First up, a confession: I cried in the first chapter of this book. With its precise summary of the crazy world of parenting, travelling and relationships, the honesty and humour of this family’s story is so touching.
When journalist Katrina Beikoff and her partner decided to uproot their family and head to China for a year, they had no idea what to expect. Fun? Pollution? Career opportunities? Giant rodents?
And certainly, their knowledge of the details of life in Shanghai left a lot to be desired. But, armed with their children and crossed fingers, they took a leap of faith and headed overseas.
Pretty soon, their questions were answered and they began the battle of finding their way through day-to-day life.
New food, language barriers, nannies, healthcare, smog, a foreign climate and confusing job expectations all became challenges – not to mention toddler-wrangling amongst it all. Beikoff’s stories of trying to find a kindergarten that didn’t expect her three-year-old daughter to attend forty hours a week are funny, but so sad at the same time. Her tales of the differences between working for an Australian newspaper and a Chinese equivalent are intriguing.
Beikoff also describes events and situations specific to the time she and her family were in China: health scares, the Olympic Games, financial crisis, and the one child policy included.
She also describes that sometime challenge of mothering: finding the joy in the daily chaos, this time in a foreign and chaotic situation. Reading about how she came to terms with her children learning Chinese habits – both good and bad – is interesting, as is the detail of the many ways in which she broke rules of face.
Finally, having to make the decision to move back home to Australia, a decision that was tougher than expected, draws from Beikoff a moving reflection of their time in Shanghai. With the children having become part of the city, with them as a family having to rely on each other and become closer, and experiencing their home city as a foreign destination – this true story draws to a conclusion all too soon.
Throughout the book, Beikoff’s anecdotes are always interesting, humourous and clever, showing the differences in culture in so many ways. And for those of us who may never do something like move to China for a year, it is an eye-opener to a different world.
Oh, and I cried at the last chapter too.
Title: No Chopsticks Required
Author: Katrina Beikoff
Publisher: Finch Publishing
Publication Date: January 2011