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by Joe Brennan

Pub Date: July 23rd, 2011
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

An American records his daily experiences as an English teacher in China.

“China is still China; crazy and fascinating.” That’s the upshot for Joe Brennan after six years as an English teacher in Beijing. Brennan started his second career in 2004 when transitioning from 25 years as a Silicon Valley technical writer. The teaching program prepares students to attend Western universities. The entire account is in journal format, which records daily happenings, samples of student papers, English signs, speeches and dialogue. A daily submission might be several paragraphs or simply stated in one line. There are entries for ongoing matters, such as pay negotiation or bargaining a taxi fare, but also for single incidents, as when the teacher is given an apple that’s stolen by another student. The diary format seems mostly unedited, so the final product often reads like a raw travel guide. Observations glossed over in more conventional guidebooks receive more consideration here. The reader thus learns more about public nose-picking or same-sex affection. These discussions often fall under several categories or themes familiar to the global traveler. These themes combined with Brennan’s wry humor and the sometimes good-natured communication between guest and host, and the result is a sardonic take on world affairs. Where else could one find amusement in the stereotyped Westerner as a “wealthy foreign devil.” This humor however, is balanced by Brennan’s more serious views on issues like China’s raging pollution or their high suicide rate. The author’s purpose in writing is never explicitly stated, so it might be difficult to determine a well-defined audience. At 300-plus pages, the journal format has its benefits and drawbacks. The dozens of entries over a six-year period will offer impressive insight to someone considering the same vocational or lifestyle path, whereas an extended vacationer reading the account would gain plenty of knowledge but might be hard-pressed to read such a lengthy treatment. Absent also is storytelling in the tradition of beginning, middle and end; however, the unrefined conveyance is still thematic and coherent enough for an unconventional framework.

A lengthy but thorough and valuable treatment of living in China.