The Seven Year Laowai Chapter One – Annotated

The Seven Year Laowai is the backstory for a long novel called Little Red King.

I’ve spent years revising Little Red King‘s mammoth 260,000 word manuscript, eventually shelving it indefinitely.

A book I recently read inspired me to go back and set it right. If I succeed, I’ll self-publish it. This is not the kind of book that lends itself to traditional publishing; if you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

The Seven Year Laowai is more than backstory though. It’s a prologue, told through a series of interludes in the main text of Little Red King, providing crucial background info and build-up throughout the book.

I have annotated the first chapter of The Seven Year Laowai.  Read on for some trivia, my thought process, etc.

Enjoy it for FREE!

The Seven Year Laowai Chapter One – Annotated


From a literary journal’s submission guidelines:

We do not ever accept unsolicited submissions of art, novels, novellas, novelettes, or anything else longer than 5,000 words. If you submit a novel or anything way over the word count limits, we’ll probably blacklist you.

Okay. Nothing over 5,000 words. Got it. What about content?

There are some things we absolutely do not want. If you send us stories with these, the story will be rejected and you will be blacklisted:

Are you sure?

This isn’t negotiable, so don’t ask. If you need to have these things in your story, find a different market. We really do have a blacklist.

Somehow, I believe you.

Migrant Laowai: a review of Quincy Carroll’s ‘Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside’

She continued to badger him in Mandarin. She asked him why he had come to China and, more pointedly, what he was doing in Ningyuan. Daniel told her that he was bored of America, and when he spoke, the others started, taken aback. They considered him as if he were crazy.

One of the things you learn about China, once the initial excitement wears off and having a white face is no longer a novelty, is that you are an outsider. Master Chinese or not, you are still an outsider.

Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is the story of two outsiders. Daniel is a young ESL teacher who tries to ingratiate himself with China. He has great Mandarin, understands the culture and takes his job seriously.

Thomas has recently arrived from a kindergarten in Changsha, where it’s implied that his departure was not by choice. Daniel gets him signed on at the last minute, and Thomas is not the least bit grateful. Quite the opposite: he believes it is the school’s duty to hire him, China is his playground.

In that way Thomas is like many older men I worked with in China. Compared to Daniel, Thomas is cynical, making no effort to understand China. He passes cold judgments and gives his teaching duties the same enthusiasm you would muster for sweeping a dirty floor.

Daniel is the young optimist, less set in his ways. Throughout the book he displays a fondness for Chinese culture absent in Thomas. For Daniel, as for many expats, China is a place for discovery. For Daniel, that dream is still vivid:

They asked [Daniel] about China, but he could not articulate how it had changed him, for, despite trying his hardest, he could not explain it to himself. There was a wildness to the country that fulfilled certain promises in his heart, promises he had made to himself as a boy but had long since forgotten.

The China described in this book was brimming with possibility, opportunity, and the barriers that held you in check back home are gone. Daniel seeks what he wants, understands what he doesn’t want: to live a quiet life of work like his friends. As for what he does want, he decides the best solution is to integrate himself into Chinese culture.

Thomas makes no effort, thumbing his nose at everything they do, barely speaking Mandarin. Tension between Daniel and Thomas grows, climaxing at a Spring Festival dinner. After Daniel calls out Thomas for being a creepy lecher, Thomas points out:

After all is said and done, he’s here for the exact same reasons as the rest of us: easy living, zero responsibility, and a chance to make himself into whatever he wants.

The truth of that statement cannot be glossed over. No matter what Daniel tells himself, the Middle Kingdom is a place where Daniel can work little, live freely and dream the eternal dreams of youth in a developing Never-Never Land where responsibility comes to die.

Daniel understands that Thomas has a point, that Daniel is also an outsider no matter how hard he tries. He gets a taste of this earlier, before argument with Thomas. Daniel is close to the carpenter and his family — the carpenter’s son shares his English name — and Daniel agrees to celebrate Spring Festival at their house, bringing the carpenter some whiskey.

Over dinner they commend Daniel on his Mandarin, and we slowly see what Daniel is: an oddity. A show. They pressure him into eating a dog’s paw, and after a heavy round of drinking the men turn on their new karaoke machine. Daniel doesn’t want to sing, but…

When Hong noticed him standing there, he stood up and started pointing — first at Daniel, then at the screen. He pulled him by the forearm to where he had been standing, then gave him a microphone and sat down. Laowai chang! he shouted, to the approval of everyone else. Then he started chanting: Laowai chang! Laowai chang!

They want Daniel to dance for them. He refuses, but in the end he does what every other laowai does, no matter how hard they try to resist.

He dances.


All of us who teach English in China are migrant laowai. Some just acknowledge it. For all of Daniel’s attempts to integrate himself, one must ask, is he successful?

Thomas isn’t, and it is clear that he stopped trying years ago. While Daniel is a migrant laowai in denial, Thomas understands not only what he is, but that it is too late to change. After Thomas wears out his welcome, he pulls a midnight runner; we then find him in Bangkok, ready to start fresh:

Hailing a cab, he paid the driver using the last of his money, then climbed into the backseat and nodded off, dreaming of Bangkok. He knew that he would have a drink in his hand soon enough, and, after all, he had always been a believer in second chances.

East Asia offers many men second chances. For men like Thomas, it offers third and fourth chances too. Men like Daniel are still on their first.

Men like Thomas better hope the supply never runs out.


Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is available at Amazon and Inkshares.

You can learn more about author Quincy Carroll by following him on Twitter and liking his Facebook Page.

Thirty-Four With A Shrug

AG2 William Benson, who can travel short distances into the future, comes home from a long underway to find that his wife has “gone out with the girls”. This follows sequentially from A Step Ahead.

On the drive home William experienced the aftereffects. Strange thoughts, mixed voices. It was just his mind playing catch-up, but still, he had to be careful.

He stopped at the package store. Friday night, packed as usual. William roamed the aisles for a while, pretending to browse and noting how the line grew. He let his mind finish playing catch up. By the time he was done, the line had wrapped around the coolers in the back.

William got in his car. All better now. He drove home in the dark. Party this weekend. Weekend pleasure, Monday morning regret, and no regret was worse than the regret experienced in a floating steel labyrinth.

Just wait till deployment. Nine months, maybe eleven.

Current mess deck rumors suggested they’d get extended. It made sense. Hadn’t the Bataan gotten extended? The Bush? Or were those just rumors too? The worst rumors were the ones that had come true before. Precedence. Hard to argue against it.

Deployment. Nine months, eleven. Eleven? Call it what it is: a fucking year. No amount of port visits could justify that. William had never jumped ahead more than a few hours. Not one day, let alone 365. How long would it take to catch up then? Could he ever?

He pulled into the driveway. They lived in military housing, free but you lose your basic housing allowance. Fourteen hundred dollars you won’t see, to live in a safe neighborhood. It seemed a fair trade-off to William.

No lights were on and he knew what he’d find before he found it. The note taped to the door was written in marker.

Got tired of waiting up. Davin’s at Jess’s. I’m going out with the girls. Don’t wait up.

Past this was her name, Alisha, a heart dotting the i.

William nodded. Made sense. She rarely waited for him anymore. He plucked the note off the door and turned it around, smiling in triumph.

On the back she’d written, AKA ADMIN BITCH


William stood over the sink and poured himself a shot of Jack Daniels. He downed the shot, poured another and held it up.

Davin would be okay — let the fat bitch keep him tonight. Jess worked part-time as a caretaker and she had great reviews. Alisha would be okay too — she’d gone out with some girls, all Navy, attached and single, and they chose the designated driver beforehand, no rock-paper-scissors or its close cousin hatchet-shield-club. Alisha would be okay. She might meet a guy.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

His wife’s infidelity only gave him an excuse to be unfaithful too. And while he did flirt with some of the girls on the ship, William had found that since discovering his gift his desire for sex had dropped. He didn’t want her like he had in the early days, and when they did have sex, he laid there and let her do everything. She acted like she preferred it, but he knew better.

Their last passion was after boot camp graduation. William’s family hadn’t come and Alisha’s left the two of them alone. They’d gone out to “get some donuts” and William didn’t know if it were true or not, and with Alisha yanking at his dress blues, he didn’t care either. Their last moment of lust.

William downed the shot and poured another.

Life had changed since he’d discovered his gift, but it wasn’t Alisha’s infidelity, her impending exit from the Navy or his own lack of lust that bothered him. In the end, it was a simple feeling.

He hated his life.

He had hated his life since grad school, when it became apparent that even if he did finish, it didn’t matter: he was going nowhere. He looked at the other graduate students, who gave little shrugs when asked what they planned to do with their degrees. Thirty-four year olds, some with families, pissing away their youth for a piece of paper, and when asked what they planned to do with it, they shrugged. Hell if I know.

William would be in debt the rest of his life, thanks to college. The Navy was supposed to give him money to go back and do a real degree. Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering. A little something to show for his efforts, that would be nice, not Thirty-Four with a Shrug. What are you going to do? Hell if I know.

Then Alisha got pregnant.

We were using protection, everyone’s classic excuse. In William’s case, he didn’t know — when he’d lost his lust, he’d lost his interest too, his planning . . . and one morning Alisha turned up pregnant, and what are you going to do? Hell if I know?

But, no. William knew.

It involved two decades and a Thank You for Your Service.

A car went by, brake lights flashing, easing over the speed bumps. He downed this shot and laid the glass in the sink.

Alisha wasn’t the only one who could go out.

Interview with Tim Gurung

Books by the great TIM I GURUNGToday I’m interviewing Tim Gurung. A former Gurkha, Tim Gurung is the author of eight books. His latest is The Atonement: A Celebration of Women. I recently had the privilege to chat with Tim about his life, writing and his charity, ISSLCARE.

Tell me a bit about where you’re from, how you came to Hong Kong.

I am originally from Nepal, I came to Hong Kong as a 17 years old Gurkha soldier in 1980 and I have been living here since then.

What made you want to stay in Hong Kong?

After voluntarily retiring from the British Gurkhas in 1993, I got a job at an international firm in Hong Kong that required me to travel all over China and my future was firmly set for Hong Kong.

I personally think that Hong Kong is one of such places in this world where if you really want to work hard, enough opportunities will be given, and I happened to be one of the luckiest ones as a testament of that saying. My entire adult life has been spent in Hong Kong, it is my home and I have no plan to leave it anytime soon.

Do you visit Nepal often? Have you seen major changes since you were little, and if so, what?

Sorry, I haven’t been to Nepal for the last twenty years and I am sure that a lot has changed since then. But from what I have heard or read, especially in the actual development of people, society and the nation itself, sadly it said to be much more worsened and not much improvement. And that is quite predictable too.

You write to support your charity ISSLCARE. What benefits for Nepal have you seen firsthand, as a result of ISSLCARE?

ISSLCARE is still in a very early stage, it has ambitious goal but it still has a long way to go. It helps provide scholarship to poor families so more children can go to school, we support the children until he/she reaches on grade ten, and we are currently supporting 27 children through 8 schools.

My ultimate goal at ISSLCARE is to help spread the campaign in such an extent that one day it will be able to cover the whole nation and we will be able to help many children. Writing is my passion, helping others is my compassion and I do both from the bottom of my heart.

You publish your books yourself. Have you considered the traditional publishing route?

I am a very simple, honest and independent type of guy, I want to do things on my own way and I am really passionate about my works. I decided to go with self-publishing for that reason alone and I am to talk straight from my heart, I really hate dealing with people, especially to those condescending ones. I am also only writing for my charity, I don’t write for money or fame and I don’t have to sell millions. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I don’t write for money or fame and I don’t have to sell millions. [/pullquote]

Most importantly, I can afford it, I don’t have to beg anyone and do whatever I want to do with my writing. I have no plans whatsoever of finding agents or approaching big publishers, I am happy with what I am doing and I will keep doing it until I like it. It is the process not the final result that fascinates me and I am extremely happy with my current situation.

What advantages does self-publishing give you that traditional publishing doesn’t?

As a self-published author, we have full control along the whole process of publishing from manuscript, cover, what to put inside, printing, and distribution and to the launch date. We also have full control on marketing and do make necessary planning as we like. Of course, self-published writers have our own problems as well as limitations and we cannot move the market as the big boys do. But if your goal is simple and reasonable like mine, I think, it is the best way to move forward and that is precisely what I am doing and enjoying it.

Out of the books you’ve published, are any of them more personal to you than the others?

As the old saying goes, books are like our babies and I have no reason to see them differently. However, I am not sure why but I admit, I can hardly read my own books after they are published and I don’t have a favorite. Having said that, if I really have to point out, I would say a few – OLD MEN DON’T CRY is a book I wrote for Hong Kong, THE CURSED NATION was written for Nepal, and A TREE CALLED TENALPA was based on migration and discrimination that had been an integral part of my own life.

Which book was the most difficult to write?

Definitely OLD MEN DON’T CRY – it was not only a historical book which required a lot of researching works but it was also a very sad story to write and I wanted to pour all the pains and sorrows of my own life as well into it. It was also a very long book and it covers the entire life journey of the protagonist from his childhood to old age. I also had to memorize many events that had affected Hong Kong and I tried to present Hong Kong as one of the main characters of the book. Since it was also written for one main purpose, my humble gift to Hong Kong, it had a lot of emotions attached to it and I had to express them in the proper way as well.

Do you feel that writing a difficult book ultimately proves more worthwhile on an artistic level?

Yes, definitely. The harder you try for a book, the more satisfying it will be at the end and I think it applies to each and every aspect of our life. I read somewhere on the paper people were lamenting about lack of epic novels about Hong Kong and I decided to write one. My book OLD MEN DON’T CRY is for Hong Kong. Unlike other books written about Hong Kong, which are mostly either about tycoon, money and high life, and mostly written from a western point of view from top to bottom of the society, my book is about ordinary people like you and me and deal with our daily problems of the society. This book gives a completely different perspective of life in Hong Kong, it deals with our traditions and I have used real places and streets to give more authenticity to the story. I sincerely do hope that one day it will become one of the important books of Hong Kong and many people will be able to read and associate themselves with it. If I can achieve that, that will be greatest moment of my life.

Why did you start writing?

As I have been working really hard since 17, I never wanted to work for money after I turned fifty and instead I wanted to do something meaningful in the latter half of my life. Although I have spent my entire adult life in Hong Kong, I have never forgotten about my root back in Nepal and I always wanted to do something for my homeland. As I have already said above, writing was my passion and helping others was my compassion, why not I combine them together and uses them as a solution of my ongoing dilemma. Therefore, I decided to establish a charity and use my writing to help finance it. So, here I am and doing my utmost best to fulfill both all at the same time.

Which books/authors do you admire? Any in particular that have inspired you?

I am mostly inspired and fascinated by Nobel laureates, I have even tried to read at least a book from them and the pursuit is still going on. But to be honest with you, some of the books I read were just terrible. Maybe I chose the wrong book, I don’t know. The most books I read from one author was three and it was from Salman Rushdie. In other cases, I can only read one book from any authors and I wasn’t impressed by many authors either.

What are you working on at the moment?

Since I was fully preoccupied with book promotion for the entire 2015, I didn’t even write a single page for the entire year and I have to write 5 books all at once this year to clear it all out of my head. I am extremely busy writing for this year and hardly have time to do other things including book promotion. Hopefully I can finish them by end of the year and I have a big project for 2017. I am writing a true Gurkhas book, visiting Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Burma, India, Nepal, UK and Europe for research works and the book should be ready to be published in 2018. Then, I think, I will take a rest.

If I were going to write my first book tomorrow, what advice would you give me?

Start promoting your book at least a year before you start writing it, know your subject and readers well, hire professional editor and cover designer, and write it as a side job until you have become a well-known author. And if you don’t love or have passion for it, don’t write it.

In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say?

Writing is a very long, slow and assiduous journey, static shows only 10% authors make a decent living out of writing and the other 90% write for vanity. Books are not like other commodities like food, cloth and furniture, people don’t have to buy it as a daily necessity, and they mostly read books from famous authors. It is a novelty that people can live without and it needs a lot of hard work, perseverance and marketing to become a famous author. Self-publishing phenomenon also made dogs and cats authors and it is not that easy to stand out of that big crowd too. One must have a passion, heart and patience.

Thank you very much, Tim, for giving me some of your time. You can find more about Tim Gurung and his books on the following sites.

Thank you so much and all the best!