Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading 28 July

Although I have been reading a fair amount, I have also been busy and so not really keeping up with making any sort of record of the books I'm reading. The last book I mentioned is Michael Crummey's Sweetland. Moses is left alone on the island, apart from Loveless's wee dog, who takes a while to make friends with Moses. It is finally revealed how Moses got the scar on his face - it is mentioned a few times in passing, but as with many things, full disclosure is deferred. The same happens with Effie, and the story of why they never married - same cause as the scar, as it happens. Moses makes it through winter with stored supplies, but with no way off the island, it is made pretty clear another winter is in his future. He also goes mad, after a fashion - unable to differentiate between hallucination and reality: as a reader, we get caught up in his hallucinations as well. And yet, it seems there is something revelatory about some of them - particularly his encounter with the Priddle brothers. My only regret about this book is that my reading of it was interrupted: I think total immersion in it would have given me an experience a bit closer to Moses's own immersion in his isolation, his memories and his descent away from sanity.
The book I most recently finished is No Chopsticks Required (Katrina Beikoff) - an odd title in that the lack of need of chopsticks is never mentioned and I suspect they were used more than once. She and her husband work in newspapers on the Gold Coast until they decide to move (along with two very young children) to Shanghai to take up, in effect, sub-editor roles on the English language newspaper there. Ostensibly, they are to take articles written by local journalists and wrangle them into making sense for an English-reading audience. They soon learn that very little actual journalism is done and that there is a lot of political control of what goes in as well as how it is presented.

It is a pretty important year to be there: the poisoned milk, the Sechuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics all happen. There are some quite journalistic chapters on these (as well as Chinese education) - when it came to the Olympics, the author thought it would be good to publish an article praising a Chinese sports-person and basically talking China up. The powers that be took against this, China was not to big-note, and she was pulled from any Olympic story. The earthquake story was different - the populace took to social media and it forced a new kind of honesty from the mainstream media.

A lot of the chapters were just about the expat experience - landing in a completely different country, learning how to cross the road, find food, parks etc - just as hard as getting somewhere to live and the major change to living arising from having someone in to look after the kids. These chapters were entertaining and at times very funny. One of the funniest chapters involved her husband getting a doctor - he has some sort of recurring stomach bug, and his GP arranges a couple of specialists to look at him, specialists who have nothing to do with stomach bugs. One wants to run an ECG test, but despite the best efforts of about 6 nurses, they cannot clear enough hair from his chest to attach the electrodes. Eventually, the specialist just checks his pulse and says he's fine. The husband has an equally productive encounter with a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital.

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