I once tutored a Chinese bookie named Oliver. We were introduced by a mutual lady friend, a law student who I met at Windows, a popular dive bar in Shanghai. She thought Oliver and I would get along. Once a week he would pay me 60 dollars for a two-hour session, which included a massive free meal. Definitely not my highest paying client, but it wasn’t a bad deal considering what went on.
I originally arrived at his place with some books and a rough lesson plan. He was planning on going to Lima, Peru. He had both a Spanish tutor and an English tutor – me. You could tell he didn’t really care for books or lesson plans – he just wanted to chat and he was a good conversationalist. It was perfect. We would just chat in English and I would help him along as we go.
His hookah was an integral part of our lesson. These are traditionally filled with flavored tobacco from India or the Middle East, but Oliver liked to add cheap Xinjiang marijuana (aka “Xinjiang dirt weed”) and would continually puff away for the entire duration of my visit.
Sometimes his maid (ayi) from Sichuan was there and she’d cook us some amazing Sichuan dishes, famous for their spice. I guess this is what Chinese stoners crave. Not pizza or peanut butter or wings or poutine, but delicious spicy Chinese food, such as 麻辣豆腐 (mala doufu = numb and spicy tofu) ， 回锅肉 (huiguorou = twice-cooked pork) ， and 宫保鸡丁 (gongbao jiding = kung pao chicken).
After Oliver and I and his roommate Sam all got pretty comfortable with each other, Sam started opening up too and showed me different sides of himself. Sometimes during our lesson, Sam, who, due to his due to his undemanding lifestyle, looked 25 but was actually 45, would sprinkle mini lines of K (ketamine) on the coffee table right beside Oliver’s marijuana hookah and would use brightly colored plastic straws to snort it. I had seen this before, but usually in a club or KTV/karaoke type of setting – not so much during a tutoring session. One time as Sam was snorting away, a hot little 18 year-old Chinese girl, wearing nothing but a t-shirt, wandered out of Sam’s room around 3 or 4pm looking for something to eat – appearing dazed and hungry, like a cute chipmunk coming out of hibernation. Sam and Oliver were completely unfazed by her and her scantily clad presence.
She would enter the living room to see Oliver smoking marijuana from his hookah, Sam snorting K beside him, and me chatting to both of them in English, all in a very leisurely manner, like we were having afternoon tea. I think Sam liked to join in on our lessons because he also wanted to learn a bit of English and he was curious about foreigners because he didn’t have any foreign friends.
You could tell these guys didn’t care about money. And they didn’t really care about what people thought of them. Not your typical Chinese guys, they were the free thinkers. I never acquired many Chinese male friends, and, even though there was a thick language barrier at the time, we seemed to click right away.
On a weekly basis Oliver, being a bookie, would have about 200,000+ RMB in his safe – the accumulation of a bunch of bets. I think Sam was a drug dealer among other things. He didn’t like to talk about himself a whole lot. He had terrific taste in girls and had a different one every time I saw him, usually in her late teens or early 20s.
Oliver and Sam went out about 4 nights a week to the larger Chinese clubs like Muse on Yuyao lu (the only Muse at the time, now there was 3 Muses, and the Yuyao location doesn’t exist anymore.) G+ and Muse in 2007 were much more Chinese, not a whole lot of foreigners went to those places at that time. They’d also go to Chinese clubs I had never even heard about – dimly-lit places filled with mist and electronic music, where waiters would help you line up your white powder on your table in front of you. It was wild.
Which brings us to the time we spent New Year’s Eve at Muse on Yuyao rd. Oliver invited me, and my good friends Benny and Barney to his table at Muse. We couldn’t find their table anywhere because it was located on the second floor way in the back in a part of Muse that I didn’t know existed, full of private rooms. Oliver’s room was massive, equipped with leather couches and chairs, a huge flatscreen TV, and huge booming surround sound speakers.
You could tell that Oliver had failed to notify all his buddies that some foreigners were going to show up. They were caught off guard when we walked in. Oliver calmed them down a bit saying we were “cool” and they didn’t have to worry about us.
“Damien, I have a present for you.”
“Great, let’s see. “
“It’s in the bathroom!”
We go to the bathroom next door and Oliver pulls out a large vile full of white powder. The vile head was screwed off and doubled up as a small spoon, which you would use to use to scoop the white powder and hold it up to your nostril to do a small bump.
“I brought it back from Peru.”
“You’re a wild man, Oliver.”
Oliver said something about dissolving the cocaine in a liquid, maybe water, then dipping books in the liquid. The books would pass through customs, then they’d dunk the books back in a liquid, boil it off, and you’re left with the cocaine again.
I didn’t see Oliver much after that night. We chatted on Facebook off and on for a few months. Next thing I knew, he was back in Peru and talking all about was how cheap and amazing the cocaine was down there. That his life consisted of mainly cocaine and surfing…and he was loving it.
After that I didn’t hear from him for several years. I actually assumed he was dead. Then he was back up on Facebook one day, under a different name. He was saying about how I should visit him in Peru. I had always wanted to go there – to see the Inca ruins in the Andes, and Cusco, etc.
Then one day my dad and I ended up going there – Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and I decided to extend my visit by a couple more weeks, and visit with Oliver in Lima.
I was excited to see him, and satisfy my curiosity as to how a drug dealer or someone in the drug trade lived down there. I was expecting a couple of weeks of clubs, coke, hot girls, fancy apartments, and other mental elaborations that seemed fitting.
But Oliver’s place was a dump. He shared it with no less than 5 other Peruvians – mostly students. The floors and walls were all concrete and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there weren’t rats running around. Shoes were worn at all times.
“I’m a monk now” Oliver says. That would explain his standard of living. He had been in Lima for 5 years now, his Spanish was horrible, barely conversational, but his English was truly amazing. “Was I that good as an English teacher?” I asked myself. Turns out he had been watching an obscene number of English movies with dual English-Chinese subtitles.
His first three years were never ending rounds of clubs, bottle service, girls, cocaine, prostitutes, and cocaine with prostitutes. At one point he had a gun, a car, and was buying kilos of cocaine and stashing it underneath his bed. He had overdosed several times, and his last time was the worst. He ended up spending much of his hard-earned drug money rehabilitating himself at a special hospital in Lima, that was specifically for foreigners who had overdosed and were kicking the addiction.
After that, he went Monk and never touched cocaine. For two years he used the proceeds of his drug money to fund his lazy lifestyle of watching movies, surfing, and smoking weed 10 times a day. He also built a beautiful guitar from scratch and could play one or two songs really well.
Needless to say, I was disappointed that I was never able to witness the lavish lifestyle of a genuine drug lord. But at the same time, I was relieved. Lima wasn’t the safest place in the world. The previous week I had accidentally stumbled into gang territory with my huge SLR camera, consequently attracted the unwanted attention of some armed Peruvian gang members, and had to sprint for my life. It was the scariest day of my life.
I got a taste of Oliver’s monk lifestyle, which was simple, healthy, and cheap. He introduced me to a hot liquid breakfast Peruvians ate – it contained many cancer-curing fruits from the Amazon that I’ve never heard of, as well as western vitamins and protein powers. Green and slimy, it look like steaming pond scum, and for some reason Oliver ordered me the large size – one full litre. Chalky and kind of sweet, it didn’t taste that bad – there was just too much of it. I was full after the first 250mL, but out of respect I choked down the balance. It cost about one dollar.
Where ever we went – the food markets, the street food stands, the convenience stores, the beach – everyone knew Oliver and would greet him with an enthusiastic “Hey Chino!”