When Mike Levy’s two-year Peace Corps assignment lands him a position teaching English at Guizhou University, located in the city of Guiyang, far from China’s Westernized coast, he has to learn a lot fast about adapting to a new culture.
As a Jew in China, Mike is something of a novelty. New acquaintances immediately associate him with Karl Marx and Einstein, and his students start the Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club to spend time with him and learn about Western culture— traditional Shabbat observance not required. He befriends his students and learns their opinions on the competing pulls in their lives, especially love versus career and Communist ideals versus Western influence. The friendship he fosters with three young sisters who are Bouyei, one of China’s little-mentioned ethnic minorities, and his insight into the discrimination they face, make up a touching segment.
Levy recounts with humor and sensitivity to cultural difference some of the difficulties that come with being a foreigner in China. A bus ride forces him to consider whether what defines animal abuse is culturally relative, and a basketball game reveals the extent to which guanxi (personal connections) determine who gets ahead.
In a short but necessary Epilogue, Levy describes his return to Guiyang in 2010 and acknowledges how much has changed, even in this slow-to-evolve region of China, and speculates about future developments. An entertaining read for those curious about China or the teach abroad experience, told from an accessible and humorous outsider perspective.