I’ve been living in China for last five years now, teaching English while writing books on the side. To the people I’ve recommended a similar lifestyle, I’ve told them to generally steer clear of other expats. I’m sure some might’ve thought, “But what does he mean ‘don’t interact with other foreigners?’ Who else am I supposed to hang out with, drink with, and bitch about China with?”
Unless you’re living in Shanghai or Beijing, expat communities can feel like a bit of a vacuum where it can be difficult to get away from the less than desirable members of the community. Not only can it be a turn-off to hear the same complaints about China that you’ve heard a million times before, their personal issues can be powerful vortexes that suck you in. And if you’re anywhere in their vicinity when shit goes south, you may be left to pick up the bill.
~ ~ ~
The University I was working at held a special Christmas dinner in 2012 for the foreign teachers. One of the teachers there (let’s call him Jim) had been making some significant problems for me since I’d come to China. Not only did this individual have a serious problem with alcohol, but he was also obsessed with scoring a girlfriend, as I believe someone might’ve told him that Chinese women will occasionally go for morbidly obese Western men. He was also worried that all of the other foreign friends he had would get Chinese girlfriends and he would be left behind.
As an unfortunate side-effect of his attempt to pursue women, he ended up introducing me to a few that took a shine to me. It wasn’t really my fault, but he ended up perceiving that my purpose in the world was to undermine his female engagements and resented me for it. He had some really strange ideas about the way the mating game should be played. He expressed the view that men with higher sexual market value should restrain themselves to allow the lower value males a shot. By his definition, this meant that if a man and a woman liked each other, the man was supposed to back off if Jim called dibs. This put us on bad terms for a while.
Jim wasn’t a complete asshole. He was actually an academic who spoke pretty competent Mandarin. He was also surprisingly friendly while sober and most people liked him.
At first, I thought it was because he was Mormon that he’d never known the ways of alcohol before. I thought that perhaps because of the religious intolerance at home, he was unable to gauge his drunkenness and couldn’t help but go off the deep end every time he imbibed. I later found out that his alcoholism has actually been a recurring hurricane in his life, restricted only by the influence of his friends and family. When he was back home, he didn’t dare swallow a drop.
After the Christmas party of ‘12, I had invited a couple of other teachers over to my place to have some drinks in my room. We were already buzzed from before, but we felt the need to carry on drinking a little more. One of the things that is notable here was that I didn’t usually have people over. Wasn’t something I was actively avoiding, I just prefer solitude most of the time.
So after inviting those two other teachers over to have some whiskey, the Mormon alcoholic knocks on my door. I didn’t invite him, but Jim must have heard the other two teachers go to my room, so he felt inclined to stick his nose in. That was kind of his shtick, imposing himself on others. I should’ve just told him to fuck off right then, but because I didn’t want to put us on bad terms again, I allowed him to stop in. So, after he set a couple of bottles of booze on my table, he took a seat in a chair and promptly passed out like a fat asshole.
We kind of laughed it off at the time and continued chatting while he slept there; he was so overweight he could sleep sitting upright. But then he started vomiting. It was the most repulsive, unconscious vomiting I’d ever seen. He kind of just leaned his head back and started expelling all of the different things he’d eaten that evening in a viscous stream of undigested food. We were still laughing while it happened because we recognized some of the content:
“Oh yeah, is that the noodles we had before?”
“I think so. That spicy beef dish was delicious.”
Then, the vomit landed on the floor and I started to get really pissed off. Remember how I rarely had anyone over? Jim continued hurling all over himself, and it started to look like he wasn’t going to stop. I could only marvel at the freakishly large capacity of his stomach, expelling all kinds of colorful shit.
So, my two guests decide that they’d better take him back to his room before he made any more of a mess. They tried to get his arms over their shoulders, but with his massive belly, his weight was impossible to control. Once they’d lifted him out of his seat, he slipped past both of them and landed face-first on my glass coffee table. It shattered into a million pieces. One of the larger shards flipped up when he fell with razor-sharp edge.
I knew the worst had occurred when I heard my guests curse.
“Oh shit, oh shit.”
I saw a puddle of blood spreading underneath him, and it wasn’t until they moved him that I saw the gash through the side of his face, up through his scalp. He started bleeding everywhere. Luckily, one of my guests had experience dealing with one of those kinds of situations because at that point, my anger had reverted to a bit of a drunken panic. I tried to keep the wound on Jim’s head closed and applied pressure while my guests left to get help and find a taxi to take him to a hospital.
Fast-forward to the end of the night; my guests returned from escorting Jim to medical care. I had Jim’s blood up to my elbows, and my floor was covered with blood, vomit, broken glass. I was so drunk and so angry that I was shouting and felt like smashing everything. I was up until 4 AM drunkenly mopping and sweeping everything up. I found little bits of that glass coffee table around my apartment for years to come.
Jim got stitches in his face at the Chinese hospital, and they were so thick that his gash looked like the grip of a football. Despite breaking down into tears once he was visited by other coworkers, out of shame or embarrassment, it didn’t break him of his drinking habit. He was back on the sauce and behaving badly again in no time. On top of his drunkenness, he was back to resenting me for not visiting him while he was in the hospital. He had no idea that I was the one that had taken care of him the night of his disaster, and I was left with the burden of cleaning up his fucking mess. Afterwards, he continued to be a ticking time bomb, in danger of embarrassing or upsetting the lives of anyone unlucky enough to be in his vicinity.
Eventually, Jim’s incompetence got the best of him and he was administered the boot from the university. It was said that he was often showing up late for classes, often completely unengaged when it came time for him to teach, and sometimes noticeably intoxicated. What a shame.
It’s startling for me to think that such educated people might still fuck up so badly as to get fired from a Chinese university, when often the requirements are no more than to have a degree and a pulse.
So while this is strictly anecdotal, and you might not have the same experiences I’ve had, at least you will understand why I think that avoiding expats while abroad is typically in your best interest. Alcohol and aimlessness tends to be pretty prevalent among Chinese expats, and out of all the problems I’ve ever had while living in China, very few were a result of my interactions with the natives. Other expats I’ve asked have often said the same.
You can read more from the Based Bachelor at www.basedbachelor.com