Corona This. Bat-Soup That. It's Time for Shanghai Slippery.
Did you know Slippery is banned in China? Pretty cool hey, seems a tad extreme though. Well, in these wild times of Corona Pandemics and widespread fear-mongering, I feel it's only fair to serve up a generous dose of Shanghai Slippery.
Keen to know what goes on behind China's glowing red curtain? Intrigued to hear about the day-to-day mechanics of existence in the land of the succulent dog and the globe-destroying, sumptuous, if somewhat poorly cooked, bat? Well, good news, I've got you sorted. Below is Chapter 4 of Slippery:
OPERATIONS 101 IN THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC
Communist China, Capitalist Paradise
I hope you like it and wish you all the best as you endure the insanity raging supreme everywhere right now,
PS: If you like the read, please share this blog around and, better yet, buy a copy of the entire Slippery paperback, ebook or audiobook here:
PPS: If you'd like to listen to the chapter instead of or while you read, hit the link here for the YouTube Slippery Audiobook, Chapter 4:
PPPS: If in doubt, always be slippery.
I emerge from the international arrivals of Shanghai’s Pudong airport on Saturday around 6pm. Friday was spent in a manic rush arranging the required visas and paperwork to gain entry to the People’s Republic with such short notice. It didn’t leave any time to stock up on some decent winter clothing. After five months in the Singapore sweat cauldron, Shanghai is absolutely freezing. A squat man dressed in black is carrying an A4 piece of paper with Flynn James written on it. Hello driver.
“Hi, I’m Flynn.”
“Hello. Thank you. Thank you. Hello. Mister.”
This fella seems to have been informed of my over inflated Mandarin proficiency. He watches me patiently as though I’m actually about to say something of importance or that he can at least understand.
“So, you can drive me home?”
“Yes. Please. Hello.”
“Umm, let’s go. Drive home. Vroom vroom. Beep beep. Home.”
“Yes. Please. Hello.”
I resort to some Driving Miss Daisy charades gestures and, before enduring too many more ‘Yes. Please. Hello’s.’ my smiling little communist comrade leads me through to his minivan in the airport car park. He shows me some more writing at the base of the paper with my name on it. There is a number next to some Mandarin symbols that look more like frightened cats and pensive grasshoppers than anything of linguistic significance. I think it’s my new address.
Anyway, we’re off, heading away from the airport, vroom vrooming and beep beeping. Luciana arranged a studio apartment for me only yesterday. It is located in Shanghai’s French Concession and is what is locally termed a lane house.I have no idea what to expect. I had intended to be speaking fluent Mandarin and have this bustling city of 25 million dwellers fully researched before my arrival. That grand plan fell victim to the lure of catching up on missed sleep or watching ever more NBA TV.
The major highway leading from the airport in to the city is futuristic and bleak. Every so often there is a low enough break in the cement walls lining the twelve-lanes of bitumen, allowing a quick view of never ending Chinese suburbia on the flattest of plains. There doesn’t appear to be a single hill in Shanghai. Whenever the maps were drawn up for this city, the topographers went hungry.
We must be nearing the city centre. Sky-rise buildings are becoming more prevalent. The only landmark of Shanghai I’m aware of is the Oriental Pearl Tower, though the chances of spotting that are slim. Each building’s visible height is capped at around ten storeys, the level where the city’s pollution blankets in comfortably, blocking any view higher.
The driver takes an exit ramp off the highway, leading us down to ground level, central Shanghai. Within a few moments we are locked in my first ever Shanghai traffic jam. Time stands still, I’m in voyeuristic overdrive. This is literally Chinatown stretched out forever. I really am in China. Horns blare incessantly. The road is barely one lane wide, but that hasn’t prevented cars, scooters and horse-drawn carts somehow being parked on each side. Bike riders dart between non-existent gaps carrying crates of deceased ducks, fresh flowers, or mountains of recycled cardboard. Parents push their young ones in strollers through the Saturday evening with SARS masks covering their precocious faces. Groups of elderly tai chi aficionados complete their exercise regime in choreographed perfection on street corners. Overhead, the streets are covered with nonstop, amber-shaded, candlelit vigils and people’s washing hung out to dry. Any tree somehow able to grow through the concrete footpath is being used as a surrogate telegraph pole with excess power lines wrapped around tree branches like fishing line on a hand reel.
There is eventually some flow to the traffic and we take a left. Beneath the Chinese hieroglyphics on the street signs, there is English writing as well. We’ve just turned on to West Nanjing Road. The candlelit vigils have given way to all the modern necessities; McDonald’s, Citibank, H&M, Sephora, Starbucks, Tiffany’s, a string of behemoth western conglomerates have gracefully penetrated the communist regime.
We turn left again onto Maoming Road. I notice signs for West Nanjing Road Train Station and look through the window to see a stream of people walking out of an underground tunnel and through a courtyard area. One out of every few is stirred by the crisp, chill air and proceeds to spit all over the footpath. I’m so cultured right now. The driver continues on for a short while longer before pulling over to the right.
“Mister. Hello. House.” As he says house, he points out the window and there is a statuesque Chinese woman wearing a full-length beige trench coat and a Siberian Husky-furred head warmer. She steps towards the mini-van.
“Good evening, I’m Monica. Luciana called yesterday and I arranged this place for you. Please, grab your things and I will show you inside.”
Monica and the driver engage in some vigorous conversation, God only knows what they’re talking about. The discussion lasts almost five minutes and includes all sorts of hand movements and tones of voice. I stand on the Maoming Rd footpath, freezing to death as a snowstorm sets in.
“Eric will help you with your cases. Come, let’s get inside.”
We are standing infront of a locked metal gate, which leads down a laneway between two shops. The gate would not seem out of place in a prison. The shop to the left sells skateboards, shoes, t-shirts, all the usual designer punk gear pitch perfect for deluded youths holding on to daydreams of rebellion while waiting patiently for mum to cook dinner and check their homework. The shop to the right is a wedding store, the front window adorned with a vestal mannequin dressed in an ornate dove white wedding frock. Some poor fucker will have to mortgage his soul in the name of true love to afford that beautiful dress some day soon.
“OK, Flynn, the security code is 4-2-2-1.” Monica punches in the numbers and Eric opens the laneway gate.
“OK, got it.”
Monica leads the way down the shady alley. There are no lights, but the general radioactive effervescence bouncing off the clouds of smog in the night sky and the falling ashen snow lights the way.
“You will love this place, Flynn. The French Concession is the best part of Shanghai, especially for young people like yourself.”
We’ve now passed three separate two-storey buildings and are at least 100m deep into this laneway. Monica stops at a door. There are no numbers anywhere. How she knows this is the correct one is beyond me. She steps forward and opens the lock, turning the key as a small pile of snow forms on her glove. We climb three steps into a decrepit hallway as she flicks a light switch. There is a timber staircase that simply cannot be younger than one hundred years old. The first step is essentially on the floor, having been worn in so thoroughly over the preceding century. The only possible way this stairwell is held together is thanks to the frozen lumber molecules throughout. It is arctic in here. When the spring thaw arrives, this stairwell will simply wash away. Monica leads the way up to the first floor. The stairs allow exasperated groans and creaks to escape with each step.
“Here we are, Flynn, your new home.”
Monica opens another locked door on the landing of the first storey. She steps through and switches on a light. I’m prepared for the worst, but there’s no need. In front of me is a huge open space of polished timber flooring, fresh white painted walls, a three-seat leather couch, a modern kitchen, oversized TV, shabby chic bookshelf, mirrored built-in wardrobes and a king size bed. Next to the kitchen is a small bathroom and washing machine. This is unexpectedly homely.
Eric helps me place my suitcases on the bed, shakes my hand and walks straight out the door, out of my life and off into the night. Monica hands me the keys and a piece of paper with people to call if needed, the real estate agent, an electrician, a plumber, they each have the same number, hmmm, wait, what?
“Thank you so much Monica. The place looks great.”
“No problem. I will see you on Monday.”
“Yes, I will see you at the office.”
“You work at Scion?”
“Yes, of course, see you Monday.”
“OK then, thanks again for your help.”
Monica looks the place over one last time before walking out. I take a seat on the couch and unsuccessfully try to find an English-speaking channel on the television. I open up my laptop instead and hit play on the ‘Easy Peasy Chinese’ file I grabbed off iTunes many months ago. “Nee How…Hello….Shay Shay…Thank you.” I give up instantly and crank up some Biggy Smalls to make sure the gangster rap is thumping while I unpack my clothes into the wardrobe. There are bay windows next to the bed looking down into the lane and directly across into someone’s kitchen. I close the blinds when I notice a toothless Chinese granny staring straight at me from her kitchen sink.
In the corner of the room is a ginormous heater, a home appliance fusion of R2D2 and C3PO. The remote control is on top and, seeing as my teeth won’t stop chattering, I figure I should work out how to utilise the device. The buttons all have Chinese writing indicating what the actual function of them is. There is one clear major button to turn the beast on, but the remaining knobs are a Mandarin mystery. I get agitated and start randomly pressing everything, hoping for the best. I astutely activate the air conditioning function, dropping the room temperature even lower. I decide to unplug the missing Star Wars character from the wall for the time being and wear two beanies while I unpack.
It’s nearing 8pm. The wardrobe is filling nicely. I’ll need to stock up on bed linen, warm clothing and some basic cutlery tomorrow. I’m sure my home cooking exploits in Shanghai will be very similar to Singapore, no need to get too carried away with any kitchen utensils. I decide to christen the toilet. I unleash on the dun bowl and stand up to admire my work before flushing. As I begin washing my hands at the adjacent sink, I notice the unavoidable rising waters of a clogged dunny.
I’m looking at the floaters near the toilet rim, trying to figure out if it’s worth calling the plumber/electrician/real estate agent or giving this a nudge myself, getting in there and setting my Bondi cigars free to roam the Shanghai sewers, the way nature intended. There is a cupboard in the kitchen with a broom, dustpan and brush, no plunger. I decide I’ll have a tinker with the broom handle and walk back towards the bathroom trying to amp myself up for the looming hideousness only for all the lights to go out. OK, what the fuck? I check a few light switches, all not working. Black out, day one, cheers Shanghai.
I switch on the torch of my phone and walk to the door. The hallway light is working. The busted fuse must be solely affecting my pad. On the other side of the first storey landing I see what look like electricity boxes. Underneath the boxes are several blue buckets covered with dinner plates and two empty birdcages. What the hell? I walk across the landing and shine the phone torch into the first box. It’s definitely a fuse box, but once again, the writing is incomprehensible Mandarin. For a nation of close to 1.5 BILLION people, where is one in this damn hallway when I need ‘em?
As I try to piece together some understanding of which fuse may be the culprit, I’m certain the blue buckets are moving. I refocus on the fuse box and decide there is one clear button flicked down which should be up. I reach my right index finger up to turn it on. A million volts fly straight through my arm and fry me to the core. I’m hurled into the wall behind me, collapsing to the ground.
I’m unsure how long passes before the gentle prodding of a Chinese boy wakes me. He’s smiling. A pure smile only an infant is capable of. He’s wearing Toy Story pajamas and mumbling soothing words I don’t understand. I pull myself up bit by bit to now be slouched on the floor and can see the boy’s parents, also in their pajamas and speaking incomprehensible words. I gingerly stand fully up and motion to the electricity box then point at my studio’s door, trying to explain that the power is off. The three of them look understandably perplexed so I take the few steps back to my new pad and turn the switch back and forth a few times. The electricity failure becomes obvious, as does the aggressive stench of the clogged toilet.
The mother gives me a look of clear disgust and leads her little boy away, covering his nose as she does so. The man walks back to the electricity boxes, pressing a few things I can’t properly see from my doorway before returning. He turns my light switch and it works fine. Hero. I foresee this whole fiasco happening again in the very near future so ask him if he can show me what buttons he pressed. Using words obviously doesn’t work so I walk back to the electricity boxes and start talking again. He smiles so warmly I feel almost honoured. He hands me one of the blue buckets and says, “Welcome. Please.” And then walks away down the hallway.
I shut the door and take a seat on the couch. I place the bucket on the floor in front of me and remove the plate lid. Staring up at me in water a few inches deep is a petrified little turtle, a fittingly bizarre welcome to the community. I place the lid back on, put the bucket in the corner, lock the door, turn off the lights and head to bed, fully clothed, still sporting two beanies. The gentle grazing of my reptilian housemate in the blue bucket sends me off to sleep.
In the early hours of Sunday morning I’m woken by a local catfight. Two felines clearly have a bone to pick. Their high-pitched screeches carry on in a nearby laneway while I wipe sleet from my eyes and head to the shower. That fucking floater, I forgot all about it and assumed the smell was merely Shanghai’s morning stench. I grab the broom and skewer the toilet with the handle for a few minutes before the clogging finally resolves with a clockwise flushing kick-start. I grab some spray on deodorant and douse the bathroom in the Lynx Effect before hopping in the shower.
The water pressure is dire, steaming hot water dribbles down my skin while well-intended deodorant particles join forces with the stale colonic aftermath to fuse into a truly heinous tang. I race out of the bathroom before I dry reach, open the bay window fully, who gives a fuck if it’s minus five degrees. I dress in the warmest clothes available and head straight for the door to escape this lane house of stink.
It’s 7am. The Maoming Rd traffic jam of last night has disappeared, fresh white snow lines the footpath and a lunar looking round dot is rising in between two buildings on the horizon where the sun is supposed to be. I set off in the direction of the train station I saw last night. No shops have yet opened and I’m overcome with a piercing sense of isolation as I continue walking in the glacial morning air. This is a rare moment where I’m not consumed with thoughts of work or being imminently fired. What the fuck am I doing here? The realisation that I haven’t seen my family, friends or the ocean in many, many months hits in one stabbing breath. I feel my eyes well with tears and come back to earth in a heartbeat. ‘Get it together you fucking weak cunt.’ I’m here to make shitloads of cash, nothing more, nothing less. And with over one hundred grand to my name, I’ve got no right to be miserable.
I arrive at the courtyard leading into the train station and see a French patisserie, not necessarily the cultural awakening breakfast appropriate for my first morning in China. I walk towards Patisserie de France, dodging puddles of saliva. I order a hot chocolate and a croissant, pretending for a moment I’m in Basque country and write a list of the various household items I need to acquire today before stage two of the junior trader program takes flight tomorrow.
Through the window, across the courtyard, a stunning young Chinese woman speaks on her phone, radiating a gorgeous aura I’ve never seen in an Asian female. She pulls the phone a few inches from her mouth, arches her head up, holding the pose a moment before thrusting her upper body towards the ground, lining the pavement with a spitball so huge and mucus laden I almost cough up my hot chocolate. Yellow fever…yeah, that’s no concern whatsoever.
The alarm isn’t needed. Those pesky cats in the laneway must be running a dawn patrol feline fight club down there, screeching and scratching their way through the early morning. I hop out of the Dutch oven warmth beneath my newly acquired doona, put on my spanking new purple velour tracksuit after removing the dockets and go about my morning exercise regime with the curtains fully open so the toothless old bag across the lane can have a healthy squiz at a podgy white man draped in velvet while she sips her boiling green tea.
I finish off the fitness regimen with 30 push-ups, the most I’ve done consecutively in a very long time and jump in the shower. I’ll have to do something about this feeble water pressure, but for the moment I don’t let the feeling of being pissed on bother me. I hop out, dry off and suit up. There was not a single moment in Singapore where I felt comfortable in a suit, but here in the colder climes, if it weren’t for the several kilograms of extra flab pushing outwardly at the waistline, I’d be feeling sensational in the full corporate garb. My hair seems all of a sudden quite long. I grab some product from my metro-sexual bag of tricks and slick the follicles down tight and greasy.
As I lock the door behind me, I notice my blue bucket ninja turtle has escaped. The bucket in the corner of the room is on its side and empty. Ah well, I’m late, leave him be. He can have the bachelor pad to himself today. I almost fall down the stairs. Just as the step closest to the ground is essentially at ground level thanks to a century of stair climbing, so too is the top step more like a two step drop. Not this time Shanghai, I’m wising up to your tricks.
It’s 7.30am and Maoming Rd is starting to bustle. A taxi driver beeps his horn at a bike rider who proceeds to spit on the cab. It’s unclear whether this is due to unrest or is something the cyclist would have done anyway. A woman across the street takes a break from pushing her stroller. She walks round to the front of the pram, picks out her baby, undoes some fabric on the back of the kid’s onesie and pulls it forward through the child’s legs to reveal a bare bottom in the morning chill. She then cradles the tiny baby by its feet in one hand, back of the head in the other and watches casually as the little fucker shits all over the footpath. Jesus Christ! No one cares. The mother redoes the onesie, places the child back in the pram and continues on her merry way, dodging the excrement and singing a lullaby.
The footpath is wide enough for one and a half people. This means the two block walk to the station requires relentless body weaving and contortionism to avoid shoulder charging one of these overconfident, midget fuckwits, more commonly referred to as a Chinese person. The oncoming pedestrian traffic doesn’t seem too interested in weaving or contorting. Little bastards. The left side of the footpath I’m on is closest to the oncoming flow of engine-powered traffic, not especially well known for their weaving or contorting prowess. Fuck this. By the time I’ve almost reached the station, I’ve had a gutful. I line up a particularly cunty looking little fucker and let rip with a shoulder charge. Cop that. As I turn into the much wider train station entrance I turn back to see the little shunt nursing his shoulder. Good. I’ll see you again tomorrow, mate.
The footpath wars do precious little to prepare me for the carnage waiting for me on the train. I get my ticket from one of the automated machines, easy enough with instructions having an English option. I then continue through the turnstiles and down the stairs to the platform. Queues of five or more people are lined up perpendicular to the platform every couple of metres. I’m halfway down the stairs when a train pulls in. A few people hop off, having to shove the waiting queue members out of the way as they do so. Once that initial confrontation is complete, the queue members go berserk, cramming their way into the carriage like rugby players plowing into a ruck.
I continue down the stairs and take a spot in one of the waiting queues behind five others. I’m last in line for the briefest of moments, two people ram in behind me almost instantaneously. Over the hum of overcrowded humans on the platform, a faint, shrill whistle is accompanied in the tunnel by the slowly increasing ECG rhythm of thumping train tracks. My weight is completely on the balls of my feet and every muscle of my back is fully extended against the imminent crush of impatience. The bracing wind of the arriving train roars through the platform. I breathe in deeply and try to relax by reliving memories of first learning about the Doppler effect in high school Physics.
From the perspective of an Australian accustomed to wide-open spaces, the train already looks full beyond the brim as it arrives. Some passengers begin to disembark and the crush behind me builds quickly. It takes all my force to hold back from crumbling into the poor lady in front. As soon as it’s apparent that there will be no one else disembarking, the sardine mayhem crush begins with zero mercy. I quickly throw away any notion of trying to resist the mob and succumb to whatever fate the public transport Gods have destined for me. My limp body is crushed and magically guided into the carriage, while my etheric body has buggered off elsewhere. There’s no room for the etheric plane in the Shanghai underground.
My six-foot height allows an uninterrupted view of the carriage multitude. This predicament to a pickpocket must be pure heaven. My body is crushed from every direction from the chest down. If I’d forgotten to zip my fly I could probably have sex with a dozen people in this one short journey. While I can definitely feel the tender breasts of some lady pushing into my ribs, I can also taste whatever dumplings the man breathing over my right shoulder had for breakfast.
Hopping on the train is merely an entrée. The main course involves surviving the driver’s antics. He is wreaking havoc on us all, accelerating wildly, slamming on the brakes, re-accelerating, jolting in a series of stop-start-stop-start-stops to mark the arrival at each station. The innocent commuters have no option but to collectively soak up the aftershocks of the driver’s woeful propulsion. I’ve not activated a single muscle, but thanks to the crowds’ communal shock absorbing dexterity, I’m moved in a radius of at least a metre with each attempt by the driver to run the train off the tracks. Unfortunately they haven’t factored in my height relative to the ‘overhead’ metal handhold bar. Each wave of crowd movement involves me closing my eyes as my head crashes into this ice-cold metal rod. I would reach my arms up to deflect the blows, but they’re locked to my side by the straitjacket press of commuters.
I’m mentally exhausted, potentially physically raped and will have to check a mirror later to see if one of the involuntary headbutts with the overhead bar has left me with a black eye. The train arrives at Lujiazui, pronounced Loo Jazz Way. I’ve made it, sort of. Dessert involves somehow getting off this fucking train. Hmm. The three-stop journey has seen me move from initially being near the doorway to now being stuck in the no man’s land separating each carriage. I’m as far as you can ever possibly find yourself from an exit door. Rookie. The doors open and I prepare to channel my inner T-1000 and morph my way to the door via the snow slush covered linoleum flooring. Instead, this seems to be everyone’s stop, the train empties in a single contraction, thousands of commuters escape to the rest of their day.
I walk off the train a born-again man. I see the empty few metres around me as an irrefutable sign of hope and freedom. I breathe in deeply, cherishing the fact that there are at least a few hundred atoms of oxygen amongst the pungent millions of fumes and rat poison. I bask in the post journey glow for a whole minute before the whistling and wind of an arriving train brings me back to reality. The imminent flood of arriving humanity is best avoided. I walk hurriedly away and up the stairs. How on earth would an elderly or handicapped person have survived that?
I complete the underground labyrinth through the turnstiles and hallways of the station and climb a few flights of stairs, following the signs to the Super Brand Mall. The Scion office building is apparently near that somewhere. As I exit the train station a frosty rush of air makes me sneeze. I don’t bother cupping my mouth. I let snot, mucus and saliva coat the sidewalk, rude not to. The main intersection at Lujiazui is a gigantic roundabout hexagon with traffic darting every which way and large barricades preventing pedestrian traffic reaching the road. Above, there is an equally huge overpass walkway. I follow the herd to an outdoor escalator leading up to the elevated pathway.
I’m wearing immaculate leather soled shoes, a pair of finely crafted Italian tootsie decorations. The Milan catwalk is a distant relative to this snow covered, black ice path of death. I hum the South Park classic, ‘what would Brian Boitano do’ and homo-erotically glide across the 200m pedestrian bridge skating rink in homage to Blades of Glory. I make it safely over and descend the escalator down to the street while holding on for grim death to the warm black rubber of the handgrip, the metal grill of the escalator steps look sharper than frozen razor blades. A slip here would shred my suit and flesh like shark’s teeth.
With the pending black eye starting to properly ache in my left temple, I check my Blackberry for the address and specific floor that Scion Shanghai inhabits. I walk the final steps along the Lujiazui Ring Road footpath and into the building. I cross the foyer and go through a sense of crowd crush déjà vu all over again. The queue for the elevators is manic. Why are there so many fucking people in this country? The etiquette here is marginally more refined than the subway, but I still wait for a few rounds of elevator comings and goings before I can actually infiltrate one and shoot up to my new corporate home. The lifts open and I walk out to see Monica seated behind the reception desk.
“Good morning, Flynn. Great to see you.”
“Hi Monica. Good weekend?”
“Yes, thank you, very nice. How do you like your place?”
“It’s perfect. Thanks so much again for organising.”
“No problem. Glad you like it. Can you please wait in the meeting room over there? There are seven other people starting today, so I will go through the orientation with you all at once when everyone arrives.”
“There are no other junior trader people though. No one special like you.”
I take a seat in a meeting room. I don’t notice the name of an adventurer or highly lauded Renaissance scientist on the door. I stare out the window towards the Bund, the world-renowned river that flows directly through the middle of Shanghai. Flow is a strong word. There’s nothing flowing in this body of sickly, grim, unholy water. Even on a clear blue sky day like today, light doesn’t reflect off the Bund’s waters in a way anywhere close to resembling the shimmer of radiant luminosity bouncing off Sydney harbour 365 days a year. No, light, like most things I imagine, dies in the Bund. Its actual name is Huangpu River, Huang Pu indeed.
Monica opens the door and waves in three other starters. I’m not really ‘starting’ and I can sense their unease at being in the nascent stage of a new job. I’m standing relaxed at the window looking out at the Bund, while the newly arrived trio immediately takes a seat, hide their hands in their laps and intently focus their attention on the mahogany table grain. Barely a moment passes and Monica returns with the final four of the orientation group. The seven starters and Monica are clearly Chinese, but my presence means the orientation is given in English. I grin with thoughts of bogan Aussies telling flamin’ tourists to speak fuckin’ English if they wanna travel to ‘Straya.
Monica’s orientation takes on the form of Angela’s mind numbing speech delivered back in Singapore on day one. It’s a shame for the others that she’s chosen to speak in English, I am not paying the least bit of attention, though I do catch the moment where she mentions we can get gym passes for the Shangri-la Hotel next door, this includes use of the gym and lap pool. Lap pool hey? I picture James Bond swimming laps on the Shanghai rooftop while waiting for the go ahead to kill some bad guys in Skyfall. Thirty to forty minutes pass before the orientation is complete and Monica makes the others wait behind while she takes me into the world requiring card-automated access.
“Your access card from Singapore should work, Flynn. Please try.”
The red light on the wall mounted pad for card swiping turns green and Monica pushes open the glass door. As in Singapore, there are flawless floor to ceiling glass windows, giving way to a sweeping view. The Bund still looks hideous. I focus instead on the elaborate architecture of the heritage buildings, the ultramodern skyscrapers in the greater distance, and the humbling feeling of seeing the expanse of Shanghai stretch out for miles upon miles of flat, urban, overpopulated sprawl.
“This is one of the clearest days we’ve had in many months. Normally you will not be able to see so far into the distance. There is a lot of smog in this city. Sometimes it is better to not go outside. I will email you the website to check air quality.”
“Yeah, that would be great.”
“No problem. Please, follow me.”
I know I’m supposedly in a flash corporate office, working for a multinational enterprise at the cutting edge of reaping bumper profits, but, walking past rows of people in this Shanghai office, I feel like I’ve walked in to the Chinese equivalent of a Tafe college’s work for the dole delinquent class. What are these people wearing? Here I stand in my slick suit, with my slick hair and my slick leather soled shoes, personifying every cliché of how Hugo Boss imagines a global businessman, Master of the Universe, should look. These ladies and gents can’t possibly think it’s commercially acceptable to be wearing ugg boots, trackie dacks and smiley face jumpers at work. One in every three people seems to have caught the memo that this is gainful employment and not your bong-head buddy’s crack den living room, and is wearing something of suitable corporate attire, but two thirds of the office better be un-fucking-believable at their jobs in order to think they can be swanning around like this.
“Good morning, Li Ming. Here is Flynn, he will start with you on the copper concentrates team today.”
“Yes, hello, Flynn. Welcome.” Li Ming belongs to the one third wearing business attire, sporting an elegant, black woollen dress, grey suede boots and librarian specs.
“Good morning, Li Ming. Pleasure to meet you.” Li Ming stands to shake hands.
“Can you speak any Chinese?” I’ve been dreading this question for many months. Fingers crossed she hasn’t checked the dubiously questionable fine print of my CV.
“A little, I’m learning.” Nee How Maa is about as much as I’ve learned, and I only picked that up yesterday.
“That’s OK, everyone on my team can speak English very well. How about Spanish?”
“I know a few basics, I traveled to South America many years ago.”
“Great. Most of our copper comes from Peru or Chile so a little Spanish will help.”
“OK, I will leave you now. Flynn, any questions just ask.”
“It’s great timing. Yan went on maternity leave last week.”
“Yes, I heard that from Artem.”
“Artem, that creepy man. He is strange.”
“Yeah, I don’t know him well, that seems pretty accurate though.”
“OK, Flynn, just take Yan’s seat here next to me and we can get you set up.”
I walk past Li Ming to my new seat as she introduces me to the copper concentrates team, “Everyone, this is Flynn, please make him feel welcome and come say hello when you get a chance.”
“Hi, Mr. Fwynn.”
I blush a little with all the attention, give the requisite “G’day” and place my suit jacket round my chair as I take my seat. Yan is clearly intending to return to this job when her maternity leave is finished and wasn’t expecting anyone to be taking her place in the meantime. The desk is covered in notebooks, files, baby clothing catalogues and a Hello Kitty collection of pen, mousepad and humidifier. That will come in handy and add a nice touch of 21st century Asian femininity to my desk.
Li Ming leans across, “Just turn on the computer and see if you can log on with your Singapore passwords. Sorry for all Yan’s crap. All her Hello Kitty garbage really shits me. A few cargoes have had troubles over the weekend, so give me half an hour to sort through some things OK.”
“Sure, no worries, as soon as you’re ready.”
“Won’t be too long.”
I busy myself with trying to make some order of the files on the desk and booting up the computer. I take a moment to watch Li Ming in action. She bears many similarities to Jannah, typing away with total relaxation through her shoulders while her fingers complete the task in a nonchalant tapping frenzy, scrolling through multiple documents, spreadsheets and programs on her three screens while making a series of phone calls with no regard for niceties, all regard for problem solving and business continuity, speaking Chinese, English and Spanish, never skipping a beat.
My passwords from the Singapore office work fine. I log in and un-cc myself from the countless email groups which are of absolutely no importance to me now I’m on the metals team and in Shanghai. I look up for a moment. My new colleagues are all making phone calls and carrying about their daily business. There are two unmistakable syllables each person in this office seems to be articulating down the phone lines with reckless abandon, ‘Nig-ger’. I’ve got no idea what they’re all rattling on about, but a conversation seems to go like this, ‘haawh nigger, ching chong chii huan chiin chin nigger, chi nigger, chong nigger, nigger ching. Nigger nigger nigger.’
As I listen to these racist bastards chit-chatting away, I see a youngish, super fit looking man, who may or may not be Bruce Lee, walking straight towards me. He’s got a purposeful stride to match his sharp Triad black suit, shirt and overcoat and is definitely on his way to see me.
“You’re Flynn yeah?” His accent is untainted Denzel Washington American Gangster, either you’re somebody or you’re nobody.
“Yeah, I’m Flynn.” My accent is untainted Bryan Brown Australian gangster, that’s a lovely pterodactyl.
“I’m Rob. Artem told me you were arriving today. Listen, can you drink?”
“Drink. Alcohol. Can you drink?”
“Well yeah, I guess.”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Good, put your coat on, you’re coming with me.”
“Don’t be a fucking pussy. Come on. Chop, chop.”
Rob starts laughing and chatting with Li Ming, dropping plenty of ‘niggers’ among the incomprehensible Chinese.
“Come on Flynn, let’s go. Start with Li Ming tomorrow.”
“It’s fine Flynn. I will see you tomorrow.”
Ctrl+Alt+Delete. I lock my computer, grab my jacket and follow this overly assertive mystery man. He leads me back out to the lifts and hits the button for the basement car park.
“Artem, he’s one sick fucker yeah?”
“I don’t really know him, to be honest.”
“That’s lucky for you then.”
The elevator doors open and Rob leads the way to a spanking brand new black Range Rover.
“Yeah, I like it. If I wasn’t married, I’d be pulling so much arse with this puss mobile.”
Rob puts the Rover in neutral and revs the living hell out of it. I make sure my seat belt is fastened. Tight. Rob doesn’t bother to click clack and starts racing through the car park at a dementedly absurd pace to the exit.
“In a bit of a rush buddy? Where we off to?”
“I’ve got a meeting, a really fucking big meeting, with some sick puppies from a smelter. You’re Aussie yeah?”
Rob lowers his driver-side window and swipes his card at the exit. The red light flashes green, the boom gate journeys skyward. Rob beeps his horn as he drives the accelerator through the floor and sends a cluster of sidewalk pedestrians scurrying for their lives as we shoot past, fishtailing onto Lujiazui Ring Road.
“Fuck man! What’s the hurry?”
“What? You want me to pick your husband up?”
“Ha, no, that’s fine, he’s busy with your wife.”
“Hahah, good. I hope someone’s fucking her, it’s sure not me. OK, so, this meeting, the guys are like from the outback. Know what I mean? Rednecks. Backward. Sheep shaggers. Cousin fuckers. You dig?”
I’m holding the door handle so tight I feel it might rip off in my hand. The Asian drivers at home are shocking, but it’s usually through an inability to merge or smoothly go around a corner. That would be a damn welcome change from this nutcase. As Rob carries on chewing the fat, preparing me for the upcoming meeting with a bunch of cousin fuckers, he avoids the gridlock created by a red light up ahead by straddling the median strip, beeping at oncoming traffic rightfully put off by a black Range Rover taking up the outside of their lane and continues on to drive straight through the red lit intersection.
“Holy shit man.”
“You see, in China, people from Shanghai hate people from Beijing, people from Beijing hate people from Shanghai, that’s fine. But these people we are meeting today, they are metal smelters from some disgusting place in southwest China, horrible, they hate everyone, everyone hates them. All they do is look fucking ugly, smelt metal, and drink.”
“OK, so what do you need me for?”
We are now overtaking a truck, driving in the wrong lane at about 150km/h around a blind corner through a tunnel. This is it for me. Today is surely my last.
“Well, this is good for you to see a proper Chinese business meeting. Artem says you will be a trader soon.”
We fly out of the tunnel. The car actually gets airborne, and not for a nanosecond. No, my balls and the car have been in mid air for a good few seconds. Fuck me. Rob doesn’t seem too put off. We’re now on an empty, open road at least. If we do die a gruesome death on this stretch then we probably won’t be taking any innocent people with us. The snow on the side of the road and the high chance of black ice on the actual road certainly doesn’t induce Rob to slow down at all. It’s hard to tell precisely from my angle, but my view of the speedometer tells me we’re closing in on 180km/h.
“These meetings, these aren’t what you’d call ‘professional’,” as he says ‘professional’, he turns to look me in the eyes and takes both hands off the wheel to raise them over his head and fully gesticulate the inverted commas. Yeah, I get it, eyes on the road when you’re breaking the sound barrier hey and stick with ten and two on the wheel maybe. “You see, with these sorts of guys, if you can drink, they respect you. My other copper trader is on his honeymoon for a month. A whole fucking month! I may as well sort out the divorce paperwork for his return. I mean shit, a whole month with your wife. Fuck that! But, anyway, all the other operators, they’re fucking pussy man. You saw them yeah, wearing their fucking ugg boots. What the fuck?! I’m from Shanghai, but I went to the University of New South Wales. You Australians…Holy fuck, you can drink. I saw the email from Artem that some Aussie was starting today, fucking beauty mate.”
“Glad to help.” His ‘fucking beauty mate’ accent is spot on.
“So, in this meeting, we will be having lunch, and drinking. These guys don’t speak English, don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything, but they will drink lots of Baijiu.”
“It’s like Chinese tequila. It’s what we drink to celebrate, when we have a baby, get married, you know, things like that. Anyway, these smelter guys, they know that all the trading houses make big money. We need to show these guys a good time, make them feel happy. They live in a shithole, their wives never suck their dick, not that you’d want one of their pig wives sucking your dick mind you. Fuck, you’d rather rub melted cheese on your knob and dangle it in the sewer for a rat to have a lick of. Anyway, you get the idea yeah, their life is shit, they make chump change compared to us. They come to the big city, all the trading houses want their business, they know this, so they choose who they will buy their copper concentrate from based on who they have the most fun with. They’re all basically government employees, so even if they do a great job, they won’t really get paid like they would in a western company. So, we have to buy them. It’s not a bribe. It’s just welfare payment, you know. You don’t have a problem with welfare now do you?”
“Of course not.”
We’re now in some sort of outer district of Shanghai and Rob starts to slow down to a more safety conscious 100km/h.
“So just come in, shake hands, smile, and when I tell you to drink, you drink.”
“Oh, also, we will be eating some strange food mate. I know my Australian friends find Chinese food, not ‘fly lice and shwee sour pork’, no the real McCoy, I know they find it awful. Pig’s tongue, sheep brains, duck vagina, all so tasty. Just eat what you can and drink everything. If you vomit or whatever, that’s great. These guys will find it hilarious.”
“So you want me to approach this business lunch like it’s my 21st birthday?”
We pull into a car park. Rob parks and we hop out. I ready myself to do Scion proud with the KPI of vomiting in front of the clients something I feel confident I can fulfil. The car park is empty aside from one bus. I notice a woman in a yellow one-piece ski suit pushing a stroller in the far corner of the car park. A black cat walks behind her. The whole bizarre experience has a very Matrix-esque feel about it. Rob leads the way inside the doors, along a red carpet and through a pair of golden arches, not McDonald’s arches, this looks like actual pure gold plating.
As we pass through the arches, a stunning woman stands in a sleeveless, full length, red silk dress behind an antique chest that was surely crafted during the Ming Dynasty. Her cartoon Astro Boy face, milk white newborn skin, and butter soft, slender shoulders look fresh from another world. Without saying a word she presses a button on the chest before leading us through a vacant hall of round tables, lazy Susans, and enough fish, eel and crab stacked aquariums to fill the East China Sea. We continue to the far end of this main hall to an inconspicuous door. Before we enter, she says something to Rob, sending him into fits of boyish giggles.
Rob gives me a wink as he opens the door. We step inside, five seriously overweight, middle-aged Chinese men are seated at yet another lazy Susan’d table. They look startled and breathless, but manage to cheers Rob as we enter the room, each of them raising their goblet looking Chinese pewter mug equivalents. They briefly look me over with suspicion before returning their full attention to the white tablecloth. Rob circles the room, saying hello, beaming the silky slime smile of a seasoned outperforming salesman as he completes the lap.
I motion to take one of the remaining two seats at the table before Rob reaches his arm across my chest, halting me effortlessly. One of the men thumps his right fist into the table and exhales deeply, slouching back in his chair. The others complete similar bouts of peculiar behaviour. A young lady, almost the identical twin to the concierge woman, pops her head out from beneath the hem of the immaculate silk tablecloth. The one woman under the table is followed by four more. The quintuplet gobby sisters scoot out from under the cloth and proceed out of the room, straightening their red silk dresses, wiping their chins and adjusting the chopsticks through their hair buns.
The gents all look far more welcoming now, freshly noshed off by undercover Goddesses. Rob picks out a packet of cigars from his coat pocket and hands them around the room and we take a seat. The room fills with smoke. My mind is choked with Circular Rd ‘karaoke’ flashbacks. My cheeks are bloated with bum puff drags. The original hostess wheels in a tray filled with ornate bottles, it must be the famous Baijiu, and a massive silver teapot. She passes around menus and fills everyone’s goblets with tea.
Rob hands the menus back to the girl and must be saying in Chinese what the order is. I assume he doesn’t need my advice that another round of blowjobs would be great, thanks mate. He speaks with the woman for another minute or so. One of the smelter guys starts to drink his tea so I assume it won’t be rude to try mine. Fucking hell, it is rancid. It tastes like reheated water direct from the Bund. I need a few litres of Evian, Colgate and a lengthy visit to the dentist to rid the filth from my gums.
The most repulsive of the smelter team grabs a bottle of Baijiu from the tray and is filling up shot glasses for each of us. Before we can all toast and consume, Rob delivers a reverential sounding speech in Chinese, but finishes by addressing me in English, “Flynn, please take the honours to commemorate the occasion.” All the guys place their shot glasses on the lazy Susan and Rob swings them all around to be now in front of me.
“Please, Flynn, as you know, the number seven holds great importance, it symbolises togetherness. Together in business, together in life, together we grow stronger. Please stand now and finish the seven shots and we will see not only your strength, but can look forward to continued strength and prosperity together.”
What a fucking stitch up. I look at each of the faces around the table. I’ve somehow found myself in an Oriental Knights Templar. Fuck it. I bring the first shot glass to my lips and take a final glance around the table. They’re all smiles. I down it. Urgh, fuck that! The guys cheer. I grab two more of the glasses, one in each hand, up and down the hatch. My throat is fire, my temples about to burst. The boys cheer louder. I see Rob with tears on his cheeks, a smile ear to ear.
I grab another two, down. Fuck. I falter, briefly blacking out, almost collapsing on the table taking my body weight wholly through my arms. The guys are all in hysterics. Rob starts cheering, “Two more! Two more!” The others join in and scream with him. Before I can crumple back in my chair, I grab the final two. Done. Hideous. I sink in my seat. The men all stand and cheer. My throat is an exhaust pipe. My stomach churns. The pressure behind my forehead feels like it will escape through my eyeballs. I’m covered in sweat.
I grab my goblet filled with lukewarm tea, memories of its unique taste of wretchedness already forgotten in a Baijiu hallucination, and scull it. The horrid Bund runoff fills my mouth as Rob slaps me on the left shoulder, I hunch forward, vomiting all over the floor. The room explodes in laughter. I continue to yak pure Baijiu and Huangpu tea. The carpet is covered. I sit back up, vomit residue glued to my chin. Rob refills everyone’s glasses. With my hands on my knees and more spew looming, I look up from my chair through a daze, six men are standing to raise their glasses, “Cheers, Mr. Fwynn!” I check my phone, 11.47am.
I excuse myself to the bathroom, asking Rob for directions. The main room of the restaurant now has a few more patrons, families, young children, no one too likely to order the sub-table services. I follow the directions to the restrooms, seeing the universal ‘gents’ stick figure signage in the far corner. As I walk in, there is a wall mirror atop one elongated hand basin housing five taps. The opposing wall is lined with a series of stalls, no urinals anywhere. None of the stalls have doors, no matter, I walk to the second of the row, stopping in my tracks with a grown man hunched naked over the squat toilet, pushing both arms out for leverage against the sides of the open cubicle, face squished into a heavily constipated emoji. “Sorry buddy.” Fucking hell, this place is rough.
I’ve lost any desire to piss, shit, breathe or live. I park at the washbasin, splashing water in my face, staring down the drain, hands over my ears no match for a room filled with the sound bytes of a grown man’s tireless efforts to take a dump. I splash my face a final time, clearing all the vomit, and walk back out, catching a second glimpse of the poor fella, squatting and sweating. I wish him the best. He doesn’t notice. I continue out. Across the room, two of the waitresses are wheeling large, empty trolleys as they exit Scion’s business lunch private room.
Rob welcomes me back to the table, now filled with steaming pots, hotplates and all manner of intensely foreign dishes. The two centrepieces are elaborate gold trays, filled with ice, oysters, eels and live lobsters. Their claws are clicking, antennae darting through the air, black eyes staring straight at me. Rob motions me to a dish, “start with this one, Flynn, it’s your favourite mate, shrimp.” There is a large bowl, filled with tiny brown prawn impersonators. They’re all definitely still alive too, their tails wagging slowly. I’m certain it’s not a Baijiu hallucination. These shrimp are a little too fresh for my liking.
“Here Flynn, have some shrimp, they’re so fresh here, the best in China.” Rob grabs my plate, first filling the shrimp bowl with a long splash of Baijiu then loading my plate. I look down at the drunk shrimp as I grab my chopsticks, picking out the most dead looking of the bunch. I feel it wriggling on my tongue, its tail brushing my palate. I crunch down, swallowing my first kill, reluctantly washing it down with some tea, absolutely atrocious. I smash down some more Baijiu.
Rob is chatting busily with the smelters, their sleeves all rolled to the elbows, bibs covering their shirts, one man taking the seafood scissors to a live lobster’s claw, cracking it open and munching away, fitting in gulps of tea and Baijiu between speaking through a full mouth, never taking a breath. I finish my shrimp. Rob fills my soup bowl with something I can only hope is pumpkin soup, it’s probably a duck vagina stew though. My only chance to get through this is to drink. I fill up on Baijiu and pray my memory of this whole experience will at least be hazy.
Waitresses return to clear the plates and refill the drinks. Most of the gents pinch the girls’ arses, laughing to each other and spitting on the floor. If China takes over the world, we really are fucked. The table is fully cleared and Rob asks me to move my chair to the side so they can set up the main course. Please be blowjobs, I’ve definitely earned one. The original hostess removes the lazy Susan and reveals a small circular open portion in the middle of the table. Rob whispers in my ear, “just stay cool.”
Two women return with an empty trolley. They close the door behind them as I swig another Baijiu hit. The men are dead quiet, the distinctive yelp of an evolutionary forefather shutting them up. The women remove the linen trolley cloth. It’s a fucking monkey! The men cheer and smile, the monkey looks horrific, arms tied around its back, feet also tied together, seated on the base of the trolley. The top of the trolley is removed and the women push the monkey-loaded contraption past me and underneath the table.
The constipated bloke from the toilets enters the room wearing a white butcher’s apron, carrying a huge cleaver. He walks to the tableside as the monkey’s head pops through the gap. The ladies pop back out from beneath the tablecloth. The cleaver toting constipee leans to the middle of the table, pressing some magic button that causes a wood panel to close over the hole, locking the monkey’s head, guillotined and crying. This is fucked. The monkey is still alive as this man cleavers directly through the skull of the poor, defenceless animal. Rob presses down firmly on my shoulder. I watch on numb, the others continue cheering, looks of delight fill their eyes as the skull pops open.
Rob motions to the man who must be the head smelter to take the first bite. The chef cuts out a slice of brain, blood filled and inches from its owner’s eyes, placing it on the smelter fella’s plate. The men watch on as he chews for a few moments before swallowing. The room erupts, tears of laughter and joy, the monkey’s eyes now closed, please, please, I can only hope he’s dead. I swig Baijiu direct from the bottle. Piece by piece, the brain is consumed and the men’s bond grows stronger. I’m the last to be included, swigging a hospitalising serving of Baijiu as the cortex lies on my plate. I look at Rob and the men in the room, one more swig, bring the fork to my mouth and swallow it whole.
You’d think I just walked on water. Everyone stands and applauds. I’m certain to vomit. I swallowed so fast I will thankfully never know the taste. The senior member of the smelting party commands everyone’s attention, bringing his palms together with fingers outstretched and grasps his fingers through each other, saying the same few words over and over as he rocks his clenched fist solemnly back and forth in the middle of his chest.
Everyone shakes hands, beaming and embracing. Rob whispers in my ear, “he just said, ‘together we do much business this year, next year, and forever more,’ good work, you fucking crazy Aussie.” I meet the other’s smiling faces at the round table. I do my best to fake a heartfelt grin and raise the Baijiu bottle to the ceiling. Everyone watches me closely while I look down at the monkey’s empty skull and feel tears about to flow from my eyes. I tip Baijiu down my throat until the bottle’s empty and I’m deafened by the smelting applause.
It’s 7am on Christmas morning in Shanghai. I’m lying in bed, toasty warm, having finally solved the Star Wars heater button puzzle. Through the bay window I’m looking out at a slowly falling blanket of snow, my first white Christmas since I was an exchange student in Germany fifteen years ago. The bucketing snow has caused the cats to cancel their morning fight club and celebrate the birth of Jesus in laneway harmony. I grab my phone and send texts de noël to family and friends sweltering back in Sydney.
There is no public holiday for Christmas in China. I hop out of bed and don the velour tracksuit for my morning exercise routine, more appropriately measured in seconds than minutes, though my once taut body is trying to make a comeback. When I’m not invited to business lunch meetings as the consultant alcoholic westerner, I’m spending at least an hour every midday swimming laps in the Shangri-la indoor rooftop pool. James. Flynn James. Between the lap swimming, the morning home fitness work out, and rediscovering the joys of walking unaccompanied by torrents of Singapore sweat, I’m almost looking respectable with a shirt off. Almost. I throw the velour to the floor, jump in the shower, and get busy with the tried and tested shit, shave, spruce routine.
I close the door behind me and set off, I never did find that turtle again. I trudge with ease through the laneway snow thanks to a new pair of Columbia winter boots. I’m sure they’re counterfeit Columbians, but they were reasonably expensive so at least they’re a good fake, the best you can hope for when making a purchase in China. I keep the Italian leather soled death traps at work, there’s only so many times you want to skate to work over the black ice, or have fellow train commuters scuff the overpriced gloss off your fancy shoes.
My footpath pedestrian management program has blossomed. Before exiting the gate of my lane house complex each morning, I thump my left palm into my right shoulder four times and sing to myself, ‘Kamma Tay, Kamma Tay, Faarrrk Youuu’. It’s my Australian abroad Kiwi Haka tribute to rev me up for the ensuing two blocks of shoulder charging my way to the station. It works. I’ve made no friends in this French Concession so far, but I’ve definitely created some respectful enemies by refusing to play ball with their footpath hogging game plan. Playing chicken on the way to work is fine when you’re weighing in about 30kgs heavier and a foot taller than your opposing roosters.
The subway commute still haunts me. There’s no way possible to shoulder charge your way to comfort on a dangerously overcrowded train. I blame Pavlov for the immediate shudder that engulfs me each day as I pass through the turnstiles and down the stairs leading to the platform. The three-stop journey always ends with mixed feelings of physical violation and psychological torment. Christmas morning is no different. I’m my usual momentary wreck of frazzled synapses as I step off the train onto the Lujiazui platform and enjoy the relief of an entire 1m radius of free space to call my own.
I delve deep into my winter clothing cocoon and fish out my wallet, multiple layers from the outer jacket shell. Any wannabe pickpocket will have a better chance of giving me a covert prostate examination than pinching my wallet. I walk the final few metres of Lujiazui Ring Road to the office through a rapidly intensifying snowstorm. Sweeping gusts of wind whip falling snow into horizontal ice pellets. I slit my eyes for protection from the storm in a gesture of survival and assimilation. I continue inside to the elevator’s warmth, once more cramped in with too many people in too small a space. I swipe my card and grab my seat. It’s 8.26am. The office is empty. I start reading back through my notes and write down what details I need to chase up today.
I’m not at all bothered that I have to work on the holiest of holy days. I’ve got no friends here nor do I have anything of any real joy or value to do that doesn’t involve learning the ropes of copper concentrates trading, drinking baijiu til I vomit or swimming laps in the chlorinated heat of the Shangri-la’s pool. My first three weeks in the People’s Republic have been intense, accompanying Rob to meetings all over the country and repeating the performance of my first day over and over again, winning him plenty of business for next year after making sure the company health insurance plan included generous compensation for premature liver necrosis.
When not evading death in Rob’s Range Rover, I am thoroughly put through my paces by Li Ming, her crash course in copper concentrate operations is not helped by my being perpetually hungover or simply outright drunk. Regardless Li Ming carries on, emailing me hundreds of pages of files and manuals as I take my seat in the morning, then testing my knowledge meticulously before she heads home around 7pm. In much the same way Jannah’s seat next to me in Singapore ensured I couldn’t possibly slacken off, I’m grateful for Li Ming’s oversight. She knows Rob well and is fully aware of the alcohol filled torture he is putting me through on an almost daily basis. She doesn’t give a fuck. She plows on with her teachings with even greater intensity.
In the course of what untrained eyes could view as a three-week booze bender, I’ve proven to myself I am a highly functioning alcoholic. I force my way through whatever hangover Rob has stitched me up with and take my seat each morning next to Li Ming, certain she is about to impart some priceless knowledge and doubly certain to write everything down no matter how obvious it may seem at the time of scribbling.
In three weeks of Operations 101, I’m now blessed with a comprehensive awareness of the intricacies of obtaining financing for cargoes, the shipping paperwork and coordination required to ensure a cargo can be ferried around the globe, how to ensure an assay is verifiable and able to be legally challenged if a cargo arrives with off-spec material, and finally, how best to piece together a purchase or sales contract depending on the likely nature of the copper concentrate being purchased and the eventual end destination to sell it to.
As God would be well aware, the Devil is in the detail, and where the Devil is lurking, easy profits and capitalist utopia are sure to be hiding. Satan is without question a lawyer, and he has racked up hefty consultation fees through assisting Scion in drawing up our contracts.
Copper concentrates are the middle ground in the earth pillaging to retail distribution non-circle of life. There is copper in the ground all over the globe, usually bonded tightly to dirt, gold, silver, and many more subgroups of buried treasure and lethal carcinogens. Thanks to mining monoliths, this mishmash collection of subterranean bedfellows will eventually find their way onto shovels of varying magnitudes and face initial processing after a quick truck or travelator ride. The initial processing, milling, will turn a body of dirt which may have contained one or two parts per hundred of copper, into a concentrate of fifteen to forty parts per hundred.
The hallowed brown earth of South America, home to Incan Cities of Gold and arid meadows laced with marching powder, is also home to ore bodies rich in copper. Our Spanish speaking ore mongers, located primarily in Santiago and Lima, source an endless bevy of copper concentrate to ship across the Pacific Ocean and fill Chinese smelters with. Once Rob has greased the capitalist wheels of communism with blowjobs, Baijiu and monkey brains, Scion is paid handsomely and the cousin-fucking smelters refine our concentrate into copper blister and then, eventually, 99.99% refined copper cathode is ready to glisten and glean in almost every manner of 21st century application.
The true kicker to turn this reputable business of questionable morality into a more refined corporate juggernaut of sickening profitability comes with the combination of fine print, a reasoned understanding of probability and the enduring lure of gold. Life is risky, that’s why actuaries are always so lonely, no one wants to face the truth. But there seems little upside in placing all that probability know-how to use on life insurance premium calculations when you could be lining purchase and sales contracts in all sorts of embedded options and pricing triggers.
The game is rigged something like this. Each concentrate body of material will have its own unique combination of good, great, and bad things. Copper is good, obviously, the hint’s in the name, this is the copper concentrates department. Gold and silver are great; precious metals of unquestioned divinity, especially glowing when bundled in bullion. Bad things, well, you’re bound to have sulfur, arsenic, and plenty of other nasty bits and pieces which are costly to extract away from your good and great things and even more costly to dispose safely of. That disposal cost is not something I think too many Chinese businessmen or regulators are overly concerned with.
So, to place a monetary value on the concentrate, you need a pro’s and con’s ledger. It’s fairly straightforward, there are live, exchange-listed prices for copper, gold and silver, so, take the assay reported content of these metals in the concentrate and multiply that by the price on the exchange. That was easy. Now, you’ll have a cost involved in ridding your material of the nasty’s, no worries, impose a penalty, let’s say $100 per tonne or something. The number isn’t important for the moment. The concept is all that matters. Good things balanced with bad things and don’t forget all the other usual costs like shipping, insurance, etc, etc to give a final dollar value.
OK, now if you are a retarded, non-threatening, rarely-thinking member of society and are happy to transact business as above, that’s fine, you’ll be happily employed in a governmental role somewhere. You’ll praise God for the food on your table, think there’s true honour in working nine to five for the better part of a lifetime, and probably cry tears of genuine joy when your child receives a participation ribbon at the local school swimming carnival. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re right in the meaty heart of honourable civilisation and you’ve got plenty of company. But when the chief requirement of your bloated paycheck is to create money from thin air, you need to be a little more thoughtful than simply taking a quantity of metal and multiplying it by a price on an exchange to think you deserve to be anything but fired.
So, what’s a poor, aspiring capitalist to do? Create a potential trough of dizzying profits for the client’s greedy snout, that’s what. Rather than simply assign a dollar value to an amount of metal, let’s have a cascade of pricing premiums and discounts assigned to the specific amount of metal in a concentrate. For instance, the overwhelming majority of copper concentrates will have a copper content of 25% to 35%. If you’re selling concentrate, you’ll get a higher price if the material has a higher content of copper. That makes sense. 5,000 tonnes of copper concentrate times 30% copper assay times listed copper price of $7,000 per tonne. $10.5 million. Done.
But what if the concentrate you’ve worked so hard to pilfer from the earth’s crust has a low percentage of copper. Ah, the humanity, the whole process was a waste of time, why do bad things happen to good people? Never mind, our purchasing contract pays a small premium for concentrates with 20%-25%. What? Why? Well, this guarantees we get the lion’s share of business, most other companies will refuse to buy the stuff with a content lower than 25%, so we can be certain the miners are happy to deal and prevent their downside risk, a risk which is always far bigger and more imminent than its upside twin. But, how can we offer this? God won’t like this one bit.
Well, the fine print, inked, as always, at Satan’s brothel, instigates a zero payment for all gold and silver in the event of a sub 25% copper quota in the concentrate. No biggie, the Julio’s, Javier’s, Jose’s and Jesus’s of Latin America aren’t overly in love with the precious metal, they dutifully see the certainty of profitable copper dealing for what it is; good business. But, copper is priced in thousands of dollars per tonne, gold is priced in thousands per ounce, and our Chinese end users are enamoured with gold’s lustre. The copper component of the concentrate may be borderline but we can sell them a lower content of copper at an unbeatable price because we will only charge a modest amount for any gold and silver ready to be unleashed via the refining of the concentrate. That’s easy when we paid zilch for it to begin with.
Li Ming arrives as I’m reading back through one of my countless notebooks. “It’s Christmas! Take the day off, Flynn! It’s fine. Quick, go now, before anyone else sees you.”
“Wow, thanks so much. Are you sure?”
“Of course, go home, Merry Christmas!”
I take off out the door, down the elevator and straight back into the grips of a late December snowstorm. I decide to escape the cold and spend the rest of Christmas morning at the Shangri-la, not swimming laps though, I think I’ll have a sauna and a spa. Baby Jesus would like that.
I’m welcomed to the opening day of Chinese New Year celebrations with a sparkling blue sky shining through my bay windows while Baghdad-imitating explosives and children’s laughing reverberate through the lane way. 2013. Year of the Snake. The Chinese do indeed love a New Year’s firecracker. The snow and Siberian cold of my initial month here are a distant memory. From all reports, December was one of the coldest on record. January was gorgeous, clear blue skies at perfect, manageably freezing temperatures. The sky’s clarity was not overly endearing to this great nation though, it meant simply that the view from the office included more precise vision of the endless power plants burning plumes of toxic gas into the already contamination saturated air.
It’s Saturday morning, February 9. I’ve got eight days of public holidays to properly celebrate the wonder of the Snake. I’d originally planned a trip home to Australia, but had to forego that idea through a nightmare cavalcade of paperwork which had to be filled if I were to ever regain entry back into this overpopulated land mass. Fuck it, I’ll be outta here soon enough, will leave the current visa untouched. No, I’ve settled on eight days of sleep, DVD’s and walking the city. I jump in for a leisurely thirty-minute shower, towel off and throw on my jeans and a jumper.
The French Concession is a ghost town this morning. Workmates have told me the Chinese New Year week long party is the only time of year that Shanghai is ever quiet. The city’s population halves, most residents use the opportunity to return home to see their families in the countless small villages throughout this vast country. The majority of shops have their windows boarded up. The only spit on the sidewalk is stale and resilient, not fresh and fluid. The walkway is all mine, there are no shoulder charging heroics to be achieved in order to move freely. I see one lone car driving away about 500m down the street. There’s nothing but frail sun shining on my back and a peaceful sense of Armageddon tranquility shattered every few moments by laneway firecrackers and children’s laughter.
I turn solo down into the West Nanjing Road train station entrance. Not a soul. I check the timetable. Trains are still running. I hear the rattling tracks signalling one on the approach. I race down the stairs and across an empty platform to take a seat on the train. A seat!! This is civilised. I am on the same line as would normally take me to work. As there is no crush of humankind to prevent me, I hop out at the first stop, the People’s Square station. I complete the underground labyrinth to find the surface and commence my walking tour with a Starbucks coffee. The caffeine bastion of 24/7 civilisation is open.
The People’s Park is breathtaking. Literally. My first view of outstretched, lush green grass in months causes me instinctively to breathe in deeply only for the noxious air to meet stiff opposition in the unblemished lining of my lungs. Even on a clear day in Shanghai, the air pollution index rarely drops below ‘unhealthy’ levels. Oxygen ‘hits’ are all the rage in Beijing apparently. Pure oxygen is selling like hotcakes. Fuck humanity. I can see the future and I’m scared shitless. There aren’t any O2 dealers in this park, so I persevere with my morning stroll coughing and sputtering like a beaten up Holden Kingswood, shallow breathing a must.
I make my way through the park. My thoughts are consumed with the firm knowledge the world, as a whole, and China, more specifically, would be greatly improved if the one child policy were reduced to zero. But, all that rational thinking aside, there is a unique charisma to the gritty grandeur of Shanghai, the New York of Asia, the true Gotham City that Batman has chosen to shun.
I continue walking for over three hours, or four cappuccinos, whichever measuring tool suits you best is fine with me. The cold air is best staved off by holding onto warm styrofoam filled with arabica. I’m not too sure exactly where I am, but I’ve arrived at a three way intersection and a large group of Anglo looking blokes are standing in front of the ‘Camel Sports Bar’.
“Hey mate, you here for footy today?” One of the guys yells across the street to me with a clear Aussie twang.
“Umm.” A rickety bus wobbles towards the Camel. All the blokes grab their sports bags lying on the footpath.
“Come on, you’re in the right spot, first game today, doesn’t matter if you haven’t been to training yet. I’m Tom, did you get an email from me about joining the club?” I walk across the street and join the group of 16 to 50 year old blokes.
“G’day Tom. Sorry, I’m not sure, footy?” It’s been two months since I’ve spoken English face to face with a westerner. The words feel awkward and strained. It’s taken me this long to feel like I truly don’t belong in this completely foreign city and speaking to an Australian is the trigger to make me realise I am indeed light years from home.
“Yeah mate, the Shanghai Tigers Aussie Rules Footy Club. Sorry, what’s your name?”
“I can’t see you on my list. You wanna play though? Where you from?”
“Ever played Aussie Rules before?”
“Perfect, you’ll be fine, we’re all shit. You look like you can play.”
“Thanks. I don’t have any gear mate.”
“No worries, we’ve got spare stuff, it’s more just training today anyway. If you like it, then join up properly. Hop on buddy.”
“Cool. Cheers Tom.”
“All good. Flynn right? I’ll put your name down on the sheet. What’s your surname?”
“James.” I throw my empty coffee in a bin and take a seat on the bus.
Within a few minutes the others have loaded their bags in the undercarriage and we’re making our way out of the city centre aboard the decrepit bus. The streets are looking more like usual now, a halving of the population still leaves a lonely 12.5 million people in the immediate vicinity. Newborns dangle from maternal arms, letting fly with gutter-filling shits. Oldies complete their osteoarthritis mitigating tai chi in any open space they can find. Bike-riding firecracker vendors cycle the streets, spruiking explosives available to purchase direct from their highly flammable wicker baskets. Tom takes centre stage, standing at the front of the bus with a clipboard and a ‘Shanghai Tigers’ hat.
“Welcome lads. Good to see some old faces and plenty of new ones. There are close to 30 of us here so we’ll split into three teams of ten and have a round robin, nothing too serious. Our first proper game isn’t for over a month. Today will just be a good chance to blow out the cobwebs. It’s still nice and cold at the moment so won’t be sweating too heavily out there, which will be good. I’ll come through the bus on the way and make sure to get everyone’s emails and phone numbers and give you a member card. And remember, just add Shanghai Tigers on Facebook and we’ll always update that with game schedules and embarrassing photos of your attempts at sportsmanship. After a few games this arvo, we’ll jump back on the bus and head straight back to the Camel, just show your member card and you’ll get 50% off beers and food. Should be a good day. Happy Chinese New Year boys.”
I’m seated halfway down the bus. I introduce myself to a short haired, fit looking Irish fella next to me, Sean. He has been in Shanghai for the past two years after a decade in London, but has strangely developed a love affair with Aussie Rules after sharing a flat with an Australian back in the UK. He runs through various amazing Aussie Rules historical moments and quickly realises I have no idea what he’s talking about. Smart lad though, he settles on his other passion, Chinese women, and runs me through the endless dating Apps on his phone. The pictures he’s showing me are of his ‘dream girls’. I find most of them look more like malnourished young boys cross dressing in slutty outfits than a ‘dream girl’, but I’m not afflicted with yellow fever, so I choose not to judge the questionable beauty in the eye of this Irish beholder.
In the row behind me there is a legitimate global citizen, Ben. He is 17, sporting a neck tattoo that has effectively replaced his Adam’s apple with an inked clock. He speaks eight languages. His Dad is Egyptian, his Mum Venezuelan. He’s supposed to be at home studying for next week’s International Baccalaeureate exams at the French School of Shanghai but he just wants to run off his hangover after drinking all night then snorting coke till 7am this morning off the bare arses of Russian whores. Excuse me? He shows me some pictures on his phone that look far more appetising than those on Sean’s. Is this child pornography? Ben is living in a parallel universe in which the study routine I undertook before my high school exams would look even more teacher pet friendly than it already does.
We arrive at a collection of sports grounds consisting of the customary assortment of soccer fields, tennis courts and an oval running track. Not so ordinary though, is the eyesore of a power station behind barbed wire fencing at the end of the soccer oval. Sky scraping, plump grey chimneys reach up to the heavens and spew forth clouds of electricity generation run off. The morning sunshine has given way to an overcast afternoon and we walk towards the end oval, closest to the power station, and reconvene to sort out teams for a round robin.
“Flynn, jump on the Eagles team. Here’s a jersey and you’ll find a pair of boots and some shorts in that kit over there.” Tom hands me my jersey and, much to my amazement, in the kit there is a pair of boots which fit better than any shoes I’ve ever had. I see my ‘Eagles’ teammates all grouped together and Sean leads us through a warm up. A light jog around the oval has transformed my virgin lungs into desperate skanks. Every particle of contaminated air is smashing its way through my once pristine lung tissue in a debauched orgy, leaving me coughing, breathless, and certain I will never again be playing Aussie Rules footy in Shanghai after today.
We finish the lap and start kicking a few balls between each other. It’s been many, many years since I’ve played any organised sport, but my youth was spent with a constant foot, soccer, tennis or basket ball in my grip, and it’s good to be booting a footy, regardless of the permanent pulmonary damage it’s costing. “OK, couple of stretches, lads.” Sean now leads the group in the final pre-game limbering routine.
There’s an older member of the group who has put on a fluorescent singlet and blows his whistle in the middle of the field. It’s basically a converted soccer pitch with the goal posts replaced with some miniature replications of Aussie Rules goals instead. As we jog to the middle, I become acutely aware of the fact I’ve never actually played this game.
“Flynn, you’re pretty tall, you go ruckman aye?” Thanks Sean.
“Yeah, sure.” What’s a ruckman?
The ref blows his whistle and Tom stands in the middle of the pitch near the ref in a Bombers jersey.
Sean yells at me, “Flynn, go ruckman!”
“Yeah, got it.” What the fuck is he on about?
“Well get in the fucking middle mate, contest the bounce.” Ah, I’m supposed to be the tall gangly bloke who tips the ball at the bounce. The ruckman. Yes. We’re in business. I take my spot opposite Tom and the ref hunches over to bounce the ball into contention. Tom and I run towards the centre to tip the ball. I jump forwards, straight on. Tom instead spins ninety degrees, as he jumps up and extends his right arm, his elbow crunches through the base of my sternum like a bony dagger. If I had any hint of abdominal muscles, they might have deflected the hit. Instead I’m winded and useless as the game clock strikes 1 second.
Tom taps the ball to one of his Bomber teammates and they race off down the field. I lurch towards the ground and feel some light rain on my back. It’s probably acidic. The whistle blows again in the distance. The Bombers have scored the opening goal and I’m still looking at the dirt, having even more trouble breathing than usual. I stand up fully as the others come back towards the middle for another tip off. I take a deep breath to prepare for the second bounce in sixty seconds and the heavy breathing induces a sickening cough. My lungs are burning like I’ve just inhaled pure sulfur dioxide, which is extremely likely.
Fuck this. I line up Tom as the ref leans in to bounce the ball. I give my all in the five step lead in to the tip off and jump up, completing the newly tutored ninety degree swivel and smash all my weight into Tom, barely feigning an attempt at the ball. Tom and I collapse to the ground, both missing the ball, Sean yells, “Great work, Flynn!” as he scoops up the ball and races down field. Here we go. I dust off and jump up, running down in support, not too sure of what exactly I’m meant to do. Sean kicks the ball wide to another Eagle who then proceeds to kick the ball to me. Oh shit.
The ball bounces a few metres in front of me into clear space. I haven’t sprinted in years, but the knowledge there has to be someone chasing close behind me causes me to run at full pelt. I lunge down to shovel up the ball and continue on to goal scoring glory. Not this time, Flynn. The ball wobbles as I bend to scoop, I lose balance and face plant, missing the ball entirely but sliding along some gravel that somehow found its way on to the oval. My face is covered in dirt and my right leg is covered in blood. For fuck’s sake, Shanghai, can you just help a brother out?
A guy from the Bombers sees the blood and runs straight to me, “mate, go get that sorted right now, we have a good first aid kit, clean that cut straightaway.” As much as I don’t want to play anymore, I don’t want to seem like a total pussy, “Nah, she’ll be right mate, I’m fine.”
“Honestly mate, the turf here is fucking toxic. Another lad lost his leg last year, thanks to a gnarly infection from a cut way smaller than that…”
I don’t respond. That’s enough for me. I like my legs. I don’t like China. I yell out to Sean I need to sub off and get straight to the sideline, coughing, wheezing and bleeding profusely as I rummage through the first aid kit. The emergency training component of my physiotherapy studies comes rushing back with the imminent threat of lower limb amputation. I find the gauze, bandaging, antiseptic creams and don’t skimp on the application.
One of the player’s wives sees me cleaning up the wound and asks if I need any help. I reply that I’m fine and she follows up with saying that she’s quickly going to the shops. If I would like some food or a drink, she can grab it for me. I hand her a few hundred Yuan, “a bottle of Baijiu please.” She gives me a strange look of accepting disapproval and trudges off.
I continue on with cleaning any fragment of leg removing infection possibilities. I’m all bandaged up and back in the original clothes I set out from home in several hours earlier. My Baijiu delivery arrives. I thank the lady, Jen, and gulp the hideous potion under slowly falling rain on the sidelines, becoming rapidly intoxicated as I watch grown men chase an oblong, leather ball around a field of venomous earth in the foreground of a horizon crushing power terminal. Happy New Year, China.
“He’s a pisspot through and through, he’s a bastard so they say, meant to go to heaven, but he went the other way and down, down, down, down!” The back lounge of the Camel erupts, toasting to Bill, a lad from Perth who won best on ground for the day. There’s no award for worst on ground, though it’s certain that crown would be mine. Bill is no stranger to this cultured Aussie drinking theme song. He waits for the ‘down, down, down’ like a seasoned pro and demolishes his pint of Tsing Tao.
I am absolutely off my guts. I stayed warm while watching from the sidelines by polishing off the entire bottle of Baijiu. I could barely board the bus, but once I did, I told half of my new mates I loved ‘em, and the other half to go get fucked. No one was overly touched or offended. It seems they were mostly impressed at my ability to finish off the bottle solo and all fairly entertained as I pissed out the window on a few occasions during the homeward journey.
The moment we arrived back at the Camel, Sean ordered me a chicken parmagiana and forced me to down a litre of water. Top fella. I’d not eaten any chicken for the past month though, we’re in the grips of a nationwide poultry scare campaign. A bird flu epidemic has killed a few hundred people in the outskirts of Shanghai. But when the parma arrived on the table I couldn’t resist. If there is one thing I will gladly die for, it’s a chicken parma.
It’s now around 8pm and the rest of the Tigers have done an excellent job in catching up to my level of drunkenness. The back lounge of the Camel is filled with ice buckets full of beer, wine and champagne bottles. Every minute or so there is a toast to a player for some performance or attribute, everyone sculls their drink and swiftly refills in preparation for the next toast. We’re dancing on tables and singing along to whatever 80’s classic is booming through the room. This is the happiest I’ve been in months. I feel temporarily like I’m not actually in China, there’s no better way to feel in this country than that. Tom jumps up on the bar, tells everyone to get back on the bus, we’re going to do a lap of the city and he’s just spent 5,000 Yuan (about $1,000 USD) on fireworks.
“Let’s show Shanghai how the Tigers fucking party at New Year’s boys!!”
We storm out. Sean waits at the door of the bus with garbage bags full of firecrackers, giving us each all sorts of explosives as we hop on. There’s a huge esky with wheels on the aisle, stacked with bottles of Baijiu and vodka. Tom stands at the front of the bus once more, telling us to aim the fireworks out the window and light the fuck out of the French Concession. Sean hops in and takes the reins at the driver’s seat. The firecracker express is off and blazing.
“Light ‘em up!”
Everyone at the window aims their rocket launchers into the outside air and ignites the fuses. The night is alight with out of control Shanghai Tiger Aussie Rules revellers, the rickety bus deafened with shoddy Chinese firecrackers. The half of Shanghai’s population which hasn’t abandoned the city for the holidays surely now wish they had. Each street we enter, filled with polite Snake worshippers, is instantly obliterated by the Tigers’ shenanigans. If we’re not lighting up the streets, we’re drinking Baijiu and vodka like three eyed fish from the Bund.
I’m seated in the row behind the driver. Sean’s driving is shocking, but the time spent with Rob in his Range Rover has accustomed me to feeling on my deathbed at all times of engine propulsion. I take a huge swig of Baijiu and yell through the blasting for Sean to open the door. I pile some rockets into the back of my jeans, tell Sean to drive a bit slower, walk out the door of the moving bus and climb up to the roof using the side windows as perfect foot holds. Tom joins me on the roof and we fire the rockets into the night sky, laughing with certifiable elation as we dodge low hanging tree branches, power lines and dirty laundry. The street beneath is glowing through the nonstop flashes firing out of the bus’ windows.
Sean pulls up with a slam on the brakes, you fucking cunt. We’re only moving marginally faster than snail’s pace, but Tom and I are still flung forwards and drop over the front of the bus, two metres down to the frosty bitumen of Donghu Street. This is really going to hurt tomorrow. My right leg fires with pain, but I’m otherwise fine and ready to plow on with doing my country anything but proud. Tom is just laughing, screaming at the others to get out of the bus and bring all the booze with them. The 5,000 Yuan of fireworks have evaporated into the New Year’s sky.
We reassemble in a park and the twenty or so of us finish off the bottles of hard liquor. Opposite is a huge sign for Club 88. The booze dries up quickly and Tom leads the charge, stumbling across the road and up the brightly lit side steps leading to 88. We walk into the most tackily elaborate nightclub of Chinese decadence. In the far distance is a bar, but the intervening space is a sea of timber stalls, crystal chandeliers, and people, so many people. This is the playground for Chinese trust fund babies. Each booth is full of Shanghai’s versions of the Hiltons and Kardashians, the Chinese elite, popping bottles, chugging cigars and playing some weird dice rolling game.
As we walk on through to the bar, the Chinese wannabe superstars look us over with acute hatred. I’d never before been so obviously vilified for the colour of my skin, but it seems clear the barman is avoiding serving us for being Caucasian. We stand at the bar for fifteen minutes while bar staff make purposeful eye contact with us but continue to serve others.
I’m completely over it and not interested in satisfying the barman’s joy at being such a cunt. I tell Tom I’m going to shoot through and head home. As I begin my walk out, the barman yells, “yeah that right white boy, get out my club, fuck off!”
“What did you say?” Any intoxication instantly wipes clean.
“I say suck my dick. Fuck off!”
“Listen you little fucktard…” Tom grabs me and pulls me away from the bar, “Just leave it, you fight him, you’ll have to fight your way out of the club. Look around mate. This is his turf. Leave it.”
Tom’s right, dammit. I haven’t been in a fight since I was 14, and the first chance I get in almost two decades is against someone an anorexic, teenage girl could beat the shit out of. This just isn’t fair. Tom and I shake hands and I continue the walk out, taunted by the fuckwit barman’s unrelenting “go home you fucking white boy” as I muster every cell of self control to stop me from smashing the nearest champagne bottle and shoving the shards through the racist pindick’s neck.
Walking back down the Club 88 stairs, the pain of the gash on my right leg returns with a vengeance as the alcohol binge starts wearing off. Each step sends fiery pangs through me. A late night BBQ has been set up on the street corner nearest to the park. There’s a light drizzle. I take cover under the BBQ’s tarpaulin and wait for the guy to grill some kebabs of undetermined meat. I don’t know if it’s dog, monkey or panda, but it tastes sensational. I order another half dozen kebabs while an irritating cab driver keeps courting my business. I tell him I will get a lift in a few minutes and give him my address, but just leave me the fuck alone as long as I’m under the tarp, can’t a man eat in peace. He seems happy enough with this and starts chatting with someone on his mobile.
The rain stops and I throw the kebab sticks in the bin, make eye contact with the cabbie across the street and hobble over, taking as much weight as possible through my left leg with each stride. He opens the back door for me and I hop in. No more than half of my body has entered the cab before I’m shoved in and thrown to the far side of the back seat. Three Chinese girls have crammed in next to me. The driver sets the cab in motion. We’re flying through the streets.
“White boy! We come home with you. You pay us, we fuck you!”
“What the fuck? No. Fuck off.”
“Come on, we make you feel good. Which one of us you like?”
I should qualify; these girls are horrendous. Jabba the Hutt spent time with girls like this when preparing for his movie debut.
“Well, how much then?” If the price is right…
“How much you fink?”
“Fuck, not much sweetheart. I just want to go to sleep.”
“No! We have fun with you, big boy. White man. Big banana. Banana massage for you.”
I’m not sure what role the cabbie plays in this whole scam, but he has at least driven me home. We’re on Maoming Rd, a few hundred metres short of my place, I tell him to pull up, pay him and get out of the cab while the most ambitious trio of prostitutes on Earth carry on with trying to convince me of their sexual prowess. As soon as girls like this start to look appealing, I’ll be sure to chop my dick off. I wave the girls goodnight and start the walk home.
I hobble across the road to a Chinese ‘7/11’ equivalent, grab some two-minute noodles and a tall boy of Tsing Tao. I’m sure I’m drunkenly mistaken, but the girl behind the counter is giving an alluring air. I see her almost everyday on my way home when I pop in for milk, beers and noodles, the diet of champions. I never sense any hint of sexual tension nor have I previously noticed her slender, downtrodden beauty. But having just spent the past fifteen minutes in Shanghai’s taxi of unsolicited piggery, I suppose anything looks reasonably spectacular.
“Happy Chinese New Year, sir!” She’s never this friendly, maybe she’s been sculling Baijiu all day in honour of the Snake.
“Thank you, Happy Chinese New Year to you too! You have an excellent English accent, where did you learn?”
She just giggles and playfully says, “Happy Chinese New Year” a few more times, smiling constantly. She unpeels the lid on the noodle box and pours in some hot water from the tap behind the counter.
“Thank you so much…Shay Shay.”
She walks the noodles around to the front of the counter and proceeds out of the shop with me. What the fuck? We walk together all the way to my apartment. I’m holding an ice cold Tsing Tao and a boiling hot plastic bowl of noodles. She’s stopped giggling and stares intently at her feet, not losing eye contact with the pavement or saying another word. I open my door, immediately turn the heater on and motion Miss 7/11 to take a seat on the couch. I pour half of the Tsing Tao into a glass for her. She refuses the drink but starts undressing out of her blue and white uniform. I place the noodles and her full cup of Tsing Tao on the counter and lead her through to my bed.
We start kissing and undressing each other as the heater whirs away in the corner. She’s now completely naked, a flat chest, massive bush of pubes and a nervously smiling young woman look up at me. For a girl who appears every bit a virgin, she reaches across to her pants on the bedside table and grabs a condom from the pocket, astutely unwrapping the Johnny exuding everything but inexperience as she does so. Yep, this is happening.
I’m pounding away hammer and tongs, wishing I’d never turned the fucking heater on as streams of sweat pour down my face and back and my right thigh cut burns in agony. She’s lying on her back, her hairy legs wrapped around my pudgy torso. I’m soldiering on stoically, certain that my Baijiu bender has numbed my dick and there are far too many flab molecules where muscle should be in my stomach and glutes to produce fast enough pelvic propulsion to have any hope of dropping a load.
I roll on my back content to just let her bob away on my cock like a crazed, communist pole worshipper until she gets fed up with it. She gets frantic, pulling on her hair and slapping my face as she must be hopefully about to climax. I feel something starting to rouse in my loins too. Maybe the slap to the face enraged something deep in the pleasure cortex. I’m gonna blow too. Fucking beauty. She covers her mouth, letting out a final scream as I shudder in unison, my first Asian.
She rolls off and cuddles up next to me. I look down at my heroic little todger, eager to congratulate the tireless trooper. Fuck off. The condom is split in half. My bare knob stands unprotected and covered in muck. The ring of the condom still stuck around the base. My right thigh covered in blood, please by my own. Fuck you, China.
A mosquito the size of a small plane lines up for an easy buffet on my forearm. I wait for its safe landing then smack the malaria spreader to kingdom come. A puff of blood stains my skin. I hate this place so much. Easter holidays, like Christmas, are not celebrated in the People’s Republic, but I’m taking the piss so royally at work it really isn’t an issue, completing the bare minimum of operational tasks and simply hoping the phone rings sooner rather than later with the return to Singapore request.
I’m lying under the shade of a tree in the gardens lining the Bund, sweating out my hangover on this Easter Monday lunch break following a particularly savage Easter Sunday session with the Tigers. I sit up and watch people walking the Bund promenade, smiling and laughing, the stench of the Huangpu River no concern to them. Am I the only person with a functioning olfactory system round here? Who knows? I head back to work wreaking of booze.
The office is empty, lunch hours are two around here and they are taken very seriously. The majority of my workmates like to convene in the dining hall at the base of the building. Imagine an enormous school cafeteria full of an assortment of corporate citizens from each rung of that unifying corporate ladder, all bound together by the common tight arse thread of not wanting to pay for their lunch. Sure, thriftiness is next to Godliness, but lining up for 30 minutes to get a tray full of free rice and chicken, miso soup and green tea…no way, not for me.
It’s hard to tell if my workmates think I’m a bit stuck up for not joining them each day for their cafeteria lunch and chin wag. The two times I’ve joined, it’s the same routine. Line up for fucking ages amongst all the other plonkers from the building’s various companies, get your meal of barely edible prison food, then sit at a table, quickly finish your tucker then slowly look at the clock until it’s the designated time to return to your desk. Corporate citizenship is something I despise enough already without having to undergo that sort of torture. I’m amazed I went twice, but I figured I best sample it two times to be completely certain of the lunacy of my workmates.
It doesn’t really matter though, since the wheeling and dealing season with smelter alcoholic sex addicts came to a close, lunchtime usually involves me racing off to the Shangri-la gym to go about a foreign concept to Chinese people, exercise. I hate gyms, but the place is pristine. The pool may be full of chlorine but it is impeccable. Most endearing of all, the gym is always empty. It’s my solitary oasis in this overcrowded city.
My phone rings, it’s the big cheese.
“You ready to start trading yet?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” “Great. Listen, Paul’s all sorted for you to take up the derivs role we spoke about before you took off to China. You haven’t had a holiday since you started. How about you take a few weeks, go recharge or whatever it is you stupid Australians do and let’s get you started back in Singapore in the last week of April?”
“Right then, I’ll let HR know and they’ll send you an email with all the details, blah blah. See you soon sport.”
“Thanks so much Joel. See you soon.”
I hang up, clench my right fist in a little self-congratulatory pump then update all the communal files with every piece of necessary information about the cargoes I’m taking care of so my cafeteria loving colleagues can carry on fine without me. I take a quick glance of Google maps thinking about where could be best for a quick holiday. I’ll work something out. As long as I’m out of China, I’ll be euphoric.
I switch on the out of office function on my email, shut down the computer and hurry to the elevators without seeing a soul. I ring my parents from the overhead walkway atop Lujiazui Ring Road, letting them know the great news as I proceed down the stairs to the station, letting fly with spit all over the hand railing and a final shoulder charge into an oncoming pedestrian. Fare thee well, China. Operations 101. Over.
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