A Brutally Honest Experience of China..?

In The Art of Travel, 6. Book #1, Shanghai by Yuka Niwa

In his book “Lost on Planet China..”, J. Maarten Troost depicts China from a completely Western perspective that is brutally honest as he explores the country that considered “the future”(pg.13) . Although Mr. Troost is familiar with, “flitting from island to island in the South Pacific” (pg.1) and surviving on,“the rugged hills of Vanuatu” (pg.1), nowhere could compare to or prepare him for a country that was and is developing at a rate that has been previously unwitnessed in history.

Troost’s perspective on China when he initially arrives in Beijing is unadulterated shock. There is an extreme cognitive dissonance between his idea of China growing up and the China of the modern day and age that slightly mimicked my own mental disconnect when I first visited Shanghai. “Where were the May Day parades, the ominous displays of military might, the calls to revolution? Where were the workers in the jaunty Mao jackets?” (pg.11). As he spends more and more of his time exploring the country, he realizes that although almost everything and everywhere is being replaced with a new metropolis of the modern day, it is as though everyone was suddenly placed into the future. “The ancient cores of cities were flattened and from the ashes new power plants were built” (pg.28).  He believes that China has developed so quickly that there was no time for people to catch up in terms of dealing with pollution, mannerisms, and overall behavior.  It is a country of opposites, there are the extremely rich and the extremely poor. There are extremely well built and developed areas, while there are also extremely rural areas. Therefore, as he sits in one of the newly constructed shopping malls sipping his Starbucks and staring at the Ferrari dealership that is casually across the street, he is unable to grasp the concept of “China” and deems it a planet of its own sorts.

However, even though the book was written in 2008, Troost’s experience and perspective of China already drastically differs from my own. For example, when he just arrives in Beijing, he asks his friend Dan to introduce him to a translator. His friend takes him to entrance of a 5-star hotel and asks a well dressed woman who seems to be a “take-out lady” to translate for him. The woman, known as “Meow-meow” when asked about the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989 that occurred in Beijing, has no recollection of the event and says, “I don’t know about this. Was it something that occurred during the Cultural Revolution?” (pg.49). If I were to ask about this event now, it is hard to believe that someone would be unaware of it. Troost also mentions that there are a lot of complexes that resemble his memory of the communist complexes stemming from his half-Czech heritage. He also speaks of the horrid smog and pollution which the Chinese seem ignorant of. However, looking around in Shanghai, the sights, people, and environment in general are a lot better than Troost gives China credit for.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am familiar with Chinese culture that makes what Troost views to be extremely strange mannerisms and ideas not that strange to me. It may also be that China has developed even further in the right direction since his experience. Nonetheless, I appreciate reading his perspective as he can be considered a complete foreigner to Chinese culture and there were many jokes that I found novel and quite hilarious.

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