Fiasco. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of my first moments in China. I spent countless hours sprawled on the floor of the Beijing airport, waiting in vain for a guy named “Charles” to pick me up and take me to his hotel in the city. As the lights in the airport began to dim and the kiosks shuttered their doors, I suddenly realized I was facing my worst fear. Here I was, lost in a country where I could barely even say “Ni Hao”.
It took several panicked long distance phone calls and a frustrating taxi cab ride (including how the cab driver insisted on overcharging for the fare) before I finally made it to that hotel. While I wouldn’t wish the experience anyone (there’s nothing worse than being grounded in the airport of a new country without an address) it sure made for one heck of a story.
Chances are, if you’ve ever traveled and lived/worked abroad, you have your own stories of those first tentative, exhilarating steps into a new country. There’s nothing that compares to the adrenaline rush of stepping into different cultures and surroundings, whether it’s for a short vacation or a year or more.
In 62 gripping pages, we follow the eponymous newcomer on a tour through Wuhan with Adam, a rather unscrupulous ESL teacher involved in some shady business. Lee skillfully captures those little details of living in China easily forgotten to longtime expats. It reminded me of how China appeared to me once upon a time, when I was still fighting jetlag and struggling to speak Mandarin.
Here’s Travis’ bio from Amazon:
Travis Lee is the author of Kale & Jason, Tear Sin, The Seven Year Laowai, the Journey through Nanking and Grandpa & Henry. His fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens and Independent Ink Magazine, among other places.
You can learn more about Travis and Expat Jimmy at his website http://www.travis-lee.org/, and follow Travis on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/travislee19. His short story Expat Jimmy is available on Amazon, where your purchases help support this site.
What inspired you to write this short story?
There is something unique to being in China for the first time, a combination of jetlag, language barrier and culture shock. I remember well what it was like and I wanted first and foremost to recapture that feeling.
Everything else grew from that single idea.
Why did you choose to have this story happen within one day?
I’m a big fan of stories set in small time periods. Collateral, set over a single night in LA, is one of my favorite films. The short setting helped me focus on what was important and leave certain details to your imagination, such as the fate of Adam’s wife.
How did you conceive of the main characters Adam and Expat Jimmy?
Jimmy can be anybody: confused, jetlagged and gradually recovering from the shock and awe of being in China for the first time. I knew my narrator would be new to China, and he did what you expect him to do.
With Adam, I wanted someone who’s resigned himself to life in ESL, but I didn’t want to repeat any of the tropes I’ve seen before. In other words, no middle-aged, divorced men who treat alcohol as a basic food group.
Adam had to express that existential hopelessness in a different way. His cocksure attitude is a defense mechanism. He’s lost his wife, he knows he’s going nowhere yet he can’t pull himself up.
Adam and Expat Jimmy cover a lot of ground in Wuhan, including the city’s darker side. Why did you decide to place these characters in some unsavory situations?
Tension. Jimmy doesn’t understand what Adam is dragging him into. We also need to see what kind of person Adam is. Adam manipulates a stroke victim to get money, and then we see what he claims he’s going to do with the money versus what he actually uses it for.
There is also the idea that Jimmy might become like Adam. When they visit the prostitutes, Jimmy stops the scene early. He still could have walked away despite the peer pressure. Why didn’t he?
Another big reason involves Adam’s wife. We know she’s dead, we don’t know how but she is dead. When you see Adam acting this way, I want you to wonder, Did he do this when he was married? Was he always like this? Fun to think about.
The two big questions of the book: Who was Adam before his wife died? Who is Jimmy going to become?
What do you hope readers come away with after reading your novel?
For people who’ve lived in China, a fond reminder of that first day. For people who’ve never been to China, a taste of what it’s like to be in China the first time.
For both? An enjoyable story that benefits from multiple reads.
A huge thank you to Travis for this interview! You can learn more about Travis and Expat Jimmy at his website http://www.travis-lee.org/, and follow Travis on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/travislee19. His short story Expat Jimmy is available on Amazon, where your purchases help support this site.