Saturday, September 26, 2015


Last week I visited Jyväskylä in central Finland for business. The day was pretty much a disaster otherwise, but I did stumble into the local old book store, Päijänne Antikvariaatti. They had a decent collection of Asia-related books. Many titles I already had, but quite a few were new to me. Above is the catch of the day. From left to right:
Suomalaiset Aasian-kävijät (Finnish travelers in Asia), by Kerkko Hakulinen and Olavi Heikkinen (editors), 1980.
The Great Himalayan Passage - Adventure Extraordinary, by Michel Peissel, 1974 (the Finnish edition).
The Timely Rain, by Stuart and Roma Gelder, 1964 (this Finnish edition from 1965)
A Person from England and other travellers, by Fitzroy MacLean, 1958 (German edition).

I started reading the first one: Several authors write about seven Finnish orientalists, explorers and military spies. One of the authors, incidentally, is Harry Halen, a former amanuensis of my Alma Mater, the Department of Asian and African Languages and Cultures at the University of Helsinki, writing on the epic 10000 km horse-back ride through central Asia and China of C.G. Mannerheim, Finnish military commander during World War II and former president.
The other passages in the book describe the lives of M.A. Castren, an ethnologist who traveled for years in Siberia, researching the lives of fenno-ugric tribes, G.A. Wallin, great traveler of Arabia, A,E, Nordenskiöld, the mariner-explorer, who opened up the Northeast Passage, J.G. Granö, geographer, who roamed Siberia, Mongolia and Japan, G.J. Ramstedt, first ambassador of Finland to Japan and former ethnologist and explorer of Mongolia and Sakari Pälsi, who followed Ramstedt to Mongolia and also spent time in Siberia.
The book is concise, just under 150 pages, with illustrations. Very happy with this one, if you're Finnish and like histories of exploration, get your hands on a copy.

The other books I have not yet opened. Michel Peissel is usually always interesting. The Gelders' book about Tibet I have no clue about, but will let you know after I finish it. Maclean is a former British diplomat who was the inspiration for James Bond, so I have high hopes for this one.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Across Islands and Oceans by James Baldwin

I sail, love boats, and read a lot of books about voyaging on the water. If the books also deal with Asia, it's a bonus.

It's actually a while since I read the whole of James Baldwin's book, but did re-read some passages again recently. What follows is based on less-than-perfect recollection. Across Islands and Oceans is James Baldwin's autobiographical story of a 1980s solo circumnavigation in his 28 foot sailing sloop, Atom.

Leaving Florida, Baldwin sails through the Caribbean and the Panama canal into the Pacific ocean. Visiting Pacific islands along the way he makes his way to Indonesia, then to the Indian Ocean, around the tip of Africa, and back home to the US, two years later.

Along the way he walks across every island he visits. It's his descriptions of the island communities that make this book so appealing. Baldwin has some strong opinions, but writes in pleasant and honest manner, also about things that disturb him. He describes some epic treks. The most interesting part of the book for me was his trek in Indonesia where he almost succumbs to malaria. Baldwin's descriptions of the small mountain communities where old clan feuds still may lead to bloodshed are vivid. There's a girl he falls in love with in Mauritius.

Apparently the books passages were originally published on his website. Considering this, the book forms a remarkably coherent, self contained entity that is easy to follow and to read through.

Oh, after returning to the US, it didn't take Baldwin long before he embarked on a second epic sailing adventure, this time with a goal to visit China by boat. But that's another book (that I'm currently reading) and another blog-post.

If you want to have more information, visit the author's web page:!

Read on Kindle.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness by Daja Wangchuck Meston

Meston's book is a sad autobiography. Born to world traveling hippie parents with no time for children, he spends his early childhood in a Tibetan family in Kathmandu. At six, following the wishes of her biological mother - now turned Buddhist nun - Daja is sent to a monastery and ordained a monk. At around ten he gets the chance to visit his relatives in the US and is deeply affected by the different lifestyle there.
In his teens Daja decides to leave the Buddhist order and make his way back to America. He ends up living with different relatives while learning and adapting to a new society, before meeting his wife to be, Phuni, a troubled Tibetan girl his age.
The book is gripping and the story is very sad. Writing it must have been cathartic to Meston. For me the most interesting part were the early passages, describing his early years in Kathmandu and in the monastery. This exotic life is described with candor and insight that few western writers possess. Meston is critical of the religious institutions and monastic life.
The later part of the book, describing his life and struggle in the US were not as appealing to me. They paint a picture of a young adult, deeply troubled by his past and the struggle to understand his mother's actions. The overall tone is somewhat depressing although the beautiful prose keeps you glued to the book.
The author's life story is exceptional and deserves to be read, there's a lesson for all of us.

Read on Kindle