Hello Uncle Foreigner


Mar 30, 2013

Tea and oranges with the bosses

And a rousing game of “Run the fastest”

The weather here has been glorious of late, and we had a perfect afternoon for an English department outing recently. Our boss took us to lunch at a Hong Kong-style restaurant near her home — where we all agreed that the food was neither western nor eastern, but very delicious. Afterwards, we walked to a nearby teahouse.

Tea in China is not just for drinking. You also must play games. Our server brought us over a fresh pack of cards and laid down a felt square on our glass table top. And the teachers taught me a rummy-like game that they referred to as Mahjong. They also said that the Chinese name translates as “Run the Fastest,” as the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards first. (The rules are very similar to this game that wikipedia calls “Fight the Landlord.”)

It was a lot of fun. I even won a hand or two! I’ll admit it, I have fun when I’m winning.

Mar 26, 2013

Other Westerners

A meeting of the Luzhou ex-pat ESL teachers club

The other Luzhou expats

This summer we learned that we are not the only westerners in Luzhou, and last month we sat down and had a beer with all but one of the foreign teachers currently active in Luzhou. Areas represented: New York (that’s us!), Midwestern US, England, and South Africa.

We met at “The Clock Tower,” because that’s a convenient enough address among a bunch of English speakers, and then migrated over to Manchester United for a night of beers and more beers. And some complaining about China. But mostly beers.

Mar 12, 2013

Battling the mold

And minor fame at the pharmacy

I found the Psedoephedrine!
October 2011, I buy my first Chinese pseudoephedrine. Look how short my hair is! And how red!

This week, the senior lesson is all about drugs, so we’re showing them the “Chokin’ and Tokin’ ” episode of “Freaks and Geeks,” in which Lindsay experiments with marijuana. The B-plot centers around poor, sickly Bill, and the line wherein he explains that air is foremost among his many allergies has gotten a big laugh in every class.

But I feel for Bill. I’ve been taking allergy medicine of some sort since I was nine, and damp and rainy Luzhou is not a friendly place for allergy sufferers.

One of the first Chinese words I learned was 氯雷他定 (Loratadine), and six months in I was even able to start pronouncing it correctly. I’ve tracked down pseudoephedrine when expat message boards pronounced it unavailable in China. And I am a hyper-vigilant berserker waging a ceaseless war against the ever encroaching mold. (Pro-tip: bleach worked well, but vinegar works even better!) It makes me feel like a maniac sometimes, especially when our boss’ reaction to my complaints is along the lines of, “Oh yeah. Sometimes there’s mold.”

But my friendly neighborhood pharmacy workers have got my back. I got proof of how well my ailment is known the other day when one woman immediately went for a box of Loratadine the second I walked in the door. We all laughed. And I was able to keep the sneezing at bay for another 10mg x 10 pills.

Mar 9, 2013

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hey, ladies!

My prizes for Woman's Day

Yesterday morning, I was greeted on my way to class by Angel and two of my other junior students. “Here,” they said, and thrust a small bouquet in my hand. “Happy Women’s Day!” The warning bell rang and we ran off to class together.

The flowers were from Angel’s entire class, so I thanked everyone, and they all cheered. It was a very sweet moment.

Then they immediately started chanting “Watch TV! Watch TV! Watch TV!” Oh, juniors!

Feb 28, 2013

Snaps: Country Driving

Off the beaten path

Roads can be treacherous.

It can be treacherous out there. Be careful!

Feb 24, 2013

Winter break: Return to China

Leaving is also arriving

Peter on the river
Pete's Tex Mex
With the Lazy Pug on vacation, Peter’s Tex Mex took good care of us.
Jane and her dog
Jane’s dog, Mango. Or Bongo. Each of us heard something different.

Our trip to Penang was our first time outside of China in more than a year. And it was great — everyone spoke English, things weren’t just broken everywhere and always, there was no hoop jumping to get stuff done. Everything was so comfortable and easy!

But, during our last days of warmth and Anglophonics, there was a conspicuous absence of end-of-vacation dread. We were actually missing our difficult Chinese life, and couldn’t wait to get back.

We bookended our travel to and from Malaysia with a stay in Chengdu, and holed up for a few days at our favorite hostel, the Loft. We weren’t yet home, but it was great to be someplace familiar to continue our relaxing.

Of course, when in Chengdu, we have to go for Mexican food. The Pug, alas, was also on a winter break, but we found joy and margaritas at Peter’s Tex Mex. That’s this quarter’s tacos achieved.

Back home in Luzhou, we are immediately greeted with big hellos from all our students on the new campus. (They were finishing up the fall term’s final exams.) We made plans to have dinner with Tina, Sky, et al., later in the week.

And with two apartments, we got to make two returns. On a walk by the old campus, we ran into Young Jane and KOKO!, who were out walking their dogs. We sat on a bench by the river and showed them some photos of our vacation, and then went for ice cream (late January was surprisingly and gloriously warm here this year).

We finally felt like we were truly home when we went for dinner that night at 串串. Peter wore his new Iron Maiden football jersey that had arrived while we were away (“Is that for exercise?” our boss Linda asked), and it just felt like a special occasion. A random passerby even wished us in English, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

We had a great time traveling, but it’s really nice to be home.

Peter in his new Maiden jerseyBread
Left: Peter in his new footie jersey at Man U. Right: Some delicious Chinese Muslim bread we found while out with Jane and KOKO!

Jan 5, 2013


Out go the lights, again

Car headlights light the way home

Power cuts are just part of life here. I would estimate that this past term saw an outage about once every two weeks — sometimes for a few hours, sometimes the whole day. It’s unpredictable, and you just have to roll with it.

The kids study in the cafeteria, which has an emergency generator
Drinking beer by candlelight

Part of rolling with it is making sure the students get enough study time in. During one particular power outage (coincidentally, the water had been out all day the day before), Peter and I decided to cope by going into town for dinner with the hope that the electricity would be on by the time we got back.

No such luck.

We returned to a brigade of teachers illuminating a passage for the students with flashlights and headlights. The kids were all trucking their books from the dark classrooms to the emergency-generator lit cafeteria. This was prime homework time, and there was no reason to miss out on it just because it was dark.

We walked through the cafeteria to get home, and witnessed the excited chaos of a routine interrupted. Kids had all their books out, but were taking their time getting settled into work. As we walked by, they called out and waved excitedly to us. It felt a little bit like celebrities visiting the displaced in a storm shelter. It was definitely an “our life is so weird” moment.

At home, we poured beers by flashlight and lit emergency candles, resigning ourselves to a technology-less night. And then, a little more than three hours after everything flickered out dead, and directly after we sat down, the lights were back on. That’s just how it goes.

Dec 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Eat up!

The teachers feastThe cooks get their turn

Yesterday, we had our annual Teachers’ Field Day and banquet. All teachers and staff from both campuses convened on the new school’s field in the afternoon for some raucous sporting … and ridiculous cheating. But it was all in good fun. The events included the three-legged race, balance the ping pong ball on the badminton racquet, jump rope, two people transport a volleyball using their backs and not their hands, and a good old-fashioned relay race. I was part of the latter, and my team WON! All in good fun.

After the games, everyone retired to the cafeteria for a holiday banquet. It wasn’t quite as luxurious as last year (they may have run through a lot of money opening the new school this fall), but it was really delicious, and everyone had a lot of fun. Dish after dish piled up on the table, and the cafeteria workers switched off serving so that they could also enjoy the feast. The principals made the rounds, toasting each table with the traditional baijiu … and then 30 minutes after it started, the fun was done.

We’re still getting used to the pace of Chinese formal dinners, but it was a nice time with our co-workers. Happy New Year!

Dec 28, 2012

Snap: Look over there …

There’sss sssomething in the bushesss

There's a snake!

Peter’s story, adapted by Emily: There are many buildings overlooking our city campus that are not part of our school. One afternoon, some boys beckoned to me from a window of one of these. Clearly they wanted me to look at something, so I did. It was a snake. It was big. You don’t want to see it. Thanks, boys.

Dec 26, 2012

Middle Country Christmas wishes

“Did you know there’s a church?”

Luzhou's church

Yesterday and today, we got many kind wishes of “Merry Christmas” from our Chinese friends and students. Not everyone is clear on the details, but everyone knows that Christmas is part of our culture and that the time to celebrate is now-ish. It’s very thoughtful.

Alex even called for a Christmas chat (which, speaking your second language on the phone is really difficult, so props to him). During our talk he asked if we knew that there was a church in Luzhou — which interestingly enough, we had just stumbled upon about a month ago while doing some city wandering.

“Do you think they had many activities today?” he asked.

I’m pretty sure they were pretty busy, I told him.