Hello Uncle Foreigner

food

Jun 16, 2018

Hot bowl challenge

Foreigner vs. Hot Pot

Hot pot is the real sport of kings. Watch me eat soup. Marvel at the spice.

Jun 4, 2018

Buying fruit and saving the environment

Uncle’s Shorts #15

Luzhou has such wonderful fruit, really all year round. And sometimes the grocery store gets environmentally minded about it.

May 31, 2018

All the caffeine in China

Starbucks comes to Luzhou, three times!

We celebrated the opening of Starbucks in Luzhou by taking a look at their competition in the caffeine game — from the tea house, to the “western” coffee bar, to the local cafe, to the big mermaid chain herself.

I’ll stand by what I said about cutesy cafes featuring “fake-kitsch” decor. (Can kitsch be face? I submit that if you order it from a warehouse, then, yes.) But the fact of the matter is that Mango, the local cafe we featured, is actually cool. We chose it because we genuinely like going there. And it’s close to our house.

But, in researching this story, I found out that Mango is not decorated via internet, but, in fact, was designed by a big ol’ Chengdu architecture firm. You can even read a review of the architecture on this blog, hosted by a Hungarian interior design company. Luzhou, it’s a city on the rise!

May 30, 2018

Prettying up a Pizza for YOU

Uncle’s Shorts #12

Luzhou’s pizza options have really improved over the past year and a half. We have an actual Italian restaurant, now, with a chef trained by Italian people. But, for delivery, the easiest is Pizza4You. It’s perfect in every way … except there’s no tomato sauce. I used to put on sriracha sauce, but now our grocery store regularly stocks marinara (and siciliana, and basilica …), so I use that.

And, while we’re at it, why not sprinkle on a little more oregano and basil. And some of that shaker cheese. And pop it back in the oven. And … this take-out pizza is a lot of work, actually. But it’s worth it for a slice.

May 12, 2018

Hey Drinks are the best drinks

Uncle’s Shorts #7

Who doesn’t love a smoothie? Especially when it’s delivered right to your door.

Meituan Waimai forever!

Apr 30, 2018

Eating around the world

Drink Up Luzhou: Pilot episode

We first had the idea for “Drink Up Luzhou” almost two years ago. We had just moved back to Luzhou, and decided that our Chinese hometown was something worth doing a project on. The kind of podcast-y/talk show format of getting a bunch of friends together over a meal to discuss a topic seemed doable enough, with just enough action that there would be reason enough to film it. We had our camera, an iPad and a field recorder, and we were sure that we could make something great.

Well, actually executing the pilot … this was a much bigger job than we anticipated. For one thing, filming on location at a restaurant is as tricky as they say. Peter had to edit around a lot of interruptions, and the sound quality — even with our Zoom H4n! — was spotty at best. There’s a reason they filmed in an empty restaurant on “Dinner for Five.” The other big lesson we learned was that we can do it just the two of us, but an extra crew member, or five, would really help. It was hard for me to run camera-two and host the discussion at the same time, and a lighting and a sound tech would boost our quality a lot. Additionally, a script supervisor would have been invaluable to the transition between production and post.

But, I’m pretty proud of the job we did without those things. For the time being, we’re going to have to keep on doing it without those things. It’s an exciting challenge, and Peter and I are really looking forward to season one. I hope that you are, too.

Apr 17, 2018

What’s in a Chinese school lunch?

I don’t always know, but it’s free for me!

These days, about twice a week, I get food from the kindergarten cafeteria. I could take lunch every day, but two out of five is good enough for me. I like it because it’s healthy and free! I eat what the babies eat; tomorrow we’re having pork and pumpkin, with a tofu soup on the side. It’s usually decent, I think, though Peter turns his nose up at it. It’s comparable, anyway, with the Tianfu Middle School cafeteria food.

I have a two-and-a-half hour lunch break — teaching kindergarten is the best — so I bring it all home in my super-duper lunch box. Watch the video to see this engineering marvel that keep my hot food hot for my entire ten-minute commute home.

Apr 11, 2018

We would follow the Pug anywhere in the world

Our favorite eating place has left China, but it's rocking in Bangkok

In China, watch on YouKu.

It’s no secret that we’ve been obsessed for years with The Lazy Pug restaurant in Chengdu. We planned entire trips to the big city, just for a taste of their Taco Thursday. Danny, one of the owners, turned us on to Carrefour, the French-owned supermarket with all the expat goods. Ah, we were so naive back then.

Sadly, the Lazy Pug closed down last summer … we didn’t even get to say goodbye! But, we revisit the good times — as well as the reborn Pug, this time he’s Smokin’ in Bangkok — in our latest Eating Places special. If you find yourself traveling in Thailand and itching for a taste of home while abroad, we highly recommend the new place.

Just watch the video, friends, and then head on over to YouTube to subscribe to our channel!

Apr 3, 2018

Egg Bar: Countryside Chinese Restaurant

aka the best Chinese dumplings

In China, watch this video on YouKu.

Emily and the adoring kids, outside of Egg Bar
Emily poses with some of the neighborhood kids, just outside Egg Bar.

It was a hot summer day when we stumbled upon Egg Bar for the first time. (Why is it called Egg Bar?!) It was back when we lived just outside of Luzhou city, at the countryside campus of Tianfu Middle School. One afternoon, we hopped aboard a bus going further out into the countryside, on the mission for a small town adventure. That bus ride actually took us out to the Luzhou Laojiao baijiu factory, which was not as fun as you might think. So we found a small convenience store and stopped for a couple of beers. (That kind of thing is done in the countryside.)

On the way back we took a different bus, which passed through the tiny suburb of Tai’an — just the thing we had been looking for. Just a few bus stops away from the school — closer than Luzhou proper — and with a few decent restaurants, Tai’an became our regular hang out when work was done for the day. Egg Bar, down a busy alleyway, was our favorite place to go. The woman in charge took good care of us. She knew we liked the dumplings best, but when she was making up something special in the kitchen — hello, seasonal fava beans — she’d give us the hook up.

It was the neighborhood hangout for all the old men, but the kids playing just outside were fascinated by us. Some days, they’d totally leave us be, but other days, one brave kiddo would come ask for our autograph or photo … and then word would seemingly spread for miles around that foreigners were making an appearance. I signed the ripped-off back of a cigarette box once. When they got too annoying — to us, the boss, the other customers — boss lady would shoot them off until another day.

There was one girl in particular who had some decent English. She was given dispensation to chat with us, and on high-volume kid days, she was kind of their leader. She’d also help translate with me and the other older people whose Luzhou-hua (the local dialect of Chinese) was too thick for me to understand. She blew my mind one time when she told me about a recent trip to Japan that she had taken with her family. I had totally assumed that Tai’an was a poor neighborhood! International travel?! Oh, well. “Ass out of you and me.”

Now we live about an hour by bus away from Tai’an, so we are not able to get out there really at all. The last time we ate there was probably more than a year ago. But, we’ll always have our memories. Though we never did get that goat. What am I talking about? Watch the video … and stick around to the very end to see a photo from our very first Egg Bar visit!

Jan 3, 2018

Can you just pronounce us “married” already?

The pain of paperwork

People travel for many different reasons: to see the sights, to meet new people, to eat strange food. To have adventures; to find love or oneself; to swim with or jump off of something. We’ve been traveling a lot this past year, but for none of those reasons.

Until last July, about every sixty days for the year and a half before that, we had had to leave the country because we couldn’t prove that Peter and I were legally married. It was irritating. Some of it was our fault – Peter’s name had been backwards on our marriage license and nobody noticed it for six years. But mostly it’s because living in China as a foreigner is an exciting and unending stream of paperwork and changing regulations.

When it comes to visa runs, most of the time the cheapest and fastest thing to do is to hop over the border at Hong Kong. Usually, we’d race there and back in 2 or 3 days so I wouldn’t actually have to take time off of work. And wishful thinking had lead me to believe that each of these trips would be the last one. So each next one came as a horrible surprise.

The last time around, in April, I finally realized that while I couldn’t control the speed of the process, I could control how we prepare for it. So in early March — well ahead of time, comparatively — I bought plane tickets, took real time off work and started looking forward to an actual vacation in mid-April. And because it was an actual vacation, we thought we might try to find some actual fun vacation things to do: a concert in Chongqing and a boat in Shenzhen. That should do the trick.

What’cha looking at?

For the people of Luzhou, we have two big-sister cities: Chengdu and Chongqing. Both a short bus ride away, they each have an international airport, more shopping, better entertainment, bigger universities and more opportunities. It’s like people who live between Boston and New York – you’ve got two choices when you need a taste of big city life.

But Chongqing is by far the scrappier sister. It sprawls over nine districts, and it’s up and down topography give some areas a real “you can’t get there from here” feeling. We’ve carved out our own little area, but we definitely feel we don’t know Chongqing as well as we do Chengdu.

We were there to see Alcest, a French black metal shoegaze band, which sounded like something we’d like. We switched things up by staying at a 7 Days Inn right on the peninsula, nearer to Nuts Club, the only destination that mattered. The plan was: get in, see the band, fly out to Shenzhen.

But it was too nice a day (and too small a room) to stay cooped up in the hotel all afternoon. Peter was feeling napful, so I went for a Lonely Ringo-style jaunt around the neighborhood. This has always been my favorite way to see a place.

I was getting lost-on-purpose, down an old stairway, when an older woman asked me where I was going. “不知道 [I don’t know],” I said. “Are you looking for 十八梯 [shiba ti]?” She asked. I wasn’t – I didn’t know what that was – so we parted ways. I eventually made my way up to the Jiefangba central business district, a shopping area with a Uniqulo, an H&M, tons of Western-style bakeries and cafes.

But 十八梯 was on my mind. Was it a local way of referring to the subway? Was it a famous noodle shop I was missing out on? I always have room for a famous noodle.

OK, so according to the internet, 十八梯 was a famously old neighborhood that attracted local sightseers for many years. Now it’s a pile of rubble still attracting lookie-loos who haven’t heard the news that it’s being cleared out for a new housing development. There are still a few remaining restaurants boldly advertising their十八梯 connections, but mostly what’s left are street vendors, hawking everything from porn to hand-crafted silver. And I had been wandering through it all along without knowing!

What’cha eating?

In Shenzhen, we finally got back to our wandering glutton … I mean, gourmand … ways. We stayed in the tiniest, cheapest place (with the hardest bed, though they were nice enough to let us raid the linen closet for extra padding) so we could spend all of the money on food.

Now, we love Chinese food, but as our followers can tell you, something we really miss is the variety available to us in New York City. We’ve been spoiled to the point of thinking there’s nothing extraordinary in having Italian, Indonesian and Indian all in the same week. So when we travel to a bigger city, we live for the hunt of the different and new. And, boy, does Shenzhen deliver. (Not literally, though; there’s no way we were staying trapped in that hotel room.)

From favorite to fine, these were the meals we found: At the Bollywood Café, there was samosa chaat, paneer tikka, and a rich dal makhani. The Istanbul Restaurant served up chicken with cheese, hummus and a fresh Mediterranean salad. Then there was a Pizza Express, of course, which remains my favorite tomato sauce in southeast China/Hong Kong. McCawley’s Irish Pub offered decent pub grub. And I had a Starbuck’s gift card from work so we snagged a muffin and some iced teas; we don’t have a Starbuck’s in Luzhou, so this was my chance.

To get to all of these places and more, we had to go to the mall, or someplace like a mall. It’s a fact of life we’re getting used to, that even while the mall is dying in suburban America, the mega cities of China are organizing their cultural life around luxury shopping centers. (Even little Luzhou has a Mix C and, word on the street is we’re getting a Wan Da in a few months!)

Cruising through Coco Park is not the same as wandering down a Parisian boulevard or getting lost down a cobblestone alleyway in Rome. For one thing, the lighting is a heck of a lot harsher. But its China, and they’re running out of room for charming. Or they’ve relegated it all to the fake old towns they keep building.

Where’ya going?

You can take the subway directly to the Hong Kong border at Futian, so that’s what we did. I love subways in China; despite the fact that they are generally pretty crowded, they’re really clean and the exits are so clearly marked. It’s a level of organization I’ve seen in no other Chinese enterprise.

After getting off the train, we followed the signs to the Futian checkpoint, and left for Hong Kong.

On the Hong Kong side, I bought a quick ham and cheese sandwich and some peanut butter M&Ms at 7-11. They don’t have the peanut butter flavor on the Mainland.

Then, we turned around and re-entered China, and Peter had his visa clock reset for another 60 days..

What the boat?!

Remember when I professed ambivalence about malls?

Sea World in the Shekou neighborhood of Shenzhen is a riot of western and western-influenced restaurants and bars, staged around a plaza with a dry-docked ship in the center of a large fountain. The ship is also a hotel and German-style beer bar. Peter found it about a month before our trip, and since that time we’d been saying to each other, “It’s so silly, but we have to go.”

We have a well-honed strategy for days when there’s potentially a lot of food on the table: Eat a little at a lot of places. Our first stop was Tequila Coyote’s, because it was closest to where we disembarked from our cab, and it’s called Tequila Coyote’s. Mexican, that looks like a chain (though, as far as I can tell, it isn’t), but with a dining room open to the warm spring day. Worth at least a couple of margaritas.

The tacos al pastor came with real corn tortillas, a tasty green sauce and no cheese! (I love you Peter’s Tex-Mex, but sometimes I miss the real deal.) It was an auspicious start.

Counterclockwise around the boat, we found Pizzaria Alla-torre, where we kept it light with a salad containing fresh mozzarella and Parma ham. It was wonderful. Sitting on the outdoor deck, we had a great view of the boat’s bow. We watched babies attempting getaways into the water; people of all ages posing for selfies; the mini-train carrying bemused youngsters around the square. At the next table over, a new dad was hanging out with his teething baby while presumably the rest of his family was out having fun without them.

We had time to kill before the 7pm water and light show, for which we wanted to be up on the ship, so next was cocktails at Lucky Bar. These were fine and weird.

Finishing these, we were ready to head up to the boat. The German restaurant is on the top deck, perched just above where the magic happens. They also brew their own beer, so we ordered some of that, and a cheese plate. Here’s the thing about cheese in China, quite often you’ll end up with the most boring brie or an inoffensive camembert. Not here. Our cheese plate was a flavorful (if somewhat safe) selection: expertly mixing hard and soft, stinky and mild – complete with dried apricots and fig jam. And some saltines, because, of course.

The fountain show did indeed start directly at 7pm, with water and lights dancing up and down to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” It was stirring. At our location, we could also hear the crack of each jet of water as they went off, adding unintentional accompaniment. It repeated again at 7:30 and 8, with different music. I wouldn’t say you should travel to Sea World just to see it, but if you’re already around at the right time, it’s worth a peek. Especially with a cheese plate.

After this was a surprise that Peter’s research had not turned up. Latina is the newer one of two Brazilian-style churrascarias in the square. How good could a Chinese churrascaria be? No, really, we wanted to know. So we ponied up for the unlimited meats and buffet party … and it was some of the best beef I’ve had in China. Succulent, salty, with just the right amount of fat on, juicing up the place.

I tried to heed Peter’s warning — don’t fill up on the buffet — but he knew he had lost me when he turned around and I had two plates. In my defense, the second plate was a half-size, and I needed those black beans and rice. It’s my favorite. And the cauliflower, it’s also a favorite. The meat kept coming, and I, as the Brazilian saying goes, ate myself sad. It was glorious and I recommend it.

And then plan on fasting for the next two days, because you’re going to need it.

It was a long subway ride back to our sleeping box, with me moaning the whole way about being full. But totally worth it. And overall, we had a weird but fun time on our vacation. The day after Sea World, we took a late flight home, and Peter continued to be a law-abiding tourist.

But this time, I just knew we’d get that spousal visa sorted out.