Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: Notes from the Other China: Adventures in Asia


Notes from the Other China: Adventures in Asia
By Troy Parfitt
Algora Publishing, 201 pages
(Amazon, $34.95)


Troy Parfitt sent me a copy of his new book Notes from the Other China: Adventures in Asia, a travel book that takes the reader with Troy on his experiences in Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The result is an extremely accessible, well-written, and generally lively account of that will no doubt make a major contribution to the GDPs of those countries through increased tourism.

Notes consists of 18 chapters. I thought the opening section of the book, on Parfitt's experiences in Korea, was by far the strongest, marked by experiences that are riveting and informed by an authentically rough narrative. After a short detour through the Philippines, Parfitt then takes us through several chapters on Taiwan, and from there, to Nepal and Vietnam.

Roughly a fourth of the book is devoted to Taiwan. These chapters consist of items that give a rather one-sided picture of the island, such as a chapter on Mormon missionaries, another on Nazi symbolism in Taiwan, and yet another that is largely a hack on Vice President Annette Lu (who is hardly representative of anything, let alone Taiwan politics). These topics appear to have been introduced largely as foils for Parfitt's considerable talent for snark. In fairness, this section of the book has probably the weakest fit for a travel tome, since it lacks the constant flow of change that makes a travel narrative so interesting.

The sections on Cambodia and Vietnam present a series of vignettes of life on the road, and a few meditations on the road's addicting habit of offering the traveler flickering imagery culled, barely-understood, from real life. The trip to Vietnam, which consumes most of the second half of the book, offers a stream of wacky, wonderful experiences of tourism in Vietnam, from the hassles to the highs. This section of the book is extremely engaging. Parfitt takes us through the major tourist sites, many of which are war-related, while at the same time issuing a running commentary on Kissinger's book on the war, which he carried with him for part of the journey. Some choice observations on Americans and Canadians are offered as well, including a shot at the Canadian habit of sewing the national flag onto one's backpack before heading off into the great unknown:

As for kidnappings, these happen to Canadians too, and I have never heard of an account where a Canadian was abducted only to be released upon the discovery that he wasn't American.

Much of strength of this section, which I enjoyed very much, comes from Parfitt's tone, which at last hits its stride, maturing from snark into a kind of matter-of-fact wryness that is gently enjoyable:

After 20 minutes the Australian still hadn't received his rice, and predictably, there was another eruption. At one point he actually went into the kitchen to yell at the proprietors. Incidentally, I waited 40 minutes for my own meal to make an appearance, but it didn't matter. The clam chowder was spot on; straight from the can, just like Mom used to open it.

From the Vietnamese guide with "serious issues" about history to the American he nicknamed Marijuana who videotaped a lunatic on a rampage at a bar, after reading Parfitt's account I was sorely tempted to hop on a plane to Hanoi, in the hope of meeting all the outlandish characters who apparently populate the tourist routes in Vietnam. And so will you be, too.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the launch of the book is this Saturday, the 15th, in Taipei, but fortunately islaformosa did in the comments below:

I'm the creator of Troy's website http//www.troyparfitt.com

Check it out for more, particularly the regularly updated blog excepts that are outtakes and b-sides.

Just wanted to add too that The Notes from the Other China book launch will occur on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Taipei's PS Cafe located just northwest of the Zhongxiao-Dunhua MRT/intersection. The address is 181 Dunhua S. Rd. Section 1. Their phone number is: 2776-0970.

Troy is going to do a brief reading, and we'll be all having some wine.

See you there and check out the site!

4 comments:

nostalgiphile said...

Thanks for the review. I keep looking for good expat stories about Taiwan, so this fits my interests...If 1/4 of the book is devoted to Taiwan, yet it still reads like a one-sided lost outsider narrative I'd probably be averse to buying it though--esp. at this price. Better off reading old-timer expat blogs and talking to the (0ther) drunks at Shannon. 8-)

Other dead tree recommendations in this vein though?

islaformosa said...

I'm the creator of Troy's website http//www.troyparfitt.com

Check it out for more, particularly the regularly updated blog excepts that are outtakes and b-sides.

Just wanted to add too that The Notes from the Other China book launch will occur on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Taipei's PS Cafe located just northwest of the Zhongxiao-Dunhua MRT/intersection. The address is 181 Dunhua S. Rd. Section 1. Their phone number is: 2776-0970.

Troy is going to do a brief reading, and we'll be all having some wine.

See you there and check out the site!

Joshua Samuel Brown said...

I picked up a copy of NftOC off the shelf at Nitti's a few days before I left Taiwan and read several pages over coffee; only the fact that I was already horribly overweighted for my impending trip, combined with a "no more book purchases before leaving" pact made with my wife prevented me from buying it, and I look forward to having the author swap me a copy for one of Vignettes of Taiwan. Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

This may interest you: advice to Taiwan from a foreign journalist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKFNkHMdRWY&feature=related