I think more than anything else it made me realize what my Western identity was. I grew up wishing for many years that I could change myself, that I could become someone who was universal, that I could incorporate Asian culture and Asian philosophy into my own life to become a better person.
But when my teacher Pan did martial arts, he had total confidence, he was free. It was like seeing a bird fly. When I did it, it seemed put on, artificial. He said "Your problem is that you're trying to be me." You've got to be comfortable being you. The whole experience being in China was like that for me.
Learning about another culture doesn't mean you have to reject your own. It allows you to see yourself from another perspective, see your good side and your bad side and appreciate what you have.
Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk
I first read this book as a required text in the 8th grade. Now, looking back on it from the perspective of an American who has also lived in Asia, I wonder why it was so appealing at the time. Granted, it is very well written and quite entertaining, but were there really so few insights into Chinese and Japanese culture in the 80's? Nowadays, all one has to do is walk into a Barnes & Noble and spot at least ten travel narratives concerning teaching English in Asia.
In any case, he knows. And the lessons he learned can apply to Japan as well.