Ensiform's Reviews > Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion

Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy
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's review
Mar 18, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, travel, china
Read in January, 2012

The author recounts his experiences as an English teacher sponsored by the Peace Corps for two years in China’s heartland, the city of Guiyang in the relatively poor Guizhou province. Until then a vegetarian who kept a kosher diet, he soon realizes that in order to get the full experience, he will have to eat as his hosts do: fried bugs, maggots, lizard wine, and maybe even dog stew. Of course, he also adjusts to the culture shock in a variety of other ways, mastering squat toilets, understanding guanxi (arranging favors for influence), working in an education system that favors memorization over interpretation, and maneuvering around (and sometimes slamming up against) the blind assumption that authority grants validity. It feels like home eventually, though he never joins in the ubiquitous smoking, or that particularly Asian predilection for cruelty to animals (one scene in which Levy confronts a man who is punching a bag of puppies is particularly memorable).

Written in a conversational, easy style, the book highlights all the absurdities of modern Chinese culture, trying to balance between old Communist ideals and the new capitalism. All of Levy’s references are to pop culture (Jor-El, TRON, Carrie Bradshaw), which grates after a while and makes him seem rather simple at times, but he’s an honest narrator, examining his own assumptions and beliefs and giving real thought to how absurd his own ideals might seem to his Chinese students. From his student who names herself “Shitty” in English because she likes its sound, to young girls who must leave school and work long days due to a lack of a few dozen dollars, this is a funny, informative, and even touching memoir.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer "particularly Asian predilection for cruelty to animals"

Considering the unimaginable hell that is the US factory farming industry, I don't think it's fair to say cruelty to animals is a "particularly Asian predilection."

message 2: by Ensiform (last edited Sep 01, 2012 08:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ensiform Thanks for commenting. Sure, giant agri-business is a bastion of casual cruelty. But I'm talking about an overwhelming cultural acceptance of using animals solely for their parts that does not exist in modern Western society. I'm guessing you haven't spent much time in Asia. For the most part the idea of an animal as a companion or a friend is considered not only absurd, but weak. No one is outraged at an abandoned dog or cat. Whales are slaughtered by the Japanese yearly for no reason. The Chinese eat seafood while it is still alive. They cut off the penises and horns of rhinos, the hands of gorillas, the bones of tigers for quack medicines that do nothing. In Hong Kong, at least ten years ago, you could eat a still-living monkey's brain in a restaurant. So yeah, I'm sticking with my assertion as fair.

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