Ed. Note: See Pam’s Companion article on the healing powers of animals at Something Wagging This Way Comes.
How do you heal an autistic child?
How do you comfort a child whose brain causes him to have several tantrums a day? How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak? And how do you cope, day after day, with a five-year old who refuses to use a toilet?
Destination: Mongolia and a road trip around the World
Book: Long Way Round:Chasing Shadows Across the World by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
A Guest Post by Anil Polat, owner of foXnoMad website
No book has so profoundly contributed to my love of the road and inspired me to take the longest way possible than Long Way Round. The personal accounts of a motorcycle tour around the world by two actors, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, is always in the back of my mind no matter where I am. Their trip from London to New York, the long way around (literally), reignited my love of the road and made me focus on how I reach each destination, instead of just trying to get there the most efficient way possible.
It is their leg in Mongolia that particularly inspired me and I’ve been longing for the roads there ever since. So many destinations have gotten in between, but one day, sooner rather than later, I’ll take to the roads of Mongolia, with two motorized wheels beneath me. It’s in Mongolia where both riders write they realized what traveling can and has been for many years. A road ahead, behind, and underneath. We often complicate and glamorize travel without realizing it and the book is one that many travelers can identify with.
Long Ways Rounditself isn’t particularly well written and is essentially a collection of journal entries about the hardships of the trip, observations of the cultures the two riders come across, and their feelings as they ride for hours on end, often not seeing a soul. One of their motorcycles breaks down in Mongolia, the only witness to the act being a young boy on a horse in the distance. He rides off and isn’t seen again for more than an hour and the two actors feel stranded and lost.
It’s a short time after – just as desperation begins to set in — that they see the boy again, along with a few others who’ve come to help. With no common language in between and few spoken words ever exchanged, the right replacement parts are found and the bikes repaired – it’s all part of the nomadic life. McGregor and Boorman describe how pure they felt riding on their bikes in Mongolia and how they wish it could continue even as they made their way to the border and on again.
These moments in travel are fleeting, short flashes we might be lucky to see on the longest trip. Traveling is cluttered in planning, dealing with reservations, and only small sections of the journey that take you back to when traveling was the way of life and the road was your friend, not your enemy. Long Way Round made me feel like those moments could be extended, just a little bit, driving across Mongolia on the modern equivalent of horseback.
Anil Polat is a traveler and travel enthusiast who has spent his entire life traveling, studying cultures, and picking up tricks along the way. He writes foXnoMad to help you travel smarter.
Huge thanks to the very busy Anil for writing this inspiring piece. Please take a look at foXnoMad, a multiple-pronged travel site with loads of practical information. Once there, you’ll learn about two OTHER sites he produces. Whew!
I included a link to Amazon for Long Way Round, the book, but you may not know that it started with a TV travel show. That show and two others are collected in a DVD package, and here’s a link to that. Long Way Round Collection (Long Way Round / Long Way Down / Race to Dakar) All links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means by shopping this way, you support A Traveler’s Library, even though it costs you no more.
Photograph from Flickr with Creative Commons License. Click photo to see more information about photographer.
Guest Bert Latamore talks about a book that won the first ever Man Asian Literary prize (partner of the Man Booker prize for writing in English).
Wolf Totem, a Tour Guide to Inner Mongolia
by Guest Bert Latamore
Some travel books tell you how to get somewhere and what to see when you get there. Others take you to place you will never get to see in person, and a very few take you into the heart of a unique place. Wolf Totem is one of that last group. A run-away best seller in the PRC, it is the novelized autobiography of author Jiang Rong’s life in Inner Mongolia, living with the descendants of Genghis Kahn, during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
Partly inspired by now- Professor Jiang’s politics – the book carries an obvious message to the Han Chinese, by far the dominant ethnic group in China – Wolf Totem is a fabulous adventure story on a par with Kipling, wrapped around portrait of a unique place and people, wrapped around deep study of the complex love-hate relationship between the Mongol nomads and wolves and the central role that balance plays in the fragile Steppe ecology.
One word of warning – this is a huge, episodic, sometimes rambling book with little discernible plot, closer to 19th Century British and Russian novels than to modern American books in structure. Its unity comes from the land and people in which it is deeply rooted. It takes readers into the yurts of the Mongols and onto the vast plains of Inner Mongolia. It portrays a place full of breathtaking beauty and bloody horror, the annual cycle of the Mongol nomads, the battles they fight with the huge winter wolf pack for their very lives, their relationship with the half-wild dogs who stand beside them resolutely in that war, and their losing fight to preserve their way of life and the Steppe itself against the pressures of modern China.
Part of its power comes because Prof. Jang wrote in Chinese ideograms, which stand not for words but directly for the concepts behind them. This focuses the writer on meaning and insight rather than sound and spelling. And Prof. Jang is a very insightful thinker who has spent a lifetime analyzing his formative years as a Han Chinese student in Mongolia. And we are also fortunate that Penguin found the perfect translator for the English edition in Howard Goldblatt, whose sensitive work preserved the tone and insight Prof. Jang intended.
As a result, rather than a vacation tour, Wolf Totem is a full immersion into a place and culture that were little changed from the 12th Century, when Mongols conquered half the world. And sadly, it also is a chronicle of the destruction of both and of the disaster that happens when modern cultures try to exploit fragile ecosystems without understanding them, a lesson as relevant to the West today as it was to the PRC then. Today the once fertile plains of Inner Mongolia are a desert, and sandstorms reach as far as Beijing. In the early 1970s China literally ate up Mongolia in its quest to feed its huge population, and Jiang was there to witness and, ultimately, report on it.
So would I like to visit Inner Mongolia? Certainly not if we mean today’s ecological disaster. But if I could go there as it was when the young student Jiang Rong first saw it; if I could ride across it on horseback, see the proud Mongol horse herd thunder past, watch the wolves hunt antelope across a verdant landscape, and walk by beautiful, unspoiled lakes full of waterfowl as he did, yes, that would be the journey of a lifetime.
Photograph by “m d d”, from his Flickr collection, under Creative Commons license.
Bert Latamore has been a writer all his adult life, and now specializes in writing about technology. He also serves as a book doctor and business report writer. His motto, “You provide the information; I craft the words.”
I met Bert about 15 years ago in an on-line group called “Aspiring Writers Club”. The core of that group continues to correspond and despite the fact that we live at opposite ends of the country, I am happy to say that Bert and I (and our spouses) have met face to face more than once over the years. I have always admired his writing, and am very happy to have him guest here at A Travelers’ Library.