Hello Uncle Foreigner

culture

Feb 21, 2018

Happy New Year: We stayed home!

Welcome year of the Dog

We’re smack in the middle of Chinese New Year, and we’ve mostly been ordering take out and otherwise hibernating. It’s been wonderful. The weather is turning warmer, and maybe we’ll even get outside again soon. But for now, we’re indoor dogs.

Feb 15, 2018

The case for closed captioning

More accessibility, bigger audience

So we’re kind of jokey about it in the video, but the fact is we really did spend weeks talking about closed captioning and translations. And we did come up with something of a captioning policy, which bled over into our social media strategy. This discussion is going to get a little dry, so if you prefer messing around to analysis, just watch the video.

Firstly, the factors we considered:

  • Getting those sweet, sweet Facebook views. Like it or not, Facebook has steamrolled the rest of the internet into taking its own form. And, am I right that no one turns the volume up?
  • When we provide free content for Facebook, is there a possibility of return for us? Seems like: No.
  • According to the BBC, 35% of their online audience turns on captioning.
  • Hello Uncle Foreigner’s mission is to increase and strengthen connections between English-speaking and Chinese cultures. But we don’t speak great Chinese, yet.
  • We pay our translator, because she is performing a valuable skill and we believe that the “everything is free” mentality of the internet has tricked us all into selling all of our personal information in exchange for worse and more recycled content every day.
  • Hello Uncle Foreigner does not make any money at all. We love doing it and hope one day to score our own Netflix deal, but these days it’s a labor of love that costs us money to run.
  • Uncle’s Shorts are designed to be as friction-free to post as possible. The key to growing your YouTube audience is regular posting, and once we get all those subscribers, Netflix will come a’knocking, right?
  • YouTube as a publishing platform has its issues, but at least it’s not destroying democracy.
  • YouTube auto-captioning is hilarious but fixable — and way easier than transcribing by hand.
  • In about a month and a half of analysis, our videos get more and better quality engagement (i.e., people actually watch the darn thing) when they are posted to YouTube over Facebook. And as much as we loved Vimeo, no one was watching them over there.

If you watched “America for Foreigners”, you may have noticed that we had English and Chinese burned into the screen; there was no escaping our captions in either language. This was inspired by Chinese streaming services, which do the same for American television shows posted to Tudou and the like. We’ve heard it’s actually a useful language learning tool seeing L1 and L2 right next to each other. In lucky artistic happenstance, it helped support the point that your home country is a strange land to millions of other people on this earth. Unfortunately, it also added full days onto post-production.

So our current working strategy is this: Videos will be primarily posted to YouTube, with links posted to Facebook. Occasionally, we will post teasers to Facebook … to lure people to our YouTube channel. We will let YouTube to the heavy lifting of auto-captioning in English, and then cleaning up their weird mistakes — with priority given to videos featuring non-native speakers of English. We want to do them the courtesy of having their words represented correctly, no matter what kind of applesauce YouTube makes of it. Uncle’s Shorts will not be translated; our goal is to post at least one a week, and we have neither the time nor the money in the budget to translate at that rate. (Sorry, Milan!) But, longer, more important projects will feature Milan’s Chinese translations.

What do you think? Go to YouTube and tell us. Because our current Uncle Foreigner commenting policy is: Nope. But that’s a discussion for a different day.

Jan 24, 2018

New job, new work permit

The paperwork just keeps coming

After the Chinese New Year holiday, I’m starting a new job. I’m really excited about it — no more evenings and weekend classes, and only one lesson prep per week! (My current job is only nights and weekends, and I have 24 preps per week.) But one thing that jolts me out of my sleep in the middle of the night is the transfer of my work permit. Chinese paperwork freaks me out, mostly because its something that is largely out of my control. The relevant offices will stamp my piece of paper when they get to it, and there’s not that much I can do about it.

Compounding my anxiety this past weekend was the U.S. government shutdown. What does that mean for my documents? Will I run out of time? Will I have to get Peter to Lamma Island in a wheelchair?! I know that worrying doesn’t help, but my limbic system is determined to try.

But, instead of spiraling into a full-on panic attack, I channeled that energy into “Uncle’s Shorts #2: Gimme my Chinese work permit, already!”

And then the U.S. government opened back up the next day, so that’s one obsticle down. Worrying works!

Dec 28, 2017

The winter chill in Southern China

Everyone’s cold, all the time

We’ve threatened to do so in the past, and now we’re following through: It’s a vlog series. I hope you enjoy this Uncle’s Short, and the many more to come. And bring a jacket, it’s cold inside.

Dec 12, 2017

Big changes

You may have noticed some changes around here. A new facelift, and Hello Uncle Foreigner is now responsive and mobile-friendly. We are ready for the future!

And the changes are not just cosmetic. We know that the in past few years posting had slowed to slightly more than nothing. Since mid-2015, we were busy moving across the country — twice! — but more than that, Hello Uncle Foreigner entered into a period of rumination. After four years of regular blogging about our daily life, travel, and hot pots, we had reached the end of what we wanted to say on those fronts. We went dormant. And then Peter got sick.

But that doesn’t mean we had given up. During our two-year time out we still worked and traveled and ate hot pot, and refilled our creative reserves. Now, I’m excited to say that Peter is well on the mend, and … we’re back! We’ve got so many new stories to share, and so many different ways in which we want to share them.

First up, we are extremely proud to present, “Hello Uncle Foreigner: America.” Peter and I spent a month of summer 2016 back in the U.S., and basically eating everything in sight. “What’s it like to be back?” was the main question people had for us, and at the time, we struggled with a good answer. More than a year later, I think we can explain how that felt …

We’re very grateful to all of our friends and family who hosted us, partied with us, and just generally showed us a good time. To those who didn’t make the final cut (there was a 45-minute version, but even we were bored by it), just know that you’re too much fun for Peter to waste his time with you behind a camera. And, uh, to those who did make the cut … you’re just too telegenic to leave out!

Our other big news, you’ll have to go elsewhere to find. This summer I spoke with Chengdu rap group Higher Brothers, and you can find my article in the September issue of NYLON magazine. It was great fun to exercise those muscles again: chasing leads, contacting strangers, asking invasive personal questions, and writing and rewriting on deadline. The guys are really talented artists. I don’t know if they’ll successfully cross over to the American market, but I do know that they deserve some attention.

So, keep an eye on this space! There will be many new movies and other projects coming down the pike in the next few months. It’s our goal to join the greater discussion going on about China and Chinese culture, as well as share the fantastic stories that Luzhou (and beyond) has to offer. But mostly we’re just excited to keep pushing ourselves to the limit of what two people, a blog, and some a/v equipment can do.

Nov 21, 2017

“Well, that happened, and that was weird”

Ten weeks in a Chinese hospital

Peter in his wheelchair in the park
The wild man lookFresh as a daisy after a haircut
Left: Peter tools around the park in his new wheelchair.
Right: In the hospital (top) Peter preferred the wild man look. He told me that trimming a beard was a man’s prerogative — when I offered to do it for him. These days, he’s going for a more civilized style (bottom) after a trim at the salon.

Early-August, we had big plans. A website relaunch, video premieres, a podcast, a vacation. And then … Peter’s back started hurting, more than usual. And then, he couldn’t walk. And then, he lost his mind.

Don’t worry, he’s on the mend now. And the hallucinations were only temporary. Years of hard living and not eating enough will take a toll on a body and the brain. Which is how we found out that the doctors at the Luzhou Medical College hospital are fantastic. And ten weeks in LMC hospital is … a lot.

Here’s what you might find in your Chinese hospital room: It’s always loud, and visiting hours are always. You’ve got more roommates than it feels like should be in one room, but at least you weren’t given one of the hallway beds. One of your roommates moans so loudly in his sleep that the other of your roommates — the one with a prosthetic leg — will just up and leave in the middle of the night. The medical care is fine, but orderly service is not included in the price of your bed, so some relatives choose to schelp their own patient’s full bedpan to the bathroom. (Not me. I paid for the help.) Also, you need to provide your own tissues, soap, towels, a basin for washing, and food. There’s no heat or air conditioning because we live south of the Yangtze River. But they will provide blankets. And one pillow.

They sent him home on October 23, and these days we go to outpatient physical therapy three times a week. Peter can do most things for himself, except for walking. But he’s close. Tomorrow, he’s going to try the parallel bars to hold himself up while he gets those legs back in shape, and after that, he’ll get to shuffle down the PT ward’s hallway. It’ll be another month or two, according to Dr. Yu. And then we’ll be back to your irregularly scheduled Uncle Foreigner.

Mar 9, 2017

The easiest border crossing we know

Exploring new areas in Hong Kong

This apartment building was cool enough to stop us.
We thought this apartment building was pretty cool looking, so we stopped for a photo. A local tapped me on the shoulder to point out …

As a kid, I dreamed of going to Hong Kong. I was an unrepentant Anglophile, and fascinated by its colonial English roots.

These days, I’m really attracted to spaces that seem caught between two worlds, and as an adult I’ve been lucky enough to have been to HK a lot. As is well documented, Peter and I have fallen completely for Lamma Island. This most recent trip, however, we stayed for the first time on the Kowloon Peninsula, the northern bit of the city part of Hong Kong. We bunked down in the infamous Chungking Mansion — a commercial building with approximately 5,000 cheap guesthouses crammed into every nook and cranny. Our room was spacious, for a sea voyage, but the price was right.

Kowloon, especially the Kowloon City neighborhood, has a large immigrant community, which means — food from all over! The Indian Curry King, who lived up to his name, was our best meal of the trip. Also serving food was Ebeneezer’s Kebabs & Pizzeria. It’s a good name.

Our unofficial mission for the two-day trip was to track down a Marvel Legends Iron Fist action figure. Peter has been checking our Luzhou Toys “R” Us for months now, to no avail. (And, yeah, Luzhou has a Toys “R” Us now.) We got lost all over the place and at one point ended up at a Ruby Tuesday’s for onion rings. It’s amazing the places a good quest will take you.

In the end, we never found that figure. But we did find Pizza Express! A British chain that serves a pretty decent tomato sauce on their pie. (Their crust could do with a little more time in the oven, but this is pizza in Asia, so we’ll take it.)

The famous Tiger's Head Rock, which needed to be pointed out to us.
… we were missing the real view of Tiger’s Head Rock directly behind us.

Jan 5, 2017

Santa comes to the MixC

Christmas 2016

This year, I took up the family mantle and played Santa for my new school. We took over the nearby mall for a variety show with singing, dancing and a short play — and because I’m the resident westerner, most of the acts were written, choreographed or conducted by me. Merry Christmas, China!

Nov 11, 2016

Trump steaks

Good job, America

Wednesday afternoon, local time, we watched the news unfolding, and it wasn’t good: Too close to half the American electorate is fine with bigotry and bullying, and supports a man whose freedom of the press policy frankly looks Chinese. It still doesn’t seem real; we feel upended, confused and angry, but outside people are going about their lives as if nothing has happened.

Wednesday night, we gorged our sorrow at the all-you-can-eat buffet that just opened across the street from us. Men came over and toasted with us, kids played hide and seek with us, and a mom took a picture of her baby with us. Not because of the election; they were just having a good time and excited to see some foreigners doing the same.

Since then, we’ve both been devouring coverage. American and British; comedic and serious; MSNBC and not-MSNBC. A local friend (whose wife is in [redacted] government, no less) said, “At least you have the right [to] vote, we do not have.” But I’m still angry. From this vantage point, it looks like racism and fear have won the day.

We’ll always have crab legs. I guess.

Sep 13, 2016

Home for the (hot, hot) summer

And it’s time to pay the bills

Our Luzhou high rise

Take a video tour of our new apartment complex in Luzhou.

We’re going on our sixth year in China, but this is actually the first time that we’ve spent an August in Luzhou. Previously, we’d always arranged to travel during this month — or move cities entirely — because locals assured us that August is unbearable.

Having lived it this year, I can report that “unbearable” seems strong. But between the heat and humidity, it is, like, three-shower-a-day weather. Showers seemed like the best solution, given that this, our first August in Luzhou, is also our first August in Luzhou that we are paying our own electric bill.

It feels good to pay our own electric bill, though. It feels good to be in charge of all of our own utilities ‘n’ stuff, actually. After living the life of a kept pet on campus at Tianfu Middle School for our first four years, it feels like we have more of a grown-up life. Like we’ve graduated.

But renting in China is not really at all like it is in America. In fact, renting in Luzhou is not even like renting in Lijiang. And moreover, we know from our initial online research, how we do it out west is different from what goes on in Beijing and in Shanghai. Yeah, we’re one country/one timezone and all that, but regionality isn’t going away.

Let’s talk Lijiang. Our apartment there was in a small complex on the edge of the city — goats were our neighbors — and it was beautifully furnished. Our friends lived in the same complex, and they spotted the landlord’s phone number on a “For rent” sign on the apartment window. We handed over a year’s rent, plus two months’ deposit, and then didn’t see our landlord until we moved out a year later. (When she gave us back slightly less than out two months’ deposit, because we had burnt a hole in her couch with a space heater.)

As far as utilities went, every three months, the guard at the front gate of our housing complex would flag us down to pay our water and electric bill. And every six months, he’d add in the maintenance fee. In his little hut, I’d pay the property manager — who was just kind of always hanging about — then sign my name in the book and get my receipt. Propane for the stove was delivered by a man on a motorbike strapped up with way too many tanks; we’d just call in an order when we were running low. And phone and internet were taken care of in one yearly payment at the China Telecom store. All of this was done in big, fat wads of cash, by the way.

We were so proud to figure all this out. Now we know how the Chinese go about the business of living!

And then, in Luzhou, none of that applies. We found our wonderfully spacious apartment here through a broker who went to school with one of my coworkers. This apartment is also furnished, with pieces that are just slightly not falling apart. (In fairness, yesterday the landlord installed a brand new light fixture in our living room — because the old one had blown up.) And rent is payed quarterly.

Electricity — we have a little card that we can put money on at any bodega that has a State Grid sign out front. There’s one pretty close to our apartment, and we just re-up whenever we’re running low. For our internet and phone bill, we go into the China Telecom store once a month to 交费 (pay the fee). Water and maintenance are also monthly, at the property office at our apartment complex; but because more than 2,000 people live in our complex, it’s up to us to remember to go in. Gas for our stove and hot water heater … we haven’t figured out how to pay our gas bill yet, but I think that I saw someone do it at our grocery store.

One thing is the same, though: Cash Rules Everything Around Me.

Actually … another thing that is the same is that because this is just the way that everybody does it, no one really offers to explain how any of this works. It’s so basic, they just assume that you know. (Even though it’s all done differently a province over.) For example, here’s how I figured out how to pay the Luzhou electricity bill: My landlord handed over the card. My coworker said, “I think you can 交费 at that supermarket.” That supermarket said, “We don’t do it here. But maybe you can go to the bank.” And then, walking around our complex, I noticed a little store that had a small sign that matched the logo on my card. And now I just know to look for the sign, and I never have to think about it again.

In this RPG we call China, it’s all part of the … life, I guess.