Book Review (and Giveaway!): Lost on Planet China

With factories belching and spewing pollution, benzene plants exploding and contaminating rivers, J. Maarten Troost presents a vivid description of the environmental peril in modern day China in Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation. Of course, Troost (author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific and Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu) is known for his humorous approach to travel, so the journey through China is by no means all environmental gloom and doom.

Troost writes about the hordes of women offering “massagees”, bargaining as a laowai, reactions from fellow travelers towards his vocal Republican friend, and how he intentionally paralyzed his bowels so as to avoid the putrid horror that was the available train toilet. Exploring many different regions and cities within China (even coming perilously close to North Korea when his boat engine failed), Lost on Planet China offers constant entertainment. This book is hard to put down, which is good because it is nearly 400 pages long (according to the acknowledgments section his editor worked on trimming this massive tome while she was in the throes of labor and childbirth).

The culinary experience that is China is of course part of this tale. Troost tries diligently to avoid eating dog meat while deciphering restaurant menus to find such delicacies as “cattle penis with garlic”.

Every traveler has a stomach-churning tale of dining abroad. Share yours for a chance to receive one of the three copies of Lost on Planet China that we are giving out. Simply share a story about a unique (or terrifying) dining experience on the road in the comments section by midnight Pacific Standard Time on Sunday June 28 (please also email the story to kristenelisepope[at] so that we can get a mailing address from you if you are one of the winners). Three winners will be randomly chosen to receive a copy.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Silvia, Nora, and Brenda, the winners of the Lost on Planet China book giveaway!

Posted by | Comments (9)  | June 25, 2009
Category: General, Travel Writing

9 Responses to “Book Review (and Giveaway!): Lost on Planet China

  1. Silvia Says:

    I’ve had a few interesting dining experiences. I’ve eaten cow tongue and stomach since I was little and one time I had cow brain tacos in Mexico. I thought it was plain beef until my dad told me what it was. It was actually pretty good. Another time we ate tortoise egg soup that my step-grandpa had caught also in Mexico. I didn’t know it was illegal to eat them at the time, but they were really good. I’d like to try some weirder things though, maybe someday.

  2. Chris Says:

    I had been walking past this street food vendor for 1-2 weeks and had managed to delay partaking of what I was afraid would be contaminated food. Afterall, just because it smells good, it might not taste that way, and who knows with street food!? Right?!?! Right??! Wrong.

    After a long day at the Hagwon, I was walking home, past the vendor again, and decided that I’d be damned if I was cooking, and I was too far from the Lotte mart, so I buckled. I forked over 2,000 won, or about $1.70 USD at the time, and in return for my Korean currency I was handed three wonderful strips of meat-on-a-stick. I ate. I enjoyed. I became a regular customer and have never shied away from street food since. No diarrhea. No dysentery. No discomfort. 😉

  3. Nora Says:

    I love all foods and have a relatively iron constitution. I’ve eaten testicles, strange body parts, and strange animals. If I had to, I’d even try cattle penis, (but that garlic sauce had better be magic).
    But after a trying meal at what looked like a “Mongolian grill” style joint in rural Chiang Mai, I was thrown for a loop.
    Seeing the place, and figuring that we knew all about this style of cuisine, my boyfriend and I took the only two free seats in this popular joint packed with locals. With no English and a smirk, the server simply brought our meals out and left us to our own devices.
    What I had hoped would be a selection of various meat and seafood, turned out to be (from what I could tell), various parts of a pig. After biting into something that I’m absolutely convinced was the pig’s ass (but may “only” have been a blood-filled artery that defied mastication), I politely finished what I could, paid, and went out for a more palatable dinner.

  4. Lisa T Says:

    My husband and I were married in a traditional Buddhist ceremony in Northern Thailand. The ceremony came complete with a live band, spectacular flowers, and a buffet of local dishes which made our mouths water. Until we saw the dishes of fried silkworms, cockroaches, and crickets. “Do you really eat these?” we asked the sweet Thai lady who had organized our wedding. “Yes, people eat these,” she replied. “No really – do you eat these?” She repeated, “People eat these,” and smiled coyly.

    My husband and I tentatively nibbled on a pair of crispy crickets (though we passed on the roaches and worms). It wasn’t so much that we wanted to be polite, as it was that we thought, how many people have the opportunity to eat bugs at their wedding? The crickets were okay, but we didn’t go back for seconds – we saved our appetites for the scrumptious curries that followed. But the bugs didn’t go to waste – once invited, our photographer gobbled them up quite happily, smiling as the legs and wings crunched under his teeth.

  5. Kelsey Says:

    Sweating in my hand is a glass of putrid refreshment. It tastes like over-sugared iced oatmeal. Chicha is rough-milled corn flavored with vanilla, banana, and pepper. I drank a glass a few weeks before in Guatemala and at that time kept it down for only about an hour. Here on Roy’s porch in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, I am trying my best to be a good guest and drink it without exploding.

    When his wife offered me a drink, I gladly accepted, thinking I would be treated to a freshly squeezed, “ambrosic” fruit licuado. I nearly passed out when I saw it was chicha.

    The ice cubes tinkle as I bring the glass to my lips. Roy is explaining the complexities of the local lobster diving industry. He has a thin moustache that gives him, what I inexplicably think is, the look of a truck driver or middle-linebacker from Chicago. Resting on his belly is a 4-inch wood crucifix complete with painted, bleeding Jesus looking towards the heavens. Hanging from his moustache are little bits of milled corn – a chicha moustache.
    I sip at the rim of the glass as if it were a hot beverage or my first shot of some unknown hard liquor. Holding my nose would be impolite so I attempt some laryngeal gymnastics where I shut off my nasal passage with my tongue. The liquid paste enters my mouth and I almost choke on the texture and the taste. There is nothing that I can do other than suffer. Gulp! Gulp!

    “You okay?” Roy stops talking in the middle of a sentence that has something to do with the great cost of owning and operating a lobster boat. “You look kind of pale.”

    The ice tinkles as I lower the glass with a shaky hand. To my horror the glass looks just as not-empty as it did before I braved the two gulps. Sweat pours off my forehead.

    “You like?”


    “The chicha, it’s good?”

    “Excellent. Very nice. It puts the reshing in refreshing.”

    I gulp down a third of the chicha in the next half hour. As the interview draws to a close, I am almost giddy with the thought of being separated from the glass. I thank Roy for his time and gather my things to leave.

    Before I can stand, Roy speaks, “Please, my friend, stay. Finish your chicha.”

  6. Joel Carillet Says:

    I’ve eaten my share of trying things on the road. In Uzbekistan, for instance, I was honored during a Ramadan breakfast with two rubix-sized cubes of pure lamb fat. In Papua New Guinea I’ve eaten sago pancakes embedded with grubs, with still-living grubs offered on the side. And in Sumatra I’ve eaten noodles so flaming spicy that the kitchen staff nearly had to call an ambulance, or the fire department.

    There’s more culturally unique meal stories I could share, but my most unsettling dining experience consisted of something rather ordinary — and it had more to do with crime than culture.

    It happened in Istanbul, a week before Christmas. I was befriended by a man who said he was from Kuwait and called himself Abdel, though I suspect neither of these was true. We walked and talked for nearly an hour when, thirsty, we stopped for a Coke. We continued walking down a busy main street, sipping our respective cokes, when he pulled a packet of Oreos from his coat pocket and asked if I was hungry. I wasn’t, but I accepted anyway. The initial bite tasted a little off and so I discreetly dropped the rest of the cookie for the pigeons. But already I was feeling sleepy — very, very suddenly sleepy.

    Twenty hours later, waking up in a hospital where my wrists and ankles would soon be tied to the bed posts (that’s another story), I learned that the police had found me unconscious in a park, dumped in the bushes. They had brought me here, to a hospital for drug addicts and derelicts (I was in a room with about a dozen Turks and Kurds).

    Ah, the deceptively innocuous Oreo. Some other things I’ve eaten took work to choke down, but only that Oreo led to the loss of my passport and cash.

  7. brenda Says:

    I’ve had pretty good fortune eating abroad, but I can’t say the same for my ex-boyfriend in Costa Rica. Literally everything he ate wouldn’t stay in. This was his first time out of the country — and it was probably his last.

    It was not a pleasant holiday. In fact, soon after our trip, I realized that if he can’t eat well on the road, the relationship just wouldn’t work. Traveling is too important to me, and I need a companion who can stomach it — and the food we eat along the way.

  8. Kristen Pope Says:

    Thanks for the great stories everyone! Keep them coming!

    Ann, please feel free to contribute a story about an interesting dining experience here at home! Anything from a run-in with a deep-fried Twinkie to the green hotdog served at the ballpark.