Hello Uncle Foreigner

new school

Mar 10, 2018

Happy Lantern Festival

A time for dragon dancing

I started a job at a new school this term, and my first official duty was to perform as the head of the dragon for the teachers’ dragon dance on Lantern Festival. It was a whole thing. I had been sick with a cold for weeks, so the dance nearly killed me, but it was a fun way to meet the kids. Now they love me!


Jul 25, 2013

Snaps: Summer school’s out for summer

Time to start on your summer homework

Time to go

Summer term for the newly minted Senior 3s and Singapore Project candidates ended this week — in China, if you’re good at school, you’re rewarded with more school — and we caught a glimpse of the exodus yesterday morning. Now, it’s just us and the guards. And very soon, we’re leaving for vacation, too.

Nov 25, 2012

Snaps: Me and Me

My favorite subject

Me and the staff

For the Anniversary, the school put up several posters featuring historical photos — including one with last year’s staff picture. Can you find me, twice?

Nov 18, 2012

100: What’s for lunch?

Bellying up to the celebratory buffet

After we changed out of our dressy Anniversary Celebration clothes, we hit the cafeteria — because we were hungry and it was the only place we knew of (at the time) to find food out in New Campus Land.

Instead of regular lunch service, however, we found a special Anniversary Celebration buffet! Which made sense, because if you cart thousands of special guests out to the countryside for a four-hour long assembly, you’d better feed them. The food was typical cafeteria fare (which is actually pretty delicious; we’ll get into that in a coming post), but because it was a party — and our school’s sponsor is a beloved liquor company in the city — everyone was encouraged to take beer or Luzhou Laojiao with their meal. (It’s been really hard to suss out if China/Luzhou has a drinking age or what it is. On this special day, anyway, the kids were able to grab a beer without ruffling any feathers.) This made the atmosphere extra convivial. A few happy parents/alumni came over to toast with us as we ate, and we were happy to be included in their fun.

After lunch, the anniversary was solidly over … and the National Day Holiday began! Everyone had vacation from school for the next week, so we packed up some things and joined the throngs of students catching the bus back into the city. (While our new campus apartment was nicer, it didn’t yet have internet.) Let the relaxing commence!

Nov 17, 2012

100: Let’s dance!

The show continues …

Enjoy the dancing

Music in “100 Years of Tianfu”: “Bumper Music,” performed by Drum Major Ensemble, from the CD “Master of the Chinese Musician Performance Classics Vol. 07.”

Enjoy the dancingEnjoy the dancing

Finally, after about a billion speeches by officials and money people, it was time for the actual students of the school to take the stage. Unlike school performances we’d seen in the past, these were polished and practised, befitting a production of this level. The costuming was especially improved over the usual fare.

Groups of students sang songs, performed traditional dances and synched along to Chinese opera selections. The stage-side screens rendered the action in large screen television-quality. It was pretty impressive.

And, featuring more than a dozen acts, pretty long. The alumni clapped politely after each act, but as the show went on, they payed more and more attention to catching up with old friends. We’ve noticed in China that audience attention to the stage is not a priority.

After 10 or so groups, Peter and I started to fade — and simultaneously grow pink. We didn’t expect such great weather in Luzhou in October, so we neglected our sunscreening, but almost four hours under a cloudless sky was taking its toll. So we sneaked out early, wishing silent apologies to the kids whose performances we were skipping.

Enjoy the dancingEnjoy the dancingEnjoy the dancingEnjoy the dancing

Nov 15, 2012

100: Pomp and spectacle

It’s not an event until every official has their say

The stage
Our professional hostsThe flagsThe birds

Straight up, the Anniversary Spectacular looked good. Our school stadium — which two weeks previously had been a gray set of concrete bleachers in front of a swath of asphalt — looked magnificent. As a finished product, the plywood stage looked pretty great. The front was a sea of flowers, and it was flanked by two screens which displayed feeds from three different cameramen — including a crane-based operator.

The ceremony was hosted by four professional-calibre presenters; we could have been watching a CCTV variety show! Of course the speeches were the first order of the day. These were very boring. (They’re always very boring.) We were trying to pretend to be interested, but after the fourth or fifth speaker was announced, someone behind us (an adult) groaned audibly. Even if you speak Chinese, I think these kinds of things are very hard to sit through.

After the last speech (there were at least a dozen), some people were invited to the stage to hold up large checks. Our best guess was that these were donations made to/money raised for the school. More stuff was said that seemed very important but felt incredibly dull. But just when we were about to sneak back to bed, large sparklers lit up the front of the stage. At the same time, there was an explosion from the back of the audience that released red, orange, yellow, green, etc., puffs of smoke. It was like a rainbow cloud drifting through the sky. I’d never seen anything like it. Firecrackers snapped and banged on the sides of the stage, and a truckload of doves was released to fly over the proceedings. It was really something.

And then came the dancing …

Nov 12, 2012

100: Getting ready for the big day

Polishing the rocks and painting the roses red

Preparation for the anniversary party
Preparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary party

We started hearing about Luzhou Laojiao Tianfu Middle School’s 100th anniversary shortly after our arrival last year. In fact, it was a major enticement for us to stay for this second year. There were big plans in the works, and everyone spoke really excitedly about the event.

This fall, however, after experiencing several school happenings, we adjusted our expectations downward despite the big talk. The various assemblies, recitals, etc., were tons of fun, but very charmingly low budget. I mean, we’d seen kids wear garbage bags as costumes.

But things started to ramp up in the week leading up to the October 1 celebration. (October 1 was also two days after the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the kick-off to National Day, so it was a very exciting time.) A large stage was being erected in the stadium area, and the students were practising dancing and singing routines during any scrap of spare time they could find. Classes were even called off for a few school-wide dress rehearsals.

Construction wasn’t quite finished, but everything looked presentable. Anything that wasn’t done was camouflaged with some fancy signage.

The day before the big day, our boss Linda ran up to us to say, “I have a big surprise for you!” The surprise turned out to be: Foreigners! Heidi and her husband Richard. Heidi worked for Tianfu’s North Carolina-based sister school, Charlotte Latin. We all sat down to a lovely lunch together. We intended to get a photo with them the next time we saw them. Little did we know, we would all be too busy for next time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and observing the last minute preparations. While watching the tech rehearsal, we met a recent alumn of the school — English name Michael. He’s currently at university in San Diego, but he flew back to China to join the festivities.

Foreign guests? Transoceanic alumni?! Tech rehearsal!?! This one may be big after all …

Preparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary partyPreparation for the anniversary party

Nov 10, 2012

The new digs

A look inside an American-Chinese apartment

The living roomThe kitchenThe bedroom
Our apartment building is just next to the student dorms.

You get little sympathy when you complain about a free apartment, I know, but our old campus apartment was (and still is) a bit of a wreck. Everything that can leak does — shower, ceiling, toilet, sinks, refrigerator, air conditioner — and no one’s really invested in fixing it, because at some undefined point in the future it’s all coming down.

Which is why we were thrilled to move out to a brand new place in the countryside, even though it means that Sticks is no longer a five-minute walk away.

And the apartment itself is really nice. As I said, it’s brand new, so hardly anything is broken yet. (There was an issue when we moved in that the bathroom sink wasn’t connected to any drain so the water just splashed out all over the floor, but workmen were still on the premises and it got fixed right away.) It’s smaller than our other apartment, but that apartment is absurdly large for the two of us; we had three rooms that we never even used. One bedroom and a large living/dining room area is good enough for us.

There was no official moving day. Over the course of two months, we moved in by two backpacks at a time, once- or twice-weekly carting a load of our things across town on the bus. We didn’t stick out too much all turtled up with our stuff, however. For many of the locals, it’s a normal thing to do.

We’re still working on it, but each week, the apartment is getting more and more comfortable, and we spend more and more time here. These days, our old damp box is just a place to crash.

Nov 8, 2012

The sporting field, before and after

Play ball! Or, whatever!

The stadium under constructionThe completed sports stadium

The school’s football field — or soccer field, if you insist — has really come together, as you can see from these photos taken on September 23 and October 23, respectively.

Nov 8, 2012

On campus

Back in the sweet, smothering embrace of academia

Welcome to the new school
Welcome to the new school
Welcome to the new school
The students return to school after a weekend at home with their families.

What’s striking about our new home/school is how much it looks like an American university campus. You’ve got the teacher and student dorms along one boundary of the school. There’s a cafeteria and a small store not to far away from the dorms, with a large, shapely building next door for performances and art shows. Then, of course, there are classrooms and a gigantic football field. And dozens of basketball courts and ping pong tables scattered throughout.

The color scheme is a little blah — especially on a gray day, of which we have many. But the campus is nice and open, with plenty of pathways for walks. A small river runs between the dorms and the cafeteria building, with a little waterfall which we can hear from our kitchen. It looks like a small fortune was spent on landscaping; there are flowering trees and bushes all over everywhere, and the square patches of sod are growing into a lush green lawn.

Because it’s out in the countryside, the campus is its own self-contained world, which feels very collegiate. We even use meal cards instead of cash at the caf and little store — which sells snacks, soda and stationary. If we didn’t want to, we’d never have to leave!

Welcome to the new schoolWelcome to the new schoolWelcome to the new schoolWelcome to the new schoolWelcome to the new schoolWelcome to the new school