45. Adulthood Nightmares: Getting a job

When you are in your 20s, you are constantly being bombarded with advise to take in how lucky you are for being young and carefree. From some angles, it’s true. It’s great to be young and burden-less. My current life is testimony to that. Being at the rip age of 24 means certain liberties, a worry-free lifestyle, and a distinct lack of crying and vomiting mini-me’s running around the house. I’ve been born into the first-world privilege of being a single child in a family with enough means to keep me buoyant through graduate school in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Don’t for a second think I take these for granted.

Nonetheless, I retain the right to throw a few darts at what I consider to be one of the worst possible rites of passage of adulthood in this first-world wonderland: job hunting.

You think school was tough? Job hunting will make you wish you were in school forever.

With the tanking of the economy came a sharp drop in employment opportunities and a great rise in unpaid, overworked internships. Now-a-days, even those are highly competitive and requiring years of work experience.

This means rolling your resume and cover letters (or CVs and cover notes as is pronounced in British) in more sugar and bullsh*t than ever, so much so that it seems physical impossible for those 2-3 pieces of paper to stand straight in all that glutinous weight.

But alas, it is a necessary part of ensuring your application gets at least a passing, bored glance from HR before it is hurled into the wormhole where your qualifications go to die, without even being dignified with a rejection email. You have to call up the employer yourself, just so they can shoot you down by saying some vague, unconstructive crap that they’ve pulled out of a hat.

And you go on to send out a few dozen more, never to be heard of or seen again.

On and on you tailor, tinker and toil, feeling more and more insignificant as you go.

Until that one day a few months down the road, when your confidence and ego has been reduced to the size of a grain of sand, then it’s time for your nervous break down. Just in time for Christmas.

Thank goodness you have the comforts of friends and ice cream to turn to. You stop the whole charade of endless email attachments and please-hire-me gimmicks. You spend quality time in the company of humans who appreciate you with all your shortcomings. You spend the holidays rediscovering the lightness and wonders of life again, by lying in bed with Netflix or listening to a recommended album. You gain a few pounds from all the necessary therapeutic chocolate and Ben & Jerry’s. You lose a few pounds from vigorous, impossible-to-maintain-levels of exercise and diet. You try out ballroom dancing, and decide that you are way too clumsy for such a fast-paced, on-your-toes-in-heels activity. You go out on a few dates. You take up yoga. You volunteer for your local animal shelter and open a flood of unconditional love and loyalty from those dogs abandoned by society. You heal. You rejuvenate. You slowly rebuild that essential self-confidence.

You are horrifyingly alarmed one morning at the ATM, to discover that your bank account is at an all-new low. You don’t want to ask for any more money from the parents because they are willing to dig into their retirement fund or sell a kidney to support you in your endeavours.

So inevitable, reluctantly, you wade back into the dark, bottomless job pool.

Miraculously, you discover that the new dose of confidence is enough to keep you afloat. Your friends are a constant reminder that you are not worthless, stupid, and unqualified to be a productive human being. You begin to understand that your CV and your cover letter are not your life. So, the silent rejections from HR should not to taken personally. They most definitely should not be taken as denouncements of your worth. Yes, be realistic. But also don’t underestimate yourself. Aim high, and don’t be so afraid of the uncontrollable.

Take it slow. Take it one day at a time. Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to take more creative risks with those cover notes. They are supposed to be a reflection of your personality, not another dull mechanical churn-out of qualifications and achievements. So make a statement. Be different. Be bold. Don’t let deadlines and inspiration slip pass you. Take breaks often and don’t be discouraged.

Like a romantic relationship, it takes time and there is one (several dozen actually) out there that’s right for you.

Happy hunting’ and keep those heads held high!

Book 20 and catharsis: Tiny Beautiful Things

Courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar

Author: Cheryl Strayed

Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography, self-help

Summary: (From the back cover)

“Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.”

Edition: Kindle

Eaten Thru On: September 7, 2014


Thoughts and more:

This is part review, part personal confession, which is a testimony to how powerfully healing and cathartic this book was.

The endless flow of troubles, worries, heartbreaks, woes from those letters made me understand this clearer than ever: everyone is living with their personal hell, everyone is dealing with their own demons. And Sugar is a blinking, imperfect, but ever-shining light in the midst of this deluge of dark waters. We have to have a light like that in our lives, whether it be a family member, a friend, a therapist, a pet, a book, or that undeniable strength in ourselves. This is how we smile and laugh through our messed up, crazy lives.

Perhaps it is because all the letters are from real people dealing with real problems. Perhaps it is because the stories are so raw and honest. Perhaps it is because they are all so human and therefore relatable in a soul-quenching manner. Whatever the reason, this book is poignant, intense, tear-inducing, and ultimately, cathartic.

Which is why, I can only take in two to three stories at most each time I open the book. After each story, I had to put it down and inhale deeply to calm the weeping and swallow the heaviness caught in my throat. I had to inhale all the humanity and healing and exhale all the tears and heart-wrenching empathy toward strangers whose horrors and behemoths are much greater, darker, scarier in comparison to my own. I was afraid I might break if I didn’t close the covers.

The finale few stories I read while sitting in the library. Its quietness, its public privacy was once sanctuary to me and my bibliophilic tendencies. But on that day, after each story, I had to pause, close my eyes and lift my head up. I was so afraid of what would happen otherwise. The silence was deafening. The presence of strangers was near unbearable.

I was fearful of the tears that would brim over. I was fearful of the heartache they would carry out of me, forcing their way into my conscious acknowledge of their existence. I was fearful of the monsters that strengthened with every drop out of my eyes. I was fearful of the overwhelming hope and gratitude and compassion and joy that rose out of me despite the trauma I had witnessed and experienced with my own family earlier that day. I was afraid to own up to the hope and serenity I felt I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly feel after something like that.

I should be heartbroken. I should be in pieces. I should be hopelessly sorrowful.

But I wasn’t.

Not completely.

A part of me was and always will be deeply hurt at the shattered illusions I had mounted against the dark, relentless waves of reality crashing at my feet. A part of me will always mourn for the naive, childlike, wide-eyed innocence that once filled my being. But those monsters don’t stop me from smiling when I see children running and playing without a care in the world. Those wounds don’t stop my heart from pumping blood that will inevitably spill out and make a mess of things. Those tragedies are and always will define me and remain part of my story, because they are a necessary, visceral part of identifying my happiness. They form the bluish-black messy backdrop on which my bliss and hopes stand out ever bolder. I’m not saying that I am a masochist who relish in the pain, but I realize that without one cannot be the other. Bolts of soul-cleansing catharsis usually result from episodes of harrowing pain and excruciating reality checks.

So I take a deep breath, release, and smile at all the tiny, beautiful things in my life.


Favourite Passages:

“Don’t chase joy at absolutely any cost.” -Forgot the page.

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.” – Page 351

“Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naive pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.” – Page 352


Final Verdict: 5/5 honey bees.

Recommended For: Everyone. Seriously, go pick this up. Try out just one or two stories if you are a skeptic or not into all this “gushy-mushy feely-touchy self-help” stuff.

Next Target: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book 18-19: Harry Potter.

Courtesy of Goodreads

Final Verdict: 5/5 horcruxes

Courtesy of Goodreads

Final Verdict: 5/5 finales

Thoughts:

With every word and every turn of a page, I was closer and closer toward the end. I was hurtling at the finale with no means or desire to slow down.

Nonetheless, I reluctantly pulled myself out of the pages and close it at the end of almost every chapter. I wanted to make it last as long as possible. I wanted to portion this magic so it can endure. I never wanted it to end.

The thing about books, good books, is that you never do. The ending comes all too rapidly. It is not unlike the feeling of playing your absolutely favourite video game for days on end, and then suddenly, just when you’ve completely convinced your mind of being in another fantastical, exciting world, just when you are comfortable in the shoes of whomever you are in this world, your mother unplugs the screen.

You are violently, sickeningly, heartbreakingly pulled out.

At least with that scenario, you can always restart and re-enter. The euphoria you experienced can be relit through a few buttons and electricity.

The worst part of it would be when the game ends.

Sure, you can revisit, replay from the beginning, but it’s never the same as the first time.

With a brilliant story, one that have stayed with you for as long as some series have lasted, its finale can be extremely turbulent and confounding.

For this reason, I have tried to made the last few chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows endure for as painfully long as possible. I am certain that most of you know what I mean, seeing as the majority of the world have read the series and wept when it ended. It is excruciating to unplug from that world, and it is even more crushing to have to do it voluntarily because you know that you’d rather feel that pain than the anguish you’d have to endure when that last page closes.

For me, there are no movies to wait for. The franchise is complete. So when I am done with the books, it’ll be like the train departing with the new generation of Hogwarts students. There may be fanfiction to turn to. There may be Hogwarts studios and wonderlands to visit, but the adventure that carried so many of you through your childhood and beyond have formally come to a close.

I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like.

I didn’t grow up with the Potter series. I was first introduced to its magic through the silver screen. But no matter when you start the adventure, those books contain enough magic to boggle the minds of all ages.

And I have been enchanted for the last two weeks.

Of course, I’m using Harry Potter as an example of the power of literature. It is after all, one of the most well-known series and has been credited with a surge in reading habits amongst children, teens, and adults.

I hope its magic lasts.

In the periods of my self-imposed isolation from the final book, I have been gathering. I have been building floodgates with books I want to read next. I was cushioning against the fallout. I was preparing myself for the immense sense of lost that will inevitable swarm my body and mind when those final words are read and gone.

I was slightly comforted in the knowledge that in a few years time, I would be able to restart this adventure and watch it work its magic on my future children.

Nonetheless, I was deeply dreading those final words and I was right in my dread.

I appeared less than human a few nights ago when I finished it. My eyes were decorated in rings of red, each angrier than the last. My whole face was rather bloated and tear-stained. I was curled into a tight fetus-position under the sheets, buried beneath the pillows and just sobbing my heart out.

It was not a pleasant prospect.

I was glad it was nearly 2am and my parents weren’t there to witness this transformation.

And now the healing begins. But first, I have to re-watch the movies.

44. Ten Doors

I thought I’d continue with the magical number 10.

I recently visited the Vancouver Art Gallery with my parents and although I’m not a fan of gift shops, I usually give them a chance before writing them off. Thank goodness I did because in the Art Gallery gift shop I discovered a wonderful book.

712 More Things To Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

Courtesy of Goodreads

If you haven’t deduced already, it’s a book with 712 writing prompts or ideas. The book has a simple layout, each prompt is short and is followed by space of different sizes for you to spill your ideas onto.

I’ve been working on one prompt a day, but I thought today’s idea deserves its own blog post.

“Write a list of your 10 favourite doors. Where do they lead?”

Doesn’t it sound so fun? The promise of an imagination run wild.

  1. Infinite Library. Dark wine-red oak double door. Heavy and vintage. This is not just a space that extends to infinity and beyond with all the books in the world and their many editions. It would be continuously updated with newly published goods. There are also exquisite arm chairs and couches so soft one can sink into it. It would be littered with nooks and crannies, lit up by fire places and quirky lamps. One spoken command would have the books whiz around from being organized by genre, to being organized by author, by title, by colour, by mood, by seasons, by location and by whatever else one’s mind can come up with. Make sure you have all the time in the world before entering, because time will be left behind at the door. You will no ticking of the internal mechanism of clocks. Your life will not be reduced to counting minutes and hours because it will be too busy living the many, many lives between those covers.

  2. Best of Autumn. Amber gold door. Light and airy with a large oval window. The door would open up to a narrow forest road, flanked on each side and all around by the most vibrant and varied colours of the Autumn season. The light, cool breeze of fall would run its fingers through the rustling leaves, pulling many from its branches and into a pile so irresistibly crunchy and soft, you are beckoned to dive into it. The murmurs of animals gathering supplies for their oncoming winter hibernation would lull you to sleep as you sit beneath a giant oak, filling your lungs with the fresh, crisp chill, a book lying forgotten at your side. Remember to wrap yourself in your favourite sweater and scarf before coming here. Perhaps bring a cup of tea with you if you so desire.

  3. Canine Wonderland. Sweet honey door with a large pet door at the foot of it. Turn the handle, and the sound of joyful barking and of paws on wood would greet you and overwhelm you. This is before you are tackled to the floor by creatures of unbearably furry bodies and wet, cold noses. There are dogs of almost every shape, size and breed here. You will notice that many of them bore physical scars of the torture that is so undeserving of them. A three-legged doberman pinscher, a marred-faced Boston Terrier, a golden retrieve with patches of furless-ness, a beagle with wheels, they are all here. The ones that are abandoned and unloved. The ones that have been through horrors and yet retain the remarkable ability to trust again completely. This is the room to come to when you feel jaded and unappreciated. This is the room to come to when you are drowning in pain and loneliness. This is the room to come to when you have so much love in your heart it is spilling over the rims. This is the room to come to when your inner child needs to be released. Just make sure you don’t have an allergy and have a roller ready when you exit.

  4. Cloudy with a chance of Rain. Sky blue door with nearly translucent white curtains on the other side. Think of Berndnaut Smilde’s cloud room when you try to imagine what this looks like. The floor is covered in clouds, so is the impossibly high ceiling. You are drifting between layers of clouds, and not the kind that has no shape and basically blankets the sky. No, I am talking about the cumulus ones, with domes of various heights and bulginess. On most days, you walk in and they are white and fluffy. But sometimes, they turn a harmless shade of grey and produce drizzle. These occasion for red rain boots, yellow rain coat, and a lovely dance under the droplets. On rare occasions, there would be a rainstorm in one part of the room, and you can drag in a chair, sit and watch the show. Just make sure you are closer to the door than the angry clouds are, in case they float over with their shower.

  5. Room of Requirements. Heavy harvest oak with intricate vines of black iron over it. Anyone who has read Harry Potter knows exactly why this room is so enchanting. Every time you open that door, it presents something different, something to your needs. My conscience tells me this is a bit of a cheat, so if I had to pick, it would definitely be the Room of Hidden Objects, pre-fire.

  6. Chocolate Factory. The candy land that of Charlie. Who wouldn’t want access to all the sweets in the world or rather a world that’s completely edible? There’s a chocolate lake for crying out loud. Of course, it’d be rather dangerous for my health and weight if this portal existed. But we are in the space of imaginations where anything can happen, including gorging on desserts day in and day out without it adding up on the scale.

  7. Parallel Universe. A mirror that ripples like water when you step in. Stepping through you arrive in a room exactly like your own. Except all the colours are reversed and the sky is red instead of blue. The West is the East and South is North. The ocean is land and land the ocean. We live underwater instead of on land. Children run the world, and adults are potty-trained. Men advocate for maleism while females cat-call and whistle at them in the streets. Teachers are celebrities and Hollywood is their heaven. US is an autocracy while China fights for democracy. Our troubles would be all solved, while our peace and happiness becomes troubled. What a world this would be. You should tread with extreme caution and alertness.

  8. Fairy Land. Double mahogany closet-like doors with wisps of fairy dust leaking through the corners. Unicorns, phoenixes, two-headed dragons, mermaids, hippogriffs, giants, pocka-dotted pink giraffes, the Chesire Cat and Mad Hatter, all the magical creatures of the human imagination, lives here, harmoniously in a vast and wondrous land. Wander and lose yourself like Alice through the looking glass. It is a zoo up in here! There’s lots to do and great many creatures to see.

  9. Under the Sea Glass door, with the depth of the ocean peering through. Remember those underwater tunnels at every aquarium. Like that, but with the actual ocean at your viewing disposal. Like a titanium-strong bubble that can keep out the killer pressure and supply O2, it floats through the seven seas so every time you step inside, you are in a different part of the world’s watery depth. They say we know more about the surface of the moon than the depths of our oceans. Well, now you’ve got your very own transparent blob to explore and sing “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming” while you’re at it.

  10. Love. Long strips of chest oak with an upside down Chinese “Fu” (Bliss/Happiness) taped to the upper centre. This space contains all the people whom I cannot live without. Foremost, my mother and father. Then my grandparents, my closest friends, my future children and family, and all the people whose paths I have yet to cross and walk along side on. Even after some of them have long gone, I can open this door and see them again, hold their hands, converse with them, sit with them, live out all the regretful times that I didn’t spend with them in real life.

I am sure there will be many, many posts to come out of this amazing book, which is why I’ve started a new series on this blog. I haven’t figured out a name for it but I’m certain it’ll come to me in some odd moment between being awaken and falling asleep. So for now, it’ll be under the “712 Folio” category.

It feels so good to exercise the imagination on a daily basis like this.

Give it a shot!

Happy writing.

Book 17: The Silver Linings Playbook

Courtesy of Goodreads

Title: The Silver Linings Playbook

Author: Matthew Quick

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mental Illness

Summary: What the back cover says

“Meet Pat. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure a happy ending for him — the return of his estranged wife Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent time in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being hunted by Kenny G!

In this enchanting novel, Matthew Quick takes us inside Pat’s mind, showing us the world from his distorted yet endearing perspective”

Edition: Sarah Crichton Books, Paperback, 289 Pages

Eaten Thru On: 12:15am August 27, 2014


Thoughts:

This felt like a grown-up version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I absolutely relished the experience, as short as it was (since I tore through it like I did The Perks). It was an easy and enjoyable read. The vocabulary was simple but don’t let that fool you into thinking its content is as well. There were times I was taken aback by the sudden drop into the dark depths of a mind plagued by ghosts and suppressed memories.

I loved having that first-person narrative. Pat sounding like a 10-year-old most of the time, his obsession with Nikki, his repetition of his nice-vs-right mantra, his incomprehension over tragic endings, his sensitivity over jokes about pills and mental illnesses, his hurt over not being trusted, these all created a very human image of what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

I adored Tiffany, but maybe that’s because I broke one of my cardinal rules of not watching the movie before reading the book. Plus, even if I didn’t do that, the cover kind of ruins it all by having half of Jennifer Lawrence’s face on it. I am huge JLaw fan so I might be very biased toward Tiffanny because I have JLaw in my mind every time the character comes up in the book. Or perhaps, the story of her past in that letter she wrote was the only point in the book that triggered tears.

I re-watched the movie after finishing this book. I understand they made it a much more feel-good version than what was in the book, but my goodness do I like the movie version of Pat’s dad way better. I didn’t like the book version of him one bit. I hated the emotional abuse he put the mother through. I hated the way he treated Pat. I hated the Eagles because of him. I just genuinely did not like him as a person. There were no redeeming qualities about the man, not even the emotions at the wedding or the sports newspaper on the stairs could save him from my strong dislike. But I was also frustrated with the mom for not standing up for herself. Yes, she tried, but she also crumbled faster than a wall of sand. Cliff, on the other hand, I loved as well as the 50 Indians of the Asian Invasion. Jake, Scott, and even the fat men, they were fantastic.

Ultimately, I just really liked the human light Quick shed on mental illness. He didn’t make it the focal point. He didn’t let it overwhelm the story. He didn’t fill it with tragedy so you would pity the characters. It was a story about a guy, and his family and friends, and a girl. Quick made Pat and Tiffany quirky and strange in some ways and their lives ordinarily extraordinary. It’s a heartwarming, funny, sailor-mouthed story with honest emotions and silver linings.


Favourite Passages:

“Because he has never been married and he has never lost someone like Nikki and he is not trying to improve his life at all, because he doesn’t even feel the war that goes on in my chest every single f*cking day–the chemical explosions that light up my skull like the Fourth of July and the awful needs and impulses” Page 109

“You look like a retarded snake! you are supposed to crawl with your arms–not slither and wiggle or whatever the f*ck you are doing down there.” Page 192

 

” “Why can’t I just wear a shirt?”

“Does the sun wear a shirt?”

The sun does not wear yellow tights either, but I do not say so.” Page 198

 

“The possibility of miracles happening keeps a lot of people moving forward.” Page 234


Final Verdict: 4/5 silver linings

Recommended For: anyone who enjoyed The Perks, the movie, anyone who wants a nice, quick read.

Next Target: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

 

43. Ten Books

A wonderful friend of mine tagged me on Facebook to list ten books that have become a part of me. I have never done tags before, and now I can say that I have.

Although the one rule to this tag is to not put too much thought into it and just list the books that comes to mind, I found it rather difficult not to at least give it a good ten minutes. These are, after all, the books that have influenced my perception, my outlook on life, and changed the creatures that inhabit my world. However, I promise, Miranda, I only spent ten minutes on it…

And realized how woefully under-read I am.

I did splurge a lot more minutes on the format and composition of my response, but can you blame me? I bow to the power of lists! As per usual, all photos are courtesy of the fantastical inventory of Goodreads.

So here they are, the ten life-changers in no particular order of magnitude of presence:

1. 1984 by George Orwell. (The one that got me hooked on the genre of dystopia)

 

2. Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang

3. And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

5. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. (A friend sent me this when I was having severe doubts and worries about going to China. This has been read and re-read ever since and every time, it has brought me comfort in a foreign place when I felt dangerously lonely and lost)

6. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. (First book I ever read in English)

7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

8. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

9. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran (I cannot begin to tell you the great impact these short stories have had on me. My heart still violently aches and breaks for these women and the many, many more whose stories never made it to the published world. Plus, this book was a gift from my mother, making it that much more special.)

10. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Now! Who are my ten victims? Only Facebook can tell.

Book 16: Factory Girls

Courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Factory Girls, From Village to City in a Changing China

Author: Leslie T. Chang

Genre: Non-fiction, China, History, Biography, Sociology

Summary: What Goodreads say

“An eye-opening and previously untold story, Factory Girls is the first look into the everyday lives of the migrant factory population in China.

China has 130 million migrant workers—the largest migration in human history. In Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for theWall Street Journal in Beijing, tells the story of these workers primarily through the lives of two young women, whom she follows over the course of three years as they attempt to rise from the assembly lines of Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Pearl River Delta.

As she tracks their lives, Chang paints a never-before-seen picture of migrant life—a world where nearly everyone is under thirty; where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a mobile phone; where a few computer or English lessons can catapult you into a completely different social class. Chang takes us inside a sneaker factory so large that it has its own hospital, movie theater, and fire department; to posh karaoke bars that are fronts for prostitution; to makeshift English classes where students shave their heads in monklike devotion and sit day after day in front of machines watching English words flash by; and back to a farming village for the Chinese New Year, revealing the poverty and idleness of rural life that drive young girls to leave home in the first place. Throughout this riveting portrait, Chang also interweaves the story of her own family’s migrations, within China and to the West, providing historical and personal frames of reference for her investigation.

A book of global significance that provides new insight into China,Factory Girls demonstrates how the mass movement from rural villages to cities is remaking individual lives and transforming Chinese society, much as immigration to America’s shores remade our own country a century ago.”

Edition: Spiegel & Grau , 2009 Paperback, 431 Pages

Eaten Thru: August 24, 2014


Thoughts:

There is something great in such a human story. I study international relations and I’ve studied China for a few years now. I know what all the numbers and statistics say about that country. I’ve lived there and witnessed it firsthand. But it’s one thing to say that it is home to the biggest human migration in history and something completely different once you get down to the individual level, which is so often bypassed, especially in a country that champions collectivism and the power of the masses (ironic in light of its autocratic political system), and puts little to no value on the individual.

Chang puts on the pages honest stories, no spin, no heavy political leanings, and no detail too small to record. I very much enjoyed her interweaving her own family history into the mix. It brings home just how personal and intimate this book is. All the cultural nuances and personal anecdotes, it made me shake my head and chuckle, laugh out loud at times. Ultimately they chased away the loneliness I sometimes harbour around some of my own strange beliefs and values that do not fit with the environment and culture I live in.

I am a million miles away from these migrant girls in the book, physically and financially. I never had to toil one day in my whole life in a factory, on an assembly line, or live in a 8-person dorm room. By all appearances, I shouldn’t relate to their realities. But I do, very much so. I was so taken by Chunming and Min and all the girls that were scattered across those 400 pages. I sympathized with their struggles, their migration, and their rural roots. But above all, I empathized with their stories, their worries that are so painfully Chinese at times, their girlish quirks, their dreams of love and marriage, their despair and their hopes. It was all so deeply human.

If you think there is nothing for you in this book, if you have absolutely zero interest in China, all the more reason to pick it up and at least give the first few pages a shot. It may be a book about rural migrant women in the megacities of China, every aspect of which might be a million miles away from where you are and where you’ve been in life, but when you make that connection to these girls, when you begin to empathize, it makes it all the more transforming. Our ability to imagine and to empathize, and our capacity for compassion and understanding, how extraordinarily human! No matter how different our circumstances, our cultures, our lives, our worlds are, there is always that one factor which intertwines us all and makes all of our stories connect.


Favourite Passages:

“The stories of migrant women shared certain features. The arrival in the city was blurry and confused and often involved being tricked in some way…it was easy to lose yourself in the factory, where there were hundreds of girls with identical backgrounds: born in the village, badly educated, and poor. You had to believe that you mattered even though you were one among millions.” Page 55

Square and Round was a perversion of an American self-help book. It did not urge people to discover themselves, or to be honest about their failings and in their relationships. It did not try to change its readers. Instead it taught them how to do better what they already knew so well: pettiness, materialism, envy, competition, flattery, and subterfuge…Square and Round was essentially a point-by-point rejection of the virtues Chinese tradition had preached for two thousand years.” Page 196-198

“He preferred to talk about them in parts: their eyeballs, their hands, their brains. But people as a whole did not make sense to him. They were inefficient…people basically didn’t work–it was as if their creator had used first-rate parts but then botched the assembly.” Page 264

“As people entered the main concourse, they instinctively broke into a run: being Chinese has conditioned them to know that there will never be enough of anything.” Page 275

“Nobody on earth generates trash faster than the traveling Chinese.”

“On that last winter night, when armed men boarded his train and stabbed him with bayonets, all that learning and effort was rendered useless. It had been the crudest type of force: against such weapons, a man’s idealism meant nothing.” Page 382.


Final Verdict: 4/5

Recommended For: Anyone who likes a human story and of course, anyone with an interest in the intricacies of the transformation that is taking China by storm.

Next Target: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick