Hai Long is a teenager living in the Chinese city of Dalian. It's the year of the SARS epidemic in China. This is a modern China that's eye-catchingly contemporary. Hai Long and his mates drink Coca-Cola and eat American fast food. They watch American NBA basketball on television and argue whether Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever. They go to English language lessons and hilariously mock Karl, their hopelessly naive Canadian teacher, who drinks too much beer and is just dying to get away to Thai beaches to hang out with German babes. This is also the year in which Hai Long leaves school to learn the unlikely trade of his uncle. 'Uncle' has many books, but he's actually a highly successful professional pick-pocket who specialises in robbing dazed foreigners - Koreans and Japanese as well as Europeans - and makes special trips to Beijing for the purpose. As we meet a series of colourful characters in Hai Long's life and hang out with him and his mates, we also watch the teenager being trained in the ways of the pick-pocket. This is a sophisticated story of China's new generation severing ties with their cultural past, and rich with a fascinating array of colourful characters who frequent their inner-city apartment block - from Gambler Dang, a high stakes Ma Jiang player, to Fish, a peasant from the countryside and an unlikely friend, and finally Uncle, whose shadowy occupation exerts an irresistible pull on Hai Long's life...An accessible yet deceptively clever novel from an electric new voice.
Winner Commonwealth Writer's Prize: Best First Book, South East Asia and the Pacific region
Mo Zhi Hong was born in Singapore but grew up in Taiwan, Canada, China, the United States of America and New Zealand. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, he worked as a software developer in New York City, and later as an English teacher in north-east China, before recently returning to New Zealand. He is 34 years old. This is his first novel.