While reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China, I was at first taken aback by the brashness of his observations. As early as the introduction, he states “there will be no fucking sunsets in the pages that follow.” Troost’s refreshingly blunt tone makes for an enjoyable read, especially while in the country he is writing about.
One of the most memorable sections for me personally was Troost’s observation of the flight over to China. He starts by saying “It was an awfully long flight.” This unadorned statement of fact mimics the feeling of getting off the flight. It’s exactly what you say to everyone who asks you, “How was the flight?” when you call from the airport and you’re still recovering from the worst sedentary 14 hours of your life. When I flew to London last year, it was my first time being on a flight for more than 4 hours. Leading up to my departure from the wonderful United States to foreign China, I worried most about what I would do on the flight. My in-flight experience was similar to Troost’s, who “endured three movies of sufficient banality…I read. I dozed fitfully.” Apparently, everyone does the same three activities on their absurdly long flights to Asia.
When it comes to traveling to a new country, I’m always frightened of, for some reason, not being let in. Troost describes coyly looked bored while standing in front of the officer at passport control. Especially with a country as formidable as China, the sound of the stamp hitting the pages of my passport brought me great relief as I headed to baggage claim to pick up my luggage.
When Troost gets onto the road, he observes that, “elsewhere in the world, a four-lane highway suggests that no more than four vehicles can move forth side by side. Yet somehow, in China, seven cars manage to share a space designed for four.” This is probably the statement that resonates most with me as I continue to experience Shanghai everyday. Every time I get into a cab with my friends, I count how many near-death experiences we have.
Traveling to China is almost as defining as an experience as living here is. I try not to think about my 14-hour flight back to the United States once the semester is over, but it’s an inevitable fact of life that I must face again. It is comforting to know that when I step off the plane at LaGuardia Airport, I’ll be greeted by the interesting smell of New York City and only four cars in four lanes of traffic.