"Like all voyages worth taking, Gillian Kendall’s odyssey across the Pacific is also a journey into the human heart. What a skillful navigator she is, never losing sight of her true destination." —Sy Safransky, Editor, The Sun
"Mr. Ding's Chicken Feet is one of those rare memoirs that's both vividly nostalgic and utterly hilarious. A former Navy English teacher, author Gillian Kendall's flawless sense of comic pacing makes a book about life on the Tan Suo Zhe—a Chinese seismic vessel—teaching men to speak English as a foreign language so much more engrossing than one can imagine from the title (a reference to the crew's culinary delights). Affectionate and witty, Mr. Dings is a must read for armchair travelers and lit lovers alike. "—Diane Anderson-Minshall, executive editor, Curve Magazine
There's a lot of potential in the story of a young American woman hired onto a Chinese vessel to teach the sailors English as they cross the Pacific, and Kendall, a freelance writer who lives in Australia, hits it from time to time in this swift and eventful memoir of her weeks at sea as "Teach-ah." The setting is ripe for misunderstandings, loneliness, bonding and self-reflection. As her students' English improves and Kendall's Chinese and "Chinglish" develops, she befriends some of the men on board, attempts to sort out a series of cultural faux pas and thinks about her doomed relationship with her boyfriend back home. She hints at the deeper issues that influence her, most especially her nascent homosexuality, but only with glancing strokes that leave much unexplored and the relationship between the reader and writer stymied. The fun, however, is in the stories of the daily navigation of tight quarters, cultural collisions and storms and the cigarettes, sweets and chicken feet that get them all through the long days and nights of sea and sky. (Oct. 3) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kendall (coauthor, How I Became a Human Being) begins her travel memoir with an English major's dilemma: finding work in her chosen field. She ends up teaching English aboard a Chinese engineering ship sailing from Shanghai to Texas, the only woman and one of three English speakers aboard a ship that is an alien world unto itself. Her fast-moving tale begins with airport horror stories that would give even the most seasoned traveler palpitations. We then find her jetlagged in Shanghai and exploring the city while waiting to embark on her six weeks at sea. The writing is descriptive and crisp; of particular note are the descriptions of the food served throughout the journey. Kendall's days of gendered and linguistic isolation give her time to reflect on culture, nature, and what she needs and expects from her life. When the ship finally docks, one has the impression it had been at sea much longer than a mere six weeks. Kendall's writing makes this travel memoir a rollicking and quick read. Perhaps it will inspire more English majors to seek such an adventure. Recommended for all libraries with travel and women's studies collections. Lisa N. Johnston, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Myopic memoir about a few months on a ship. Kendall, a broke grad student, was thrilled when she landed a high-paying summer job teaching English to Chinese men sailing to Texas to work for an oil company. She describes her lovable students, recounts their amusing though predictable gaffes (there was some confusion about the words "penis" and "peanuts") and explains how she fended off boredom with exercise and the occasional Garrison Keillor tape. Onboard, Kendall had much time to reassess her life. She was contemplating leaving Houston and enrolling in a different graduate program, in Iowa. She was also reassessing her relationship with Martin, the stateside boyfriend she spoke with once a week via satellite phone. Kendall looked forward to these five-minute conversations, but wondered: Did she want Martin to come with her to Iowa? Why didn't she fantasize about weddings and marriage, as most of her friends seemed to? Why did she instead sometimes daydream about women? Near the end of her trip, when Martin announced his decision to accompany her to the Hawkeye state, Kendall felt a despair she couldn't explain. Though the author drops hints about past flings with women, and dissatisfaction with her love life is a theme from the start, the story simply ends with Martin picking up Kendall at port. The technical shortcomings here are as evident as the thematic ones. Images, metaphors and analogies are trite (a bad premonition feels like "a brick had been thrown into my stomach"), and the prose is lackluster. Ultimately, the author fails to situate her summer adventures within the larger framework of China's opening up its economy and the mixed benefits of globalization. Terrifically banal,despite the unusual setting.