Isham Cook has been based in China since 1994, more than twenty years. Writing with the perspective of an American expatriate who has lived in East Asia that long offers readers a view from someone on the ground, and I think that Cook does not disappoint.
The topics of his 15 essay range, for instance, from China’s Great Firewall, the complexity and meaning of Chinese “face”, music, China’s education system to the aversive racism of the term “yellow fever”—something that I’ve also been accused of. Cook goes into detail of why men are attracted to specific women of any race, and I think he is right.
And for his essay on The Chinese University, I Hi-Lited: “The problem with the Chinese university is not the people, it is the system in control, which paralyzes, demotivates and demoralizes.”
The reason why I Hi-Lited that one phrase while reading the book was because it described what is happening in the United States. Since 2001 and President G. W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, and then President Obama’s attempt to seize control of America’s public schools with the so-called Common Core State Standards and the high stakes test meant to rank teachers, fire them and close public schools, that quote describes what is happening in the U.S.
You have been gone too long, Isham. The U.S is under attack by a flock of oligarchs and autocrats that might even shock or impress the Chinese Communist Party because of their tactics to mislead and fool as many people as possible in the U.S. In fact, while China is struggling to lift as many of its people out of poverty as possible, what’s going on in the U.S. is increasing poverty at a frightening pace, especially among children.
Anyway, Isham Cook delves deep into many topics about China, it’s culture and people based on his own experiences living there and interacting with the Chinese. He discusses the bad and the good and doesn’t spare the United States either, and I think that is a good thing because far too many ignorant Americans think the U.S. can do no wrong.
My own interaction with the Chinese pales in comparison. My wife is Chinese, her family is Chinese—mostly born and raised in China during the Mao era—and I’ve been to China nine or 10 times but never lived or worked there, and my last trip was in 2008 when the air pollution in Shanghai contributed to a sinus and respiratory infection that sent me flying home several weeks earlier than planned to recover.
I recommend At The Teahouse Cafe for anyone who wants to get a serious, intellectual dose of the real China from an American who has lived and worked there as long as Isham Cook has. This book should open your eyes as long as your thinking isn’t a closed, dead-end street.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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