Big in Beijing

A fable from expat pond life – by Carlos Ottery


Some thought Leroy a loser. Honestly, he was probably more of a drunkard than anything, but first and foremost Leroy considered himself a DJ. Sure, he wasn’t averse to moonlighting as a language teacher for extra cash. After all, what was the point of speaking English if you couldn’t spread the love a little, now and then?

In fact, Leroy was doing rather well for himself, pulling in about 7000 kuai a month from the Old Oriental Learning Centre alone. And his income could easily jump up to nine or even 13K if he factored in the DJing, not to mention the bits of journalism, and the copy editing he did for hotel brochures. Let’s put it this way, Leroy had no problem getting a round of beers in.

Truth be told, that’s what he loved about Beijing – the sheer variety of the work. There were so many great opportunities. Voice dubbing on an advert, the film work — a speaking part was around the corner soon — and the freelance editing for the trade publication, ChinAfrica, which Robert Mugabe had described as “essential reading”. And of course there was the DJing. Yeah, the DJing was Leroy’s real passion.

In the long term, his plan was to invest in some actual vinyl and get a few gigs with some of the hipper music collectives around town, perhaps Semiotic Sounds, Street punks, or even The Acupressure Crew. In time, it was his dream was to play at the famed White Lantern Club, but for the time being he was content to play CDs at his Tuesday night residency at The Smuggler’s Bar in Sanlitun. Things were going pretty well there. He got 400 kuai per night and all the Tsingtao beers he could drink. City Weekend called his night “Eclectic to say the least.”

Leroy loved that. Imagine it, him, Leroy, in a magazine, “eclectic to say the least.” That meant even more than eclectic. Leroy imagined himself playing a whole new sound to a packed out White Lantern. There would be reviews  in the local papers calling him “post-eclectic”. They would interview him in Time Out, one of the girls he was thinking about dating used to work there after all. Hell, they would probably give him some kind of column when they found out about his journalism, maybe with a picture of him at the top, behind his CD mixer, wearing a jaunty hat.

Back home in Norwich, there was no way he could be doing this sort of stuff – which, thinking about it, was probably why he had left. It’s not that he didn’t like Norwich, he did and had always felt right at home there. He had just somehow grown out of it all. He had wanted to do bigger things, to be a bit more of a man-of-the-world type. Back home, people didn’t even know what baijiu was, and he often drank baijiu now. A lot of his foreign friends couldn’t drink it, but Leroy was hard core and just fitted in somehow. Beijing was his home now, in Beijing he felt he was kind of a big deal. He mattered.

It wasn’t just on the career front that things were taking off for him either. Things were looking up on the lady front too. It was as though escaping England allowed him to escape from his past and from himself. He was freer here, and more confident, and it undoubtedly showed with the ladies. He had, literally, dozens of numbers. Back home had to work to get a girl’s number, but here he would lay down the charm, tell a few jokes, then just ask, and the numbers would flow.

Back home Leroy was sick of the game, but in Beijing there was no game to be sick of. Girls accepted him for who he was, and he preferred it here. They say the past is a foreign country, but Leroy knew that was all wrong. The future was a foreign country, and it was called China, the "Middle Kingdom".

And as for the women, bloody hell. Such beauties. Ya Ya, the receptionist from Old Oriental. Cherry, a student from the very same school. Bei Bei (he called her baby!) from Red Club, she couldn’t speak English but was easily the most friendly girl of them all, he had even tried to kiss her once. Ting Ting from, a really sweet social networking site for Beijingers. Leroy had almost had about five dates from that website alone. And there was Oogil, his language partner from Inner Mongolia. Leroy suspected you should not date your language partner. He had never had a language partner for any length of time anyway, which, thinking about it, was probably why he had never learnt the language. But he would in the future. No question about that.

All this meant going on dates about three or four nights a week, even if it wasn’t a proper date. Anyway, he would see them in lessons, or one would come to his gig at The Smugglers and stand there, as Leroy, beaming, dropped classic track after classic eclectic track. Hip-hop, rock, dancy stuff – nothing was too out there for Leroy.

Leroy needed to focus on just one girl though. He was respectful. He wasn’t a player and he didn’t want to be. He respected women too much.

But things were going a bit slower than he liked, for all sorts of reasons. Chinese girls in Beijing were always looking to improve themselves. They were pretty career focused. Leroy, honestly speaking, was too much of a party animal for some of them probably. Besides, a lot of them didn’t have time for a serious relationship. Ya Ya worked six days a week at Old Oriental. Cherry was really focused on her studies and setting up an English Corner. Leroy could always help on that front, he was a native English speaker after all, but he always missed the English corners – they were so early and often he had a headache in the morning. And Oogil had all her stuff going on at Maggie’s bar, which meant she was busy most evenings.

The other problem was that Chinese girls were really traditional. They weren’t like the women back home who would go to bed with anyone, well, with certain guys he knew at least. Chinese girls had a different culture. Sometime he took them out to the pub in the evening, and they would just have coffee. Leroy hated it when they did that. Why couldn’t they just have a couple of beers like he did?

On the whole though, Leroy was completely fine with the cultural differences. He got China, and he got Beijing. He was genuinely down with it, unlike some foreigners who were just clueless. He knew that you had to take it slow with Chinese girls. It wasn’t a big deal.

He had been doing a lot of stuff with these girls – watched a couple of movies, done quite a few hot pots, and walked around Chaoyang Park (three times). He’d even been to the Great Wall. He was on the cusp of something big and knew it.

His future flashed before him – the writing, the music, the Chinese wife, hell, he could easily open up a small bar or even his own language school. God he loved this city. He was going to make it. And if that didn’t work out, fuck it. He could always buy himself another big Tsingtao.

Carlos Ottery has been living in China since 2008. He is the founder of Comedy Club China, an editor at The World of Chinese and the lead actor in the film This is Sanlitun

This story is from the Anthill-Cuju Writers and Rum night