Hello Uncle Foreigner

Oct 15, 2011

It’s playtime

Old fashioned toys

The girl with a stick and hoop

We saw this girl the other day playing with a hoop and a stick, like something out of the 1820s, but what I’ve noticed is that people here — not just children — seem to go in for old-fashioned modes of entertainment; I’ve seen more little boys doing tricks with yo-yos in the past three weeks than I ever have in my life.

I don’t know whether it’s the city we’re in or the entire culture, but here there seems to be more life lived out in public than even in New York City. On our evening walks, we meet plenty of people taking similar strolls, and we pass countless groups of people at tea houses and what seems to be semi-private clubs playing cards or Mah-jong - they seem settled in and like they’ll be there for a while.

Anecdote: I asked one of my students what his favorite weather was, and he said rainy. When I asked why, he said it was because then he was allowed to stay in and play video games. I asked the whole class, “When it’s sunny, do your parents make you go out and play?” A resounding yes was the answer.

Whatever the cause, the people are on the streets, and it’s awesome. This city has a really lively energy that’s exciting to be a part of - and the language barrier is blocking less than we feared; everyone understands a smile (New Yorker Emily is barfing over in the corner and making faces, to be sure).

Oct 15, 2011

A very fine house

Upgrading the kitchen

The kitchen, beforeThe kitchen, after

Today we finally had the time and the tools to do a deep cleaning of the apartment. Everything looks and feels infinitely better (Peter says we’ve stepped up from camping to living), but the kitchen is where the most dramatic results are seen. Above is a before and after.

And while every mundane thing has been more fun just by virtue of the fact that we’re doing it in China, housecleaning is housecleaning all over the world.

Oct 14, 2011

Something looks familiar

An apple a day ...

Is that ...... yes! It is!

Recognize this? There are actually a couple of “Apple Stores” around town.

Oct 14, 2011

My Chinese name

Today one of my students gave me a Chinese name (they all have English names): 爱美丽, which is pronounced Ai Mei Li - very close to Emily, if you’ll notice. The kids laughed when he said it, so I was a little worried that it was something bad. But it means “Beautiful Love,” which is kind of sweet.

It’s really hard to not get a big head over here.

Oct 13, 2011

Lonely God

It's a snack

Lonely God is delicious

We saw these snacks for the first time today, and they’re really tasty. Like sweet tomato-flavored curlicue chips.

And I am sensitive to the fact that the English mistakes we see over here are still 2,000 times better than anything I could say/write in Chinese, but I still find the misuse of language hilarious.

Oct 13, 2011

In Chengdu

Our short trip to Chengdu wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

We were housed in an industrial-looking hotel on the very outskirts of the city, and had to have some complex negotiations even to go outside for a walk. We were basically ordered to have room service for dinner via phone, a command which was enforced by our Chinese-only speaking minder. I know that the motive behind it was kind, “we need to help out these crazy kids who only speak English,” but I would have much rather fended for ourselves - this is pretty much true of the whole trip.

But anyway, after we ate to the satisfaction of our guy, we negotiated a release. The neighborhood was far from the hip, young Chengdu we were expecting, but we’re still in a stage where crossing the street is an adventure. So we did just that, and crossed the street to the East Chengdu Rail Station.

It was huge, and pristine. It was about 8 p.m., and there weren’t many trains leaving that night so it wasn’t that crowded, but there was still a guard making sure people didn’t lay down on the seats. We found a western restaurant that served Coronas and Johnnie Walker! The Walker isn’t quite rare, but it isn’t super common either, so we were excited to have some real Scotch. It took a while to be served after we ordered - but then we noticed that someone actually had to run out to somewhere else to get a bottle. We enjoyed a few drinks before our 10 p.m. sustenance curfew (we were having physicals the next morning, and they said no food or drink after 10) and then headed back to the room.

We took the long way, wandering through the apartment complex where our hotel was located. They had a large courtyard, and they were showing a movie in the middle of it. We stopped to watch for a bit, and ran into our waiter from the restaurant!

The next morning, we woke up early and were taken to the International Hospital for our physicals. This was in Chengdu proper, and we did get a good glimpse of the city. It looks cool! Now this physical we got is mandatory for: foreigners staying in China for one year or more, Chinese who are going abroad for more than three months, and Chinese who work aboard international vessels or handle food and water in a port that services international vessels. You can only get the physical done in certain accredited establishments. So, this place was processing a lot of people at once. But they’ve got a system down.

1. You come in and register. They give you the appropriate paperwork for what you’re having done and the bill. In China, you always pay up front for healthcare.

2. You enter the assembly line: First you stop at the window for the urine cups, fill it (in the restroom, thankfully) and drop it off at the appropriate tray. The technician sticks one of your barcodes on it (your paperwork includes a sheet of barcodes that will get stuck to your various fluids and measurements). The technician also marks off on your sheet that you’ve hit this station, which everyone else will do too.

3. Blood sample. There’s another window which you stick your arm through, kind of like at the bank, but you give them your arm (and some barcodes) instead of money. They take your blood while the people on line behind you wait, sometimes very closely behind you. (An aside: We had heard before coming that the Chinese don’t really do queues - instead of lining up, everyone just amasses near the goal. We actually haven’t found this to be true - at checkouts and things, people are pretty orderly. Mostly. Our conjecture is that this is a recent development, and some people still do things the old way. I left a little space in front of me on line at the grocery store once, and this woman just fit herself right into it. This doesn’t happen often, but you do have to be a little more aggressive not to lose your place.)

4. Next is a series of different rooms with doctors taking your height and weight, ECG, ultrasound of your organs and chest x-ray. There’s no chit-chat and everyone is very efficient.

5. Finally, you sign out at the front desk where they give you a receipt and a juicebox of milk (a milkbox?). It was all over in about 15 minutes. Having come from the states, where this same exact physical took Peter and I two hours (not even counting the trip to another location for our chest x-rays), it was a bizarre experience. For what it was, I’m glad it was brisk and businesslike, but if I needed a real consultation … well, I miss the “care” part of healthcare.

So then, we made a few stops to drop off some other paperwork relating to our residence permits - Chengdu is where all the government offices are for Sichuan Province. And then our guy took us to McDonalds for lunch. Chinese McDonalds is a little different from American McDonalds - they have a few different items to cater to the local palate. And the quality of chicken in my sandwich was the best-quality fast food chicken I’ve ever had; McDs is comparatively expensive here - for the cost of the large fries, Peter and I can make a whole meal for two of us - so I think the meat has to be better quality than they can get away with in the states. There are chickens running around the streets everywhere; if you’re going to serve it, it better be good. That’s my opinion after a sample of one sandwich, anyway. (Another aside: Most people are pretty skinny here, but I’m noticing a few chubby kids in some of my classes. No one’s obese, but a couple are out-and-out fat. This is just what I was thinking about in McDonalds.)

It wasn’t the greatest night away, but it did give us a taste for traveling. The bus ride isn’t terrible - about 4 hours, but the buses are really clean and comfortable. And we had legroom for miles. I seriously couldn’t even reach the footrest on our trip home. When we got home, right away we started looking up day- and weekend trips that we can take from here. We still want to do a little more work on the apartment this weekend, but we’re hoping to get right back on that bus to Chengdu quite soon.

Oct 10, 2011

A surprise trip to Chengdu

There may be pandas

Home of the Panda (Photo via: sanfamedia.com)
(Photo via: sanfamedia.com)

Some geography to start: Luzhou is a small city of about 1 million, located in southern Sichuan province. Since we’ve gotten here, many people have told us, “This city is so small. You should have gone to Chengdu.” Chengdu is the big dog of Sichuan, the one that if tourists come to the area, they visit. It’s also home to the “Western Hospital.”

So, OK. Our story: In order to get our temporary resident permits, Peter and I have to undergo a physical in Chengdu. We’ve actually been planning on visiting there, as everyone has been telling us, like I said, since day one that we should go there. This afternoon, our coordinator came by to tell us that we should be on a bus to Chengdu in an hour so that we could get our physicals done tomorrow morning. Peter was still in class. Yikes!

So I furiously packed (and washed our dirty dishes!) while our girl made the arrangements. When I came back in to check with her that someone was going to tell Peter that he’d have to leave class early so that we could go, she informed me that, actually, we’d be leaving tomorrow night, and, oh yeah, Senior classes were cancelled tomorrow and Wednesday because they had two days of testing. Also, Friday afternoon classes were going to be rescheduled for some other reason. And, the power was out. For reasons unrelated to our impromptu trip.

We’re getting the idea that this is just how things are done here. A generation ago, your employer might have chosen your spouse for you. So I don’t think the unknown powers that be (our girl is at the mercy of many bosses, I’m pretty sure) think anything of asking you to make an overnight trip as suits them, with no prior notice. But when the trip went from “in less than an hour” to “tomorrow afternoon,” it made all the difference. Like I said, we were eager to make the trip to Chengdu sooner or later - it’s the home of a giant panda reserve! So, instead of teaching classes for the next two days, we’re going on a little trip. With our own guide; the school’s fixer, Mr. Joe, will be accompanying us.

We’ll report back with tales of the big city.

Oct 10, 2011

We’ve all got our reasons

Me: Why are you learning English?

Student: So I can have an American wife.

Oct 9, 2011

That Luzhou smell

Ganbei!

It's strong stuff, be careful

Luzhou is actually a pretty clean city. There really isn’t much pollution, which is a pleasant surprise; I think that it’s mostly the eastern cities that have the smog. But there is something in the air here: Luzhou Laojiao. This is a kind of white liquor that the city is famous for. Some translate it as wine, but it’s really more of a digestif-type thing, like ouzo or a punch in the throat. I think it’s distilled from rice or sorghum, and the Sichuanese have been making it since the Ming Dynasty in the 1500s.

We live right near the main brewery (which is a popular tourist destination we’re hoping to hit soon). You can definitely smell when the liquor is in production, and it doesn’t smell great. Kind of like rancid salami. But the taste? Nothing like salami. Not really like anything good, but not salami. We’ve only had pretty low-end stuff, but I’m not optimistic about the good stuff. Peter actually likes it OK, mixed with mango juice - which is not traditional.

So, come quaff with us! It’ll help us forget the smell.

Oct 9, 2011

Back to work

The National Day Holiday is over, and we’ve gone back to work, teaching make-up classes for Saturday and Sunday. Both Peter and I are feeling more comfortable in the classroom. It’s easier to plan our lessons, now that we know what the kids are and aren’t capable of.

I’m finding the way I can be most helpful is with pronunciation - so I spend a lot of time just making noises, both with the seniors and juniors. This week, I’m showing the seniors “th” vs. “s.” I’m pretty sure that all of them can hear the difference, though some have a really hard time doing the “th” themselves. It’s really cool, though, when a kid gets it. The whole class applauds — they’re big on applause as positive reinforcement.

I did have a kid in one class today say that Justin Beiber has a haircut like a girl. And that wasn’t even off topic — our lesson for this week is describing people. A lot of the kids love him, but some of them like him only “just so-so.”