Xiao Peng

Overall Rating: 3
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Author: Xiao Peng (小鹏)
Title: Ten Years Of Backpacking (背包十年)
Time: 2001-2010
Destination:  China, The Netherlands, UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Maledives, Philippines, Tunesia, Canada, Tahiti, USA, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Russia, UAE, Cambodia, South Africa,
Length: several trips
Type: backpacking

all that is wrong

The story: XP is a young Chinese white-collar worker who decides that he wants to see the world. He first travels around China, then ends up as an exchange student in the Netherlands. From there, he sets out to do the Grand Tour of Europe. Upon his return to China, he gets involved with the media, and subsequently travels to many places, sometimes as a journalist, sometimes as a writer, sometimes as a sort of “cultural ambassador”. This book is about his journeys.

little stories with an extra topping

There is hardly a storyline here. The book is made up of more than 80 chapters, each of which is dealing with a destination, usually within in a few paragraphs; XS visits a museum, XS sleeps outside near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, XS rides a boat down a river in the Himalayas.

There is a bit more than just that though, because each chapter is accompanied by a sort of meta-text printed in italics. Within these meta-texts, XS usually gives us some background information about how or why he went to a certain place, about his views on traveling or on life in general, or about things like financing a journey or dealing with sickness.

And he actually writes pretty well, at least he keeps it concise, and some of his metaphores are fun to read.

Then why didn’t I like this book then?

Xiao Peng’s three sins

There are three things that are wrong with this book: it is commercial, lacking in content, and condescending.

The commercial part is rather unsettling: more often than not, XP’s writing reads just like a travel guide. There is one part where he describes a luxury hotel for what feels like aeons, leaving me thinking: okay, so the hotel was nice, but was there really nothing more to it? No story whatsoever?

This leads us to number two of my grudges: the book is lacking in content. Yes, XP does travel to a lot of places, and he describes them, too. But I was missing stories, conflicts, reappearing characters, or just that particular piece of information that you wouldn’t be able to grab from an encyclopedia. I’m not saying that there was no content here whatsoever. It was just too little.

There was quite a bit of condescendence though. XP keeps on lecturing us about how to do things. How to travel. How to do this or that. How to be nice to people. Uhu. Reading on, I couldn’t help but think that this was in fact not a real travel book at all. It was more like a travel guide for people who have never traveled.

There are instances where XP says things like:

“I want to tell the youth who are following in my footsteps that freedom and dreams – even if they seem unreachable – only call for perseverance, and they will not be just castles in the air.” 我想告诉走在我身后的年轻人,自由与梦想,虽然看似遥不可及,但是只要坚持,就不是空中楼阁。



“…actually, the thing that I like most and at which I am best, is simply traveling, and documenting my travels in order to share them with friends. If this counts as a line of work, then I can be more dedicated and more excellent at it than anybody else.” (…原来我最喜欢最擅长的却只是旅行,然后再把旅行记录和朋友分享。如果这算一种职业,我能做得比任何人都要敬业和出色。)

(p. 138)


So what went wrong here?

The plan

I think here’s probably what happened. Some publishers approached XP and told him: Listen, we’re going to grab a bunch of your blog entries and articles and turn them into a book real quick. We’re going to need you to add a few lines to each one, just to patch them all together! Oh, and your persona should be a sort of “guru” for all the Chinese readers who have never traveled outside of a travel group, you dig?

I think it is a shame.

XP is a seasoned traveler with a mind of his own and a (mostly) likeable writer’s voice. He should try to come up with something more substantial. I would definitely read that.

But no more of this stuff.

A 3/10.

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