Sunday, May 19, 2013

"The Rough Guide to First-Time Asia": Book Review

As an armchair traveler, I've visited Asia often. But never in person. The noise, heat, crowds, poverty, distances, languages, food, sanitation, topped off by my wish for solitude and a low profile when on the road, discourage me.

Leslie Reader and Lucy Ridout encourage. They offer over two-hundred lively pages--speckled with equally well-written and entertaining or dire sidebars by those who have been there, done that--about "the Big Adventure." Planning proves the theme. This is less a book to take with you (although I'd imagine it should be, as nobody can recall the massive amount of sage advice herein on the go) than to use to work out the details. Visas, flights, insurance follow, and then when to visit. (Whenever that is, they advise to land in daylight with time to get out of the chaotic airport into what can be a hectic city via a challenging commute, perhaps full of logistical and linguistic and currency barriers.)

Costs, guidebooks and resources, what to take, "the first night," jet lag (one snippet to cope from their list: "Switch on Star TV, the less-than-riveting Asian cable station."), and culture shock follow. Acting responsibly, dealing with unpleasant realities, getting around, customs, health, communicating with folks back home, crime and personal safety, and coming home--with help on volunteering and other ways to contribute to the betterment of the region you've left behind, conclude. It's geared in its style and slang to a British audience, but this for me only adds to its charm, and all prices have dollar/sterling equivalents.

A sample of the researchers' attitude in the passage on budgeting shows their commonsense. "It's relatively easy to sit at home and swear you'll manage without air conditioning, bathe in cold water and love it, and never want a private toilet, but after a week with 45-C heat, a few cold showers at 3000m, or three days with chronic diarrhoea, your priorities will certainly alter." (75)

Their second half of this compact guide offers a brief overview of each nation (with the exceptions of Burma which at the time was under a boycott requested by Aung San Suu Kyi, and naturally, North Korea) with highlights. This is more hit-and-miss, as it gives two dozen appetizers rather than main courses, but consider it a snack tray and not a smorgasbord. There's just enough to whet the appetite. They also append to each nation an eclectic if frustrating (many not issued on video or in print at least overseas) array of books and films to consult, and contact info on and off the net (use with caution; not all sites remain active). Even if you stay in the comfy chair for now, you may find yourself more open to the possibility of going to Asia after a few hours spent in the company of this guide. (Amazon US 11-29-12)

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