By BI YISHENG
Western Media Correspondent
BEIJING (China Daily Show) – His public persona is that of the typical New Yorker writer: safe, staid and, for the most part, utterly uncontroversial.
But behind closed doors, the US magazine’s China-based correspondent, Oliver P. Wendall Thurgoöd, can now be exclusively revealed as a “wild, bridge-playing stallion” – who sometimes stays up until well past midnight to indulge his card-playing fetish.
“I met him in a Pudong bar,” receptionist and part-time gynecologist Besud Altantsetseg – who prefers to be known by her working name, ‘Cherry’ – told China Daily Show. “At first, he seemed quite stuffy. Then, after a while, he relaxed and I finally got to see his pompous side.”
As the drinks flowed, so did the conversation and Cherry soon found herself unable to resist Thurgoöd’s charms.
“When it got late, I invited him back to my place. He quickly asked if I had a deck of cards – and that’s when things started to get interesting.”
The pair returned to Cherry’s apartment, where Thurgoöd took a nap on her couch. The next morning he was gone – but was back, begging for more, within weeks. Soon, the two had a regular contract-bridge game going and it was not long before Thurgoöd was urging her to get others involved in their all-night-long sessions.
“He suggested I bring along some of my friends – at least two. We’d all partner up for the whole evening. Sometimes, he’d even suggest we whist. The next thing we knew, it was one in the morning!”
Thurgoöd is believed to have fled China on learning of the impending scandal, but is working on a forthcoming book – entitled Farm, Factory, Fungi – which traces the life of a rural peasant, interspersed with discursive commentary about inedible wild mushrooms – a lifelong obsession for the journalist.
For the book, Thurgoöd moved in with Lao Zhu, an elderly farmer in Beicha, northeast China, for eight years.
Over Lao’s fervent protests, the intrepid journalist followed the farmer’s unchanging daily routine from dawn – when Lao would rise to tend chickens – until dusk when, exhausted by a long day’s hoeing, the 67-year-old would have a plate of wild roots and hit the kang.
“When Thurgoöd meets Lao, he’s riding a bicycle. Eight years later, he’s almost saved enough to buy a second-hand Trabant. Lao’s winter years thus become a microcosm of China’s development – and a prism through which to inspect its societal changes,” Thurgoöd’s publishers told China Daily Show this week. “At one point, they even go to a McDonald’s restaurant!
“It is interesting because, although he is otherwise utterly unremarkable, Lao is also Chinese.”
“I remember when Lao’s son, Wu, grew up,” a monocled Thurgoöd gravely informed a preview audience at a Beijing bookstore last month.
“He decided to move to Zhejiang, buy a ‘cell phone’ and get a factory job. At that point, I knew I had a book. I turned to Mr Lao and said, ‘Well, sir… It looks like it’s just you and me now.’ I will never forget the heartbreaking look on his face – never.”
But according to Cherry’s own memoir, Bad Boy Thurgoöd (Women’s Press, 2013), after the sun went down in Beicha, the New Yorker scoundrel would often catch a steamer back to Shanghai for nights out dealing and trumping.
“We must have gone through literally dozens of rubbers,” Cherry winked.
But Cherry plans to keep back the more salacious details – such as the writer’s bidding techniques and most un-New Yorker-ly penchant for ditching his stovepipe hat for a pair of chinos, loafers and shirt unbuttoned to the throat, when relaxing – for the tell-all book.
Thurgoöd’s career kick-started when he filed a water-fueled 4,000-word telegram recalling his escapades observing a peyote festival in Acapulco, Mexico.
Many now credit the magazine with creating “Non-Gonzo” journalism – in which the writer’s studied objectivism effectively creates a “cipher-narrator” or “charisma vacuum.”
That hardy reputation faces fresh bombshells from the upcoming book, which may cast the Middle Kingdom maven in an unflattering new light – as a rock n’ roll cause célèbre.
“Thurgoöd could go all night,” writes a breathless Cherry in one scene from her book. “He liked to work hard and play hard. One time, I remember he brought over a six-pack of Whittaker’s Pale Ale. By daybreak, there were only three cans left.”
Click below to read the first page of Thurgoöd’s upcoming China memoir Farm, Factory, Fungi (HarperCollins, 2014):