Review: Yes China! An English Teacher’s Love-Hate Relationship with a Foreign Country

I’m a huge bibliophile. When I moved to China in 2005, half my luggage weight allotment went to books. I knew that, living in Hainan, I probably wouldn’t have access to the kind of foreign language (i.e. English) bookstores you can find in Beijing or Shanghai. So I brought my own. Of course I could never bring enough. Not even enough for the first year that we had committed to, let alone the nearly seven total that we’ve stayed for so far.

So I’m very acquisitive regarding books. I borrow them from friends, and have been lucky to have generous friends who love books just as much as me. I buy suitcase-fuls every time we leave Hainan. Ever since I got my HTC Android phone, I’ve been ecstatic about my ability to just download books anytime I want to. So when Ryan asked me if I wanted to read and review a new book on China for Lost Laowai, I was thrilled. I love books! I love China! Sign me up.

Clark Nielsen, author of “Yes China!“, gifted my Kindle reader with a copy of his book, and I was set to go. (Yes, Kindle does work on my Android phone, in case anybody was wondering.)

I read the book fairly quickly, but ever since then, I’ve been struggling with what to write in this review.  I hate being negative and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but the truth is I just didn’t enjoy this book. I found the writing style annoying, and the content didn’t have anything you can’t read on hundreds of English teacher blogs already. In fact, much of the content of Clark’s book was taken from his blog, and it shows. The rest details his personal story of coming to China, what motivated him to come (and come back again and again). I also disliked the way he jumped around in time as he told his story. It seemed a disjointed way to write.

This book might be useful reading for someone who had never been to China and was considering teaching here, or someone newly arrived with little experience. It provides a helpful warning that teaching in China is not for the faint of heart. Be advised though, this book is definitely not for the easily offended! Then again, if you are easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be reading Lost Laowai, either, should you? Anyway, watch out for a great deal of bathroom humor and some swearing. Which is generally what happens when laowai come to China, isn’t it?

I did resonate with the hope that Clark expressed about his students near the end of the book:

“Maybe by the time they are adults, they will have had enough foreign English teachers in their life that they won’t feel the need to shout, ‘Hello, hello!’ when they see one of us on the street.”

Absolutely agreed.  After all, isn’t teaching really about broadening the students’ minds? Even better if we can broaden our own in the process, and that’s what’s so great about teaching in China. There’s so much to teach, so much to learn. So many more HALLO-ers out there just waiting for you to come along!

So if you want to commiserate with a fellow English teacher about the miseries of teaching in China, or you haven’t been to China and want to know what it looks like through an American teacher’s eyes, you might want to take a look at “Yes China!” The subtitle: “An English Teacher’s Love-Hate Relationship with a Foreign Country” really sums it up well, and I think many of us can relate to this love-hate relationship with China. I do. The book has many of those things we all hate, the filthy bathrooms and the frustration of dealing with Chinese school administration; as well as the adventure and excitement everybody feels when they first arrive in such a baffling new and strange and wonderful place as China.

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3 Comments
  1. Being about a third of the way through the copy of this on my Android phone’s Kindle App my main feeling after reading this post is “wow, this review is _sooo_ much more positive than I ever would have thought was possible for this book.”

    In fact, if it weren’t for it being the only e-book both unread and not in Chinese currently on my phone, I probably wouldn’t have even gotten as far as I already have.

    Clark glorifies in celebrating his own failures such as his inability to properly prepare lessons (or prepare lessons at all), goes out of his way to describe in great detail things no one wants to hear described (like peeing his pants in Hawaii), and seems to think it cute to mock the people who were supposed to be learning English from him.

    The occasional poignant and well written moment (such as describing how he gave up Mormonism) is so well hidden by the dross that I’ve almost decided to commit the cardinal sin of not finishing a book. As it is, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll still give up before reading through to the end.

  2. Pingback: Yes China! – Book Review | Seeing Red in China

  3. This book is a great depiction of the lifestyle for most foreigners teaching in China. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to go to China. Being here in China for four years, I still enjoyed this book!

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