Friday, February 08, 2002

River Town may be the present I've been seeking for that certain difficult-to-please reader. I'm certainly enjoying it. I'd like to know more about Magnificent Sound cigarettes, the favored local brand in Fuling, where the author is sent as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach English at a college training teachers to go back to the countryside. There are many good pedagogical war-stories, and it's a delight to learn that older men really do adjourn to teahouses with their caged birds, just as they are depicted as doing in so many Hong Kong movies. The author spends a bit too much time on the Three Gorges dam project in general; nothing he says is news to anyone interested in it and those not heretofore interested are unlikely to become so from his account. The author's justified in that Fuling, where he is posted, is at the convergence of the Yangtze and a smaller river, and a part of it is to be inundated as a result. He travels to Sinkiang (that's what it used to be called in my stamp album!), where some think he one of the Uighurs. I believe that a legendary Uighur freedom fighter figures in one of the Flashman books, but I can't remember which one. They've all been passed along to someone else. Anyhow, life for the author as he describes it is in many ways highly reminiscent of life in Ramah: he has a luxury of time--time to read, time to study, time to talk with people, time to savor existence. This is because life is pared down to its simplest elements, bare of the routines and distractions governing most. We feel privileged to have experienced the sort of leisure and community he describes. This in no way implies inattention to the mission at hand; it's just a consequence of being plunged into an isolated environment where in many ways life goes on as it did in the nineteenth century and people rely on their own community resources for amusement. He does report much TV-watching, which was an impossibility in Ramah, but otherwise life is not all that different.


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