Chengdu, China


The screen said after comparing my fake ID with a live capture of my face.

The fake I was using was a modified version of my client’s citizen’s ID that combined my face with theirs. It needed to be this way because testing centers had rolled out a machine that would show what the photo of the real ID owner looked like, albeit in a poorer resolution. The ID needed to look just enough like me that the proctors would think it’s mine, and just enough like my client that its picture would look the same as the real one unless under a careful glance.

Unfortunately, they’d rolled out a second machine to compare my live, actual face with the ID’s face. It detected differences in features that humans don’t use when evaluating faces, like the shape of the jaw or the ears.

“Let’s try it again, it looks like him”


I’d never seen this machine before and I had no idea what it did.

While I was queueing in and seeing the other test-takers in the line I debated just fucking booking it. Then I weighed the upside and downside and decided to just brave it. I’d read earlier about how disagreeability was a trait that many wildly successful people had; the lack of fear of socially awkward or undesirable situations is a key trait to success.

I’d read previously how Gary Cohn, the current COO of Goldman Sachs, grew up as a dyslexic and as a result learned to not have a fear of social admonishment from being ridiculed throughout his formative years. Despite being a construction worker previously, he got his first job as a trader by wandering into the NYSE, catching a cab with someone by pretending to be going the same way, then pretending he was a hotshot trader for the next half hour before securing a job interview.

I reasoned to myself that I was training this skill.

Later on my agent would ask me why I’d decided to stay in spite of this new machine that had defeated the other test-takers.

“Well, he looks exactly like the ID, the machine must be wrong”

You should probably believe the machine since that’s literally its sole purpose.

“Yeah this is him, just let him take it”, the other proctor quipped after looking at the ID

The third proctor, a little more skeptical than her peers, looked at the ID and looked to me.

“When was this ID issued?”

I had never checked that. I memorized the birth date, the name, the place of issue, but the date of issue was on the other side of the ID card so I never even knew it existed, much less bothered to memorize it.

“Last year.” I responded, trying to think of what the date could possibly be while remaining ambiguous.

She frowned.

“When did you get this ID card?”

I strained my mind for a strategic response that would satisfy her. Reaching in with all of my mental energy I responded again.

“Last year.”

“It looks just like him, it’s him, it’s him” the second proctor chimed in. Let him take it.

The third proctor relented and handed me the ID.

When I got to my testing desk I looked at it. It was issued twenty months prior. oops.

*       *       *

Chengdu is a sleepy city of 5-6 million people in the Sichuan province of China. The locals speak little English, and some of them barely even speak Mandarin, preferring their native Sichuan dialect. The food is quite spicy, with the special Sichuan flavor of ma la, or numbing spice, but not as spicy as the food in its neighbor Chongqing.

Ma La Huo Guo (literally “Numbing Spicy Hot Pot”)

It’s really laid back here. I like it a lot, and I owe that in no small part to the friends I’d made when I’d first arrived two years ago. I’d stayed at a hostel called Cloud Atlas and made friends with an Australian exchange student named Darsy. He’d worked in construction previously but came to China to learn Chinese and teach English on the side.

The rec room of Cloud Atlas Hostel

He was really interested in learning about the culture and language, unlike, it seemed, many of the English teachers in China. When I first had met him my Chinese was better than his, but now, I’m embarrassed to say his is far superior. Here’s a video he’s made (with translation) of him climbing Huashan (that famous mountain with the dangerous planks running along its side)

Anyway, He introduced me to this club called Jellyfish, and where I’d met many other friends. I had just experienced the Chinese night life for the first time in this city (previous visits were just with parents to see family) so I felt extremely extroverted and basically approached people with “Where are you from? I’m from America! This is my first time in a bar in China! Amaaazing!” I’d soon made friends with many locals that brought me to their favorite bars, restaurants, and even just arcades and VR games to fuck around. The nightlife in Chengdu really is amazing though, with streets lined with bars on bars on bars. There’s Jiuyanqiao (nine-eyed bridge, but I literally thought it meant liquor-eyed bridge since nine and liquor are homophones in Chinese), with more traditional Chinese bars filled with orientalist decor and dice games, Lan Kwai Fan, named after the infamous bar street in Hong Kong with posh clubs, Bao Li Zhong Xing (literally Poly-center) an office building in the middle of an office complex filled with bars that cater to both foreigners and locals.

Jiu Yan Qiao, the bridge between party spots in Chengdu

Most Chengduers had it seemed found the idea of an American-born Chinese pretty novel, especially one that could communicate decently and were quick to introduce me to their friends. I don’t know if this was a quality specific to that city, but my friendlist quickly swelled with contacts. My friends joked that I was a “communication flower” because of how easy it was to meet people.

A particularly funny exchange I had in this city was meeting a friend of a friend.

“What countries have you been to?” He asked.

I rattled off a list of places I’d been (in Chinese) “Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China”

“Taiwan and Hong Kong are part of China”, he responded.

“Oh yeah totally” I replied.

This city’s also a jumping off point for many famous mountains and lakes. There’s the Leshan Buddha, Emei Mountain, Jiuzhaigou, and I even spent a weekend with the hostel staff on a completely undeveloped mountain that had almost no facilities and was 4km tall, Niubeishan (literally wild horse poop everywhere).

Emei Mountain

I’d highly recommend a visit and it’s not a bad place to hang out for a while if you’ve got the time.

I’m also a little sad I condensed these experiences since they’re in retrospect, hopefully soon I can do semi-weekly postings on places I go that are also more photo-friendly.

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