My recent China reads III

A couple of weeks ago I made a flying visit to Beijing to sort out some stuff and it was my first night away from baby Z, which was difficult. But the best part about it was the 2 hours waiting in the airport on the plane ON MY OWN. Completely on my own, no baby, no husband, no one requiring my attention. And as I approached security at the airport, I could feel my heart beating, I was getting really really excited about it. And I read for a full 2 hours+. It was bliss. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater

I had wanted to read this memoir for ages, ever since before it was published, but it was a bit above my usual price range. However, I decided to treat myself as the cold weather came to Dalian, and it was so worth it. It doesn’t technically qualify as a book about China, but since Tracy married a Japanese man, it comes under the heading of AMWF!

It was interesting reading about how Japan made its way into Tracy’s life very gradually after meeting her partner there when she went to teach a short-term programme, and I can relate to that because I never expected to all for China the way I did (hated it at first!) but it kind of grew on me. She may not have thrown herself in and cherished every experience, but who does? Living abroad and the conflicting goals of an intercultural couple are challenging and Tracy’s experience seems very common. The way that fertility treatment caused her to embrace life in Japan was similar to my turning point, as being a mother in China during the last 6 months have been my most enjoyable here. The most moving part was her relationship with her father-in-law and how she came to take such a big role in his care as he aged, which is very inspiring. The best part, however, is knowing that the author became pregnant as she was writing the book and had to changed the planned ending –> truly a fairytale in that sense.

Pearl River Drama: Dating in China – A Memoir by Ray Hecht

Whilst this book fits into the usual genre I go for – lives of Chinese people, relationships involving Chinese people, lives of people living in China/Asia, etc – it was somewhat different to the books I’ve read before. In that it was written by a man, writing about his life. It is usually women’s lives I read about. I guess it was kind of like getting inside a man’s head and it was weird. The things he wrote about his relationships weren’t the same as what women tend to write about their relationships. Lots of sex. And drugs. Women’s body shapes. It was interesting to read about the flip side – the WMAF relationships and young women in China today (some of who have some serious issues, not surprisingly). A bit too much for me, but certainly a learning experience. And it didn’t put me off reading one of Ray’s novels on the same topic, South China Morning Blues, which I’m still looking forward to.

Red Azalea by Anchee Min

I really enjoyed this memoir about Anchee’s adolescent and young adult life, which took place during the 60s and 70s in China. After reading for a couple of chapters I found myself having to check back and see whether it was a memoir or a novel, because some parts didn’t seem like they could be real! It sounded so incredibly hard, I don’t know how that generation coped with growing up during the cultural revolution, struggling with their own feelings and what they were ‘supposed’ to be thinking. The mental struggle must have been harder even than the physical struggle – Anchee went to the countryside as a large percentage of young people did, to live like the farmers, before training as an actress and working in theater. She didn’t have any say in where she went. It sounds as if the hardest part was building friendships and not knowing who to trust, if anyone. Some of the events truly are unbelievable. Even though I’ve read many books about this period in history, it is hard to believe some of the sorts of things that happened in this country I now live in, just a few decades ago – a young man executed on the farm for having a girlfriend, even though everyone knew she was a consenting partner, for example. Really tragic.

I really enjoyed this book, and it made me think a lot about R’s family, as my MiL is about the same age as the author (although she worked in a factory, and three of her siblings went to the countryside) and she must have experienced some similar feelings (which she may slowly open up to me about). The other 奶奶s around me too, who knows what they went through.

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