Published: July 4th 2010July 4th 2010
Or rather The Books They Don't Want to Give Me an Advance to Write.
When I started University in 1982 the gap year didn’t even exist as a concept. A very few students, usually English, usually wealthy took ‘a year off’ before university to go ‘travelling’. Since then, the gap year has become de rigour with more that 30,000 students taking a gap-year from England alone. These have been joined by ‘golden gappers’ who seem to be taking a year off before retirement (whatever that may mean); people talking a year off work; students taking a year off after university; those having a year off before or after national service (mainly Israelis). They come from every English speaking country in the world, from Brazil, from Korea and Japan, from Russia and from all over Western Europe. There are no African gappers, by the way.
They all visit the same places, do the same things, remain as insular and isolated as they can and have the most anodyne, unedifying, bland experiences imaginable. They mix only with other gappers and local parasites. They eat with other gappers. They repeat the same conversations time after time. As the concept has become increasingly popular amongst Americans, it has become increasingly Americanised: self-serving, insidiously imperialist, pointless, high-calorie and uniform.
Vietnam is the epitome of the gap-year country. It is a sausage factory: a kind of Jurassic Park. On entering the country you are immediately hustled onto a metaphorical golf-cart which runs on a monorail along two or three fixed routes around the country. You are provided a shoddy smorgasbord of kayaking, home-stays, eco-disasters, hostels, booze cruises, war museums, bad food, souvenirs and motorcycle rides.
There has been no worthwhile book about the gap year experience, despite an enormous potential market. There is no better place to see the phenomenon than Vietnam, though there is standard trail which everyone seems to follow from Bangkok through Cambodia with a trip to Laos before ‘doing Nam’. The story is probably best told by taking the trip personally and talking to people along the way. This is what I have been doing for the last two months, to some extent. There could be ‘back home’ items, featuring the amusing ideas of parents, universities, employers, and even the abandoned children of the old fogies who are off getting massages from beautiful boys. There is great material and great potential for an international best seller.
The Neutral People of China
The Good Women of China
I cannot even begin to express my anger and outrage at these two books. This is an area where I have a genuine passion. I despise this lop-sided, propagandist, out-dated Dworkinist bullshit. Xinran’s book is particularly repulsive, because it has been taken so seriously. Many of Xinran’s stories are simply outright lies. Brown’s book is really just a piece of fascist academic bumbling about. They are sensationalist crap.
The idea that sociological phenomena consists of two groups, the oppressors and the oppressed, is an utter nonsense. Populist pulp. The difficult with Xinran’s book is that it says men are responsible for the fate of women and that men don’t have a fate. Presumably a similar book about men - in which all the stories would be at least a horrible - would blame the ruling class. It is my belief that all people are responsible for their own fates, and that people get the societies they deserve. Someone, somewhere, has to stand up against this tide of feminist, finger-pointing crap. It is a horrible. It is absolutely no different from the crap published in “Take a Break” magazine. I am trying to imagine what would happen if a producer put together a lot of out-takes from the Jeremy Kyle show, took them to China where they were described as ‘This is a video from deep in the heart of England. As shocking as it is revealing… extraordinary and eye-opening.’ Surely we are sick and tired of the racist, sexist “White Swans” bullshit?
This has given rise to two independent book ideas, both of which I consider to be the defence of a silent majority.
The Good Men of China
- pretty self-explanatory. I am sick of the idea that women have a monopoly of suffering. They certainly have a monopoly of whining, sexist, sanctimonious crap.
The Bad Women of China
- To describe the sex trade in terms of trafficking and abuse is doing a gross injustice to many, many people. It is the moral equivalent of writing a book about road transport which consists of nothing but car crashes and air-pollution. 95% of people involved in the sex industry in Asia are not brutal, brutalized, slave masters, slaves, perverts, sadists or pedophiles. Almost all of them are perfectly normal people who are doing nothing other than supporting their families and trying to have reasonably decent life. I want to tell their stories.
Xinran and Brown are the moral equivalent of those people who would stop us owning dogs because someone might step in dog-shit or a kiddy might get bitten. I hate them both and I deeply, deeply want to upset them and their fans.
Obviously neither of the books can be achieved without an interpreter. Interpreters are expensive. My intention would be to ‘sell’ the idea to a Chinese PhD student, researching similar matters and allow her complete use of all the material collected, interview transcripts etc etc as a pay-off. It’s an exciting book.
5000 Years of History
If you attempt to have any kind of serious conversation with any middle class, or upwardly mobile Chinese male it will not be to long before he waves his finger in your face and tells you (in an angry way) that his country has 5000 YEARS OF HISTORY!!!!! You hear it all the time. If you know anyone who has spent an extended period in China they will laugh loudly if you wave your finger in their face and shout 5000 YEARS OF HISTORY!!! What does this mean to modern China? How is it applied? It is the answer to and the excuse for everything. It explains every mistake, justifies every evil, and allows for great pomposity. 5000 Years of History is the Chinese version of inshallah.
This would end up being a ‘big’ book. Obviously it has to contain 5000 years of history, and a portrait of modern China. It is the most interesting of all the books and the most likely to be ‘highly regarded’. However, it requires research rather than just me banging around China shooting my mouth off.
10:35 to Alexandria
Stranded in Saigon, I noticed that Vietnam was connected to the pan-Euro-Asiatic rail network. It would be an incredible journey to go from Siagon to Beijing to Ulaan Bator to Moscow to Paris to… the end of the line. Saigon is further from Moscow by rail that Vladivostok. There must be a point somewhere on the rail network that is the furthest point accessible from Saigon and a trip to that point would constitute the longest rail journey in the world (by some definitions). Further investigations led me to the conclusion that this point would either be Thurso in the far north of Scotland or, Lagos in the far south of Portugal. And it would be the Silk Road, not the TransSiberian Megabore. Blah Blah Blah.
A Year in Provence
I go to Beijing and spend a year complaining about the plumbing etc.
The City of Djinns