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Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China Paperback – July 1, 2013
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"Excellent. Concise and truthful." --South China Morning Post
"Although other anthologies have featured outstanding journalism about China by Western writers, Carter's collection is the first to focus on the wide-ranging experiences of foreigners living in China." --China Daily
"The authors, mostly experienced writers who have traveled widely in China, offer tales beyond those of the usual laowai experience." --Shanghai Daily
"The majority of stories are individual gems and an enjoyably diverse range of issues are found in the book." --Time Out Hong Kong
"The moral of this collection appears to be that though almost everything has changed, one basic thing - the allure of China to a certain kind of Westerner - remains curiously consistent." --Taipei Times
"Funny, poignant, and wry...the outcome is a depth and variety about the expat experience and life in China that is almost unsurpassed." --Asian Review of Books
"Fast-moving romps through a rapidly-changing changing society." --Caixin
"An eminently dip-into-able, informative and enjoyable collection." --That's Shanghai
"One might be tempted to classify it as a travel book of sorts; what is being traversed and recollected throughout is not the lay of the land, but rather, the contours of confusion, excitement and isolation that every China expat has, at one point, had to clamber across and conquer." --The Beijinger
"A surprisingly refreshing, instead of rehashing, collection of essays, written by professionals, instead of amateurs...at times hilarious, at times beautiful, but always relatable..." --China.Org
"(Editor) Tom Carter has pulled together an impressive cast of writers, established and amateur alike." --Beijing Cream
"If there is an overarching message to take from the book, it is that holy !@#$ China changes quickly." --Shanghaiist
"The vignettes lead the reader through a variety of emotions; some will tug at your heartstrings, others will leave you chuckling in understanding, and a few will really make you think." --Shanghai City Weekend
"Presents a more realistic China." --Li Jihong for Shanghai Review of Books
"As a Chinese writer with a certain cynicism, I did not expect to find anything truly surprising. But surprised I was, and my own stereotypical presumptions stand corrected." --Xujun Eberlein for Los Angeles Review of Books
"The result is a highly readable, often humorous, and at times brilliant book that is unerringly direct: the authors gathered together here do not shy away from troublesome issues." --Asian Correspondent
"The title dis-serves them...the range, humor and insights in this book place it among the best of its kind." --Asia Sentinel
“By turns funny, scary and insightful—every foreigner in China has a story, these are some of the best. Here we have the laowai experience in China in all its multifarious permutations. From the dedicated insiders to the seriously lost; from those who have sought to deep-dive China to those who’ve suffered glancing, but eye-opening, blows.” —Paul French, author, Midnight in Peking
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Top Customer Reviews
What we have here instead is, alas, a much more banal take on "unsavory elements": "the communist propaganda machine" use of the phrase (as Carter first recalled it) to describe anyone of questionable, less than revolutionary morals. Foreigners - formerly "foreign devils" - are by definition unsavory; their mere presence in the Middle Kingdom unsavory. It is not possible to be a foreigner in China and not simultaneously bumbling, gauche, vulgar and unsavory. Thus any random collection of non-fiction stories of foreign devils wandering around or working and living in China will do. The 28 contributors represent quite a spread, scattered about the country in pretty much all walks of life, but what cannot be said about them (with a few exceptions) is that they are unsavory.Read more ›
But the title almost misleads because not all of the authors come off as unsavory elements--most are there to learn and not to judge. Only a few of the stories in this collection were written by expatiates suffering from some form of sinophobia.
I also value books that teach and I think that many of the stories in "Unsavory Elements" did that refreshingly well.
For a few examples, first there was Paying Tuition by Matthew Polly who wrote: "One of the first things I had learned during my stay was that the Chinese love to negotiate. They love it so much that even after an agreement is reached, they'll often reopen negotiations just so they can do it all over again."
I have visited China many times and--unlike most Westerners--I enjoy negotiating, but I didn't know about the reopening gambit. Next time, I may want to give that a try and extend the fun.
In Communal Parenting by Aminta Arrington, I learned that the "Chinese have a fundamentally different relationship with their history than we Westerners. History is a subject we study in schools," and that history is not connected to who we are.
"Not so for the Chinese," Arrington writes. "History here [in China] is not book knowledge. Rather, their history is carried along with them as they walk along the way, an unseen burden, an invisible shadow; unconscious, and therefore, powerful.Read more ›
In the past few years I've tended to shy away from reading books about China, especially books written by foreigners. A lot of what expats write seems generic, insensitive, or just plain annoying. I tried to approach this book with an open mind. I'm glad I did.
While not all the stories are flawless and there may even be a few I admittedly didn't like, there were others that struck a cord with me. After living in China this long, most of these stories weren't shocking, but they still managed to leave an impression on me. In fact, I felt many of the stories were too short and I wanted to read more. Be warned, these tales tend to portray a darker side of China, sometimes in obvious ways and in others less so.
If you are interested in China or the reality of living as an expat, I think you'll definitely find something you'll enjoy here.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very enjoyable read of the many varied experiences by ex-pats living in China.Published 2 months ago by George H. Petrin
I love travel essays and I love China, so purchasing this book of essays by Chinese expats and long term travelers was a no-brainer. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Andi Miller
I'm not finished reading this, but it has not reached my excited expectations. I spent time in China, too, a long time ago - just a few years after the Cultural Revolution. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Mae Sky
I enjoyed reading this book. I have spent over five years living in the dongbei region of China. Most of these stories I experienced myself or knew someone who knew someone who... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
From crazy to cynical to innocent..this book is not really about China. It's about the odd slice of humanity that calls China their home away from home.Published 19 months ago by Ann Beckley-Forest
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book titled ‘Unsavory Elements’, wondering if it was on a similar theme to the TV series ‘Banged Up Abroad’. Read morePublished on March 15, 2014 by Chris Thrall
This book is great on many levels.
1. The variety of authors is just huge. I count no less than 28 different authors. Read more
I’m a newbie female expat in China (6 months and counting!) and was glad to have the kindle version of this book on hand during my “culture shock stage”, which served as a... Read morePublished on March 6, 2014 by Helena