Friday, March 06, 2009

Days Like Floating Water: A Story of Modern China


When learning about China from the news media, we tend to only hear negative information about the Chinese Government and its practices. The bits of information we receive tend to be political in nature. We never learn about the life of Chinese citizens. In her book, ‘Days Like Floating Water,’ author Susan Edwards McKee tells a true story about her experience volunteering as an English instructor in rural China.

After years of an exciting military life, Susan and her husband Robert decided that retirement does not mean that life is no longer an adventure. In February 1999, they leave the comforts of their home in San Luis Obispo, California and go to China to volunteer at the Zheijiang Rural Teacher’s College. Susan and Robert’s initial reaction was that of culture shock. Unable to speak Mandarin and faced with unsanitary housing conditions and food that could possibly make them quite ill, they decide to put their uncertainties aside and become immersed in the culture As Susan states,

“I may be assigned to teach here in China, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn, maybe much more than I can teach.”

This realization became the foundation of Susan and Robert’s year and a half long exploration of the Chinese culture.

The story Susan shares is one of embracing a culture without reservation or judgment. As the students congregate at Susan and Robert’s apartment, they capture their hearts. A surprising revelation is the student’s adoption of English names. Readers will meet Jenny, a liaison to foreign volunteers. Jenny is an independent woman who knows how to get things done. Then there is Lucy, a shy but bright student who develops a passion for the keyboard. King Lake and Barbara are two young sweethearts who dream of a life filled with love and happiness. Readers will discover King Lake’s anxieties about being accepted by Barbara’s family. Readers will not only gain an insight into the customs of the Chinese people, but also their personal lives. The belief that education is the most important tool to success is such a major part of a young student’s life that it causes intense anxiety resulting in stomach aches and even cheating.

Throughout the story, many myths about the Chinese people are dispelled. Readers will learn of the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and that equality does not exist in Communist China. Through emotional and uplifting experiences, Susan comes to her own personal realizations:

“I honor the human spirit when it rises above poverty and connects with others and with what’s most important in a life well lived”

The descriptions and attention to detail makes the reader feel as though they are traveling with Susan and Robert. As a bonus, readers will learn of the changes and growth of this little agricultural community when Susan and Robert return seven years later to attend Lucy’s wedding. Readers will also enjoy the many pictures of the people and places peppered throughout the book. As well, there are a number of Susan’s paintings at the end of the book highlighting personal memories of a time well spent in China.

‘Days Like Floating Water’ gives an in-depth and personal account of a community filled with remarkable individuals. It is highly recommended to readers who enjoy learning about other cultures and people.

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