Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What to Expect While You’re Expating: A Reading List

While I was preparing for my Chinese Adventure in the States, I longed for a What to Expect When You’re Expecting like book that would tell me what to expect and how to behave while in China.  I figured if I had nuggets of expat wisdom, I would survive my time over here with a little grace. 

Now that I have lived over here for a while, I have come to the conclusion that there is no book that could ever include everything that one needs to know before living in China.  However, there are some good books out there that will give you at least a little idea as to how to enjoy your time abroad.

Book #1

When I first arrived in Shanghai, Chris hit the ground running with his new position and I had two months to explore my new city.  Many weekdays, I would throw this book in my bag and go.  I like this book because it is portable, informative, and succinct.  It has become my Shanghai to do list and a welcome gift for all international visitors who crash with us.   (I actually put checkmarks by everything I see.)  If you are moving to a location other than Shanghai, I highly recommend finding a small travel book similar to the Frommer’s book and making it your destination bucket list.  It helps to know what to see when you are getting to know your new surroundings.  (Even if many of the locations listed are touristy.)

Book #2

Our Chinese teacher in America, Jie, gave me this book as part of our “cultural awareness” training.  If you are looking for a textbook like read on how to integrate in Chinese culture, this is the book for you.  It gives much information in a very businesslike manner without personal anecdotes. It is great if you want the straightforward scoop without personal insights.

Book #3

If you are moving to or doing business with China, and love picture books this is the book for you.  I picked it up in the Shanghai Pudong airport and read it on Chris’ birthday trip to Beijing.  Much to Chris’ chagrin, I kept saying, “Oh now I get it” the entire flight.  I especially loved these gems. 

The author does have a tendency to over stereotype, so I would advise taking some of the illustrations with a grain of salt. 

Book #4

The author of this book, Lisa Carducci, is the wife of an Italian Ambassador who has successfully integrated into a variety of cultures.  If you are looking for a combination of advice on how to happily integrate into the Chinese culture and grandmotherly wisdom, this is the book for you.  (While reading it, I felt like I was having a conversation with my former boss and my grandmother, both of whom are Italian-American.)  I especially love the author’s explanations on why elderly Chinese folks love going out in pajamas and her commentary about Chinese youth on busses. 

Book #5

Imagine traveling through China for three months with an old college friend.  That is Lost on Planet China.   The author of this book backpacked through China to try to “Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation”.  J. Maarten Troost does not claim to be an expert on China, but he does an amazing job of describing his impressions of the country.  I picked up this book in the airport, put it down for a year, picked it up again and could not stop reading.  He does a beautiful job of combining Chinese history and humor.  He is unfiltered with his thoughts.  (I am actually surprised I was able to purchase the book in China.  Some of his observations slipped passed the censors.) 

Book #6

Photo source:
If you are looking for a hilarious account of a Midwesterner’s time in China, Ni Howdy is the book for you.  The author gives a fantastic account of her tenure in Chengdu.    I especially enjoyed her tales of rats in her Chinese hospital bathroom and teaching at the university level.

Current and former expats, what books are/were indispensable to you?  Please feel free to share below!

More tales soon!