New Expat Jimmy Review

On a day in which my website was hacked and I had to endure Facebook burying my posts because I won’t pay them to show it, I mean “boost” it, some good news came flying in over the transom: another Expat Jimmy review.

Jetlagged and tired, Jimmy sees Wuhan, goes to many different places (and manages to not collapse from exhaustion!) and listens to Adam’s endless China tips. Crazy taxi rides, construction works everywhere, baijiu, hot water, accidents, shady clubs… this is China!

This review comes courtesy of Marta, who lives in Suzhou with her husband. She works as a translator and blogs about her life in China in both English and Spanish.

Check out her blog. Huge thanks to Marta for doing the review. Not all writers have automatic support systems thanks to their pedigree or gender, nor do we get book deals and coverage thanks to big media connections, so I appreciate every review I get.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out Expat Jimmy, a tale of James’s first day in China, and the jaded seven-year laowai who shows him the dark side of expat life. Taking place in one day, it’s unique among expat novels in its approach, at least until someone well-connected writes a neutered version of the same book.

At that point, Expat Jimmy will be forgotten, so review it while it’s hot…

P, for Potential

“I think you show a lot of potential,” Chief Earhart said. He was struggling. Good. Let him.

“I see a lot of potential in you,” Chief continued. He flicked the mustache he’d grown for Movember. They couldn’t wear beards, so they participated by growing mustaches. Voting for the best mustache would take place on the watchfloor next week, and the winner would get 24-hours special liberty. It was strange seeing Chief Earhart in a mustache. It looked he was hiding something, like he had another mouth under all that hair, and it spoke his real thoughts.

We think you suck, Denson. You’re not one of us. We like other people better, so they get EP’s and MP’s, and you . . . you get what’s left. P.

It meant Promotable, the lowest “good” mark possible on your quarterly evaluation, but the letter P stood for so much more. While Chief kept talking, William thought of what else it meant.

Pushy? Pussy? Party? Partial? Pure?

“So keep at it, and I look for great things from you,” Chief’s visible mouth said.

“So fuck off with your P, and thank your lucky stars advancement has been 100% the past few cycles, otherwise you’d still be an Airman,” Chief’s hidden mouth said.

Pity? William thanked Chief and left the Chief’s Mess. Pity . . . that sounded better. Close, not quite, but getting there.

It showed a lot of potential too.


 

If you liked this sample from Keepers of Time, follow me on Twitter or Facebook. The samples, in order:

  1. A Step Ahead
  2. Thirty-Four with a Shrug
  3. An Encounter at the Thirsty Camel
  4. Take Pills
  5. P, for Potential

When Using a Squat Toilet Goes Wrong: A Two-Part Confessional

Part 1:

don’t often write about my life— there is a reason — but I feel like getting this off my chest.

I lived in China for two and a half years. In that time I did everything I could to avoid using squat toilets, including running all the way back to my apartment when my stomach had an argument with one of Wuhan’s streetside offerings, and lost. Always thankful for the Western toilet in my apartment, I never went as far as to worship it, but I did kneel before it a few times, the mornings after an unfortunate dance with baijiu. Hard days and blurry nights.

I was taking morning Chinese classes at Wuhan University while teaching English. The university where I worked was on the outskirts of Wuhan and the bus ride to Wu Da took an hour on a good day, the bus lurching from traffic jam to traffic jam. The best you could say about it was that since you were so close to the starting point, you didn’t have to push or shove with a lot of people to get a seat. Just kids, and I had my pick of the best seats each morning.

One of my apartment’s perks was the huge marketplace right down the road. Merchants were up frying food at the crack of dawn. Usually I bought hot dry noodles but one morning I decided to brave some jiaozi.

A woman sold it from a tiny alcove next to the noodle place. I’m not sure if her presence there was even legal. She fried them on a cast-iron pan and as you’d expect, this wasn’t gourmet jiaozi.

This was the greasy, gritty jiaozi you find in “real” China. The kind that doesn’t demand a bowl; she handed all six to me wrapped in plastic with a pair of disposable chopsticks.

I broke the chopsticks apart and grabbed a jiaozi. The grease nearly made it slip off my sticks, and I cranked my iPod to my Chinese podcast playlist. A few stops later I’d wolfed down the whole bag, leaving only a puddle of greenish leftover cooking oil in the bottom of the bag.

My stomach buzzed.

I felt movement. Like the turning of a great gear in my stomach. It started out slow, but as the bus lurched on through Wuhan’s early morning traffic, I hoped I could wait. Preferably all morning and the bus ride back to my apartment.

But the gear had no pity: it turned faster and faster, until it became one throbbing, shaking entity.

The bus was stalled in traffic. I got up and shoved my way through the people and pounded on the doors. They opened and I stumbled onto the sidewalk.

I took off running with little idea where I was going. The gear had ceased moving and I knew it was coming, ready or not.

I spotted the characters for netbar.

I rushed past the girl sitting at the front desk and through the nicotine web of overworked college students and neglectful parents. I pushed through a doorway of plastic flaps into a courtyard, and there it was: a porcelain bowl laid in the ground, a waist-high wall for privacy.

I squatted and did my business. But of course, I’m not used to squatting flat on my feet. When I tried, I nearly fell back. I managed to steady myself with my hands, my palms covered in something wet with an odd smell.

A woman came in, grabbed a mop from the sinkbasin and left.

After finishing and vowing never to eat gritty jiaozi again, I had to perform part 2 of this act. I checked my pockets. I checked my backpack.

I had no tissue. I looked around.

Neither did the restroom.

I could could tell you about how it had no soap either, but why make things worse?

I’m sure you get the unfortunate picture.

Part 2:

This story isn’t complete without the following confession:

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after the jiaozi fiasco. If so, you give me too much credit. While on a nightly walk with my wife, I ended up eating some backstreet offering or another, and the gear began to turn. I ignored it as best I could.

Then it sped up.

Me: We need to find a bathroom.

My wife pointed at a building. All the lights were on and students were shuffling in and out.

Me: I’ll be right back.

I hurried inside, and after a few false turns I finally found the sign for restroom. Salvation, yet again. I tried the door.

It wouldn’t budge.

I tried again, pounding on it as the gear stopping turning and became one great throbbing entity. No time to ask for a key. No time to find another restroom. Like before, it was coming ready or not, so I did what I could. The only thing I could do, really.

I let it out by the sink.

When it was over, I sat there for a few minutes, thinking about what I’d just done. This had never been on my list, but I guess I could still put it on there and cross it out. I thought over my life, what had led me to this moment. Of all the things I could be doing, here I was.

I stood, said a quick prayer for the cleaning lady, and hurried back to my apartment. I never went back to that building.

So yeah, there’s a reason I don’t often write about my life.


If you liked this story, you’ll like Expat Jimmy, a tale of James’s first day in China, and the jaded teacher determined to crush his spirit.

For more, follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Or both, if you feel daring.

Book Passage of the Week – from Manhattan Transfer, by John Dos Passos

So much good in Manhattan Transfer, I’ll just stick with what stood out to me the most:

A nickel before midnight buys tomorrow . . . holdup headlines, a cup of coffee in the automat, a ride to Woodlawn, Fort Lee, Flatbush . . . A nickel in the slot buys chewing gum. Somebody Loves Me, Baby Divine, You’re in Kentucky Juss Shu’ As You’re Born . . . bruised notes of foxtrots go limping out of doors, blues, waltzes (We’d Danced the Whole Night Through) trail gyrating tinsel memories . . . On Sixth Avenue on Fourteenth there are still flyspecked stereopticons where for a nickel you can peep at yellowed yesterdays. Beside the peppering shooting gallery you stoop into the flicker A Hot Time, The Bachelor’s Surprise, The Stolen Garter . . . wastebasket of tornup daydreams . . . A nickel before midnight buys yesterday.

Take a break from this week’s fashionable outrage or regiurgitated opinions on gun control, and check out this portrait of early twentieth century New York City. Highly recommended, and I’d bet a toenail that Cormac McCarthy read Manhattan Transfer at some point in his life prior to writing Suttree.