Monday, February 22, 2016

Two Travel Books That Will Make You Feel Like You Made The Trip (Even If You Never Left the Couch)

I love planning a trip. It’s one of my absolute favorite things. It’s anxiety inducing: What if I fly half way across the world but miss something wonderful and never get to go back! But I also get a nerdy kind of thrill from research (the term being broadly defined), so I love copiously evaluating all of our food, hotel and sightseeing options beforehand and then seeing how they play out when we get there. (Matt has a fly-by- the-seat-of-your-pants approach to travel, so our different approaches cause tension while simultaneously producing a yin-and-yang kind of trip.)

I’m not currently trip planning but have itchy feet and wish I was. With spring break and summer peeking onto the horizon, here are two books to read if you’re dying to go but aren’t actually going.

Wanderlust cured (almost).

Lost on Planet China _ Tiananmen Square

Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation – Someone recommended this to me before we went to China but I didn’t actually get it or start reading it until we were in-country nd I serendipitously found it. (thank you hotel give a book/get a book shelf). The book was published in 2008 and I visited China in late 2014, but even though the country is rapidly changing I found the book to be spot-on. And funny. Like laugh out loud snorting on the airplane funny. It’s humorous because so much of what the author experienced was what I was living firsthand. 

Here’s a sample, “Imagine tens of millions of people screaming into their handsets – Can you hear me now? – and you have an idea what urban China is like. It’s true. Wei is the standard greeting when answering a cell phone in China, and it does indeed mean Can you hear me? This alone struck me as a compelling argument for the return of the rotary phone.”

This book is an irreverent take on one man’s love affair with China.
Phra Farang_Thailand

The Phra Farang: An English Monk In ThailandThis is another book I picked up from a hotel library. (Don’t tell but I didn’t give a book, I just got a book.) It was a book I was chancing but it turned out to be fascinating.

It’s about a British citizen who becomes an ordained Buddhist monk in Thailand. I was interested because Buddhism is so tightly woven into Thai culture.

The reverence for monks in Thailand is very high. Their position entitles them to certain status and they aren’t subjected to the same scrutiny as members of the clergy here in the US. But this book “pierced the veil” a bit, so to speak. The author wrote about how some people become monks to escape poverty, a lack of education, even the law. It all makes sense, but it’s something I hadn’t really considered.

The book isn’t a criticism of Buddhism or even monks (although there is some of that). It’s more an outsider’s take on an insider’s position in a religion and in Thai society. It was both enlightening and funny. By way of example, the author talks about making alms rounds in the farming villages. He says his feet were sore from all of the walking plus the heat, so he stopped to soak his feet in deep puddles in the wet mud thanking Buddha for the providential respite. He learned from the shocked looks of the novice monks that he was standing in water buffalo urine.

PS. More thoughts on Thailand and on China.

1 comment:

  1. In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson. -- K