Re-review of Lost on Planet China

8 05 2010

Before going to China, Elínborg and I read Lost On Planet China by J. Maarten Troost to prepare us for what was to come.  We both really liked the book, it was both entertaining and interesting and a good preparation for our trip.  You can see my previous review here.

First I would like to restate that reading the book was a great preparation to visiting China.  What the book did was lowering almost all of my expectations of China.  The book displayed the people as rude  and difficult and I found the author, especially towards the beginning, to a bit like a baby that has leaving home for the first time without the knowledge that other people might be different from him self.

I can see now, after travelling through China for three weeks, that the author obviously chose to exaggerate quite a bit to be create a more compelling story.  After all, fiction is so much more exciting than ordinary life, so who can really blame him? 

To the author’s defense I’ve read that before the Olympics, Chinese authorities campaigned for a better behavior from Chinese citizens, hanging up signs and handing out pamphlets – no spitting on the street  and so on – so that might contribute to the discrepancy between our experience and his.

Of course we didn’t travel as extensively as Mr. Troost but I don’t think that really changes much.  As I’ve said before he seemed to like China more and more each day.  We definitely loved China and the Chinese people (as you can see here) the culture and the many historic sites in China – even though we thought that quite many of them were way over hyped.

Just to summarize, I would again highly recommend this book to anyone that intends to visit China.  It is highly entertaining and if nothing else, at least it will lower your expectations.  Like someone told me – happiness is nothing more than expectation management!

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Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

24 02 2010

lost1 The full title of the book, that sets the tone “Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid” …no more and no less.  I listened to the audio book, read by Simon Vance.

The book is the author’s third travel book.  His other titles are Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuat and The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific.

His last book is a tale of the authors travels through China.  In the prefix the authors talks about wanting to move to China so the book really tells of his reconnaissance trip to investigate how it would be to move with a family of four to China.  The author spends a few months traveling through China – north to south and east to west.  He explores both the backpacking scene and on a few occasions travels “business style”.

This is a very interesting book for anyone interested in China and especially for those that want to or are planning to visit China as the author visits a lot of places in China and gives his honest opinion of them all.  He is not trying to sugar-coat anything and if he thinks a place is crappy he will say so.

I really liked the book but there were two things that bothered me.  Firstly, I found the author to be very negative for the most part of the book, it is not until he travels to western China that he finds anything he likes.  Maybe that is his honest opinion but I think that when you are traveling your mood will change how you perceive a place and for the first half of the book the author does certainly seem in a pessimistic or negative mood.  Secondly, I found that the author tries too hard to be funny.  As seen on the book titles, the author is a funny guy and in this book you can really tell that he is trying hard to keep up his funny remarks and witty jokes.  The reader of the audio book tries also to put his dramatic mark on the book and having those two trying to be dramatic and funny was a bit too much for me.

Just to sum this up, the book is really interesting for people with a keen interest in China and might be going there in the future but the others should rather tune into something else.

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Update: Here you can see my re-review of the book after travelling in China for three weeks.