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Chicken Feathers & Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan Kindle Edition
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The author, Chun Yu Wang, takes inside these sweatshops. The stories she tells range from heart warming to heart breaking. Leaving behind a young son and ill-matched husband, Wang moves to Saipan at age 25, to earn more than she could possibly in China. She soon finds her enmeshed in the hierarchical culture of garment factories. New girls rank lowest, behind experienced workers, line monitors, big bosses, and of course, factory owners. Their friendships and mutual support help these hardworking women as they endure exploitative bosses, lose money in investment and immigration scams, and live in miserable dormitories, eating barely edible food. Wang's voice comes through clearly in this book, which is one of its strengths. Her frequent use of translated Cheng yu (4 word Chinese sayings that have an incredible depth of meaning) add color to the story. Indeed, the title of the book is one of these Cheng yu that means something worthless.
This personal narrative is amazing not just for the revealing view of life in clothing sweat shops, but the insight Wang gives on her co-workers, bosses, and other people associated with the garment industry.
From the girl living two blocks away to someone on the other side of the world, the lives we lead are so different from one another that it often makes
for a compelling tale.
Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin is the diary of a Chinese garment factory worker living in Saipan. Chun Yu Wang goes there to make money for her family, leaving behind a husband she doesn’t love and a 2-year-old child.
The book was translated from Mandarin to English, so I am sure there were a number of things that could have been lost in translation, but one of my favorite parts were all the Chinese idioms Wang revealed throughout the book.
Her story is intriguing as she explains living in a barracks filled with bugs and rats, sharing a room with eight other women, dealing with natural disasters such as a tsunami and a typhoon. If she got out of work late, she would have to wait on line to take a shower that could sometimes take hours to filter through.
The garment factory wasn’t what she expected with corruption and favoritism rampant no matter where she worked, and the bosses trying to do everything to prevent women from going to the hospital when they were ill. However, she dealt with it because she needed the money, but it seemed she also needed to feel as though she had control of her life. While living in China she married for the wrong reasons and felt she couldn’t leave. But in Saipan, she could be whomever she wanted.
Despite being called a diary, it seemed as though her feelings were still just on the surface, which is what prevented me from giving this book five stars. This didn’t read as a diary one would write for themselves with depth of feelings that you couldn’t tell others, but as though she knew someone would eventually read it, and she didn’t want to reveal the full scope of her emotions including her failures in and outside of the factory.
It is still well worth the read with a glimpse into another world, another life.
**Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy. **
Though I was assigned to read this book for a course on gender studies and globalization I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their worldview or have a strong opinion on sweatshops. This book gives insight into both the negative and positive aspects of factory work, exposing it for what it is – or what it was for Chun Yu and to some extent the people she encountered. I would also recommend this book for use in courses on globalization, as either required or supplemental reading. It provides good information to help understand how living in a global world is affecting people outside of the Western bubble in which we live.
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