Hello Uncle Foreigner

video

Feb 15, 2018

The case for closed captioning

More accessibility, bigger audience

So we’re kind of jokey about it in the video, but the fact is we really did spend weeks talking about closed captioning and translations. And we did come up with something of a captioning policy, which bled over into our social media strategy. This discussion is going to get a little dry, so if you prefer messing around to analysis, just watch the video.

Firstly, the factors we considered:

  • Getting those sweet, sweet Facebook views. Like it or not, Facebook has steamrolled the rest of the internet into taking its own form. And, am I right that no one turns the volume up?
  • When we provide free content for Facebook, is there a possibility of return for us? Seems like: No.
  • According to the BBC, 35% of their online audience turns on captioning.
  • Hello Uncle Foreigner’s mission is to increase and strengthen connections between English-speaking and Chinese cultures. But we don’t speak great Chinese, yet.
  • We pay our translator, because she is performing a valuable skill and we believe that the “everything is free” mentality of the internet has tricked us all into selling all of our personal information in exchange for worse and more recycled content every day.
  • Hello Uncle Foreigner does not make any money at all. We love doing it and hope one day to score our own Netflix deal, but these days it’s a labor of love that costs us money to run.
  • Uncle’s Shorts are designed to be as friction-free to post as possible. The key to growing your YouTube audience is regular posting, and once we get all those subscribers, Netflix will come a’knocking, right?
  • YouTube as a publishing platform has its issues, but at least it’s not destroying democracy.
  • YouTube auto-captioning is hilarious but fixable — and way easier than transcribing by hand.
  • In about a month and a half of analysis, our videos get more and better quality engagement (i.e., people actually watch the darn thing) when they are posted to YouTube over Facebook. And as much as we loved Vimeo, no one was watching them over there.

If you watched “America for Foreigners”, you may have noticed that we had English and Chinese burned into the screen; there was no escaping our captions in either language. This was inspired by Chinese streaming services, which do the same for American television shows posted to Tudou and the like. We’ve heard it’s actually a useful language learning tool seeing L1 and L2 right next to each other. In lucky artistic happenstance, it helped support the point that your home country is a strange land to millions of other people on this earth. Unfortunately, it also added full days onto post-production.

So our current working strategy is this: Videos will be primarily posted to YouTube, with links posted to Facebook. Occasionally, we will post teasers to Facebook … to lure people to our YouTube channel. We will let YouTube to the heavy lifting of auto-captioning in English, and then cleaning up their weird mistakes — with priority given to videos featuring non-native speakers of English. We want to do them the courtesy of having their words represented correctly, no matter what kind of applesauce YouTube makes of it. Uncle’s Shorts will not be translated; our goal is to post at least one a week, and we have neither the time nor the money in the budget to translate at that rate. (Sorry, Milan!) But, longer, more important projects will feature Milan’s Chinese translations.

What do you think? Go to YouTube and tell us. Because our current Uncle Foreigner commenting policy is: Nope. But that’s a discussion for a different day.

Feb 9, 2018

Vietnam revisited

A videographic return to our 2015 vacation

“Maps are all hand-drawn by maniacs.”
— Peter

I don’t think it was on purpose, but Vietnam 2015 was the last big trip we took.

Well, after that, we did move across China – twice – and we returned to America for a visit. And, most recently, Peter checked out of reality for a few weeks. But no, like, tourism.

We’ve written about Vietnam in detail here. To reset the stage, it was winter break, just before Chinese New Year. We were in search of good food and warm weather – both of which were in ample supply. I remember complaining about it a bit, but from this vantage point, it was a good trip! Let’s go back someday.

In the years since, we’ve been reckoning with that experience in an audio/visual capacity. And I will admit to a toddler’s worth of writer’s block and discarded drafts. Which is why I am so pleased today to present “Vietnam, a filmkreis in three parts: Saigon, Đà Lạt, and 广州.”

And, enjoy a bonus outtake of some hijinks in the highlands:

Jan 24, 2018

New job, new work permit

The paperwork just keeps coming

After the Chinese New Year holiday, I’m starting a new job. I’m really excited about it — no more evenings and weekend classes, and only one lesson prep per week! (My current job is only nights and weekends, and I have 24 preps per week.) But one thing that jolts me out of my sleep in the middle of the night is the transfer of my work permit. Chinese paperwork freaks me out, mostly because its something that is largely out of my control. The relevant offices will stamp my piece of paper when they get to it, and there’s not that much I can do about it.

Compounding my anxiety this past weekend was the U.S. government shutdown. What does that mean for my documents? Will I run out of time? Will I have to get Peter to Lamma Island in a wheelchair?! I know that worrying doesn’t help, but my limbic system is determined to try.

But, instead of spiraling into a full-on panic attack, I channeled that energy into “Uncle’s Shorts #2: Gimme my Chinese work permit, already!”

And then the U.S. government opened back up the next day, so that’s one obsticle down. Worrying works!

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.

Jan 5, 2017

Santa comes to the MixC

Christmas 2016

This year, I took up the family mantle and played Santa for my new school. We took over the nearby mall for a variety show with singing, dancing and a short play — and because I’m the resident westerner, most of the acts were written, choreographed or conducted by me. Merry Christmas, China!

Nov 11, 2016

Trump steaks

Good job, America

Wednesday afternoon, local time, we watched the news unfolding, and it wasn’t good: Too close to half the American electorate is fine with bigotry and bullying, and supports a man whose freedom of the press policy frankly looks Chinese. It still doesn’t seem real; we feel upended, confused and angry, but outside people are going about their lives as if nothing has happened.

Wednesday night, we gorged our sorrow at the all-you-can-eat buffet that just opened across the street from us. Men came over and toasted with us, kids played hide and seek with us, and a mom took a picture of her baby with us. Not because of the election; they were just having a good time and excited to see some foreigners doing the same.

Since then, we’ve both been devouring coverage. American and British; comedic and serious; MSNBC and not-MSNBC. A local friend (whose wife is in [redacted] government, no less) said, “At least you have the right [to] vote, we do not have.” But I’m still angry. From this vantage point, it looks like racism and fear have won the day.

We’ll always have crab legs. I guess.

Oct 31, 2016

Happy Halloween from Lamma Island

In which we crash a children’s party at the Lamma Grill

We’re settling back into Luzhou nicely, but from time to time we are impelled to make a quick trip over to Hong Kong for paperwork. These days, of course, when we’re in Hong Kong, we’re on Lamma Island.

Having some time to kill Wednesday afternoon, we stopped in at the lovely Lamma Grill — where a children’s Halloween party broke out around us. “I did warn you,” said Caroline, the Grill’s owner, as children in costume descended upon us. But it was fun to see all these third-culture kids — some with their parents, some with their nannies — take part in an international celebration of CANDY!

My favorite overheard moment was a British kid in a ghost costume quizzing the bartender.

Kid: What are you supposed to be?

Bartender: A clown

Kid: You’re not very funny, are you?

Sep 13, 2016

Home for the (hot, hot) summer

And it’s time to pay the bills

Our Luzhou high rise

Take a video tour of our new apartment complex in Luzhou.

We’re going on our sixth year in China, but this is actually the first time that we’ve spent an August in Luzhou. Previously, we’d always arranged to travel during this month — or move cities entirely — because locals assured us that August is unbearable.

Having lived it this year, I can report that “unbearable” seems strong. But between the heat and humidity, it is, like, three-shower-a-day weather. Showers seemed like the best solution, given that this, our first August in Luzhou, is also our first August in Luzhou that we are paying our own electric bill.

It feels good to pay our own electric bill, though. It feels good to be in charge of all of our own utilities ‘n’ stuff, actually. After living the life of a kept pet on campus at Tianfu Middle School for our first four years, it feels like we have more of a grown-up life. Like we’ve graduated.

But renting in China is not really at all like it is in America. In fact, renting in Luzhou is not even like renting in Lijiang. And moreover, we know from our initial online research, how we do it out west is different from what goes on in Beijing and in Shanghai. Yeah, we’re one country/one timezone and all that, but regionality isn’t going away.

Let’s talk Lijiang. Our apartment there was in a small complex on the edge of the city — goats were our neighbors — and it was beautifully furnished. Our friends lived in the same complex, and they spotted the landlord’s phone number on a “For rent” sign on the apartment window. We handed over a year’s rent, plus two months’ deposit, and then didn’t see our landlord until we moved out a year later. (When she gave us back slightly less than out two months’ deposit, because we had burnt a hole in her couch with a space heater.)

As far as utilities went, every three months, the guard at the front gate of our housing complex would flag us down to pay our water and electric bill. And every six months, he’d add in the maintenance fee. In his little hut, I’d pay the property manager — who was just kind of always hanging about — then sign my name in the book and get my receipt. Propane for the stove was delivered by a man on a motorbike strapped up with way too many tanks; we’d just call in an order when we were running low. And phone and internet were taken care of in one yearly payment at the China Telecom store. All of this was done in big, fat wads of cash, by the way.

We were so proud to figure all this out. Now we know how the Chinese go about the business of living!

And then, in Luzhou, none of that applies. We found our wonderfully spacious apartment here through a broker who went to school with one of my coworkers. This apartment is also furnished, with pieces that are just slightly not falling apart. (In fairness, yesterday the landlord installed a brand new light fixture in our living room — because the old one had blown up.) And rent is payed quarterly.

Electricity — we have a little card that we can put money on at any bodega that has a State Grid sign out front. There’s one pretty close to our apartment, and we just re-up whenever we’re running low. For our internet and phone bill, we go into the China Telecom store once a month to 交费 (pay the fee). Water and maintenance are also monthly, at the property office at our apartment complex; but because more than 2,000 people live in our complex, it’s up to us to remember to go in. Gas for our stove and hot water heater … we haven’t figured out how to pay our gas bill yet, but I think that I saw someone do it at our grocery store.

One thing is the same, though: Cash Rules Everything Around Me.

Actually … another thing that is the same is that because this is just the way that everybody does it, no one really offers to explain how any of this works. It’s so basic, they just assume that you know. (Even though it’s all done differently a province over.) For example, here’s how I figured out how to pay the Luzhou electricity bill: My landlord handed over the card. My coworker said, “I think you can 交费 at that supermarket.” That supermarket said, “We don’t do it here. But maybe you can go to the bank.” And then, walking around our complex, I noticed a little store that had a small sign that matched the logo on my card. And now I just know to look for the sign, and I never have to think about it again.

In this RPG we call China, it’s all part of the … life, I guess.

Jul 5, 2016

Five years in China!

A video scrapbook

Five years in China from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

In September, we will have been in China for five years!

When we first got on that plane, oh so long ago, we had no idea what to expect. But our time here has been filled with good friends, delicious food, wacky students, and exciting adventures. Enjoy this video scrapbook of our “DVD extras,” scenes from Luzhou, Lijiang, Chengdu, Vietnam, Thailand, and some of the smaller villages in and around those places.

Jun 15, 2016

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

Let’s make some zongzi with the grannies