The weather outside may not be particularly frightful, but it’s still cold enough to put on an uncomfortable chill. Avoiding leaving the toasty room and warm bed is probably best done with a good book.
Weather in Dongguan can often be frustrating for the inquisitive expat. Dead-set as you might be on exploring your new exotic whereabouts and every aspect of the local culture, some major climate shift or another is bound to quickly curb your enthusiasm. If not the scorching sun, then the pouring rain and the bone-chilling humidity will most probably confine you to the climate-controlled environment of the city’s numerous shopping malls.
Luckily, there’s no need to interrupt the exploring. As any bookworm will tell you, there is always the alternative of discovering the world outside from the comfortable, air-conditioned bubble of your own home or the nearest Starbucks. Just grab a book and an (large) Americano and go.
Browsing through bookshelves at my favorite Beijing bookstore provided some ideas, while Amazon’s helpful algorithms suggested a few more.
I should warn that this particular shortlist of China reads aimed to help me get through indoor confinement was not the result of any systematic research. Browsing through bookshelves at my favorite Beijing bookstore provided some ideas, while Amazon’s helpful algorithms suggested a few more. None of them completely new, yet, hopefully, not too outdated either. Here’s what’s in store.
South China Morning Blues by Ray Hecht
Ray Hecht’s neat, little tome, South China Morning Blues, was a delight to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s playful structure of introducing 12 local characters, with each representing a Chinese zodiac sign, and letting them all speak in their own distinctive voices.
The three parts of the book—Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong—all managed to seamlessly transport me to those cities and soak in their disparate atmospheres. It felt utterly refreshing to see the world from 12 different perspectives: through the eyes of the aspiring young Chinese artist Ting Ting, the arrogant, expat businessman Marco, the brilliant, but slowly-succumbing-to-alcoholism journalist Terry, the career and party girl Sheila that finds it difficult to explain her lifestyle to rich Guangdong relatives, or any of the other eight colorful (anti-)heroes.
I greatly admire the author’s power of observation and ability to capture those tiny, telling details that make the characters so plausible and alive. What a journey!
Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage by Kay Bratt
Next up is Kay Bratt’s Silent Tears, which describes the author’s years spent as a volunteer at an orphanage in an undisclosed Chinese location. Given the topic, I did anticipate that the book wouldn’t be an easy read. I was right, though, unfortunately, not only because of the topic.
I pride myself on being a very patient reader, always looking for the bright spots and easy on the critique, but this book was particularly trying. The poor language, although irritating was excusable, given that the book is based on Bratt’s personal diary entries. Still, I found the author’s attitude—consistently self-centered, arrogant and condescending—extremely difficult to accept.
I can only imagine the indignation felt by Chinese readers when reading lines like: “These people [the Chinese] can do nearly impossible things when they set their minds to it. We [the Americans] need to strive to support them with advice and leadership.”
What kept me reading until the end were the genuine emotions the author displayed when talking about the orphans themselves and the respect she actually deserves for helping some of those poor kids.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I was glad that my next read, Crazy Rich Asians, provided a well-needed breath of relief. I enjoyed the language, flowing easily, despite constantly mixing in Cantonese, Malay, Hokkien and Singaporean English expressions.
Not being an expert on the lifestyles of the ultra-rich Chinese diaspora, I can’t speak of the rendition’s accuracy, but it certainly is disarmingly funny and entertaining. It took only a few pages before the book’s addictiveness set in, lending to binging and skipping hours of sleep to finish the work.
Turns out that I don’t have to worry about withdrawal symptoms since Kwan has managed to publish at least two more novels since, plus a film in the making. The aftertaste, however, has been a bit like after overindulging in chocolate. In other words, I think I’ll wait a while before picking up the sequel.