Home Is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China

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Overview

When all-American Aminta Arrington moves from suburban Georgia to a small town in China, she doesn't go alone. Her army husband and three young children, including an adopted Chinese daughter, uproot themselves too. Aminta hopes to understand the country with its long civilization, ancient philosophy, and complex language. She is also determined that her daughter Grace, born in China, regain some of the culture she lost when the Arringtons brought her to America as a baby.

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Home Is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China

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Overview

When all-American Aminta Arrington moves from suburban Georgia to a small town in China, she doesn't go alone. Her army husband and three young children, including an adopted Chinese daughter, uproot themselves too. Aminta hopes to understand the country with its long civilization, ancient philosophy, and complex language. She is also determined that her daughter Grace, born in China, regain some of the culture she lost when the Arringtons brought her to America as a baby.

In the university town of Tai'an, a small city where pigs' hooves are available at the local supermarket, donkeys share the road with cars, and the warm-hearted locals welcome this strange looking foreign family, the Arringtons settle in . . . but not at first. Aminta teaches at the university, not realizing she is countering the propaganda the students had memorized for years. Her creative, independent (and loud) American children chafe in their classrooms, the first rung in society's effort to ensure conformity. The family is bewildered by the seemingly endless cultural differences they face, but they find their way. With humor and unexpectedly moving moments, Aminta's story is appealingly reminiscent of Reading Lolita in Tehran. It will rivet anyone who is thinking of adopting a child, or anyone who is already familiar with the experience. An everywoman with courage and acute cultural perspective, Aminta recounts this transformative quest with a freshness that will delight anyone looking for an original, accessible point of view on the new China.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
American teacher Arrington (editor, Saving Grandmother’s Face) nicely demystifies the Chinese language for English speakers in this down-to-earth memoir chronicling her family’s stint in the Chinese province of Shandong on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. Moving to the edge of Tai’an, a university town at the base of Mount Tai, south of Beijing, Arrington and her career Army husband had finagled jobs as English teachers at the Taishan Medical College, located in a gray, polluted backwater where they were issued an exceedingly small apartment for their five-person (three-child) household. In fact, their middle, kindergarten-age daughter, Grace, was adopted from China, initially prompting the author’s interest in learning Chinese. Arrington’s subsequent straightforward lessons in very basic and key concepts proves a fascinating entrée into the Chinese mindset, for example, terms such as population (she stimulated an uneasy discussion in class about the skewed male-female ratio resulting from China’s one-child policy); the dreaded exam, dictated by the one and only one textbook; and the notion of God, which was rendered as “the emperor above.” Arrington was frankly shocked in the rural province by the rudimentary “squatties,” lack of heating, and unenlightened view about women’s leadership abilities (one proverb ran: “Hair long, worldview short”), though she was ultimately charmed by the decent, good-hearted folk and the romantic, practical ramifications of home rendered in the Chinese character as a roof over a pig. Agent, Alexis Hurley, InkWell Management. (July)
Library Journal
When her husband retired from the U.S. military, Arrington (editor, Saving Grandmother's Face: And Other Tales from Christian Teachers in China) followed her dream of moving to China with her family. Her memoir includes the typical scenes of Americans trying to learn a new language and adapt to the customs of an unfamiliar land, but it is unique in other ways—for example, in Arrington and her husband's adoption of a Chinese daughter before their move. The book covers the family's first two years in China, with their three young children in elementary school and Arrington and her husband teaching at a Chinese college. Each chapter is arranged around a specific Chinese word that articulates the theme of that chapter, as the family experiences culture shock, settles in, and comes to love their new home with its rich history and difficult language, and as Arrington comes to appreciate the sense of freedom living in China has given her. VERDICT A delightful tale of an American family trying to find the real China. Readers of travel literature and those interested in Chinese culture and history will find this an entertaining read.—Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
A miltary wife turned ESL instructor's sharp-eyed account of how the adoption of a Chinese baby girl led to her family's life-changing decision to live and work in rural China. Soon after Arrington adopted her Chinese-born daughter Grace in 2004, "something began to nag at [her]." She knew that she would be giving the child a family and opportunities that would be unavailable in China, but at the same time, she would also be taking away an essential part of Grace's identity. Consequently, she and her retired military husband decided to become ESL teachers and move their family to China. "Grace's adoption gave a Chinese heritage to our whole family," she writes. In 2006, they traveled to the city of Tai'an in rural China, where they took jobs at a small medical college. Assimilation did not come easily: Not only were they Westerners, but they were also a "three-child family in a one-child world." Arrington became fascinated by her adopted country and its contradictions, but many aspects of its culture, including the authoritarianism and disparaging attitudes toward women, disheartened her. What especially troubled her as a teacher was the way the students, whose minds she had hoped to change, clung to parochial ideas and practices, especially regarding matters of education and politics. Gradually, however, she realized that the freedom she so cherished as an American was an abstract concept that paled in comparison to "real things like family and security" for the Chinese. Arrington neither romanticizes nor demonizes Chinese culture, and she learned to love it despite its limitations. Candid and heartfelt.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590208991
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 7/5/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Aminta Arrington has an M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins University School of advanced International Studies and studied at Waseda University in Tokyo. She has written about China for The Seattle Times, and she edited the anthology Saving Grandmother's Face: and Other Tales from Christian Teachers in China. Arrington continues to live and work in China with her family.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 &Chinese Character; Gate 11

Chapter 2 &Chinese Character; Home 21

Chapter 3 &Chinese Character; Teach 32

Chapter 4 &Chinese Character; Population 41

Chapter 5 &Chinese Character; Learn 53

Chapter 6 &Chinese Character; The Exam 65

Chapter 7 &Chinese Character; Winter 75

Chapter 8 &Chinese Character; Mountains, Water 86

Chapter 9 &Chinese Character; Foreign 94

Chapter 10 &Chinese Character; Independence 104

Chapter 11 &Chinese Character; Mount Tai 110

Chapter 12 &Chinese Character; Words 116

Chapter 13 &Chinese Character; God 123

Chapter 14 &Chinese Character; Countryside 131

Chapter 15 &Chinese Character; Return 141

Chapter 16 &Chinese Character; Familiar 147

Chapter 17 &Chinese Character; Same 153

Chapter 18 &Chinese Character; Tired 160

Chapter 19 &Chinese Character; Contradiction 168

Chapter 20 &Chinese Character; Identity 181

Chapter 21 &Chinese Character; Cold 190

Chapter 22 &Chinese Character; Christmas 199

Chapter 23 &Chinese Character; Unique 205

Chapter 24 &Chinese Character; The Kitchen God 211

Chapter 25 &Chinese Character; Silk 221

Chapter 26 &Chinese Character; Hong Kong 232

Chapter 27 &Chinese Character; Egg 241

Chapter 28 &Chinese Character; Language 250

Chapter 29 &Chinese Character; The West 259

Chapter 30 &Chinese Character; Woman 270

Chapter 31 &Chinese Character; Sports 278

Chapter 32 &Chinese Character; Freedom 288

Chapter 33 &Chinese Character; Relationships 302

Epilogue 311

A Note on Sources 315

Acknowledgments 317

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Customer Reviews

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