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Unsavory Elements Paperback – 28 Oct 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Earnshaw Books Limited (28 Oct 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9881616409
  • ISBN-13: 978-9881616401
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 1.9 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 790,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

An inveterate vagrant who flirts with pictures and words, Tom Carter spent 2 straight years backpacking a groundbreaking 35,000 miles across all 33 Chinese provinces, and was named "one of China's foremost explorers" by The World of Chinese magazine. His first book CHINA: Portrait of a People has been hailed as the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author. He is also the editor of Unsavory Elements, an anthology about foreign expats in China. Tom was born and raised in the City of San Francisco, graduated with a degree in Political Science from the American University in Washington, D.C. and has called China home since 2004.

Product Description

Review

"By turn funny, scary and insightful - every foreigner in China has a story, these are some of the best. Here we have the laowai experience in China in all its multifarious permutations. From the dedicated insiders to the seriously lost; from those who have sought to deep-dive China to those who've suffered glancing, but eye-opening, blows." Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking

About the Author

Tom Carter is a travel writer and photojournalist and the author of "China: Portrait of a People."

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Chris Thrall on 15 Mar 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book titled ‘Unsavory Elements’, wondering if it was on a similar theme to the TV series ‘Banged Up Abroad’. What I found was that the majority of the stories in this anthology are non-controversial, where more often than not the moral compasses of the contributors are tested by the East-West conundrum, the ‘Red’ tape of Chinese bureaucracy, and the customs, etiquette and mindset of a diverse and hospitable population.

That said, if you or someone you know have ever woken up in a hotel room to find a thief raking through your valuables and decided to tackle them (Peter Hessler), or as a first-time traveller to Asia checked out a go-go bar (Nury Vittachi) or more, then these lively additions to the book won’t shock you and you’ll appreciate the measured and well-intentioned way they are narrated.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the love, life and loss in cross-cultural relationships, the simple yet eye-opening thrill of being on the road and sampling the unusual yet tempting platters offered up by this enigmatic land. Pete Spurrier’s train-hopping along the Silk Road with only a few yuan in his pocket is an excellent example of classic storytelling at its best.

Simon Winchester capitalises on New China’s embracing of technology to exchange a breakdown in the Gobi desert for 5-star luxury. Dominic Stevenson turns the tables on the guards and avoids a brainwashing in a Shanghai prison. Kay Bratt unintentionally draws a crowd while shopping with the young Chinese orphan in her care. Susan Conley describes how relocating to Park Avenue in Beijing with her husband and two young boys is not quite the real estate its title initially suggests.
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Format: Paperback
Entranced by the sights of Tom Carter's much-heralded picture book "China Portrait of a People", I thought I'd give his collection of short stories a go. I haven't been to China yet, and based on what I've read in these dispatches I'm not sure I could even handle the cowboy life of an expatriate there. Some stories, such as Carter's bordello visit and Susie Gordon's karaoke cathouse, were a bit much for me. But I do not deny that prospective expatriates and adventure travelers will find within these 28 page-turning narratives every inspiration they'd ever need to make their way to China.
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This is a book that had to be written! A no-nonsense account of a relatively new breed of expats in a shrunken, yet thankfully still pleasantly diverse, modern China; a place where I sometimes felt like I was on another planet!
Having taught for a number of years in Asian and Latin American countries, I could easily relate to and appreciate the various experiences described in this book. I've always been a short-story fan and I liked the diversity of writers and their even more diverse experiences.
Pete Spurrier's "Stowaway" gave new meaning to adventure travel. I have travelled and been in tough situations, but none quite as precarious as his; and I always had my credit card to fall back on - he was flat broke with nowhere to turn. I remember slightly panicking on a mere 5-hour sea-bound train ride to Qingdao, and can't imagine the layers of consciousness one would go through on consecutive 20-hour rides traversing the whole of China. I may have to poach his idea of sleeping on random rooftops during my future travels.
Matt Muller's "Refrains from Wasterfur Scarcity" brought me back to my own experience as a foreign English teacher; it was as if he had written MY account in China! As soon as I read "play games, don't teach", I knew this was a story for me. His description of disinterested Chinese kids was so spot on it brought me right back into my giant concrete public school room, where I spent countless hours trying to entertain the little spoiled emperors.
Alan Paul's "East of Nowhere..." I liked how Alan kept it real by regularly taking his family out of their urban bubble to see a raw view of China. Moreover, Alan points out how uncertainty prevails in China as soon as you step outside your home.
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I read this book because I do business with Chinese importers/exporters for product manufacturers I represent and thought it would provide me with an entertaining and insightful look at present-day China through Western eyes.

Of particular interest to me were the "unsavory" business-themed stories: Matthew Polly's account of trying to negotiate with a slippery Henanese supplier had me laughing on the floor - so true! Michael Levy being asked by his Beijing employer to write his students' college entrance essays should not have surprised me - China is trying to surpass America by any means necessary. And Suzie Gordon's extravagant night out with big-spending Shanghai businessmen is one of the book's most eye-opening essays.

There were several travel and family stories that didn't hold my interest as much, though I expect tourists and expats will want to read those first. As I whole, recommended for anyone looking for a palatable, easily-digested orientation of modern China.
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