On a Boat With Mr Ding’s Chicken Feet – Book Review

Travelers who teach English as a second language to get around are a dime a dozen, and more of them are producing books about their experiences: but Gillian Kendall’s Mr Ding’s Chicken Feet is a bit more than “just another English teacher’s trip”.

Mr. Ding's Chicken Feet: On a Slow Boat from Shanghai to Texas

Mr. Ding

For a start, Kendall has quite a unique assignment: she spent six weeks as the only woman on a boat traveling from Shanghai to Texas, and her job was to teach English to the Chinese sailors on the way. Of course, she spoke no Chinese and very few of the men on board had any English skills, so the ensuing communication was both muddled and hilarious.

The Mr Ding of the title is in fact the ship’s cook, and he becomes one of her firm friends on the voyage. There are ups and downs along the way – that’s the case for any journey, but especially one like this – and a few scary moments, like when the ship passes through some horrific storms. But there are also moments of downtime when Kendall’s thoughts turn inwards. Like many travel narratives, there’s an external and an internal journey going on. The book has recently been released outside the United States too, as Kendall is now based in Melbourne, Australia.