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.

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

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.