Monday, May 18, 2009

Beijing's shady underground scene

Beijing, China—the capital of the People's Republic of China, is no place for puritans. The city's underground scene of sex, drugs and rock & roll is growing faster than Chinese GDP these days.

“China High, my fast times in the 010—A Beijing Memoir by ZZ,” is a new book detailing the adventures of a young expat lawyer who lived in Beijing during the years of China's fast economic growth since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

Bloomberg columnist Le-Min Lim reviewed the book on May 14 and had the following to offer.


“Written before the global credit meltdown, “China High” lifts a curtain on a side of Beijing seldom seen by tourists. ZZ captures the nocturnal buzz of a city where rave parties in derelict factories are a staple and orgies have become a rite of passage. Then there’s the pot, which locals call the Big Numb.

Beneath the froth lies a serious message: The world’s largest developing economy is seething in social tension, displaced people and hypocrisy. It’s a land of official sexual equality run by men who often keep under-30 mistresses, a.k.a. their “little honeys,” on two-year contracts. A country given to bouts of xenophobia among people who fawn on foreigners.”

ZZ offers tips on how to navigate Beijing, right down to what the worst swear words mean and how to use them to best effect. He exposes the hidden high costs of doing business in labor-rich China by describing his struggle to start a food- delivery company staffed by locals with little English and no inkling of quality service.


So you get the picture? Beijing is more than the city which hosts China's most famous historical monuments, shiny new sky scrapers and Olympic arenas. Beijing like other major metropolises in the world (ie: London, Paris and New York) has its own dark side to it.

The book also sheds light onto another, equally important facet of expatriate life in China for a foreigners working or studying in the country's major cities. The “ego trip,” anyone from the plains of Iowa to a pompous New Yorker or Londoner will experience upon moving to China.

A Chinese-Laotian-American friend of mine was sitting with me at a Mexican restaurant in Beijing one day back in 2006 when I asked him what his thoughts on why the Chinese treat foreigners so well and virtually hand us all this privileged their own citizens don't enjoy.

“Well Bennett, the Chinese were sitting on top of the world for a few thousand years and one day these random barbarians (Europeans) showed up and knocked China off its pedestal. Political and social turmoil aside, the Chinese pride was damaged so badly, they have been in a never ending state trying to catch up and keep peace at the same time. That is why, at least until China does catch up, foreigners will be welcomed with open arms.”

At the moment, living as a foreigner in Beijing and other big cities like Shanghai has its downsides as all places do. This usually comes in the form of having to deal with bureaucracy, regulations you did not know existed or other headaches that are typical of life in a developing country.

On the other end of the spectrum exist some great perks you can not find just anywhere. The common foreigner will suddenly feel as if they have taken the express elevator up the social latter of life. ZZ explains: 

“What does work wonders is being a foreigner, he says, rightly observing how the Chinese, long cut off from the world, now revere all things from abroad. An expatriate, he says, draws praise, envy and opportunity just for being different. “

It’s “the perfect recipe for an ego trip,” he writes.


To purchase your own copy and read more detailed reviews please visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble.