Monday, July 21, 2008

Lost On Planet China

Lost On Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost
$13.77 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 978-0-7679-2200-5
This is a new and outstanding travel memoir by the charming and handsome author of Getting Stoned With Savages. He spent several months visiting one of the largest and least understood countries in the world, and reported back the experience.
China is home to 1.3 billion people, one fifth of the entire human population on Earth..
For most of us in the western world, knowledge of Chinese culture ends with Chairman Mao, who emerged in 1949 as the last man standing after a long and bitter civil war. At the time, China was a 
land of farmers still recovering from decades of poverty, and yet Mao believed that his country should rule the world. This period is often referred to as the Great Leap Forward, and it was somewhat a mixed blessing. Roughly 70 million people are believed to have perished during his reign.
On the positive side, it does seem to have prepared China for its role as a superpower. Today business, finance, and manufacturing all revolve around China, and for the first time in its history, an average citizen has the 
opportunity to get rich. Prosperity finally seems to be coming to people who've suffered long and horribly.
So what's been happening since then? Troost didn't know much more than anyone else when he set off to find out. On the plane, we find him frantically reading Chinese for Dummies, unable to make much sense out of it. There are thirteen main languages and hundreds of dialects, so it's of little use in any case.
He visits the Great Wall, which he says is like a jagged stone snake, impervious to all obstacles. No one really know how long the Great Wall is. Some say as much as 4,500 miles, others a more modest 1,500 miles. They are still finding parts of it, in 2002 another 360 mile section was excavated.
There are a lot of places I'd love to visit after reading about them here: the sacred mountain of Tai Shan sounds lovely, an arduous but picturesque 6,600 step climb past hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas. The Forbidden City (shown above) has always tempted me.
There's an awful lot about the terrible pollution: power plants, hydroelectric dams, chimneys with billowing plumes of smoke. China burns more coal than the United States, Japan, and Europe combined. Troost says the air is so rank and dense with pollutants that even a Republican would be hollering for clean air.
Overall, it sounds like a fun trip in a fascinating and diverse country. Especially timely with the Olympics only two weeks away, Lost On Planet China is a truly enjoyable introduction to this great nation you may know almost nothing about. 
Stories about one's travels are always fun, full of lost luggage and insane taxi drivers. The writer is funny and informative, and the destination mysterious and exotic. Highest marks to a surefire winner.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Ew! You got a pictures of the 1980's of HK, that is so old fashioned.

You're right about China is the least understood country in thr world, and my city is the most misunderstood city in the world...

I would love to chat with you or e-mail and talk about all these.