Thursday, September 17, 2009

Literary Bite: Lost on Planet China

I don’t think I have ever read a “travel book” before. The author claims that this is not such a book, but feels differently. Not that it really matters…

Anywho, Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost, reached my literature-hungry hands via my LLC, who is obsessed with China, who received it from my grandma, who is quite the traveler herself.

The book is definitely entertaining. It chronicles the author's travels through China – as in, one day he decided to go to China, without much prior knowledge of the country, its people, or its languages. This is, obviously, a pretty standard formula for hilarity. 

My only complaint is that Troost attempts to turn it into a history book as well. Informative tangents are great (if you can’t tell already, I’m pretty big into tangents myself!); however, there is a fine line between interesting tangent, and the point where the reader wonders, can we get back to the story already? So my conclusion is that Troost should stick to interesting anecdotes about his travels, and leave the history of China to the history books. (Everything he adds could probably be found on Wikipedia.)

The thought of traveling in China completely overwhelms me. Crowds of people all the time. Pollution to the max. Really challenging language (as in, LLC how do you do it???). All not really for me…

Regarding pollution:  “Few endeavors strike me as more absurd than running in China, a country in which people routinely wear surgical masks while conducting their errands(167).”

Hmm…we all know that China is polluted, but reading this book really drives the message home.

Chinese women’s rights don’t get anywhere near the press than Muslim issues do, but think about this:

“China has the world’s highest suicide rate among women (177).”

BUT because of the “One Child” policy, many parents abort female fetuses (which is officially illeagal). The result? Forty million Chinese men who will never get any. And then on top of that 150,000 women kill themselves per year (most often by swallowing pesticides) because women are treated so badly…makes sense? No.


A couple random fun facts:

“China has three percent of the world’s drivers, but has a quarter of all people killed each year by cars (179).”

“All restaurants in China have tables for twelve (183).”


Foodwise, I have my doubts about the Chinese. Yes, yes, dumplings are great. But according to a local whom Troost befriends, “In China, we eat everything with four legs except the table, and anything with two legs except a person (235).” That includes “pork that tastes like fish (191).” HUH???


And that doesn’t even take into consideration all the non-legged animals they eat. As in seafood. Sometimes while it is still alive:


Video of eating live squid:

Eating live octopus in Korea:


For a semi-comedic author, Troost’s reading/speaking style is pretty dry…but here he is, talking about the live squid eating incident:

Authors at Google – 30 minute talk with J. Maarten Troost


So for my Chinese-style cooking, I’m going to leave the real stuff the pros. Instead, I’ll tame it down a bit, and give you an absolutely AMAZING recipe for Chicken, Mein, and Vegetables in Creamy Szechuan Dressing. My mom has been making this cold pasta salad for a while now – it is SO GOOD. As in, I know that it has mayonnaise in it, but I love it anyways. And if you know about my feelings regarding mayonnaise (not positive), then you realize the full weight of that statement.


Anywho, here it is:


1 lb thin mein (Chinese noodles)  - or go lazy-style like me and just use angel hair pasta

¾ cup soy sauce

¼ cup peanut oil

2 cups mayonnaise (most recently I used non-fat, and it worked fine!)

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup sesame oil

Szechuan chili oil (optional – to taste)

2 whole chicken breasts

6 green onions, thinly sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 red pepper

1 can (8 oz) sliced bamboo shoots, drained

1 jar (6 oz) mini corn cobs, drained and sliced

½ cup chopped fresh coriander (aka cilanro)

½ lb fresh snow peas – sliced (you can also blanch them: drop into boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, then drain and immediately ice bath)

  1. Cook the chicken breasts (either poach, or sautee), tear into pieces or cube (whatever you prefer)
  2. Cook noodles in 4 quarts boiling water unitl al dente. Drain and immediately toss in large bowl with ½ cup soy sauce and peanut oil. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally to make sure the noodles are evenly coated.
  3. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, sesame oil, ¼ cup soy sauce, and chili oil. Refrigerate until ready for use.
  4. Add reserved chicken, green onions, carrots, pepper, bamboo shoots, corn cobs, and chopped coriander to noodles. Mix gently but thoroughly with hands. Add mayonnaise mixture and mix thoroughly.
  5. Cool and refrigerate until ready to serve (I highly recommend making this a night ahead – it’s so much better that way!)
  6. Add snow peas immediately before serving. (If you add them early, they will lose their crispness.)
  7. Serves 6 as a main course. And I’m going to go ahead and suggest you double this – it is just that good!
* This picture is mine pre-cilantro and snow peas.