The original ending to The Seven Year Laowai

Expat Jimmy comes out May 11, available for pre-order now. It’s about James’s first day in Wuhan, China, as he’s shown around by Adam, a jaded seven-year laowai.


I’m at the end of a two-week trip to China. I found the original typescript for Little Red King, the source material for The Seven Year Laowai. Much changed from draft 1 to publication, but looking at it again, I was surprised at just how much it had changed.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some excerpts from the original draft, unedited. You won’t find anything *completely* new below. Different wording, speculation to John Ingram’s fate (Little Red King’s main character)…in the context of Little Red King, The Seven Year Laowai becomes a richer tale. It also provides an impending sense of doom — we know what Keith did to Walter and Tom, and that it got worse with Tom. How will he show John Ingram out of China, and how much worse will it get? Add in his developing romance with Michelle, a local Chinese woman, and that she is risking being unmarriageable by dating him.








I’ve already talked at length about how for a lot of people this is the place where they can succeed, where they can reinvent themselves into whatever they wish, sometimes constructing narratives so strong they come to embrace them whole heartedly.

In China, dirty old men from the West can indulge their fantasies and still be allowed to walk into a classroom. The lack of structure, the lack of qualifications, it allows these men a life. Jack ought to be in an institution somewhere, locked far away from daylight for the sun’s protection. But if his latest incoherent ramblings are any clue, this is the face representing a top five UK university: graveyard teeth, purple spider veins, red patches and eyes that when you look at them you know that whatever’s behind them is lost–and never coming back.

When one teacher leaves, often what happens is that teacher is not spoken of again. They’ve left, they’ve betrayed the unit, they’ve abandoned desperate KTV girls and cheap beer for the rat race in the West.

John Ingram did not do that, but don’t think he didn’t get that treatment. John was a young man from Tennessee, like Tom. One of Keith’s recruits, like Tom, and like Tom, and like Tom, Keith saw to it that John was given a special farewell.

Except this time, Keith upped the ante: he threw in a rape charge…a rape that lead the Hubei Finance Minister’s daughter to commit suicide.

Where was the evidence? What exactly did they have on the poor boy? Before I left, I did so some checking. Candy had referred to a “laowai”, and if she’s referring to a laowai, then she’s not referring to no one. She’s not making it up, in other words. Who could she have been referring to? I checked and found out that semester she had a foreign teacher.


Who’d gone crazy and shot someone, before killing himself.

Here’s what I think happened: Jeff was dead. What he did was a serious loss of face for Wuhan Computer University. They needed to cover it up somehow, while suggesting to people that although they had a problem, they remedied it. They harmonized it, and quickly.
John Ingram was already on the hot seat for accidentally reminding Keith of how inadequate he was. He was gone, and since he was going…why not send the problems with him?

And so they did. And if you check the local newspaper website at that time, you can see it for yourself. Rapist, sent home. You should know that they paid good money for that newspaper spot. You can bet on it.

Except…something happened, something off the record. Something they’d rather you not know about. I got this from one of the guys who used to work in the Foreign Affairs Office. I later got it from Jack, and other students I’d taught there. Much like the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Cultural Revolution, the topic of John Ingram’s true fate had become something that everybody knows…and yet no one will speak aloud of, for fear of repercussion. That’s how it is in today’s China. You know the truth. So you shut the fuck up about it.

On that day the police took him to the station, John Ingram escaped. To this day, he has not been found. For every shot of the Great Wall they export, China is still very much a developing country. Mostly countryside, and there are just so many places for someone to hide. All that space. He could have gone anywhere.

Like the other teachers who left, John Ingram became something of an unperson. Jack found it shitty what they did, yet at the same time mocked his newspaper columns. “He’s just American,” Jack said with a heavy roll of his eyes while his barely legal jailbait girlfriend giggled on cue. Yes Jack, he is just American…which is so much better than whatever the fuck it is you are. John Ingram has left us.He could be dead, he could be alive, but whatever he is, I think he has the last laugh here. Keith wanted him gone, not just from Wuhan Computer University, but China itself. The borders of Keith’s playhouse extended far and wide. It had to cook his ass knowing that John was still in _his_ China in some capacity, as he lay in that cold hospital room, as he inched towards a forgotten death.

Now I’m gone too. I can only imagine what they say about me, when they bother to speak of me. No doubt Jack is cooking up some story about who he held me over a balcony and then threw me out on my ass, another fine anecdote to go with his past life as a worldwide hitman-bodyguard-lawyer extraordinaire.

I started writing this a day or two before I left and here I am, thirty-hours later, finishing it right before we touchdown. Strange how things work out sometimes. I spent seven years in that place, and now I’m coming back to a home that is in its own way as strange to me as China was when I first arrived. Will I be okay here? I couldn’t make it before. I hope I can now.

I think the first thing I’ll do when I arrive is to take a moment and look at the sky. Then I’ll check into my hotel. Then…

I got the numbers before I left. They’re sitting in my pocket. Several times I felt down there, just to make sure they hadn’t gone anywhere. Just to make sure they were real. I’ve never felt so nervous about anything in my life. All I’ve got is a couple hundred dollars and some phone numbers. It might be stupid, but so is going to China to teach English. So’s any chance, if you think about it long enough. Long enough not to take it.

Here is mine. I know I’d feel worse for not trying. And that is all I can do.

The rest is out of my hands.

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.

John meets a Squat Toilet (Little Red King, deleted scene)

John is a recent college graduate who has taken his humanities degree and fled the bad American economy for the great adventure of teaching ESL in China. His stomach gets in an argument with some backstreet food, and loses.


He’s fishing with a local boy, when his stomach goes down for the count.


John had just taken the pole back when he got his first inkling that something was wrong. That gear was turning again, dragging burps with it, burps that rose and soared to the end of his mouth. He jittered. The fishing pole lowered like a longneck beast at drink.

“Zenme le?”

John’s hand fell to his stomach.

“Ni yao la duzi ma?”

The fishing pole fell. John farted.

“Ah! Ni yao la duzi ba!”

John turned, waved and shouted ‘bye-bye’ and the boy called out something else, something that chased but could not catch John as he rushed across campus.

As he raced against time.


He started out walking fast, his eyes darting everywhere. What was the word for restroom? Did it matter? Even if he knew the word, he’d have to know the characters too; none of the signs here were exclusively pinyin, let alone in English.

People were coming. He tried to make eye contact with one guy who averted his own and slung his backpack up tight on his shoulder.

“Excuse me, do”

“Sorry sorry.” He waved his hand and kicked up his pace.

“No,” John called at his heels with a burp. “I need to know where the restroom is.”

The man kept on going.

The gear did another turn. Heavier this time.

“Oh fuck.” John looked around. There were dormitories, tall structures with clothes hanging out of every window. Sheets and all manners of lines hung down in the courtyard, and the wind cupped a sheet and it flapped up to reveal a sign. A picture of a Coke bottle.

John ran to the counter. A woman was sitting there with a baby in her lap. The baby turned and smiled. Then the woman turned and smiled too.

“Ni zhao shenme?”

The gear did two revolutions. A burp contained entirely in his stomach tookt he whole of it and popped. He choked down its remainder.

The woman repeated her question.

“I don’t understand I’m sorry,” John said. “Bathroom?”

She didn’t understand either.

“Restroom? Toilet?” He added in some pantomiming, meant to mimick aiming his penis at a urinal, but…

She still didn’t understand.

“Shit,” he whispered, and noticed that he had drawn a small crowd. A guy pushed past, laid down a small yellow coin and left. He thought back to France. He had no trouble finding the bathroom there. Ou est la salle de bain? La salle de bain. In the middle of another great turn, he perekd up. La Salle de bain.


“WC!” He was almost hunched over the counter. The woman spoke. She pointed.
John took off in that direction.


John found a short building cupped in a hill. The gear was up to three revolutions now, turning and turning and he headed towards the building with its two entrances, a different red-chalk character marking each. But he didn’t know for sure until the smell.

The smell.

“Oh God,” he said, and ducked into one.

For urination, there was a single traugh that took up most of the restroom. A pipe matched it inch for inch, water trickling down from it. Both ran from a wash basin to three stalls, none of which had doors. The stalls faced out the window, up the hill. John checked the first one. It was a squat toilet, a little porcelain groove laid over a pipehole, full of paper and shit. A microcosm of greater foulness.

The second toilet was the same.

The third was empty. As if sensing a free toilet, the gear kicked up its revolutions and as he unbuckled his pants, he could feel a squishy mess poking out.

“Holy fuck,” he said, and got his pants down. He squatted, balancing on his toes. “Here it comes.”

It came. The shit was painful and loud, exploding out in bubbly, liquid bursts. At the end, the gear did a turn, he burped, and then it fell still.

John took a couple steps forward. Some shit lie on the sides of the toilet, but most of it had gotten in. A solid light brown pile lay in the middle and the smell reached up for him and he turned and looked for it.

He was looking for toilet paper.


John spent a minute or two listening carefully. Then he emerged, waddling over to the wash basin. There was a bucket. A mop. He turned the faucet and ran his hand under the cold water.

Then he wiped.

When he felt clean enough, he scrubbed his hand off and went back to the toilet. He looked again, this time for a handle to flush it. He pulled his pants back up and spent some time thinking. A mosquito lifted off from the sink and buzzed past him.

Okay then.

He took the bucket and filled it up and then carried it over to the toilet. He poured all the water in. Some shit did disappear down the hole, but not all. Most of the clump stuck there.

“Oh God,” he said, and flung the bucket aside.


Read The Seven Year Laowai, which sets the foundation for Little Red King, here.

Read exerpts from Little Red King here.

Read more of LRK’s deleted scenes here.

The Leaky Air Conditioner

Little Red King
Deleted Scene: The Leaky Air Conditioner

This is a deleted scene from Little Red King. It occurred near the beginning of the book, and is pretty much word-for-word something that happened to me.

John is a French major who has come to Wuhan, China, to teach English for a year. In his first days, he is jet-lagged, having stomach troubles, and comparing what he’s seen so far to his semester abroad in France.

Part of it was amusement, part of it was expressing some thoughts I hold about language learning. I never belittle anyone’s attempts at a foreign language, and I can’t stand the pieces of shit who do. There’s nothing more damaging to someone trying to speak a foreign language than ridicule, whether it’s foreigners learning Chinese, Chinese learning English, or in my experience, Americans learning French.

Unedited from the first draft.


John was in bed. Staring up at the ceiling. Thirteen hours. He was thirteen hours ahead. What was his mother doing now? How about Sandra? In class? Working probably. She started her first job soon. How about the rest? In class too? Or killing time in the library between coffee and study? He had seen a Starbucks on the ride in from the airport but it was across town and it was too far and what if there was no place to get coffee this was the land of tea after all and what if–

These thoughts put him to sleep.

The pounding woke him up.

A shirtless foreigner pale sparing his upper arms and neck opened the door to an old Chinese man with a beard, wearing moccasins that looked to share his age. The man uttered something. The sounds indistinguishable in meaning for John from a bird’s morning cry. John then uttered something back. The sounds indistinguishable for the man too and he said something else, held up a finger, and went downstairs.

John closed the door. Another knock came.

This time it was a young man who greeted him in English.

“Hello! How do you do?”

“I’m fine,” John grogged. “How about you?”

“Yes. My father says the water, it falls from your…” He drew a square in the air.


“May I please come in to see it?”

“Sure.” John stepped aisde and cast his arm out. “Come on in.”

The young man strode across the foyer and through the bedroom. He stepped out on to the balcony, John still in the foyer. Swaying. The young man saw something and waved John over.

John went.

“This is the water,” said the young man. Eyes awake many an eon followed the invisible line his finger drew. Water was indeed leaking, dripping steadily from John’s air conditioner to theirs and announcing its arrival a dull, hollow thud. There was a silence as the young man stared straight at John, expecting something, but the problem was, John didn’t know what. So he just said the first thing that popped in his head.

“What are you going to do?”


Perhaps the young man hadn’t been waiting. He was thinking, John realized. Rehearsing, even. Drawing up and revising his words, words he now spoke to John.

“I wonder could you shut down your AC.”

John wiped his arm and stepped back inside. Under the cold air, he said, “I’m sorry. But I don’t think I can.”


Again that look of concentration. The supreme effort it took to speak a foreign language to that language’s native speaker. The fear. The fear of failure, of making a mistake, a mistake that the native speaker would then pounce on. Jesus, no wonder so many people were quite in his French classes. There were fucking graduate students who just sat there except when called upon, and no wonder. The higher up you went, the more the pressure. The higher the expectations, and God knew the expectations you held for yourself beat the expectations others held for you any time. God only knew what expectations this guy held for himself and what the penalty for failure was.

“My father come up here and fix it. Okay?”


He left. His father came up and gave a short ni hao with a wave and a laugh and John managed to return the wave but nothing else as the old man moved on past him to the balcony. He stood where his son had and reached down and twisted a pipe. The leaking stopped. He turned, said something and then headed to the door. John followed and when the old man disappeared down the stairs, the young man appeared up them.



“It is fixed. Okay?”

“Okay. Good.”

“May I have your name please.”

“I’m John.”

“Excuse me?”

He cleared his throat. “Sorry. My name is John.”

“John. So common name.” He said this with a big, bright smile. “My English name is Matthew. It is very nice to meet you.”

John returned the smile as best he could. They said goodbye and John closed the door. He drew the curtains shut and went back to bed. He had been tired before but after their visit he wasn’t too tired and wasn’t this just like France where on his first day he’d short-circuited the room, oh that room, that terrible room they shoved him in it —

John took another trip. To the land of dreams. Memories of France carried him there.

A knock brought him back.

He opened the door. The old man was standing there.

“Ni hao!”

With a tool in his hand.