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How interesting would it be if we ALL spent one year of our lives traveling soley by land or sea?
Far East journalist Tiziano Terzani was told by a fortune teller NOT to fly for an entire year. Being somewhat of a believer in these things, Terzani took the seer at his word and spent 1993 traveling by land, train, cab, bus, steamer, elephant, or cruise ship.
As I read this wonderfully lush travel guide, I was struck by what we 'frequent flyers' miss. We miss the rhythm of the country, the smells, common people, and the flip side of local life the airports don't feature.
While some of Terzani's experiences were a bit graphic for my tastes, and I probably could have done without yet another political commentary on how the West has corrupted the East, I thoroughly enjoyed his many visits with local fortune tellers. I especially liked the vestal virgin. I laughed out loud at Terzani's recanting of that meeting. Some of the fortune tellers he found during his travels were accurate, or close to it. Some were charlatans. They were all, however, interesting.
What a rich life Terzani has lived. All the best to him and I look forward to more stories from his pen.
Written by an Italian journalist who has lived in Asia for thirty or more years, it is the story of his travels in Asia during the year when he did not fly because a Hong Kong fortune teller told him that it would be dangerous for him to do so. His travels take him to Singapore, and through Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and other countries I haven't read about yet, because I haven't finished the book. Tarzani,the author, is clearly someone at home on the road. He has the advantage of speaking Chinese, which clearly makes it easier for him to make connections with local people. During his travels he seeks out fortune tellers, but what is most interesting are his observations of the changes taking place in Asia at the time. He makes several references to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction to globalization and growing materialism.
He also observes the effects of the Chinese diaspora in Asia: how in many of the southeast asian countries the first and second and third generation Chinese control the economy. He seems to indirectly blame this element of the populace for the increased materialism and the loss of local values and customs.
One of the drawbacks of his point of view is that he embodies the stereotype of the macho Italian and seems unenlighted about the possibility that women could actually read his book. This comes to light as he despairs about the increased modernization of the world. After computers, what next? Will we dispense with women? Once we no longer need to think for ourselves, will we no longer need to procreate? he seems to say.
The book is food for thought and a wonderful travelogue, except when comments like that slip out.
Most people, in most countries, are somewhat fascinated by the accuracy of a fortune-teller - and this is the hook that Terzani uses to draw us in. Will the prophesy prove true (a plane of journalists does go down in Asia at one point early in the given year (a plane he would have been on) but no one dies.)? How accurate are fortune-tellers? The details of his many visits to these many people, and his descriptions of the peoples and places he is seeing as a result of not flying are all fascinating. One of the themes he continually returns to is the modernization of Asia and to some extent how that pains him (AIDS in Burma, cold-hearted money mongers in China, completely non-spiritual Mongolians). He is not only humored by the superstitions of the region, but in some places he is somewhat grateful that these beliefs are still taken seriously. He is unhappiest in places where the modern world has pushed the relevance of some of these old shamans out of existence. It was absolutely wonderful writing and was so very Asian that I found I had a renewed interest in traveling to many of these places.
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