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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

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The bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals returns with a sharply observed, hilarious account of his adventures in China—a complex, fascinating country with enough dangers and delicacies to keep him, and readers, endlessly entertained. Maarten Troost has charmed legions of readers with his laugh-out-loud tales of wandering the remote islands of the South Pacific. The bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals returns with a sharply observed, hilarious account of his adventures in China—a complex, fascinating country with enough dangers and delicacies to keep him, and readers, endlessly entertained. Maarten Troost has charmed legions of readers with his laugh-out-loud tales of wandering the remote islands of the South Pacific. When the travel bug hit again, he decided to go big-time, taking on the world’s most populous and intriguing nation. In Lost on Planet China, Troost escorts readers on a rollicking journey through the new beating heart of the modern world, from the megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai to the Gobi Desert and the hinterlands of Tibet. Lost on Planet China finds Troost dodging deadly drivers in Shanghai; eating Yak in Tibet; deciphering restaurant menus (offering local favorites such as Cattle Penis with Garlic); visiting with Chairman Mao (still dead, very orange); and hiking (with 80,000 other people) up Tai Shan, China’s most revered mountain. But in addition to his trademark gonzo adventures, the book also delivers a telling look at a vast and complex country on the brink of transformation that will soon shape the way we all work, live, and think. As Troost shows, while we may be familiar with Yao Ming or dim sum or the cheap, plastic products that line the shelves of every store, the real China remains a world—indeed, a planet--unto itself. Maarten Troost brings China to life as you’ve never seen it before, and his insightful, rip-roaringly funny narrative proves that once again he is one of the most entertaining and insightful armchair travel companions around.


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The bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals returns with a sharply observed, hilarious account of his adventures in China—a complex, fascinating country with enough dangers and delicacies to keep him, and readers, endlessly entertained. Maarten Troost has charmed legions of readers with his laugh-out-loud tales of wandering the remote islands of the South Pacific. The bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals returns with a sharply observed, hilarious account of his adventures in China—a complex, fascinating country with enough dangers and delicacies to keep him, and readers, endlessly entertained. Maarten Troost has charmed legions of readers with his laugh-out-loud tales of wandering the remote islands of the South Pacific. When the travel bug hit again, he decided to go big-time, taking on the world’s most populous and intriguing nation. In Lost on Planet China, Troost escorts readers on a rollicking journey through the new beating heart of the modern world, from the megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai to the Gobi Desert and the hinterlands of Tibet. Lost on Planet China finds Troost dodging deadly drivers in Shanghai; eating Yak in Tibet; deciphering restaurant menus (offering local favorites such as Cattle Penis with Garlic); visiting with Chairman Mao (still dead, very orange); and hiking (with 80,000 other people) up Tai Shan, China’s most revered mountain. But in addition to his trademark gonzo adventures, the book also delivers a telling look at a vast and complex country on the brink of transformation that will soon shape the way we all work, live, and think. As Troost shows, while we may be familiar with Yao Ming or dim sum or the cheap, plastic products that line the shelves of every store, the real China remains a world—indeed, a planet--unto itself. Maarten Troost brings China to life as you’ve never seen it before, and his insightful, rip-roaringly funny narrative proves that once again he is one of the most entertaining and insightful armchair travel companions around.

30 review for 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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I had to re-review this book. After reading numerous other works by writers far more talented and introspective than Troost, I have to say that this book is racist, ethnocentrist, and incredibly privileged. I think I called him a "patronizing prick" in my last review and I stand by it. Here is my disclaimer before I move onto being angry: I'm Chinese. I was born in China. Much of my extended family still resides there. I visit fairly regularly every few years and I enjoy it (MUST BE A SHOCK TO YO I had to re-review this book. After reading numerous other works by writers far more talented and introspective than Troost, I have to say that this book is racist, ethnocentrist, and incredibly privileged. I think I called him a "patronizing prick" in my last review and I stand by it. Here is my disclaimer before I move onto being angry: I'm Chinese. I was born in China. Much of my extended family still resides there. I visit fairly regularly every few years and I enjoy it (MUST BE A SHOCK TO YOU, MR. TROOST). However, I've grown up in the United States and I'm an American citizen. My friend's mom recommended this book to me, thinking that I'd be tickled pink by the stunning wit of J. Maarten Troost. This was by no means her fault because I choose to blame the man himself. I find it difficult to believe that a man can "attempt to understand" a country whose entire history is more than ten times longer than the USA in a month. Yes, a month. Did I not mention that Troost chooses to GO ON THIS JAUNT to China for a month, with no understanding of Mandarin, and then he WRITES A BOOK LIKE HE'S SOME SORT OF EXPERT ON THE MATTER??? I guess I forgot about that part. Oops. Here is the entirety of the book boiled down to a few points: (1) China is polluted. (2) China is crowded. (3) China is dirty. (4) The people are crazy. THAT IS BASICALLY THE WHOLE BOOK. All you have to do is insert some racist metaphors and offensive generalizations and YOU HAVE TROOST'S BOOK. No need to read it. His Western bias practically BEAMS out of every page. It made me squirm with discomfort reading it because Troost is actually fairly well-traveled. He's Dutch (I believe?) and lives in the States and spent some time living in Polynesia or another South Pacific locale for a number of years. I couldn't BELIEVE that someone who came off with a high level of xenophobia in his book would actually even want to leave his house, much less go to a foreign country. Oh, and you know what, here's the other disclaimer I should have made: I do not think this book is funny, because I don't think racism or being an asshole is funny. I don't give a shit if your one Chinese acquaintance thought it was a riot. Thanks, have a good day. The biggest problem I have with his book is that people who have never been to China are picking this book up, reading it, and saying on THEIR REVIEWS ON GOODREADS that they're so glad they read it and now they'll never visit China. Or HAHAHAHA, THOSE NUTTY CHINESE, THEY'RE SO WACKY. Seriously? SERIOUSLY????? If you're the latter, your ignorance is no excuse for your blatant racism. Congrats! If you're the former, you're just an idiot. Yes, aspects of Chinese culture may seem weird to people who were not brought up in the culture. BUT THAT'S BECAUSE IT'S A FOREIGN CULTURE AND THAT IS THE INHERENT BEAUTY OF OTHER CULTURES. THEY ARE DIFFERENT. It's interesting and awesome! Troost only ever seems to want to talk about people spitting in the street (FUN FACT: the other day I saw some dude in a Target parking lot do this. He was not Chinese) and how polluted everything is (YES IT'S POLLUTED. THERE ARE OVER A BILLION PEOPLE LIVING THERE). He could've addressed these while also bringing in another perspective, of the things in China that I enjoy the most -- how you can't walk five steps without finding a fun, hole-in-the-wall restaurant or people are just so willing to talk to you about anything and anyone remotely connected to you is just so generous and the vibrancy and energy in the cities. I am not even a staunch China supporter! I AGREE THAT THE POLLUTION IS HORRIBLE AND THE GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT AND THE SKYROCKETING ECONOMIC GROWTH IS CONCERNING. I also agree that compared to Western standards, China is much dirtier! But this is when I'm using my Western yardstick to measure the country by, and I should mention, the government is using that same yardstick so things are getting "better". Maybe not for the right reasons, but they are. I'm actually pretty cynical about China, but I also love it. It's a great place. It's suffused with history. It's one of the greatest civilizations on earth. Their standard of living was PRETTY TOP NOTCH considering that Troost's ancestors were LIVING IN DARKNESS AND USING BLOODLETTING. There is more to China than Troost's month-long trip of whimsy. It's a big place. And much like the United States, the different provinces are distinctive. The people are complex. The culture is complex. You SHOULD travel there because everyone should experience going somewhere TOTALLY different. You SHOULD experience the pollution and people and "weird food" (I think the more intelligent a culture is is dependent on how well they cook the "weirdest" items of food; the Chinese make tripe taste good, so suck it). China is AMAZING and Troost does it (and himself!) a disservice by dismissing it so lightly. And also by whining about it the whole time. Jeez dude, why don't you just check yourself into a fancy hotel and buy yourself a plate of Eggs Benedict and call it a day?! No one wants to hear your whining either!!!! Moral of the story? Don't be a dipshit and write off a culture of thousands of years and with over 1 billion people because some douchebag decided it'd be a laugh to write a highly subjective book about a place he knows nothing about. AND USE YOUR BRAIN A LITTLE, GOD. If you're looking for books that provide a more rounded perspective, please check out any of Peter Hessler's works (they're all excellent) or China Road by Rob Gifford. These books do a great job of addressing and discussing China's problems without belittling the country or people at large.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Cramer-Flood

    Had I read this book immediately after arriving in China, I probably would have given it 3 stars or possibly even 4. Maarten Troost's humorous observations, snarky jokes, semi-informed opinions, and sarcastic ranting exactly match what any reasonably educated foreigner thinks if he or she spends a month or two here. Thus, had I picked up his book in the fall of 2009, I would have probably been doubled over in laughter on a regular basis, saying things like "It's so true!" However, I'm no longer t Had I read this book immediately after arriving in China, I probably would have given it 3 stars or possibly even 4. Maarten Troost's humorous observations, snarky jokes, semi-informed opinions, and sarcastic ranting exactly match what any reasonably educated foreigner thinks if he or she spends a month or two here. Thus, had I picked up his book in the fall of 2009, I would have probably been doubled over in laughter on a regular basis, saying things like "It's so true!" However, I'm no longer that 1-month veteran content at reading 400 pages of jokes about bad air, strange food, and overpopulation. Unfortunately, that's basically what this book is: 400 pages of snarky comments about the fact that China is very polluted and very crowded. And while I admit that those two fundamental truths remain compelling, perhaps they are not so compelling to warrant repeating quite so often in one text. Throughout the book he also tries to sprinkle in as many comedicaly incisive social (and travel) comments as he can, but from my vantage point of two years, much of what he has to say comes off as trite, oversimplified, somewhat mean-spirited, and occasionally even a little clueless. I admit that Troost includes some (fairly obvious) political observations, the occasional pro-China anecdote about the kindness of strangers, and more than a little awe at China's overall accomplishments and natural beauty; but the foundation of the book remains one seemingly endless complaint about the crowds and the air quality, and for that reason alone it's worth taking a pass. You can do much better if you want a travel-through-China type book written by an authoritative source that can eloquently tell you everything you need to know (see: China Road, by Rob Gifford).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    On this day of mourning for Charlie Hebdo's people, I was especially sad to read in this book of how the Japanese had treated the Chinese during WWII. Not just the terrible Rape of Nanking which I knew about, but worse, much worse. A world ruled by Hitler and Japan would have insupportable for almost everyone else. "It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to the peoples it victimised. The Germans killed six million Jews and On this day of mourning for Charlie Hebdo's people, I was especially sad to read in this book of how the Japanese had treated the Chinese during WWII. Not just the terrible Rape of Nanking which I knew about, but worse, much worse. A world ruled by Hitler and Japan would have insupportable for almost everyone else. "It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to the peoples it victimised. The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians [i.e. Soviet citizens]; the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese. Both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale, though Japan plundered more, over a longer period, than the Nazis. Both conquerors enslaved millions and exploited them as forced labourers—and, in the case of the Japanese, as [forced] prostitutes for front-line troops. If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not Russia) you faced a 4% chance of not surviving the war; [by comparison] the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30%" "Chalmers Johnson on Japanese War Crimes _____ I really like Martin Troost, almost despite myself. He's the plus one in his relationship - wife works all across the Pacific and he lies around ingratiating himself with the natives and then writes a mildly amusing travelogue about it. He must have got to me though, because the last book I read of his, Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu had me looking for kava on Amazon! Anyone had any experience of kava?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I'm a little bummed after reading this. I loved this author when I read him in high school and college many, many moons ago when I was not a thirty-something-- I thought he was so funny and his madcap journeys to the far corners of the world were like getting to travel vicariously without any of the annoying things that make travel so unbearable: long flights, checking your baggage, finding hotel accommodations, figuring out what to eat, Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I'm a little bummed after reading this. I loved this author when I read him in high school and college many, many moons ago when I was not a thirty-something-- I thought he was so funny and his madcap journeys to the far corners of the world were like getting to travel vicariously without any of the annoying things that make travel so unbearable: long flights, checking your baggage, finding hotel accommodations, figuring out what to eat, etc. Now, though, I'm beginning to second guess young me because this book doesn't really hold up as well as I remembered. Like, at all. Before reading this, I urge you to check out some of the negative reviews for this book written by actual Chinese people who have good reason to be upset with the way Troost portrayed the people and the culture of China. That was how I found them: because something about his writing was really rubbing me the wrong way and I wanted to see if it was just me. LOST ON PLANET CHINA is a travel memoir of a Dutch/Czech man who now lives in America but decided to travel to China. He's written other travel memoirs about Kiribati and Vanuatu, and there is an almost colonial vibe to all of his writings, I'm realizing now: like, oh, look how craaaaAAAAazy the natives are, while he parades around with all of the smugness of a white dude on vacation and tries on the various trimmings and trappings of their culture as if it is a funny hat. Cases in point: most of this book is 1. talking about how dirty China is, 2. talking about how oppressive China is, 3. making fun of the food, and 4. making fun of how greedy the Chinese are, and 5. making fun of people. 1. China does in fact have a huge pollution problem but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There's a fascinating video I watched on YouTube that was all about Chinese factories working to satisfy the needs and desires of global capitalism. I believe there's an entire province whose factories focus exclusively on Christmas decorations which are then exported to Western shopping centers. For many years, also, much of the U.S.'s waste was exported to China: plastics, e-waste, and other things. But now that China is becoming an emerging global power, they raised the purity standards of materials that they would accept, so a lot of U.S. plastics don't actually meet the standards to export anymore. Some of the dirtiness comes from other factors, but a lot of the pollution that he bitches about in this memoir was aided by the United States. I don't know about the peeing on the streets or the hocking of loogies being a Chinese-exclusive thing either; I live in San Francisco and I've watched people drop trou and shit on the buildings, and pre-COVID there were plenty of people who spat on the sidewalks. 2. I don't deny that China does have a totalitarian government but the way that Troost writes about it fails to capture the strange dichotomy of China that I've read about in better books and by talking to friends who actually came from China. One book that I really liked was SHANGHAI FREE TAXI, which is a Chinese travel memoir written with respect (in my opinion) that really focuses on the people who live there. Troost's is largely self-referential and doesn't really move from himself, which is a shame because I felt like the parts where he was writing about the actual Chinese people he encountered were some of the best parts. His tour guide, who he calls "Meow Meow" (I'm guessing it was probably Miaomiao) was a really interesting persona and I would have liked to have learned more. It feels like a lot of people see the totalitarianism of China as an inevitability, and if not fighting against it, are jaded and complacent because they have to be. There's a grim scene in here where the Chinese police come to drag a protester away and it's chilling because he kind of jokes about/makes light about it, but after reading SHANGHAI FREE TAXI and learning about the "black jails," this made me so uncomfortable because what happens to arrested protestors in China really isn't a joke. Which actually takes me to the Hong Kong chapter, where he's like, "Wow! It's so nice here! It's like Europe!" And he mentions their English colonialist history before their return to China but says basically nothing about the protests or the resentment about that, which felt like a pretty glaring omission from the narrative. 3. The food part was a little ridiculous, since he's traveled so extensively and it feels like he'd probably be used to weird food at this point? It felt like just another reason to be disrespectful, especially since he didn't even really talk about how it tasted. If I'm going to travel vicariously, I'd like to know how cow veins and pig knuckle taste, especially if it's surprisingly good! (Or bad.) That said, I was genuinely horrified by the portion of the book where he ripped apart a live squid and ate it. This is something that personally sickens me and I will never do, because it feels like such a blatant act of animal cruelty. Eating squid and octopus like this is especially cruel because they are INCREDIBLY smart (some of the smartest animals on Earth), so you're torturing these intelligent living creatures who are probably aware of what is happening to them and terrified and it honestly makes me want to cry. 4. Going on and on about the bargaining and the cheapness of the Chinese, which is at conflict with their desire for luxury goods and status was the only thing he said that really reflected what friends and family have told me about their experience in China. The scene when he bargains his way down to a cheap stay in a hotel was genuinely funny and I think it worked because it felt like a joke that everyone was in on, because he was actually playing along with the social mores of the culture instead of doing that "this is so ridiculous and beneath me that I'm just going to laugh instead" thing, which can either give his books a subversive, pithy humor or be outright offensive depending on what he writes. China is in a period of incredible flux and I think that conflict between tradition and innovation is one of the most interesting things about China and its people, and it's one of the things I've loved reading about in the books I've gotten about China that really show that growing divide between the new generation and the old. 5. I get that writing a comedic memoir is probably very hard and the line between humor and insult is margin-thin and doesn't always evolve with the times. I did keep in mind that this memoir is over ten years old, so of course it's going to feel dated. That said, the way he made fun of their English and their names, the way he cheekily waved at the North Koreans at the border (ugh), and the numerous Nazi jokes he made about the Naxi people, and all these other things... it felt irreverent and not in a good way. It probably also wasn't so great to make fun of the Chinese's anger over the Nanjing massacre, which the Japanese apologized for after this book was written (several years after). Parts of this book were really good. I thought the parts about the history, the little vignettes with the random Chinese people he met and walked around with, and the parts where he actually went along with the culture and settled down were really fun. Parts didn't age well at all, like a line making fun of the Chinese for wearing masks (welp) and the Nazi jokes, and parts aged a little too well, like this line where he says that rather than China becoming more like America, America is becoming more like China. I was thinking about that line a lot, because it was one of the deepest parts of this book-- especially now. I guess this is the perfect example of why it can sometimes suck to reread your faves. 2 to 2.5 stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    An idiosyncratic and humorous downside tour of several corners of the country. While we see some of the natural and the urban wonders of China, most of the focus is on the spitting, the urinating, the begging, the pollution, harassment by prostitutes, disturbing food and its preparation. If you want to go to China, DON'T read this book because you will probably change your mind! An idiosyncratic and humorous downside tour of several corners of the country. While we see some of the natural and the urban wonders of China, most of the focus is on the spitting, the urinating, the begging, the pollution, harassment by prostitutes, disturbing food and its preparation. If you want to go to China, DON'T read this book because you will probably change your mind!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kneeland

    In his first two books, 'Sex Lives of Cannibals' and 'Getting Stoned with Savages', J. Maarten Troost wrote about his life living with his diplomat wife in the far reaches of the Equatorial Pacific. Strangely, these books earned Troost the moniker, “travel writer,” despite the fact they are more memoir than guidebook to traveling through those places. After all, it’s hard to imagine someone actually planning a vacation to remote islands where the U.S. government tested loads of A-bombs during th In his first two books, 'Sex Lives of Cannibals' and 'Getting Stoned with Savages', J. Maarten Troost wrote about his life living with his diplomat wife in the far reaches of the Equatorial Pacific. Strangely, these books earned Troost the moniker, “travel writer,” despite the fact they are more memoir than guidebook to traveling through those places. After all, it’s hard to imagine someone actually planning a vacation to remote islands where the U.S. government tested loads of A-bombs during the Cold War. In his third book, 'Lost on Planet China', Troost officially earns his “travel writer” status, for he details his journeys throughout the gargantuan country. Early in the book, Troost begins discussing the extent of the pollution running rampant throughout China: it is everywhere, in the air, in the water, on the streets. Apparently, so polluted is China that its pollution reaches destinations as far away as the Great Lakes. Troost cannot even climb Tai Shan, a massive and sacred mountain, without experiencing the pollution-induced overcast weather. Sadly, Coleridge’s Xanadu this is not. Troost does, however, quickly adjust to the poisonous atmosphere — his coughing fits decrease, his eyes water less, and he is able to study and document China’s other aspects. Also early in the book, Troost describes what he calls the different “lenses” he needs in order to view certain aspects of China in its “truthful” sense, as opposed to the imagined sense the government sells to whoever cares enough to pay attention; he calls this the “Chinese context.” View a China-produced Nestlé water bottle label through your ordinary eyes, and you see that it is purified water as unpolluted as that which flows from the Adirondaks; but view the same label through your “Chinese context” lenses, and you see that the water might be from some ultra-polluted, parasite-ridden tap in Beijing. Why the facade? Because the Chinese government knows that the key to success is a pristine image, even if that image is laughably transparent. And apparently, this is working, for despite the many horror stories that continue to surface about Chinese-manufactured products (lead-ridden toys, poisonous dry wall, etc.), the U.S. and other leading world powers continue to buy Chinese goods. A transparent facade is easy to believe, it seems, when the price tags are cheap. Troost exploits this facade as often as possible, and often ironically: for instance, he describes a train car compartment filled with government suits, who are all smoking despite the large “No Smoking” signs posted everywhere on the train. A timid stewardess attempts to remind the suits of this; Troost notes that the suits say something to her in reply, and moments later she returns with ashtrays. The facade is that China is a country devoted to “The People,” but the reality is that the government does essentially whatever it wants. Such is the way with republics these days! But 'Lost on Planet China' is hardly a political diatribe. Though Troost never passes up a chance to ridicule the hypocritical Chinese government, and though he spends some time lamenting the loss of Tibetan culture, he remains faithful to his “travel writer” status and focuses mainly on the experience of journeying through the country. After describing life in the megalopolises, where crossing the street is hazardous to your health (if the speeding cars don’t kill you, the smog will), Troost moves on to describe the countryside, such as the stripmallish sections of the Great Wall and the afore-mentioned smoggishly hazy Tai Shan. He eventually discusses his travels in parts of the country where the pollution only slightly affects one’s experience. He climbs another mountain, for example, and embarks upon a trail above what is called Tiger Leaping Gorge: he details a natural experience so sublime that he becomes almost Romantic — this is as close to “Kubla Khan” as we will apparently ever get. And so, despite his snarky descriptions of the government and rampant pollution, Troost does leave us with many positive images of China, such as the sublimity of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Ultimately, however, Troost leaves a sour taste in our mouths; for despite the friendly people he meets (including two helpful Chinese women named Meow Meow and Cinderella — yep) and the beautiful vistas he takes in, he gives us unpleasant images that sadly trump all the pleasant things he tells us about. Most lasting is the image of the boy he finds while walking with an immense crowd along the pier jutting out into Quingdao Bay: "Then, suddenly, the crowd parted as if it had stumbled upon a lane divider. There before me sat a boy, not more than seven years old, though it was impossible to tell with any certainty. He was an albino with skin that was nearly translucent. He had no arms, and his ragged shirt had been pulled down to reveal the rough scars from where he arms should have been. His skin had been burned raw by the sun, and he sat there rocking and moaning with a plastic bowl before him that contained a scattering of coins. "Who was this boy? Who had done this to him? The scars on his stumps suggested that he wasn’t born armless. Who was sending him forth to beg on a pier? It would be far from the last time that I’d find myself pondering a display of mind-boggling cruelty in China, and it was why, despite the whiz-bang, China-is-the-future vibe I felt in this coastal city, I’d likely never have warm and fuzzy feelings for the country" (112-113). How could he have warm and fuzzy feelings for China with images such as these always haunting his memories of the country? Suffice to say, the content of 'Lost on Planet China' is engaging, whether it pushes your political buttons, entices you to go backpacking through China’s remoter regions, or just plain tugs on your heart-strings. You will not become bored reading this book. Troost’s writing style helps this, for he is witty and immediately likeable. Though the books is close to 400 pages, you will zip right along as though it were a hundred pages shorter. A book that documents one’s travels throughout modern-day China could be burdensome and overwhelming, but Troost pulls a Michael Palin on us and gives us a travel narrative that is at once humorous, informative, and insightful. Though I still question whether Troost’s earlier books should have earned him the “travel writer” moniker, 'Lost on Planet China' unquestionably raises him to this status, and deservedly so. I eagerly anticipate any and all forthcoming Troost narratives.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    This book was a joy to read. I've lived in Hong Kong for 17 years and have spent a lot of time in China. Even though he was there for a relatively short time, he nailed a lot of the peculiarities of Chinese culture and the Chinese people. A good part of his writing is tongue-in-cheek, much in the style of Bill Bryson. He also is humble about his own peculiarities and frank about how they get in the way of his total enjoyment of what he is experiencing. The result creates innumerable chuckles and This book was a joy to read. I've lived in Hong Kong for 17 years and have spent a lot of time in China. Even though he was there for a relatively short time, he nailed a lot of the peculiarities of Chinese culture and the Chinese people. A good part of his writing is tongue-in-cheek, much in the style of Bill Bryson. He also is humble about his own peculiarities and frank about how they get in the way of his total enjoyment of what he is experiencing. The result creates innumerable chuckles and some out loud laughter as he wanders around "The Middle Kingdom". Many of the places he describes are places that me or my wife Pam, who also loved the book, have visited alone or together. I could relate to many of the situations he found himself in. Three leap immediately to mind. One, is the absolute, total unwillingness of mainland Chinese to queue and the subsequent frustration of people like Maarten or myself as people try to squeeze into lines, perhaps better described as clumps. The second is the "trust to fate" way that Chinese Taxi's, trucks and most other vehicles are driven. Third is the fact that all prices in almost all venues are subject to bargaining and in fact bargaining with or haranguing the vendor is a major sport in China. Another drawback he continuously mentions is the lack of any kind of decent air quality in the urban areas. His experience with the average Chinese restaurant parallels my own. I remember early in my first visit to China, telling my host that I did not wish to know what I was eating unless I asked. That way I could try everything without any expectations. I still do that when I am in the hinterlands and am faced with a menu I can't read or a situation where someone else is ordering the food. Some reviewers did not like what they saw as Troost's unfair criticisms of China and the Chinese. I definitely do not agree. He is merely pointing out what he sees with his obviously acute observant eye. He also has many good things to say and he approaches these with the same humble and humorous attitude. Over-all, the book is must reading for anyone who has spent anytime in China or is planning on visiting China other than on a guided tour. On guided tours, you will most likely not have the opportunity to learn the lessons Troost did.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    Have you ever noticed that after returning from a trip that it's the miserable experiences that make the best stories? There's not much to say about the times when things were pleasant. This book is sort of a travelogue about the author's experiences traveling in China, and as told by the author, it's a journey filled with good stories. Let's just say that the experiences he recounts are much more enjoyable read about than experienced first hand. This book is indeed entertaining to read, but the Have you ever noticed that after returning from a trip that it's the miserable experiences that make the best stories? There's not much to say about the times when things were pleasant. This book is sort of a travelogue about the author's experiences traveling in China, and as told by the author, it's a journey filled with good stories. Let's just say that the experiences he recounts are much more enjoyable read about than experienced first hand. This book is indeed entertaining to read, but the tales are not what the Chinese Tourist Bureau (if there is such a thing) would want to be said about their country. The author is writing to entertain a western audience and therefore has a motive to accentuate and exaggerate the unpleasant aspects of China. Indeed the author is probably helping to create some stereotypes that are not fair. So with the caveat that not all Chinese are necessarily like this, the follow are a list of some of the author's observations about the Chinese.1. They don't know how to stand in a line. 2. Persons with the strongest elbows gets to go first. 3. Spitting phlegm onto sidewalk is prevalent. 4. Public urination is common sight. 6. It's wise to look where you step. 7. Food menus are strange to western tastes. ......(live squid anyone?) 8. Air pollution is terrible. 9. Water pollution is terrible. 10. Trash and dirt are everywhere. 11. Common proposition, "Make love Chinese girl." 12. Staring at westerners is commonThings get better when he leaves the big cities. He's complimentary of the Tibetans and some rural Chinese. He's exclaims with amazement when in Hong Kong that people there know how to queue up. The following is how the author describes the Chinese propensity to spit on the sidewalk and his response to their cutting in line:Now, I want to be clear about this. I am very open-minded when it comes to other cultures. By this time, it did not trouble me--well, okay, it troubled me less--that men in China would hawk enormous globs of phlegm and send it hurling forth before you like a wet, gloppy fusillade. But this cutting-in-line business? It continued to steam me. I took a deep breath and reflected on the Chinese context here. Perhaps if I'd been raised in a country of 1.3 billion people, a country that on the surface seemed to be organized on largely Darwinian principles, I'd be a pushy line-cutter myself. And then I extolled myself for my cultural empathy.Many of the Author's embarrassments were caused by the author's inability speak, understand or read Chinese as described in the following example:Soon, a conductor slipped through. I handed him my ticket. Regrettably, he felt the need to ask me a question. "Uh ..." I said. Duibuqi. Wo tingbudong." this was my guidebook attempt at explaining that I didn't have the remotest idea of what he had just said. Sadly, however, I could not even convey my lack of understanding and be understood in China. The conductor barked something else at me. "I'm sorry. I don't speak Chinese. You wouldn't happen to speak English, would you? No? Parlez-vous francaise? Sprechen zie Deutsch? Espanol? Nederlandse? Cesky? Rusky?" So useless, these European languages. I recalled my time in Melanesia. "Me no save Chinese. Yu tok tok Pidgin?" Finally, my interlocutor gave up, and as he moved on he muttered something that made my train companions laughed hard and merrily until they were seized by lung-splattering hacks and coughs.He learns later that what the conductor was trying to tell him was that his ticket was for the next day, not the current day. Can you imagine the feeling of being on the train where everyone else is laughing out loud at you, and you have no idea why? I think I'll limit my travels to China to just reading about it. The author ends the book with a tale where he is surely pulling the reader's leg. He is on a boat in the river between North Korea and China. The boat engine stalls and drifts closer to the North Korean side. The author is beginning to have second thoughts about all the bad things he said about China. He looks to the Chinese side and pleads, "Please, China, take me back."

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a marvelous book about one man's travels across China. I was immensely entertained by Maarten Troost's dry humor, subtle sarcasm, and understated observations. The book sort of reminds me of the travel books by Bill Bryson, but I enjoyed this one more. I listened to it as an audiobook; Simon Vance captivated me with his reading style. Troost ostensibly visited China in order to scout out the county, to determine where he could bring his family to live for a few years. After all, China is This is a marvelous book about one man's travels across China. I was immensely entertained by Maarten Troost's dry humor, subtle sarcasm, and understated observations. The book sort of reminds me of the travel books by Bill Bryson, but I enjoyed this one more. I listened to it as an audiobook; Simon Vance captivated me with his reading style. Troost ostensibly visited China in order to scout out the county, to determine where he could bring his family to live for a few years. After all, China is an important, dynamic country, and Troost believed that he and his children need to understand China. But his notions were soon undermined, as he observed the atrocious pollution, crowding, and the general character of the country. (It is said that almost one third of the air pollution in California originates from China.) He kept reminding himself, that he must see China "from a Chinese context", and not from a Western point of view. These constant reminders to keep an open mind, however, did not prevent him from seeing the country as it really is. While not overtly political, Troost comments about the political situation; human rights are not high up on the government's system of values. Interestingly, the place where people are happiest is in Tibet, an occupied country where the invading Chinese killed a significant fraction of the population. Troost tries hard to understand the country and its people. He relishes the opportunities for conversations with the people (in English, not Chinese), and seems to have fun in most places. Well--except for trains, where not having a place to sit for hours on end becomes tiresome. It is true that Chinese will eat just about anything, and Troost is quite up to the challenge in the many restaurants that he visits. He writes about his many dining experiences, as they are an important part of any travel adventure. I relished Troost's hiking adventures, such as his trip to "Tiger Leaping Gorge." Perhaps he was less prepared than he should have been for the serious high-altitude hiking that he undertook. He describes the spectacular scenery, and made me wish I could share in the experience.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Wish I had read this before visiting China but enjoyed revisiting the land and people through Troost's book. Many have compared this to Bill Bryson's travel narratives and I'd agree that if you like Bryson Lost On Planet China might be for you. Balancing his laugh out funny tales with a history of a place and people that defies time, Troost gives us an armchair picture of this country. My kind of book. I loved it all the way home. If you're planning a trip to China or if you wish you could add th Wish I had read this before visiting China but enjoyed revisiting the land and people through Troost's book. Many have compared this to Bill Bryson's travel narratives and I'd agree that if you like Bryson Lost On Planet China might be for you. Balancing his laugh out funny tales with a history of a place and people that defies time, Troost gives us an armchair picture of this country. My kind of book. I loved it all the way home. If you're planning a trip to China or if you wish you could add this to your list of must reads.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cortney LaScola - The Bookworm Myrtle Beach

    I loved Sex Lives of Cannibals... this one was just OK. I enjoyed the stories, but it felt like practically the same in every town or city he visited, and the history parts were hard to slog through.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Troy Parfitt

    A few weeks ago, I got a hankering for a good China read, but all related volumes on my shelf had been covered. In one of those Who-cares-about-the-cost? moments, I raced off to the bookstore thinking I'd buy either The Party by Richard McGregor or one of Peter Hessler's offerings: Oracle Bones or Country Driving. But the bookstore didn't have those books, and they couldn't be ordered, so, dejectedly, after surveying the sparse China offering, bottom-shelved in politics/history, I made my way to A few weeks ago, I got a hankering for a good China read, but all related volumes on my shelf had been covered. In one of those Who-cares-about-the-cost? moments, I raced off to the bookstore thinking I'd buy either The Party by Richard McGregor or one of Peter Hessler's offerings: Oracle Bones or Country Driving. But the bookstore didn't have those books, and they couldn't be ordered, so, dejectedly, after surveying the sparse China offering, bottom-shelved in politics/history, I made my way to the travel section. There I spotted J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation. It wasn't exactly Peter Hessler, and I'd perused the interior previously and hadn't been all that impressed. Would I be slumming by purchasing such a book? The last China travel narrative I'd read was Colin Thubron's eyebrow-arching Behind the Wall (dictionary sold separately), and having just written my own China travel narrative, I knew the Asian nation-state was only mystifying to the uninitiated. What could I possibly learn from someone who admitted to not knowing all that much about China? And I'd heard things about the book, things you don't usually hear about books. I'd heard the author's first language wasn't English, and that this was evident in his writing. I'd heard the account didn't have an ending. I'd heard it was racist, and that, contrary to Mr. Troost's hyperbolic, Dutch-tainted declarations, in China there didn't exist pollution, chaos, spitting, jostling, deceit, prostitution, propaganda, corruption, hostility, or traffic bedlam. This neophyte, axe-to-grind, non-native English speaker wasn't presenting "the real China." But such claims were so suspicious, I was curious to know just which China Mr. Troost was presenting. Fairly quickly, an author must win over the reader, and Mr. Troost won over this reader on the third page. The narrative is funny and accessible, the narrator akin to an edgier and blunter Bill Bryson. And I learned things, which surprised me. There were pollution statistics I'd never read before. I wasn't aware you could still, after all these years, meet a facsimile of the farmer who discovered the Terracotta Warriors (the original must be dead or very old), and with 80 or so China books under my belt, I did not know there is no evidence Deng Xiaoping ever said `To get rich is glorious.' It is true, however, that Troost lacks knowledge (indeed, he gets his facts wrong in several places), but he admits this. He compensates by being smart, perceptive, and honest, qualities not often present in the China debate. In several places, the author's prose crackles with energy, and some of the encounters, like the one with the Western bodyguard in Chengdu, are classic. Unfortunately, the writing can be a bit Father Pilgrim English (nothing to do with a Dutch influence; Troost is a Canadian who resides in the US), and the writer could have done with a thesaurus (there are synonyms for `mirth' and `mirthful,'), but overall, Lost on Planet China is readable and enjoyable. It's also whimsical. There is nearly an entire page on the rock group Rush, for instance, a first in the China book genre, surely. The Rush insert is arguably irrelevant (though Troost is trying to show how Westerners romanticize China, like Rush did in one of their songs), but it's funny, at least for those who find humour funny, or can find anything about China funny. What Lost on Planet China is is a very good starting point. It provides an introduction to China and what it feels like to not know much about the place and spend time travelling there. Want to know how overwhelming and confusing China can be? This book will tell you. As for the ending, it's clever. No, the author doesn't post road signs like `Ending Coming in Two Paragraphs', `You've Noticed There's Only One More Page, Yes?' or `Countdown to Ending: Five sentences, Four Sentences,....'), but that it is clever is probably the reason its significance is missed, ironic because it represents a compliment. The writer reminds us that though many aspects of Chinese culture and society are quite dreadful, there are cultures and societies even more vexed. The author mentions prostitution, pollution, chaos, madness, trickery, violence, bad traffic, spitting, venality, and cruelty again and again because, during his adventure, those themes occurred again and again. Imagine you're a travel writer and in one afternoon you're solicited for sex three times, ripped off twice, and almost get into four car crashes. What do you do? Report, at least partly? Or write it out completely, because the same thing happened yesterday and the day before that? A good travel writer is supposed be honest while also mimicking his experience in print, to convey to you, the reader, what it really feels like to travel in such a place. Annoying to read about? Yes, and think about what it must be like to live there. As for the not-the-real-China argument, it's interesting; every travel writer I've read presents China in the same light. Therefore, either J. Maarten Troost, Peter Hessler, Paul Theroux, Pico Iyre, Colin Thubron, and Simon Winchester are conspiring to portray a China that doesn't exist, or the individuals who routinely counter such characterizations are mythomaniacs. In the China debate, as a general rule, whenever a writer is attacked with the assailant suggesting you not read his book, because it's disrespectful, critical, bigoted or - gasp - too negative (a child's analysis; positive and negative are irrelavant), conjure one of those Who-cares-about-the-cost? moments and race off to the nearest bookstore. Lost on Planet China is a light, funny, informative, and truthful page-turning read. China travel 101. Troy Parfitt, author of Why China Will Never Rule the World

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    The title suggests a mad-cap travelogue. The publisher's description promises rolicking hilarity. That was what I was primed for when I approached this book. From this mindset, the book was a disappointment. There are amusing sections. There's the inception of Troost's idea of moving his family to China when speaking to an old college chum. Troost explains: “Of course, lots of ideas look good after a few beers.” (Location 191) There's the shock of being served red wine chilled with ice cubes in The title suggests a mad-cap travelogue. The publisher's description promises rolicking hilarity. That was what I was primed for when I approached this book. From this mindset, the book was a disappointment. There are amusing sections. There's the inception of Troost's idea of moving his family to China when speaking to an old college chum. Troost explains: “Of course, lots of ideas look good after a few beers.” (Location 191) There's the shock of being served red wine chilled with ice cubes in Beijing. The Chinese, he explains, are still climbing a learning curve when it comes to the nuances of wine. There is his endless ribbing of a friend whom he connects with in Hong Kong and with whom he labors up the vertigo-inducing “24 Bends” trail along Tiger Leaping Gorge near the town of Dali. Not only is the trail narrow, but the number twenty-four is yet another of those charming Chinese euphemisms. Does the title LOST ON PLANET CHINA, then, describe with more accuracy the book's contents? Well, not really. There is too much that is familiar about China to accept the analogy to an alien planet. Troost touches on the famines and purges during Mao's tenure. According to one estimate, 70 million people were killed. The one-child policy has had serious social consequences. The events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 loom more clearly in our minds than the 2008 Summer Olympics, although that's not the case in China. The ideas of roadway lanes and sidewalk queues are, well, merely fanciful foreign musings against the reality of clogged traffic and elbowing crowds. Above it all, construction cranes tower and beneath, jackhammers drill. Perhaps Troost was inspired by his first glimpse of Beijing, with its other-worldly swirls of gray, yellow and brown — air with one of the highest particulate densities in the world. Recall all those videos of Beijing commuters wearing surgical masks? They weren't just being paranoid. The problem is exacerbated by the southward expansion of the Gobi Desert. Troost points out that China is rife with contradictions. The capital is built on the edge of an expanding desert. As for smoking, why not light up a cigarette? It can hardly be worse than the air. When he broaches the subject, people are dismissive: Los Angeles has air pollution too, they counter. Yet, the reason for the air pollution is coal. China has lots of coal and uses it to power its factories, which in turn drive its economy. Polluted water? Technology will find a way. Amid vast wealth flaunted by ever more conspicuous consumption, roam appallingly disfigured beggars who seem almost invisible to the rest of the population. He notes, “The one constant, however, in this new evolving China is money, both its despairing absence and its increasing abundance.” (Location 1714) Does any of this seem foreign? Our own economy reflects an increasing gap between rich and poor. In a rare moment of somber prescience, Troost muses: “Maybe it's us who are moving toward the Chinese Model, and this realization caused a fleeting moment of despair.” (Location 2012) Troost struggles to discover the source of China's optimism. He is constantly urged to distinguish between reality and Chinese reality. But how can he? Despite being a denizen of several countries and conversant in their languages, his knowledge of Chinese is pretty much limited to “hello” and “thanks.” It is impossible to put himself in the insular mindset of the majority of Chinese. Most of them have never traveled abroad. Most of them have little opportunity to access anything beyond government-controlled news (Troost is reduced to stealing a pile of English-language foreign newspapers from a hotel in Chengdu by pretending to be a guest in order to satisfy his own thirst for news). It's possible that many Chinese have never breathed unpolluted air. In their lifetimes they have experienced improvements, like no more starvation or rising life spans. Now that he's dead, Mao's legacy is made to seem less bad. Reverent crowds continue to flock to his mausoleum. The Chinese context is a history defined by the brief lifespan of the individual, and for many, that excludes the events of Six-Four (Tiananmen Square). Troost grasps that intellectually, but it's impossible to absorb emotionally. Troost's book provides instead a reality check to all those stunning travel brochure photos. (Be sure to google some of the places he visits and note the contrast with his descriptions). His travels provide a pretext for bits of history and his own reality. At Nanjing he briefs us on the appalling atrocities committed by the Japanese and memorialized in the Memorial Hall for Compatriots. In Shanghai he contrasts the opulence of the Grand Hyatt in the Jinmao Tower with the locale of a budget lodging (his next night's stay) along a road where the asking price for a “Rolex” is $100.00, and there's lots of other merchandise to choose from as well. At Hangzhou he seeks serenity. Hong Kong is like taking a vacation from China. It's part of China, but doesn't feel like that. A resident even laments that Hong Kong used to be great, but now, “all the jobs have gone to China.”(Location 2465) In Guangzhou he visits the infamous (and horrifying) Qingping Market. In Tibet, at an elevation of 12,000 feet, he finally finds clean air. Too bad there isn't more of the air in the thin atmosphere. People have been known to alight from the plane ride, light up a cigarette, and keel over from the shock of oxygen deprivation. Troost recounts the story of the Three Gorges Dam during a river cruise. Perhaps his creepiest stay is in Dandong, just across the river from North Korea. The contrast between the two sides of the river could not be greater. His account is a sobering antidote for the starry-eyed would be traveler. Troost occasionally stumbles on remarkable insights. He characterizes the government as improvisational. How could it be otherwise with change happening so quickly? The word implies a nimble responsiveness, although he uses it as a contrast to our idea of authoritarian centralized planning. Examine its meaning in the context of results. In Guangzhou the life expectancy for a traffic cop is 43 years. It's the result of an improvisational approach to the health of a workforce constantly exposed to traffic exhaust in a polluted Chinese city. The problem I had with this book is that Troost attempts to entertain by making light of so much of what he observes. In failing to pace his humor, he dilutes much of its impact.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I made it to page 150, but I kept finding myself thinking about the book that was next on my to read stack, WHILE I was reading this book. Never a good sign. There's a lot of good information contained in this book, which I was looking for, since I don't know much at all about China. A couple examples: 1/3 of the air polution in California has actually drifted over 6,000 miles across the ocean from China. Also, the Great Wall of China is actually several shorter walls, which will all eventually I made it to page 150, but I kept finding myself thinking about the book that was next on my to read stack, WHILE I was reading this book. Never a good sign. There's a lot of good information contained in this book, which I was looking for, since I don't know much at all about China. A couple examples: 1/3 of the air polution in California has actually drifted over 6,000 miles across the ocean from China. Also, the Great Wall of China is actually several shorter walls, which will all eventually be gone, because it's okay for people to take the bricks to build their houses with. In fact, they don't know how long the wall actually is. It just wasn't as funny as I was expecting. I was hoping for something like Erma Bombeck's travel writing, which cracks me up, but while this book was 'humorous', I wouldn't go so far as to call it 'funny'. He also is very negative. I consider myself to be pretty cynical at times, but he easily wins the prize. If people are nasty to him, it's to be expected, and if they're nice, they have an ulterior motive. Okay. On to The Fairy Godmother! :) I will eventually come back and finish this book, because it's one I had my library purchase, and I would feel guilty otherwise. And besides, I never made it to the live squid part!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Read by Simon Vance. Having so much fun with this. Troost captures to a tee my first encounter in Beijing, from the live scorpions, the clack of bicycles, the traffic, the wall, Yellow Mao, to the cranes, Gobi gobs, Forbidden City etc etc - and he does so in such an amusing way. Many laugh out louds here for addressing the impact on the senses that Beijing holds for the first time visitor from the west. If your first visit to China is, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai then this culture shock is not so Read by Simon Vance. Having so much fun with this. Troost captures to a tee my first encounter in Beijing, from the live scorpions, the clack of bicycles, the traffic, the wall, Yellow Mao, to the cranes, Gobi gobs, Forbidden City etc etc - and he does so in such an amusing way. Many laugh out louds here for addressing the impact on the senses that Beijing holds for the first time visitor from the west. If your first visit to China is, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai then this culture shock is not so noticeable and you miss out on the 'take three steps back' fun. However, this can not be 5* because, although repeatedly pleading to the contrary, he is just a blinkered middle-class catholic white boy who is, forthemost, at odds with behaviours other than his own. Yeah! class in an age where class is supposed to be doodly-squat. This tenseness is compounded when friendfromhighschool 'Jack' arrives; jack is an ousted Republican politician (can't remember the exact moniker for his political calibre) who killed a party dead by the mention of GW Bush. 4.5*

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    I've known about this book for awhile after reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals on the recommendation of a friend. This copy of LOPC was left in the apartment of another teacher here (I'm in Shijiazhuang, south of Beijing) so I decided to read it. Having lived in China for almost 7 months now I can appreciate just about everything Troost describes. Most of it is spot on. He has some experiences I have not had (nor wish to have) but his reactions to and attempts at situations are similar to my own I've known about this book for awhile after reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals on the recommendation of a friend. This copy of LOPC was left in the apartment of another teacher here (I'm in Shijiazhuang, south of Beijing) so I decided to read it. Having lived in China for almost 7 months now I can appreciate just about everything Troost describes. Most of it is spot on. He has some experiences I have not had (nor wish to have) but his reactions to and attempts at situations are similar to my own. You try so hard with the best intentions but Western ways usually have no impact or meaning here. The sarcasm gets a little old but that is his style and many times I've laughed out loud and many more times I've just nodded in complete agreement. I agree with another reviewer that maps would be helpful for someone not familiar with the country. I'm enjoying the book and it keeps me coming back in between my forays to class and errands around town where, as he so aptly describes, you take your life into your own hands with the traffic. I've been hit twice - once while dodging a moped and once from behind where I guess I was supposed to know what was bearing down on me. Not hurt either time, just annoyed and confused. Even if traffic laws are no more than a mere suggestion, one might think common sense would play a role. Nope. Even the travel page for China on the State Dept site reminds travelers that the pedestrian does not have the right of way. No such thing. It's been difficult to remember. I wonder how many moped collisions it will take for me to learn this. As I write, our hero is headed for Yunnan Province... It's over. I notched it down from 4 to 3 stars. Would like to know how he got away from N. Korea at the end. At least he liked the Terracotta Warriors. I was waiting for him to belittle that place too. They are remarkable. If I see nothing else here I'm glad I saw the Warriors. I have not been to all the places Troost describes (a few) but I can relate. What he portrays so negatively, I see as "just the way it is". For what it's worth, yes, the pollution is bad. But I've not seen horrendous smog he experienced. We even get blue sky here in Shijiazhuang, sometimes for several days in a row. Then the pollution settles in again. The norm seems to be "hazy". I've been to Beijing several times and on those occasions it was not bad. Maybe I hit the odd, good days. This is one person's experience in China. I'd recommend some "balancing" books such as China Road (Rob Gifford) and/or Country Driving (Peter Hessler).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Josh Fish

    There is no purpose to this guy going to China except that he wanted to write a book about the most "exotic" place he could think of. He then proceeded to jokingly denigrate China for four hundred pages. He was almost thoughtful at times but mostly just complained about the pollution and population density of this country. Most of the chapters which are ostensibly about various locations around China end up devolving into character studies of his hostel-mates or become travel anecdotes about "cr There is no purpose to this guy going to China except that he wanted to write a book about the most "exotic" place he could think of. He then proceeded to jokingly denigrate China for four hundred pages. He was almost thoughtful at times but mostly just complained about the pollution and population density of this country. Most of the chapters which are ostensibly about various locations around China end up devolving into character studies of his hostel-mates or become travel anecdotes about "crazy" people on the train or children urinating on the street. I tried to enjoy this book because I have lived in China before and have been to many of the places he travels to, but; ultimately, I feel like I learned more about J. Maarten Troost than China.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (the_pumpkin_reads)

    Finished this on my walk today. Troost never fails to amuse me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Spencer

    If you're planning on going to China, don't read this book. This cynical bitch has very little constructive to say about the place, and paints it pretty negatively. Sure, some of it is due. In the spare two weeks i spent (in only one city, i add), i can confirm that traffic is crazy, people hawk huge loogies on the street, and the pollution is pretty impressive. I'm certainly not as well traveled in the country as the author, but i don't find it anywhere as nasty as he did. I think he read a bun If you're planning on going to China, don't read this book. This cynical bitch has very little constructive to say about the place, and paints it pretty negatively. Sure, some of it is due. In the spare two weeks i spent (in only one city, i add), i can confirm that traffic is crazy, people hawk huge loogies on the street, and the pollution is pretty impressive. I'm certainly not as well traveled in the country as the author, but i don't find it anywhere as nasty as he did. I think he read a bunch of books on china and just used the trip to confirm what had already been written about mao, the cultural revolution, and how capitalism has changed everything. Good thing I didn't do that, because this is the only book i read before i went! that said, it's not all "grim, industrial" cities with children peeing into gutters. Troost does find some redeeming qualities in China, and indeed, I find a few in his book as well. It flows well, makes you laugh in places, and makes an attempt at even-handedness. Then again, maybe you should read this before you go to China. You can be bitterly depressed about the awfulosity Troost shows, then pleasantly surprised at is absence. Maybe I should leave Shanghai and see if i'm totally off...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark Brown

    I did enjoy the first half of the book. However, by the second half I was getting tired of reading about all the pee and phlegm and smog that the author found. Towards the end, he makes reference to the "rivers of piss and phlegm that flowed down Chinese streets." It reminded me of that part in Harry Potter where Ron wakes up to Sirius Black (a supposed murderer) standing over him in the night and every time he tells the story it becomes more and more dramatic. Having spent time in China teaching I did enjoy the first half of the book. However, by the second half I was getting tired of reading about all the pee and phlegm and smog that the author found. Towards the end, he makes reference to the "rivers of piss and phlegm that flowed down Chinese streets." It reminded me of that part in Harry Potter where Ron wakes up to Sirius Black (a supposed murderer) standing over him in the night and every time he tells the story it becomes more and more dramatic. Having spent time in China teaching English, I do acknowledge the fact that Chinese people are quite apt at hocking loogies. They also enjoy taking an occasional leak in the street - but no more than I've seen in pretty much any country I've ever been in (barring the USA and Canada). While I admit that Troost does make many observations that are grounded in fact, the exaggeration and repetitiveness of said observations came off as unreasonable and unnecessary. All this, coupled with a finale lacking any appreciation for the people nor culture caused what would have been an otherwise entertaining book to sound patronizing and even a little racist.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book was not at all what I expected. Having read reviews of Troost's work I had expected something funny, uplifting and definitely a great description of the areas he visited. What I got was something funny, somewhat depressing and a biased view of the areas he visited. Having lived in the tropics for awhile Troost had already wrote books about those areas. Now, living in California, he decided a trip to China would be interesting. Packing his bags he left his kids and wife in Sacramento and This book was not at all what I expected. Having read reviews of Troost's work I had expected something funny, uplifting and definitely a great description of the areas he visited. What I got was something funny, somewhat depressing and a biased view of the areas he visited. Having lived in the tropics for awhile Troost had already wrote books about those areas. Now, living in California, he decided a trip to China would be interesting. Packing his bags he left his kids and wife in Sacramento and started his journey of the large country known as China. He goes many places while there, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tibet, and many other cities and rural areas. However, the prevailing theme of these areas seems to be pollution, people relieving themselves in the streets, brothels, and people hacking up their lungs. Now I don't deny that China has some serious pollution and social order problems, what I do deny is the fact that he didn't really find anything positive to write about when traveling to all these different places. There were times when you thought you were about to have something positive shown, but then he'd snatch it away claiming he couldn't see it because of the smog. Could this be true? Maybe. But not to the extent he took it is my guess. There was one part where he and a friend (who was equally pessimistic) hiked to a gorge. There was a lot of build up to seeing this gorge. And then, after crossing the waterfall they somehow ended up in another town. While I guess I could have missed it, I read the section twice, and did not find any actual description of seeing this amazing gorge. This same thing happens with climbing a mountain, he reaches the top only to find it overly crowded and the view somewhat blocked by smog. The only positive writings I do remember are in description of the food. While he has some nervousness on eating it initially, most of what he tries ends up being wonderful. Which is a relief really, I was hoping the trip wasn't all doom and gloom. Tibet he also treated as sort of luke warm, blaming the Chinese for ruining the wonderness of it all and making it less than it should be. While Tibet has had several atrocities done to it, surely just being there would have been amazing for any traveler I would think. A redeeming thing about Troost though is that he is very funny. Even though the book was disheartening, he did it comically. Its amazing how one man can have so much trouble haggling and finding himself in uncomfortable situations. Not to mention the language barrier made things interesting for him as well. I should note that some of his jokes were political in nature and could be offensive for some people. I won't say I actually hated the book. I enjoyed some of it and I did like Troost's writing style. That alone made up for the severely pessimistic tone that he took. I just wished that he could have shared more of the good side of China in addition to the bad. It would appear that he did extensive research before visiting because he was able to tell a bit of the history of each place he visited and also was able to tell the history of some of the reign of Mao. It wasn't included extensively in his book but it did provide a nice background to focus on when reading about his travels. I'll probably read his other books, just because they are supposed to be more positive than this one. Even if they are just as pessimistic though his writing is sure to be just as humorous. Lost on Planet China Copyright 2008 380 pages

  22. 5 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    This is the first book I’ve read by J. Maartin Troost. Although he states early on that he is not a travel writer Lost on Planet China is indeed a travelogue of a few weeks he spent traveling through China and Tibet in 2006. Having recently returned from 2 weeks to some of the same places the author visited, I can say that his descriptions of traffic, driving habits, lines, crowding, spitting, food, pollution, cell phone use, beggars, street markets, vendors, cityscapes and other such things all This is the first book I’ve read by J. Maartin Troost. Although he states early on that he is not a travel writer Lost on Planet China is indeed a travelogue of a few weeks he spent traveling through China and Tibet in 2006. Having recently returned from 2 weeks to some of the same places the author visited, I can say that his descriptions of traffic, driving habits, lines, crowding, spitting, food, pollution, cell phone use, beggars, street markets, vendors, cityscapes and other such things all jibe with my own experiences. Troost does a good job capturing the bustle, noise and commotion that can be found in urban China today. Unfortunately, for himself and for the book, Troost remains wholly apart from the scenery he describes. Unlike Alexis de Tocqueville, who came to the US as an outsider, and was able to provide deep insight into the character of a young and rapidly changing country, Troost does not. He perceives, but does not understand. He looks, touches and tastes, but does not learn. He experiences, but fails to acquire wisdom. Instead of de Tocqueville, we get an outsider who does not appear to want, nor care to understand the country in which he is traveling. Instead, he judges with a priggish determination that is blind to the history and growing pangs that occurred in his very own country as it industrialized. China is now going through this same phase and as one might expect some pain accompanies the growth, but Troost is oblivious to this fact. As an aside, several reviews mention Troost’s use of humor in the book, but unless they are confusing ‘humor’ with ‘complaining’, I would have to disagree. It’s possible he’s shooting for a kind of Bill Bryson-esque hapless traveler type of vibe, but whereas Bryson is self-effacing and light-hearted, Troost comes off as a stodgy and whiny boor. If there was humor to be found in this approach, I’m afraid I just didn’t get it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tessa

    Disclaimer: The reason I gave this 3 stars instead of 4 is because of the author's use of a certain R-rated word, sometimes for humorous effect and sometimes not. Other than that quibble, I really liked Lost on Planet China. Troost wanted to understand modern China and what better way to do that than to tromp through the country for a few months, alone (for the most part) and not speaking the language? Gutsy, yes. Hilarious, yes. Thought-provoking, surprisingly yes. Troost's writing style is bre Disclaimer: The reason I gave this 3 stars instead of 4 is because of the author's use of a certain R-rated word, sometimes for humorous effect and sometimes not. Other than that quibble, I really liked Lost on Planet China. Troost wanted to understand modern China and what better way to do that than to tromp through the country for a few months, alone (for the most part) and not speaking the language? Gutsy, yes. Hilarious, yes. Thought-provoking, surprisingly yes. Troost's writing style is breezy, easy to read, and loads of fun. I feel like I got an insider's look at China, from a tourist perspective (this is definitely not a political science textbook) but a tourist who isn't afraid to poke in the corners. He spends a lot of time in the country and covers a lot of geography. He includes barely enough history to keep the reader informed, but not so much that the text drags. I actually would have liked more, but then the book would have had to double or triple in size. I liked Troost's writing enough that I would read a much longer tome. I found issues in the book I didn't expect to think about in a travel book: environmentalism, human rights (okay, I should have expected that), capitalism, materialism. Happiness. Troost doesn't introduce the reader to many Chinese people and that is unfortunate. I guess he moved around too quickly to get to know natives. I think that may have resulted in a more negative take on the country than if he had gotten to know a few individuals well. Instead we get a necessarily superficial look at a country with a vast amount of history, geography and people. In that sense, I would recommend the book be placed on the humor shelf rather than the history shelf. Troost's look at lines (queues), traffic, architecture, bargaining, and (maybe especially) dining were both hilarious and informative. I'm glad Troost took me to China in an armchair. Without the live squid.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I picked this up at the airport bookstore, and I was really excited because I really enjoyed Sex Lives of Cannibals. However, I was greatly disappointed in this writing. I traveled to China for a month in 2008, and while yes, there a number of things that are culturally different, the way the author continuously 'others' the Chinese, and belittles the way of life that is more of necessity in a capitalistic authoritarian country of 1.3 (or more) billion people, than a choice. I will be surprised I picked this up at the airport bookstore, and I was really excited because I really enjoyed Sex Lives of Cannibals. However, I was greatly disappointed in this writing. I traveled to China for a month in 2008, and while yes, there a number of things that are culturally different, the way the author continuously 'others' the Chinese, and belittles the way of life that is more of necessity in a capitalistic authoritarian country of 1.3 (or more) billion people, than a choice. I will be surprised if the US American civilization will last over 6000 years, as the Chinese have, so they must be doing something right. I want to re-read Sex Lives...to see if I detect the same nationalistic (racist?) tone of writing. I don't think I ever would have picked up on this bias if I had not traveled to China, and this is why I want to re-read Sex Lives. Skip this book, unless making fun of people, culture, food, and things that are different from you are something you like. Hated this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Maarten Troost is a specialist in tickling the funny bone. His books tell the truth about traveling around the world. It's not always roses, sometimes it's trying to eat something that every nerve in your body is telling you not to....but you don't want to be rude to whomever is feeding you. Not many travelers regale you with tales of trying to eat yak in Tibet. That's not the normal "stuff" of bedtime stories either, but it is just a day in the life of Troost. Personally, there's not enough mon Maarten Troost is a specialist in tickling the funny bone. His books tell the truth about traveling around the world. It's not always roses, sometimes it's trying to eat something that every nerve in your body is telling you not to....but you don't want to be rude to whomever is feeding you. Not many travelers regale you with tales of trying to eat yak in Tibet. That's not the normal "stuff" of bedtime stories either, but it is just a day in the life of Troost. Personally, there's not enough money in the world to tempt me to eat live squid, or dead for that matter, and yak? Well, thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick with my chocolate pudding. That being said, his books are not just humerous. They are true travel tomes, shedding light on the vastness that is China, a country extremely difficult to describe due to the simple size of the country, the diversity of the landscapes, the traditions of many different people. I enjoyed this book a lot!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Evans

    DEPRESSING but very very funny! China apparently is enclosed in a shroud of pollution that occasionally blows across the Pacific and adds to the smog in L.A. The Chinese people, according to Troost, "invented a lot of things, but the handkerchief is not one of them". They don't know how to stand in line, but Troost experiences little flashes of comraderie here & there. Doesn't really make me want to visit! That said, I love the way he writes -- he cracks me up. DEPRESSING but very very funny! China apparently is enclosed in a shroud of pollution that occasionally blows across the Pacific and adds to the smog in L.A. The Chinese people, according to Troost, "invented a lot of things, but the handkerchief is not one of them". They don't know how to stand in line, but Troost experiences little flashes of comraderie here & there. Doesn't really make me want to visit! That said, I love the way he writes -- he cracks me up.

  27. 5 out of 5

    William

    I am still hoping that Troost recovers the form he showed in his first work, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, but I must wait longer. He does show some of the same comic, insightful flashes I have come to expect -- but he does not sustain it throughout the book. In any case, this disjointed travelogue of China does entertain enough to be recommended even if it does disappoint those who know the author is capable of better work.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Like a tired and depressed stand up comedian not really expecting the meager audience to laugh at the oft repeated and worn zingers. Troost seriously dislikes everything and everybody he meets and experience in China. A shame as his itinerary offers the opportunity for a very varied and rich picture of both horror, hilarity and hope. He might be comfortable eating live squid, but the reader never gets comfortable with his lame western xenophobia.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    Having lived in China and been a 'China Hand' and 'Foreign Expert,' this book provides a rather on-point description of the enigma that is China; and more importantly, the more time you spend there, you realize how little you really know about the ever-changing country. An excellent read if you need some China nostalgia having lived there, or just want to scratch the surface of what it is like to be a foreigner in THE oldest continuous civilization on Earth. Truly excellent. Having lived in China and been a 'China Hand' and 'Foreign Expert,' this book provides a rather on-point description of the enigma that is China; and more importantly, the more time you spend there, you realize how little you really know about the ever-changing country. An excellent read if you need some China nostalgia having lived there, or just want to scratch the surface of what it is like to be a foreigner in THE oldest continuous civilization on Earth. Truly excellent.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized it was supposed to be funny, so.... it failed on that point. That said, it was an interesting read, though the end was abrupt. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized it was supposed to be funny, so.... it failed on that point. That said, it was an interesting read, though the end was abrupt.

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