Book review: Expat Jimmy
Today I wanted to write about the novella Expat Jimmy, by Travis Lee. I read it a few weeks ago already but with all the things going on lately I didn’t have time to review it. What is Expat Jimmy about? Now, with the distance of some time after I finished it, I would summarise it as: Expat Jimmy is a foreigner’s first day in China.
Jimmy is an American who arrives to Wuhan in the summer of 2008 to be an English teacher. On his first day, his colleague Adam, who has been there for seven years, takes him on a full tour of the city and for some reason they meet at 5 am. Jetlagged and tired, Jimmy sees Wuhan, goes to many different places (and manages to not collapse from exhaustion!) and listens to Adam’s endless China tips. Crazy taxi rides, construction works everywhere, baijiu, hot water, accidents, shady clubs… this is China! Jimmy observes everything in front of his eyes with amazement and wants to take pictures of every little thing, as it always happens when you visit a country very different from your own for the first time. Adam, on the other hand, is an “old expat” who thinks he knows everything and likes bragging in front of newcomers. Are all of us “old expats” so annoying? I hope I’m not!
Many of the foreigners who come to China work teaching English, and this profession is often represented in the novels that foreign authors write about China. Quincy Carroll’s Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside, which I read last year, was also about English teachers, and some of the characters in Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues are also English teachers. However, in Expat Jimmy the story is not about Jimmy’s work, but about discovering Wuhan.
Reading this book made me remember my first day in China. It was not as action-packed as Jimmy’s, though. I arrived to Beijing with a friend and we were picked up by the university representative and driven to the campus. There was also an American guy called Jonathan (this was 2006 and I didn’t have Facebook yet, so I completely lost track of him after that semester). When we got to the student dorm, the “nice” people at the front desk wanted us to pay in full the 5 months of lodging and we did not have Chinese money yet (of course they didn’t accept foreign cards). So, jetlagged and tired (like Jimmy in the novel) we had to go to a bank, wait for 2 hours because there were 3 million people there (I’ve dreaded going to the bank ever since) and change a couple of thick stacks of renminbi (we looked like we had robbed the bank, but that’s China, where the biggest note is 100, around 12-13 Euro or USD).
After paying, the “nice” people of the front desk allowed us to go to our rooms and then we went outside again to find a supermarket. After buying some essentials like shower gel, toilet paper and a towel we headed back to the dorm and a bit later we went out for the last time that day to have our first meal in China, which was dinner. I had not used chopsticks in my life, but I more or less managed to eat something. Luckily the restaurant menu had pictures!