Thursday, October 2, 2008
Then We Came to the End
I went home for the holidays last year, seeking to retire away from China for a couple of weeks, recuperate, see the folks, and most importantly, pick up foreign crap I can't find in Dalian.
Books were pretty high on the list.
This town is great, but until Echo Books and Cafe opened recently, there weren't a whole lot of options for avid readers. The foreign language bookstore stocks every Agatha Christie story ever, but not a whole lot of recent literary fiction.
Which is why I was struck dumb when, last week, I found Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.
Time magazine rated it the second-best fiction book from last year. It was a National Book Award finalist. It earns comparison to Catch-22, another wicked fun novel.
Then We Came to the End is all about a bunch of employees at a failing ad agency in Chicago, who pry into each others' personal lives, try to hide their abject boredom and lack of things to do, and bitch and moan about their miserable lives they refuse to change. It's clever, funny as hell, dark and twisted. It's also the perfect reminder of why it's great to teach English in China.
For all the problems and irritations that arise naturally from spending significant time in a foreign culture and from spending significant time with children, it's all way better than these characters' lives.
I used to work in an office back in Newfoundland where I had about ten minutes of work to stretch over eight-and-a-half hours every day. Sure, I'd chat online, send e-mails, read the news, make trips to the coffee machine to fill myself up so I'd make trips to the bathroom later. I learned how to bend paper clips into remarkably strong projectiles. I hatched a plan to solve the world's energy crisis by harnessing the kinetic potential of giant paper clips. Eventually, I bought a toy gun that shot plastic pigs at my coworkers, who didn't even notice. Finally, I started reading the entire contents of Gutenberg.org and taking an hour-long nap every afternoon, in plain view of my bosses. No one cared. It sounds way more fun than it actually was – it was the most boring six months of my life.
Teaching ESL may not be a dream job: it's no scuba diving instructor, or hands-off investment billionaire, or candy-bar heir, or space pirate. But it beats the hell out of that old lifestyle.
There was one copy of Then We Came to the End left at the Foreign Language Bookstore. Someone go buy it, especially if you're starting to think maybe living back in the West is a better idea.