You Must Have a Chinese Name, He Insists

Yesterday I dove back into Jeffrey Tayler’s marvelous new book about his trek across the wildlands of the former USSR, called “Murderers in Mausoleums.” At this point in his long journey he has reached Urumqi, China, a large city where many races mix. There are the usual Han Chinese, who dominate commerce and run most of the businesses and there are Uygur, distinctive curly hair, prominent noses and square cheekbones. The forty-five year old author decides that a club called Chu Dong, or Touch Club is where he can go and meet young people to ask them about their lives in the city.

Because he’s lived in Russia for thirteen years and spent much of his younger days in Russian clubs, he is wary of a man from Kazakhstan who strides over and shakes his hand when he enters the club. Tayler speaks both Russian, some Chinese, Arabic and Turkish, so he’s well equipped wherever he goes. “Come play with us!” shouts the fellow, dressed in black with gelled cropped hair. They toast each other, and Tayler realizes that play means dance, and they do, as a giant video screen shows Fort Lauderdale’s spring break bar scenes with girls performing strip teases and guzzling from pitchers of beer.

He meets another man the next night who tells him that Urumqi was his City of Dreams, ├Żou can make good money here and that his employer paid for his apartment. Then it’s on to something that happens regularly in China: What is his name in Chinese? He tells him it’s Jie Fu, but his new friend isn’t happy with that. “It sounds bad, there is no such name in Chinese.”

“Well, can’t it just be Jeff?”the author pleads. “No we don’t have this name.” He argues as they insist that the name he’s chosen isn’t right. “How about Wang? or Li?” He’s happy that they were distracted by girls in black bikinis, statuesque and lithe, in black stiletto boots, Touch’s professional dancers. They simulated sex acts to the delight of the raucus crowd.