Author: Ding Haixiao (丁海笑)
Title: Ten Years Of Hitchhiking (搭车十年)
Length: a few months
Practical things in theoretical ways
The story: DHX is a twenty-something Chinese travel writer who embarks on a trip to the Chinese Northwest. He hitches rides most of the way, sometimes alone and sometimes together with different travel companions whom he either already knows or gets to know on the road. He seems to have a strong liking for anthropology and philosophy, and he is an avid photographer.
His trip starts out from Lanzhou and takes him as far as the border regions between Tajikistan and China. Many of the places he goes to have actually been visited by him before, thus putting this particular trip into the broader perspective of a more seasoned traveler. This book is called „Ten Years Of Hitchhiking“, though it is mainly about this one trip through the Chinese Northwest. Also, there is a (somewhat incomplete) love story woven into it.
Ding Haixiao citing the classics
I found this book rather hard to read. Not because it was in Chinese (though this tends to make my reading a lot slower), but because there were a few things that I found wrong with it. First of all, DHX likes to theorize: What does traveling mean? Is it better to be at home or on the road? What is love? He doesn’t treat questions like these subtly within the subtext, but rather takes them out into the open and makes argumentative points about them. This takes the action out of what could have otherwise been a fast-paced travel story.
Secondly, DHX does something that I can very well relate to: he cites the classics. There is of course nothing wrong with reading a few books before you are going to write your own, and you can even quote from them every once in a while. Just be sure not to overdo it, like LHX does. He quotes everything from Homer to the Bible to Baudelaire to Kerouac, and even though it gets a bit better during the second half of the book, it still feels as though there is a footnote on at least every third page or so. Again, this makes for a very slow read.
what happened here?
Unfortunately, there are also some things that I found missing in this book. The love interest, for example, stays a bit diffuse. Yes, there are girls who DHX seems to be interested in, but he shies away from making them stand out more vividly from the rest of the text. They appear rather static, a bit like some of the more random encounters on the road, like extras. A large part of the story revolves around the process of hitchhiking, and a lot of the people who make an appearance are simply the drivers who happen to take DHX along. These encounters have a tendency to stay on a more or less superficial level. So yes, there are a lot of things that are wrong with this book.
All of this is all the more sad as there are times when DHX’s writing has both grace and insight:
„The Gate Of Stability isn’t stable at all, the Alley Of Happiness isn’t happy at all. Between the Road Of Freedom and the Road Of Democracy, there lies my university.“ (安定门并不安定，幸福巷并不幸福，自由路和民主路之间，便是我的大学。)
So here’s what I think: DHX should keep writing. There is something there. He should keep reading the classics and stop quoting them. He should worry more about the story he is trying to tell and less about his theories. He should make his characters come more alive. He should become a more practical writer.