Meanwhile Don't Push and Squeeze: A year of life in China is the account of South African poet Robert Berold's year in Hangzhou, China teaching English. It's a delightful book for so many reasons not least of which is Berold's attitude to the whole experience. Before arriving he already had an awe for the culture, literature (in particular poetry), and the beautiful calligraphy of the country. This love brought about an intrinsic respect for the culture that echoes through all parts of the book. In many instances the heat and polluted air and the constant crowds weighed on him, but he never became the 'disgruntled expat'. His wide-eyed interest in the country comes through on every page. It nearly had me wanting to rush off to China myself, even with my pathological hatred of crowds, so that is indeed saying something.
He travelled quite a bit while he was in China. In one part he visits a student's farmer family. The house he stayed in astounded him as it was so dilapidated that it had no walls and it was winter, but yet the overwhelming hospitality of his Chinese hosts was humbling. This was the case throughout his travels.
I loved the whole of this book, but the best parts for me were the bits of writing he included from his students at the university. It gives the reader such insight into their lives and the lives of the people they interact with. There was a lovely assignment where they had to interview someone they didn't know. This produced windows into the lives of typical Chinese. The immense pressure they are under to work, often separated from their families far away. Their commitment to the success of their children, especially their fear they won't do well in school and get into good universities. The students' writing in many places is so beautiful in its honesty and simplicity one is shocked that they are writing in a second language, one so very different from their first.
Of course a book about China would not be complete without the crazy translations found on signs and labels and these gave me more than a few giggles. The title itself comes from a sign board at a tourist attraction.