Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
How I Lost My Kidney in China is an eye-opening memoir by Randall Flores.
The year is 1987. We join a hopeful, starry-eyed, yet naive American named Randall (usually called “Thunder” or “Mr. Thunder”) as he faces a new life as a business associate in China. What a culture shock it is!
Randall is a fish out of water, adapting to a new culture, new (and often exotic) foods, and a seeming widespread obsession with alcoholic drinks.
This book has a lot of bright and interesting spots, particularly the points above. Some of the new experiences, foods, and drinks that Randall tries are the most compelling parts of the book.
As an example, here are some of the new, exotic, and/or bizarre foods he encounters in China or the East Asian region: bull penis, monkey, dog, hairy crabs, sea cucumbers, eels, live and drunk shrimp, sandworm/sandworm jelly, and more. This is often shocking but, like a car crash, you can't help but watch and be fascinated to some extent.
Now, comes a point (around 300 or so pages in) when we found ourselves a little bored by the monotonous repetition of certain things. For example, Randall constantly finds himself in a bar or in a restaurant drinking, especially an alcoholic drink called “baijiu.” He drinks to be sociable. He drinks for business purposes. He drinks for pleasure. He drinks because there's nothing better to do but drink. He drinks because the water goes bad (becoming infested with cockroaches in the pipe) or is turned off. He always has a good or bad excuse to drink. Sometimes he has no excuse at all and it just happens out of habit or obligation.
It becomes routine, occurring in a cycle.
Now, Randall isn't the only one who drinks. In fact, drinking is a socially-accepted and even celebrated activity throughout China in the late-80s/early-90s. Even the youth drink! People freely drink and drive on a daily basis!
Now, when we first saw the title of this book, we immediately jumped to a conclusion that this was going to be a book about the reported Chinese organ harvesting, which is often highlighted by practitioners of Falon Gong or by the Taiwanese. Indeed, Randall does have experience in Taiwan and with the Taiwanese. Indeed, the threat of organ harvesting does loom over this entire book, but that's far from the story that we expected to read.
There are a few red herrings to explain why Randall would eventually lose his kidney. First, there's his alcoholism. Second, there are the exotic and questionable foods he eats. Third, there are sanitary issues like with the aforementioned cockroach water. Fourth, there's the threat of Chinese organ harvesting. Fifth, there are the constant outbreaks and epidemics that break out in China including SARS, avian (bird) flu, and swine flu. Sixth, he is constantly susceptible to getting into a car accident due to his drunkedness and that of others. There's also the fact that Randall shows signs and symptoms of possibly having cancer. So, we're constantly on edge and on our toes, wondering what might cost Randall his organ.
This book actually takes us into the 2000s. 9/11 happens and is briefly brought up on a TV broadcast. The swine and avian viruses take their toll as well. Perhaps most notably is the fading away of Communist China into embracing more capitalist ideals, promoting more free business including the ones that Randall takes part in. So, this almost becomes a book about the transition between old and new China in the 20th century.
Adding some humor to this book, Randall informs us of some of the “Rules” of surviving in China. Some of these can be applicable to any American or western traveler. They are things like “Don't buy groceries after drinking” and “Look out for forgeries.”
There's more humor to be found such as when Randall ponders the idea that some people are still referred to as “Little” (like “Little Thunder”) even when they're 40+ years old because of being the youngest of their siblings. He also notices that the Chinese love to get into loud arguments, but don't get into physical fights. He also comes across “naked zombies”--people who are so high on drugs that they wander the street mindlessly. Hilariously, they are ignored by the townsfolk who instead turn their attention to Randall, the strange white foreigner.
Check it out on Amazon!