The Liar and the Businessman

The Liar and the Businessman

When I first moved to Shanghai I didn’t have many friends. But after a short while I started to become part of a small social group. One of these friends was rather unusual. He could knock back pints like the best of them, and he was a compulsive liar.


We all knew he was a compulsive liar, of course. He even knew this. On drunken nights he would entertain us with tall tales of his life not led. We didn’t mind. He may have been a compulsive liar, but he was also a good storyteller. Unfortunately his need to make things up would cause some awkward situations. Like the time he invited me out to meet his boss.

We were to meet at a bar called Big Bamboo on Laowaijie (literally meaning “foreigner street”). It was an unusual part of Shanghai. It felt like someone had lifted a bar street out of Europe and dropped it in the middle of Shanghai. It lived up to its name as a hangout for foreigners, but you will also find a lot of local Shangairen hanging out as well. Laowaijie had a seedy side as well – drugs and prostitutes could be found hiding in the dark alleys, if that was what you were looking for. For every businessman visiting Shanghai, there’s a strong likelihood they would end up here at least once.

I got a taxi to Laowaijie and texted my friend when I arrived. Then he called me and told me the “plan”. I was to walk into the bar, then he would pretend to spot me, his “old friend” that he “hadn’t seen in years”. Then he’d invite me to join him and his boss so that we could “catch up on old times”.

Needless to say, I was caught off guard. His boss didn’t know I was coming? Why the need for this elaborate ruse? He wasn’t just telling tall tales this time, he was making me into one of his fabricated stories. I considered just jumping back into a taxi home. I probably should have. But curiosity got the better of me. I decided to see this thing through. Venture adventure, after all.

Big Bamboo

I wandered into the bar and pretended not to notice him like he told me. He spotted me and gave his pre-scripted speech about how we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Our ad-lib performance was awful, and I was sure his boss could tell. He invited me to join them, as planned, and introduced me to his boss.

I was nervous. I was sure he knew it was a ruse, but he didn’t know why. Hell, I didn’t know why. Why had my friend invited me? Why the need for this elaborate scene? What was the point in lying to this man I had just met?

He wore expensive looking clothes, shirt, pressed trousers, a chain around his neck. Either side of him were two young Chinese women. It turned out he was footing the bill, so drinks all around. We got to talking about how my friend and I met. I let him make up a story about how this man I’d known for less than a year was actually one of my oldest friends. He’s better at this than I am.

The women didn’t talk much, at least not to us. Though, they would happily down shots that came quick and fast. Drunkenness took over and I became more comfortable talking to the boss, but I had to be careful not to let slip that I had seen my friend less than a week ago. Thankfully, the boss was someone who liked to boast, so I spent most of my time listening to the various ways he made money as an entrepreneur.

Business Man

His latest venture, the company my friend worked for, was a VPN for expats living in China. I wondered silently how he would compete with the more established VPNs people used, but decided not to press him on it.

Eventually he decided to take an interest in me, and I told him how I was a game developer. As soon as he heard this he started telling me how easy it is to make money on video games. “Just give a programmer $1000 and a month to make it, then you can sell it. Do that a few dozen times and you’ll make bank.”

I tried to tell him that it didn’t work that way. That it was a billion dollar global industry, that games cost millions to make, that no decent programmer would take that job. He kept interrupting me and telling me I was wrong. He insisted that games were easy, and he knew my profession better than I did. I decided it best to just let him be right.

Up until then I had been feeling anxious and guilty for how the night had started. He was basically insulting my entire profession and insulting my expertise. He clearly didn’t like being told he was wrong, and would bully people into agreeing with him. Knowing he wasn’t the nicest of people, I didn’t feel as guilty about the lie I’d been pulled into.

The End

One of the women he had been pumping shots into started to keel over. While he helped her throw up and my friend went to get her some water, I started talking to the other woman. It turned out she wasn’t Chinese, she was Malaysian. She told me she was a student here in the city.

When my friend came back, the businessman noticed I was talking to the woman. He pulled her to one side. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but he seemed upset that she was talking to me. After that, he decided to end the night. He left with both of the women leaving me and my friend behind.

I asked my friend if they were call girls. “Probably”, he said, but then his word can’t exactly be trusted. We decided it was time to call it a night, and we went our separate ways. I stumbled past the dark alleys of Laowaijie, to the main road where I would grab a taxi home.

I never saw Business Man again, not that I wanted to. I did see my compulsively lying friend a few more times, but we drifted apart after this. To this day it’s still one of the weirder nights I’ve ever had.

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