3 out of 4 stars
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Cutted Chicken in Shanghai by Sharon Winters is a memoir describing a two-year-long period of time in the late 1990s during which Sharon and her husband lived in China. Sharon prepared for the trip, which was instigated by a job transfer for her husband, by studying Mandarin in the United States prior to their departure. Her lessons continued once they were living in Shanghai. Since her husband, Martin, worked long hours, Sharon was assigned a driver and chaperone named Jin, who assisted her through most of her interactions. With the daily practice that came from conversing with him, Sharon also made great strides in her grasp of the language, and often surprised the Chinese locals with her ability to carry on a conversation in Mandarin.
Despite her impressive language skills, there were many cultural differences for which Sharon was not prepared, and her social blunders resulted in humbling and sometimes hilarious exchanges. The book is written in journal format, so the daily routines and discoveries she made along the way are described in great detail. Grocery shopping, for example, is often a challenge - not only are the measurements on the metric system, but Sharon runs the risk of being overcharged, or accidentally purchasing something she has no appetite for. There are many humorous stories embedded within the book, such as a time when she inadvertently ate a piece of pig brain, or another time she was taught how to walk like a Chinese woman… by a Chinese man!
This account of life as an expatriate in China is full of fascinating cultural information, as well as lessons that can be applied to travel and life in other foreign countries. Despite her humble and self-deprecating tone, the author expertly navigates the nuances of interacting with people from a vastly different political environment, and displays a sensitivity to the social issues they may face. She describes the censorship and surveillance that are a part of daily life in China, and the interest with which Chinese citizens regard her ability to vote for political leaders, but steers clear of any direct commentary on a culture in which she is just a visitor. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Ms. Winters is able to communicate with the locals with an openness and warmth, and it is clear that her hosts consider her a gracious guest.
I very much enjoyed learning about Chinese culture through the lens of a Western visitor, and I could imagine myself encountering many of the same confusing and humbling situations if I were to travel there. Though the stories are a bit dated, since the events occurred approximately 20 years ago, it is nonetheless a rich and telling account.
My only hangup is that I noticed quite a few formatting errors, especially when it came to the quotation marks and dialogue. The author chose to italicize those portions of dialogue which were English translations of words spoken in Chinese, but often the italics extended beyond the end quote, and included other portions of the sentence needlessly. This was, at times, distracting since it seemed like emphasis was being placed on those words, though I realized after the fact that was not the case. Also, at times the spacing around the quotation marks themselves was a bit off, and the quotes would attach themselves to other parts of the sentence that were not included in the dialogue. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars and believe that with a round of editing to fix the text formatting and correct a few minor errors, this would be worthy of a perfect rating. I highly enjoyed the stories and lessons within, and would recommend this memoir to readers who enjoy travelling and learning about other cultures.
Cutted Chicken in Shanghai
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