October 06, 2011

Lost on Planet China by J Maarten Troost

This book was not at all what I expected. Having read reviews of Troost's work I had expected something funny, uplifting and definitely a great description of the areas he visited. What I got was something funny, somewhat depressing and a biased view of the areas he visited.

Having lived in the tropics for awhile Troost had already wrote books about those areas. Now, living in California, he decided a trip to China would be interesting. Packing his bags he left his kids and wife in Sacramento and started his journey of the large country known as China.

He goes many places while there, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tibet, and many other cities and rural areas. However, the prevailing theme of these areas seems to be pollution, people relieving themselves in the streets, brothels, and people hacking up their lungs. Now I don't deny that China has some serious pollution and social order problems, what I do deny is the fact that he didn't really find anything positive to write about when traveling to all these different places. There were times when you thought you were about to have something positive shown, but then he'd snatch it away claiming he couldn't see it because of the smog. Could this be true? Maybe. But not to the extent he took it is my guess.

There was one part where he and a friend (who was equally pessimistic) hiked to a gorge. There was a lot of build up to seeing this gorge. And then, after crossing the waterfall they somehow ended up in another town. While I guess I could have missed it, I read the section twice, and did not find any actual description of seeing this amazing gorge. This same thing happens with climbing a mountain, he reaches the top only to find it overly crowded and the view somewhat blocked by smog.

The only positive writings I do remember are in description of the food. While he has some nervousness on eating it initially, most of what he tries ends up being wonderful. Which is a relief really, I was hoping the trip wasn't all doom and gloom. Tibet he also treated as sort of luke warm, blaming the Chinese for ruining the wonderness of it all and making it less than it should be. While Tibet has had several atrocities done to it, surely just being there would have been amazing for any traveler I would think.

A redeeming thing about Troost though is that he is very funny. Even though the book was disheartening, he did it comically. Its amazing how one man can have so much trouble haggling and finding himself in uncomfortable situations. Not to mention the language barrier made things interesting for him as well. I should note that some of his jokes were political in nature and could be offensive for some people.

I won't say I actually hated the book. I enjoyed some of it and I did like Troost's writing style. That alone made up for the severely pessimistic tone that he took. I just wished that he could have shared more of the good side of China in addition to the bad. It would appear that he did extensive research before visiting because he was able to tell a bit of the history of each place he visited and also was able to tell the history of some of the reign of Mao. It wasn't included extensively in his book but it did provide a nice background to focus on when reading about his travels.

I'll probably read his other books, just because they are supposed to be more positive than this one. Even if they are just as pessimistic though his writing is sure to be just as humorous.

Lost on Planet China
Copyright 2008
380 pages

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