Author: Volker Häring
Title: Ein Bus namens Wanda. Abenteuer Alltag entlang des Mekongs. [A Bus Called Wanda. Adventures in everyday life along the Mekong river.] Time: 2003-2009
Destination: Southern China, Laos, Cambodia
Length: four trips of several weeks each
Type: mostly by bicycle
[Note: no English edition available yet.]
The story: VH is an „old China hand“ from Germany, a dude who’s been staying in the People’s Republic for a few decades. He offers guided bike tours for foreign tourists, and sometimes he ventures out to explore new routes. This book is a collection of his travel notes from the Mekong river. It is made up of several bike trips, taking us through Southwestern China and some places in Southeast Asia. Most of the stories take part in China, which is good because the quality of the writing drops as soon as VH crosses the border into a different language environment.
earnest and annoyed
The book is okay. VH cycles and hitches rides, talks to people and seems rather earnest in his approach to show what their daily life looks like. His writing style is a bit clumsy (long words, winding sentences), but he tosses in a few bits of historical and cultural background here and there. He also seems to like to share his feelings of annoyance. Annoyance with the road, with hygiene, with food, with the weather, with people. Everyone who has traveled can relate, no big deal.
Volker Häring, the sophisticated expert
The problem is that there is a note of „elitism“ to it all. This is a common illness in both literature about travel (the concept of „sophisticated travelers“ vs. „mindless tourists“) and in literature about China („cultural experts“ vs. „ignorant foreigners“). And you will find some of both in here, which makes parts of the book a bit tiring to read.
should be read like a travel guide
Why would you want to get a copy then? Well, maybe you have read Graham Earnshaw’s „Great Walk of China“ and disagreed with me on that one. This one is pretty similar. Or maybe you are just looking for some general information about what it can be like to travel along the Mekong river. Then this might just be the right book for you.