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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: American Shaolin

I had a great time reading American Shaolin. At this point, the "New China" part of the title have been obsolete, and of course, when the book was written China's rise was already apparent which made the publishing of this book quite timely.

On the other hand, there's no question as to Matt Polly's achievements: how many people would drop out of Princeton, travel to China, learn Mandarin, and live at the Shaolin monastery for 2 years learning to be a bad-ass learning Kung-Fu? The parts of China that he visited then are quite different now, and everyone he knew has long moved away. But nevertheless, the books's well-written, the style transparent and enjoyable, and the Chinese language use accurate.

Polly, for instance, is surprisingly insightful about Taiwanese immigrants:
The truth was that John's father was like many successful Asian immigrants. He was educated, an engineer, so his move to America was a matter of choice, not desperation, and therefore represented the gamble of a lifetime, a bet that his and his family's life would be better in American than back in Taiwan. The problem for Taiwanese immigrants is that their birth-nation---perfectly positioned between huge consumer markets in the West, the technological savvy of Japan, and a huge pool of cheap labor in mainland China---refused to remain a backwater, which made keeping ahead of the Wangs that much more stressful. By the late eighties, Taiwanese doctors, engineers, and businessmen were waking up across America to discover that their second-rate classmates who had never been smart of ambitious enough to emigrate were now extremely rich VPs of sales at Taiwanese microchip firms. (Pg. 267)
 The book has sufficient number of such pithy insights combined with humorous situations for it to be a lot of fun to read. Better, it doesn't come across like a self-aggrandizing white guy's view of Asia, and has a mostly accurate view of Asia. That's pretty high praise, and good reason to read this book. Recommended.

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