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It's a great feeling to have your book signed by the author - especially one you've gotten to know as a friend. I treasure my signed copy of "Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin, but it was bought off eBay by my friend Andy for my birthday... and though I consider her my friend, she likely does not think of me as hers. Perhaps one day she will write to me with a heart too.
I first met Marc, Suzanne's husband, back in 2013 when we were both working at Axiom Zen. He told me that he had learned how to code in a small village in a remote county in China. It sounded awesome, though I wasn't really quite sure why he was there in the first place. As I now know, that is Marc's ancestral home, and he was there to help Suzanne do her research for this book.
At Suzanne's book reading, she talked about how she talked to migrants every single day, and painstakingly recorded each conversation in notebooks, in audio recordings, and in her daily diary. This book is a culmination of five years of labour. The last thing that took me five years was university, so I got a sense of how defining this book must be for her.
Me being excited at the book reading / signing:
Suzanne emphasized throughout her talk that although this was one small story of a young girl, Ye Pei, moving from Qingtian to Italy, her story is emblematic of the greater migrant story, regardless of origin or destination. Though I personally have not been in situations like Pei (maybe one day an old Italian man will pinch my butt) I am fortunate enough to be familiar with the cultural undertones of her actions. For example, I'm familiar with her and her family's pressures to save face, to be rich, and to honour their ancestors. The way people coalesce around the loosest familial ties as if they were long lost family members. The way people revere the foreign, yet desire the motherland.
The story was really enjoyable and I found myself wishing it was longer, which is always a good sign. Suzanne weaves humour, history, and hope together effortlessly, putting the reader into the shoes of Pei and others even though we come from different backgrounds.
One question I had was around how rich people actually were. The book mentions how many migrants who go to Europe are able to buy luxury cars and build multi-storey homes for those remaining in Qingtian. Then it talks about how migrants make 500-700 Euros a month each. Minus food, travel, and other essentials, I kept trying to figure out the math of how long these people had to save for before they could afford a $50,000 USD Mercedes Benz. I get the feeling that maybe there's a bell curve of migrants, of which the top standard deviation are the ones who became successful "Laoban's" and are actually able to buy the opulent luxuries that Suzanne describes. The middle group likely do ok, especially given the lower cost of living in rural China. Perhaps these people are well-off enough to employ labour to build a home, and bring back expensive bags. I wonder what the stats are around how rich these migrants really are compared to global averages. Or perhaps I wonder how much Mercedes Benz's cost in China.
It's unfortunate the only Taiwanese person mentioned in the book happened to be a stingy lady in Italy who would only help people if they paid her (damn you Shio Mien!). In any case, this is a worthwhile read for a story that isn't told often, by an author whom I know has many more amazing stories up her sleeve in the future.