Hello Uncle Foreigner

now with video

Dec 28, 2017

The winter chill in Southern China

Everyone’s cold, all the time

We’ve threatened to do so in the past, and now we’re following through: It’s a vlog series. I hope you enjoy this Uncle’s Short, and the many more to come. And bring a jacket, it’s cold inside.

Jun 14, 2016

It’s Luzhou ... we’ve moved back to Luzhou

We wish to see the world

Homecoming from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Summer 2015 brought us to a crossroads. It was the end of our fourth consecutive year of teaching at Tianfu and, according to Linda, Chinese law says that we were due a break. We could teach somewhere else, we could even come back in a year, but we couldn’t stay at Tianfu.

And personally, we were wondering if it wasn’t time to explore a whole new city. I mean, if we had to find a new job anyway … and what were the chances that Luzhou — where we landed arbitrarily, on a job offer from a friend of a friend — was really the best place for us in all of China? For years, we’d been publicly planning on relocating to Kunming, and every year that we didn’t, we kind of worried that maybe we couldn’t. After hoisting ourselves all the way across the ocean from the U.S. to China, maybe we were stuck and getting stucker in the first place ever to offer us a warm bed and a hot pot.

It was time, we felt, to either move for real or truly commit to Luzhou. And we chose to move. Although, like a true Chinese plan, we submit to a last minute change and chose Lijiang as our new destination. And we had a great year. (Well, 10 months if you’re counting.) We learned a lot, met new people, saw new things, basked in Western-style comfort. We’ll tell you all about it in entries to come. But … it never felt like home.

I started joking-not-joking pretty early on that “if things don’t work out, we could always go back to Linda/Luzhou.” But we gave it our all, and it was fun until it wasn’t. Then Peter came on board and it turned out I wasn’t joking after all.

In the meantime, Linda hired someone else! Which was great, because then I found someplace else: i2 — a growning, Chengdu chain of training schools that was looking to expand to Luzhou.

So, we’re back … and I guess we’re lucky enough that we got to choose both moving and committing to Luzhou. We’ve been back about a month, and seen old friends and made new ones. And we’re really looking forward to everything this latest chapter will bring.

Aug 26, 2015

All summer in a day

Why do we keep moving places in the rainy season?

Rain from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Rain ... forecast forever

Lijiang is beautiful and all, but for all everyone talks about the fantastic weather … it has rained every single day that we’ve been here. Just the other day, even when it was sunny, it was also raining at the same time. And the rainy season is probably going to last for at least another month. And yet, it’s also the high season for tourism, because everyone’s out of school. The tour must go on, I guess.

Aug 2, 2015

Lijiang welcomes us

And we love it

Last month, we made our big move from Luzhou to Lijiang city, in Yunnan Province. Lijiang is about an hour’s flight southeast of Luzhou (if there were such a direct flight), up in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. And it’s gorgeous.

We’ve had a hectic time settling into our new home — imagine all of the logistics of a cross-country move, in a language you’re not that great at understanding. Oh, and you have to keep the local police looped in on your whereabouts. But we’re super-psyched to be here. We’ve got a back-log of stories in the queue that we’re excited to get to soon. In the meantime, enjoy this video of our arrival in Lijiang.

Peter and Emily arrive in their new hometown of Lijiang, Yunnan Province.
Music: “悲傷的採購” & “荔枝角公園,” My Little Airport.

Feb 2, 2015

Video: Eating Barbecue with Dave in Naxi

You’ve got to try the pig intestine

Dave lives in Naxi, a suburb about 20 minutes south of Luzhou. He works construction for money, but he is a dance teacher for fulfillment. When we first met him — he approached us at a restaurant to practice his English — we discovered that he had known and befriended the Double Alex! Their school is close to where Dave lives. Sadly, they themselves are no longer around. (Their school, as it turned out, was not licensed to have foreign teachers.)

But life must go on. Now Dave is our friend, and he recently took us to a Naxi barbecue place that he and the Alexs enjoyed. It was delicious. And I had my first taste of Sichuan specialty, pig intestine!

Jan 1, 2015

Video: Give sports a try

We’re all the winner

Give Sports a try from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo. Music: “I’m Not Even Going to Try,” David Devant and His Spirit Wife.

The kids of Tianfu middle school don’t have to try; they were born cool.

Nov 22, 2014

Video: Life along the Yangtze

Viewing the world from our perch in Luzhou

Traveller from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo. Music: Devin Townsend, “Traveller”

A typical fall afternoon, hanging out by the river.

Apr 8, 2013

We can fly … mostly

Tianfu Middle School Kite Festival 2013

The Tianfu Middle School kite festival

Last week, the whole school was atwitter about the upcoming kite festival set for Easter Sunday. (Well, they just called it Sunday). The Monday afternoon prior, my class 24 taught me 风筝, the Chinese word for kite, and all week different students asked if we would attend. “It starts at 8,” our boss Linda told us, which, of course it did.

Sunday morning, we hauled ourselves out of bed at 8, hoping to miss any opening Kite Festival speeches and arrive fashionably late. When we got to the sports field, the students were already loaded into the bleachers, but there were a bunch of kids at the field level making their last-minute preparations.

Last minute repairs on a kiteThe students speak English with meHiding from the sun

The way it worked, a student filled us in, was that each class was to have made two kites. There would be prizes for the most beautiful, highest flying, etc. Some classes had spent days and days on theirs — though some were starting from scratch right then and there — and we saw some beautifully decorated specimens. My favorites were the few that were made from plain newspaper with hand-painted Chinese characters; gorgeous in their simplicity. Phoenixes, the school’s mascot, were popular, as were other birds. One class took it even further and did an Angry Birds kite.

Fish and snakes rounded out the animalia theme. There were a couple Chinese flags, and a 100RMB bill. One kite looked like an angel or a ghost. She didn’t fly very well, sadly, though it would have been cool if she did.

We chose a seat high up in the center of the bleachers, which happened to be where Peter’s gifted classes had been placed. There was a lot of homework and reading going on among these kids while they waited for the event to begin.

A couple of students asked us if American schools hosted kite festivals. No, we told them, Americans kind of think of kite flying as an old-fashioned pastime. When we turned the question around on them — Do you fly kites often? — most of the students said that it was something they did when they were little, but not anymore. “I am from the countryside,” one boy said, “I don’t have time to fly kites.”

After about an hour, the event began in earnest. Groups of 10 or so lined up at one end of the field and showed their stuff. There was little wind to speak of, so the kids had to run hard to get their kites aloft. The students in the stands cheered on their classmates, though as far as competitive sports go, kite flying is awesomely nonsensical.

Peter chatted with one of his boy students, while I spoke to a few of his girls. This is definitely a recurring pattern, and possibly one of the reasons that the school prefers to hire couples as foreign teachers. One of the girls told me that she prefers physics to English … this in pretty decent English; I’m pretty envious of Peter’s gifted classes sometimes.

One of the most impressive kites was a gigantic snake that cast a large shadow over the field as it undulated across the sky. The kids traded off flying it, because they had to run like the dickens to keep it in the air.

After the last competitors left the field, the wind finally picked up. Taking advantage of this, a kite free-for-all broke out. It must be said that the store-bought kites did fly better than their homemade counterparts, but as Peter’s student pointed out, the students do feel proud when something they made flies.

Aug 31, 2012

Sichuan countryside

An accidental locavore is quite proud of herself

The beautiful countryside

On our second night in China – during a discussion of what vegetarianism is, and why Peter was one – our boss Sarah proudly told us that the chicken in the soup we were eating was grown locally and free range. (It’s hard to eat vegetarian in China.)

Farm

Months later, our neighbor Wendy told us, in passing, that she was going back to her hometown that weekend to get her pig. She brought me a sample when she got back, and it was delicious.

Before all that, back in New York, I was a big believer in the gospel of Pollan et al.: Our diet impacts the environment, food miles matter, CSAs are a good idea, etc. But I was a terrible disciple. The furthest I went toward living those ideals was stopping by the Union Square farmers market and picking up a bottle of Long Island wine and a wedge of Hudson Valley-made cheese every couple of weeks.

Here in Luzhou, however, it turns out that supporting your local family-owned farm is the default. Being city people, we did not give too much thought about what was beyond the city’s borders, but when we finally did venture out into the countryside, we found hundreds of kilometers of small farms nestled into the mountains. Which is, duh, where all that food at all those farmers markets comes from. And why even the menu at 串串 varies seasonally. We’re all locavores! And it tastes so good.

Now, we’ve read that there is factory farming in China, so it’s not like were living in some untouched Eden, unsullied by modern knowledge. But China, believe it or not, is actually aware of the same environmental dangers that the west knows about, and there is a growing green movement in response. (A lot of these farm houses were crowned by solar water heaters, for example.)

It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, because there are some hugely complex issues tied up in food production and feeding a population, and, again, all I do is eat here. But I do know that that was a damn good chicken soup. Even Peter agrees.

Enjoy another original production from Whoop Wu studios.

Mar 22, 2012

6 months in China!

So let’s eat more sticks

Yesterday marked six months to the day we landed in China! We celebrated, of course, at sticks!

There are two things we’ve learned for sure: China is always loud, and we like our food spicy.