Basically I was a trained cop in Hamburg, Germany. After 10 years of duty I started to dislike the job due to the torturous unbroken chain of night shifts, and having to deal with the sadder side of human nature. Later I would bend the truth to make my mark, but to be completely at home, I’d need my own Dongguan scene.
I quit my steady police position to find myself sliding through multiple jobs because I could not find my way, from turntable and record salesman, bar owner, photographer for a daily newspaper, delivery truck driver, warehouse guy, chair rental guy on a nude beach on Germany’s coast, Joe-boy in a cable company and then purchase manager for a cable company with frequent visits to Hong Kong. It was the last one that started the life I know now.
I fell in love with Hong Kong. The city’s pace just overwhelmed me. So I opened my own Hong Kong purchase office which lasted sadly only a year before bankruptcy.
With lots of luck and a huge white lie – claiming the ownership and existence of a cable assembling factory in China – I got my first order from a Swiss company by virtue of an intoxicated Hong Kong bar conversation about mutual frustrations.
This order, forcing me to open the fictitious factory to make my lie true, led to looking around and settling 20 years ago in Dongguan to open my factory TCA, Ltd.
It was very hard for me to be in Dongguan. There were few other foreigners, no Western food and no acceptable entertainment. I was lonely. I had no social life at all. I was disliking my life and wasn’t sure it wouldn’t run again in the wrong direction.
I couldn’t change again, as the factory was growing and I had to accept the life the way it was; hard work seven days a week, boring and lonely seven nights a week.
Face it, we foreigners swim every day against the stream here in China. Our jobs are demanding, and we must survive in a completely different society and culture than we are accustomed. By conforming to the Chinese way of life we wouldn’t comply with the tasks we were sent to Dongguan.
I have been swimming my entire life against the stream, because conformity is what kills individuality. My long hair, my boots, my jeans, they are surely nothing to add plus points during a job interview. Giving up my individuality was never an option for me as I don’t believe in conformity.
However, swimming against any stream is exhausting and if there is nothing to recharge your batteries you will give up.
Anyway, slowly things started to change. I met Jomelyn. She was a singer in a large scale Chinese bar in Dongguan. We fell in love with each other and six years later married. Together we had lots of ideas and dreams of what to do and how to improve on our lifestyle, as it was for her the same situation as it was for me.
Dongguan was growing. More and more foreigners arrived but they were splattered all over the city. How to meet them? Where to meet them? How to connect with them? It was like a gold miner situation for me. I had to bring those foreigners together to create something for all of us. Here it was; the chance for a huge change in my life.
Somehow I had to make a place where foreigners came to mingle, to socialize, to meet. I had to establish and create my own scene, my own society. It needed some time for me to figure out how to do that, but with just some common sense and some good ideas I came up with a pretty good plan: I had to make my own bar.
Lucky me. There was a share option on a newly established 1-month-old bar in Dongcheng, called Hollywood Baby. I grabbed this “baby” and woke up a bar owner.
Here I was again, running the hated night shifts. But this time with different motivation, and I loved every moment of it.
I was creating my own social network by establishing a fair place for foreigners, a place where you can be what you want – or better, be what you are.
The concept was easy: no cheating the customer, English speaking waitresses in sexy outfits (lots of them), lots of alcohol, good music and a live band with my wife Jo singing.
The place was doing well and more and more foreigners were joining the bar. I started to have a social life again and that made me happy. Many people and couples met each other at the bar, and together we created an atmosphere of friendship, amusement and entertainment. Together we built an expat society. Some of my customers call the Baby “their extended living room.”
So it is fair to say that being able to open my own factory with just HK$10,000, finding the love of my life, Jo, and establishing my own social scene and network the way I liked it, by opening Hollywood Baby and later Hollywood Baby Too, was only possible in one place, Dongguan.
Frank Jaeger is a Dongguan mainstay. In 2012 he was interviewed by CNN about his life and business in China. His story is one of “uncontrollable coincidence,” but he has made the best of life in his new home and is one of the most recognizable faces on the expat bar scene.