Author: Yu Ying (余莹)
Title: Go Out And Talk To People About Their Dreams (出发,和每个人谈一次梦想)
Destination: China, Hongkong, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand
Length: a few months
Type: couch surfing
Weighed down by dreams
[Note: this book is not out in English yet.]
The story: YY is a 20-something girl from Southwest China who lives and works as PA for a fashion model in Beijing. In 2009, she applies for the „Best Job In The World“, a project hosted by Tourism Queensland that places an individual on the Great Barrier Reef as a spokesperson. She ends up not getting the job, but instead decides to quit her job and go on a world trip to interview people about their „dreams“ and ambitions. This book is about the first leg of her tour, covering parts of Asia and the Pacific.
Yu Ying’s food, people and tears
The book is as detailed as it is slow. For instance, YY loves talking about food, so wherever she goes, we can be sure to read long lists of local specialties. The same goes for the people she meets. There doesn’t seem to be a preselection of the ones that we are supposed to read about and the ones who have nothing to say. We just get to know them all. And YY gets moved to tears by most of them. By their kindness, by their hospitality, by their general awesomeness. Of course, this is rather tedious.
Too much food, too many people, too many tears.
And there is one other thing: the whole book is weighed down by its own meaningfulness. YY makes sure to interview every person she meets about his or her „dream“. This is sort of fun in the beginning, but after a while we get the notion that the answers might be just as repetitive as the questions. Most people give an official answer, something along the lines of „I just want to be happy“, while detailed discussions about personal ambitions seem to have a tendency to dissolve into the inexplicable. This goes especially for the end of the book, which goes skinny dipping into the cloudy waters of esotericism.
There were some parts that I enjoyed reading though. Like the one about Japan. Relations between China and Japan have always been difficult, but YY manages to maintain an open mind when traveling through the rival civilization. Also, she seems to have read some literature about the place, which really helps her writing. Of course awesome food and awesome people are all good when you are traveling, but they don’t necessarily make for an interesting read. I would much rather hear about a writer’s personal life. What drove her there? Why is it special for her? Is there some sort of interaction with the people that she might not want to tell us about? In this way, Japan was by far the most convincing chapter.
And there is another thing: I liked the parts when YY found herself exposed to a sort of „original version“ of her own culture abroad. The People’s Republic of China is changing rapidly (you might even say: brutally), and many traditions have almost been completely lost in the process. Of course this affects everyone, but people usually manage to overlook it. This is why the pain that YY feels at the sight of „foreign“ Chinese living a more traditional version of Chinese lifestyle is so touching.
I wish there had been more of this in the book.
the problem with dreams
Overall, the book needs some serious editing. Get rid of 90% of the food. Get rid of some of the people. Cry only when absolutely necessary. Stop asking people about their dreams. If you really must find out, don’t just ask them, rather talk to them about something else. This might be more revealing than the „official answer“. Don’t make everything about digging for deep and final truths. Instead, talk more about the things that drive you as a traveler or as a writer. About literature. About culture. About your personal feelings.
I hope that YY will do this in the second part of her world tour.