The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

China — just TV, fantasy

When I was an expat in Japan, I enjoyed going to talks at various expat clubs. It made me feel more in touch with thinkers and trends from my former world.

Sometimes, however, this “old reality” dose can highlight just how displaced you are.

Nancy Lewis, who teaches English in Shanghai, furnishes a brilliant example of this in a March 9 post on her blog, Wandering Solo, about a book talk hosted by Shanghai Dolls Book Club. The speaker was Emma Donoghue, an Irish writer who lives in Canada. Her most recent novel, Room, was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize. It tells the story of a woman who is trapped in a close, sustained relationship with her captor-rapist from the point of view of the five-year-old child, Jack, who is the offspring of their union. Jack has lived in the 11-by-11-foot room of the title with his mother since the day he was born.

Donoghue acknowledges that she was inspired to write the book by the Elisabeth Fritzle case.

Lewis enjoyed Donoghue’s talk so much — she found her “warm and engaging, with a great sense of humor” — that she went home and downloaded the book on her Kindle, spending the rest of the evening engrossed in the story.

What’s more, Lewis concluded that the boy’s view — he sees everything inside the Room as real, and everything outside as TV, fantasy — has something in common with how she views her own life in Shanghai:

When I’m at home, I’m alone in my 10-foot by 10-foot bedroom, reading or studying or chatting with friends on Skype. When I’m at work, I’m surrounded by Westerners – people like me. (Since we’re writing English language learning materials, we’re all native speakers of English.)

My contact with Chinese life is short & intermittent – the morning commute on the subway, a 10-second conversation with a shop keeper, giving directions to the taxi driver. …

Every once in a while, I have to remind myself that I live in China. China! CHINA?! How did that happen? It’s not an altogether real part of my life. My job is real, my room is real, my Western friends are real. But China? China is just TV. Fantasy.


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One response to “China — just TV, fantasy

  1. Kym Hamer March 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Aah…I have the same feeling when I walk across Waterloo Bridge here in London – look one way and I see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye, look the other and there’s the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and ‘The Gherkin’ night it’s particularly special but that moment of disbelief…that little ol’ me just packed up everything and moved to the other side of the world over 7 years ago…never goes away.

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