Aiyer landed in booming Beijing to teach English to young and aspiring Chinese at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute. She learnt the language; learnt to eat "real" Chinese food—frog’s legs and all—chose to live in a traditional Beijing neighbourhood, a hutong; refused to run away when the fear of SARS gripped China, and travelled all over by various means. Living with a Spanish partner who’s a diplomat opened doors to a globalised new Beijing throbbing with activity. Living among the locals in a hutong opened windows into an old and dying Beijing. This dual exposure enables Aiyer to offer us a panoramic view of contemporary China.
We read about the aspirations and dreams of young Chinese. Of their political naivete and sexual promiscuity. Their deep patriotism and their growing materialism. We learn about how the young relate to the elderly and the new class of entrepreneurs relate to political leaders and government officials. Aiyer’s hilarious narration of how Indian wannabes relate to the Chinese and how the Chinese view India makes us laugh, at first, and then ponder.