Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion
by Michael Levy
Memoir / Travel
Release Date: 2011
Book Depository Synopsis:
An irreverent tale of an American Jew serving in the Peace Corps in rural China, which reveals the absurdities, joys, and pathos of a traditional society in flux.
In September of 2005, the Peace Corps sent Michael Levy to teach English in the heart of China’s heartland. His hosts in the city of Guiyang found additional uses for him: resident expert on Judaism, romantic adviser, and provincial basketball star, to name a few. His account of overcoming vast cultural differences to befriend his students and fellow teachers is by turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
While reveling in the peculiarities of life in China’s interior, the author also discovered that the "other billion" (people living far from the coastal cities covered by the American media) have a complex relationship with both their own traditions and the rapid changes of modernization. Lagging behind in China’s economic boom, they experience the darker side of "capitalism with Chinese characteristics," daily facing the schizophrenia of conflicting ideologies.
Kosher Chinese is an illuminating account of the lives of the residents of Guiyang, particularly the young people who will soon control the fate of the world.
My (Brief!) Thoughts:
I read this book on recommendation from someone in the Librarything 75’ers group (what’s that, you ask? I’ll talk about it tomorrow! *yay*). The book was written by a Jewish American Peace Corps Volunteer, and chronicles the two years he spent teaching in rural China — the location of "China’s other billion" — which is a very different area from the China most Westerners are familiar with (ie. Beijing, Shanghai).
He presents his experiences and observations with humor, poignancy, and more than one anecdote of moral dilemmas he encountered along the way. I found his objectivity refreshing — he never delves into cultural superiority on either side — but at the same time sympathized with certain situations where I, too, would have been unable to stay quiet (ie. responding to horrific animal abuse, even though it made a bad situation even worse).
I found that the book is more than a travel memoir — it’s a rare insight into the goings-on of rural China and the shift between old and new. I believe this book wraps up around 2007, so it would be interesting to know how things have continued to change since Levy’s time there.
I’m sure my little review here isn’t doing this book the justice it deserves, so if this is a topic that interests you (world issues, memoirs, etc.), I really do encourage you to pick up this volume and give it a read.
About the Author
Michael Levy is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion (Henry Holt, July, 2011), a memoir about his experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in western China. Mike is currently teaching at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. He returns frequently to China to check in on his students and visit the basketball courts where he momentarily attained stardom. While in the United States, he keeps strictly kosher. While in China, he eats anything with four legs except the table.