Author Series: Kim Orendor
For the second installment of my author series, I'm returning closer to home to speak with my former boss at the Davis Enterprise, Kim Orendor. I'm not sure if Kim and I have anything in common other than our love for sport and adventure, the latter of which she's written about in her recently-released memoir Unbound Feet: Finding Freedom in Communist China.
In the text, Kim chronicles her five years teaching English in China in a work that is both relatable and legitimately hilarious. When I write this, I want you to know that my mom texted me several times about how funny this book was and I concurred upon my own reading.
Published by W. Brand Publishing, Unbound Feet is available for purchase here. And this isn't one of those friends doing a favor for a friend thing, this book is legitimately one of my favorite things that I've picked up in the past few years. You should go buy it.
Onto the interview:
Question: Writing a book is a tremendous undertaking, why did you decide to do it?
Kim Orendor: That’s always the question: “why did you do it?” It’s not something I planned on doing, it was pretty organic. When I came home I would get together with friends and do lunch and share my stories of the craziness of what my life was like in China. A lot of times people would say that I should write a book about that. I was like, “yeah sure whatever,” and I really kind of blew it off and brushed it off. Part of it was in the back of my mind as a journalist, I’ve seen my name in print, I’ve been published, so what would the benefit be? Why would I put myself through all of this? I have friends who published books and they always seemed to be under so much stress. So when I moved down to LA in 2014, 2015, when I first moved down I figured I’d find a job but I was unemployed for nine or 10 months. I had some side hustles, but for the most part, I had nothing. Two of my friends decided to turn into life coaches and asked me some things about what I’ve put off so I told them about my book about China and so we did it. So for 2-3 hours a week, I turned off the wifi and just wrote. During that process I was able to get the first seven chapters down and then I got work and once I got work it again went on the back burner. Once I moved back up here, I think I came back (to Northern California) at the end of 2018, and one of my friends knows a publisher and she was talking to her about my stories and said, “that sounds great, let’s connect with each other.” That was last summer, the start of 2020 in about May or June and I sent her the first chapters that I had and she said that they were great and that she would love to do the book, but in the back of my mind there was still 14 more chapters to write but with the motivation to get it published, I finished those last chapters. In less than a year from contacting the publisher the book was out, which is unheard of. It was a fantastic ride for 2020 considering everything else that was in 2020.
Question: What did you find surprising about undertaking this project?
Orendor: Typically as a journalist I’m used to writing about other people and their experiences so writing about my own experiences I would find myself in this conundrum, you have to tap into the emotion to get that feeling in the memoir but at the same time as a writer you have to stay disconnected so that the writing doesn’t become overbearing. There were certain things that I would write quickly because they were really emotional moments and then go back and look at it later. That part was more daunting because it was about me. I didn’t want to come off as too much of anything, I wanted to be as authentic as possible. That was a fine line to walk sometimes.
Question: Was there anything that you wish you could have included in the book but had to leave out?
Orendor: So many stories! I think that when you’re trying to put five years in your life into one memoir, things are going to get cut. What I tried to do was, there were so many things that I had experienced, I thought that as a sports writer I was going to have this whole chapter on sporting events I saw in China. I did get to go to the Women’s World Cup, it was an amazing experience to see an international crowd, it was the first time that I realized that soccer was really big. I also attended the Paralympics, which were held after the olympic games, we saw some soccer matches, murder ball, which was so intense. I didn’t get to see it but I organized when the Dodgers and the Padres played an exhibition game...I came down with the flu so all my friends got to go but I couldn’t go. It was so easy to travel in China it was cheap so even though we lived a long way from Beijing or Shanghai the prices for the train tickets and events were less than 200 dollars. I don’t think you could get into a World Cup game in the US for that if you had to travel halfway across the country. Those kinds of things that were really interesting to me but seemed more like they would have been radical to other people. I know a lot of people like sports, but I wanted to keep the points that I hit that were universal rather than specific
Question: How has the response been to your book?
Orendor: So far it has been really really good and I'm super excited by that. The biggest thing for me is that a lot of the people I’ve heard from have said that the book has not only made them laugh but actually laugh out loud. That just makes me super happy and what I was telling another person is that if I can connect with you enough to make you engage and really laugh out loud at some of those moments then it makes the other moments that are personal and deal with a tougher subject matter more tender and more connected. Regarding the religious aspects I bring up, I do know that there are many people who hear about faith or belief don’t want to read that and so far individuals who I've talked to who don’t have a specific code of belief they have found that the writing is not preachy, it’s not in your face, and they’ve appreciated the way that I express myself that I’m not trying to convert anyone.
Question: Well it says in your contract that you can’t right?
Orendor: (Laughs.) The rule in China is that unless you’re family, anybody under the age of 18 you cannot teach religion too. Again, missionaries are illegal. Proselytize is the word that they use, basically you can’t try to round up converts but if someone asks you a question, you can answer the question, you just can’t be the one instigating the conversation.
Question: You wrote a lot about getting out of your comfort zone, can you talk about your experience doing that in a foreign country?
Yeah, it would be like the culmination of anything, I pushed myself so far that I guess I figured this was alright now. The first thing out of my comfort zone was telling my parents I was going to China and knowing the backlash that was coming for me and leaving the United States for a foreign country. I love to travel but this was like...I’m actually going to be there...when you’re there, you’re there. So that pushed me out of my comfort zone. The whole Chinese process is so much red tape. Dealing with the DMV is one thing but trying to get certain things done in China can really take you what feels like forever because everything is done in triplicate. When we wanted to switch rooms for our final exams, we would have to get different permissions because cheating is rampant to get a bigger room. If you gave a test to “Class A” by the time “Class B” is coming in they’ve already given them the answers so you have to give it all at the same time and have four different versions of the test. So you would think that if I had to get a bigger room there would be someone in charge of it, but you’d go to the admin of rooms and ask them and they’d say, “okay, now you have to go to the dean of rooms,” which wasn’t in the same building. And you’d have to take a piece of piper to another guy who would pull out a rolodex of cards, say, “okay,” and tell you to go to another guy and go to his office which would be on like the sixth floor of another room and he would say, “okay.” You’d have to think that there was a better way to do these things but China has 1.3 billion people to employ so the redundancies are just part of their system.
Question: Any thoughts on a second book?
Orendor: I’m thinking about staying in the writing mode but maybe going to fiction. I’d written some children’s fiction before I went to China so I’m not sure if I want to go back to that or go down to a different road. It’s one of those things where in fiction where the characters live in my head for a while and then come out, whereas with nonfiction I had journals and notes to go off of.
Question: Anything else you’d like to add?
Orendor: I just think that just based off of what I’ve heard, I’m just really happy that people, aside from mother, have bought the book, but I hope that when people read the book and take the journey with me that my purpose for being in China was to get out of my comfort zone. The title, the idea that we get bogged down with different fears, like do you have to do this, do you have to do that. It was just really nice that for five years I didn’t have to do the, “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” thing so I’m hoping that when people read the book, that when they come to the end they think about the things that have been holding them back from trying something new, that they would just be willing to at least try to see what happens. That would be cool.