ARRAY(0xa5e40f48)
 
Profile for Thomas Carter > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Thomas Carter
Top Reviewer Ranking: 10,158
Helpful Votes: 16

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
Thomas Carter (Beijing, China)
(REAL NAME)   

Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Behind the Red Door: Sex in China
Behind the Red Door: Sex in China
by Richard Burger
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
27 used & new from CDN$ 10.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Taboo is the New Normal, Jan. 17 2013
Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of "taboo" topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd. Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don't seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger's new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best know for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China's longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and *ahem* no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as "the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang." Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty - recognized as China's cultural zenith - which Burger's research surmises is no mere coincidence.

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only "for the purpose of producing heirs." As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work. But in typical fashion, laws were taken too far; within 20 years, China under Mao became a wholly androgynous state.

We then transition from China's red past into the pink-lit present, whence "prostitution is just a karaoke bar away," yet possession of pornography is punishable by imprisonment - despite the fact that millions of single Chinese men (called "bare branches") will never have wives or even girlfriends due to gross gender imbalance. Burger laudably also tackles the sex trade from a female's perspective, including an interview with a housewife-turned-hair-salon hostess who, ironically, finds greater success with foreigners than with her own sex-starved albeit ageist countrymen.

Western dating practices among hip, urban Chinese are duly contrasted with traditional courtship conventions, though, when it comes down to settling down, Burger points out that the Chinese are still generally resistant to the idea that marriage can be based on love. This topic naturally segues into the all-but-acceptable custom of kept women ("little third"), as well as "homowives", those tens of millions of straight women trapped in passionless unions with closeted gay men out of filial piety.

Behind the Red Door concludes by stressing that while the Chinese remain a sexually open society at heart, contradictive policies (enforced by dubious statistics) designed to discard human desire are written into law yet seldom enforced, simply because "sexual contentment is seen as an important pacifier to keep society stable and harmonious."

###

The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet
The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet
by Graham Earnshaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.83
16 used & new from CDN$ 6.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graham "Grab the Wind" Earnshaw: a true man of the People, Jan. 6 2012
Graham Earnshaw is a true man of the People. His 30-year tenure in China as a journalist, businessman and, most recently, publishing magnate, have made him a permanent fixture in the Shanghai scene ' which is exactly why Earnshaw makes it a point of de-fixing himself at least once a month to walk in the countryside and 'speak to the Real China.'

It is an ongoing journey that he has tasked himself with completing since 2004, and though not continuous, Earnshaw has thus far traversed over 3% of the earth's circumference between Shanghai and Tibet. ON FOOT!

The Great Walk of China, Earnshaw's published travelogue, is an account of just a fraction of his epic odyssey, covering the interior provinces of Anhui, Hubei, Chongqing and Sichuan. The walk is a straight line due west through some of China's most rural regions, which is exactly the serene backdrop Earnshaw, fluent in Putonghua (and at times more literate than the Chinese he meets), prefers in a concerted effort to talk to as many People as possible.

From the spontaneous hospitality of peasants whom have never before seen a foreigner in the flesh, to the paranoid reactions of low-level authorities who simply cannot grasp what he is doing venturing into the countryside, Earnshaw manages to interact with just about every class of citizen imaginable.

Earnshaw also brilliantly illustrates the ironies of modern China's identification crisis through villagers who exclaim 'we are poor' out of habit despite clutching state-of-the-art mobile phones, and students, many the first in their family to be literate yet completely devoid of ambition, who vapidly waste their days away in front of televisions.

Often, the farmers he encounters hope Earnshaw is a reporter out to expose the rampant corruption of rural officials, while officials are worried that he is there to report on their corruption.

'Are you corrupt?' Earnshaw toyingly asks one cadre. 'Me, corrupt? No'well'I'm not in a position to be...' A shopkeeper eavesdropping on their dialogue suddenly howls in delight: 'So it's not that you don't want to be corrupt, ha-ha-ha!!!'

Englishman Earnshaw deftly manages some clever responses to his frequent confrontations with backwoods police, all the while maintaining a pleasant, non-judgmental (and at times romanticized and overly-optimistic) perspective which distinguishes The Great Walk from all the other China travelogues out there.

Our narrator is, unfortunately, reluctant to share much personal insight into Graham Earnshaw the person, and keeps his writings strictly about the Chinese. In between chatting with the proletariat, Earnshaw pauses to comment on old propaganda slogans still found on countryside walls, and muse on tiny animals crossing busy roads ' a metaphor, perhaps, for the People of China's struggle to catch up with their nation's rapid progress.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent Into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent Into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
by Chris Thrall
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.18
4 used & new from CDN$ 11.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don' Do The Drug!, Dec 1 2011
What just might be the funniest if not first autobiography ever penned by a drug-addicted foreigner in China, Chris Thrall's 'Eating Smoke' contains more spiritual pollution than all of the titles on the Communist Party's banned books list combined.

In a country whose history was irrevocably altered for the worst by the scourge of foreign-imported opium throughout the 19th century, it is no wonder that today's China has one of the world's least-tolerant anti-drug laws - including executions for traffickers. Basically, buying or selling drugs in China is a really stupid idea.

Enter Chris 'I'm not a stupid guy, just an average guy who does stupid things' Thrall, a 25 year-old Royal Marine who hastily quits the service to pursue a business venture in 1990's-era Hong Kong, a city 'where situations can only get worse,' just to find himself broke, homeless and fulfilling his own ominous prophecy.

Recalling the commando's motto of 'cheerfulness under adversity,' Thrall tries to make the best of his lowly situation by spending his time dancing in discos or hanging out in the notorious Chungking Mansions, 'the world's all-time greatest doshouse.' The immigrant ghetto of Kowloon is not, however, the best influence on Thrall, who befriends all the wrong people, including a hebephile drug dealer from Ghana and a Filipina working girl, and soon succumbs to that favorite of Chungking pastimes ' drugs.

To fund his new crystal meth habit, our detritivorous narrator forages the South China city-by-the-sea like a bottom-feeder for any job that will hire a white face. From cubicle fixture to phone-book scams, English teacher to nightclub DJ, businessman to bouncer, Thrall manages to get fired from every gig dumb enough to hire a spun-out 'chi sun gweilo' (crazy foreigner in Cantonese) who doesn't sleep for 9 days at a time and tends to forget his own surname.

By the time Thrall reaches his last-resort of a job ' as a doorman at a bar operated by the 14K, the largest Triad (Chinese crime family) in the world ' he has been reduced to a hyper-paranoid shadow of his former self on the verge of drug psychosis. 'I would listen to the radio phone-ins, suspicious of the Cantonese conversation and wondering if people were calling in to report my movements,' he describes during one of his many speed-soaked conspiracy theories.

What ensues is a hilarious amphetamine-paced cautionary tale of what NOT to do when addicted to drugs in Wan Chai gangland, 'where the Dai Lo's rule is law, pride is everything and life means nothing.' Chris Thrall's true story evokes Gregory David Roberts' 'Shantaram: A Novel' and Alex Garland's 'Beach,' both of which have been licensed to Hollywood, as Eating Smoke is sure to follow.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
by Chris Thrall
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.51
26 used & new from CDN$ 9.97

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "chi sun gweilo", Dec 1 2011
What just might be the funniest if not first autobiography ever penned by a drug-addicted foreigner in China, Chris Thrall's 'Eating Smoke' contains more spiritual pollution than all of the titles on the Communist Party's banned books list combined.

In a country whose history was irrevocably altered for the worst by the scourge of foreign-imported opium throughout the 19th century, it is no wonder that today's China has one of the world's least-tolerant anti-drug laws - including executions for traffickers. Basically, buying or selling drugs in China is a really stupid idea.

Enter Chris 'I'm not a stupid guy, just an average guy who does stupid things' Thrall, a 25 year-old Royal Marine who hastily quits the service to pursue a business venture in 1990's-era Hong Kong, a city 'where situations can only get worse,' just to find himself broke, homeless and fulfilling his own ominous prophecy.

Recalling the commando's motto of 'cheerfulness under adversity,' Thrall tries to make the best of his lowly situation by spending his time dancing in discos or hanging out in the notorious Chungking Mansions, 'the world's all-time greatest doshouse.' The immigrant ghetto of Kowloon is not, however, the best influence on Thrall, who befriends all the wrong people, including a hebephile drug dealer from Ghana and a Filipina working girl, and soon succumbs to that favorite of Chungking pastimes ' drugs.

To fund his new crystal meth habit, our detritivorous narrator forages the South China city-by-the-sea like a bottom-feeder for any job that will hire a white face. From cubicle fixture to phone-book scams, English teacher to nightclub DJ, businessman to bouncer, Thrall manages to get fired from every gig dumb enough to hire a spun-out 'chi sun gweilo' (crazy foreigner in Cantonese) who doesn't sleep for 9 days at a time and tends to forget his own surname.

By the time Thrall reaches his last-resort of a job ' as a doorman at a bar operated by the 14K, the largest Triad (Chinese crime family) in the world ' he has been reduced to a hyper-paranoid shadow of his former self on the verge of drug psychosis. 'I would listen to the radio phone-ins, suspicious of the Cantonese conversation and wondering if people were calling in to report my movements,' he describes during one of his many speed-soaked conspiracy theories.

What ensues is a hilarious amphetamine-paced cautionary tale of what NOT to do when addicted to drugs in Wan Chai gangland, 'where the Dai Lo's rule is law, pride is everything and life means nothing.' Chris Thrall's true story evokes Gregory David Roberts' 'Shantaram: A Novel' and Alex Garland's 'Beach,' both of which have been licensed to Hollywood, as Eating Smoke is sure to follow.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

The Eurasian Face
The Eurasian Face
by Kirsteen Zimmern
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.89
26 used & new from CDN$ 16.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of Both Worlds, Nov. 4 2011
This review is from: The Eurasian Face (Hardcover)
Hard to believe, but not fifty years have yet passed since the offspring of mixed couples in Asia were still seen as an unwanted byproduct of the West's perceived subjugation over the East. To be sure, racism and discrimination against westerners continues to exist in various degrees of blatancy all across a newly-resurgent Asia, but if the fashion and entertainment industries are anything to go by, one thing is certain: Eurasians, once consigned to a purgatorial fate worse than being born of the lowest classes, are now all the rage.

Kirsteen Zimmern's coffee table book, The Eurasian Face, features 70 photo-essays in celebration of Asia's ever-expanding Eurasian nation. Hailing from the multicultural kingdom of Hong Kong, Zimmern confesses that, as a child, she used to chant "gwei lei ga, gwei lei ga!" (it's a ghost!) at random Caucasian sightings despite the fact that she herself is partly of Scottish ancestry. Zimmern is now making reparations by granting her fellow Eurasians face time in the form of first-person profiles in which to share their stories.

They are not celebrities, but rather, extraordinarily-ordinary civilians of hybrid heritage who comprise Hong Kong's increasingly kaleidoscopic population. Some are unabashedly proud of their genetics, such as Lawrence Matthews, the son of a Chinese model and an Englishman ("I think there is some jealousy from non-Eurasians...after all, Eurasians are widely known to be the best looking"), while others, like Chinese/German Lisa Rosentreter, who grew up in Manitoba 'embarrassed that my family's staple starch was rice,' struggled with their ambiguous ancestry.

Stephen Fung, of Chinese/Irish/Scottish descent, recalls a butcher at Hong Kong's wet market enquiring why he was so "funny looking". When told that it was Fung's dad who was Chinese, 'the butcher insisted on shaking my hand, saying that it wasn't every day that 'one of us Chinese guys gets together with a white woman.''

Cantonese/Irish Liam Fitzpatrick, a senior writer for Time Magazine who was born in late-60s Hong Kong, offers a more poignant reflection of his mixed-blood upbringing: 'We were surrounded by a jeering mob of leftists, calling (my mother) a foreigner's erohw and me her dratsab half-breed.'

Race seems to play less of a factor in these subjects' lives than their upbringing, which is described in Zimmern's book as 'Chinese morals with western social habits.' Many are in favor of the Eurasian ethnicity being officially recognized as a domiciled community ('we always have to tick the 'Others' box when filling out forms'), while just as many do not, including Chinese-Brit Sarah Fung, who declares "it's as crass and patronizing as lumping Chinese, Japanese and Korean together because they come under the umbrella of "Asian."

As an aside, it is this photographer's critical opinion that, to better study the 'genetic legacy etched upon their faces,' the portraits would have benefited from studio sessions rather than candid snapshots. Another flaw is the choice of black and white film; skin tones are vital for visually discerning someone's ethnicity, not to mention that B&W is negatively symbolic of exactly the sort of outlook which Eurasians seek to eradicate.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Daughter of Xanadu
Daughter of Xanadu
by Dori Jones Yang
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 2.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who would win in a fight: Mulan or Emmajin Beki?, March 1 2011
This review is from: Daughter of Xanadu (Hardcover)
"Can you imagine, a mere girl fighting on the battlefield?"

The role of females in combat is a debate as timeless as war itself, and one that remains divisive and unresolved to this century. While present-day arguments for and against allowing women in the military revolve around psychological and biological issues, back in olden times, one needed only cite "tradition" and "familial roles" to silence the detractors.

The teenaged heroine of Dori Jones Yang's new 13th-century historical fiction novel, Daughter of Xanadu, is one such detractor, albeit immutable. Often imagining herself on the battlefield, "the son my father never had," Emmajin Beki, the granddaughter of Mongolian king Khubilai Khan, learned to ride a horse before she could walk and can outshoot all her cousins in archery. She confidently and outspokenly aspires to emulate her female ancestors who assisted Chinggis Khan in conquering Asia ("the blood of all these earlier strong women flowed in my veins").

Unfortunately for this princess, "the days of strong women had ended once luxurious court life had begun." The Mongols, fattened, lazy and resting on their laurels, now prefer to tell stories of battles-past over lavish "orgies of excess" rather than engage in new wars, much to Emmajin's restless discontent. When she makes known her desire to "become a legend" like real-life women warriors Aiyurug Khutulun and Hua Mulan of China, the great Khan placates her by sending her on a secret mission to spy on a family of foreign merchants currently visiting the Mongol court.

The merchants' young son turns out to be one Marco Polo, the now-legendary Venetian journeyer credited for introducing Asian culture to the west. To Emmajin, however, he is just another "colored-eye man," a court curiosity from Christendom whose gallantry and romantic gestures are as ridiculous to the manly Mongolians as his facial hair ("his beard was so thick I could imagine food sticking in it").

Try as she might, however, Emmajin, caught in the peak of puberty, is unable to resist Marco's western charm, and quickly finds herself enamored by his worldly vision ("I had learned to see the world through Marco's eyes") as well as his pelt. "What would the hair on his arm feel like?" she often fantasized about at night. But she was a Mongolian first, and reluctantly sacrifices her blossoming relationship with the foreigner to complete her spy mission ("He was not a friend but a source of information.").

Authoress Dori Jones Yang is a Caucasian American, yet she is no stranger to writing from the perspective of conflicted adolescent Chinese girls, as evinced in her previous, award-winning novel, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang. In Daughter of Xanadu, she hones in even deeper into the physiological confusion and emotional conflictions that make youth such a joy, turning Emmajin into such a hormonal wreck that this male reviewer often found himself gritting his teeth in frustration at such contradictive revelations as, "if he had pursued me, I would have rebuffed him. By holding himself aloof, he challenged me to win back his esteem."

Daughter of Xanadu is not all teenage angst. As our protagonist matures, so does the content of the story. Emmajin eventually persuades Khubilai Khan to allow her to train for war against the Burmese at the Battle of Vochan (present-day Yunnan province), where the embarrassment of getting her period in front of the all-male troops is a bloody omen for what's to come. Upon seeing her cousin slain, innocent Emmajin is transformed into a "mindless killer." Bloodlust unleashed, the young princess swings her sword indiscriminately ("the hatred pounded in my ears...killing him felt good"), resulting in hundreds of men dead by her hand alone. One can only imagine all the Mulan vs. Emmajin fanfiction that this novel will inspire!

By story's conclusion, Messer Polo, who witnessed and wrote about the Mongols' real-life battle against the Burmese in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, has elevated "Emmajin the Brave" into the living legend she wanted to be, though she now regrets it. "These men needed a hero, but I no longer needed to be one." She resigns her sword and rank, and departs with Polo back to Europe as the Khan's emissary of peace, leaving the literary door wide open for a sequel.

Dori Jones Yang, who also penned the best-selling Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, is a skilled historian. In researching Daughter of Xanadu, Yang, fluent in Putonghua, traveled all the way to the ruins of Xanadu in remote Inner Mongolia, which this itinerant backpacker can personally attest is no easy journey. The short chapters and brief sentences, edited with razor precision for a younger audience, along with a helpful glossary for ESL students, make reading Daughter of Xanadu a breeze, though adults will admittedly want to beg this book back afterwards from their tweens.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

The Altethlon Chronicles: The Queen's Hero and the Ubion Princess
The Altethlon Chronicles: The Queen's Hero and the Ubion Princess
by Zee Gorman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
13 used & new from CDN$ 12.57

5.0 out of 5 stars China's Answer to Harry Potter, Feb. 2 2011
China's love affair with superstition, pseudoscience and the fantastical can be traced back over five millennia, whence some of history's oldest myths and legends originated.

Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), published anonymously by scholar Wu Cheng'en in the 16th century Ming Dynasty, remains China's most beloved fantasy story. Considered one of the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature, the 100 chapters of `Journey' are replete with monkey kings, flesh-eating demons, immortal sages and celestial battles.

When science fiction became all the craze in 1950's America, Red China followed suit by founding its first sci-fi periodical. But unlike in the west, where science fiction was fueled by rapid advances in the tech sector, China promoted sci-fi to help inspire its own dormant technological progress. Conversely, about the same time during the 70's that American director George Lucas was preparing to film a little space opera called Star Wars, the Cultural Revolution was banishing all its scientists to hard-labor communes.

Indeed, where the Chinese have categorically failed in speculative fiction (programming on the Communist-controlled CCTV is evidence enough that future perspective is held in little regard here: of China's 19 official television channels, all feature serials set in olden times, some in the present, none about the future), they remain masters of mythology and purveyors of the past.

Present-day PRC is seeing a renaissance of the fantasy genre. The wuxia-inspired Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a critical and commercial success, generations of young, Chinese cyber-punks are hopelessly addicted to the virtual sorcery of World of Warcraft, and Harry Potter remains China's "most pirated novel ever." Even so, no Chinese author has ever been able to replicate the success of Journey to the West; as a result, publishing houses in the Middle Kingdom prefer to translate western best-sellers like Lord of the Rings and Narnia rather than take their chances on local fantasy fiction writers.

Enter Zee Gorman, nee Yan Zihong, China's response to J.K. Rowling. Born in Guangdong province during the Cultural Revolution (both her parents were exiled to the countryside for being "intellectuals"), Zee was raised on a literary diet of propaganda and scar literature. But rather than publish a clichéd daughter-of-the-Revolution memoir about her hardships, the aspiring author opted for the escapism of fantasy. Hence her decades-in-the-making debut novel, The Altethlon Chronicles.

A high-fantasy fiction set in a parallel universe either far in China's future or its past, Altethlon Chronicles is a complex blend of military, history, romance and sorcery. Leading the rich cast of green-eyed, purple-skinned characters is the royal yet rebellious teen Ximia ("what kind of princess are you anyway, running around like a wildcat?") and her forbidden lover, Nikolas, the leader of a rival tribe - a tumultuous relationship most likely inspired by Zee's own experience with cultural clash when she immigrated to the U.S. and married an American. Ximia is misled into believing that Nikolas has been killed during an escape attempt, whereby the princess is married off by her father to a dastardly lord. The two young warriors go on to lead their respective armies until the day when destiny arranges for them to meet again in battle. Lots of magic, weird names and epic battles of Tolkien proportions (note: this reviewer has never actually read a J. R. R. Tolkien book; I just thought it sounded cool to say that) ensue.

In creating this alternate world, Zee draws heavily on her Chinese heritage. Kingdoms such as Manchuli, Dalong and Taklaman are each reminiscent of real regions in China. Nonetheless, Zee, who is bi-lingual and holds dual degrees in English Literature, chose to write The Altethlon Chronicles in her second language and self-publish in America rather than risk having it pirated in China's nascent fantasy market. Some realities are worth escaping.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Sleeping Chinese
Sleeping Chinese
by Bernd Hagemann
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.76
21 used & new from CDN$ 3.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Dozing Dragon, Jan. 17 2011
This review is from: Sleeping Chinese (Paperback)
German businessman Bernd Hagemann arrived in China in 2002 amidst media reports of China's impending rise to global domination. "News outlets around the world," he writes, "were warning us about...how fast China is developing, how competitive it is, and what a tense life the Chinese people must live."

Casual strolls down the streets of China in between boardroom meetings and networking, however, soon revealed to Hagemann a far less threatening side of China. So he took out his point-and-shoot camera and documented what he saw all around him. In just 148 pages, Hagemann's debut photography book Sleeping Chinese swiftly dispels 9 years of chest-pounding by the PRC propaganda machine.

Sleeping Chinese is a fun little novelty item the exact same dimensions as a postcard that will leave you either laughing out loud or scratching your head in perplexity. The pages are divided into 3 parts: Hard Sleepers, Soft Sleepers and Group Sleepers, a clever allusion to China's train carriage classification system.

Hard Sleepers: "Those who snooze in hard and uncomfortable places can fall asleep anywhere - even on a pile of bricks in a construction site!" Hagemann defines. Witness, then, the dozens of people who have drifted into deep slumber atop stones, wood, mortar blocks, concrete and even cold slabs of raw meat. The most comical of the chapter being the dozing shoe repair man balancing precariously on a saw horse with an extra 2x4 for a pillow.

Soft Sleepers: "A little more fussy than their hard sleeper comrades," the chapter intro explains, "fussy" meaning in plastic wash bins, hammocks slung under freight trucks, sleeping lengthwise across a motor scooter and even a laborer using a tape measure to cover his eyes.

Group Sleepers: "A traveling family needs no pillows when they have each other's knees." Truly, the photo of the family of five all huddled together like newborn puppies gives greater meaning to `jiating,' china's family unit.

Some Chinese might take offense to Hagemann's photographic agenda, but anyone with a sense of humor will see that the book was made out of affection. "I'd like to express my appreciation of the hard work and effort put in by migrant workers who play a central role in China's success story but seldom receive the attention they deserve," writes Hagemann. Indeed, anyone who has spent quality time in China knows that these laborers, more than anyone else, deserve their rest - and anywhere they can get it.

None of the snapshots in Sleeping Chinese were staged. Any foreign tourist in China who bothers to stray from his package tour group or get out of his hotel for a jaunt off the tourist trail will see these exact same sights, and more. Incidentally, taking and publishing photos of sleeping Chinese people will often land a foreign tourist in hot water if caught by the authorities (the subjects themselves tend not to mind).

People's Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Politburo, even attempted to put a socialist spin on Hagemann's revealing imagery in an article about Sleeping Chinese: "If (we) are tired, (we) lie down anywhere and anytime and sleep. This shows (our) society's accepting attitude."

Regarding the western media's scare tactics of China's "waking dragon," this reviewer is reminded by Sleeping Chinese of a particular song from old-school hip-hop artists Public Enemy (who I had occasion to watch perform during their 2007 tour through Beijing): Don't Believe the Hype!

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Butterfly Swords
Butterfly Swords
by Jeannie Lin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harlequin comes to China wielding Butterfly Swords, Dec 1 2010
Growing up in a rural, slate-roofed village deep in the countryside of southeast China, the only English books my Chinese fiancée had to read back then were a brittle copy of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and a set of Harlequin novels.

Yes, Harlequin, those pulpy paperbacks found on revolving wire racks at supermarket checkout aisles across North America and the UK. Their enticing cover art - usually, nay, always featuring shirtless, square-jawed men hovering millimeters away from the glistening-red lips of a damsel in distress - and formulaic flirt/fight/fall-in-love storylines mercilessly targeted housewives and secretaries longing for a 200-page escape from the dirty diapers and pot-bellied husbands of their mid-life realities.

As it turns out, it was by reading books like "Stormy Voyage" by Sally Wentworth and Roberta Leigh's "Two-Timing Man" (purchased used for 7 RMB out of a sidewalk vendor's book cart), amongst other Harlequin classics, that my fiancée managed to teach herself English (which explains her tendency to throw her head back dramatically whenever we kiss).

Curious how Harlequin, the forbidden fruit of literature, could be found anywhere in a Communist republic that has the world's most strict state-sponsored vetting process for publications, I was surprised to learn that in 1995 (about when my fiancée found her copies) Harlequin received official, red star-stamped permission to place half a million copies of twenty titles in Mandarin and a quarter-million copies of ten English versions on the shelves of Xinhua. Harlequin's stated goal: "to bring romance to millions of Chinese Women."

A [...] article on the increasing popularity of romance books in the P.R.C. concurred with Harlequin's audacious move: "Chinese women today have new demands for their Prince Charming: first, he must be powerful and distinguished...next, he must unlimited financial resources." Wosai! No wonder China has become home to the world's highest surplus of single men!

Harlequin, which puts out 1,500 new titles annually in over 100 international markets, has yet to think up a romance set in present-day China (possible storyline: wealthy, second-generation Beijing businessman seduces sexy xiaojie with his shiny black Audie, pleather man-purse and a thick stack of redbacks; he agrees to save her Anhui village from being bulldozed by corrupt cadres if she will become his kept woman.). Until that day, we will have to entertain ourselves with stories set in China's olden times starring princesses and concubines.

Enter Jeannie Lin, Harlequin's rising red-star of romance writing. She isn't the first author on Harlequin's roster to set her books in China (that honor goes to Jade Lee and her infinite "Tigress" series). But Lin's debut novel, Butterfly Swords, has been attracting a viral buzz louder than a summertime cicada not just for being the first Harlequin novel to NOT feature a man on the cover, but for using an Asian model as the cover girl, another Harlequin first.

The star of Butterfly Swords is a Chinese woman, yes. But to give American readers something that they can relate to, the male love interest of Lin's novel is not a Chinese but a wandering whiteboy from the west. Ryam is drifting around the Tang empire begging for food (this sounds exactly like my own travels across China!) when he spots a disguised female being attacked by a pack of marauding bandits. The swordsman, who evokes images of bare-chested, fur underwear-wearing Thundarr the Barbarian from the eponymous 80's cartoon, rescues her, then agrees to escort her home. Little does Ryam know that young Ai Li is really a princess on the run from an arranged marriage to a dastardly warlord. The two proceed on their journey together across the 7th-century frontier, getting in adventures and slowly but surely falling in love.

Pitting strength, courage and her fabulous butterfly swords against the forces of evil, Ai Li proves herself in the battlefield ("With Ai Li's swords and determined spirit it was easy to forget that she was innocent"). But where the book has significant cultural crossover appeal is in author Jeannie Lin's ability to keenly capture the multi-dimensional perspectives of both characters throughout their budding interracial relationship.

From Ryam's course communicative abilities ("Where did you learn how to speak Chinese" Ai Li asks him, laughing. "You sound like you were taught in a brothel") to his struggles with his inner-white demons as a big, bad bai gui ("It was so much easier to seduce a woman than talk to her"), the reader is introduced not to some empty-headed he-man but a complex male of the species who is genuinely torn between his biological needs and respecting Ai Li's virtue. "I don't understand what she's talking about half the time," Ryam grumbles to himself. "Everything is about honor and duty." Surely even expats living in present-day P.R.C. can relate to this dilemma.

Ai Li, meanwhile, finds herself attracted not only to Ryam's "musky scent" and "sleek muscles" (Harlequin prerequisites; don't blame the authoress), but his sincerity ("There was nothing barbaric about him. His manner was direct and honest. It was her own countrymen she needed to be worried about."). The protagonist does find herself frustrated with "this swordsman with blue eyes and the storm of emotions that came with him," but, true to life, Ai Li comes with her own personality flaws as well ("she was being irrational and she knew it").

Of course, it wouldn't be a Harlequin without passionate love scenes, something my fiancée missed out on in the heavily-censored Chinese versions. This Jeannie Lin does in the poetic prose of a Tang Dynasty-era pillow book yet with just enough creatively-provocative language to keep sex-numbed westerners interested ("Ryam slipped his fingers into her silken, heated flesh...her body went liquid and damp in welcome."). And thankfully without ever once resorting to the word "loin."

Ryam proves himself to be an ideal lover for nubile Ai Li, "rough enough to make her breath catch, gentle enough to have her opening her knees," though one can't help but wonder how these two nomadic warriors can go so long without bathing nor brushing their teeth yet still manage to say things like "her mouth tasted just as sweet as he remembered." If only real life were as hygienic as a Harlequin novel.

One of the reasons why Harlequin is able to sell over 100 million units per year (the most profitable publishing company in the industry) is because every book is part of a series. There are no individual Harlequin titles, which brilliantly leaves the reader yearning for more from the characters they have literally become so intimate with. In this respect, Butterfly Swords concludes with a wide opening that screams sequel, but thankfully lacks the typical Harlequin-happy ending of matrimonial bliss.

One familiar with Chinese culture can't help but wonder, then, what kind of future Ai Li and Ryam actually have together: in reality, Ai Li would put on weight, cut her hair short and become a shrill nag; her parents and grandparents would all move into their cramped apartment, and a frustrated Ryam, now with beer-belly, would spend more and more time at card games and with karaoke parlor hostesses than at home.

But before the infuriating realties of interracial marriage set in, we hope Jeannie Lin has at least a few more of her trade-mark sword fights and steamy sensuality in store.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! the Easy Guide to Love and Money
Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! the Easy Guide to Love and Money
by Angela Wilde
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.16
19 used & new from CDN$ 5.04

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convenient A-Z pocket guide for Feng Shui beginners, Aug. 1 2010
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese belief dating back to 4000 BC that the laws of astronomy and geography can be applied aesthetically to improve the positive energy (qi) that surrounds our daily lives.

Feng shui is also big business. In Asia, feng shui consultants charge astronomical fees to corporations who retain them to advise on architectural design, building location, interior decorations and grand-opening dates. No matter how small, no business or shop in Eastern Asia would dare debut without having first consulted extensively with a feng shui practitioner.

Even on Amazon, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of books written by feng shui "experts" seeking to capitalize on the resurgence of middle-class trends co-opting feng shui. Ironically, one of the major themes of feng shui is in removing clutter, yet the endless piles of feng shui books that keep appearing on the literary market seems only to be contributing to the clutter.

Detractors, however, have branded feng shui everything from an "occult superstition" to "new-age psychobabble." After all (they say), how could something as banal as the position of your bed and the color of a candle have any relation to the safety and welfare of a human being? Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong took his revulsion of feng shui one step further during the 1970s by torturing and killing any Chinese citizen who dared follow this "old, evil ideology."

Irregardless of your beliefs, the fact is that it can't hurt - and could only help - your daily happiness and comfort by following at least the most basic principals of feng shui at your home and office. If, perchance, the southeast part of your house is truly the Wealth Sector, as feng shui suggests, then why would you not want to keep it spotless and free of clutter? If jars of coins around the house really do symbolize abundance and can attract wealth, then how hard would it be to fill some up with your old pocket change?

These and many more easy tips are the basis of Angela Wilde's new pocket-guide to feng shui, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The Easy Guide to Love and Money. I myself am personally dubious of any self-help book with the word "easy" in the title. But as I have lived in Asia for over half a decade, I figured I should at least explore the feng shui genre before outright dismissing it. While I have yet to report any results (positive or negative) as a result of following feng shui, I stand by my original premise - that it can't hurt and can only help.

As Wilde writes in the book's introduction, "Lots of people can't afford to have a complete Feng Shui consultation. They just want something that works, and fast." And this she offers with an efficiently-minimalist A-Z guide outlined in handy alphabetical layout. Curious about dried flowers ("Potpourri is definitely spiritually bad!")? Just flip to the D or F sections. Wondering what herbs are auspicious? Turn to H (page 54) for a complete list of herbs and their respective powers.

Coming in at a mere 90 pages, the book is small and convenient enough to flip through for reference during house-cleaning day, yet the information therein goes a long way. Did you know, for example, that by just boiling some cinnamon and basil together then adding that to a floor wash of nothing but salty water you will have instantly improved your wealth AND personal protection? Now that's profitable multi-tasking!

Wilde also offers her advice on speaking normal words in everyday life: "affirmations and even ordinary words should contain no negatives such as "no" or "not." Overlooking the fact that this sentence itself uses the word "no," it nonetheless is profoundly good advice and one I will attempt to incorporate in my day-to-day dealings.

For anyone interested in at least giving feng shui a precursory attempt before investing major time and money into revamping your lifestyle, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The Easy Guide to Love and Money is a good starting point. Beginners will appreciate Wilde's quick, A-Z reference layout and efficiently-brief prescriptions.

###

Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People

Page: 1 | 2