New memoir navigates rural China's social minefields

Thu Aug 4, 2011 10:16am EDT
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By Chelsea Emery

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Galvanized by the September 11 attacks on the United States, Michael Levy joined the Peace Corps and found himself on a plane for central China.

His misconceptions about Chinese people, and his vegetarianism, fell by the wayside as he labored to learn the local dialect and stay open-minded when asked to try unusual foods such as millipedes.

Levy also struggled to navigate the region's tricky politics, which affected every aspect of life from singing contests to basketball games.

In the new memoir, "Kosher Chinese", he explores the lighter side of his years in Guiyang, such as eating dog and fighting his way onto crowded buses. On a more serious note, he examines disturbing stereotypes and some reasons behind China's patriotism and national pride.

Now a history teacher in Brooklyn, Levy spoke with Reuters about being the only Jewish person in the province, some embarrassing language mistakes and what he learned about his assumed Chinese name.

Q: Why did you name your book Kosher Chinese?

A: "Boy, was that a process. The title is trying to express all the strange juxtapositions that I experienced -- a tall white guy in western China ... a Jewish guy in a place where they've only met missionary Christians ...

"The place these conversations took place was the dinner table. And often (these discussions centered around) food. So the title is about bringing all that together."   Continued...

<p>Author Michael Levy poses for a picture in Songpan City in Sichuan Province, in this handout picture taken in July 2006. REUTERS/Dylan Madenski/Handout</p>