Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future by Tom Scocca

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Within the past decade, Beijing has debuted as the defining city of the now and foreseeable future, and China as the ascendant global power. Beijing is the ultimate representation of China’s political and cultural capital, of its might-and threat. For so long, the city was closed off to the world, literally built around the Forbidden City, the icon of all that was ominous about China. But now, the country is eager to show off its new openness, its glory and magnanimity, and Beijing is its star. When Tom Scocca arrived in 2004-an American eager to see another culture-Beijing was looking toward welcoming the world to its Olympics four years later, and preparations were in full swing to create a renewed city.
Scocca talked to the scientists tasked with changing the weather; interviewed designers and architects churning out projects; checked out the campaign to stop public spitting; documented the planting of trees, the rerouting of traffic, the demolition of the old city, and the construction of the new metropolis. Beijing Welcomes You is a glimpse into the future and an encounter with an urban place we do not yet fully comprehend, and the superpower it is essential we get to know better.

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The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia by Lutz Kleveman

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The Caspian Region, lying south of Russia, west of China and north of Afghanistan, contains the world’s largest untapped oil and gas resources. In the years between the death of the Soviet Union and September 11, 2001, oil companies and politicians have struggled to possess and develop these resources. Using a concept immortalised by Kipling in his novel Kim, Lutz Kleveman argues that there is now a new ‘Great Game’ in the region, in which the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran – most of which are nuclear powers – are competing.. Kleveman has produced an insightful and exacting portrait of a new theatre of war, a region in which there are few rules and in which the rewards for victory are nothing less than power and prosperity in the new century.

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Where Underpants Come from: From Checkout to Cotton Field – Travels Through the New China by Joe Bennett

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When Joe Bennett bought a five-pack of ‘Made in China’ underpants in his local New Zealand hypermarket for $8.59, he wondered who on earth could be making any money, let alone profit, from the exchange. How many processes and middlemen are involved? Where and how are the pants made? And who decides on the absorbent qualities of the gusset? Where Underpants Come From tells you all you need to know — in fact, probably more — about this mystery of global commerce. Leaving his supermarket trolley behind Joe embarks on an odyssey to the new factory of the world, China, to trace his pants back to their source. Along the way he discovers the extraordinarily balanced and intricate web of contacts and exchanges that makes global trade possible — and rapidly elevating China to the status of world economic superpower. He also grapples with chopsticks, challenges his own prejudices and marvels at the contrasts in one of the world’s oldest, but fastest changing, societies. Funny, wise and insightful, it is another wonderful journey from the author of A Land of Two Halves and Mustn’t Grumble.

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Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong by Gordon Mathews

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There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong’s tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there – even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalized spot on the planet. But as “Ghetto at the Center of the World” shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalization. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world’s people. Gordon Mathews’ intimate portrayal of the building’s polyethnic residents lays bare their intricate connections to the international circulation of goods, money, and ideas. We come to understand the day-to-day realities of globalization through the stories of entrepreneurs from Africa carting cell phones in their luggage to sell back home and temporary workers from South Asia struggling to earn money to bring to their families. And we see that this so-called ghetto – which inspires fear in many of Hong Kong’s other residents, despite its low crime rate-is not a place of darkness and desperation but a beacon of hope. Gordon Mathews’ compendium of riveting stories enthralls and instructs in equal measure, making Ghetto at the Center of the World not just a fascinating tour of a singular place but also a peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet.

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In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple

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At the age of twenty-two, William Dalrymple left his college in Cambridge to travel to the ruins of Kublai Khan’s stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. This is an account of a quest which took him and his companions across the width of Asia, along dusty, forgotten roads, through villages and cities full of unexpected hospitality and wildly improbable escapades, to Coleridge’s Xanadu itself.
At once funny and knowledgeable, In Xanadu is in the finest tradition of British travel writing. Told with an exhilarating blend of eloquence, wit, poetry and delight, it is already established as a classic of its kind.

To A Mountain In Tibet by Colin Thubron

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Mount Kailas is the most sacred of the world’s mountains – holy to one fifth of humanity. Isolated beyond the central Himalayas, its summit has never been scaled, but for centuries the mountain has been ritually circled by Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims.
Colin Thubron joins these pilgrims, after an arduous trek from Nepal, through the high passes of Tibet, to the magical lakes beneath the slopes of Kailas itself. He talks to secluded villagers and to monks in their decaying monasteries; he tells the stories of exiles and of eccentric explorers from the West.
Yet he is also walking on a pilgrimage of his own. Having recently witnessed the death of the last of his family, his trek around the great mountain awakes an inner landscape of love and grief, restoring precious fragments of his own past.
‘I would rather read Colin Thubron than any other travel writer alive’ John Simpson
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Riding The Iron Rooster: By Train Through China by Paul Theroux

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Paul Theroux has always had an extremely sharp eye for detail, and an even sharper pen with which to mold these observations into telling, sometimes ascerbic commentary. In “Riding The Iron Rooster”, Theroux is at the top of his form in capturing the flavor and collective psyche of mainland China during the last quarter of the 20th Century.
One of the more revealing angles put forth in “Iron Rooster” is the face-saving that the Chinese government has engaged in with respect to The Cultural Revolution. Everyone knows that what Mao Tse Tung did was monstrous, but few in China appear willing to own up to the magnitude of the sin in any public way; so half-measures are taken to pay “proper respect” to Mao at just the appropriate place and just the appropriate time.
The author also nicely captures the first wave of pro-capitalist fervor that began engulfing China in the late 80’s. But the core of Theroux’s book, as always, are the vivid snapshots of the customs, foibles and mores that constitute a culture.
Reading “Iron Rooster” as I boarded a plane in Hong Kong in 1994, I discovered I was about to experience, first-hand, the aeronautical and social turbulence that the author ascribed to Chinese plane travel. By the time I landed in Guangxi Province, all of his observations had been confirmed.
“Riding The Iron Rooster” is vintage Theroux – insightful, droll, always pleasurable.
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