An English teacher gets ensnared in a plot to steal a priceless Chinese Stele, a tablet with Chinese characters that is older than any known before, the meaning of which may explain the ultimate fate of the lost tribe of Israel.
In the fall of 1987 Nathan Schuett, until recently an English teacher at a prestigious language institute, has two dead Europeans to explain to the Beijing police. Nate knows something that he can't reveal and in order to hide that, he has to tell a whole lot more.
Set before the Tiananmen uprising and the fall of the Iron Curtain, ‘Farewell the Dragon’ looks at the international quest to ‘win’ China during the last throes of the Cold War. Nate is a quirky but passionate teacher, yet he wants more – more money, more romance and more insight into the intrigues that swirl around the foreigners who lived in Beijing during this period.
An ancient ‘stele’ or tablet engraved with Chinese characters is found and then disappears. Rumors fly about its significance. The hunt for the stele takes on consequences that extend far beyond that normally associated with an important archaeological discovery. But Nate, while entangled in the hunt for the stele, is after a far bigger prize – the true love in his life.
Beijing is the backdrop – Peter O’Toole cruises around on his old bicycle while shooting ‘The Last Emperor’, students plot their next move to gain more freedom in China, the old neighborhoods are losing out to skyscrapers while foreign businesses struggle to make money in the pre-capitalist days before 1989. Wild drinking parties on the roof of the Friendship Hotel bring old enemies together. The real China comes into focus when Nate travels to Xian to find a Daoist musician and his beautiful assistant. Through it all, Nate struggles to follow his heart and be true to himself.
I walked around the back of the main building and over to the swimming pool and let myself into the gate and pulled up a lounge chair in the far corner. I slide it over to a bit of shade and made eye contact with the bar waiter and ordered a vodka tonic with a glass of ice on the side.
And why not vodka, the Russians had taken over the pool. Each one flew off the high dive, gliding or spinning before straightening up to enter the pool splashlessly, as if being swallowed up by a warp in space. The three Russians and a couple of other Europeans, plus a couple Chinese guys
formed a constant procession up the high dive ladder. Dagmar,Erika and the snotty French girl, Monique, sat on the edge of the pool, dangling their feet in the water. They held up their fingers to signify scores. Sandor sat by himself in the shade.
Two dark haired, attractive young women who I had never seen before lounged on the other side of the pool. They appeared to be recent college graduates from their age and demeanor, one looking like Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” and the other one wore a Che Guevara tee shirt, torn blue jean shorts, frizzy long hair and a pair of round gold rimmed glasses. Oddly matched friends apparently, they were taking in the scene with flirtatious friendliness.
I took off my shirt and stooped by the pool and splashed water on my chest and armpits. I could smell my own body odor, and kept at the splashing until my pants were soaked. I wanted to kill my white collar funkiness before going over to talk to them. Dagmar came over.
I shook my head and smiled.
At that moment one of the Russians breeched the surface from his high dive and butterflied like a speedboat toward us. His breaking wake splashed me on arrival.
“Come - we are having the battle now!” He waved his hand toward the other side. Erika and the French girl jumped in. Erika climbed up on Boris’s shoulders.
“No Yevgeny, I am too sore for that now.” Dagmar rubbed her thighs and smiled.
“Oh.” He said knowingly. “Of course,” He looked at me smirking. “How about you? Come join us.”
“Thanks.” I said. “No swimming today.”
I got up and retrieved my drink from next to where I put my computer. I really didn’t care how sore Dagmar’s thighs were and started talking to the waiter who was picking up empty glasses. I gulped my V&T.
Without me to torment, Dagmar apparently changed her mind, and overcoming the pain in her crotch, climbed up on Yevgeny’s shoulders and joined in the Chicken Fight. There were
six couples mounted up in the shallow end, girls on the boys. Refreshed from my little birdbath, I walked over to the two women on the other side of the pool.
“Are you here for the Moscow Olympics?” I asked indicating the pool competition.
“Ohhhh. Is that what this is?” answered the Marlo Thomas girl.
Longgg Island already, by her accent. “What are you drinking?” I ask. I feel the Marco Polo syndrome coming on, which was worst way to pick up girls even if it was the easiest.
I introduced myself and they do the same – Judy is ‘That Girl’ and Margie is ‘Gracie Slick’, both from Ronkonkoma NY.
“I’ll have what you’re having.” said Margie, her perk little tits pushing Che out, who was exhorting us on to battle imperialism. I smiled at Margie, but out of the corner of my eye I saw ‘The Look’ that Judy gave me. I made the “V”-”T” finger sign to the bar waiter - and then shook my drink and held up three fingers. He smiled and nodded. I walked over and brought my Compaq and shirt closer to where I was sitting.
Most of the foreigners who teach in China have to bum drinks from tourists because it’s hard to have a good time on the salary. But I had money from selling software, so I didn’t worry about covering a few rounds of drinks. We talked about home. Reagan was still president apparently. I didn’t give a shit. I had been a half-assed “Democratic Activist” and political junkie right up until I left in 1984. Fucking Mondale,it was either him or leave the country, so here I am. Living here in China made the context of the American daily chatter about Iran Contra and Ollie North seem like foolish noise. I didn’t say much, but Judy gave me a blow by blow account of the hearings and how the press had made North out to be a big hero. I wouldn’t have thought from the way she dressed that Judy would be so extremely anti-Reagan, but she was vitriolic to the core in her hatred for what America was doing in the world – particularly in Central America. She was totally political, even if her knowledge and insight seemed straight out of a stall slogan. There was never any danger that she would veer off into originality with her insights, nothing I hadn’t read before, except that she just prefaced everything with “Those fucking bastards. . .” She liked to talk and soon I found myself wondering if I was going to have to listen to polemics until nightfall.
Margie though was the intellectual. I would have thought from appearances it would be the other way around. She filled in the color, describing inner workings of the whole sickening charade, the Corporate tie-ins, the historical continuity of American Imperialism going back to WW2, with kind of a Noam Chomsky perspective. Margie was very unemotional, and a little shy, but clearly her hatred for Reagan and Republicans was cold and pathologically clear, even though she never used “fucking bastards” like her shrill friend Judy. I felt in exile, listening to the details of how we subverted Nicaragua,and supported mass murder and worse how the American people just let them get away with it. These people who Reagan appointed were no different than Pinochet’s henchmen, Margie said. They were American Fascists who would happily round us all up into college football stadiums and shoot us if they had the chance. I knew she was right, but I didn’t come all the way to Communist China to sit around a swimming pool listening to American radicals bitch about the U.S. I could have gotten that experience at home.
Reagan - I didn’t understand him - he was a sappy, wooden, B minus actor, but for some reason the American people thought he was a genius. He was right about one thing – Communism sucks – I could see that even as I sat here poolside,as an honored guest of Deng Xiaoping’s regime. America’s faults were clear – and the middle class suburban existence that waited for me at home whenever I finished my sabbatical scared me more than Communism. I swore I would drink myself to death rather than submit to it! But, even with that, having been away from it all for a while, and lived here and seen ‘the communist menace’ up close, I was never completely sure I wasn’t missing something as far as Reagan was concerned. He was actually funny sometimes. I couldn’t completely mark it down to ‘bourgeois sentimentality’ either.
“Anyway”, I said, changing the subject, “the best thing going around here is the bar right up there.” I pointed up to the roof. “Not now probably, although I’m sure it’s open.But at night, when it’s not raining, it is the best place to be in China.”
I was starting to get sun burnt, so I put my shirt back on. It was nice to be with Americans again, who were not consumed with the minutia of China. Since we all grew up in suburbs outside New York there was easiness to the conversation that I hadn’t had for a while and I have to admit I liked that too.The NY Metro area is different than any place else and I was enjoying myself talking to Margie and Judy. The chicken fights, familiar from the Parks and Rec pools back home, were into the final elimination round, and it was down to Erika and Boris and one of the Chinese divers and a woman they called “The General’s Daughter.”
The General’s Daughter’s best friend, a willowy, oval-faced Chinese beauty, pulled herself up on the side of the pool and sat near us. She gave me a little wave,with just top of her fingers, as if we had a secret, and I signaled her over to sit with us.
Across the pool I noticed irritation in Dagmar’s expression. Yevgeny pretended not to notice. I had myself a little 3-girl harem.
“Hello.” She greeted me in English.
“Hello”, I said in Chinese, “Your name, I am sorry, it’s ..”
“Of course!” I said. Zhou Jinghua and the General’s daughter were two of maybe 10 Chinese people, all of them under 25 years old, who hung out at the Friendship Hotel and socialize with us foreigners. Maybe they were the only ones with the courage to do it or the only ones who cared to,like I said, I don’t know the rules. I know that it is generally considered forbidden for “regular” Chinese people to be on the hotel grounds unless it was business or a direct official invitation. I had no idea what Zhou’s ‘guanxi’ (juice, power)was unless it was simply that she was a friend of the General’s Daughter. The moniker “General’s Daughter” was pretty much self-explanatory.
“Zhou this is Margie and Judy.” Cheers all around. We turned our attention to the pool and the spirited chicken fight. Erika was quite strong as well as beautiful and easily dispatched most of her opposition. Although most of the attention was on the women topside, the real action was with the men who struggled to maintain balance and mobility.
Suddenly after several minutes of awkward ballet it was down to two teams. Boris, tall and broad-shouldered and the smaller, cat-quick Chinese diver were carrying Erika and the General’s daughter. The General’s daughter was big, especially for a Chinese woman. She and Erika grappled desperately,although, to their credit, there was no hair pulling. Quite a crowd gathered and just as Erika was hanging off to the side of Boris and about to go in the drink, the Chinese diver - took a dive. It was almost like he got a signal not to beat the foreigners,even a Russian. After displays of bonhomie commie solidarity and congratulations, the General’s daughter swam over and joined us. We cheered the fallen athlete and I ordered her a Havana Club Rum and Coke as she dried off .