Somewhere along the line, the name J. Maarten Troost was brought to my attention and several of his books ended up on my wish list for friends and family who wish to buy me a gift. So it wasn't a surprise that his book, "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" ended up in my to-be-read pile.
If I had to describe J. Maarten Troost's style of writing, I would say it is a cross between Bill Bryson and Tim Cahill, two of my favorite authors so it is no surprise that Troost is now on that list. More than once I suffered bruised ribs from being punched for my loud laughing that woke up a sleeping Mrs. Abbey. More than once, I found myself giggling like a school girl as I read through the pages, something a grown man now halfway through his average lifespan shouldn't sound like. Thus I can't wait to dig into his other books, "Getting Stoned With Savages" or "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" which also grace my to-be-read pile.
China is one of those countries which interest me but not to the extent that I desire to actually go there. I picture it as this huge over crowded and poluted country where English is nowhere to be found and foreigners are treated as aliens from another planet. According to Troost's account of his months spent traveling throughout the country, I was right on every account.
The seed to visit Troost was planted while he was living on Onotoa, a tiny atoll in the Gilbert group of the South Pacific when Chinese business men began appearing. The only other group to rival them seemed to be Mormon missionaries and so Troost's curiosity was picked. He eventually settled in San Francisco and after selling his over priced house before the housing bubble burst, he began to think of possible places to live outside the U.S. China was all over the radar and in the news so he set off to explore the giant country.
Because the book was published in 2008 and his travels not much earlier, this book is fresh and extremely interesting not to mention hillarious. From Troost's account of accidentally ordering live squid to accidentally soliticiting the services of a prostitute to stumbling into a hidden gay bar, this book is sure to leave you laughing. In between accounts of getting into trouble, Troost weaves a picture of China's past, present and future.
I am now solidly a Troost fan and give this book five out of five stars. If you are still not sure if Troost is for you, I leave you with one of his five rules you should know if you are thinking of visiting China.
Food can be classified as meat, poultry, grain, fish, fruit, vegetable and Chinese. Embrace the Chinese. If you love it, it will love you back. True, you may find yourself perplexed by what resides on your plate. You may even be appalled. The Chinese have an expression: We eat everything with four legs except the table, and anything with two legs except the person. They mean it too. And so you may find yourself in a restaurant in Guangzhou contemplating the spicy cow veins; or the yak dumplings in Lhasa, or the grilled frog in Shanghai, or the donkey hotpot in the Hexi Corridor, or the live squid on the island of Putuoshan. And you may not know, exactly, what it is you’re supposed to do. Should you pluck at this with your chopsticks? The meal may seem so very strange. True, you may be comfortable eating a cow, or a pig, or a chicken, yet when confronted with a yak or a swan or a cat, you do not reflexively think of sauces and marinades. The Chinese do however. And so you should eat whatever skips across your table. It is here where you can experience the complexity of China. And you will be rewarded. Very often, it is exceptionally good. And when it is not, it is undoubtedly interesting. And really, when traveling what more can one ask for. So go on. Eat as the locals do. However, should you find yourself confronted with a heaping platter of Cattle Penis with Garlic, you’re on your own.