Searching For the “Real China”, part two

This article originally appeared in Rico! Magazine as Searching For the Real China: Part 2 by Jan Tabaczynski.

Deng-Deng

Deng-Deng’s beer belly stuck out more than ever and his mates around the table at this beer-soaked bar in Hohhot were all elbowing each other and murmuring something I couldn’t understand. Having just purged myself to win their trust, I felt lightheaded and calm. Deng-Deng called for another toast and we drained our pitcher-sized glasses once more, then our breathless interpreter filled us in on the big news: Deng-Deng worked for Amazon, Deng-Deng’s family was in the communist party, Deng-Deng was connected and he would take us up to the grasslands that week. Deng-Deng would probably pay, Anders thought.

The grasslands, also known as the steppes, are the traditional homeland of the Mongolian nomads and by far the most popular tourist destination in our area. Since we were on summer holiday and Anders was in town, we had been looking into travel agencies to take us up to the steppes for a night or two of horseback riding, roast mutton and the great outdoors. Owing partly to the high cost of a guided tour and also to our desire to see something off the beaten path (more on the “Real China” in a bit), we had secretly been hoping someone local with a car would treat us to a free trip. And now, having given his word in front of his friends, there was no way Deng-Deng could back down on his offer without losing some big-time face.

If we took Deng-Deng up on his offer then we were betting that he had the guanxi, the near-mystical amalgamation of reputation, material means, and social capital that is the only real way of getting anything done effectively in China, to pull the whole trip off on short notice. The downside? Our only assurance was his willingness to make the offer in front of his friends with his reputation on the line.

Deng-Deng did all he could to convince us he was serious about his offer. Before the night was over, he had tried to give us his state ID card, had invited Anders to pick him up in a show of trust, and pushed us into drinking eye-watering amounts of beer with toasts of “Honor and Honesty,” “All for One and One for All,” etc. And then, after the haze lifted the next day and even on the train out to Baotou to meet Deng-Deng, the constant refrain: “If that guy follows through, man…”

To be continued…

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