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!READ KINDLE ⚓ Riding the Iron Rooster ☫ Paul Theroux Left Victoria Station On A Rainy Saturday In April Thinking That Taking Eight Trains Across Europe, Eastern Europe, The USSR And Mongolia Would Be The Easy Way To Get To The Chinese Border The Relaxing Way, Even He Would Read A Little, Take Notes, Eat Regular Meals And Gaze Contentedly Out Of Windows The Reality, Of Course, Was Very DifferentIn Fact, Theroux Experienced A Decidedly Odd And Unexpected Trip To China That Set The Challenging Tone For His Epic Year Long Rail Journey Around That Vast, Inscrutable Land A Journey Which Involved Riding Nearly Every Train In The Country Wry, Humorful And Occasionally Querulous As Theroux Makes Excruciatingly Clear, Travelling Alone In The Middle Kingdom Is Not For The Faint Of Heart Or Stomach Time
any travel book revealed about the traveller than it did about the country For the 3rd consecutive year, I have made it a point to read one Paul Theroux travel book at the beginning of the year On Goodreads, there are many unfavorable reviews who criticize that Theroux is judgmental and consistently disparaging his co travelers and the places he visits Funny enough, I don t get that impression at all I find that Theroux writes very honestly and doesn t want to romanticize the places he travels to nor travelling itself He is not afraid to bring forward his opinion and see the self destructiveness of mass tourism Especially in China, Theroux notices that there s to be experienced in interacting with the people and searching for nature I love how original his thoughts areSightseeing is one of the doubtful aspects of travel, and in China it is one of the least rewarding things a traveller can do primarily a distraction and seldom even an amusement It has all the boredom and ritual of a pilgrimage and none of the spiritual benefits I was very excited to read this book In the 80s, Theroux embarked on his second trip to China, making it a point to take every train possible to visit every corner of the country I have taken several trains in China myself, but at a much later time than Theroux His experience is based on China in the 80s and over 30 plus years later, the country has changed so much For me, it was interesting to compare what Theroux wrote with what I have experienced or know For example, Theroux loved his time in Tibet and how isolated it was from the rest of China Since 2006, one can take a train from several Chinese cities all the way to Lhasa That s a big changeYou have to see Tibet to understand the Chinese And anyone apologetic or sentimental about Chinese reform had to reckon with Tibet as a reminder of how harsh, how tenacious and materialistic, how insensitive China could be The book starts out in London and the first chapter sees Theroux part of a tourist group crossing through Europe and Russia into Mongolia via the Trans Siberian Express After that he is pretty much on his own He visits 3 big Chinese cities Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou before embarking for the rural places However, that s when the Chinese government notices that there s a white guy travelling to these remote parts of China and thus, keep sending a chaperone to accompany Theroux it happens in Xinjiang, Tibet, Heilongjiang, Yunnan Three years ago, I visited several small Tibetan villages outside of Tibet in Gansu province and I noticed that every monk that led a tour group through the monastery was accompanied by a Han Chinese man, who made sure the monk wouldn t start talking about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence Two interesting quotes on Hong KongMaybe the Chinese government will straighten things out when they take over Hong Kong No They will ruin it No democracy There s no democracy there now It s a British colony The Governor General is appointed And the strange thing is, I said, because I had suddenly realized what a political anachronism Hong Kong was, very few people actually speak English in Hong Kong We speak Cantonese That s the point It s part of Guangdong province, really British culture didn t sink in It s all Cantonese This sleeping car was all Hong Kongers in screechy ski suits They had travelled non stop from Kowloon They had never before been to China, had never seen snow their English was very poor and yet they were colonial subjects of the British crown They did not speak Mandarin Like most Hong Kongers I had met they were complete provincials, with laughable pretensions Was it the effect of colonialism They were well fed and rather silly and politically naive In some ways Hong Kong was somewhat like Britain itself a bunch of offshore islands with an immigrant problem, a language barrier and a rigid class system I can t wait to read the next Paul Theroux book One of the Boxer chants in 1900 was Surely government banner men are many Certainly foreign soldiers a horde But if each of our people spits once They will drown banner men and invaders together Poems of Revolt, Peking, 1962 For most of us the glass is either half empty or half full But some take it further Over there in the corner sits Paul Theroux, sniffing grumpily at the chlorine in his paltry dose of water, and absently scratching at the thick coating of limescale on the side of the glass In his pocket sits his notebook, which later he shall use to diss both the water and the waitress.Why do we put up with it We put up with it because the man is brilliant.This was my first Theroux read, and what a delight it was Okay, so there is nothing he likes than prodding the underbelly of life why else would you spend a year travelling around China on the railways in 1986 He knew what he was getting into he d done it before But even for a rough around the edges stoic like Theroux, it must have been a serious challenge.and to do it for a whole year too It would have killed me.His encounters with the Chinese are not a touchy feely meeting of minds quite the opposite He especially dislikes the guides who are allocated to him by the Chinese authorities One of them almost kills him in a car crash, in part because Theroux won t tell him to slow down, even when they reach ludicrous speeds His leave taking of another guide is described thus When the whistle of my approaching train blew I took off my sheepskin mittens, my scarf, and the winter hat I had bought for this cold place I handed them to Mr Tian I won t need them in Dalian , I said.Mr Tian shrugged, shook my hand, and without another word walked off It was the Chinese farewell there was no lingering, no swapping of addresses, no reminiscence, nothing sentimental At the moment of parting they turned their back, because you ceased to matter and because they had so much else to worry about.Time and time again his comments about the Chinese are less than complimentary Herewith one of his many descriptions about the joys of Chinese train travel, much of which seemed truly horrible in a variety of different ways On these one day railway trips, the Chinese could practically overwhelm a train with their garbage Nearly everyone on board was befouling the available space While I sat and read I noticed that the people opposite, after only a few hours, had amassed on their table duck bones, fish bones, peanut shells, cookie wrappers, sunflower seed husks, three teacups, two tumblers, a thermos, a wine bottle, two food tins, spittings, leavings, orange rinds, prawn shells and two used nappies.They could be very tidy, but there was also something sluttishly comfortable about an accumulation of garbage, as though it were a symbol of prosperity.In the north of China he makes us feel the cold, right down to our bones.It was 5.30 on a Harbin morning, the temperature at minus thirty five Centigrade and a light snow falling little grains like seed pearls sifting down in the dark When the flurry stopped the wind picked up, and it was murderous Full on my face it was like being slashed with a razor The wind dropped by the cold remained It banged against my forehead and twisted my fingers and toes it burned my lips I entered the station waiting room and a chill rolled against me, as if my face had been pressed on a cold slab.And he does this sort of evocation with every place he visits There is an acute sense of being there with him, sharing the intense experiences of his journey Theroux finally emerges from his smouldering disgruntlement when he reaches Tibet, towards the end of his travels Here we get to share his enthusiasm for this land and its people He actually set off on the trip taking with him 50 pictures of the Dalai Lama, to give away as presents, suggesting an affiliation with Tibet even before he started the trip.This valley was steep and cold, and half in darkness it was so deep A river ran swiftly through it with birds darting from one wet boulder to anotherWhen we emerged from this valley we were higher, and among steep mountainsides and bluer, snowier peaks We travelled along this riverside in a burst of evening sunshine The valley opened wider, became sunnier and very dry and beyond the beautiful bare hills of twinkling scree there were mountains covered with frothy snow.In the distance was a red and white building, with sloping sides the Potala, so lovely, somewhat like a mountain and somewhat like a music box with a hammered gold lid.I had never felt happier, rolling into a town.It was good to end on an upbeat note, and know that even lemon sucking Theroux has a capacity for wonder.In spite of his largely petulant approach to life, I thought this was a marvellous book by a great writer. This book exhausted me 450 pages of train rides, blurred landscapes, glib conversations, and Paul Theroux s relentlessly consistent authorial voice throughout, cramming in detail after detail from a year long journey throughout China in 1987 it became a reading challenge than a pleasure I wasn t about to get off the train in Heilongjiang, worn out around page 300, not because I was so riveted, but rather because I wanted to know if he would ever bring it all together, if his partial and often repetitious reflections would ever coalesce into a larger meditation his consciousness of travel writing as autobiography does little to bring out critical reflections of his own judgments I suppose he did, in part, take me as a reader to a final destination that put the rest of the trip into a clearer perspective I will not spoil the details, but I can easily say that the last chapter makes the whole endurance read worthwhile, especially under the conditions in which I experienced it that is, living in Chengdu, the last big city before the Tibetan frontier, in the middle of the largest Tibetan uprising since 1959, only two months before Beijing is to host the 2008 Olympic games His fondness for Tibet and the risks he takes to be there are sentiments I hold close to my heart.Both the greatest fascination and largest frustrations I felt with this book stemmed from the inevitable constant comparisons I made with my own China experiences Of course, the country in which I live is not the same as the one he visited, separated as we are by not only two very different personalities and purposes, but also two decades of monumental attitudinal and political change The China Theroux explores is one just emerging from its era of isolation, and is in a breathless and mistrustful, albeit hopeful, period of testing the air let in from Deng Xiaoping s open door policies People seem eager to talk to Theroux, although it is often unclear which language they are using his Chinese seems to be much better than mine After 7 months in one place, I have yet to be invited into someone s home The yuan is stronger against the dollar in 1987 than it is now bicycles are still a dominant form of transportation in many areas the Cultural Revolution is still a topic of regretful conversation the Internet has yet to consume the minds of the youth, and the one child policy has yet to produce its generation of solipsistic princelings and career driven princesses He spends pages admiring Chinese craftsmanship in the objects of daily life locks, clocks, fountain pens I wonder how it is that these things could have changed so quickly my bicycle lock can be unhinged by a sharp gust of wind I also wonder how much the introduction of American consumer demands for cheap crap have contributed to the downward spiral.Perhaps the most chilling inconsistency between his China and the one I see every day is the absence of the events in Tian an men Square in 1989 He discusses student protests in passing, and he and others make innocent predictions they will amount to nothing, most say They do not have the courage, or even, Things are different now the State will do little in response It will all blow over My edition of this book was published in 1988 I cannot help but wonder if he added a note to later editions, a comment in retrospect on the irony of these passing predictions, all laid bare and sadly naive in the glare of recent Chinese history.Many things are, of course, the same, and so familiar I laughed out loud the shrieking into telephones the utter lack of safety precautions anywhere the staggering, ultraplanetary beauty of the Tibetan landscape the impossible yet tenacious geometry of the rice terraces the gross views afforded by public trench style squat toilets the luscious smells of steamed dumplings the ubiquitous hawking of lougies and spitting on the floor in restaurants, classrooms, buses, bars Theroux is a fine writer his attention to human detail is commendable, and, unlike most travel writers, he admits to his own presence in a clear and responsible fashion you cannot pretend that the experiences he puts forth are your own You are simply sitting beside him, privy to his thoughts The book is a rambling chain of anecdotes, prone to repeating observations at times, but also giving a genuine warmth to each new interaction as characters come in and out of view, and offering a due nod to the immense cultural complexity of a place like China, unified in many ways only by government.An unwieldy and tiring book, but full of fascinating detail and unusually privileged insight and occasionally, funny as hell. We moved to China this year, largely ignorant of China s history, both recent and ancient This book was incredibly eye opening as to what the cultural revolution entailed, what it did to Chinese culture and people, and how much things have changed here since the book was written Theroux captures the essence of China quite clearly for us While he seems unlikeable or crabby at times, he is also very real and very clear about what travelers oftentimes must endure for the sake of a journey, of learning, of stretching. A year in China in the mid 1980 s Pretty much if the train went there, so did Theroux.He is a cynical man, who generally dislikes than he likes, but he manages to describe fantastically what it is he doesn t like I enjoyed this than The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, although they are very similar in style.The first chapter was enough to convince me I would enjoy this book It tells of Theroux joining a group tour from London to China by train Why he ever thought that would be a good idea I don t know The awful people, the grating discomfort of being stuck with them the whole time, all so accurately described Also amusing that they didn t know who he was, and discussing the Great Railway Bazaar.So on into China, where each train trip is described, along with his fellow travellers, then his exploring of the destination, and again, the people he meets.I particularly enjoyed the way Theroux interprets the ubiquitous Chinese laugh, used at the end of a sentence to express any number of things The laugh meant emphatically Don t bring that up. This ha ha meant Rules are rules I don t make them , so you should not be difficult. the chattering laugh that means You have just asked me a tactless question, but I will answer anyway. This laugh meant You are a fool. His laugh was urgent, and meant No questions pleaseIt was one of the few genuine laughs in China It meant We can always fool a foreignerAn insightful mixture of travel, history, geography sociology. Among the first inventions of the Chinese were such things as toilet paper they were enad with paper and in fact invented a paper armor consisting of pleats which were impervious to arrows , the spinning wheel, seismograph, steam engine as early as 600 A.D and parachute hang gliders in 550 559 B.C which they tested by throwing prisoners off towers This same country, according to Paul Theroux in Riding the Iron Rooster, is driving many animals to extinction The Chinese like to eat strange foods and are superstitious about the medicinal value of exotic animals who achieve status not from individual beauty or from intrinsic qualities, but because they taste good Theroux, who has a passion for trains, wandering, and gossip, found many changes in China since his first visit of several years earlier People were much freer and willing to talk Theroux s writing is fascinating because he s so nosy He s not afraid to ask anything And he notices everything It s his way of getting the measure of a place If he sees someone reading he makes note of the title, memorizes the contents of refrigerators, labels in clothes, compares prices, copies graffiti and slogans, and collects hotel rules My favorite Guests may not perform urination in sink basin At one point he was forced to fly to catch a particular train and his description is particularly revolting people standing in the aisles while landing, puking, the plane popping wheelies on the runway, the aircraft itself having wrinkled skin The cultural revolution was uniformly hated by everyone he spoke with and the change in the people could be measured by the change in their slogans Formerly when students were asked what they wanted to do with themselves they would reply, to serve people A book filled with interesting tidbits.I should note, as an avid reader of Airways magazine that airlines in China have improved tremendously, have terrific equipment today, and service standards far exceeding United s Theroux s book is quite dated in that respect. Want to understand China Read this along with Peter Hessler s Rivertown and you will get a pretty good picture.Unlike most travel writers, Theroux is cynical, and accordingly perhaps a little insightful Anne Tyler may have written The Accidental Tourist , but Theroux is certainly the reluctant tourist. The nice thing about buying books by the box at a used book sale is that I ll take a chance on something I normally wouldn t pick up at full price In this case it was a travelogue Paul Theroux s travels through China took place in the mid 80 s, which makes most of the political content somewhat dated not to mention repetitive to the Nth degree Everyone in China that he comes across gets questioned about the changes in the political climate, specifically the differences between Mao and the reforms of Deng the Chinese leader at the time the book was written Over and over again Ad nauseam The book also has a tendency to drag at times With that said, Theroux s humor and keen eye for detail carry the day The anecdotes that book end his travels are priceless The first revolves around his initial journey to China with a tour group and his snarky remarks written about the group and the stops along the way The drive to Tibet at the end of the book is memorably rendered and caps off the book quite nicely.Some of the reviews of this book on Goodreads characterize Theroux as someone who hates people That s kind of a broad brush stroke to peg Theroux as some sort of misanthrope Sure he poked fun at the travel group but that attitude, for the most part, didn t carry over to his views of the people he encountered in China I would assume most people pick up his travelogues for his POV and not specifically the destinations and in this book he s generally pretty even handed in his portrayals of the people he meets. Podemos sempre enganar um forasteiro Este o prov rbio chin s que o autor pretendeu desmentir ao penetrar nos meandros daquele mundo distante, anci o, com quarenta s culos de hist ria registrada, e cujo tempo tem dimens o pr pria, diferente da nossa Perambulou pela China desde Mong lia ao Cant o, de oeste a leste, ele conseguiu vivenciar todo tempo o quanto foi forasteiro Em cada risada, em cada express o, ele conseguiu entender o que se queria dizer, que nada tinha de engra ado Ele nos serviu e servir como legenda das diversas gargalhadas Entretanto ele n o conseguiu acesso alma chinesa Dos motivos profundos das suas atitudes e comportamentos Apenas conseguiu se parecer com um chin s, nos h bitos, na indiferen a, ou complac ncia pelo ex tico e o diferente Por m, jamais foi ou conseguir ser um deles Essa a impress o que o livro deixa Cada ser humano ao nascer parece embutir hist rias cujo teor ele desconhece, mas ainda assim, elas est o l em suas rea es, sem que ele mesmo saiba o porqu daquilo E tampouco n s ficamos sabendo ao terminando Outros autores escrevem que a China um imp rio im vel Mesmo que seu povo percorra de trem por todo lado, n o conseguimos desmentir a imobilidade do imp rio Eles t m o h bito de fazer um balan o pol tico a cada sessenta anos, por isso mesmo, sabem do car ter passageiro de tudo, e aproveitam o seu dia ao m ximo, certos de que tudo ir mudar.Apreciamos com curiosidade a dificuldade dele em se desviar dos guias sugeridos para acompanhar suas visitas, mostrou incansavelmente o rep dio de toda popula o contra o Bando dos Quatro e a Revolu o Cultural que devastou a vida chinesa quela poca E s encontrou paz e sossego no Tibete Um lugar que apesar de inexor vel e insistentemente assediado pelo imp rio n o se rendeu e continuou estrangeiro Tanto o Tibete quanto Paul Theroux, ambos forasteiros Contudo, o Tibete desmente o ad gio e n o se deixou enganar Fica ao seu leitor habitual a impress o de superficialismo e apelo ao ex tico, burlesco e escatol gico o que inclui uma fisiologia do cuspe , sem o compromisso da an lise imparcial P ginas recheadas de pessoas confirmando suas impress es, querendo confirmar seus pontos de vista O contato com alguns mandarins sim, eles ainda existem foi bastante r pido e se limitou a comentar obras ocidentais A China continua um mist rio, um escritor indicado pelo pr prio Theroux, escreveu vinte e sete volumes, relatando a dimens o da obra daquele povo e falaceu insatisfeito.