Days Like Floating Water is an autobiographical story about the adventure of Susan and Robert McKee, a retired California couple, who decided they wanted to give something back to the world that had so kindly given to them. The happy couple, who couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin, travels to a rural village in Communist China to voluntarily teach English as a Second Language to college students who could barely read a word of it. As a linguist myself, this book really resonated with me. I chuckled over the comedy of linguistic difficulties that Susan describes as two polar opposite languages and cultures clashed. Susan writes as though she is telling you her story in person. As an English reader I found certain Americanisms took some getting used to, but rather than detracting from the story, the minor differences between our similar cultures only helped to enhance Susan’s story of two very different worlds coming together.
The book is roughly 280 pages long and can easily be devoured in one mesmerizing sitting. A generous helping of personal photographs and artwork from the McKee’s time in China bring the story to life and enable the reader to really picture daily goings on in a rural Chinese village. As I read the book I was reminded of a personal favorite, Linda Leaming’s Married to Bhutan: if you liked that, you’ll love this. Both provide views of hidden cultures that cannot be found in an everyday travel brochure.
From the first line of the book’s foreword, the reader is told to ‘imagine’ and is immediately immersed in a unique historical insight of a country long shrouded in political and cultural secrecy. The McKees share feelings of fear, love and amazement that arise on an enlightening 18-month sabbatical to a place where political and religious oppression have been the norm until little over a decade ago. The cultural shock of this new, grey and strange world brings to light the “antiseptic separation” from reality that we have succumbed to in the west. The McKees experience firsthand the upsetting truth that not all are equal in a communist reality, and learn to appreciate just how fortunate they are to come from ‘the land of the free’. Fear of the unknown on both sides of the great wall is dismissed with the realization of a universal love that needs no translation.
This book has taught me that it’s never too late to get out there, travel and fulfill dreams. There’s always something you can offer the world and you’re never too old to learn something new. After years of traipsing around the world following a military career and bringing up a delightful family along the way, the McKees didn’t settle for the quiet life, but instead went out and grasped what retirement had to offer. An inspiration to the young and ‘old’ alike, this heartfelt book is highly recommended.
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