Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Searching for Something in Modern China

Well, I'm resurfacing here. It's a really busy semester for me, homework wise. Plus, work's been crazy. Also, I've started randomly embroidering tea towels, and wonder of wonders, I've actually had a bit of a social life lately.

Anyway, I'm back now. I not only haven't been blogging, but I've been out of the whole blogosphere for a few weeks. I've probably missed some massive bit of earth-shattering news. Ah well.

In the meantime, I've jacked my back again. So, I'm in a lot of pain. At least this time I can still walk. (Last time I messed it up, I was in a wheelchair for two days.)

I thought I'd made my return debut on Nonfiction Monday with 2 adult books about China.

Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man Oliver August

This is a fascinating account of the lawlessness and decadence that goes along with the New China.

Obstensibly, it's about one reporter's quest to uncover the true story of Lai Changxing--a tycoon that was the Xiamen's darling and the poster boy for China's economic prosperity until he ended up fleeing to Canada on corruption charges.

But, it's more about August's observations of a society in flux and the effect that change has on all manner of people. August focus's on the seamy underbelly that such prosperity brings-- and all those who enjoy it.

Highly accessible, I recommend it for anyone who wants a hard look at modern China as well as well thought out explanations of why things are progressing the way they are. I also recommend it for anyone who likes stories with bandits and pretty ladies and corrupt government officials.

Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman's Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own Polly Evans

Polly Evans had a really crappy trip to China. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize this. Her "humor" seems to be making cranky, ignorant remarks about things she doesn't understand at all. Her explanation of various aspects of Chinese culture and history are superficially explained that where they're not wrong, they're also rarely right.

Her favorite parts of her trip seem to include
1. Idyllic villages that haven't seen any modernization. (Isn't poverty quaint?!)
2. Four star Western hotels
3. Starbucks

Everything else is described as a "hellhole." Seriously. I also love her rants on the Americanization of the world, followed by how much she can't wait to get to the Sheraton.

At points, she seems to realize that she's unnaturally grumpy and cranky. She chalks it up, understandably, to loneliness and the fact that traveling alone in China, when you don't speak Chinese and aren't a Sinophile is incredibly hard and physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. A lot of her comments are what I felt on my lowest days when I lived in China, but...

She's a travel writer. That's what she does. If she can't handle traveling alone in a foreign environment without proclaiming the landscape hellish and the people poisonous, maybe she should get a nice desk job.

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