From A Former Career Advisor

People often talk about the strange things they see, but how about the strange things they do to stay afloat? Find yourself desperate enough and you might be willing to do anything for the almighty renminbi.

mature business man working with his laptop at the office

One of China’s many ironies is that people often leave for the same reason that they arrived. Many people fly here to learn the language, but later fly back because they can’t speak. Some come for adventure and new experiences, only to find several years later that they’re bored and head out for something different. The country, itself, is often seen as being paved with gold: stellar GDP growth, endless opportunity and a billion customers make it a prime spot to get rich; yet, a lack of career advancement can be the exact reason why people leave.

The “shall we stay or shall we go?” question strikes most expats at some point. As is often the case, people’s motivations will center around jobs. Despite all of the railing against sluggish Internet, choking pollution and child-raising difficulties, if a person is reasonably happy with their job, they aren’t likely to quit.

My, what a lot of jobs
English teaching is the first one that lazily springs to mind, but expats will literally do anything to spin a buck. I can think of expats who have worked as martial artists, actors, bankers, drug dealers, lawyers, graphic designers, restaurateurs, writers and god knows what else. If you want to have a crack at something, there is a reasonable chance you can do it in China.

One said, “If you spend a night with me, your satisfaction will be guaranteed. If you don’t believe, the first time can even be for free.” Perhaps business was slow back then.

My career abroad has varied in a way that I think only China could have presented. I have worked as a teacher, stand-up comedian, journalist, token white guy, magazine editor, screenwriter and more. I have also been a failure in every one of those roles, but I like to think that I have at least always bombed with style.

The most unexpected gig I tried was a career advisor. Middle-aged executives would call me up and ask how to go about making their next business move in China. Although I was completely unqualified, most people seemed satisfied with an hour of vaguely logical chatter. People usually just want to talk things through.

The strangest expat job that I have ever come across in the kingdom of weird was a gigolo, or “duck man,” as they are known in China. It’s not that I think being a gigolo is strange, I just never really considered it as an option for foreigners.

Fabio, the scholar of love
One day, my friend Rob spotted a duck man’s business card on the street in broad daylight. I remember it like it was yesterday. His name was Fabio and he was evidentially Italian, which seemed too cliché to be true. Frankly, if you had to guess the name and nationality of a male prostitute, you probably would go for an Italian called Fabio.

Even better was the slogan on the card: “100% satisfaction, guaranteed every time.” It sounded like lazy marketing for a cheap fast food restaurant. Surely, Fabio, as a professional Italian lover, would want to brand himself in a more refined way.

In fact, he did.

Immediately after his name were the emboldened letters “PhD.” Not only was this lover a demon in sack—ready to perform vigorous love-making sessions for cash—but an educated one that could also happily to spend the rest of an evening discussing French Symbolist Poetry or Medieval Italian Architecture, or whatever. Lusty Fabio, the ultimate renaissance man.

Naturally, business card in hand, I did what any man would do—I called the number. More specifically, I got my friend to phone him.

Sadly, Fabio didn’t answer, but a Nigerian man did, explaining that he was Fabio’s agent and happy to take bookings. I was then suddenly convinced that it was this guy who had the most bizarre expat job in China: a foreign pimp for a foreign gigolo.
My friend never did book Fabio, but he did receive some sultry text messages from him for weeks.

One said, “If you spend a night with me, your satisfaction will be guaranteed. If you don’t believe, the first time can even be for free.” Perhaps business was slow back then.

If you are worried about where you career in China is headed, or that you are stuck in the same dead-end job and don’t know whether to get the hell out of Dodge, take it from a former career advisor: be patient, get a little perspective and ride things out. Remember, there are always other options, just ask Fabio. You never know where it all might take you.