More stories of the frailty of the human condition and taken from the 23 years I’ve spent in China, and this will be incorporated in the second new book I’m trying to get out – ‘Green Leaves and the Bravest Girl I Ever Knew’
Over the years, we have hosted literally thousands of business people, partners, suppliers, staff and assorted good fellows in Chengdu and other parts of China.
Human beings come in all shapes and sizes with characters and foibles all unique and interesting. Some are decent people and some are less than decent people but all have a story and these stories make for great writing.
We had employed a guy in our London office as a salesman. Rama – Rama was a really interesting character – and a thoroughly decent bloke. He wasn’t actually Indian but his hippie parents had hung out in India during the great hippie era and had decided naming their son after one of the chief Hindu gods.
Instead of a peace-loving hippie Rama went on to become a military man – a tank commander – and drove his tank all over the plains of Iraq in Gulf War One and shot up a few baddies and then went home to pursue a career in sales.
He came to Chengdu to get training in our company and immediately struck a chord with us as he was a very likeable guy.
Since he wasn’t an idiot we invited him out for a good old Chengdu welcome for a meal and a night on the town.
At the time, there was an amazing night club called MGM which was the hotspot in the city and was a great evening’s entertainment. It was more a cabaret club – a constant stream of really interesting acts – singers, musicians, jugglers, girls in hot pants playing electronic violins, competitions, prizes galore, food, laughter, merriment and hangovers.
To this day I think it was the best night club I have ever been too and it is sad that it went out of fashion after a few years of glory and closed down.
One of the features of the place was its circular bar where you could not only get your favourite tipple but you could play games with the girls – drinking games.
Dangerous, sore head inspiring, drinking games.
The girls had a unique Chinese name – ‘Pei Jiu Nu – which sort of translates as: Drink Alcohol with the Guests Girls – with the underwritten premise of ‘drink with them until they fall of their stool girls’.
These girls were simply amazing – they were all around the same height, all had long dark hair and pretty much looked similar, which was a deliberate ploy I think by the management, so that if one of the girls was on a losing streak, she could duck away and another girl would take her place and if the guest was already three sheets to the wind and heading for four sheets to the wind he would notice.
The game was really simple.
There was a leather cup and five dice.
The girl would sake the cup and spin it around in the air and generally look impressive and then slam it down on the bar and you had to guess how many of the dice were standing on top of each other when the cup was take off.
Frankly I don’t know how they did it – especially after losing a few rounds.
But these girls had he dexterity of a magician and the livers of an ox.
If you got it right, as in you say four dice on top of one another and there are in fact four dice on top of one another then the girl has to drink.
If you got it wrong, then you had to drink – and the chances of getting it right were well and truly stacked against you because these girls were good.
After a few times in the hot seat I learned that there was only one likely outcome from this game – empty wallet and spinning head. At least the staff would carry you to a taxi when you fell off your perch.
So, Rama got himself onto a seat by the bar and ignoring not only the great entertainment, but also the strong worded advice from moi:
DO NOT. READ MY LIPS. DO NOT PLAY GAMES WITH THE ‘PEI JUI NU’.
But advice is only ever taken when it accords with the wishes of the advisee on a good day – and in a happy bar, where the atmosphere is pumping and the wine is flowing, is not the best place to give or accept advice.
The exact words that Rama said (goodheartedly) were:
‘Gavin. I am a former tank commander who has driven his tank across the deserts of the world. I think I know how to play drinking games with a group of tiny girls who won’t be able to keep up with my prodigious capacity.’
It was a bit like the headlines just before the Titanic hit the ice-cube in the Atlantic.
So Rama played. And drank. And played and drank some more. And some more. And some more. And then again some more.
And then he quickly became the newspaper on the great birdcage of life instead of singing happily on his perch.
Collapse. Total Collapse. A broken tank.
Not your sort of sway around the place type of collapse – but the sort of collapse where every brain cell shuts down and you become a gibbering and slobbering idiot.
He was a big guy. We needed four or five hefty bouncers to take him to the car. And get him tucked away in the back seat.
My driver and I sat in the front chuckling about our brave courageous tank commander until a noise or two made it clear that perhaps opening the window would be a good idea.
‘Get your head out the window, Rama. Now!’
Regrettably our calls fell on deaf ears.
The hippopotamus is known as a very dangerous animal to get close to in a zoo because of its propensity to have loud, violent and all-encompassing evacuations of its bowels.
Well Rama could get a job in a zoo on that score, because the projectile disgorgement of his evening’s entertainment and since his entertainment was the color as a bottle of red wine, my car was completely utterly, no space left untouched, painted red on the inside.
Thank you Rama. Thank you very very much. I’ve had better drives home.
Then the problem of how to get one almost unconscious, very messy human being out of the car, through the hotel lobby and into the room.
All I can say is, I bet those hotel staff wished they had pulled the day shift that day.
But succeed we did and we got Rama into the room, into the shower, where deliberately the cold tap only was turned on. If we had a big enough washing machine we would have put him in there.
Washed and clean we then had the ignominious task of disrobing said new salesman and tucked him into bed.
In the morning – which came altogether way too fast – we thought that we would not be seeing our new salesman and yet, there he was.
I would like to say bright eyed and bushy tailed but bushy eyed was the best we could do.
‘So sorry Gavin. I am an idiot. I am no longer worthy to be called an iron stomached tank commander. Beat me please. Take me out of my misery. Alas and alack. Moan, moan moan.’
We tried to send him home but he stuck it out like the trooper he was and headed home on the dot of 5pm.
And so, the tank division was well and truly beaten and if only Saddam had had a battalion of Pei Jiu Nu he might have won the war.
Our lovely ‘Pei Jiu Nu’ did not exit the story however.
Two days later a friend of mine arrived back from a security operation. The friend, CTJ, was a former member of the SAS and other similar types of classified organizations, and had spent a good part of his life doing exciting things like jumping through hoops of fire, lying motionless in a freezing cold puddles of water for weeks at end, chasing away snakes in jungle sangers, fighting battles and getting shot at. A great guy, he has also written four best-selling books about hypothetical missions he had been one – and no, before anyone asks, it is not Andy McNab of Bravo Two Zero fame but was a member of the same generation of SAS soldier.
CTJ is an amazing bloke – tough as a block of depleted uranium – and about as deadly.
Leaving the service after 20 years, CTJ, was working in various security related ‘health and safety’ type operations, which is a euphemism for finding bad guys who do things like kidnapping good guys and dealing with the problem.
As an aside, I remember a short two-line news item in a newspaper related to the kidnapping of some oil executives in the part of the world where CTJ was working – coincidentally for the same oil company.
The news-item simply said:
“Four executives, from the ABC Oil company were rescued unharmed in Terriblistan from their kidnappers yesterday. None of the kidnappers survived the rescue operation.”
Being a graduate of kindergarten I was able to draw a line connecting those few dots.
But I digress.
CTJ had arrived back and since we had a fellow former member of Her Majesties finest in town we headed out for a meal and then.. yes.. back to MGM.
It was hilarious hearing Rama strongly advising CTJ not to play games with the Pei Jiu Nu.
Cue the same dialogue.
“Listen mate. Where I come from we aren’t pussies like the tank brigadiers. I rather suspect that I can manage a few small feather-weight girls in the great game of guess the dice pile height.” “So F-off”
On your own head be it Sir CTJ.
Actually, it would have been fine if only CTJ hadn’t been dragged up onto the entertainment stage and entered into a game on stage, which game he massively won and was presented with a very large bottle of Jonnie Walker Red. A very large bottle.
And now it was game on. Bottle opened. Girl engaged.
Round after round after round.
The girls kept changing and given that we weren’t as keen on dragging him away in case he used the old karate chop on our tender necks, we stood back and watched the entertainment.
As they say in Thailand. Same same but different.
Perch no longer steady enough to hold a human being’s weight and crash on the floor went our hero.
Rama was absolutely beside himself – all of a sudden, the loss of that battle didn’t seem to be quite so bad. Mirthful. Gleeful. All-wise Rama at least gave us a hand to get CTJ back to the car and on the road to go home.
But we never made it back to CTJ’s home. He was feeling unwell and since there was a sullen sultry dame, gathering her wrath, at home, discretion being the better part of valor, we took CTJ back to our place.
Where just as we got to the door he had the old hippopotamus in the zoo reaction and our doorway was christened, in a way we would have preferred not.
Bright and breezy in the morning up jumped CTJ and bade us farewell and was ready to jump in a cab – how the hell he didn’t have the hangover from hell I know not. But he was chirpy like a bird on a wire.
Until we suggested he gaze in the mirror – and see the damage from the hippopotamus event.
Shower. Coffee. Breakfast.
Home to face the trouble and strife. And trouble and strife was exactly what he got.
War Heroes: 0
Pei Jiu Nu: 2
Since I am so wise and sensible I cannot give you any battle stories about my own experiences with the ‘drink alcohol with the guests’ girls. I am way too circumspect to fall for any of their tricks. Ahem.
Is that a nose growing longer I feel?
The above story was with people I like and respect and therefore it’s been written with a very light touch and hopefully I have been respectful of the two very decent gentlemen, despite their falling in the hole of drinking games.
The next story is, however, a bit darker, and I can say there is no respect for the individual involved and fortunately it has been a long time since I had the displeasure of dealing with the individual and hopefully our paths will not cross again.
Karma is a bus that can be the super-fast express bus or the interminably slow milk-run bus. When it arrives really quickly there is a certain satisfaction seeing justice meted out and more so when you get to witness the delivery.
I had a client once upon a time who was an Australian property developer, whose identity shall be filed under Mr. A Nony Mouse , and for the sake of decency we will call Robert Property, and also because I don’t want to get my sorry backside sued – and since the guy’s original profession was a barrister, he would have free legal services and I wouldn’t.
Robert was a minimally successful Australian property developer, and he decided he could make his fame and fortune in the southwest China, and purportedly set out to invest approximately $1 million in the Chinese market.
He wanted to focus on inner-city properties that were fully leased, to reduce his risk, as if these little treats fall from the sky every day.
In fact he didn’t have the $1 million sitting there ready to invest – he was going to borrow it.
His opening gambit to the consultation was that he had missed the Hong Kong boom, missed the Taipei boom, missed the Shanghai boom and no way in God’s good heaven was he going to miss the Chengdu property boom. Certainly, no pattern discernible there of missing out.
I was instructed to identify several properties of interest, seek out potential partners and develop any relationships with government necessary to do business.
Using a few heavy-duty relationships, we managed to get the guy to see Chengdu’s General Party Secretary whose normal mode of address would be like the KCMG knight – Kindly Call Me God – and two really interesting generals, who ran the sixth largest company in China, and were husband and wife.
The generals’ company was an army construction company responsible for all hydroelectric building projects in China and their military unit controlled some prime city real estate, part of a new redevelopment, and were planning three huge multistory buildings to make a dollop of funds for the Chinese military.
Before the ruling by Jiang Zi Min that the army wasn’t allowed to be involved in commercial operations, the army was massively successful in running business – take that military discipline and the ready availability of a pile of the (then) 3 million troops and getting in on the glorious drive for riches was a very common army pastime. But I digress.
Our dear ‘friend’ Robert arranged to stay in China for four days.
We knew things might be going to be a bit awry since his ﬁrst request on arrival at the airport was for ‘a Chinese woman’ – a ‘chicken’ or a ‘cat’ to use the local euphemism for the world’s oldest professionals. Which was a strange question to ask a business relationship straight off the bat.
He claimed that his Taiwanese friends always purchased prostitutes for him, and he wanted one sent to his room immediately. He was a bit put out when we declined his request on the very good grounds that it was illegal, immoral and unsavory.
Growing vegetables on the cold Tibetan Plateau, in one of the ‘reform through labor’ camps did not appeal to us at the time in the slightest.
Anyway, since this story was a case study in my book ‘Way of the Dragon, as an example how not to do business in China (or anywhere else for that matter) I’ll repeat the bones of the story minus all the business advice.
We set up a goodly number of meetings and got down to the business of making him successful.
The wheels sort of fell of the bus when he started making mistake after mistake – inviting the translator from the China side back to room, probably wasn’t the cleverest thing I’ve seen done in China. Nor was his arguing and distrust of everything that he was told in meetings.
When he refused to pay for the taxi to take the generals to dinner in advance, on the basis that the taxi driver might charge him 75 cents instead of 73 cents, wasn’t very bright either.
The two generals had they wallets out as fast as mongoose biting a cobra and took the onerous financial burden on their own shoulders.
Deciding that the General Party Secretary was that powerful since he didn’t immediately jump up and offer him the keys to city, was probably not a wise thing to do either.
One by one the mistakes came. One by one the possible partners were alienated or he wasn’t prepared to trust anyone.
When his supposed (former) girlfriend turned up in the lobby of the hotel, laden with presents – and after flying 5 hours to get to see him, he loudly cursed her and sent her packing. Talk about the ugly foreigner – he had it all and he had it in spades.
But anyway, onto the karma bus.
He asked us one morning if the 9th floor of the hotel where he was staying was a good place to find prostitutes, to which we answered: ‘Absolutely not!’
At the time the hotel was the only foreigners allowed hotel in Chengdu and the 9th floor was famous for its Karaoke scams – charging extortionate amounts for drinks and songs and more importantly, was a place where the local constabulary had a thing going with the girls to crowbar money out of idiotic foreigners, who might have thought this was the same as perhaps other more infamous parts of Asia.
At the dinner that evening we were joined by a local person who had immigrated to Australia and who had set up a scurrilous association called something like” China Australia Very Friendly and Totally Honest Association’ – of which I must have come across around a hundred of the fake organizations, designed to give business-card integrity to people who were basically rip-off merchants.
Our friend Robert had met the guy over a beer in the bar and dragged him along to the banquet to be his ‘independent friend’.
During the meal, he asked this dear bosom buddy, what did he think about the 9th floor of the hotel, and basically asked if I was right or wrong. The guys emphatically said we were full of the proverbial and that he should feel free to frequent the top floor bar/Karaoke/Night Club area and that all his dreams would come true.
Off he went after the meal to the 9th floor.
In the morning, we found him gnashing his teeth and rending his garments. And booking a taxi to the airport.
Leaving out the Anglo-Saxon epithets the story went like this:
Arriving at the 9th floor he was greeted by an array of very beautiful girls who took him by the arm and offered to sit with him and partake of a libation or two.
Getting warm and happy it was only two and half minutes before he was asking the girl if any of the them would like to accompany him back to his room for a bit of slap and tickle and hanky-panky.
‘Relax’ they said. ‘Plenty of time for ‘how’s your father’.
‘Have another drink or two. Take your time.’
‘Let’s have a dance. Spend your money, I mean time’ ‘The night is young’
And the tab is long.
Once they had extorted a few shekels from him one of the girls offered to accompany him back to his room.
He was so excited he didn’t notice how much the tab was, probably since he waved his room key and magnanimously charged to the bill to his room – adding a few cents as a tip.
When they got back to the room he suggested to the girl that she take a shower.
‘Why?’ she said. ‘No need since we are only here to talk’.
Talk? No!’ he declaimed. ‘We are here for a bit of ‘Blitzkrieg mit dem fleischgewehr’
And to which declamation she promptly called rather loudly for her friends, who funnily enough were waiting right outside the room.
Friends being a couple of the boys in blue, who had the patter of pat:
‘Sir, are you aware you have broken the laws of China?’
‘Sir, I am afraid you will have to accompany us to the station where this matter can be dealt with by our harsh and very frightening justice system.’
‘But don’t worry, the penalties for this offence have been lowered recently, and it is only five years now – but I must tell you that the place you will be sent will be dark and cold and if you are lucky every month or so you might catch a rat to add to the meagre fare you will be given’
Good old Robert used all the western ideas of dealing with such situations:
‘I demand to see the Consul General.’
‘I demand to see a lawyer.’
‘I demand to crawl into a corner and suck my thumb.’
And alas all entreaties fell on deaf, stony ears.
Mr Plod and his sidekick then suggested that perhaps, since Sir had been a good cooperative boy there might be a slightly easier way to deal with the situation.
‘Does Sir have a credit card?
‘Would that credit card happen to have a teeny-weeny amount of credit available on it, perchance?
‘Hmmmm… I think five thousand USD would probably see this terrible situation you seem to have found yourself in sorted out.’
‘Let’s go down to reception and ask the nice lady there to charge a few measly thousand to your card and we’ll be on our way.’
And just then the bus arrived – breathless and apologetic for taking so long.
The Karma Bus.
That restaurant where there is no menu – where you can only eat what you deserve.
Paying his hotel bill he found that there was an extra 10,000 RMB for the drinks in the bar prior to his misadventure. No teeth left at this stage to gnash but to say he was upset was like saying Krakatoa was only slightly smoking.
No, he never paid our consultancy fee.
Yes, he was on the first plane that day.
And no, we have never seen him again.
Guess the South West China property boom escaped him as well.