Book Reviews: Chinese Travel

I have been out of the country. I have been recovering from jet lag. If I had it more together, I would have scheduled some pre-written posts for you while I was gone. I did manage to get my house cleaned and the luggage packed. So that’s good.

I also seldom read as much on planes as I expect to, so I don’t have any new novels to review for you. Trying to sleep on international flights means that I start to get sleepy and disoriented, so–for me–I turn to the in-flight movies and then attempt sleeping. On this thirteen-hour flight, I read mere pages of The Book Thief. And journaled, at least.

Here are the reviews for the books that I did use while in China.

CHINA SURVIVAL GUIDEChina Survival Guide, Larry and Qin Herzberg (3rd edition). I bought this book sorta on a whim. I was browsing for a paper tour guide, and came across this. I found a more-than-affordable copy, and I just chucked it in the shopping cart when I was snagging things online like outlet converters and pollution masks. This book is awesome! If you are going to China, for any reason whatsoever (unless you live there), get this book and read it before you leave! (I only wish there was one as good for every country in the world.) I am not exaggerating when I say that I knew more and was more comfortable, in some ways, than other traveling companions who had been to China multiple times. The anecdotes and info from this book came up over and over and over again. AND it’s entertaining, interesting, and funny. And sympathetic! Larry and Qin understand what it’s like to be a Western foreigner in China, but they also love China and its people, understand the origins of many behaviors, and respect them. There is some advice you will want to follow beforehand, so, like I suggested, go ahead and read it maybe a week before you leave. (For example, asking for new bills at the bank here was a life-saver when I got to the currency exchange in the town I first stayed in.) Again, can’t recommend this book enough. Maria, my friend who has had friends visit many times over the fifteen years she’s lived in China, says that she is going to have to make this recommended/required reading before receiving visitors. She was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and helpful it was.

DK CHINADK Eyewitness Travel: China. This book is fairly standard. It was the highest rated China travel guide on Amazon, at the time I bought it. I also purchased the most recent edition, which was more expensive, but necessary. I can’t give it the most helpful review, because I didn’t use it enough to speak to its accuracy. Here are the down sides: no prices; restaurants are all listed in the back instead of with the city; it’s heavy to carry around. What it comes down to is this: if you are travelling to only one or two cities (like I was), this isn’t really worth its weight in your luggage. You would be better off to borrow it from the library and copy off the few pages that would be applicable to you (not exceeding any copyright laws, of course). Otherwise, this strikes me as a standard travel information guide, and would be best if you were traveling without a tourguide to multiple places. It has information, as well as a smattering of history and fun facts and photos. Would be most useful in planning your trip.

MANDARIN PHRASEBOOK AND DICTIONARYMandarin Phrasebook and Dictionary, Lonely Planet. I tend to like Lonely Planet. I think I and Lonely Planet would get along. So I wasn’t surprised when I got this affordable translator in the mail and liked it right away. It’s small and lightweight enough to fit in the front packet of your travel bag–which is where mine stayed the whole time I was in China. I found this book to be the right size, aesthetically pleasing, and accurate (to the extent that I tested it in the field). It was organized in a way that made it easy to locate what I needed, and only once or twice could I not find what I needed to say. It’s major flaw is that the vocal tones are written only above the Pinyin (which is Mandarin as written with the Latin alphabet) but not above the phonetic translation. Some pages, I actually went through and transcribed the tones above the phonetic, so I could make an attempt at saying it correctly and not insulting someone’s mother. (I also wrote some phrases I thought I would need most on the inside of the front cover.) This ended up being a moot point, however, as the Chinese speakers often didn’t “listen” or “hear” me attempting to speak their language, and pointing to the Chinese characters in the book was much more effective. Also, several Chinese people I came across just turned on the translator app on their phone and used that to speak with me. You could go that route, too, I’m just a little old fashioned and a lot enamored of books. I was happy to have this book with me because 1) it doesn’t take batteries and 2) not that many people in much of China speak English, including hotel maids and bank clerks.

POINT ITPoint It, Dieter Graf. So I may not have found this book to take it to China with me this time, but it is still a brilliant book. I suppose it was good for me to make an attempt to speak Mandarin while in China, but this book is very useful (I have traveled with it before) if you head to a country where you may not always speak an intelligible language. Point It is a picture dictionary in it’s 20th edition. It is very small and lightweight and broken down into logical sections. I would recommend familiarizing yourself with it before traveling with it. It’s just pictures. You need a bathroom? Point to the applicable picture and do the pee-pee dance. You want bread? Point to the bread or bakery picture and raise your eyebrows in question. Of course, pointing and gesticulating is only the beginning of the communication complications (it’s probably best to learn the language) and you may never know if you really are eating chicken, but having Point It is a step in the direction of whatever it is you need or want.

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