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!
If you would like to read Expat Jimmy, you can get it on Amazon. To know more about the author, Travis Lee, visit his website.
Your first day in China sounds a lot like my first day in Liverpool (when I went there for my summer semester degree). Go to the bank to get cash, go to the supermarket, and get food. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting does it? But I do remember feeling excited.
Recently there’s an China expat Youtube channel trending on my feed, but it was probably trending for all the wrong reasons, bloke was generating a great amount of hate among the Chinese people. Let’s hope that Jimmy doesn’t end up that way in the long run.
I remember feeling quite scared. I had not been out of Europe/in such a huge city ever before!
Five months up front?! Is that standard? Wow.
I don’t know… maybe it’s the standard in Chinese dorms! I hope now they accept cards and online payments, at least.
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Wow what a first day for you Marta. You are so adventurous. Well done. Mine was language training but as I was to work at the Aussie Embassy, everything was done for my arrival. Don’t know if I would have been so brave. Now you are living there and married to a Chinese. Things have worked out lovely for you.
To be honest I only dared to come because a friend was coming with me. I don’t think I’d come alone! But it’s very interesting to think how one decision can shape your whole life. I should write a post about that!
You definitely should.
It sounded like you did the essential set up on your first day in China, and ended up with a bed to sleep in. When I moved back to Melbourne many years ago, I didn’t know my way around, didn’t know anyone. My first night and dinner in the apartment involved sitting on the carpet eating instant noodles, balancing the bowl of noodles on a cardboard box as a makeshift table. Only a week later I got a table and chairs. The sofa didn’t come until three months later, which is pretty common for big household items like that here in Australia :D
Three months?? Oh gosh. In that regard, China is super fast and efficient, haha. Anything you buy you can have at home in 3 days tops!
Yes! It’s quite normal to wait 2-3 months for furniture and hard goods to get delivered to your house in Australia! I’ve heard some places to do it in a week or two…but very rarely have I heard 3 days tops lol :D This excludes second-hand things where you can get them pretty quick, haha.
Wow, your first day seems like it was very stressful. I’m sure that once you got past that, anything else after seemed manageable. I can’t understand why that dorm would demand several months of payment in advance (though I’ve heard of expats having to pay 6 months’ rent before moving into an apartment). I was still getting used to Chinese banks even after a year (I once went to the bank, took a number, then went to a nearby place to have lunch and when I came back, still had to wait half an hour).
That first day scarred me for life, since then I try my best not to go to banks, haha. I never dare to do the “take the number and come back after a while” trick because what if my number has passed when I arrive back? xD
I really dislike going to banks in China though towards the end of my time in Beijing, a new branch of Bank of China opened in my neighborhood and it was always empty, ha. I would take a number and consider the difference between it and the current number. Rather than come back too late, I’ve always come back too early. One time, there were so many people a bank employee even offered to call my mobile when my number was ready (one hour!).
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What do you think about the way the terms ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ are applied based on country of origin and color of skin? Join the discussion on my latest post. I look forward to reading your thoughts!