Books foe Travel Nerds

Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons

I went into reading this book with skepticism. After all, business travel is nothing like RV travel, vacation travel or any other types of travel we know about. It started off slow but I imagined (correctly) that it was building up a back story for the character and what he does – the character being the actual business man , R.F. Hemphill; a man who spent 10 years and 4 million airline miles developing a startup a global electric power and distribution company. Between the type of travel he was into and the company he worked for, I was already starting to loose interest early on, however, I stuck through the buildup to reach a rewarding series of stories about incredibly rural  and/or fascinating places all around the world.

The book is structured in a series of letters written by R.F. Hemphill to his retired military father. A strange structure at first, and at times it seemed supplemented to included missing information, but it didn’t take long to get used to it and appreciate the lack of “he said she said”. Trying to remember as many details as the author would have had to, he’s lucky his father kept all his letters to work off of.

After the initial chapters with the background and what he does for work being explained in depth, I started to like the character the most when he spent a day at a plant getting ‘head to toe dirty’ in coal byproducts, deep in parts of a plant I never knew existed. It made him seem human and not the unapproachable “business man” I was expecting. However, as he started to travel more and talk about other cultures, I started to dislike him. He made other cultures sound “wrong” and “odd” which is not my impression from traveling, I try to stay humble and keep in mind that I’m the odd one in their country. At first his attitude about other cultures was just kind of… ethnocentric. This goes on for a while but the places he goes and people he meets help you disregard that aspect of him and as his travels as they go on, after the first 4 years or so he has started to become significantly more accepting, partly because of the amount of times he visits certain places again and again, and partly because he’s learned to avoid the things he finds strange, like, dust tea as in the title of the book, and insects for dinner.

There’s many endearing characteristics about the author, and whether you like him or not, his stories and character grow on you. I actually found myself interested in the perspective of an ethnocentric traveler. He didn’t really judge individual people, or even look down on the thousands of workers working at the plants he helped ‘sell’ and build, but he was more likely to get drinks with coworkers than locals – I suppose fitting in to my “businessman” ideas about him. It’s true as the book goes on that he changed his world view significantly, a really cool change to see shown through letters to a conservative father. I would really have liked to know what he didn’t write his father, was there a night where his coworkers picked up prostitutes and they all ended the evening with machine guns pointed at them in Manila? Was there a bout of food poisoning so bad that he had to buy all new clothes in Calcutta? The book is definitely tame in that regard, but a good and interesting read none the less. Especially since most of the places he writes about are extremely rural parts of China and India, with things I would have never learned about; Like during Watermelon season in parts of China, you’re fed so much watermelon you may never want to see it again.

I’ll save the rest for you to read if interested! I still have a little bit to go which makes me happy that there’s still some left, I would have never thought about reading a travel book from a business travel perspective before but I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit.

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