Monday, March 2, 2009

Lost on Planet China

Lost on Planet China: One Man's Quest to Understand the Most Mysterious Country in the World
© 2088 J. Maarten Troost
382 pages

While looking for a book on Chinese history, I encountered this travelogue and decided to give it a go. Lost on Planet China is the account of J. Maarten Troost's extended stay in China, which spans weeks at the very least. In beginning the book he writes on the subject of China's changing image in the world. He knows that China is not what it was during his childhood -- during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward -- and given its rising prominence in world affairs, he decides to visit it. Troost's perspective is an interesting one: both of his parents were European (Czech and Dutch) and he apparently spent his childhood in the Netherlands, although he now lives in the United States. The book is quite funny: he documents his initial reactions (and acclimated responses to) to various aspects of Chinese culture: the language barrier, the idea of children urinating in the street, the complete normality of dead livestock blocking sidewalks, the presence of street lamps decorated with Tibetan swastikas, and the art of haggling for the "Chinese price".

Although the book is entertaining and funny, it is also informative in that Troost adds commentary to what he observes. He sees China still trying to create an identidy for itself -- embracing the wild materialism of the United States while hanging on to the Cultural Revolution and trying to decide whether to divorce itself from or embrace the past. It was well worth the time I spent read, and if you are at all interested in what experiencing China is like, I reccommend it.

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