It was around 3am on a Friday in Beijing and the six of us were sitting in a circle just outside of the club Fifth Floor, where we had free drink tickets and cocktails were heavy. The club was in an open air mall complex with stores on both sides parted by a wide lighted area inbetween that stretched perpendicularly from one road to the next. We were sitting cross-legged in this area in this centre area, with the starless Beijing night sky above us and the comfortable brand names of the developed world around us. This was a special area in Beijing as the floor beneath me was clean enough to sit on and there was none of the chaos of the rest of China.
“I’m going to get some beer, who wants some?” I asked.
“Yea sure, thanks.” There were also thirsty people so I collected money and went to the dirty corner store just outside the area of the mall to buy some Qingdao.
Beers were opened and cigarettes lit up as there was a sense of happiness being expats from the developed world in China.
“Hey so I was talking about camping under the Great Wall,” said the Canadian,
“Yeah sounds awesome.”
“Think about it, we can all go sleeping in tents and bring whisky and drink and sing songs on the guitar.”
“Is it expensive?”
“Probably a couple hundred kuai, but it’s the Great Wall, it’s something you have to do while you’re here.”
“So you are Korean?” asked one of the two Chinese girls.
“Yeah, I am,”
“Ahnyounghasaeyo!” said the second Chinese girl.
“I was teaching English in Korea before,” said the American girl.
“Yeah a lot of people do that, did you like drinking soju?”
“Oh yeah, but it makes it hard to work the next day.”
“Yeah terrible hangovers.”
“Yeah and Koreans drink it like fish.”
“There are some crazy parties in Seoul man.”
“Its like Korean vodka.”
“Vodka,” said the Canadian to his friend, the Russian.
“You’re Russian?” I asked him.
“What are you doing in Beijing?”
“I’ve lived here for over 8 years.”
“Wow that’s a long time, what are you doing here?”
“I just party full time, some clubs hire me to drink because it looks impressive when there are foreigners in clubs.”
“Hey kid! How old are you?” the Canadian discovered a Chinese kid squatting outside our circle.
He looked in curiously at our group, and was squatting opposite to where I was sitting, where I got a good look at him. He was short and dirty and sun tanned to the skin tone of the average Chinese labourer. He wore a buzz cut which showed the roundness of his chubby face and matched this with ragged plain clothes. There was a typical Chinese look to him and it was a look that you would see several times a day in a dirty crowded area in Beijing. He clashed with his present surroundings.
“He says he’s only 14.” One of the Chinese girls was translating.
“What are you doing out here? Where are your parents?”
“He says he doesn’t know.”
He remained squatting on his stubby short legs with his hands in front of him.
“What? Then what are you doing here? Why aren’t you home?”
“He says his home is in Inner Mongolia but he’s in Beijing to work.”
He answered placidly and did not seem upset that he was 14 and living hundreds of kilometers away from his parents and in the large impersonal city of Beijing to work.
“Do you want to join us? Come join us!”
“Yeah we should finish these beers and then get back inside the club.”
“Then let’s ganbei them, and finish it.”
After drinking I realized that the kid had disappeared. He had left to go back to his Beijing, which was the Beijing outside the lighted clean outdoor mall we sat in with its brand name stores, and towards the 3am darkness of Beijing’s streets, where he came to find work.
All of us finished our remaining beers and smoked our cigarettes, and we finally stood up to go back into the nightclub. We left the trash there because we knew someone would come and clean. Some dirty Chinese labourer would come and pick out the beers cans and beer bottles to exchange for some money. This made it convenient for us and we were content. Inside the nightclub we drank some more and danced funny dance moves.