This country just rubs me the wrong way. And since it’s a huge country with a huge population, when it rubs it really burns. So, no wonder that whenever China is being mentioned, I begin to foam at the mouth like a rabid skunk. As a preventive measure, because no one likes a woman who’s spitting venom and pissing cement (and foaming at the mouth like a rabid skunk) at the very mention of China, I try to avoid the subject in general and the country in particular. I draw the line at kung pao chicken, though. It’s yummy.
So it was with certain trepidation that I agreed to read “Lost on Planet China - One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation” by J. Maarten Troost (Broadway Books).
J. Maarten Troost had the foresight and good sense to write about other topics before he took on China, and he can thank the cannibals and their sex lives for the fact that I decided to read what he had to say about the Middle Kingdom.
And he had a lot to say, indeed. Fortunately, he said it in a fun, easy to absorb way without insulting anybody’s intelligence (apart from a few million Chinese), so reading it (even though it was about China) wasn’t as painful as I had expected.
OK, so what’s this book about? China, duh!
But seriously, Mr. Troost goes to China to see it for himself. And what does he see? Environmental pollution of apocalyptic proportions, people who think that rules and common sense don’t apply to them, mountains of rubble, mounds of trash and loogies, ever present greed and loogies, Ferrari dealerships, pimps, fakes and body parts of endangered species. And yes, loogies.
But there are warm and fuzzy all over moments in the book, too. Granted, it’s hard to write about China’s minorities and Tibet without getting all touchy-feely, but luckily, Mr. Troost balances it out with his “brick through a window” kind of subtle tactfulness. Or is it tactful subtleness? Either way, he does it. And he does it good.
This is the kind of book about China that I could have written myself. If I could write books, that is. It doesn’t mince words and the words ain’t all pretty. Apart from the bits about Harbin, Dali, Tibet and a few other places with names too hard to spell.
But speaking of not pretty… I’m gonna bitch about the ending.
Listen, Mr. Troost. You bitched about the absurd ending of “Angels and Demons” in chapter 18 of your book (page 311, 6th line from the bottom, and yes, I have OCD, OK?) and then YOU have the balls to end YOUR book like THAT? WTF???
You said it yourself – “It works or fails by how it ends.” And reading the last sentences of “Lost on Planet China” I felt the same way you’d felt when you finished “The Da Vinci Code” (page 311, 2nd line from the bottom). Except instead of lightly soiled, I actually felt kinda glad. Why? That it was you, and not me, prancing around that mind-boggingly (insert your adjective of choice here) country.
PS. FYI, I have absolutely nothing against the people of China in general, I just have issues with some of their government policies. But those are my issues and I’m free to have them, because, boy ain’t I lucky, I live outside of China.
I like Chinese food, as long as it doesn’t involve cats and dogs and endangered species, anything else is fair game, or rather, fair meat on a stick.
And I love Hong Kong. I had a crush on this really cool Cantonese guy once, he had long hair, looked like a Cantopop star (Ekin Cheng eat your heart out!) and was totally hot… But that’s a whole another story. Some other time, maybe... My husband reads this blog, you know.
*) The title of this post was shamelessly swiped from the book itself. Page 210, 9th line from the bottom. Thank you!