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Come at me bruh, I have old stories for days: No,but really, what's with all of the gulag books (a story)

I was pleasantly surprised by the good response I got from my story of being a drunken idiot, so here’s another. A few years ago I ended up in Hong Kong by mistake.

How I ended up in Hong Kong is a different story, but suffice it to say I ended up there on short notice with nothing to do.

My second night there, I found an amazing jazz bar. I love jazz, so I always seek them out wherever I go.


At first I started drinking with an editor from Agence France-Presse. I love drinking with reporters, because they’re fun. He didn’t disappoint. He was an interesting guy. He was British and took a gap year when he was 18 to go to Thailand. He went during monsoon season and got stuck in Hong Kong, he spent about a week there, grew to like it, and decided to stay. He started out as a bartender in the bar we were drinking in, started writing for newspapers, and eventually joined AFP and became, I think, their Southeast Asia editor.

He had been embedded in Afghanistan during the early part of the war. I haven’t been to Afghanistan, but I love Central Asia, so we started talking about that.


He told me this amazing story where, paraphrasing, they received a report that the Afghan military (the good guys) had massacred a bunch of civilians in a Taliban village. So he loaded up in an old Defender with a camera man and a translator and went over there. Along the way, they were intercepted by a local warlord who brought them to his house. He explained that they were going to verify these reports of civilians being murdered, and the warlord responded “I can kill you and take your Land Rover.” It was, apparently, a joke, but it wasn’t that funny considering that everyone else had AK47s.

They eventually let them pass and they got to the town. That’s all I remember of that story, and he left.


So I was talking to the bartender, and at the time I lived in New York, when this girl came up to order a pitcher and overheard me. “You live in New York?” she said in a fairly heavy Irish accent. “Yes” I said. “Come drink with us” she said.

So I went to their table and started drinking with her, two English friends, and a Australian friend. I learned, quite quickly, that Australian’s perceive of “cunt” differently from most of the world. For instance “that’s such a lie, you fucking cunt” means “we are good friends, but I doubt the credulity of this story” in Australian.


It gets to about midnight and her friends leave. In the proper wing-lady way, the Australian friend tells her its time to go home, because “you work tomorrow, cunt,” but she decided to stay.

I was a bit drunk and at some point we started dancing in a bar that was far too small to dance in.


These Hong Kongers invited us over to their table to come drink with them and she thought that sounded fun.

These guys were amazing. Both were English teachers who played jazz on the side. One told me that the bar we were in was the best jazz bar in Hong Kong and texted me a few others. They were there with their girlfriends and ordering champagne, which they offered to us, and I accepted after I felt reasonably sure I would not have to pay for it. Around last call, the they went to the bathroom and I was there alone with the girl. Their check came and I took a look at it . It was about 20,000 HKD, or about $2,500. They came back and paid it without blinking an eye. I think they had money.


So they left and the Irish girl and I were standing outside of the bar in the rain smoking. “Where are you staying?” she asked. “In New Territories” I said. “That’s too far. We’ll go to my apartment.”

So we did. She had a very nice apartment in Hong Kong Island in Mid-Levels, which is a very expensive area. It was huge. Larger than anything I ever rented in New York. Earlier I had asked her what she did for a living and she said she was a spy. Obviously she was lying, and when I showed her my ID to prove I did actually do what I said I did, she was kind of shocked that it was the truth. I guess she was in finance or something.


So I’m sitting on her couch and she goes to pour some wine and I notice that in her living room, where most people might have a TV, she just has books. And a good 2/3 of those books are about Stalinism and the Gulag. So she comes back and I go “So... what’s with all of the books on the Gulag?” And she goes “Don’t do that. Don’t look at my books. I hate when people look at your books, because then they try to understand you based on your books.”

Now, up until that moment, that hadn’t occurred to me. But for years now, I have been obsessed with what the fuck her connection to the Gulag was. I mean, really, that was a lot of books about the Gulag. I didn’t know that so many books about the Gulag existed, yet there they all were, in her apartment.


So, yeah, basically the rest of that played out like Norwegian Wood.

I went back to that bar a few times, and each one was one of the best experience of my life. I drank with the jazz band, smoked in the kitchen, spent a really fucked up night with an aspiring writer from Chicago, and did free shots with the Nepalese waitresses. I liked that bar.

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