From Chicken Feet to Crystal Baths: An Englishman’s Travels Throughout China – by Ian Mote – Review

An excellent travel book on China that goes above and beyond describing the pretty tourist attractions of the country

I must say that my fascination for the country grew ever since I watched the movie “The Last Emperor.” I have not been able to visit the country since then; I hope to, one day, but reading this book was as good as visiting it in person! As they say, and this eBook proves, that you are separated from others through just six degrees. As I read the eBook I found a lot of similarities between the Chinese and people of my country. The author makes his intentions quite clear in the opening pages of the ebook: “Other people have written whole books on aspects of China that I only explore briefly in this one – for example, Chinese food, the Great Wall, or the recent history of Shanghai. I cannot claim such expertise or venture into so much depth here. My intention is just to present an introduction to China, from a Western, European, and/or expat viewpoint, as some of the situations I found myself in may well be experienced by others coming to China for the first time. I want to share the places I have been, the things I have seen, and the number of times I just had that feeling.”

However I would say that the above foreword of the author is vastly an understatement. I have never seen a more exhaustive guide on China (this is much more than a typical Lonely Planet guide, unlike what another reviewer says). The 272 pages of the eBook are not filled with fluff but with solid info on any aspect of China you want to discover. The one thing I never expected from a book like this is such wholesome description of Chinese music:

“The lyrics are a pretty sappy description of the singer’s affection for a young lady named Wei, who seemingly has pretty eyes and has stolen the singer’s heart.”

That is just a small sample. There’s more like it!

Likewise, he also describes his own experiences with learning the Chinese language as a foreigner (my respects to the author; the very look of the Chinese alphabets themselves give me 80 heartbeats per minute; I might as well learn to speak German someday but don’t think I would ever be able to speak this language):

“Another side effect of trying to speak more Chinese was that I found myself becoming more expressive with my body language. When you are trying to make yourself understood and you find that you cannot rely solely on your speech, then suddenly your arms and your expression become that much more important. When speaking English, I tend to be fairly straightforward, with my arms staying still down by my sides, but when speaking Chinese, suddenly I have my hands up in front of me, gesturing left, right, and centre to make my point understood. You become two different people: one who speaks English calmly and one speaking Chinese with a windmill of arm movements. It’s because you feel your confidence and your ability to express yourself as being very different. I always felt it was hard for me to really get to know some of my team, because they only really showed their true selves when speaking Chinese. Speaking English, for them – although it was better than my Chinese – was still an effort and constrained their true personality. It was just one more challenge to overcome.”

The author has taken great pains in assimilating all the information he’s collected and expressing them in a very easy to read, lucid language. I said this book is very much needed because even today China is a very misunderstood country in the West. Lots of people think of Chinese as arrogant, totalitarian, bigoted communists only; the warmth of Chinese people and their exotic culture has been lost somewhere in the midst of this stereotype. Here is hoping that more people read this book and get a fair and accurate idea of the nation that China truly is! A must have guide not just for anyone who wants to visit China but also for anybody who is even remotely interested in the language, culture and other aspects of the country.

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