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East Meets West

It all started with Richard Lloyd Parry’s The People Who Eat Darkness. Parry, as a foreign correspondent for the London Times, gives a thorough account about the disappearance of a British National in the famous pleasure district of Japan: Roppongi. He weaves the main narrative with facts about post-war Japan and the modern Japanese criminal system. But, through it all, the focus was on the 20 year-old girl who vanished without a trace. I wanted to know more and read more about Westerns in Asia. How would you adjust? What would it be like to be so far from home in a completely foreign land?

The answer came to me from Peter Hessler, who has written a series of books about his experiences in a rapidly changing China. His first book, River Town, recounts his experience as a member of the Peace Corps, teaching English at a small provincial college. Over the course of the book, he begins to learn the language and experiences the changes sweeping the country partly through interaction with his students. Hessler followed River Town with Oracle Bones which weaves together the tumultuous past and the exploding future of China. In Country Driving, Hessler gets a Chinese driver’s license and drives the length of the Great Wall as well as a newly rising boomtown in the south. All three of Hessler’s books are masterful, funny and informative. In short, they are perfect.

There is an amazing range of stories by and from Westerners in Asia. You can read about a Missouri native who learns Japanese well enough to work as a crime reporter at a Japanese language newspaper (Tokyo Vice) or an Italian-American G.I. who, during the post WWII occupation, opens the first pizza restaurant in Japan with the help of certain underworld connections (Tokyo Underworld).

Maybe you’d like to read idiosyncratic travelogues created by graphic artists who sketch their way through Japanese cities and towns (Tokyo on Foot and A Year in Japan).

Or you can always try one of the books listed below.


Amazon Says: From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.A century ago, more...
Amazon Says: From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.A century ago, outsiders saw Chinaas a place where nothing ever changes. Today the coun-try has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. That sense of time—the contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country—is brilliantly illuminated by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that explores the human side of China's transformation. Hessler tells the story of modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world as seen through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In addition to the author, an American writer living in Beijing, the narrative follows Polat, a member of a forgotten ethnic minority, who moves to the United States in searchof freedom; William Jefferson Foster, who grew up in an illiterate family and becomes a teacher; Emily,a migrant factory worker in a city without a past; and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bone inscriptions, the earliest known writing in East Asia, and a man whosetragic story has been lost since the Cultural Revolution. All are migrants, emigrants, or wanderers who find themselves far from home, their lives dramatically changed by historical forces they are struggling to understand.Peter Hessler excavates the past and puts a remarkable human face on the history he uncovers. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes. less...
Amazon

Amazon Says: “Hessler has a marvelous sense of the intonations and gestures that give life to the moment.” —The New York Times Book Review From Peter Hessler, the New York Times best more...
Amazon Says: “Hessler has a marvelous sense of the intonations and gestures that give life to the moment.” —The New York Times Book Review From Peter Hessler, the New York Times bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town, comes Country Driving, the third and final book in his award-winning China trilogy. Country Driving addresses the human side of the economic revolution in China, focusing on economics and development, and shows how the auto boom helps China shift from rural to urban, from farming to business. less...
Amazon

A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson
Amazon Says: The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha seem to have made every more...
Amazon Says: The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha seem to have made everyone an expert on Japan, even if they've never been there. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year experiencing, studying, and reflecting on her adopted home. She brings her keen observations to us in A Year in Japan, a dramatically different look at a delightfully different way of life. Avoiding the usual clichés--Japan's polite society, its unusual fashion trends, its crowded subways--Williamson focuses on some lesser-known aspects of the country and culture. In stunning watercolors and piquant texts, she explains the terms used to order various amounts of tofu, the electric rugs found in many Japanese homes, and how to distinguish a maiko from a geisha. She observes sumo wrestlers in traditional garb as they use ATMs, the wonders of "Santaful World" at a Kyoto department store, and the temple carpenters who spend each Sunday dancing to rockabilly. A Year in Japan is a colorful journey to the beauty, poetry, and quirkiness of modern Japana book not just to look at but to experience. less...
Amazon

Amazon Says: Inside the Red Mansion is a suspenseful, slyly entertaining journey into the heart of the new China. Due to a mix-up on a routine reporting assignment, Oliver August stumbles more...
Amazon Says: Inside the Red Mansion is a suspenseful, slyly entertaining journey into the heart of the new China. Due to a mix-up on a routine reporting assignment, Oliver August stumbles onto the hunt for China’s most wanted man, Lai Changxing, an illiterate tycoon on the run from corruption charges. Sensing something emblematic in this outsized tale of Lai's rise and fall, August sets out to find the self-made billionaire, hoping that if he can understand how Lai reinvented himself, he will also better grasp the tectonic forces transforming modern China. Lai embodies the story of China’s recent success as well as its Achilles’ heel: its command economy, blended with the free market, is riddled with corruption. Moving ever closer to the elusive tycoon, August introduces us to a people in the midst of head-spinning self-transformation. We meet a nightclub hostess and her gaggle of “Miss Temporaries”; powerful businessmen on a debt-settling round of nocturnal golf; and a foie gras king who markets his goose liver by the ton and prefers it deep fried. This is a China seething with desire, engaged in a slapstick fight with its past, and hell-bent on the future. Inside the Red Mansion is the first book to capture the giddy vibe of contemporary China and its darker vulnerabilities. less...
Amazon
Peter Hessler - Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip
Jake D. Says: Peter Hessler at a bookstore event
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