A Mei Suzi Level Event

March 2014, Hankou train station and my wife’s had enough.

“Tamen dou mei suzi de ren.”

The crowds rushing past us, the unhelpful train station workers, four suitcases and a fussy one-year old. First day here and she’s already hit a China Breaking Point.

Tamen dou mei suzi de ren. One of the rushing passengers bumps into our suitcase.

It falls over.


How do you convey this to the people back home? How do you make them understand what it’s like to haul your four suitcases up the stairs after the guard tells you the elevator’s out, and then watch that same guard open the elevator for someone else, quickly locking it again?

How do you do it?

How do you explain what it’s like to get on the train and find people in your seats? Then these people argue with you and you have to get a stewardess to make them move and they argue with her too.

How do you do it?

If you can explain all that, then you can understand what it’s like to stand there atop the stairs as the crowd surges around us. As not one person bothers to stop and help, as the guards just watch us and the train whistle blows again. Hurry up.

If you can, you’ll understand why my wife said “Tamen dou mei suzi de ren.” When it comes to a China Breaking Point, it’s actually rather tame.

It was my first time in China in three years. Going in, I tried to be realistic. I tried, because three years does funny things to the brain. It makes the brain think that the every man for himself mentality is not a big deal. Hell, it’s part of the culture, it’s a quirk. It makes you romanticize the days when you had no money, weighed over 200 pounds and subsisted on a diet of beer and hot dry noodles. It makes you long for the taste of baijiu — fucking baijiu! And not the well-brewed kind but the tiny 5 RMB bottles, one of the many perks of your “high” ESL salary. It doesn’t make you realistic. So I prepared myself.

But preparation only takes you so far.

We make it to my wife’s hometown. We’re heading out of the train station. As we close in on the exit, a guy behind us starts to speed up. He and my wife hit the door at the same time, and he goes faster. While there’s plenty of room on the right, he has the warrior’s instinct: he knows the slit between my wife’s shoulder and the wall will be quicker.

He squeezes through. The checkered flag drops.

Still, I’d say I’m better equipped than most. Check out the airplanes. Taxi’ing in, seatbelt sign on? What seatbelt sign? One guy actually made it all the way to the front with his luggage before we’d come to a complete stop. That’s more than skill — that’s an inbuilt instinct, the difference between waiting at the front or waiting close to the front.

The difference between life or death.

Not everyone sees it my way. When we landed in Chicago,, a man cut off this old lady, nearly whacking her with his suitcase. She glared at him.

“Excuse you!”

Then she gave me this look. The look of someone who’s on her first (and only) trip to China. The man didn’t react. I could tell her he can’t understand “Excuse you”, but I don’t think she knows how to say it in Chinese.

And besides, she’s nowhere near a “mei suzi” moment.

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Here’s some quick info on the book:

An amateur foreign journalist goes missing while investigating a blood-cult in a small Chinese town.

Mary Hudson is a new China-based writer who dreams of cementing her name along the expat greats. When she accepts a friend’s invitation to see “real China”, she thinks she’s finally found the story she needs.

On the way there she meets Richard. He is seeking out cryptic messages taped all over the town. The messages point people towards a condemned house on the city outskirts, where from afar you hear bees, up close you hear a eunuch’s song.

And inside you wander forever in the mirrors.

Cut Seven Year Laowai Parts

The Seven Year Laowai is a prologue to Little Red King, a much larger story.

In the original Little Red King typescript, The Seven Year Laowai ran close to sixteen parts. For the parts I eventually released, I tried to focus more or less on an existing thread.

This scope of this post only covers parts removed from the original MS to the Lost Laowai series; it does not cover what I removed from Lost Laowai to the Kindle version.

So, off the top of my head, here are some removed parts. I’ll update this if I remember more later (the original MS is in a box in my wife’s hometown):

Love, with Chinese characteristics (a conversation)

This post is a reworking of 7YL part in which Jack lectures the narrator him on how a relationship with a Chiense woman is “real love”. The woman in question is Jack’s nineteen year old freshman English student.

Why it was cut: Two reasons. One, it didn’t fit the story I wanted to tell. Two, in the LRK manuscript it changes to where Jack was single. It made things less complicated to have Jack single.

Harassed Student

I think this was after Keith’s introduction. The narrator talks about how foreign teachers are ambassadors for their respective countries and recounts a story he heard from a student about being harassed at a Hankou nightclub by a foreign teacher. The student went to the police, who told her it was “none of their business.” I based it on something that happened to a former student.

Why cut: Pacing. It added nothing that wasn’t covered elsewhere.

The anti-fenqing rant

I think this occured in more than one part. It would have concided with the vandalism mentioned on Tom’s apartment, as well as the growing sense that something terrible is going to happen to John (LRK’s main character). Anyways, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: the narrator rants against Chinese nationalism.

Why cut: It was just terrible. Take my word for it. Nobody wanted to read this crap.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure I’ll update this post later.


You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

The War of Art is a great book, damn near invaluable, not only for artists (of all stripes), but really, anyone who wants to do something with their lives other than eat, work and reproduce, work some more and die.

Think like this: what’s easier to do? Is it easier to…start an argument on Facebook than work on your query letter? Get caught up on others’ silly problems than do your revisions? I’m paraphrasing what Steven Pressfield says in the book, so I’ll end this little commercial with a link: The War of Art

He writes a blog series, Writing Wednesdays. It’s good stuff, much more worthwhile than say, sharing a silly Buzzfeed/Thought Catalog list or the daily outrage the online tabloids manufacture to drive pageviews.