Saturday, August 6, 2016

180 Days Abroad With the Chinese Locals: What Textbooks and Classrooms Don't Tell Us About China

Rating: 3.5 Stars (4 Stars with an additional proofread/edit)

I received a free PDF copy of this manuscript from the author, Aldo Quintana, in exchange for an honest review.

At this time there is not a cover but I will add it to the post when it becomes available.

My rating means just that. While the copy that I received had been proofed, the author indicated in an email exchange that he was planning to do at least one more read aloud and I provided a short list of minor errors I came across such as typos or awkward phrasing. There are not things that necessarily take away the strength of the story, which is the author's voice and personal experiences while in a foreign country, but are needed fixes in order to make the story a bit more polished.

The author and I have been Twitter and Facebook page followers of one another for some time now and I have to admit that as I was seeing his posts or Tweets about the manuscript, I was was kind of hoping he would ask me to review it. I know next to nothing about China, save for snippets about the Great Wall, and the documentaries I have watched about the Terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. To use a phrase you might recognize as one I say often, "It is almost embarrassing how little I really know about China." I was interested in reading it because of the premise, of spending six months in a foreign country, as well as the topic, China.

I learned four very valuable lessons that I would like to share right off the bat that make me positive that I could never actually live in China:

  • Fireworks are legal every single damn day of the year. If you know me, then you know that every year, from roughly June 25th through July 3rd, I rage about idiots shooting off fireworks every day leading up to the 4th. It would drive me batshit insane to hear them year-round. The 4th is one of my favorite holidays and every year these morons around me try to ruin it by setting them off constantly. If though, as it is mentioned in the book, they are set off to signify the birth of a baby, I am okay with that.
  • The pollution is seriously out of control. If there was ever a need for environmental reforms, this is it. When your government has to issue a chart that helps determine pollution level each day, and that there will be some days the pollution is so bad that the general public is told to stay indoors, then you have a problem. China has just such a problem. In the book the author discusses the mask he wore on the high-pollution days and he says he still has it. What a souvenir! As an additional note, the author included this chart as a graphic within the text. It was nice to have the visual.
  • Negotiating would make me seriously crazed and impatient. I am not a patient person to begin with (I'm working on it), and to haggle with street vendors is something I would not be able to do well because I don't like wasting time, and I don't like people trying to sucker me out of money. I know this is common in many countries besides China, but I would either never buy anything or end up broke really quickly because I just don't have time for tomfoolery.
  • You are not allowed to use Google Chrome. Sorry China, this was the deal breaker. All I use is Google Chrome.
Upon graduating with an MBA, the author noticed an internship via an Internet job board and applied, never imaging he would actually get it. But he did, after a few phone interviews, and he found the job was actually in China, not the US as he had thought. The book that followed is a conversational collection of his observations, thoughts, and conversations with fellow interns and the local population that he worked with and lived among. I love to travel and this would be amazing - though I would be highly anxious jumping into living in a city where an estimated 90% of the population did not speak the same language as me. That would terrify me - I was scared enough when Mom and I got separated at the tube station at Heathrow in London our first night in England. I can't even imagine being in a country where I couldn't read road signs, directions, anything. I do admire someone who can take risks like this and just pack up and go. The author provides many tips for getting around the language barrier. He suggests having phrases already written or typed out in a doc on your phone, which he would then show to taxi drivers and such. When that did not work, having a photo of the place you want to go works well also. I also appreciate the fact that the author attempted to learn some Mandarin before leaving (he had about 30 days to do so, from the time he had the phone interviews to the day he got on the plane). I think this piece is critical, whether you are going on vacation, or moving to a foreign country. Regardless of whether or not the 'business language' of the country is English, I think it goes a long way to show those you come in contact with that you made the effort to speak their language instead of expecting them to speak yours.

I really related to the author when he made reference to the fact that textbooks and class work are great in theory or hypothetical situations, but not so much for problems and situations encountered in the real world. This has never been more clear to me than when I was working on my own Master's degree in Special Education. I had a couple professors who had been out of the classroom for many years, and while some of the scenarios and solutions worked in a perfect world, they were simply not applicable anymore.

The way the author presented the information, I would consider this book a combination of a how-to guide (for living abroad), memoir (sharing his own experiences with both work and leisure), a travelogue (for the places he visited while living in Langfang), and non-fiction/history (for what he shares regarding the history of China). he also uses a variety of ways to present information - checklists, graphics and printed conversation. The third one is tricky; if you have read any of my reviews in the past, you know I am not a fan of this. Unless any author recorded the conversation at the time to know word-for-word what was said, I generally find it suspicious. But here I think it works, because of the topic. It relates to the author's experiences and observations. All throughout the book, the author uses initials to identify the various people he lives with, works with, and socializes with. In regards to these conversations, he also identifies the person by gender and nationality, the latter of which I think is helpful because it speaks to that person's perspective in regards to whatever they are discussing. Other graphics the author included referred to items needed while working abroad (and this would apply to any country, not just China. He also included a currency table, which is highly important - especially on a budget. This is useful whether on vacation or not - as I can attest to. In 2010 Mom and I were stranded in Amsterdam for an extra week and it was terrible because we had definitely not planned for 7 additional days of hotel fare.

There are so many things I learned about daily life in China, that I am not sure I could actually recount everything here without making my review into a book itself. The "Beijing Belly" and kids just peeing and pooping at will on sidewalks in public weirdness aside, there were many moments that made China more real to me and gave me a clear picture of life as the author lived it for those 6 months. Some of these stories make China almost seem like a very primitive country with no modern conveniences (such as the fact that some buildings have no addresses, such as the author's apartment complex which was "untraceable on Google Maps"). Then in other instances, China seems like the place to be in the future, such as when Langfang (population roughly 700,000) is considered to be "next Silicone Valley of China". It is definitely a study in opposites, and a country with a very complex past, present, and future.

I know China is kind of used as the big bad bogeyman here in the US, and most people who know me would classify me as pretty liberal, but I have to admit I am kind of a fan of the way the Chinese government deals with rapists and child molesters. In a nutshell, the guilty party must apologize to their victim's family, pay the family an amount of money, after which time they are executed by the military. The victim and their family are invited to watch the execution. China does not mess around when it comes to sex offenders and I am a staunch supporter of this. Given the rape culture flourishing in the US and the insane amount of victim-blaming that goes on here, coupled with the laughable-if-it-wasn't-so-infuriating prison sentences handed down (prime example: RAPIST BROCK TURNER and his lousy 3 months), it is almost refreshing to see these horrific crimes dealt with in such a definitive manner.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about the author's experiences as he lived in China for this time. The book reads almost like you are having a (one-sided) conversation, and for those who like a little more formality in their non-fiction, it may bother you. The author makes a point to explain as much as he can in a variety of ways about his experiences (i.e. the conversations, graphics, etc). I also appreciated that he took the time to show both the ups and downs of his experiences. He was off to a rough start when he first arrived, due to his assigned living quarters being totally disgusting, and the fact that no one at the company seemed to expect him when he arrived on his first day. He dealt with insane amounts of pollution, public transportation, and people constantly coughing all around him and never covering their mouths. But then again, he also got to see fascinating tourist stops like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, and gain valuable work experience through his internship. This is an interesting and informative read that I can definitely recommend to others who enjoy that travelogue/memoir combo. 


  1. You really took the time to take notes and write this review. You're a reading and writing machine! I appreciate what you do. Keep cranking out those books.

    1. Thank you Aldo! I like to be as thorough as possible - especially when an author or publisher has contacted me. I just feel like there are so many wonderful books that authors took the time to research and write, the least I can do is provide the same in my review!


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