K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East

Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer
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Nov 22, 09

Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Book
Recommended for: Tata J
Read in November, 2009 — I own a copy, read count: 1

The book is about his 6-month visit to the different countries in the Far East in 1985. Each country has its own chapter in the book but the sequence is not chronological. I think it was arranged according to how Iyer would like to impact or influence the mind of the reader and I think he was able to do that effectively. The first chapter is about the paradise island of Bali focusing on the effect of the tourism to the previously gentle and virgin island. The character of Wayan, the child-father who was deserted by his wife put the human perspective in what has happened to this Australian haven. From Bali, the other chapters are Tibet, Nepal, China, The Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Japan. I was able to relate to this book because since 1999 up to couple of years back I traveled extensively to most of these Asian countries. I was late by more than a decade since the Iyer wrote his book but I still saw most of what he wrote about - the expats in Hong Kong, the night life in Patpong, the tourist bus in China, the slums in Mumbai and the salary men of Tokyo. About those countries which I was not able to visit like Tibet, Nepal and Burma, I learned a lot from reading those chapters. For one the book is aptly titled. The book is comparable to the video houses in Kathmandu showing different movies or programs that are mainly about US stuff - Rambo, American football, etc. In other words, the book is about how the West (the US in particular) has influenced these countries from their economy, politics, sports, morality, etc. However, Iyer seemed to be very fond of giving two sides for every theory he raised in the book. For example, having said the above, he followed it up with the question: who is really influencing who? Is it really the West influencing the East or vice versa? In his Afterword, he offered his answer: both. In fact, except for The Philippines, the East is imbibing everything West offers but in the end each country emerges still intact albeit changed. This means that Thailand listens to American Top 40 music but in the end it is still Thailand and not America. Obviously, my favorite is the chapter about Iyer's experience in the Philippines. 1985 was my first working year after college. The songs that were ruling out the airways like Bruce Springsteen's Born in the US (the title of the chapter) and USA For Africa's We Are The World were truly the hits of that year. I was also one of those who watched Isla (starring Maria Isabel Lopez) in Mrs. Marcos' Film Center. Iyer mentioned that the government showed porn in a film center with the screening price 5 times higher than the regular movie. True. He also mentioned about Baguio where I finished by first university degree. He said that "for all its silvered, foggy charm, though, Baguio did not seem to have the imperiousness of a British hill station, or its weighted dignity" and went on concluding about the Philippines being the model of American democracy in Asia but without any sign of "Lincoln, Thoreau or Sojouner Truth, just Dick Clark, Ronald McDonald and Madonna" Once again, true. Iyer wrote the truth, however painful. He also wrote beautifully - his narrative is peppered with words whose meanings either I have long forgotten or don't know. His vocabulary is definitely deeper than Nicholas Sparks. No wonder, Pico Iyer is a TIME writer. There are also many memorable quotes that I faithfully highlighted (which is not a regular habit for me) while reading. Let me share this one from pp 21: Everyone is familiar with the slogan of Kipling's "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." But few recall that the lines that conclude the refrain, just a few syllables later, exclaim, "But there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth, / When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!" Nicely put, Mr. Iyer!
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