Two Little Red King Sample Chapters

Two sample chapters from the novel Little Red King are now available. The first deals with John’s introduction to expat nightlife. It’s found here.

The second is LRK’s first real chapter, following The Seven Year Laowai 1. It’s found here.

Set in 2008 Wuhan, Little Red King is more or less about the doomed romance between a new foreign teacher and a Chinese graduate student. The never-sent query is here (or the post right below this one), and the structure of the book goes 7YL1, Ch 1, 7YL2, Ch 2…and so on, with the 7YL departing midway through while the main story takes over and returning at the end to help tie everything together.

More sample chapters are coming. The next one will be about a bad baijiu hangover, based on a true story of a certain former expat who had the bright idea of mixing Sprite with ricewine, to mute the taste. Unfortunately, it worked.

I said it in a Facebook message and I’ll say it here and I’ll say it again and again: I want Little Red King to be a fucking gut punch. So, while things will start out innocent enough, keep in mind this is a doomed romance. I want the sense of doom to set in, and I want it to set in quickly. I want this story to linger in people’s heads for years.

I want a lot of things. Right now, what I want most is for people to read the damn thing.

So feel free to have a look, and yes, I am open to feedback. Some four to five years on, the book remains a work in progress, though less of a work in progress than last time. So what do we call that?


Little Red King Query Letter (Welcome to Hell)

If you’re lucky enough not to know what a query letter is, I’ll let Nathan Bransford explain:

A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop. (Don’t worry, you won’t catch fire and die during the query process though it may feel precisely like that at times). In essence: it is a letter describing your project.

The following is a query letter for Little Red King. I never sent it out. As of now, I don’t have a final query letter that I’m ready to send. From here:

“Hold strong,” Michelle, a traditional Chinese woman, tells John Ingram as he tries to use chopsticks. John has come to China to teach English, and thanks to her, he learns how to use chopsticks. He holds strong.

He holds strong when he finds himself more sideshow than teacher.

He holds strong as he descends into an expat lifestyle of cheap alcohol and easy women.

And right as he finds the strength to put that life behind him and pursue Michelle, another teacher assaults a student. John finds himself being blamed.

Now he must hold strong, or lose Michelle forever.

LITTLE RED KING is literary fiction complete at 123,000 words.

Gimmicky as hell, but the Hold Strong metaphor is vital to the story.

Tribute to the Kick-Ass Muslim Noodle Place

I’m no Tom Carter, I haven’t even traveled half of China, let alone the whole place, but I won’t let that stop me from saying the following:

I know where the best Muslim noodles were in China.


WUSE’s backstreet, specifically, and I use ‘were’ because it’s not there anymore. You IMAG1141understand. Things change. WUSE went from a xueyuan to a daxue, and WUSE’s backstreet went from home to the best Muslim noodles in China to rubble, to make way for highrise apartments. Good. If there’s one thing China lacks, it’s overpriced real estate.

Part of my introduction to China was a trip to the Kick-Ass Muslim Noodle Place. Did the restaurant have an actual name, I hear someone in the peanut gallery asking…why yes, I’m sure it did, but none of us knew it. They were Muslim. They made noodles. The noodles kicked ass.

Hence the name. It’s descriptive, if nothing else.

But what exactly do I mean by Muslim noodles? Muslim noodles, or Uyghur noodles, were made outside, twisted and swung with an occasional hard slap on the table, just to keep you on your toes. Then they took the noodles to the back, to cook, add spices.

Add drugs.

That’s what my wife said: they put drugs in the food. At first, I dismissed this — stereotypes die hard in China — but after a while, I wasn’t sure.

And I didn’t care.

Drugs? Okay. Who cares? Boil it in liquid crack, just keep em coming. Breakfast lunch dinner and second breakfast second lunch midnight snack…

I introduced new foreign teachers to the place. For initiates, the food there had a peculiar side-effect that physicians refer to as Immediate Bowel Release, which provided another sort of introduction to China.

The Kick-Ass Muslim Noodle Place.

Gateway to the good life in the Middle Kingdom.

A backstreet three years ago, rubble today, highrises any day now. Well, Kick-Ass Muslim Noodle Place, it’s a pity I wasn’t around to say goodbye.

Next time I come to China, I hope the highrises are finished. I hope they’re populated.

I plan on lighting some firecrackers in your memory.

The Welcome back to China but not for good post

I didn’t resist the idea of doing an “I’m back” post so much as I resisted making a big deal of it. Just as it doesn’t matter that so-and-so is leaving China, it’s not too important that so-and-so is coming back. If you think about it, that’s what we do. We come, we leave. We come back.

And we write about it.

Sometimes we produce interesting, original content while other times we produce irelevant bullshit for our 500-post a day RSS fuckfeeds. What we have in common is an interest in China, and a desire to share our interest with others.

Returned expat can’t shut up about China? Well, what of it? The big problem with readjusting to life in America is that not many people understand you. You can talk about the wonderful things you saw, the great experiences you had, you can try to make them understand, but without a common base, more often than not the people you’re talking to aren’t listening. They’re doing what most people do.

Waiting for their turn to talk.

Other though, others have questions. Wait, you actually lived over there? Get ready to be considered an expert. Yes, I can speak some Chinese. No, I am not fluent. Yes, you can eat dog and cat but you have to go to special places to do it, and no, everyone doesn’t do it all the time.

My students asked me, “Why do you come to China?”

My coworkers asked me, “Why did you go to China?”

And people now ask me, “Why did you come back?”

I’ll try to answer: my wife’s parents run a store in a small town. Her father gets up early to join the others in the farmer’s market, selling vegetables and meat. Her mother runs the store until he gets back, around lunchtime. Her mother will do manual labor; working all day, for maybe, 100 RMB.

Now, a couple weeks ago I tried to buy coffee. No real coffee here, it’s back to that gourmet Nescafe in a can. We went up to the cashier and I had my 100 RMB bill out, ready to pay.

My mother-in-law came over and handed the cashier a smaller bill. She said, “Take mine. You don’t have to give back so much change.”

Not a good answer. I wasn’t good at any of those questions, and not much has changed. Let’s leave it at this: I came back.

And I wrote about it.

An “I’m back post then? No. More like an attempt to summarize in a few hundred words what would take thousands. So let’s stick with seven:

It feels fucking great to be back.

Shoes Turn Into Children

I can understand more than I could three years ago.

Part of it’s from listening to my wife talk to our daughter. Sometimes it’s just easy to predict what’s someone’s saying and another part might be “attention to detail”, that old military teaching tool.

I still can’t follow every word. Mealtime conversations quickly turn into trainwrecks of sounds, the wreckage rising in direct proportion to the amount of baijiu consumed. Another problem is this place. This dialect.

The local dialect.

It’s easy to hear the difference between the local Hubei-bred Hua and the CCP-approved brand, easier than it was three years ago. The local dialect sounds faster — when people know each other, for whose benefit would they slow down? Also, it’s louder, naturally, here in the home of the “nine-headed birds”. The number of tones are the same.

Here’s a short list of differences between Mandarin and the local dialect. This is spoken in a small Hubei town. Suggestions and corrections are welcome:

hē 喝 “to drink” = huǒ

xué 学 “to study” = xuó

gěi 给 ”to give” = gě

ne = ni (as in: Baba ne? becomes Baba ni?)

bào 抱 “to hug” = pào

chī 吃 “to eat” = qī

zāng 脏 “dirty” = āo zòu

yī diǎn dian 一点点 = yī kār

And everyone’s favorite:

Shoes = Children


A scene from (real) China: the twins’ first birthday

I have never referred to a place as Real China, and God willing, I never will. I don’t think there is such a thing as Real China. There’s Modern China, there’s Old China, and there’s even, and I’ve heard this, Old Old China, which is a lot more descriptive than either Old or Ancient, isn’t it?

Real China (and it’s variant: real Chinese city) are used in comparison to places like Beijing and Shanghai. The recruiter for my first ESL gig said that Wuhan is a “real Chinese city, unlike Beijing and Shanghai”. Beijing and Shanghai.

Fake China.

However you want to describe it, here in my wife’s hometown you’ll see stuff you may not see, even in “real Chinese cities” like Wuhan.

For instance, yesterday’s birthday celebration:



Twins, a boy and a girl, were turning one. It’s usual to treat a baby’s first birthday as a big event, and these parents didn’t disappoint. There was a banner:

Wishing their dear daughter and son a happy first birthday.

Wishing their dear daughter and son a happy first birthday.

And live music:


The celebration, loud music and speeches kept going until about 9 that night. Close to the end, right before the firecrackers, they announced that Fei Xiang had dropped by. I went outside to snap a photo, but sadly, it wasn’t really him.

Earlier in the day they had Zhuazhou. I don’t have pictures, but Zhuazhou is where the child is set down and allowed to crawl towards and grab an object. What he grabs is supposed to tell the parents about his future aspirations and accomplishments.

For more on Zhuazhou, see:

The Tradition of Zhuazhou, First Birthday Celebration

Zhuazhou – Gift Picking at 1 Year Old

Here’s wishing the twins a happy birthday

A pity the real Fei Xiang couldn’t make it.

So I’m back in China, and…

Patience is still a required skill.

On the train we entered the car at the back end. We had to get our huge suitcase to the front. We’re going along pretty well, until here comes this guy. His suitcase is smaller than mine, more of a satchel with wheels. We politely ask him to stand aside, but Fuckstick apparently can’t wait the whole three seconds it would take to let us by. He says he can’t and just stands there, waiting for us to haul our suitcase, which is bigger than two of him put together, out of the way, squeezing it between a couple seats.


Patience is watching a woman twice your age throw a temper tantrum because she can’t cut you in line for the elevator.

Patience is being woken up at the crack of dawn by a megaphone right outside your window blaring “Mai pingguo you zi!” on infinite repeat.

Patience is arriving at the Hankou train station jet-lagged with four suitcases to find the elevator closed. Patience is listening to the guard tell you it’s closed without explaining why.

Patience is then watching the guard open it for someone else after you’ve hauled your four suitcases up the steps, one at a time.

Patience is dealing with stuff like this on a daily basis. Patience is dealing with it, and not going to jail.

Patience is the difference between making it in China or going fucking insane.