A long time ago in a nearby land I published a book about my year teaching in China. It was recently reviewed on Book Shine and Read Bows.
Title: As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder
Author: Martha Kennedy
Publisher: Free Magic Show Publications
Blurb: As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder is a love story…. My position as a Foreign Expert in English was my first real teaching job in a career that spanned more than thirty years. I could never have imagined China would be a destination in my life, but it was. And at such a moment in history! Chairman Mao had been dead only six years. The evil Gang of Four had been “tried” only the year before. The horrors of the Cultural Revolution were still close in everyone’s memory, and people feared that the post-Mao moment of comparative freedom was a random blip. Deng Xiao Ping was determined that China would modernize and enter the world as a competitor. Every single penny of foreign exchange that came to China was used to buy technology to further China’s modernization. I was one of those “bits of technology,” too.
Propelled by a consuming wanderlust, I took my ignorance and inexperience with me, and ended up receiving some of life’s great gifts. My students’ diligence, curiosity and courage inspired me, and, in turn, I inspired them. The bridge between our cultures was a shared love of poetry and beautiful language. As for China? China was the great love of my life.
Review: This memoir, of Martha Kennedy’s time as an English teacher in China, has rightly been described as a love letter to China – the place, the culture, the people.
Martha is the epitome of an innocent abroad, living her dreams and almost naively oblivious to the political concerns and dangers that surround, but luckily never seem to touch, her. Her insight into such things is provided by her older (and wiser) narrative voice, as she shares her memories – complete with letter extracts and photo slides – and puts them into retrospective context for the reader. Any discomforts or inconveniences that Martha does recollect are therefore now viewed through meihua-tinted glasses, and were brushed off at the time with the enthusiasm of a woman keen to embrace every aspect of the experiences offered.
There is no chronological story here – the anecdotes jump around the timeline as fancy (and photo prompts) take the author, and the author also carefully restricts herself to only discussing events and situations within her own personal experiences, which does leave some anecdotes unfinished and some questions unanswered, but gives the reader total confidence that she refrains from straying into speculation for the sake of tidying the story… real life is messy and we don’t always find out what happens next!
Fondly affectionate and spanning almost every aspect of China at the time – language, learning styles, history, religion, poetry, food, chores, housing, tourism – this book gives a wonderful snapshot of a moment in time-and-place, through the eyes of an amateur but extremely enthusiastic sinophile.