacNeil, the red one.

They are anxious, these dogs that live in our apartment complex. Really anxious. They’re terrorized by a much larger dog, who likes to come and pee on them. But they have each other. Sprinkles and MacNeil. It’s them against the world.

I once met them in the road, standing hind-quarter to hind-quarter, glaring at everyone they saw. They bark like mad every time I drive by them on my bike. They also bark like mad if there are clouds, or someone’s cooking dinner. But I think they reassure each other. They’re always upset, but they’re upset together.

Recently, one of them had puppies. It’s tough to say which one; the puppies look like neither of them, and they both guard ’em fiercely. The puppies are all named Snuggles; dogs aren’t very clever about names. And gradually, we’ve been able to make friends with the whole family.

They still bark, of course. That’s what they do. Sometimes, from inside our apartment, we can hear Sprinkles calling, “MacNeil! Come here. I need you.” But I think that means that everything is alright.

Nov 1, 2015

Party down for Halloween

Your traditional Chinese pizza and grillin’ stuff

SpeakEasy Halloween 2015 from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Last night our school hosted a Halloween party, and it’s actually the first party we’ve been to in a long time. And it was fun. We mingled and selfied with the guests, who were all mostly students at the local tourism college; and had pizza and beer and BBQ — pretty Halloween-y.

Aug 26, 2015

All summer in a day

Why do we keep moving places in the rainy season?

Rain from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Rain ... forecast forever

Lijiang is beautiful and all, but for all everyone talks about the fantastic weather … it has rained every single day that we’ve been here. Just the other day, even when it was sunny, it was also raining at the same time. And the rainy season is probably going to last for at least another month. And yet, it’s also the high season for tourism, because everyone’s out of school. The tour must go on, I guess.

Aug 2, 2015

Lijiang welcomes us

And we love it

Last month, we made our big move from Luzhou to Lijiang city, in Yunnan Province. Lijiang is about an hour’s flight southeast of Luzhou (if there were such a direct flight), up in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. And it’s gorgeous.

We’ve had a hectic time settling into our new home — imagine all of the logistics of a cross-country move, in a language you’re not that great at understanding. Oh, and you have to keep the local police looped in on your whereabouts. But we’re super-psyched to be here. We’ve got a back-log of stories in the queue that we’re excited to get to soon. In the meantime, enjoy this video of our arrival in Lijiang.

Peter and Emily arrive in their new hometown of Lijiang, Yunnan Province.
Music: “悲傷的採購” & “荔枝角公園,” My Little Airport.

Jun 18, 2015

Video: Guitar with Mr. Super

No more school work, let’s make music

Guitar with Mr. Super from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Graduation time is here, releasing a new crop of students out into the world, and freeing up their time for guitar lessons.

Zhang Yu Jie — formerly Mr. Super, an English name that he’s discarded — has been our friend for the past three years. Determined to improve his English, he would practice with us as much as he could, finding us between classes, walking with us wherever, getting in those precious few moments of face time during his busy school schedule.

On our part, we learned that he is a really sweet, hard-working young man. Raised on a farm by his grandparents with his twin sister Lily, he has big dreams. The video above takes from an interview we conducted last spring, and a group guitar lesson Peter gave last month with Lily and a few friends.

Feb 25, 2015

Celebrating the brand spanking Year of the Sheep

Happy Chinese New Year!

Some delicious ducks hanging in an apartment window in Chengdu.
Ducks drying in the window of a Chengdu apartment for a tasty meal

This year, we took our winter vacation a little later than usual, which meant that we were on the road for the start of Chinese New Year. And preparations for the two-week long holiday began before we left, in early February. Restaurants rolled out spiffy new dishes and menus, families brought home nice fat chickens and ducks, and the city hung red lanterns all over everything. Because Spring Festival, as it’s also called, is a big deal.

A significant percentage of China’s population is on the move at this time of year — and the same is true in Vietnam, where the related Tết festival is celebrated. At the start of our journey, when we stopped in at the Pug in Chengdu (where we were greeted like the regulars that we bizarrely are), the staffers were excited about their upcoming 11-day vacation. It’s a working holiday, they told us, at the owners’ new outpost in Bangkok. “It’s nice that everyone can have more than one day off at a time,” the bartender said.

As we continued our travels, the most significant signs of the holiday were the crowded airports and the fact that a lot of stuff was closed. But it was a lot of fun to be a part of the bustle. More and more young people are using the holiday as a chance to travel, not just home but also around, so we made some cool road friends along the way. And now, back at home, we’ve been the surprise guest stars at three different nights out so far. (Watch me kind of speak Chinese in the video above!)

新年快乐, everybody!

Jan 21, 2015

You’re invited to the wedding

By the way, it’s tomorrow!

Wedding from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

The best dressed guestOur luxurious seafood-rich banquet lunch
Right: The best dressed guest had all of the photographers snapping. Left: Lunch was spectacular and delicious.

Wendy called at about 9 o’clock the night before. Her brother’s son was getting married, and would we like to come? The occasion for the invitation was that her nephew was practicing some English to drop into his speech, which made Wendy think of us. (Ultimately, she advised him against using a foreign language; “He’s not that good,” she said.)

This was my first time attending an actual Chinese wedding ceremony, but I had learned a thing or two already. For example, the actual, legal, “we are officially married” thing is not what I would be witnessing. That happens in a government office to very little fanfare. When our friends Maybell and Claude got married, they did this part in matching hooded sweatshirts one morning when they were both free. But then, of course, you have to have a big, flashy party after — and this is what I was invited to.

Wendy’s nephew’s big, flashy party was at one of Luzhou’s premiere five-star hotels. The event started in the lobby, where there was a backdrop for arrival photos and a welcome table staffed by Xi Xi — Wendy’s daughter — and some other cousins. They gave out candy and packs of cigarettes to incoming guests, and in turn, the guests handed over fat magenta wads of 100 yuan bills as gifts for the happy couple.

The ceremony itself was upstairs in a grand ballroom. The bride’s village sat on one side and the groom’s on the other, Wendy explained. She scooted me towards the stage as her nephew walked the center catwalk, starting the proceedings. The bride emerged from under the stage in a shower of rose petals, and the host made an impassioned welcome speech. The whole spectacle was reminiscent of the televised variety shows that are so popular here.

There were more speeches, the presentation of the parents, toasts with tea and toasts with wine, and the all-important red envelopes given from the parents to the couple. The bride and groom sealed their vows with a hug and a chaste kiss. And then there was lunch.

A spillover room across the hall from the ballroom was allocated for last minute invites, like me. I estimate that there were about a hundred of us happy surprises, because Chinese hospitality is no joke. And our banquet lunch was your usual abundance; dishes piled on one another in the center of the table. “This fish is very expensive,” Wendy proudly told me.

Unfortunately, I had to teach a class that afternoon, so I could only join in one baijiu toast (Wendy wanted me to do six!). And then I cut my own celebration short. But the party raged on well into the evening, I hear. And that’s how you get married in China.