While constantly we reinvent ourselves,
how can we not get always lost,
just like assorted books that strew our shelves,
or wretched lovers who’re star-crossed,
unable to explain to others where
we are because we do not know
where we are going? Yet, why should we care?
Nobody knows the way to go!
Unlike the song, “I’d Like to Get You On a
Slow Boat to China,” we proceed
without a clear direction, while we honor
our destination less than speed.
Dwight Garner reviews “A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory,” by Peter Hessler (“Feeling at Sea on the Roads of New China,” NYT, February 24, 2010):
American travel writers over the past century have taken special delight in describing the intricacies, and the lunatic comedy, of driving etiquette in foreign countries. Some enterprising publisher is bound to scoop up the best of these observations and issue a queasy-making anthology: “Carsick: A Global Reader.” When that anthology does arrive, Peter Hessler’s new book, “Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory,” deserves a special place in it. It’s not merely that Mr. Hessler convinces us that the Chinese, being new to driving, are simply awful at it. He makes the additional, and delightful, case that perhaps no other people “take such joy in driving badly.” The Chinese rarely use turn signals or windshield wipers or seat belts or headlights. They tailgate and honk like mad. “People pass on hills; they pass on turns; they pass in tunnels,” Mr. Hessler writes. “If they get passed themselves, they immediately try to pass the other vehicle back, as if it were a game.”…
As Mr. Heller makes his way across China in a series of rental cars, watching trucks blow past him, he observes that almost any product we buy in the developed world has “probably already spent time on a Chinese road, and someday it may return there to be recycled.” He mourns the countryside that is rapidly vanishing in China, but he also admires the grit of the rural people who escape. “They had a gift for self-invention,” he writes, “that rivaled anything in Dickens.” “Country Driving” is most affecting in its portrayal of lives ripped up at the roots, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. He describes the “hollow feeling” many Chinese have, because rapid change has left them exhausted and uncertain. Peter Hessler is a fine tour guide for the new China, a writer who is capable of tossing aside the country’s (deplorable) maps and admitting: “In China, it’s not such a terrible thing to be lost, because nobody else knows exactly where they’re going, either.”