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Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East [Paperback]

Pico Iyer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 18 1989 Vintage Departures
Mohawk hair-cuts in Bali, yuppies in Hong Kong and Rambo rip-offs in the movie houses of Bombay are just a few of the jarring images that Iyer brings back from the Far East.


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Product Description

From Amazon

Only in India would the American film Rambo be remade with the title role played by a woman--in a sari, no less! Only in Hong Kong would a man at a cocktail party pick up a woman with the line "What do you think of the dollar?" And only in Video Night in Kathmandu will you find detailed, unsettling portraits of a Far East in flux as experienced by Pico Iyer, a travel writer beyond compare. Tibet, China, India, and Thailand--these are among the objects of Iyer's wanderlust, the subjects of 11 essays chronicling his travels. In India, he explores the lucrative Bombay film business: "The process of turning an American movie into an Indian one was not very difficult ... but it did require a few changes.... the Indian hero had to be domesticated, supplied with a father, a mother, and a clutch of family complications." As one film director told him, " ... for example, Rambo must be given a sister who was raped." In Bangkok he finds the sex trade is well nigh impossible to avoid: " ... by the time a third official government tout approached me with the novel invitation: 'My friend. You no like birdwatching?' I was inclined to suspect that ornithology was not among his interests."

Pico Iyer is more than just a travel writer. For four years, he wrote about world affairs for Time, and he brings to these brilliant, comical, and poignant essays his extensive knowledge of politics and culture as well as a journalist's eye for the telling details. Video Night in Kathmandu provides both a stark, unsettling view of modern Asia and an exploration of the ambivalent attitudes Asians hold toward the West.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1985, Iyer, a British freelance writer, crisscrossed eastern Asia to view the spread of America's pop-cultural imperialism through 10 of the world's oldest civilizations. With serendipity as his guide, he spent only a few weeks in each country, and most of his intelligence came by chance. Nevertheless, this traveler's casual observations make a book of warmth, charm and sensibility, and anyone intending to visit the Orient will greatly benefit from his arresting descriptions and shrewd assessments: Bangkok is a mixture of "pizzas, pizzazz and all the glitzy razzmatazz of the American Dream, California style." China displays "the get-rich-quick politics of the Cultureless Revolution." Money-mad Hong Kong is "the largest metropolis in the world without a museum." Despite its "impatience of limitations," Japan is obsessed by baseball and Disneyland. Tibet is "the latest way station of the Denim Route." The people of the Philippines, "masters of Asia's hospitality business," are the most depressing and desperate. One word characterizes Singapore: "McCity." In the end, it is poor, shabby Burma, "the dotty eccentric of Asia, the queer maiden aunt who lives alone" that has the most appeal. If the image abroad of America is "perplexingly double-edged" the responses it provokes are "appropriately forked-tongued," and, in the last chapter, "The Empire Strikes Back," Iyer begins to suspect that every Asian culture he visited is probably "too deep, too canny or too self-possessed to be turned by passing trade winds from the west."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Late 80s Asia March 2 2003
Format:Paperback
Pico Iyer has written an interesting set of annecdotes on Asia during the late 80s boom years. It covers the isolation of Burma, the sex trade in Thailand, the night life in Nepal, and everything inbetween. The book takes a deeper view beyond the stereotypes to understand the complexities of the cultural merging.
The book really has two main values. First, it gives an annecdotal view of a lifestyle that, while only 15-20 years ago, is already gone. Hong Kong 1986 is a place in transition that is different than Hong Kong today. While many books today provide political and economic viewpoints on the times, and the changes, they don't accurately cover an expats view of life and cultural exchange.
The second value is in understanding aspects of the culture that still apply. India's polyclot of ethnic groups and interaction with the West applies today. Pico Iyer is adept at capturing cultural traits that last, and perhaps even grow, despite the pressures of a globalizing world.
I'm not a universal fan of all of Iyer's material, but this is certainly one of his better works. It's more readable, and the concepts more universal and lasting than some of his other books.
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Format:Paperback
This book is excellent. Iyer is not trying to - nor does he in any way claim to - "interpret" or "explain" the countries or people or cultures he is visiting. His goal is to report from the fault line where the colossal mass of Western money and consumer culture bumps up against the even more colossal mass of Asian societies and cultures. This collision produces many fascinating, humorous, and poignant situations which Iyer captures perfectly in his excellent writing. In each country he visits, Iyer is able to identify and bring to the page exactly those details that perfectly symbolize the situations he is writing about.
What especially impressed me was that Iyer does not romanticize or glorify or exoticize what is beautiful about the lands he travels to. Nor does he denigrate their shortcomings. He is a fair and honest observer of what he has chosen to observe: the ground zero of "west" meeting "east".
As someone who has studied in both China and Thailand (as well as two other Asian countries which were not in the book), I can vouch for the accuracy of what Iyer is reporting. Sure, a scholarly author might have added more details about Chinese philosophy or Thai history. But for his chosen topic, Iyer's accounts are complete and flawless.
The book is certainly entertaining, but it is also informative and thought-provoking as well. Well done, Mr. Iyer.
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1.0 out of 5 stars pleasant writing, dreadful reporting Feb. 5 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It's all very pretty, but there's plenty just beneath the surface. That, unfortunately is a synopsis of Asia and *not* of Pico Iyer's VIDEO NIGHT IN KATHMANDU, a purported travelogue that has all the depth of a picture postcard. Mr. Iyer has indeed traveled widely in Asia. However, he apparently spent most of his tour in a bubble through which the range and depth of the Asian experience was reduced into how well the people in his travels related to his own understanding of Euro-American popular culture. The problem with the book is not that there's no such influence; anybody interested in traveling in modern Asia is aware of the fascinating cross-pollinization in progress. And Iyer is a charming writer when on familiar ground. It's when he goes beyond his sunny beach-culture roots -- into the genocide of Burma, the sex trade in Thailand, or bar culture in Manila -- that he loses his way and his credibility. His understanding of Buddism seems to equate its tenets with the lyrics to "Shiny Happy People;" his grasp on the very different political climates of the countries in which he travels is next to nil. To his credit, Iyer is a facile writer, and he's certainly no more clueless than generations of befuddled bwana before him. But treating VIDEO NIGHT IN KATHMANDU as an actual travelogue puts far too much weight on work that any reader of world news will easily perceive as happy, babbing fiction.
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3.0 out of 5 stars mixed feelings Jan. 20 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
as a genre, i find travel books lacking. exceptions, perhaps, are the british expat writers like graham greene, lawrence durell, and (sometimes) paul thureau. but these tend to be more embelishments (read: fiction) than the actual travel adventure itself. which brings me back to my original point: travel-logs written by people wishing to publish their "travel" experiences, are inherently flawed (for me at least.) travel must be experienced firsthand! to read baout it (in this capacity) is a sorry substitute. no matter how observant, unbaised, and witty the writer is (and pico is pretty good on all accounts), i still felt the book was somewhat patronizing and an empty experience. i have travelled to asia extensively; i am observant; i drew my own conlusions; and i have my own diaries and numerous photographs of the experience. i share them with close frinds, who know me and can put my comments into perspectives. i think anyone trying to publish this sort of experience (and those attempting to gain insight from reading them) is barking up the wrong tree (of life.) go out there and travel on your own accord- gain your own experiences, not those of some self purported "writer."
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic
"Niceties behind us, the stranger looked me in the eye. `I am porridge.'" Now it was my turn to look horrified. `Yes, yes,' he said, thinking that I doubted him. "I am pirate. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2012 by Troy Parfitt
1.0 out of 5 stars patronizing fluff
I tried reading this book while in Kathmandu, and forced myself to finish the chapter on said city before throwing the book across my hotel room in frustration. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his best, but if you like Pico Iyer, give it a try.
As a long standing fan of Pico Iyer's writing, I had high expectations of this book. It is entertaining and fun, but Mr. Iyer comes off as rather self-centered. Read more
Published on July 13 2001 by Pamela
4.0 out of 5 stars Not interested in history?
Iyer's book captures a particular moment in the 1980s in each of the places he visits. He acknowledges that he provides little historical context for his experiences, such as how... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2001 by Adrian
5.0 out of 5 stars Iyer is Wonderful to Read
Pico Iyer is one of the best Asia writers out there. His Lady and the Monk: 4 Seasons in Kyoto is by far the most beautiful book I have ever read. It was magical. Read more
Published on April 27 2000 by Crossfit Len
5.0 out of 5 stars a most unusual type of travel essay book on Asia
I am slowly working my way through Iyer's collection of travel essay books,passing them on to friends when I am through. Read more
Published on Dec 27 1998 by lkaren reads
5.0 out of 5 stars Iyer captures the essence of travel in Asia
Places change, but in Asia the essential Difference remains. Iyer conveys the underlying reality, that beneath the veneer of invading Western culture, Asia is still mysterious. Read more
Published on May 8 1998 by Barry Jacobs (mgr0266@kinkos.com)
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book on West meets East, East meets West.
Each chapter deals with a different country, i.e., Nepal, Philippines, Burma. And each country seems so different, yet all are changing so fast. Read more
Published on April 17 1998
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