I may have started a new fulltime job recently but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to read another book about China. This latest book is Lost on Planet China by J. Marteen Troost, whose previous book was about living on tiny Pacific islands whilst accompanying his wife who worked in international development. Lost on Planet China is like a traveler’s dream about wandering all over China. Troost, who speaks no Mandarin and hasn’t ever been to China, decides out of the blue to go to China and write a book. Fresh out of living in remote Pacific islands where he kind of lost touch with reality, he finds after returning to the US that China is the it nation in the news, the rising dragon who might one day knock America off its perch.
Anyways, the author ups and sets off for Beijing, leaving behind his wife and two little kids. His lack of Chinese linguistic or cultural skills means he is basically repulsed, fascinated and bemused by pretty much everything he sees. In every page, it seems the author can’t help talking about the noise, the crowds, the pollution and the horrible architecture. China is powerful and it is fascinating, but it is also dirty, crowded and cruel. The sight of a mutilated boy beggar, whose missing arms didn’t seem to be natural due to scars on his stumps, saddens Troost, preventing him from having any warm feelings about China. It sounds like it must be a really ignorant book, but actually, Troost manages to write an amusing and entertaining account of his time in China. His travels are also very impressive.
His itinerary included basically every great city and every major region of interest – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hong Kong (which he really loves because it’s so gentle and civilized compared to the mainland), Qingdao, Harbin, Sichuan, Yunnan, and even Tibet and Taishan, one of the holiest mountains in China. That the author deliberately visits Nanjing, which despite its history isn’t a big tourist destination, to try to understand China’s anti-Japanese feelings shows that he’s not just on a merry jaunt. He also gets what China is about, which is change (though it’d be hard to visit China and not figure this out). Of course, at the end of it, this really is a travel book meant to entertain, but because the writer doesn’t harbor any pretensiousness and mocks both the country and himself, he does a great job of presenting China.