Hello Uncle Foreigner

Tianfu Middle School

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!

Mar 31, 2018

An adventure into the Stone Sea, Yibin, Sichuan

I finally make good on a student home visit

In China, watch us on YouKu.

The visit to a student’s home, we assumed, was an English-teaching standard. After all, Peter Hessler was close to all of his students. The offers must come flying, one after another. But after a solitary invite my first year teaching, that we were unable to take advantage of, I had to wait four years for my next one.

Lydia had been my student at Tianfu Middle School in my first year teaching and then again in my last year. From the very first, she was a hard-working young woman. The junior class she was in was somewhat rowdy, but I could usually count on her to answer my questions. Except for one day, when she wanted to do her homework in class. “We’re in the middle of my class,” I told her. “You can’t!” What I didn’t add, but was desperately thinking was, “I need someone to be paying attention.”

In our last year at Tianfu, Lydia and her friend Serena — who was Peter’s student — would spend their afternoon break at our office hours, asking us about our lives and practicing their English. When they found out I was studying Chinese, they’d bring me lists and lists of idioms and contemporary slang so that I’d sound cool. And that Labor Day, they planned a full-day event for us — an adventure out into the nearby Stone Sea geopark. It’s one of the lesser-known places to visit in China, but in our neck of the woods, it’s a big deal.

I had set Lydia up as a pen pal with my cousin in Minnesota, and the day of our outing, she was texting with him during our morning drive. “Have fun on the family field trip,” he wished us. It was great to have this time with the girls. I sat in the back between Lydia and Serena so that they could each have a side. It was reminiscent of family trips with my own sisters, when they would make me sit in the middle because I was the shortest. This time, I was not the shortest, so I could eventually request a window seat.

We got to talk about everything through the course of our day: boys, future plans, even specialized English vocabulary — Karst, limestone, sinkhole, cave. It was a long day, but the girls were so proud to have arranged it. They thought of everything, from car snacks for the early morning drive to a visit to a flower show while dinner was being prepared. After dinner, when the men started smoking, we took a walk down Jiangmen’s main street. Lydia’s younger cousin joined us as a tag-along. She hadn’t been interested in English before, but now that we were all speaking it, she was dying to know what we were talking about.

To cap the night off, all of us went out for post-meal BBQ with more friends and family, including Lydia’s former English teacher. It was funny to have a snack after such a nice meal, but it was a holiday! BBQ was much more relaxed than the formal dinner. Lydia and Serena relaxed, too, and the focus was finally off entertaining The English Teacher. Everyone asked me about the girls, for a change. How they were doing out in the world, in the big city high school. They were genuinely proud to see their girl speaking English so fluently, and I was proud too.