Sunday, May 30, 2021

Lost On Planet China by J. Maarten Troost


After living on remote, lowly populated South Pacific islands for several years, J. Maarten Troost decided it was time for a change.  He decided to visit the most populous and largest country on Earth, China.  Everyone has thoughts about how China must be; the legends of coolies and Emperors, samurai and geishas with bound feet.  Troost went to see if these impressions were real.  It was particularly amazing since he didn't speak the language.

While they might have been at one time, today's China is vastly different.  The peasants in the countryside have in huge numbers moved into the cities.  Cities of a million or more spring up everywhere and industrialization is the key.  This results in huge heaps of coal and slag everywhere and the most smog-ridden air found anywhere.

Troost is known for his wry humor and there is much of that here.  He talks about the crowds and how shoving and pushing to get onto trains and buses is the way it is done.  His dilemma in restaurants where he rarely knew what he was ordering and surprised at how every part of every animal and insect was used is hilarious.  He talks about the time of Mao and how the country was torn apart and of the One Child policy that has resulted in millions of men unable to find wives and the resulting widespread prostitution that tries to alleviate the situation.  

Troost visits the crowded cities.  He visits the shores and the mountainous country near Tibet.  He sees many museums and religious shrines as well as the Great Wall and the terracotta soldiers.  He travels by air, by boat, by train and by car and insists the Chinese are the worst soldiers in the world.  His favorite part is Tibet where the air is cleaner, the population less dense and the people pleasant and welcoming.  He leaves knowing that he has only scratched the surface of this huge land and the customs of its people.  This book is recommended for travel writing readers.

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