“How I Fell in Love With the Well-Documented Life of Alex Whelan”

Yan Ge

July 14, 2023 
The following is from Yan Ge's Elsewhere: Stories. Ge was born in Sichuan, China. She is a fiction writer in both Chinese and English, and is the author of thirteen books in Chinese, including five novels. The first of her Chinese-language novels to be translated and released in the US, Strange Beasts of China, was one of The New York Times Notable Books of the Year. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she was the recipient of the UEA International Award for 2018-2019.

By the time Alex Whelan became part of my life he had already died. However, it was not until much later that I became aware of this fact.

I met Alex at a meeting of the Foreign Movies No Subtitles (FMNS) group. The date was March 2. The movie was An Autumn Afternoon. The meet-up place was Eoin’s (the organizer’s) studio off Meath Street. And the fee was five euros per person (with a glass of red/white wine).

When I arrived the movie had already started. I stooped and sneaked in, taking a seat at the back. Alex was sitting right beside me but we didn’t talk for the duration of the movie. Only when it was over did he turn to me and ask for the time. I checked my phone and told him it was 9:15.

“I like the song they sang at the end,” he then said. “What do you think this movie is about?”

“It seemed the old man was about to die so he arranged a marriage for his daughter,” I said.

“I don’t think so,” he disagreed. “I think he liked that hostess woman and the daughter decided to get married so her dad could find his own happiness.”

“Wouldn’t that be too much of a twist?” I frowned.

“It wasn’t straightforward anyway,” he admitted. “But isn’t that what Japanese culture is about? The forbearance and the elusive love.”

“I don’t know much about Japanese culture.” I gave him a smile.

“I’m Alex.” He grinned. “Hello, Alex.”

“What’s your name?” he asked.

I told him my name and briefly coached him on the pronunciation. Then he asked me what it meant. I in turn elaborated on my factually tedious name. In response, he said it was unbelievably beautiful, and I nodded humbly to accept yet another round of applause for my culture and my smart-arsed ancestors.

It was all cliché. We then talked about the weather (wet and changeable), the place he came from (Kilkenny), and how long it took to drive there from Dublin (an hour and a half ), among other things.

“How long have you been in Ireland?” he asked me at a certain point.

“Would you believe me if I told you I’m actually from Tipperary?” I said.

He laughed loudly. “You must be kidding me!”

He checked his phone, saying he needed to head to Vicar Street to join the lads, and he wondered if I had any plans.

“I need to go home now,” I said. “It’s too late.” “It’s not ten yet.”

“Long way to Tipperary, you know,” I said, and picked up my satchel bag.

He wheezed.

“Add me on Facebook, will you?” he asked me before I left. “The name is Alexander Whelan.”

“Sure.” I nodded and walked out the door.

Apologies if I have challenged your attention span. I admit the dialogue above isn’t particularly interesting. However, I had to relay it in full detail because it was the only time we spoke. I’ll go through the crucial part of the story very quickly now. What happened was: On my way back to the apartment I added Alex on Facebook;

it was approximately 10:30 p.m.

When I got home, my roommate was in her bedroom, having left some tortilla chips and hummus on the coffee table. So I sat down, had some food, and lingered on Instagram for about half an hour before I went to the bathroom to pee. It was nearly midnight. I had eaten too many tortilla chips and too much hummus to sleep. So I went back to my bedroom to work on my thesis/wait for the food to digest. I stared at the Word document for about twenty minutes and went to YouTube, where I watched some old Chinese TV series for about three hours.

Eventually I decided to get ready for bed. I went to the bathroom to wash up and got caught up in a test (Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?), and sat on the toilet for another thirty-five to forty-five minutes.

Then I lay on my bed, browsing through my phone to allow my day to sink in. It was 4:47 a.m. when I got the notification from Facebook. Alexander Whelan accepted your friend request. Good man, I thought. I wanted to click into his page and maybe send a message but I was too tired, so I put my phone down and fell asleep. The next day I woke up around 12 p.m. I was running around and doing whatnot for about five hours during which I routinely checked my phone every three to five minutes but there was no message from Alex.

I decided to PM him while I was preparing dinner, heating up a Tesco soup and buttering two slices of brown bread. So I went to his Facebook page and that was when I saw the posts coming up on his wall.

R.I.P. Alex. My heart was broken when I heard the news, one person posted. R.I.P. Bro.

Have a good one on the other side, another message read. And many others.

It was 6:10 p.m., March 3. I learned from his Facebook that Alex had died that morning. There was an accident and he was sent to St. James’s Hospital and died there at 6:15 a.m.

I almost dropped the phone into my soup.

It wasn’t the first cyberdeath I’d experienced. But this one also took place in real life. Or did it? I spent the whole evening questioning the authenticity of this news. Could it be a prank played by Alex and his friends?

This was how I pictured the situation:

Alex: So I just met this girl. She is kind of cute.

Friend A: Oh yeah?

Alex: She is Chinese. Actually, I’m not sure. She said she’s from Tipp. But she looks Chinese and her name sounds Chinese.

Friend A: Well, if it looks like a duck and swims like a duck . . .

Alex: Hey! . . . Wait, she just added me on Facebook.

Friend A: Cool. Show me her profile photo.

(Alex shows his friend my profile photo.)

Friend A: Hmmm . . . I don’t know . . . You call this cute?

(Alex checks my profile photo.)

Alex: I don’t know . . . Maybe? Ah, never mind.

(Alex puts away his phone. They go drinking and then the gig is on, so they enjoy the music until very late in the evening. Afterwards, they go to a friend’s apartment to smoke some hash. It is around five in the morning when everybody is stoned and Alex cries out.)

Alex: Shit! I think I just accidently added her!

Friend B: Who?

Alex: This Chinese girl I met.

Friend B: You were in China? China has good food.

Friend C: The moon is coming to get us!

Alex: Shit. Shit. I can’t undo this now. What do I do?

Friend A: What are we gonna do? It’s the moon, man! Moon man is murdering the moon!

Friend B: Chill out. Watch me save your ass, loser!

(B takes out his phone and types.)

Friend B: Check your Facebook now, Alex.

(Alex takes his phone out and checks his Facebook. He laughs out loud hysterically.)

Friend A: What? Show us!

(A grabs Alex’s phone and reads out: R.I.P. Alex. My heart was broken when I heard the news.)

Friend A: Epic! Wait!

(A takes out his phone and started to post on Alex’s wall. Then friends C D E F join in.)

The more I thought about it, the more it felt plausible. In this case, Alex would still be alive. He might be a dick but he would be alive.

Here is the fundamental question: If you meet a guy who you sort of like and he turns out to be a dick, would you like him to remain, unapologetically, a dick and pretend he is dead, or would you prefer he is actually dead, but possibly a good guy?


Excerpted from “How I Fell in Love with the WellDocumented Life of Alex Whelan” from ELSEWHERE by Yan Ge. Copyright © 2023 by Yan Ge. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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