Facebook Page + Seven Year Laowai on Anthill

A couple things here…

First, I have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/travislee19. Like it to receive blog updates, book announcements, and I’m releasing a lot of samples, available only via my Facebook page.

Secondly, a couple days ago The Anthill published an edited (and vastly improved) version of The Seven Year Laowai. Check it out here and when you’re done, consider reading the full ebook, available here for only 99 cents.


I met my wife in September 2008, at Wuhan University of Science and Engineering, now Wuhan Textile University, not to be confused with Wuhan University or anything close to prestige.

Our relationship took time to develop. She had never dated anyone before; she’d never even kissed a boy.

That may seem odd to see in a twenty-seven year old woman. It certainly struck me as odd, and the first time I kissed her, she didn’t know how to react. The product of a sexually sheltered upbringing. As another teacher put it, people in their twenties going on twelve.

So our relationship progressed slowly, and after a city-wide foreign teachers’ banquet, we were official: she put the check in the box labeled Yes and had a friend pass the note back to me in class. We’ve been going steady ever since.

We had different ideas about showing one’s love, and early on actions did not strike me the way they strike me now, six years on, when I’ve moved from an easygoing lifestyle in an “exotic” place to the classic American model: job, car, house. Debt. Everything that makes the American Dream the most numbing sleep.

She showed her love for me in her own way; she checked under my fingernails for nicotine stains to make sure I wasn’t smoking. Any ailment called for a solid dose of warm water, and if that failed, then you graduated to the emergency treatment: IV. I needed the IV treatment the morning after a long night, in which I’d tested out a brilliant idea: mixing baijiu with Sprite to mute the nasty taste. Unfortunately, my idea worked.

But it’s socks that stand out to me now, typing this at a broken table, years removed from who I was and what I knew, the memories no less fresh.

I came to China with the same socks I’d been wearing for at least a year, and during one of our South Lake walks I mentioned that I had a hole in my socks; my big toe could fit right through.

She’d didn’t acknowledge this, far as I can remember, but the next day when we met up for dinner, she had something for me.

A package of socks.

She told me she hoped it was the right size.

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.

NEW BOOK SAMPLE: The Pale Ancient & the House of Mirrors, only till May 15

EXCITING NEWS: the first 50 pages of ‘The Pale Ancient and the House of Mirrors’ are now available on Smashwords for FREE. The sample will only be available until May 15, so read it, review it and spread the word!


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.