Thursday, July 28, 2011



A crotchety travel writer wanders around England and encounters a peculiar thing called Englishness.


I will say up front that I love Bill Bryson’s dry, grumpy humor. He just ambles through the English countryside writing about what he sees, but his unique voice and concise observations make this a lot of fun. Bryson, an American writer, has spent many years living in England, but he is still enough of an outsider to identify the idiosyncrasies of English people.

Bryson travels by train, bus, and foot. This allows him to get a ground-level view of countryside villages, industrial cities and seaside towns. He talks to people who are also out walking and to people who are having tea and beer in little shops and pubs across the country. This method of travel is very different from the way one would explore the US, and it gives ample opportunity for Bryson to observe the ways in which people live and travel.

At the time of this post, I am in the midst of experimenting with different types of transport. This is a big travel month for me, and I am experiencing firsthand how different kinds of travel affect the way you relate to a place. In Bali last week, I rode around with various local drivers, who talked about how tourism has affected their country. After changing planes in airports around Asia, I flew to Oregon where I am spending time with family, crabbing, going to the beach, and preparing for a Great American Road Trip. Next week we’ll be renting a car to experience the big empty spaces of Montana and Wyoming; by the end of our trip we’ll hop on a train that will take us home across the Southwest. On the way, I’ll keep my eyes open for the funny idiosyncrasies of the people in my own country.



I bought a used paperback copy of this book at Flow Organic Bookshop.


How do you like to travel? Do you walk, ride, drive, fly? How does that affect your perceptions of each place?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 26

I spent my final day in Bali trying to fly a ship kite on the beach and spying on a few more beach readers. I saw a novel by Tom Clancy and a book called Love and Death in Bali, but I couldn't read the titles of the other 7 books I spotted that day. It took four flights for me to get to the USA for the rest of my summer holiday. I saw many readers along the way, and the titles I remember in my jet lag induced haze are Clive Cussler's The Kingdom, Lauren Hillebrand's Unbroken, Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I spotted four other Kindles, one in First Class as I walked by, one in the airport, and two others in Economy with me.

I arrived safely in the US only to discover that I have reached 100 followers. Thank you all so much for your support and your comments. I'll be putting together a celebratory giveaway soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime you can tell me what books people are reading in your town this week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert


After a painful divorce and an identity crisis, a woman decides to travel around Italy, India and Indonesia to figure out what she really wants, and then she gets it.


I read this book about a month after I arrived in Hong Kong, but this week I am in Bali, so this seemed like an appropriate time to review it. I've been exploring the temples, beaches, and rice terraces with a few friends from university, and this morning we even took a Balinese cooking class in the home of a lovely woman named Madi. This travel memoir did what every travel memoir should do in that it made me want to experience the places in the book for myself. Gilbert describes her travels with a personal eye, and captures the magic of each place in a way that makes you want to know more.

I appreciate the information that is packed into Gilbert’s personal story. She seems to love research and I felt like I learned a lot about the places as I read. She infused the three sections of her trip with information about different aspects of each country, though by the final section I think the book was too long. I enjoyed the descriptions of the many people Gilbert met during her travels. She seems to love people too, and she can connect with and describe all sorts of characters with a lively attention to detail.

This book left a lasting impression on me, but not for the obvious reasons. I had a difficult time relating to Gilbert’s struggles because I am in a very different position than she was when she began her trip. I am in my twenties and quite happy with my life, so the post-divorce spiritual struggle did not speak to me in the way that I know it spoke to millions of readers. Instead, I learned a lot about writing from this book. I felt that Gilbert’s willingness to splash every crisis and emotion across the page in a way granted me permission to be more honest in my own writing. I am working on a travel memoir about my first year in Hong Kong, and I think Gilbert’s book encouraged me to write my true story and not a cleaned-up, put-together version of my story. I’ll tell you more about it in the months to come.



I think I paid $9.99 for the Kindle edition several months ago.


How much personal stuff do you want to see in books? Do you think authors should share everything they are feeling or is there a point where an author can share too much information?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 25, Bali Edition!

This week I kicked off my summer holiday with a trip to beautiful Bali. I met up with two friends from university and we've been having a fantastic time. As always, I am keeping an eye out for books along the way. In the airport in Hong Kong, a girl who was also waiting for my flight to Denpasar was reading a book by Hermann Hesse. I noticed two Bali guidebooks in addition to the one I was reading on the plane. When we arrived in Kuta, I counted a total of 17 beach readers. I couldn't catch every title that people were reading as they sat in the sun, but I saw books by Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci, Dan Brown, and Danielle Steele. I saw a few more Bali guidebooks, and my friends are reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles and a book about finding your inner genius.

This evening we left the beach behind and moved to the mountains of Ubud. This is where much of the action of the third section of Eat Pray Love takes place, and I'll be posting my review of that book tomorrow.

What are people reading in your town this week? What's your favorite beach read?

Friday, July 15, 2011



A funny lady writes about being a successful female producer, along with everything else from motherhood to photo shoots to Sarah Palin.


I haven't read many celebrity memoirs, but I think Tina Fey is hilarious and she's done a lot of interesting things in her career. In this loosely organized series of reflections Tina writes about being a woman in the male-dominated world of comedy and in the world of TV producers. She shares behind-the-scenes stories from her time at Saturday Night Live, her role in the vicious 2008 election season, and her experience producing her own show, 30 Rock.

This is not a story of too much drama or hardship, and Tina seems to have lived a clean and respectable life. She writes about the strong influence her parents have had on her and how that has shaped her career path. She loves what she does, and it is encouraging to see someone passionately pursuing her dreams. She works hard and does not take nonsense from people, and generally sets a good example for men and women alike. She recognizes and abhors the different treatment that women sometimes experience in the workplace but does not allow herself to be crippled by it.

Tina writes in her characteristically sharp and funny voice, and I found myself reading with her accent in my head. She steers away from most juicy, ranty topics, and was respectful towards the people that she has worked with in the past. She is honest about aging, exhaustion and balancing the various family and career aspects of her life, as well as this weird thing called celebrity. This is an engaging story told by a real woman who has been successful and likely has more to do.


Here's a link for Tina Fey's fan site


I paid $11.99 for the Kindle edition


How do you think women's treatment in the workplace has changed over time? Have you experienced or witnessed sexism (either towards women or men) at work?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Walking Tour: Central Station

Hello again everyone! Summer is in full swing in Hong Kong, which means we are alternating between exhausting heat and humidity and pouring rain. This week our walking tour is a little different because it takes place in an entirely air-conditioned location: Central Station. This is my home MTR station, so I know it well.

Start out on the MTR. Any train will do, but this one is on the Tsuen Wan line (red) and I took it from Kowloon Tong, the subject of last week's tour.

Exit the train at Central, which is also an interchange station for the Island line (blue) and the Airport Express.

Join the crowd racing for the escalator.

Stand to the right, walk to the left, if it's not too crowded for you to move.

On this level of the station you can pick any exit to take you up into the buildings and streets of Central.

If you're not in too much of a hurry, you can always stop to check your email or read this blog.

You've just left the Tsuen Wan line, but you can see the Island line to your left.

This is rush hour, but there are always lots of people heading in and out of this station.

Stay on this level and follow the signs to the Airport Express.

You'll pass all sorts of shops underground. This one sells gold-plated figurines.

If you don't know where you're going, the maps are clear and appear regularly throughout the station. MTR signs are always available in English in HK.

Keep following the airport signs, winding through the pillars and hallways of the vast underground station.

Eventually you'll reach a long hallway with a moving sidewalk.

Go all the way to the end, where you'll find this cavernous opening with a colorful balcony. Remember that you are still underground.

There are always different displays decorating this portion of the station.

I particularly like this one.

You'll find an additional long hallway with moving escalator. Keep following the signs.

The hallway is lined with advertisements, like this one for the final Harry Potter movie. It will be playing here in English and Chinese versions.

You'll reach the end of the hallway. By the way, have you noticed how clean everything is here?

The hallway opens up into another huge space lined with shops. At this point you are in Hong Kong station. Central and Hong Kong stations are connected underground, as you've just discovered, but they are technically two different stations.

There is a stall selling books!

You can also buy traditional dried foods and Chinese medicine here.

If you want to get a sense of where you are, there are plenty of signs. You are one level above the trains but you are still below ground.

Turn left and keep following the signs.

If you feel like leaving the station at any point, the signs will even have pictures showing you which exit to take.

If you don't get lost in the crowds... can make your way out of the paid area of the station here. Sorry this picture is blurry, I was trying not to stop and get in the way of the busy people behind me.

You'll need to swipe your Octopus card to get out of the station.

Take the escalator up to the next level.

Take a look back at the crowds as you rise into the relative quiet above.

This is where you can get a taxi if you are coming from the airport...

...or you can hop on the train that takes you to the Hong Kong International Airport (best airport in the world) in about 25 minutes.

Wait just six minutes before you are on your way to somewhere exciting!

If you are not heading off into the unknown, you'll find yourself in the IFC mall, where you can find a snack, a book, or anything else your heart desires.

This concludes our walking tour for the week. We'll be taking a temporary break from our explorations of Hong Kong for the next month. On Saturday I am hopping on that airport train and flying off to beautiful Bali for a week. From there I'll be going home to the USA for three weeks before returning to HK in mid-August. I'm also plotting an epic American road trip during that time, so it looks like it'll be a big travel summer for me. I won't be able to post full-blown walking tours, but I'll try to share some pictures with you from the road each Wednesday instead. Bookspotting will continue uninterrupted, and I'm planning some more book reviews for you, so come back and visit A Kindle in Hong Kong throughout the summer. Happy travels!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

THE IDIOT by Fyodor Dostoevsky


A simple man encounters the sophistication and darkness of polite society.


This is the last full-length work by the great Russian writer that I had never read before. My love affair with Dostoevsky is based on his ability to tell a story that is rich with questions and observations about the human condition without blatantly hitting you over the head with a moral. Some writers have to explicitly tell you the point that they are trying to make; Dostoevsky just tells a story and then the depth of the story hits you later. He is a master of the exploration of suffering and redemption.

THE IDIOT follows the relationships between recovering invalid and erstwhile simpleton, Prince Myshkin and an eclectic group of Russian families. Everyone in Myshkin's life agrees that he is a bit of a fool, primarily because he displays a level of innocence, joy, and kindness that is at odds with the rest of their society. He represents pure love and forgiveness and a desire to help children and fallen people. He tries to navigate a world of manipulative, selfish, and violent people, but fails to connect with them.
There is an undertone of madness in the book, and it is not always clear exactly which characters in the book are actually mad and which are only perceived as such, just as it is not clear how much of a simpleton the prince actually is. Much of this story takes place in crowded spaces with a carnival of characters watching every moment of suffering and confusion. Some of the most tense scenes take place in full view of strangers, enhancing the whiff of madness and the tension of situations that have spiralled out of control. Although the themes are less grand in THE IDIOT than in some of Dostoevsky's other works, this story showcases Dostoevsky's ability to create complicated, sad and fascinating characters.


International Dostoevsky Society


Free Kindle edition


Do you think it is possible for a pure, innocent and loving person to fit into our world?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 24

This week I went to Kowloon Tong to photograph the latest walking tour. On the MTR escalator I saw a young girl reading The Princess Diaries. I saw a woman on the bus reading Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu. I saw a man on the MTR carrying Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail. This week I also attended a poetry reading where Singaporean poet Dr. Eddie Tay read aloud from his own collection. My birthday was this weekend, and when I arrived at my birthday dinner one of my friends was reading a book by Bear Grylls while waiting for everyone else to show up.  I spotted four Hong Kong guidebooks within about 7 minutes on a busy, touristy Saturday. I saw five Chinese books this week, plus two graphic novels.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Walking Tour: Kowloon Tong

This week our walking tour takes us through an area that I had never explored before. Susan Blumberg-Kason requested a tour of Kowloon Tong, where she used to live. Susan is writing a memoir about her time in Hong Kong and China in the 90's, and her blog features some great pictures of HK through the years. Like most areas in Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong has many sides, and I've only started to discover it. You'll just have to come back again for more Hong Kong walking tours of this area.

Start out by taking the MTR to Kowloon Tong. I chose exit F.

You'll see a big educational services building when you emerge into the sunlight.

Turn left.

This is Kent Road, which seems to be a quiet and exclusive residential street.

You'll pass a lot of gates and walls.

Across the street on the right I saw a school.

On the left I saw more gates and walls.

As I continued up the quiet street, I saw this cute nursery school on the right...

...and this formidable international school on the left.

The buildings are shorter here than in the rest of Hong Kong.

They are well-protected.

I saw some odd things on this street.

And a security guard or two saw me too.

I reached Cornwall Street and noticed the entrance to Beacon Hill Road, but I turned right.

The walls lining Cornwall have a series of reliefs decorating their surfaces.

On the other side of the surprisingly wide street I saw more residences...

....but the buildings were more interesting on my side of the road.

There were a few works in progress.

Does anyone know what this building is?

I turned right at the corner of Cornwall and Devon, which sounds like a place in England.

Here I saw a familiar sight...

Mormon churches look the same no matter where you are in the world.

I walked down Devon and was struck by how open and spacious it was.

It was very quiet, except for the occasional security guard.

I found a motorcycle parking lot...

...and a graduate school.

I crossed the road and took the left fork.

I found benches that wouldn't have been out of place in the suburban US...

...and the largest tree I've seen in HK outside of the Botanical Gardens. Turn left here.

In a city full of apartments, Kowloon Tong boasts a number of expensive houses.

I continued along the road beneath the barbed wire.

Take a minute to look up into the hills.

I found another fun kindergarten.

And this is where I reached Waterloo Road, to continue with the British place names.

Turn right and walk beside the highway.

Occasionally you will catch a glimpse between the walled residences and schools.

If you want a stately home in Kowloon Tong, you could stop here.

I kept going as the clouds gathered over Waterloo Road.

At this point I started to wish for air-conditioning.

Turn right at the big school in the direction of City University.

I saw another beautiful house. This one has been turned into a photography studio.

You could go back into the MTR now...

...or you could walk a few steps further to see a few more stately homes.

We've now made a big loop and this is the educational services building we saw earlier.

Walk in the direction of City University of HK, though I think that will be the subject of another tour.

Walk past another MTR entrance and turn left.

Take the covered walkway over the train tracks.

You'll be approaching Festival Walk, a glamorous and expensive shopping mall.

Step inside to enjoy the air-conditioning. You'll be able to get to the MTR from here.

If it isn't too hot you can visit the little park to your right before you go...

...and maybe even have a snack and a cold drink by the pond.

Thank you for discovering a little piece of Kowloon Tong with me. Next week I will show you around a busy and interesting place that I know well: Central Station.
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