Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin is the inside story of what happens in a real life garment factory told by Chun Yu Wang. I gave this book only 4 stars because as it is considered a diary and gives a lot of inside information, I expected more feelings to be expressed in Chun Yu Wang’s life. Even though she talked about a variety of scenarios that happened in the factory and I could connect to those feelings, I wanted to know how she was feeling in other aspects of her life.
Chun Yu Wang was a young 25 year old wife and mother to a 2 year old son in China when she decided she wanted to do something to better her and her family’s life. Chun Yu was unhappily married to her husband, but both her parents and her in-laws did not want her to get a divorce. She heard about an opportunity to go to the island of Saipan to work as a garment factory girl where she would be able to make more than double in a year than she would in China. The contract required Chun Yu to take a sewing test, make a large deposit to secure her employment (which she had to borrow from friends and family), and agree to work in the factory for only 3 years. All her family and friends were against her going to Saipan. They didn’t like the idea of her being so far away and leaving her small child behind. They also feared it was a scam. Chun Yu reassured them that she would only be gone for 3 years and repay everyone from whom she borrowed money.
Chun Yu’s 3 year employment turned into a 9 year journey of working in six different factories on Saipan. She had some good times meeting new people, experiencing a beautiful tropical paradise, living as she pleased with no extra responsibilities. Along with these good times she also had some bad. She had mean bosses, horrible working conditions, health problems, natural disasters, and losing a lot of money. At the end of her 9 year journey she did not return to China, but instead was able to find a non-factory job on the island.
Throughout the book you get a good sense of Chun Yu’s personality. She is not weak. She is honest. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes to be right. She also is very caring with a soft heart. There were many scenarios she explained that I wanted her to do more either for herself or for the others she worked with in the factory. There was one section that she briefly discussed how she couldn’t go back to China because she had no money. This confused me. She seemed so smart when it came to calculating what to save and spend. She told of a situation that a friend of hers could help her get a green card. Although she was uneasy about it, she went along with it and lost a lot of money. As a reader, this frustrated me. Chun Yu knew better. She was smart. How could she make such an unwise decision? I felt bad for her. She was just looking for the “easy” way to make a better life and give herself more possible opportunities.
Chun Yu also gives us an inside look at how people are all the same no matter their culture. She came across many greedy mean coworkers and supervisors. It didn’t matter what country they were from. Even some who were from Chun Yu’s area would treat her horribly. It is an eye opener that people can be so devious and cruel to one another when they are all there for the same goal.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the including of Chinese idioms. For example, the title Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin translates to “the rubbish left when cooking a chicken.” It is considered “worthless and attracts little attention.” The phrase describes, “petty things; things of no importance; things often overlooked as having no merit or value.” The co-author/editor, Walt F.J. Goodridge, felt that this metaphor was perfect for the “ faceless, nameless girls who toil away in the garment factories of the world sewing designer clothing for consumers around the world; girls who often go overlooked in the public dialogue and perception of the world at large.” This book is filled with relatable Chinese idioms, and is a refreshing view on standard perceptions.
Chun Yu Wang’s story is inspirational. She went against what her family wanted to make herself happy. In the process she intended on helping her family back home. We don’t get too many details of what she does or doesn’t do for her family back home, but we do know her relationship with both her husband and son are not what a typical Chinese culture would expect. Chun Yu learned many lessons while on Saipan. She grew into a stronger more independent woman on the island. She was not afraid of taking a risk. That is inspiring.
Review by Rachel Murphy
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