Mr. Ding’s Chicken Feet: On a Slow Boat from Shanghai to Texas

by Gillian Kendall

mr ding

English graduate student Kendall was low on funds when she spotted a help-wanted ad at her university: “English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher Needed. Salary – Generous.” Intrigued, as well as needing the money, she answered the ad and soon found herself accompanying a cruise from Shanghai to Galveston, Texas, teaching ESL en route to Chinese seamen, ship’s officers, and mechanical engineers. The lone woman among all the Y chromosomes, and one of the two non-Chinese.

Quite an interesting travelogue, as I don’t imagine many people doing what she did (or not least writing about it), and I was a bit surprised at how well the job paid. No wonder there are so many classrooms on the sea cruises around.

I find a certain kindred spirit in the author, who stoutly refused to throw garbage overboard, a treehugger like me. I also learned a few tricks about teaching. What is amazing is that she managed to magically make all those chain-smoking, greasy, sweaty and probably swearing seamen sound downright adorable, you almost want to date one!

While this is technically a travelogue, as the author moved from point A to point B, there wasn’t much to record as scenery, in the middle of a vast ocean. The focus turns to little things in life, such as the joy of watching the dolphins, and her interaction with the crew. Those small moments manage to sustain the book, making the journey more interesting and pleasurable than it was likely in reality.

As the book leaves it rather open ended, for those curious about how her relationship w her boyfriend goes… from what I gather from her website, she has a female partner now. I am curious what those Chinese seaman will think of it?

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Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment