Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

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Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

I'm posting this on behalf of El_Caudillo, the New Zealand guy I know who used to post here who has traveled a lot extensively in Asia and Latin America, and now works as a teacher in NZ. He recently put up a book review of "An American Bum in China".

"An American Bum in China

In Jia Zhangke’s 2018 movie Ash is Purest White, the protagonist, Qiao, gets off a Yangtze river ferry near the Three Gorges Dam. She knows nobody in this new city and has no money. Desperate, the ruse she employs is to walk into a restaurant, call a rich looking young man out of a private dining room and tell him he has got her younger sister pregnant. She demands money as compensation. The trick works, the scared man hands over a bunch of red hundred RMB notes. Qiao, a gangster’s girlfriend fresh from jail, has skills that Matthew Evans, the antihero of Tom Carter’s An American Bum in China: Featuring the Bumblingly Brilliant Escapades of Mathew Evans, couldn’t dream off. Evans, like Qiao, finds himself broke and alone in China. Unlike Qiao, he is not a character in a movie where wild schemes succeed.

Matthew Evans starts out at his mum’s house in Muscatine, Iowa, and ends up homeless in Hong Kong. On the way he is kicked out of mainland China, goes back there to work as a teacher, and is then banished again. He is a childlike adventurer in a world that Carter steps in to interpret because, even if he wasn’t preoccupied with mere survival, Evans would be incapable of doing so.

As I would come to learn Evans embodied that apocryphal Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”; he seemed to revel in his wretchedness and, going against all ordinary reasoning, practically sought it out.

The author meets Evans at a book signing in Suzhou. Carter self-deprecatingly tells us this event for his book of photography is not well-attended, and so he has the time to get to know Evans, a young man of dishevelled appearance.

He was missing some teeth, he slouched defeatedly, he wore rimless glasses, his jowls were pudgy and scruffy, his wheat blond hair prematurely thinning, and the left corner of his bottom lip droopy.

Taken with this eccentric, who reels off his various plans and experiences in a stream of consciousness style, Carter will meet up with Evans many times over the next few years, seeing him as a kind of American pioneer in reverse or a luckless Huck Finn. Given the various references to Mark Twain, Carter is obviously a fan of his style. The book is illustrated by “catchpenny” prints by John Dobson. The pictures often give welcome comic relief to what is a tragic narrative.

We first meet Evans in the prologue, humming the Doors’ “Break on Through” as he illegally crosses into Burma from China to sell his American passport. This first glimpse has us wanting to know how Evans has come to this low point, but we’ll have to be patient while Carter fills us in on the necessary background of his scruffy protagonist.

Xi Jinping visited Evans’s hometown, Muscatine, both in 1985 as an agricultural delegate and later in 2012 just before becoming president. Xi allegedly has a soft spot for this place in America’s agricultural heartland. But through Evans’s eyes Muscatine is decaying: businesses are failing, manufacturers have left, while teenage pregnancies and the opioid crisis point to a dysfunctional society. There is no future for him, beyond a long sentence of loneliness living with his mother and working at a Hyvee supermarket. While the American dream is over the Chinese dream is just taking off and Evans wants a piece of it.

Evans had cancer as a child and the treatment has left him with a limp in addition to the missing teeth and thinning hair. He was a social outcast at high school. No dates or parties for Matthew. Rather than giving into frustration, the 21-year-old Evans hatches an escape plan, yes, China to see a girl he has met online. As former New York Times reporter Seth Faison noted in his memoir “South of the Clouds”, you don’t need to live up to Western standards of masculinity in China. By crossing the cultural divide romantic opportunities can be created for those marked as weird looking and offbeat in their own culture.

The story of the bumbling (young) Western male going to Asia to find love and (often) teach English is not a new one. There are countless memoirs detailing these adventures, whether it be in Korea, Japan, China or elsewhere. Often it leads to a different kind of isolation due to culture shock. As apparently anybody can get on a plane to Asia and teach English, the topic is not seen as a serious one to write about. Also, for some its unsavory because of cultural insensitivity of many of these sojourners, who indulge in excesses of alcohol and sex-or at least sexual intent.

This attitude seems judgmental though, there are many jobs “anybody” can do. No matter if it’s teaching or working at 7-Eleven you still have to turn up-and they’ll be material for a story if you are a good writer. Quincy Carroll’s 2015 novel Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is one example of a quality work about the English teaching scene in China. Carroll’s book is fiction though, Carter’s is non-fiction-well most of it, remembering that his source was the unreliable Evans.

When he gets to China, Evans finds out that his MySpace girl is a lesbian. Out of cash, but not ready to go home, he hits up other women on the now obsolete chat platform QQ. A real estate agent takes pity and allows him to crash in one of her apartments in Shanghai in return for odd jobs. For a while he has the kind of life he’d been hoping for, finding regular female company through QQ. But he neglects his odd jobs and the real estate agent gets fed up and sets the police on him. Evans visa has expired. He makes a run for it but is caught, briefly locked up and deported.

In his second stay in China Evans, armed this time with a fake college diploma, becomes a professor at a reputable university. He gets fired only to find an even better university teaching job- at a time when China was starting to try to get rid of unqualified, shady foreigners. Carter uses the term professor, but this seems like one of Evans’s own embellishments and his title should be “English teacher”.

Once again Evans is somewhere near happy: the university is out in Shanghai’s Minhang district far from the glitzy nightlife of the French Concession, but he has his own place. One of Carter’s friends, an editor of an expat mag waiting on his first paycheck, moves in with Evans and they have a boozy time of things. One night a couple of female students join them, the editor gets the girls and Evans heads out to look for a hairdresser open in the middle of the night, these places being brothels in weak disguise.

Carter at various stages tries to convince Evans to clean up his act and go straight, but the Iowan cannot help but self-sabotage. He asks all his female students out on the WeChat app, China’s WhatsApp. In due course complaints lead to the discovery that his diploma is fake and once again Evans is on the run. This time it will be worse.

After losing his passport in Burma, Evans has to sleep in hotel lobbies, ATM booths and McDonalds. He alienates his family as his grandmother pays for a plane home that he can’t board sans passport. He experiences the hippie backpacker scene in Yunnan province but doesn’t seem to enjoy it much. In between dribbles of money from his family and QQ girls he nearly starves to death.

Eventually he gets a new passport from the US consulate, but is given ten days to leave the country. He goes to Hong Kong and tries to get a new visa for the mainland but is now blacklisted. Evans thinks he will get a job in Hong Kong, noting the many illegal Southeast Asian prostitutes can work there. He fails. Far from the only one doing so in a city of ridiculously high rents, he sleeps outside on a piece of cardboard. He tries for a job in Macau but again no, the city is in a downturn due to Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Evans, by this stage a 27-year-old going on sixty, retreats to McDonald’s, near to starvation again.

Evans brilliantly albeit unwittingly realized that for just thirteen Macanese patacas per day (about a buck and a half), he could live off one small order of McDonald’s French fries daily, along with free water and condiments packets, which from morning to night came down to one single ketchup-covered fry per hour — exactly the minimum amount of nutrition, salt and sugar that the body and brain require.

Back in Hong Kong he has a slice of luck at last. The umbrella protest movement of 2014 has begun, students camping out and are only too happy to give Evans food. They assume he is showing solidarity with their cause. Evans much like Forrest Gump lives through some of the major events of the day with no idea what’s going on. However, eventually this too will have to end.

Carter has created an entertaining tale about the lower rungs of the expat scene in China, including the bar streets and backpacker hostels. He also captures the atmosphere of the early years of Xi Jinping’s reign-the crackdown on foreigners, the end of the party in Macau and the beginning of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

This is a tale of being away from home and out of your depth that many can relate too. Evans is, I would guess, proud of this portrait-apparently the book was his idea. It grates that he didn’t wise up and have more fun, but I wish him the best and hope he doesn’t try to go and make a life for himself in, for example, Japan or Thailand in the future-he is not the type to learn from his mistakes."
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Re: "An American Bum in China" Book Review by El_Caudillo

Post by Winston »

Also, El_Caudillo recently improved his health and mind by becoming a vegetarian/pescatarian. See his update below:
As for the food in Cambodia (I'm answering your whatsapp message) looks good and cheap - I went to Vietnam in 2002 and the food was so cheap and good but not the variety I see in your photos. Over the summer (southern hemisphere) I was in Argentina - food is cheap there too, at restaurants, not so much in the supermarket. BTW in the lockdown I have gone pescatarian/vegetarian, I haven't eaten red meat in 2 months, chicken in 6 weeks, I've just been eating a little bit of fish. I don't eat dairy products. I actually feel great, more energy - I might find it hard to give up fish though

Best,

F
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Re: "An American Bum in China" Book Review by El_Caudillo

Post by yick »

An excellent review, bought the book by the way! Looks like it is going to be an entertaining read. :D
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Kickboxer

Post by Winston »

Another book review by El_Caudillo that he recommends:

"With skill Houellebecq chronicles a life of despair undoubtedly lived by many in modern France, but he's run out of a bit of steam in "Serotonin". His narrator, Florent-Claude Labrouste, is a wealthy forty something who escapes his Japanese girlfriend and job to isolate himself from the world. He makes attempts to relive old love affairs: one lover he does meet up with but she has become a hopeless alcoholic. The real love of his life he obsesses about in an "if only" mental rumination which comes and goes throughout the book. No spiritual awakening comes to the rescue.

Houellebecq goes on about the furnishings of various apartments and hotel rooms that make up much of Labrouste's world. He does so in long sentences with excellent punctuation. Are these literate renderings of streams of consciousness all Houellbecq's doing? Is he the master of the semicolon and dash —or has his editor worked hard here and then the translator, Shuan Whiteside, improved things further? In any case I think Whiteside has done a great job and translator's rarely get credit.

Labrouste is taking an antidepressant that makes him calm yet impotent. He finds a doctor who is sympathetic, friendly and a fellow cigarette smoker to boot. The doctor is obviously doing his best to help the Labrouste and with another author the two would have become friends and gone drinking together, but Houellebecq keeps things bleak. In his novel "Platform" the narrator could escape France to Thailand and find some happiness, in "Submission" there was an intellectual interest in the writer Huysmans and a monastery stay —but here there is no relief; I didn't even find any humour like I did in "The Map and the Territory" where Houellebecq does a magnificent send up of himself when he appears as a character.

There is an episode about farmers' protest that actually involves the world outside the narrator's head, and it would be fair to say that Houellebecq predicted the Yellow Vest movement to some extent.

In "Serotonin" Houellebecq does a good job of wallowing in the decline of the West largely through monotony and unpleasant sex scenes, but he doesn't do much to help readers cope with it. Three stars, probably because of previously being a fan of the author and the quality of the prose."
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Kickboxer

Post by Winston »

An article by El_Caudillo called:

Covid-19 Press Interactions

https://link.medium.com/RTaJKqfYi6
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

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El_Caudillo's new book review of "Bangkok Days":

"My Review of Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne

A great book to read during a time when it's hard to travel. Bangkok Days investigates various nooks and crannies of the Big Mango that, while fascinating, I don't particularly want to go to personally. Osborne is “on the lam” in Bangkok a place he can live cheap, he makes this discovery while visiting to have dental work done.

“The days were empty by design. I didn’t have a job; I was on the lam, as old American gangsters had it. A perfect phrase. The lam. It means “headlong flight,” according to my Webster’s dictionary. Lamming, to run away.”

The book is meandering and unstructured, but Osborne is such a good observer and writer that this doesn't matter. His days are not completely empty, he becomes a flâneur, a man who wanders observing society - through the malls and nightlife districts - and less accessible neighbourhoods.

“This part of Rattanakosin just north of the canal which empties into the river is one of the few remnants of the old city that the authorities, no doubt in a fit of absentmindedness, have neglected to bulldoze. The surfaces of the houses are a vertical maze of cracks and puzzles, in which cicadas are lodged as if they have mistaken it for a man-made forest.”

Osborne covers the much talked about topic of middle-to-old-aged Western men who have gone to Bangkok for one final hurrah before the big empty. He does this well without moral sermonising or crass lionising of his friends' libertine ways. If there is any glue which holds the narrative together it comes from the bonds formed at the Primrose Apartments, where Osborne initially stays in Bangkok. There he first meets his cast of escapees, running from their life of invisibility in the West. The most developed character is McGinnis.

“McGinnis was six foot seven. He towered in doorways, in hotel lobbies, in the light of streetlamps. There was something wonderfully sinister there, and I love sinister men. A sinister man doesn’t just walk down a street, he rolls down it like a superior ball bearing. A sinister man cannot be amiable, but he can be good company. Despite his association with the science of air-conditioning, McGinnis was also subtly aristocratic and refined, while doing nothing better with his life than selling mass-produced cooling units.”

Then there is Dennis, a decrepit retired bank manager from Perth, with the best lines about how Bangkok is the place to be, where one can feel alive again.

“Dennis often said to me that Bangkok reminded him of an ancient Roman city, at least as we imagine them to have been. Cities of polytheistic lust. Nothing, he added, could be further removed from the cities of Anglophonia, which were based not on a love of pleasure but on a worship of power.”

New York, by contrast, where Osborne, a pom, lived for twenty years always sounds like hell when he mentions it.

“...not sure I have much talent,” I replied, quite truthfully as it happened. “And if I did have some, I wouldn’t go around talking about it. I come from New York, where everyone does that, even if they have no talent whatsoever. It makes me want to vomit. I think I came here to escape exactly that.”

Osborne travels to Malaysia and Macau for journalistic missions and tries to relate these episodes back to Bangkok, I found this an indulgence and the editor should have cut the non-Bangkok parts. Towards the end of the book, he takes a break from the libertines to visit a priest and nun helping addicts in a slum. He observes that a lammer like himself feels sorry for these missionaries alone and stuck in a foreign slum forever - but at the same time they feel sorry for the likes of him and his purposeless brethren. This reminded me of Graham Greene’s “A Burnt Out Case” where the worldly man seeks refuge with priests in a leper colony. Osborne has been compared with Greene. In interviews he has said he is a long way from that level yet, but is flattered by the comparison. I haven’t read Osborne's novels - I have high hopes for them.

He relates a couple of his own sexual escapades but there is nothing too raunchy. He sleeps with a prostitute at the Primrose, an introduction to the kind of pleasure that is on offer in Bangkok.

"There is a word in Thai, sanuk, which embodies the idea of enjoying life to the full as a duty. It is usually translated as “fun” or “pleasure,” but it is really untranslatable. Porntip was a bearer of sanuk. She came every fourth day for a month, with a curious punctuality, as if she was coming upriver between classes."

Whether we Westerners should or can enjoy a sanuk lifestyle is a debate for the ages. Can it be of benefit or just damage us and those around us? If there is anybody around us.

My favourite tale is of him buying bathroom plugs. He rings his upper class Thai landlady but she has no idea how to say plug in her language - or refuses to share this knowledge with a foreigner who couldn't possibly be able to use Thai words. He eventually finds out that Thai for plug is 'pluk'. But at the store they can’t understand him - he has the tone wrong. Eventually he points and gets his plug. He goes through the process of buying a plug multiple times before he can ask for a “pluk” and the store assistant gets one right away. He then has a bunch of plugs he’ll never use, but hey one word of Thai mastered, however many thousand to go. The same happens with a chicken dish, he practices saying it (and eating it) everyday for a week before Thais can understand him. He recognises that not understanding the language provides a kind of protective cocoon. I know what he is about. In China it was reassuring when I finally learnt to understand conversations. Mainland Chinese shout so I thought they were constantly fighting, in fact they were discussing lunch. However, from time to time I'd pick up on rude comments directed my way, I remember being at the Summer Palace and a mother warning her child (in jest?) to stay away from me or I’d kidnap him and take him to America (the home of all Westerners obviously)...Another time on Lamma island in Hong Kong a Mainlander said to his girlfriend “look at the size of the great white hunter’s feet!” If you don’t know the language, you don’t have to hear these things. But enough about me...read Bangkok Days."
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

Some new articles and travelogues by el_caudillo.

Chinese mafia story

https://chinachannel.org/2018/10/26/the-pixiu-triad/

Travelogue

https://www.remotelands.com/travelogues ... g-species/
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

El_Caudillo recommends you guys to read this:

"Civilization and Its Discontents (Penguin Modern Classics)" by Sigmund Freud, David McLintock.

Start reading it for free: https://a.co/ipBdnDM

And this book too: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1455566381/re ... 3FbVTF5NWG

Some profound quotes from it:

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Oceanic feeling
In a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, Romain Rolland coined the phrase "oceanic feeling" to refer to "a sensation of ‘eternity', a feeling of "being one with the external world as a whole," inspired by the example of Ramakrishna. According to Rolland, this feeling is the source of all the religious energy that permeates in various religious systems, and one may justifiably call oneself religious on the basis of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one renounces every belief and every illusion. Freud discusses the feeling in his Future of an Illusion and Civilization and Its Discontents. There he deems it a fragmentary vestige of a kind of consciousness possessed by an infant who has not yet differentiated himself or herself from other people and things.
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

El_Caudillo's book review of "South of the Clouds, Exploring the Hidden Realms of China" by former New York Times reporter Seth Faison.

https://www.amazon.com/South-Clouds-Exp ... B00127UHUS

South of the Clouds, Exploring the Hidden Realms of China by former New York Times reporter Seth Faison is a balanced and interesting China expat memoir. Why? Because the book includes the background to the stories he reported on and also intimate details of his private life. He writes about some fairly edgy stuff like dating a transexual woman and visiting dodgy massage parlours; he does it without being a gratiuitous lecher or a tiresome social justice warrior.

Arriving in Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, in 1984 to study Chinese, Faison describes a city of bicycles and poverty. He eats rice, boiled vegetables, and fat with traces of meat attached at the campus canteen filled with Mao suits wearing students. He befriends the woman serving the food with some thoughts of romance, although she hardly sounds glamorous in her dirty smock. This is Faison’s period of innocence; everything is new and interesting as he takes his first steps learning the language. Most Chinese women seem afraid of him and when he dates a Westernised girl, she disappears on him, marrying a rich man in Beijing to realize her dream of studying in America. Faison learns that much of what is happening in China is below the surface and not directly spoken of. This inspires his career:

“I became a journalist and used my calling card to peek into the mysteries of Chinese politics, the netherworld of underground business, and remote areas of the vast countryside. Uncovering secrets became my domain.”

One of these mysteries discussed in the prologue is that of the poor farmer Yang who discovered the buried Terracotta Warriors. Faison wants to interview Yang, but finds there are two men claiming to be Yang - both making money off their reputation by signing coffee table books. He then has to interview both and to find the real Yang, a real riddle here.

After Xian, Faison moves down to Hong Kong where he gets his start as a journalist at the Standard. In the job ‘interview’ he has to prove himself by going beer for beer with the crusty British editor. He fights his way up from the bottom of the industry and ends up in Beijing for the South China Morning Post. The chapters which follow about the Beijing Spring of 1989 and the Tiananmen Square Massacre are readable but don’t include anything not well-covered in other books.

I found the chapters on the less famous stories he covered more interesting. The Golden Venture was a ship that got stuck on a sandbar just off the coast of New York in 1993. Inside were hundreds of Chinese hoping to enter the US illegally, ten died from either hypothermia or drowning. The conditions on the boat were terrible and Faison goes to Chinatown in Manhattan to investigate. He had moved back to the States and got a job at the New York Times but this Golden venture story once again draws him to China. Back in China as the chief of the Shanghai Bureau for the Times, he follows the Golden Venture case up, travelling to Fujian province where the unfortunate Golden Venture passengers came from.

“A mysterious region of craggy mountains and a rocky coast, Fujian sent millions of immigrants to America. For reasons no one could pin down, more than ninety percent of smuggled men and women came from one small area of Fujian, three counties near the provincial capital of Fuzhou.”

What is surprising is that people in Fujian believe in the American dream and are willing to pay $30,000 to the people smugglers and send their sons and daughters on a terrible, dangerous journey. Faison interviews relatives of young people smuggled to America and immediately after wonders whether this will cause them trouble with the local mafia.

One of the best chapters, Into the Pirate’s Den, is about a businessman involved in pirating DVDs.

“He had greased-back hair and the puffy face of a man who lived on cigarettes and alcohol.”

Faison writes a newspaper story about this character, Wang, who sees nothing wrong about intellectual property theft. (I’ve made my own views on buying pirated DVDs clear.) Wang then calls Faison, wanting him to set the record straight in a new article, because the one he’s published has got Wang in hot water with the authorities. Faison is very conflicted.

“Besides, Wang's crimes were similar to those of hundreds of other Chinese businessmen. The main reason Wang was punished was that he made the mistake of talking to me. I felt bad. If I had more guts, I would have warned Wang during our interview and I disagreed with his assessment of pirating and that my article would reflect it. Face to face, I was afraid to be direct. I preferred the Chinese way, to up the appearance of friendliness and to stick the knife once I was out of sight.”

In Beijing, Faison has a relationship with Jin Xing, a famous dancer and transexual. I doubt Faison would have dated a transexual back in America so why did he do it in China? Well, as an outsider it’s easier to date another outsider. Living in China when you don’t look Chinese is a constant struggle against Satre’s bad faith: it’s hard not to lose your own identity and just play the role of the foreigner, which is what you are always first seen as. In Jin Xing, however, Faison finally finds a Chinese person who can see him for him:

I felt she could see me as a person, not as an American or as a reporter. I felt accepted by her.

Satre’s waiter is the classical example of ‘bad faith’- playing the role that you fall into in the world and not being your real self. The following is from a Psychology Today article written by Neel Burton.

“One example of bad faith that Sartre gives is that of a waiter who does his best to conform to everything that a waiter should be. For Sartre, the waiter's exaggerated behaviour is evidence that he is play-acting at being a waiter, an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. However, in order to play-act at being a waiter, the waiter must at some level be aware that he is not in fact a waiter, but a conscious human being who is deceiving himself that he is a waiter.”

Now it’s not hard to stop being a waiter, but to stop being a foreigner or laowai you have to leave China altogether. The role is overwhelming, full time - only in your apartment can you become you again, outside you the laowai, crudely put - the entertaining Westerner who eats hamburgers, parties hard and puts their parents in a retirement home. Now being laowai isn’t so bad (or at least didn’t used to be) you are given special treatment, and so some enjoy taking on the role, it can be much better than the role they had back in their own country. But for a sensitive person like Faison not being seen as who he is becomes a problem.

In general Faison seems successful with Chinese women, and that he is not a very masculine type is no handicap in China, even an advantage. He also talks about his visits to dodgy massage parlours when lonely on the road. He feels guilty about this, and so should be congratulated more on writing about it. I don’t know if there was any kickback against him by the PC crowd, his eventual wife encouraged him to write this book, so I don’t think she would have minded his admissions. It was only because of the chapter on his massage addiction that I heard of this book. I read an article in the LARB China Channel by Robert Hoyle Hunwick about sexpat writing, which I thought unfairly included South of the Clouds. After reading I bought Faison’s book online and read the massage parlour chapter - and then didn’t bother with the rest of the book until about a year later - I’m glad that I did come back to it.

The title “South of the Clouds” refers to Yunnan, the Southwestern province with a mild climate and a lot of minority cultures, a place where Faison visited before moving on to find greater spiritual awakening amongst the Tibetans. He recounts seeing a Tibetan sky burial where their body is hacked up and left for the vultures, instead of being horrified he finds some peace in witnessing this. This was all readable, but not especially original. Faison realises it’s time to leave China in the early 2000s. He sees a lovely woman reporting on CNN and decides he has to meet her. That woman, Siobhan Darrow, became his wife. I intend to one day read her book Flirting with Danger, about her experiences reporting from Russia.

Faison does a good job of analysing the doubts working as a journalist and being a foreigner in China can create. Westerners who have lived in China will encounter familiar complicated feelings about their experience well articulated here. Faison was in China in the 80s and 90s: the less hyped decades between the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and China becoming a huge player on the world stage. This book gives a good picture of those times, but will probably never be widely read, which is a shame. As yet, Seth Faison has not written another book.
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

It must take a lot of work to explore the hidden realms of China. Lol. The girls in such hidden realms must be more approachable and unspoiled. Lol
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

El_Caudillos review of one of Rooshvs books.

"First thoughts, to be rewritten and extended - because however you feel about Roosh I think this book is a cultural touchstone.

If you take "A Dead Bat in Paraguay" without worrying about Roosh’s subsequent career it’s an enjoyable read. This is a sort of anti-travel book written by an observant and honest young man. The writing is uneven but there is some real potential there. It’s a shame that Roosh couldn’t have written more along these lines - but books like this don’t sell, and he was determined not to go back to his career as a microbiologist. To make money he wrote the “Bang” series about how to pick up girls in different countries - and so forged his reputation as a controversial figure who would be banned from some countries for his misogynist views. His reputation was the victim, and his publicity machine benefactor, of the easily triggered outrage of our PC times.

There is a lot about how to get girls into bed in Dead Bat. In hostels and nightclubs from Ecuador to Brazil, Roosh and other young Western males scheme to score local women, with the less exotic but more accessible gringas as a back up. Having experienced this hostel scene myself, it’s hardly controversial or uncommon for guys and girls to have casual hookups as they travel the world, sometimes their free and easy Western values may clash with the more conservative local cultures. In South America the people are often more sexually conservative than their highly social manner would indicate. What is a little bit unusual about Roosh is how much he analyses and obsesses about how to pick up girls. He wants the algorithm that will get him as many girls as fast as possible. In fact, his first few months in South America are a total failure in this respect.

Dead Bat is not only about trying to score, Roosh is actually really good at describing things that most will experience along the gringo trail between Lonely Planet attractions. His descriptions of long distance bus travel are a highlight:

<i>“When you ask the fare catcher how long it takes to get to the next city, the time he gives you is based on maniacal driving. Regular driving takes twice as long to arrive and just isn’t as fun for the adrenaline junkies that compose the bus driver corps. It didn’t matter than the road to Tena was this gravel and dirt thing that days of rain had turned into thick mud. I could feel the back of the bus sliding as the driver hurried anyway like he was rushing the President of France to an important diplomatic meeting.”</i>

The first half of the book, when Roosh is in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia is the stronger half. There is more a balance of social commentary focusing on transport, the poor and food as well as unsuccessful pickup attempts. Roosh is not afraid to say that he is completely underwhelmed by the continent's number one tourist attraction: Machu Picchu - other gringos are shocked by his attitude. He is disparaging of the lack of hygiene in Bolivia, but sympathetic to the fate of the miners in the Potosi mines. The mines are another “must do” attraction, Roosh is not breaking any ground, but his description of the appalling conditions of the miners is quite good. So here are two examples of him sharing his raw thoughts:

<i>"Bolivia has no redeeming qualities beside what nature bestowed on it, not to the credit of the people or culture. I hate Bolivia. I was on the road to health but Bolivia destroyed it, and now I was sick again. I should have rode the bus right through the country."

"I felt small for complaining about my relatively easy job at home that paid me a salary the miners could only dream of. How did I come to the conclusion that a professional job with fair pay in a modern building was actually torture?"</i>

Many may feel the emotions felt on in the first quote on a long bus ride but not write it down. We'd certainly express the sentiments of the second quote - whether we felt them or not.

It is in Mendoza Argentina that young Jedi Roosh turns in the Dark Vader pickup artist. Sitting on a park bench he is overwhelmed by the beauty of Argentine women. Up until this point Roosh has failed to get laid, but here he might make up for that. He and his crew of hostel friends hit the clubs hunting. But Argentine culture has some surprises in store for Roosh. He finds that he’ll get into conversations with girls and they’ll show great interest in him only to disappear if he takes a toilet break. They’ll touch him on the forearm, a real sign of interest in the USA, but again just disappear. They are toying with him and he is offended. When he gets close to and goes for the kiss he finds another hurdle as girls turn their heads at the last moment. Why does it have to be this way? Roosh is very upset. Roosh is discovering what many have about Argentine social culture: it promises a lot but delivers little. Here are beautiful girls who will talk to and draw you in, but in the end it is only their endless need for attention that motivates them, they are not interested in you at all. Argentines of the class that the beautiful girls of Mendoza come from are actually quite cliquey and conservative - and arrogant to boot. Wanting something from them will damage your self esteem, and this is a tipping point for the bold and cold yet sensitive Roosh.

Just on a (probably unnecessary) personal note I experienced the scene in Mendoza in 2004 and 2005, several years before Roosh’s trip. I was back in the city in December 2019 but not single and over 40, so I didn’t head to the nightlife area in and around Avenida Villanueva or stay in a hostel. I remember the exhausting schedule of going out at 2am that is the norm there - Roosh and his buddies start drinking at 9pm, giving them a full 5 hours before time to go out - I started at 6, the time I would start drinking in NZ or Asia, and this often had me too intoxicated to hit the clubs - which I was never much a fan of anyway. Another feature of Roosh's trip is the deterioration of his health both physical and mental and this punishing nightlife schedule hardly helped. He realises some of his health worries are in his head but can't help it. Sigmund Freud may have enjoyed psychoanalysing Roosh, a man with hypochondriac neurosis stemming from frustrated sexual desires. He is the sort of person who needs a project otherwise his racing mind starts attacking:

<i>"South America is not kind to even the mildest of hypochondriacs, which I had to accept I was. In the past I easily diagnosed a slight rash as scabies and odd headaches as brain tumors. When I got tested for HIV I’d browse through AIDS forums on the internet and calculate the odds I actually did have HIV before the results came in. A little twitch in the leg and I might as well be in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis, a pain in the chest and it was a serious heart problem." </i>

Stopping here for now - need to comment on Roosh in Brazil etc."
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

El_caudillo wants u guys to vote on the book cover for his new book that u like best. See below:

"Possible ideas for cover of my novel Buenos Aires Triad, please take poll, thanks. "

https://99designs.com.au/book-cover-des ... 55f87/vote
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

By El_Caudillo:

Harvest Season

This novel successfully captures the backpacker scene in China’s Yunnan Province in the 2000s. The fictional setting, Shuangshan, is based on Dali, a town by the beautiful Erhai lake. Yunnan is home to many ethnic minorities and in Dali, it is the Bai people. Taylor changes this to the Wu minority. The Wu people still keep their own language and religious practices alive. The Han Chinese, who make up over ninety per cent of China's population, are outsiders in Shuangshan.

Shuangshan is a bucolic corner of Western China, far from the hustle and unfettered state-run capitalism of massive smoke-stack cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan. Situated above a scenic lake and below hills where marijuana grows, Shuangshan attracts a slacker breed of Westerners and Han Chinese alike. The main character, Matt, shares a house with Wang from Beijing. They spend their days drinking and smoking weed. Matt, who seems to be in his forties, has come to Shuangshan in search of some sort of Shangrila he glimpsed fifteen years before but his vision is rather vague.

Somewhere I read that author Chris Taylor felt ‘Harvest Season’ had been unfairly labelled “Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ but in China.” He said a novel that influenced him more was Paul Bowles’s ‘Sheltering Sky’. I read Bowles’s novel after ‘Harvest Season’ and I can see what Taylor was on about. Both novels involve foreigners looking for spiritual answers in places they will be perpetually alien. You might argue the same for ‘The Beach’ - but in that novel, the Westerners aren’t really looking to be involved with the local culture at all.

Bowles was a well-known figure in the post World War II bohemian scene in Tangier, Morocco. I wasn’t around in the fifties and I’ve never been to North Africa, so I don’t know how well Bowles captured that world. In China, I never went to Dali; the closest thing I experienced to it was staying in a backpacker hostel in nearby Kunming. However, having spent some years in China, I saw a lot of similar scenes. For me, Taylor is on the money with the atmosphere he creates.

While Bowles shows American couple, Port and Kit Moresby's existential angst and nihilism through their, seemingly pointless, journey into the Sahara, Taylor does it through his characters' clumsy conversations in Western-owned dive bars. The names of these places, Hummingbird, The Lizard, Moon Cafe etc. cracked me up. Every city in China used to have these hard-drinking foreigner hideouts, where people discuss plans to REALLY do something in China - plans one feels will never eventuate.

The plot revolves around an Australian named Alex opening a youth hostel, which attracts big numbers of crazy Western hippies from their hangouts in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Alex also takes over the market for selling drugs to Westerners, something which makes a local Wu businessman unhappy. Furthermore, the hippies want to have a ceremony at the cave of the local shaman - they are turning Shuangshan into just another faux-spiritual tourist trap. Matt, one can’t decide why, has a crush on Alex’s girlfriend A-hong and this makes life difficult for him. The tension between the long term foreign residents, new Western faces, local Wu heavies and the Han authorities builds nicely until disaster strikes. I intend to extend this review. 4 stars.
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

Post by Winston »

Book Review

A Certain Kind of Power’ is an entertaining dissection of corruption, in which Australian author Ryan Butta recreates an Argentina of scandals and cloak and dagger moves. Our guide in the county’s capital, Buenos Aires, is Mike Costello, a jaded American corporate spy. An aging one-time army man, Mike has been in Argentina too long for his own good and has a love/hate relationship with Buenos Aires.

“Regardless of her slow decay, Buenos Aires radiated a beauty and an arrogance in the face of the inevitable that bewitched Mike. He admired the city’s refusal to give in, but he would listen to her lies no more.”

Mike knows what goes on beyond the surface and that makes him useful to other foreigners who turn up in Argentina without a clue. The book starts with Mike going to a football game in Lanus, a gritty district to the south of the Capital Federal. The game ends in a riot and the police, paid off by the hooligans, do nothing to stop it. We don’t return to Lanus, Mike lives in upmarket Recoleta and deals with executives, government officials and embassy staff – but they too turn out to be corrupt.

The main plot revolves around MinEx, a British company hoping to set up a mining operation in Córdoba and build a railway to move product to the coast. The Argentine government lends MinEx one hundred and fifty million dollars to start the project. The problem is they insist MinEx uses local contractors at grossly inflated prices. MinEx executive Simon Quinn is a hothead with no clue how to handle the situation. Enter Mike, recommended to Simon as a man who can help by Alex Hammond from the British embassy. Mike in turn gets his information from a shadowy local figure known as the doctor. A number of twists and turns and dead bodies follow and Mike begins to figure out what’s going on like the protagonist in a detective or spy novel would.

As they sit in various bars and cafes, Mike recounts for Simon a lot of Argentina’s recent history – minimally fictionalised by Butta. This is interesting but slows the novel down. Butta has obviously waded through the political stories in many editions of newspapers Clarín and La Nación. In these pages scandals come and go at an alarming rate. Nobody can keep up.

Not set in an exact historical moment (but 2010 is about the best fit), a figure like the late Néstor Kirchner is president of Butta’s Argentina. The recounting of the saga of Néstor’s buddy Lázaro Báez (Butta changes the man’s name but nothing else) tells the story more clearly and simply than any newspaper article I’ve read.

“Mike explained that Zanetti was a close friend of the president and was a man who had made two very astute business decisions in his lifetime. The first was in 1990 when, while working as a bank teller, he leaked confidential bank documents to the mayor of Rio Gallegos, a small town in southern Argentina.”

And so, for Argentina enthusiasts the novel is great. I think it could hold some general appeal too, beyond didactic passages there is dark humour and some action.

The other important aspect of this novel is the detailing of everyday life in Argentina: The over-educated taxi drivers constantly complaining about the place going to the dogs, the service people ignoring you and the bizarre absence of change when you want to buy something. Butta gives us many examples of how Buenos Aires as a city looks great aesthetically but lacks the basics.

Reading this got me thinking about the difference between going to a café in New Zealand and Argentina. In Kiwiland, you go for the good coffee while the newspaper, consisting mainly of fluff, only takes five minutes to read. Most of the time I get my coffee to go. In Maradonaland, the café looks nice: classic wooden furniture, bowtied waiters – but the coffee is awful and the slow service makes you wish you could order at the counter like in New Zealand. The newspaper, however, will be full of information and take an hour to read. The single Mike glumly spends most of his time such cafes – occasionally he does enjoy himself with a good steak and whiskey – but more often he sits dreaming of leaving Buenos Aires for Sicily. Will the city let him go?

I was glad to find this noir novel set in Buenos Aires written by a non-Argentine. Phillip Kerr wrote a detective novel set there but his knowledge of the city was limited compared with Butta’s. There are many great local authors in Argentina of course, however, they tend not to write in this straightforward style, which sometimes I find myself craving.
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Re: Book Reviews by El_Caudillo - Kiwi Traveler, Writer, Teacher, Philosopher, Mountain Climber

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