Janus’ Musings

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Grand old man of Travel

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WSJ has a nice profile/interview of Paul Theroux on his new book.

Some nice gems in the interview.

Asked to reminisce about the old days:

“In Iran, in 1973, if you had blue jeans and a watch, people would
follow you down the street, saying ‘Please, sir, sell me your watch,
sell me your jeans.’ In Mashhad, I sold a pair of jeans for $15, quite
a lot of money, because they were real American blue jeans and everyone
wanted American blue jeans. It was cool. Hippies would go, and bring
three or four pairs and sell them in Iran, in Afghanistan.”

Asked what’s changed since:

“Some places haven’t changed much — Burma, for
instance. I still call it that . . . Burma. And the places that have
changed radically — like India — were hard to understand. It was
hard, hard, to understand where India’s going. The people there are
lost in the change. Bangalore, for one, and a lot of other parts of
India can’t keep pace with the change. They can’t build roads fast
enough, airports fast enough . . . It’s as though they’re all having a
nervous breakdown

“But I love traveling in India,” Mr. Theroux
continues, “because Indians are approachable. If I were traveling in
the U.S. and asked people some of the questions I ask in India, I’d get
a very dusty answer. People would say ‘Who are you?’ ‘You work for the
government?’ When you’re in India, you can ask, ‘Where do you live,
what do you do, how much do you earn, how many children do you have?’
It’s the accessible poor. You can do that in Southeast Asia, too. But
in America you can’t. Try asking those questions in Jackson,
Mississippi.”

About Japan:

“Hmm . . . let me think,” he responds, playing with his chin. “Japan
doesn’t have suspicion of strangers. They just have an utter lack of
interest. They have a settled sense of themselves as an advanced
culture, a sense that other people aren’t doing things right. They
think their food is best, their way of living is best. They lack space,
but in all other ways they feel they’ve got it figured out.”

And then golden one – Singapore:

“Singapore,” he says, stressing the “pore” and raising
visions of muggy, tropical discomfort. “Singapore is an example of a
place where people are self-conscious in the presence of foreigners,
because they feel that you’re going to criticize them for having
accommodated themselves to their government and this way of living.

“It’s like a gated community. You go in definitely
feeling (a) that you don’t belong there, (b) that they’re not
particularly interested in your staying there, and (c) that they’re
very, very defensive. They feel they have to explain why they’ve
settled for Singapore. And do you know, the sex trade there is booming,
but their boast is, ‘These aren’t Singapore girls . . . they’re
Burmese, they’re Vietnamese, they’re Filipina . . . but not us!'”

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Written by janusmusings

September 7, 2008 at 2:10 am

Posted in Asia, India

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