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

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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, bo 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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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, bo 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.

30 review for Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China

  1. 5 out of 5

    guiltlessreader

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Originally posted on my blog Guiltless Reading My two cents: Wonderful memoir! I really enjoyed it -- it's a mixture travelogue, family diary and history lesson. Arrington's strong point is the charming way in which she recounts her experiences. It's personal, it's funny, and at times heartbreaking. If you like to travel, it's extremely interesting to view China from another's eyes. And I learned quite a bit about Chinese culture, history, and the educational system. Aminta Arrington is an Americ Originally posted on my blog Guiltless Reading My two cents: Wonderful memoir! I really enjoyed it -- it's a mixture travelogue, family diary and history lesson. Arrington's strong point is the charming way in which she recounts her experiences. It's personal, it's funny, and at times heartbreaking. If you like to travel, it's extremely interesting to view China from another's eyes. And I learned quite a bit about Chinese culture, history, and the educational system. Aminta Arrington is an American who has always been fascinated with China. When her husband, Chris, retires from the army, they decide to live out her dream of living in China. Having adopted a Chinese baby girl, Grace, is the other reason for their move. They want Grace to identify not only with her Western upbringing, but also her roots. They pack up their family and take the leap into an unknown culture ... and have a grand (if rather culturally shocking) adventure until years later, they eventually become accepted in the small university town of Tai'an where Aminta finds a teaching post. One major device that Arrington used throughout the book, and in fact the title of the book is derived from the Chinese symbol for home, and each chapter has an equivalent in Chinese script. I came away with a better appreciation and understanding of how unwittingly the pictorial representation of the words gives us a glimpse of ancient Chinese life. She likewise injects her own observations or opinions, giving us a bit more depth of how she interprets the meaning behind these words. For example, the word "population" is pictured literally as "people mouths" and knowing that China is a over a billion strong, Arrington explains: "... they austerely, yet uniquely express the challenge China has long faced: a large population means more mouths to feed."(p. 41). The book focuses on a Western experience in China -- from university town, to a rural countryside, to a modern metropolis. It was interesting to read a Western viewpoint when I come from a very Asian viewpoint.The culture shock they experience is where I could totally relate to. (I am an immigrant to Canada from Asia) -- the shock of unfamiliarity of everything, the language barrier, and the agony of learning how to do even the simplest of things (like buying something, or taking public transport). I found the "second culture shock" they experience when they go back to the US and return as fascinating -- it's the first time I have ever heard of it. This book is also as much about family life and rearing kids in an alien culture. I had a few moments of quiet heartbreak as she recounts how they learn of Grace's origins. I laughed a little as they struggled to make sense of themselves as a family within a strange country. I cheered on the kids as they became more proficient in the local language and made friends. I turned sober as I see the desire of Aminta and Chris to retain their American-ess while embracing some of the China that they had so desired for Grace and for themselves as a family. And I smiled when a small gesture of Mr. Jia, their super, reveals to Aminta that they are finally accepted as part of the little community. There are many other diversions. Some interesting points that I appreciated were the pressures that Chinese students face in a China that is fast modernizing, the peek into how steeped in tradition China still is, and finally the subtle commentary about the one-child policy which has resulted in a generation of girls being adopted by other countries. The book is a rich source for many potentially controversial discussions. Uh-ohs: Arrington seems to be quite open to the cultural differences she experiences. Obviously, this has a strongly Western-centric viewpoint of the world but hey, it's a memoir, and being biased is the stuff that memoirs are made of. I admit that I am both intrigued and wary about these books as the "holier than thou" attitude of many Western writers writing about Asia always seems to revolve around them. (Think Eat Pray Love.) I flag this as an "uh-oh" because someone coming from the opposite perspective may do a few eye rolls at the obvious, or find offense in her blatant and unapologetic American-ness. Right off the bat, I was slightly irked by her continual whining about wanting to experience the "real China"... how romanticized a phrase is that? She talks about "modern China" (a China opening to the West and its influences) and she talks about "traditional China" (rural China as if they were two separate things and if one were real and the other less real. But isn't the real China just China ... modern and traditional all rolled into one? I was also a little annoyed with how she -- whether knowingly or not -- seemed to be foisting her opinions on her students. I tsk-tsked a bit when she got worked up about the idea her students not understanding the concept of independence, individuality and individual freedom. Cultural relativism of what is considered right and wrong is an emotionally laden topic; I applaud her for her honesty because it has also made me more conscious of my own stereotypes and my own cultural lens. One thing that I thought was missing in the book: photos. I wanted to know what her little hole in the wall looked like, the descriptions of the beautiful mountains and the countryside. If you want to take a peek, she put up a few photos on her website, so go check them out if you're as curious as me. *** Verdict: A charming and fascinating look into China and Chinese culture in this travelogue memoir. Definitely worth the read! ------ Wonderful memoir! I really enjoyed it - mixture travelogue, diary and history lesson. Floundering between 4 & 5 stars. Definitely worth the read! Full review coming soon. ------ Please visit my blog Guiltless Reading for more reviews!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Luanne

    One of the best books on comparing/contrasting Chinese vs Western cultures. The icing on the cake, the author is a very talented writer whose perspective is that of a mother/wife who moves to China with her husband and 3 small children, one of whom was born in China and adopted into the family.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan Snider

    Interesting view on language acquisition and cultural differences. Made me think.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cate

    When I was in middle school my father called from half-way across the country where he commuted for work to tell me, my mother, and younger sister that we had the opportunity to move to the other side of the world. We all enthusiastically agreed to this adventure and learned that we had ten days in which to pack up our entire lives and arrive in New Zealand. Since my experience living there, I have loved traveling and feel an immediate bond with other Americans who have had the same experience o When I was in middle school my father called from half-way across the country where he commuted for work to tell me, my mother, and younger sister that we had the opportunity to move to the other side of the world. We all enthusiastically agreed to this adventure and learned that we had ten days in which to pack up our entire lives and arrive in New Zealand. Since my experience living there, I have loved traveling and feel an immediate bond with other Americans who have had the same experience of making a foreign land home. I was excited to be sent a copy of Aminta Arrington’s “Home is a Roof Over a Pig” through the Goodreads First Reads program (which came with a lovely note from the author). I was immediately drawn into Arrington’s narrative by her wonderful story telling style. I felt an affinity in motherhood from the very beginning when she explained that she had given both of her daughters French middle names as I have done for both of mine. I also felt our commonality as lovers of other cultures, and reveled in her beautiful, vivid descriptions of China complemented by the wonderful theme of Chinese characters defining each chapter. As a student and admirer of languages, I was enchanted by the descriptions of the symbolic meanings drawn into each Chinese character. This book is a beautiful exploration of Chinese culture through the symbols of Chinese language, showing how both are inextricably linked. Arrington and her husband make the decision to move to China to teach English at a medical university in order to create kinship between their family and China where they adopted their younger daughter. She charmingly describes learning to navigate public transportation, haggling for price at markets, constantly being stared at and followed as the “foreigners”, and trying to not simply live as ex-pats, but truly become a part of the life in China. I delighted in her comparisons of the ever-changing English language and the practically ageless Chinese, illustrated by the ease in which a modern reader of Chinese is able to easily read a poem in this language though written around the same time as Beowulf, whereas very few modern English speakers could even guess at the Old English in which Beowulf was written. Perhaps it is a reflection of my personality, but my favorite story behind the symbols within a word was the “spear-shield” meaning contradiction, which derives from a 2,000 year old story about a man attempting to sell both his spear and shield marketing the first as so strong it can pierce any shield and the second as so strong that it could never be pierced by any spear. I don’t know if it is the charm of language characters based on stories, the word itself, or my love of Chinese weaponry developed after more than a decade of practicing and teaching Tai Chi Chuan. Her descriptions of China and its people are as rich and beautiful as the calligraphy that she explores. She describes their life in Tai’an, the beauty of Guilin, their experience climbing Mount Tai (the foremost of the 5 Sacred Mountains), their visits to modernized Shanghai, staying among China’s wealthiest class in westernized Hong Kong, and finally the long anticipated visit by her family to Fuzhou where her adopted daughter had been given up and thereby came into their lives and family. Part travelogue, part memoir, part linguistic exploration, this book explores China with a Westerner’s eyes and a lover’s heart. It tells of a country, a family, an adventure-- but most of all relationships, “guanxi”. A word which, Arrington explains, is a combination of the symbols for gateway and silk. She has definitely shown the amazing way in which her family entered into China and were bound up and interwoven into the lives of the people they meet. I highly recommend this read!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    Home is a Roof Over a Pig is a fantastic read for the armchair cultural anthropologist. Aminta Arrington's memoir is a fantastic first-hand account of the life, customs, and calligraphy of China. Though she shares her family's present-day experiences, she also shares historical lessons that have led to the lives and thought processes of today's Chinese. The book is very well-written by an author who is well-educated and knowledgeable about her subject. I was fascinated by the Chinese education s Home is a Roof Over a Pig is a fantastic read for the armchair cultural anthropologist. Aminta Arrington's memoir is a fantastic first-hand account of the life, customs, and calligraphy of China. Though she shares her family's present-day experiences, she also shares historical lessons that have led to the lives and thought processes of today's Chinese. The book is very well-written by an author who is well-educated and knowledgeable about her subject. I was fascinated by the Chinese education system. Because Aminta and her husband are both educators, they are able to successfully critique Chinese education. They have the advantage of being able to observe their own children in school as well as learn from students in their own classrooms. Additionally, Aminta is being tutored in Chinese so she has the perspective of a learner. Her instructor is an invaluable resource in understanding thinking, traditions, and language. The author uses quotes to begin many of the chapters from people well-known in Chinese history and even from the Bible. My favorite quote was a Chinese Proverb. "Water and words are easy to pour but impossible to recover." (p. 117) Arrington makes an interesting observation as she explores the acquisition of language. "Learning a foreign language is not academic, it is social." (p. 253) She tells her university students that they can memorize a word, hear it, write it or recite it but the word does not become their own until the word can be used to express their own thoughts. In her discussion of the place of women in Chinese society, the author quoted a few of what she considered limitless Chinese sayings. My favorite was "Put three women together and you have a drama." (p. 274) That might be considered a global observation of women. I know it is blatantly true for young women of the American junior high school age! When the family arrived at the foster home of their adopted daughter Grace, Aminta observed that there were no toys in the home where many foster children had been given care. She suggested that this explained why their daughter had always considered people the best amusement. (p. 306) This is the type of cultural insight shared by this book that is uncommon to other books on Chinese culture. The author is able to share facts in addition to her very personal perspective. The author does an excellent job of defining Chinese culture. It isn't just ". . . art, language, poetry, architecture, and ceremony, all of which China has in abundance. It also means duties, obligations, manners, rituals, and traditions, and China's long history has layer upon layer, which have become more intricate and complex as the centuries have passed." (p. 276) She also excels at comparing our American culture to the Chinese. "I might disagree with the war in Iraq, be embarrassed by my country's occasional arrogance, and abhor the violence and the decadence shown in the movies that we export around the word, but I couldn't disown this country that had pushed my bounds so far, that had told me my abilities, my imagination, my work ethic were my only limitations. Perhaps, it was this more than anything else that made me an American." (p. 277) This was a book that I dreaded putting down and always looked forward to picking up again. I highly recommend it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    When Arrington's husband decided it was time to leave the army, he made her an offer: Until then, his career had taken precedence; they'd lived in Germany and Japan and the U.S., and she'd never had much of a chance to build her own career. Now, though, with the army out of the picture, it was her turn to decide. Arrington wanted to move to China. She'd spent little time there, but one of their daughters was adopted from China, and she wanted Grace—and her siblings—to have a better understanding When Arrington's husband decided it was time to leave the army, he made her an offer: Until then, his career had taken precedence; they'd lived in Germany and Japan and the U.S., and she'd never had much of a chance to build her own career. Now, though, with the army out of the picture, it was her turn to decide. Arrington wanted to move to China. She'd spent little time there, but one of their daughters was adopted from China, and she wanted Grace—and her siblings—to have a better understanding of the culture Grace came from. Her husband agreed, and off they went to teach English. It's not so different from other uproot-and-move-to-a-foreign-country books (I'm thinking, in particular, of The Foremost Good Fortune), but there were a couple of specific things that I loved. First, Arrington ended up using written (Mandarin) Chinese as a springboard to better understand the culture. She talks about this explicitly in a note on sources at the end of the book (315), but it's evident well before that. Understanding what each character is meant to look like helps her both learn the character and understand what's behind it. The second thing: They adapt and put down roots. The kids have some difficulty adjusting; the oldest in particular struggles against a new language and new norms. But they manage, and the adults don't treat it as a temporary thing. They return to the U.S. for the summer, but they make China their home. According to the author's website, they're still in China; whether or not they've moved since then, they're clearly determined not to be casual expats. Interesting to see some of the relationships develop. Mr. Jia, who works in their building, proves to be a valuable partner in helping their children adjust and learn Mandarin—but Arrington's relationship with him gains a lot more texture when they talk about the Vietnam War, in which Mr. Jia and Arrington's father had both fought, on opposite sides (194). It's a texture I don't think would have been possible with a relatively shorter stay, and the book is much richer for that and other similar layers and complexities.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    The Arrington family has three small children, one of whom is a Chinese adopted girl named Grace. Once the author's husband retires from military service, he tells his wife, "follow your dream" and her dream is to live and teach in China, based on previous military stations in Japan and a fascination with Asian culture, as well as a desire to give Grace a sense of her roots. While it is incredibly difficult to place families into teaching positions, they manage to both receive jobs at a small un The Arrington family has three small children, one of whom is a Chinese adopted girl named Grace. Once the author's husband retires from military service, he tells his wife, "follow your dream" and her dream is to live and teach in China, based on previous military stations in Japan and a fascination with Asian culture, as well as a desire to give Grace a sense of her roots. While it is incredibly difficult to place families into teaching positions, they manage to both receive jobs at a small university/medical college inland from the hustle/bustle of the coastal, more Western influenced cities. Cultural immersion, successful and unsuccessful, ensues. Why I like this book more than Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy: AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES AND WRITING I felt like I was there with the Arringtons - baffled by new foods, intrigued by the Chinese students and culture, and at turns just as tickled or frustrated as the Arringtons were with their Chinese experiences. The use of the Chinese character chapter headings is so useful - it lets Arrington talk about how that character is put together (Chinese writing is typically a blend of two or three word characters merged into a concept), and she usually showed the traditional character and Mao's simplified character now used nationwide. Hence the title, the blended character for home is "house" with the character for "pig" underneath it. As a semantics geek, I really enjoyed the character histories and as a writing geek, loved how that character construction story tied into what was happening in the chapter. Arrington does not put the "kumbayah" touch on her writing, although she and her family are quietly, deeply faithful and often use that faith to help them understand and cope with their situations. Problems like water turned off overnight, pollution, the incredibly square peg into square hole educational structure of China (round pegs beware), the complete lack of privacy, the incredibly difficult language - nothing is sugar coated. This authentic presentation of the bad with the good makes the good experiences that much more joyful to the reader - the oldest daughter finally speaking Chinese and bonding with her Chinese classmates, Grace flitting from Chinese to English and back again, traveling to meet Grace's foster family, breaking through with students and making friends with neighbors. I got a lot out of this book and the Arringtons' experiences as they traveled from their small town to the large cities of China and Thailand. I admire them for the risk they took, the challenge they presented to their family, and their belief in the value of each person in this world. I learned a great deal about Chinese culture and had lots of thoughtful moments while reading, mulling over my approach to situations, or wondering how a very difficult situation could possibly be overcome - we are so different. I recommend this book to anyone interested in what's happening in China - it's a very informative view of the culture clash our countries have to overcome to learn to work together in commerce, environmental management, and peace.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I am still mulling over my thoughts about what I learned in this book. When the author's husband decided to retire from the military after 26 years, he basically told her that it was her turn, they would go where she wanted to go. They had three children, including one who was adopted from China. Aminta Arrington wanted give that adopted daughter a grounding on where she came from and have all the children exposed to a different language and culture. The author used her training in etymology to I am still mulling over my thoughts about what I learned in this book. When the author's husband decided to retire from the military after 26 years, he basically told her that it was her turn, they would go where she wanted to go. They had three children, including one who was adopted from China. Aminta Arrington wanted give that adopted daughter a grounding on where she came from and have all the children exposed to a different language and culture. The author used her training in etymology to unlock the how the culture works. Through out the book, she takes different Chinese characters that she learned and asked about the history of then. This is a great approach. I have been to China for three weeks on an education tour, my husband is from Taiwan but thinks of himself more as a Chinese American because his parents came to Taiwan during World War Ii and my son became interested In Chinese culture in junior high and has lived in China for many years. I have studied Mandarin so I was already familiar with the characters in the book but I did not have the in depth etymological background that the author has. Now I have begun to understand more of the cultural differences that had perplexed me in the past so this book has been very enlightening! Aside from that etymological emphasis, this book is also about travel in China and I enjoyed comparing my memories of Qufu and the countryside and Shanghai, I had more favorable reactions than she did to Qufu and Shanghai and I am still pondering why. Also, this book is about her family. I was very interested in their learning of a second language and the development of an identity of the adopted child. I thought it was funny how the kids did not at first want to wear the many layers of clothing in the winter but slowly transitioned to it. That to me is not a American to China thing but rather a warm climate person adjusting to a colder climate, I enjoyed reading about her children's experiences in school and comparing them to my two grandchildren now be raised in China, That is just of my thoughts, I did not agree with the author on everything but reading this book has been very enjoyable and thought provoking,

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I picked up this up from the travel/foreign history section on a whim, after loving my last choice from there ("In My Father's Country" by Saima Wahab). The book turned out to be a personal family memoir, with snippets of Chinese language, culture and history, as well as the family adventures traveling through China and living there for 7 years (as of 2012 when the book was published). The title comes from the actual Chinese character for Home, which literally translates as "a roof over a pig". I picked up this up from the travel/foreign history section on a whim, after loving my last choice from there ("In My Father's Country" by Saima Wahab). The book turned out to be a personal family memoir, with snippets of Chinese language, culture and history, as well as the family adventures traveling through China and living there for 7 years (as of 2012 when the book was published). The title comes from the actual Chinese character for Home, which literally translates as "a roof over a pig". The Arrington family, with three children under the age of six, decided to move to China after adopting a girl from China four years before, to show her more about her culture. They move to the Shandong province and the city of Ta'in. At first they are only known as the "foreigners," but after spending four years there and building relationships, they are considered part of the community. They did move eventually to Beijing as the children got older and their apartment was too small. Each chapter discusses a particular Chinese character, usually something about its etymology from traditional to modern characters, and then how it applied to a particular episode in Arrington's life. An example would be the chapter on language, which means "the words of myself," in which the author discusses how her adopted Chinese daughter Grace did better in learning the Chinese language, despite the fact that she had never really been previously interested in words or books. I liked when Arrington told her students that "learning a foreign language is not academic, it is social." I definitely believe this to be true, especially in relation to taking Italian as a foreign language at university. I found it much easier to grasp the concept of Italian after having to use it in everyday life and conversation versus trying to read it in a book and I've found the same to be the case with internationals that I helped in conversational English. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the author's insight into both the contradictory nature of China, and of the arrogance that Americans are perceived to have. Being willing to accept these made it so much more enjoyable to read. China is an amazing country, filled with magnificent history and culture, yet it also has some aspects that we might consider pretty gross. On top of this, within the country itself is such a wide divergence between its people, cultures, environment and attitudes I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the author's insight into both the contradictory nature of China, and of the arrogance that Americans are perceived to have. Being willing to accept these made it so much more enjoyable to read. China is an amazing country, filled with magnificent history and culture, yet it also has some aspects that we might consider pretty gross. On top of this, within the country itself is such a wide divergence between its people, cultures, environment and attitudes. For the author to accept the myriad experiences she was faced with, without a sense of judgement and smugness (of knowing the "right way") made the journey so much more interesting for me. I felt as though she was always aware of the rules about what she could and couldn't say freely, but that she sensitively broached those questions about communism and the Chinese sense of identity that she did have. I did sometimes feel that knowing the boundaries, she pushed a little too far, but it did not seem to be done with malice or a feeling that her way was the right way, more a true desire to understand. I loved that she wanted her daughter to be able to have a strong sense of her roots, but I also understood her questioning how much her children would truly belong anywhere since they now straddled two cultures, and while this is wonderful, it also raises further questions. I also question how society in such a rich culture will continue to thrive when progress keeps pushing forward. I think remembering the importance of retaining history and traditions is very necessary, and I hope that we can maintain the link with the old while also improving our new. I felt it was an honest and sensitive portrayal of a family's experience in somewhere far from home.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I really enjoyed this thoughtful, interesting memoir of an American family's life in China following the adoption of one of their daughters, Grace. I have a personal interest in China - my brother lived & taught there, I have a native Chinese family member, and two of my nieces will be traveling to China this year - one to Beijing & one to Shanghai. The author is immersed in the education system while living in Tai'n both as an instructor and also as a parent of 3 children attending the local sc I really enjoyed this thoughtful, interesting memoir of an American family's life in China following the adoption of one of their daughters, Grace. I have a personal interest in China - my brother lived & taught there, I have a native Chinese family member, and two of my nieces will be traveling to China this year - one to Beijing & one to Shanghai. The author is immersed in the education system while living in Tai'n both as an instructor and also as a parent of 3 children attending the local school. She is thoughtful in her assessments of cultural differences and often introspective examining her own background and basis for her feelings. I also particularly enjoyed her examination of the Chinese calligraphy and meaning of the characters. She is forthcoming on the initial adjustment of having an adopted child, honest telling of her feelings of being viewed as a foreigner and final acceptance in the village and tells some heart rending stories of her encounters with her friendships developed there. I loved Mr. Jia and the story of how she attempts to contact Grace's initial foster parent. Beautiful, heartfelt book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna Griffith

    Check out my blog for more extensive reviews and more! PROS: I really enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Arrington's writing is funny at times, poignant at others and always interesting. She is transparent enough to admit when she has shortcomings, and those shortcomings make her very relatable and human. Her examinations of the pictographs that make up the Chinese language were very interesting. I enjoyed her look at the pros and cons of the Chinese education system. CONS: The only complaint I had w Check out my blog for more extensive reviews and more! PROS: I really enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Arrington's writing is funny at times, poignant at others and always interesting. She is transparent enough to admit when she has shortcomings, and those shortcomings make her very relatable and human. Her examinations of the pictographs that make up the Chinese language were very interesting. I enjoyed her look at the pros and cons of the Chinese education system. CONS: The only complaint I had was that I wish she had included some photos to supplement the story.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I have read a lot of books about China and this was one of the best! As the mother ot two daughters adopted from China, I appreciated that lens. Having just returned from a long sightseeing trip to China with my family, I appreciated all the explanations of daily Chinese life that had mystified me. As a reader with interest in many cultures, I appreciated the explanation of Chinese language and characters that was so accessible and opened whole new dimensions of Chinese life and culture to me. T I have read a lot of books about China and this was one of the best! As the mother ot two daughters adopted from China, I appreciated that lens. Having just returned from a long sightseeing trip to China with my family, I appreciated all the explanations of daily Chinese life that had mystified me. As a reader with interest in many cultures, I appreciated the explanation of Chinese language and characters that was so accessible and opened whole new dimensions of Chinese life and culture to me. The story of this American family's two years in Shangdong province was so enjoyable. Aminita- write another one about your years in Beijing!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mommymac10

    Just the sort of travel book I most enjoy: what was it like?? Arrington and her husband and 3 small children lived in a medium-size city in Shandong while Mr. Arrington taught English in college and his wife taught it in high school. At the same time, their children were going to a Chinese pre-school. Immersion all around, so readers get a good look at the culture. She also studied the ideographs as a lesson in Chinese history -- hence the title, which describes the character for "home". We part Just the sort of travel book I most enjoy: what was it like?? Arrington and her husband and 3 small children lived in a medium-size city in Shandong while Mr. Arrington taught English in college and his wife taught it in high school. At the same time, their children were going to a Chinese pre-school. Immersion all around, so readers get a good look at the culture. She also studied the ideographs as a lesson in Chinese history -- hence the title, which describes the character for "home". We participate in her gradually learning the language and customs, and we also hear from her students. Most helpful for anyone traveling to China.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Suzanna

    I liked the idea and subjects of this book - China, cultute, language, family, adoption, living overseas - but it was a bit of a struggle to get through, sadly. I loved the way she incorporated the written Chinese language throughout, but it often seemed choppy and and though she didn't know quite what she wanted to say. And, I realize this is her story and her perceptions, but I felt like she over-dramatized and exaggerated some of her China experiences. Having lived in China myself about a dec I liked the idea and subjects of this book - China, cultute, language, family, adoption, living overseas - but it was a bit of a struggle to get through, sadly. I loved the way she incorporated the written Chinese language throughout, but it often seemed choppy and and though she didn't know quite what she wanted to say. And, I realize this is her story and her perceptions, but I felt like she over-dramatized and exaggerated some of her China experiences. Having lived in China myself about a decade before she did, I found some of her stories a bit much, knowing for myself some specific ways Chinas has changed. I also know that it's her story and her experiences.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I've read countless books about China, and a good amount about this topic---an American family moving to China. This is the first time I felt the family truly wanted to get to know China, to become part of it. They lived in a regular apartment in a regular small city, sent their three young kids (including a daughter adopted from China) to a regular Chinese kindergarten, and indeed, they still live in China after quite a few years. No rich ex-pat life here! If you would like to better understand I've read countless books about China, and a good amount about this topic---an American family moving to China. This is the first time I felt the family truly wanted to get to know China, to become part of it. They lived in a regular apartment in a regular small city, sent their three young kids (including a daughter adopted from China) to a regular Chinese kindergarten, and indeed, they still live in China after quite a few years. No rich ex-pat life here! If you would like to better understand the "real" modern China life, this is a great book to read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    A friend and colleague on GoodReads recommended I read this during my upcoming educational trip to China. It was a perfect suggestion! I had a non-work related book to read and enjoy and the book helped me understand certain things common to Chinese society in a broader context. The book takes place in about 2007-2009 and so was contemporary enough to reflect my trip to Nanjing in May 2013. Well written and easy to read. I loved the author's use of weaving chinese characters into her chapter titl A friend and colleague on GoodReads recommended I read this during my upcoming educational trip to China. It was a perfect suggestion! I had a non-work related book to read and enjoy and the book helped me understand certain things common to Chinese society in a broader context. The book takes place in about 2007-2009 and so was contemporary enough to reflect my trip to Nanjing in May 2013. Well written and easy to read. I loved the author's use of weaving chinese characters into her chapter titles or subjects. The characters themselves are pure poetry and a fascination. Great book!

  18. 5 out of 5

    D

    Since visiting China in '07, I've read steadily about this most interesting of countries, especially about modern China. This book is one of the best for revealing the contradictions and curiosities that spark the American visitor. (The author spent two years there as an English teacher. Having an adopted Chinese daughter of preschool age, she is also wanting to give the child a footing in her birth culture.) The title refers to the ideographic character for the English word "home".

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Crowe

    Interesting book so far. I picked it up last night to help me fall asleep after watching multiple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's good, though I only got up to the point where I learned that the Chinese character for "home" is derived from two characters meaning "roof" and "pig", which in turn came about from those ancient Chinese people who were lucky enough to raise pigs and not be itinerant and therefore had a roof over their pigs and therefore had a home.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I enjoyed Aminta's narratives of her encounters in China. I especially appreciated that she wove in information about the Mandarin language and the meaning/etimology of some of it's symbols. I chose this book because I'll be traveling to China soon and this book was a nice introduction into Chinese culture and language, especially from a southern woman's point of view.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I absolutely loved it. There are so many levels to this masterpiece. A lot fuller than I expected.

  22. 5 out of 5

    JulieK

    I found the author kind of irritating, but I did enjoy her forays into Chinese etymology.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Interesting book about an American family's adventures living in China. I enjoyed the whole book, especially reading about their visit to their adopted Chinese daughter's foster family in a rural village. Also learning about the Chinese college students' perceptions of American ideas.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Noah W

    The book explores Chinese culture over 33 chapters. Each chapter takes a Chinese written character and extracts the meaning behind the word from both an etymological perspective and a “living in real China” point of reference. The author engages in discussing many contemporary and traditional Chinese issues and articulates the responses of her students. I have always been fascinated by Chinese characters because several characters reflect Bible stories or themes. For example, since my name is No The book explores Chinese culture over 33 chapters. Each chapter takes a Chinese written character and extracts the meaning behind the word from both an etymological perspective and a “living in real China” point of reference. The author engages in discussing many contemporary and traditional Chinese issues and articulates the responses of her students. I have always been fascinated by Chinese characters because several characters reflect Bible stories or themes. For example, since my name is Noah (the Ark), the word for boat = vessel+eight+people. To see this character and more, check out Answers in Genesis (http://www.answersingenesis.org/artic..., http://www.catalystmin.org/china-awar...) Some key words/chapters) that were interesting: Population (people + mouths): So in Chinese thinking, more people means more mouths to feed. Arrington addresses the idea of the reverse pyramid of family support where a married couple is responsible for four parents and eight grandparents (due to the one child policy). A student’s perspective:“I don’t think it’s really a question of fair or not fair. It’s about the right policy for the situation. Beijing has maintained a low birth rate for a long time. Now it has the pressure of an aging population.” Another boy (with the poignant name of Hope): “I am an only child. My parents both worked and were busy with their jobs. I was often home alone, and I was lonely. When I get married, I want to have two children: a little boy and a little girl. Then, I can say to my son, you must take care of your little sister and watch over her. And I can say to my daughter, look up to your older brother, and learn from his example. My two children will always have each other to talk to, and they will never be lonely.” The statement of Hope really caught me a little off guard since I have three brothers and loneliness is something that is pretty rare for me. The former statement reflects the aggregate serving mentality that is firmly entrenched in Chinese culture. Independence (alone + stand): Standing along never happens in China. As an American, I see self-reliance and responsibility as key virtues of my national culture. I have heard many religious authors discussing how the church needs to be more unified and familial or, in other words, more Chinese. Juxtaposing American versus Chinese culture, I still think that that is a Biblically justified balance between these two man crafted mentalities, but I digress. The Exam (tall+test): School, school, school. Even the fairly Americanized Chinese teens that I work with cannot stop talking about school. It seems that the Chinese education is predicated on passing the college exam so it is focused primarily on memorizing content to be regurgitated later (I now know why the kids take pictures on my PowerPoint slides!). Apparently, Chinese parents discourage their children from asking questions from a young age (grrr). I am so thankful my parents tolerated my curiosity and kept our home library stocked. Summary: Great book for learning some of the basics of mainland Chinese culture and it is really neat to see the composition of the characters (My appreciation for the English alphabet also increased).

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aalabamadill

    I am not sorry that I read this book. However I can only recommend it with some hedging. The detail and quality of the writing was fine. The most interesting parts were her discussions about the characters as she learns how to write Chinese. Unfortunately, the characters/actual people she writes about are not so honestly described. I am sorry Mrs. Arrington chose to write this while still living in China. Because apparently that affected her ability to be open and honest about the journey her fa I am not sorry that I read this book. However I can only recommend it with some hedging. The detail and quality of the writing was fine. The most interesting parts were her discussions about the characters as she learns how to write Chinese. Unfortunately, the characters/actual people she writes about are not so honestly described. I am sorry Mrs. Arrington chose to write this while still living in China. Because apparently that affected her ability to be open and honest about the journey her family takes. There were a few moments that completely took me out of the story. (And by that I mean I threw the book across the room and my DH had to listen to me rant for the next 15 minutes) One of the most glaring to me was when she describes the difficulty she had in discribing the concept of political correctness to her English language students. It is not possible that she did not realize that they are much more familiar than any westerner to the idea that there are some things you must not express openly because they might have political repercussions. I hope it is not possible. Altho I realize the human condition is such that we are capable of great feats of self deception. Regretfully this story is less than honest about the difficulties faced by her cross cultural adventures. It fell short, in my opinion, of the promise it held. I tried to get a friend of mine who has a sister who has adopted from China, and also actually lived there for a time to also read this, she was not able to finish it. For family and friends, this is a lovely story about her family adventure. For others, this version of insight into Chinese culture and adoption might be too politically correct. (I received a copy of this book thru GoodReads with a request for a review.)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    Aminta Arrington's memoir about moving to China and teaching English at a medical university is interesting and full of information on Chinese culture. After her husband retires from the military, the family moves with their three young children to China, where they hope to expose their middle daughter, adopted from China several years earlier, to her birth country's culture and history without the filter of translation. Throughout the book, Arrington describes their life in a small city, their Aminta Arrington's memoir about moving to China and teaching English at a medical university is interesting and full of information on Chinese culture. After her husband retires from the military, the family moves with their three young children to China, where they hope to expose their middle daughter, adopted from China several years earlier, to her birth country's culture and history without the filter of translation. Throughout the book, Arrington describes their life in a small city, their children's experiences in Chinese schools and their travels throughout the country. Interspersed with the stories of daily life is a great deal of information on Chinese characters, culture and lifestyle. I enjoyed the "educational" parts of the book, although they could be dry at times, but found myself wanting more information on the family's struggles as they adapted to life in a foreign culture. Often, the stories of home life were a bit disjointed and random. Arrington focuses much of the memoir on her interactions with her students and learning about their lifestyle as she teaches them about the West. One thing I really struggled with in this memoir was Arrington's propensity to argue with or "retort" (a word used by the author herself)to her students when they pointed out a political or cultural belief that she did not agree with. The premise of the memoir was the family going to learn more about China and its culture, but there were many times in this book that I felt Arrington was trying to change her student's belief by her own cultural beliefs on them. "It is the work of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~Aristotle

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Even though it was not at all what I expected, I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up expecting a story primarily of adoption and secondarily of raising small children in a foreign country. These themes were right up my alley. While Arrington's family does naturally feature in the book, the main star is China. I loved the depiction of a country I know very little about, and where I know even less about what the day-to-day life is. Arrington, with interesting, never-lecturing narrative, takes Even though it was not at all what I expected, I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up expecting a story primarily of adoption and secondarily of raising small children in a foreign country. These themes were right up my alley. While Arrington's family does naturally feature in the book, the main star is China. I loved the depiction of a country I know very little about, and where I know even less about what the day-to-day life is. Arrington, with interesting, never-lecturing narrative, takes you along with her as she discovers what the real China is, and what a contradiction it is to ever state that there is one "real" China. I particularly enjoyed the linguistic aspects of the book, with each chapter centered around a Chinese character, its meaning, and how that meaning impacted Arrington and her family abroad. The title, "Home is a Roof Over a Pig" is a literal description of the Chinese character for home: the character for "pig" is situated under the character for "roof," together creating the character "home." After the linguistic explanation, Arrington would use the theme to discuss things like the American interpretation of home versus the Chinese understanding, and how she was able to reconcile the two (or in some chapters, not reconcile). Arrington gave an honest depiction of culture shock and didn't paint their adjustment to life in China as easy by any stretch, but she still managed to convey her deep love and respect for the country. I read along picturing living in China with my family, and that's the best kind of travel memoir, making you wish you were there too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Arrington moves to China with her husband, a former military man, and their three young children, one of whom was adopted from China. Aminta and her husband Chris are English teachers in their new rural Chinese home and their children attend the local Chinese school. The couple and their three children all go through different phases of acclimating to their new home and lives. Arrington shares a lot of interesting observations comparing the different styles of teaching between what we’re used to Arrington moves to China with her husband, a former military man, and their three young children, one of whom was adopted from China. Aminta and her husband Chris are English teachers in their new rural Chinese home and their children attend the local Chinese school. The couple and their three children all go through different phases of acclimating to their new home and lives. Arrington shares a lot of interesting observations comparing the different styles of teaching between what we’re used to in America versus Chinese learning methods. She also takes her reader through many Chinese characters, translating their meaning. I felt uncomfortable for her students when it came to her insensitivity in insistently discussing delicate political subjects. She overstepped her boundaries. Perhaps she felt it was important to document their feeling for Westerners, but I thought it was too invasive and didn’t provide any insightful information. When it came to finding her daughter’s birth parents, I understood why she felt it was important to pursue her search, but felt she was too aggressive and indelicate. I enjoyed reading about her experiences with her students, interacting with her neighbors, and also the family’s travel stories. What annoyed me was her tactless behavior. I got the impression that she’s a bit too tightly wound and sometimes reacts too quickly without taking a moment for empathy toward others.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    I'm not sure why I couldn't get into this book the way I'd anticipated. After all, the prose is clean, the narrative moves forward well enough, and the author's use of Chinese characters to link her musings to the overall narrative is well-done. I suppose, having read so many books written by Westerners trying to understand China, my desires and expectations for books such as these is too high. After finishing the book and concluding that Arrington lived/worked (as I did) for a length of time in I'm not sure why I couldn't get into this book the way I'd anticipated. After all, the prose is clean, the narrative moves forward well enough, and the author's use of Chinese characters to link her musings to the overall narrative is well-done. I suppose, having read so many books written by Westerners trying to understand China, my desires and expectations for books such as these is too high. After finishing the book and concluding that Arrington lived/worked (as I did) for a length of time in China and seemed to come no closer to understanding the rich complexity and seeming paradoxes of Chinese culture, I realized that what disappointed me about the book was not really the book at all. I rate books on subjective enjoyment alone, meaning that I'll let the two-star rating stand; however, I'd recommend this to any beginning students of Chinese thought/culture, or anybody who lived/taught in China recently and is still in the phase of trying to process what he just experienced. For older China hands, I recommend anything by Peter Hessler.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Em

    Well, I'm saying I'm done because I have to turn it back into the library tomorrow and I just never finished it. I really wanted to like this book. I love the idea of an American family immersing their adopted Chinese daughter in authentic Chinese culture, but the book was surprisingly boring. Arrington organizes the narrative around discussion of Chinese characters. Because I love language, I initially thought this was appealing. However, as I got further into the book I realized that half the Well, I'm saying I'm done because I have to turn it back into the library tomorrow and I just never finished it. I really wanted to like this book. I love the idea of an American family immersing their adopted Chinese daughter in authentic Chinese culture, but the book was surprisingly boring. Arrington organizes the narrative around discussion of Chinese characters. Because I love language, I initially thought this was appealing. However, as I got further into the book I realized that half the time I couldn't figure out who the people Arrington was interacting with were. At points I wondered if the narrative was even chronological. I think it is, but each chapter was so much its own story that I kept getting confused when one chapter ended and the next began. I think the discussion about how the author's Chinese college students viewed China and the US was fascinating- and if I were ever going to visit China, I think I might break this one out again. But besides as an orientation to Chinese history and culture, I can't really recommend this one.

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