15 November 2017

Book Review: Ohne Plan durch Kirgisistan by Markus Huth

Urgh. I didn't like this book.

See, the sentiment about travel that is endorsed by this book is something I don't agree with. Plenty of people, including the author, seem to think that travel will change their life. For the author, he lost his job, and his girlfriend also broke up with him, so now he wanted some form of soul-searching. So he decided to go to Kyrgyzstan without a plan. I have nothing against traveling without a plan, but I have a lot to say against thinking that travel will be some cathartic experience.

Just go to Reddit and see how many people ask questions about how to have a life-changing backpacking experience. But is traveling to some exotic land with a backpack really going to solve your problems? You still have no job. Your girlfriend still doesn't want to be with you anymore. So what are you actually trying to accomplish? You are just trying to be an escape artist. When you fly back home, your problems are still there.

Travel is not therapy. Travel is an escape, but not a solution. I travel because I want to do something different from the rhythm, but after my trip, the rhythm beats again, rhythmically. And the problems that I have paused somehow are still there. So I don't like it when people preach it saying that travel can cure your problems.

I also didn't like the fact that the author was so gung-ho about trying to find the "real Kyrgyzstan". He rejects modernity, and thinks that the urban sprawl of Bishkek isn't the real Kyrgyzstan. Only when he finds himself in the steppes of central Asia alone with horses and nomads does he think that he finally finds the real Kyrgyzstan.

What I don't get is the exoticism. I do not agree with this uni-dimensional view of culture. What exactly is real? Heck, if I apply the author's same logic, then I would claim that we have all lost the real Germany. It is in fact ironic that the author encountered German Mennonites in Kyrgyzstan, descendants of people who escaped Germany because they wanted to preserve their conservative and religious lifestyle. Is that the real Germany? After all, Germans from earlier generations are conservative and religious, unlike the hedonistic crowd you can easily see in Berlin nowadays. Is Berlin and the liberal people living there not the real Germany?

In my view, what is real culturally can be many dimensions. I see no point in reducing a very complex construct like culture into a single dimension, that of exoticism. What if we all reduce every culture out there to one "real" dimension? Isn't that more or less what stereotyping is about?

So no, I don't think I enjoyed this book. I liked the humor, sure. I also liked the fact that it provided me some insights about traveling in Kyrgyzstan, albeit through a very skewed lens. That said, I'd rather go to Kyrgyzstan myself, and make my own experiences. And no, I won't expect it to be cathartic.

I give this book 1 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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