Leaning out of a cracked window in China’s north-easterly city of Dalian, the coastline was apparently somewhere beneath me, though clouded in enough smog to smother the dreams of every Dickensian orphan, who knows. For what I could make out, it might as well have been acrid desert or floral jungle. It would’ve all looked pretty much the same. With arms stretched out of the window, eyes dried by Steppe dust storms and the glimmering pulses of indecipherable neon advertisements flickering in the near distance, I smelled sulphuric air and then coughed blood. In short, I was ready to finally come home.
When employed by an unmentionable affiliate to the British embassy, my job involved being flown across the various regions of China to many of its second and third-tier cities. Now keep in mind, a second tier city isn’t, say, a smaller more parochial version of the country’s first tier megalopolises. Don’t you be expecting anything idyllic or picturesque here my son. Second tier simply means that it’s not yet reached the mandated cash capital of a developed city, but my god through sheer determination and true grit they'll make it! Mostly via industrial coal-fueled heavy industry and a stern willingness to give not one solitary mumble about the increasing dirge of blackening skies.
I visited many cities where the diaspora of all living colour was indeed a thing. Life itself reduced to functional working, hard drinking interspersed with Panda-brand cigarettes (80p a pack and well worth every bronchial) and topped off with the pastimes of mobile gaming and semi-legal KTVs. The benefit of my unnamed employer’s status was, however, that I was shipped off to five star hotels standing amidst these rocketing skylines. I might have been working in the gutter, I was definitely sleeping in the stars. While never truly feeling like I belonged (I was much more used to being in the service area of such venues) it did make me feel all warm and bubbly to think that I had a purpose and was even sort of valued. Yet standing out on the window’s edge in Dalian, I knew even then that the transition home would not be gentle or kind. I had been gone for six long years, and would be returning with little in the way of a clue as to how to rebuild once I got home.
The era of whiteface jobs in China is all but an archaic bar tale told by the more senior laowai. Meet a foreign veteran of China and he'll most likely have a story or two about being hired as "an international doctor" for a press conference, being given a script and told to pose for photos (An old friend of mine went so method that he still gives out highly questionable medical advice to this day). So at least I'm entering the Notts job market with a little more than "I was employed to sit and look suavely European.” Previously working for said undisclosed government organization did have its perks, such as being chauffeured to and fro across concrete slab roads and invited to chance my life racing to alcohol-free airports only for delays upwards of six hours to be justified as "flights delayed due to: some reasons". Still, I felt like an active working member of society. Now back in the UK, bereft of any credible experience barring a few years in the food service industry under the job description of "underwater ceramic technician" or "dish bitch" as I believe I was usually referred to, I'm a new-born manatee in these deep waters, all flabby and dumbfounded.
On leaving Beijing, my wife suggested that since I'd never be able to afford it in the UK, I should get some suits cut in China. You can tell that mine are made in Beijing however, and not by those excellent craftsmen of Hong Kong, as the buttons are too large to close and the sleeves/ankles short enough that I resemble Pee-wee Herman in all but the bow tie (though I do know what crack is and what I shouldn't do in theatres). The suits were, it seems, just a spousal ploy to have all of my older, moth eaten clothes abandoned in BJ, given I could only take back that which I could carry mule-like on my back. My Swiss-cheese inspired Stooges shirt would have better suited my current Nottingham predicament as now I am a fine besuited gentlemen with no job to go to nor good reason not to pick up my old love affair with midday drinking. Couple this with a sense of undeserved artistic entitlement and recently in the mirror I see Withnail. So after burying my copy of Hamlet in the back garden to avoid any unfortunate rain drenched spontaneous soliloquies, I set forth to find work in Nottingham after six years spent overseas.
I have thus far been turned down by shady door-to-door insurance companies, deemed unfit to hand out leaflets in supermarkets and referred unsuitable for call centre cold calling. One interview that encapsulates the experience so far (who for the sake of legality I’ll refer to as Consultio/Consultius) led me up two flights of stairs past a Jacuzzi-sized vat of cat litter that spilled out over questionable stains of bodily fluids into a room bereft of furniture barring a desk where there sat the actor Jordi Mollá in a cornflower blue suit. Reprising his role as the cocaine smuggler from Blow, had his ocean blue eyes fallen behind those effeminate eyelashes to reopen with the offer of Russian roulette I would not have been surprised. Enough said that the question about the number of working kidneys I was currently in possession of and how resilient my gag reflexes were should have both been warning signs.
But even in my lowest moments do I come to you Nottingham with advice and suggestions from my old home of Beijing. This time I’m turning my benevolent hand to those jobless brothers and sisters that I currently share solidarity. So here are some Chinese tips on securing that dream role:
- I have airbrushed all of my distinguishing features and have asymmetrical breasts.
You gotta play to your assets when trying to nab that perfect placement. In China, headshots are required with every CV, the more glamorous the better. There are whole stores dedicated to beautifying oneself for the perfect passport sized pic. Taking in a full afternoon's pampering, job seekers wander around sofa cushioned tables, sipping bubble tea while hair dye sets in and make up solidifies. Bibbed up and professionally tailored above the waist only, they resemble a Frankenstein creation; the top half “baby CEO" while the legs still belong to that of a tweenie-fashioned student.
CV photos are big business in China, partially because any illusions about neutrality, objectivity or fairness go out the window with regards to appearance. I will shamefully admit to having scored one or two gigs myself due to "foreign blonde hair" and "British gentlemanly looks". A controversial case a few years back spotlighted the recruitment division of China’s National Rail requesting hostesses/stewards be not only female and of a certain height, shape etc., but that they must also have "asymmetrical breasts" because if there's one thing we know the male chauvinist pig likes its symmetry. So, employers of Nottingham, I can proudly state that I am aligned in all the right places and have affixed a dazzling photo that’s not only photoshopped but comes with a snazzy little emoji piglet imposed on my shoulder. You know, just for professionalism and good measure.
- Guanxi, guanxi, guanxi
When I used to edit student CVs, one of the immediate differences was the influence of guanxi (关系meaning relationships) referencing. This is a dying art, as sycophantic ass kissery is disappearing. But still from time to time I would come across a CV more concerned with who you knew than what you achieved. I have had dinner with so and so and have a distant family connection to ‘insert wealthy executive here’. As maddening as these were, since I'm having so little luck sticking to the British way, I'm thinking why not give it the old college go. So, employers of Nottingham, if you hire me look what I can (tentatively) bring re connections: I am referenced (academically!) as the first reviewer of Mr J. Bugg. I've swum in the gonorrhoeaic waters of Mr Ronnie Wood’s swimming pool and have shaken the hand of Billy Bragg! Hire me goddamn it!
- If all else fails, false advertise.
A recent poster for Blade Runner 2049 that ran in Mainland China, positioned the Chinese actor Wang Kai as the central, if only star of the film, in that he is the only figure in the picture. Now to be fair, Wang did have a tangential connection to the film as its mainland based “Chief content recommendation official.” But the poster was immediately picked up as an attempt to pander to Chinese audiences more likely to head to a Hollywood production if it contains an element of something Chinese. Therefore, Nottingham employees, allow me to flagrantly flaunt the truth in my CV to appeal to your regional pride:
- I have trained Lions! Just like our mighty stone mascot (once owned a cat)
- I followed in the outlaw life of our beloved Robin Hood (slept drunk in a forest a few times)
- I have rivalled the poetic lyricism of DH Lawrence (While in said forest I called a tree a c**t)
- And have defended our regional culture internationally! (Telling every Beijinger that asked No I’m not from sodding London)
Nottingham, employers of these fine cobbled streets, view me and my fellow daytime socialites not as inexperienced outsiders, judge us not by our long tailed trench coats or carrier bagged possessions. We have simply made mistakes in life, chosen less conventional paths. But we have worth, and we have value.
Now, I'm going to go and recite Hamlet in the arboretum for loose change.