Saturday, June 19, 2004

Wonderful randomness in the age of Kali

I recently read Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster – a travelogue of his railroad trip to China in the 80’s. It’s an admirable trip but after reading chapter after chapter of dull, interchangeable Chinese towns, I figure that he should have just stayed on the train, and get off at Tibet. Theroux is a very opinionated man and it definitely shows throughout the book. At one point, he berates a Chinese vendor for selling threatened wildlife meat. Maybe some readers would flinch at the “culturally-insensitive loud American tourist” but I say, give him more hell! Hey, he yelled at the guy in Mandarin – that’s pretty cool.

Theroux admits that a travelogue often reflects more on the writer than the actual travel destination. But I think a good writer should be able to let the idiosyncrasies of the country in question shine through, as opposed to his own. Mind you, I do think that Theroux is a good writer in his own right, but if you’re looking for travel books with a strong whiff of the author’s personality, then he’s your man. Otherwise, I’d recommend Mark Dalrymple, author of the ‘backpacker’s classic’, In Xanadu. I haven’t read that yet but I’ve read The Age of Kali: Travels and Encounters in India, which was excellent. The Ag e of Kali refers to the Hindu cosmology belief that India is currently in the period of “strife, corruption, darkness and disintegration”. Dalrymple has more of a journalistic eye compared to Theroux in the sense that he doesn’t let his personality overwhelm his travel writing.

The Age of Kali is about Dalrymple’s personal experience and observations in India. Intertwined with sober discourse such as encountering the feared Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (where he meets up with teenaged female warriors), are funny pieces about Benazir Bhutto’s Mills & Boons and Jemina Khan’s to-do list. It’s thought-provoking and definitely worth a read. Conclusion: I need to read more Dalrymple and less Theroux.

A wonderful, random thing has happened to me recently: someone – a complete stranger – has offered to mail the book, Beowulf to me, all the way from the United States. It’s bizarre because just last week I was thinking about this book and wanted to read it. Random acts of bookcrossing kindness are brilliant!

Another weird thing: I just found an mp3 of David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do” in my computer. I don’t remember downloading it – I hardly ever download music to begin with (am on dial-up – downloading in general is a bitch, which is best to be avoided). And no one ever touches my notebook. I’ve never even heard of him but it’s a great song – love it! Still don’t know how it wound up in my computer but I’m just going to pretend that I have a friendly mp3 fairy - for my inner five-year-old me.

[edit]: ok, so it's a sampler (thanks, andrea!). no friendly mp3 fairy - damn.


At 1:55 AM, Blogger bayibhyap said...

To access information to as many places as possible, especially places I cannot even hope to visit, I read the National Geographic. Some of the better articles are in fact written like travelogues. And the breath-taking photos can transport the reader there!!


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