The good things about this book, the things I enjoyed:
- Maarten’s sense of humor, making sometimes difficult subject matter easier to get through.
- The sheer amount of information, useful for anyone interested in China’s current culture, recent history, or travel opportunities.
- The “everyman” sense that the author exuded, making him likeable.
- The first half of this book is a quick, humorous read.
The things I did NOT enjoy, are, unfortunately, a little more numerous.
Firstly, the premise of the book is flawed. In the beginning, the author states that he is going to visit China in order to discern whether or not the country is suitable to bring his family (a wife and two young sons) to live for a year or two. Once he’s in China, it’s obvious that he’s not there for that purpose. He considers briefly the affect that the smoggy air in China, and the altitude, might have on his children. But not once does he look into China’s educational system, the job outlook for whatever it is his wife does, the lives of ex-pats and foreign residents in China, the likelihood of obtaining permission from the government to live there, etc.
So, we’ll put aside that premise. Why is he here, in China? Is he here to write a book? He never says whether he had that in mind before the visit. I believe he was there just to putter around China for awhile and learn what there is to learn, which is fine… when you’ve got a slightly more open mind than Maarten has. Towards the end of the book he says he’s afraid he’s a “travel snoot”, and he is, unfortunately.
He’s not shy about making judgments on the Chinese people, or their culture – even his title refers to PLANET China, as though the concept of foreign culture is so completely alien to him that he assumes it must not exist on Earth. China’s weird, but lots of foreign cultures are. That attitude doesn’t quite leave him as he travels through China, and by the time the book’s done, it’s obvious he’s very, very tired of his wandering life there.
He also needed stronger editing. I don’t like seeing several typos in a published book. They’re typos spell-check would have caught. His editor should have also cut down several of his diatribes, like his completely random review of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons.” Plus there’s just bad writing. At one point, he’s talking about a cruise he took. He takes a paragraph to talk about some peculiar facts about of a group of men they encounter on their cruise (I don’t want to give anything away). Next page… a scene where a Chinese person explains, guess what? The same peculiar facts about the same group of men. We don’t need to read this twice.
Overall, it’s an interesting book, though likely one that will become dated in just a year or two. It’s an interesting, informational read, once you get past the Western biases of the author.