Kosher Chi­nese: Liv­ing, Teach­ing, and Eat­ing with Chi­na’s Oth­er Billion

  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

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.

Read Michael Levy’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Jews and Chi­nese Food

What Chi­nese Peo­ple Think about Jews

Just Like Com­rade Karl Marx

Discussion Questions