Review: China Blonde by Nicole Webb


Title: China Blonde

Author: Nicole Webb

Published: 1st October 2020, Broadcast Books

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

When Nicole Webb contacted me with a request to read her memoir about her experience of living in the city of Xī’ān situated in Central China I agreed because of a general interest in the country. When I graduated university, my first position was as a director/teacher in a long day care centre run by the Australian Chinese and Descendants Mutual Association, where the entire staff and the 40 children in attendance, except for me, were new immigrants or first generation Australian Chinese. It was quite a challenge to negotiate the demands of the job, cultural differences, and several languages (mainly Mandarin and Cantonese) of which I knew not a word when I started. I really enjoyed being immersed in such a unique environment, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to leave behind all that is familiar to relocate to the Middle Kingdom.

However, former Sky News Australia journalist Nicole, her British husband James, a hotelier, and their young daughter Ava, did just that, moving to one of the oldest cities in China with a population of around nine million people.

Despite spending the previous four years in Hong Kong, the move to Xī’ān proves more disorientating than Nicole expects. Though she has many advantages, including being supplied with high quality accommodation, a chauffeur, and room service, it proves difficult to feel at home in a country where you don’t understand the language, and know no one.

Written in a confiding, personable tone, Nicole shares her expat experiences during the nearly three years they spent in Xī’ān. It’s the little things that tend to throw Nicole in the early months, like not being able to find her favourite coffee, Mint Mocha, and the scarcity of white wine. She’s overwhelmed by the attention she and her ‘small person’, both blonde, attract when out in public, and intimidated by the busy traffic and crowds. With her husband working long hours, Nicole struggles with feelings of isolation, though when Ava begins to attend a nearby international school she is finally able to connect with the city’s surprisingly small ex-pat community, and soon finds ‘her people’.

The book is peppered with fascinating insights into Chinese culture, explaining why for example, toddlers wear pants split at the crotch, and why the Chinese consider thanks rude. As a journalist, Nicole also feels compelled to investigate the Chinese perspective on topics such as feminism, marriage, politics and government.

Nicole’s descriptions of the city are sensory and immersive, from the cacophony of streets crowded with cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and bicycles, to the majesty of city’s ancient pagoda’s, from lavishly decorated hotels and restaurants, to shabby street stalls, all often overlaid with a thick pall of pollution. I highly recommend you follow the link provided at the end of the book to view the author’s photo album.

With its humour and honesty, China Blonde is an enjoyable and interesting read, allowing the reader to vicariously experience expat life in China.

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Signed copies available from the author at NicoleWebbOnline

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