It certainly is quite a book title to say “I grew my boobs in China”, almost as if someone couldn’t afford a plastic surgeon in California. However the rest of the title, “Sihpromatum” (Sip-row-may-tum) sums up it up perfectly as it means a blessing that initially appears to be a curse.
The book is a travel memoir from an at the time 14-15 year old Savannah Grace Watkins. Based in Canada her family is going through significant change following the breaking up of her parents marriage.
Momentous occasions in life such as a divorce can lead people to re-evaluate their lives, goals and aspirations. This is exactly what Savannah’s mum does. Without any real consultation she decides to up sticks and take her three at home children on a tour around the world for a year.
Such a dramatic decision is not met with a warm welcome as Savannah realises that her cosy life in Canada is to be disrupted dramatically. Saying goodbye to high school friends, giving up the house and the family dog are traumatic experiences.
It is during this period that the narrative comes through that Savannah is just a kid. The conversations portrayed out between her and her friends are very much of a young teenager, talking of malls and boys. An insular world full of security and comfort has little relation to the wider world. In fact some of the phrases used in this teenage dialogue are very North American in tone, to such an extent I’m struggling to translate some of them since I’m a Brit.
So the plan is to travel the world, well Asia and Europe for now on a budget of $5 a day for 4 people (Savannah, her sister Bree, her mum and her brother Ammon). $5 is not much so it is not going to be a trip of luxury and comfort.
Realising she is powerless to change things Savannah and Bree gradually give up their possessions and home as reality sets in. This trip will happen and they even set up a family website blog to track their progress from 2005. This can be found at the Watkins travel blog. It is a handy resource to go with the book as you can see pictures of them which tie up to the stories in the book.
Dropping out of high school to allow them to embark on the trip they head off to begin in Hong Kong. Very little is planned in advance in great detail. It is an adventure and the four of them must make it work out.
The lack of luxury soon hits Savannah and her fellow travellers as they sleep on the floor in airports, bunk up in undesirable hostels and eat food which is completely alien to them.
With just a backpack each they have to travel light so Savannah is horrified to see her pack is weighed down not only with school books but reading books and a journal which her mum wants her to keep.
This is truly an inspired idea since thanks to this journal the book has come about.
All four travellers kept a journal but they varied in content and quality. It is clear to see why the family chose the idea to make Savannah’s journal into a published book. The writing style is very colourful, descriptive and alive. You can see just a small element of her skills from her guest blog post on Flights And Frustration.
The journal becomes a detailed account with no topic off limits. One of the biggest challenges Savannah faces is adjusting to the lifestyle less comfortable than the one she knows. In particular such routine tasks like going to the toilet are discussed in such detail because they were a big frustration for her. The horrors of holes in the floor, lack of privacy, crouching and going outside give you an idea of how different things were.
The book also has some moving sides too. Prior to departure her mother has a difficult conversation with the son who does not go on this trip. He is in the army and has to discuss his funeral arrangements in a “what if” scenario. Moving stuff.
The travels do bring some notable events. There is mud swimming in second hand swimming costumes, leading an English class in a Chinese school. Other events described include being harassed in a market yet somehow bartering down the price of a hair clip from 45 yuan to 10 yuan then eventually 5. All of a sudden the lack of desire to buy anything changes as things appear to be a bargain.
There is an amusing tale of how they decide to take a less expensive boat as part of their travels just to save money. Ammon takes them on a walking detour to achieve this yet it takes 6 hours to get to the cheaper ferry. Then they realise that it saved them a grand total of $1, or 25c each.
In spite of the hardship and challenges of the travel we see our author mature. Not all can she say “I grew my boobs in China” but she also matured emotionally and mentally into a well rounded and worldly wise adult. Whilst out in a paddi field she realises that the world over people basically aspire to the same thing, they just do it in different ways.
There is also an amusing tale of how on a 22 hr train ride Savannah is resistant to her mum’s suggestion that she read a book to pass the time. As a teenager Savannah detests the concept of reading and has a battle of wills of boredom vs giving into mum. Eventually boredom loses, thankfully. Savannah takes on mum’s suggestion and soon falls in love with reading as she begins “Gone with the Wind”.
We meet an array of characters and friendly people throughout the memoir. This includes a Mongolian character named Fortune. His personality certainly comes through as a happy go lucky character who keeps smiling through adversity. This adversity really comes to the fore as we have a near cliff hangar situation towards the end of the book. As you can guess, the author survived.
The book was not only a journey through Asia, but for the writer a journey from childhood to adulthood. An education far beyond anything a school could ever teach.
Indeed this blessing which initially appears as a curse comes to the fore when Savannah begins to come around to the idea of the travel. She looks at her mum and the life she has had. She sees that this trip is what her mum has always wanted to do but never had the chance to. “After everything she’s done for me, maybe it isn’t too much to ask that I might sacrifice a year of my life for her!”
I was offered the book by Savannah to read and review. At first I thought okay I’ll take a freebie but didn’t expect much. What could a young first time author really do. My expectations were low and I accepted the invitation through politeness.
As it turns out this was indeed a blessing for me and certainly not a curse. I could instantly see the quality of the writing and sense the real emotions and honesty coming through. I can relate so much to some of the experiences in China which I’ve visited often.
I can see the Savannah Grace develop and mature, from a school kid spoilt with comfort and a 1st world lifestyle. Transforming into a world traveller who is more understanding of life outside of North America. More understanding of other cultures, poverty, hardship, friendship, customs and the true values of life.
I am truly grateful that Savannah tweeted me that day to offer me the chance to read her travel memoirs. Sihpromatum – I grew my boobs in China is a book I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone interested in travel.
You can read more about Savannah on her website Sihpromatum
The books is available in various formats (hardback, paperback and digital) from many book sellers including of course Amazon.
You can find the book on Amazon here
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