There is a bar in Hong Kong called The Old China Hand. It’s been around for donkeys years apparently and any time that I’ve walked past it (I’ve never ventured in) it seems to be full of old geezers with red faces and bleary eyes talking to hookers. It looks horrible.
I had a pretty good idea then that the phrase ‘Old China Hand’ meant an experienced man (or woman) of China, the culture and the people. I checked with an Australian friend in Hong Kong, a guy who had lived in Hong Kong for about ten years, and he said ‘They’re just old cunts that have lived in China for too long and can’t go back’.
That would sum up the old drunks in the Wanchai bar full of hookers.
I vowed that on that day that I would never become an Old China Hand. I didn’t want to be knowledgeable about the motherland, I had no desire to be fluent in Chinese, I didn’t want to know the ins and outs of the cat’s arse about Chinese politics. I was quite happy being ignorant.
Several years on and I am still mostly ignorant. I only know a little about China’s history, practically nothing about China’s political system, I can speak Chinese very very badly, Chinese culture I find confusing and I have no idea what Chinese people are thinking most of the time. And you know what? I couldn’t give a fuck.
And here’s another thing. All those old drunks in The Old China Hand… They are ignorant too. Except they don’t know it.
But the ignorance of that Wan Chai bar’s patrons is not just confined to them. There are Old China Hands all over China. There are people from Guangzhou to Beijing, from Dongbei to Hainan that will try and bore the pants off anyone sitting next to them about how much they ‘know’ Chinese culture, how they ‘get’ Chinese people. These people are clearly quite stupid.
I’ve met dozens of these morons that hold court and reel off a list of China-savvy tips. Go to any low-key bar, any dive bar in China and you’ll find them easily enough. They’re waiting for someone to turn up and ask them stuff about China.
And the thing is they’re not just in bars. They’re on the internet too. The Old China Hands on the internet are usually younger, but they have Google at hand so they can cut-and-paste ate their hearts content, correcting people, arguing with other OCH’s and generally being an annoying know-it-all smug git.
The internet version of Old China hand can be found on the China sub on reddit.com, Shanghai Expat, all of the many blogs about China and, of course, right here.
And as much as I don’t want to admit it, I have become an Old China Hand myself. I hate myself for it but I’m just like one of those old geezers in that bar in Wan Chai. I spout self-indulgent nonsense about that tired old subject ‘Life in China’, claim great knowledge about the socio-economic dynamics of the country and on odd occasion correct laowais on the use of their tones.
I have become that drunk in The Old China Hand. If you need to be bored to death about how much I know China, I’m your man.
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