Ever since quitting his mind grind of a job as a banker, my Dutch friend has been going around the globe, and given the finite quality of space on earth combined with his pace, it was only a question of time before he passed through Chengdu on his journey.
His first time in Chengdu, he was just back from India after an unsuccessful approach to build a school for suburban children, who would play poker online against drunk Americans (after work). For him it was an act of charity. "What's wrong with that? I take care of them—health care, accommodation and food, and they get a share of the money made, and get a bit of education on top."
But for many reasons India wasn't the right place, so he had a brief look around Chengdu to conclude that for his secret venture China was already too developed. Nobody took his idea seriously, and his secret poker-school venture just served as an excuse to travel all around.
"You know how I travel. I don't care about the museums. I don't care about the food. All I care about is girls."
It was no joke: He would "talk" to any girl on the street anywhere we went, and we went all over town all the time, and at times that meant he was half seriously and desperately trying to communicate with grannies using his hands and feet.
After daytime walks around the city, we hit the restaurants and cafés—Machu Picchu was one. With his overenthusiastic hugs he embarrassed the new waitress within seconds, so if there was nothing happening (which was usually the case), he would glue 5-mao coins to the ground, and we'd watch passersby try to pick them up. Folks of all walks of life would try, but nobody succeeded. By the next day, however, all coins would have miraculously vanished.
At night the clubs and bars would swallow us only to spit us out at dawn. After a couple of days I tired of this routine, failing to explain the clownesque behavior of this crazy fresh-off-the-boat laowai. To this day you might see drunk laowai disgracing themselves on weekends at the 24-hour McDonalds off Kehua, and you can blame the drunkenness, but my sober friend would occupy the Yanshikou McDonalds during broad daylight, helping himself to the ice-cream machine and politely offering cones to customers and staff.
Three different girls a week was a real downer for him, and while being in China seems the cure for the yellow fever of many a Western male, for my Dutchman, it was statistics filled with shame. His mechanical powers of seduction didn't work in this place, his investigations were soon buried, he couldn't get a grip on the language or culture. But even after he was long gone I heard stories of his bold approaches, including the one time he scored with a girl in a car in front of Chengdu's biggest cinema—his audience was probably larger than that of any screenings going on inside.
So he set sail for Nepal, only to come back days after and complain even more about that chaotic mountain republic. But the land of abundance again served just as a stopover; this time he was on his way to South America—specifically, Bolivia, where we agreed to meet again, with him opening a hostel and me running it. He couldn't keep his feet still there either, and after a few years settled briefly in Columbia, with occasional holidays in Southeast Asia and some more serious work in Las Vegas.
Once in a while I catch him online. He's still convinced of his school idea, although he's lost his ambitions to reality. And after each conversation I remember his last night, his Superman jump from the second story of the Ling Dian club to the first-story dance floor, chasing a countryside girl for hours, only to find out that she was one of the many lesbians in the club; his disappointment, his feeling of failure, after having tried everything in his might and his final indifference in a state of drunkenness that would make him stick his hands out into the dishes of late-night girls at Yulin's jiandan mian corner restaurant.
As we headed home, he was intensively christening Yulin Zhong Lu's east side when he suddenly focused on an early-morning street cleaner busy with work. His pants still down, he ran over to shuffle dirt and leaves with his bare hands. A bus passed by, the sleepy, blue-collar eyes fixed on the laowai with his pants down, grabbing the dirt of the city streets on a Monday morning. Their looks were returned with a smiling greeting: "Ai, nihao! Hello! Good morning, Chengdu."
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 50 ("stories").
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