Hello Uncle Foreigner

Dec 5, 2011

An afternoon in Zhongshan Park

A greenspace in the grey

Lovely greenery in Zhongshan Park
Check out our full album of Zhongshan Park.

We’d seen it on many maps: Zhongshan Park is a large greenspace in the center of Luzhou’s Jiangyang District (which is also where we live). On Saturday, we finally found it.

Zhongshan Park, Luzhou

Zhongshan Park is actually a name for many parks around China, according to Wikipedia, as a way to honor Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. But beyond the name, our Zhongshan doesn’t betray that history. It’s just a park. Though a nice one.

It was a crisp and wintry 55 degrees out, but we still saw many other people enjoying the rare non-rain. The park has a lot of carefully landscaped nature, as well as a few ponds where you can go on boat rides, and some little amusement park rides: go-carts and the like. There was also an outdoor public pool; closed for the winter, but we’re guessing it gets jam-packed in the summer. It gets really hot here.

But even in the relative cool of a southern Sichuan winter, it’s a pretty place. Because it’s not actually that cold, the leaves on the trees are still intact, and a few people even brave the boat rides. We’re definitely planning on returning. There’s a zoo and an aviary we’d like to check out, as well as a tea house which seems an idyllic spot for sipping some tea.

Dec 5, 2011

Gaoxing, gaoxing!

or, Always bring the camera

“Always bring the camera” is the rule we’re supposed to be living by, and its importance was reiterated Saturday night.

We were just going for sticks, a dinner which has been well documented, so we left the camera at home. And most of dinner was uneventful. Delicious, but uneventful. However, just as we were down to our last few sticks, a group of local young men (we estimate mid- to late-20s) invited us to join them.

Two things: In Chinese culture, an offer to host you for food is a very serious piece of social currency. We could have said no, but it just would have been very uncool (jumping ahead - when they offered to pay our bill as well, we gave weak protests but relented easily, because in a related way it’s incredibly impolite to refuse such an offer). Also, part of our strategy for living here is to say yes when ever possible.

They didn’t really speak any English, but I told them that we were Meiguo (American), and they loved that. They made several toasts to us, and we started having a tentative good time. But there was still the issue of dinner. We had already eaten a lot, and their bowl of broth was filled with mostly meat. One of the boys got on the phone and handed it to me. A woman’s voice speaking pretty good English explained that they wanted us to eat with them. I told her that we were very grateful for the offer, but we had just eaten a lot. But we would like to sit with her friends and have a drink or two.

More toasts resulted. “Gaoxing!” the boys kept saying, which we figured out meant “happy.” Soon we were all yelling “Gaoxing! Gaoxing!” which was to be our mantra for the night. Karaoke was proposed. Karaoke seems to be the main form of nightlife around here, but Peter and I had yet to go. It wasn’t something that we would do on our own, and while there had been talk about going to KTV with some of our Chinese friends and coworkers, there had been no action.

We were curious, but we also have a 10 pm curfew (it was almost 9). The phone was brought out again. Our faceless translator explained they wanted to take us to karaoke. I explained about the curfew.”What about 11?” she asked on behalf of the boys. “We live at a school, and they’re pretty strict,” I explained our somewhat embarrassing circumstances.

Finally a plan was made. We’d abandon dinner and go to karaoke NOW! And they would make sure that we got home by 10. Everyone made the gesture for 10, so it was clear we all understood.

In the car on the way there, the boys were furiously working the phones. I heard the phrase “Meiguo pengyou!” used several times, which means “American friends!”

The karaoke place - or perhaps I should say karaoke palace - was amazing. It was on the second floor, and the elevator doors opened onto a gaudily opulent lobby, with every filigree gilded in gold. The people who worked there were all wearing bellhop uniforms, and one such guy led us to our private room. It was huge, with a giant screen taking up one wall - for the karaoke-ing, obviously.

The attendant brought in beer (and filled our glasses as quickly as we could empty them) and a few fruit plates, and we set to work picking out songs to sing. The guys all wanted to hear us sing, and since I was more willing than Peter, I ended up singing the first three songs. One of them was a duet in Chinese - they brooked not the fact that I knew neither the song nor the language. I was able to pick up the tune, kind of, and they didn’t seem to mind that the noise I was making was not even close to words in any language. (I figured out when we got home that the song was “Beijing Welcomes You,” which was hugely popular in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. I think they just couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t know it. When they sang the chorus (because everyone sang the chorus), they changed it to “Luzhou Welcomes You,” which was very cute.)

More and more people arrived, and the party really got going. Everyone wanted to meet the Meiguo pengyou, and some of them actually had a little bit of English.

There was a little spinner on the table for a game, and a few of us sat down to play. The rules were simple: spin the spinner and do what it says. Most of the commands were drink related (you drink, you choose someone to drink, everyone drinks!) and karaoke related (sing the next song).

Then the room demanded a duet between Peter and me. They chose “I Want It That Way,” by N’Sync, a song Peter didn’t really know. But again, no matter. I sang and Peter made some supportive noises, and they loved it! Later, Peter told me that this was the very first time he had actually sung at karaoke.

Sadly, after that, it was time for us to go. “Eleven! Eleven!” some cried. But we really did have to go. We said our goodbyes and we got a cab, bummed that we had to leave the party early. And super bummed that we didn’t bring our camera.

Dec 5, 2011

Hong Kong: Breakfast in Victoria Park

Fruit and croissants in the sun

People lounging on the lawn in Victoria Park
Browse our album of Victoria Park photos.

Our hostel was right near Victoria Park, a lovely expanse of greenspace. Sunday morning, we grabbed some fruit and croissants (ah, bread products!) and had a breakfast picnic.

We weren’t the only people with this idea, of course, on such a sunny day. The park was packed. Women in headscarves were selling tarps for people to spread out on the lawn. People were careful to stick to the shade, and many groups sat under parasols. I’ve finally found a culture where tan isn’t cool! (This actually gets a little creepy when people tell me I’m pretty for being so pale.)

A little ways from where we ate, there was a shallow pool where people brought their motor boats to race one another. There were several older men who seemed quite serious about it. The pool was divided in two, with one section devoted to a more “just for fun” type of hobbyist. We joined the kids in their delight at watching the different little crafts whiz by.

Dec 1, 2011

A little help from the kids

Noodles and shoes

Most days at lunch, I like to go out to a little noodle stall by our house for a bowl of spicy noodles. (Peter generally naps during our break.) I bring a book to read, and every once in a while some of my students will spot me, and come over to sit and talk.

Today, some of my junior students came to sit with me. Their English isn’t so good, so the conversation was pretty slow and repetitive, but it was fun, nonetheless. They also translated some questions that the non-English-speaking adults that run the stall had. “Do you like the soup?” being one of the most frequently asked. Of course I like it. I eat it every other day!

I finished, and they asked if I was going back to the school. I told them I had some shoes I was going to drop off to be polished at the shoe shop a few doors down, but after that I was going back to school. They offered to walk with me, which turned out to be very helpful.

I do think I could have accomplished the transaction completely through gestures, but the girls very nicely translated for me - which was funny from my end, but must have looked hilarious from the POV of the people at the shoe store: this American comes in with two eleven-year-olds who conduct business for her. But now I know for sure that she said come back in three days, not three hours. They’re also going to re-sole them for me, too, which I can use because I walk the crap out of my shoes.

Nov 30, 2011

Hong Kong: The Peak

Going up

The Peak gives a great view of the rest of Hong Kong.
Check out our slideshow of our pictures from The Peak.

Our Saturday night also included a trip up The Peak, a mountain that overlooks Hong Kong’s city center. I’m sure it’s pretty in the day, but at night the views are spectacular. We rode a tram up from town, and as you’ll find most places in Hong Kong, there was a giant mall at the top. We actually had to ask one of the ladies selling tickets if there was an outdoors up there, and could we walk around in it.

Of course there was. There was loads of outdoors, including nature walks and restaurants. We skipped the hiking, however, in favor of a drink on a terrace overlooking the harbor. That’s two terraces in one night.

Nov 29, 2011

Hong Kong: Pizza and Martinis

A decadant feast

Martinis!

On Saturday night, we found a lovely place that served pizza and martinis! In Luzhou, we can find neither. (Well, the Western restaurant has something they call pizza, but it isn’t. “You can call it a ham pie,” says Peter.) Spasso is actually located in a giant mall in Kowloon, but Ruby Tuesdays it isn’t. When we asked if they had olives and could they make us dirty martinis, our server asked us, “How dirty?” which was music to our ears; She knew there was a variable degree of dirtiness to a martini!

Pizza at Spasso
The pizza was not the best pizza, but it was very good pizza. It fit the bill for us. Also, It was quite nice to have some real wine. A night of indulgences was just want we needed! Or, wanted, I guess.
Look at the lights
This was the view from the patio. You’re looking back at Hong Kong Island.
We're actually here, in Hong Kong!
Here’s us, with our backs to the view. We had a lovely meal, Spasso. Thanks!

Nov 29, 2011

Us, onstage

Now with more photos

Peter and Emily, rocking and rolling

As promised, here’s Peter and I performing with our students.

See a few more photos here.

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong’s Walk of Stars

A walk by the harbor

Bruce Lee on the Walk of Stars

The Hong Kong Walk of Stars is located in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s not quite as fancy as the one in Hollywood, but there’s a plaque commemorating Hong Kong and Mainland movie stars, like Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, etc. Some have the stars’ handprints, but many just have their name. I got the sense that it wasn’t really that big a deal.

In fact, as an attraction it’d be only alright if it wasn’t for its location: along the waterfront with a stunning view of the harbor and Hong Kong Island. We walked it at sunset, and it was gorgeous. We ran into many other people enjoying the view (and some joggers, even though this seems like it would be a crowded and annoying run).

Anyway, take a gander:

Hong Kong's waterfront Walk of Stars
Check out our slideshow of photos of the Walk of Stars.

Nov 28, 2011

From this week’s Juniors lesson

Just so you know ...

We’re talking about movies and genres.

“ ‘Transformers 2’ is an action movie. It is not a documentary.”

It’s important that they realize …

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong: Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui

A beautiful day in the neighborhoods

On our third morning, we grabbed breakfast and took the ferry across the harbor.

Real English-style breakfast is available at 18 Grams
Check out our album of photos in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are two neighborhoods on the island to the north of Hong Kong Island. Whereas on our side of things, the shopping seemed to be more high end (we had Max Azria, Louis Vutton, etc.), in TST, things were a little more casual. I bought months and months worth of leave-in conditioner, and we browsed Tom Lee for an hour.

The streets were wide and crowded, somewhat like Fifth Avenue in midtown. Indian men were hawking fake designer watches every couple of feet, with very few takers.

After shopping, we hit up the Hong Kong Science Museum. I know science museums are usually for kids, but I love them. Tickets for both Peter and I cost HK$60, which is less than US$10. Attractions and public transportation are really cheap here.

Headless Emily at the Hong Kong science museum
Check out more photos of our trip to the Science Museum.

The museum’s special exhibit was on food science. They were sponsored by, or had the cooperation of - or something - McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It was really weird to see those American brands splashed all over. Especially because the exhibit was put together by a Japanese institution.