Bookbed recommends: ‘How to Ride a Train to Ulaanbaatar and Other Essays’ by Josephine V. Roque

by KB Meniado

Anybody who has ever traveled or lived abroad, whether on a decent budget or otherwise, knows doing so isn’t always fun. More than the excitement and joy brought about by exploring and immersing in new cultures, the anxiety and confusion in the day-to-day can be the dominating experience for many. Think about getting lost or leaving behind something important, or finding a new place to move in or living alone. But then again, these are often also the very things that make a traveler or an expatriate feel invigorated, or well, let’s say, ‘experienced.’ 

That said, following the adventures in How to Ride a Train to Ulaanbaatar and Other Essays by Josephine V. Roque from Shanghai and Seoul to Hong Kong and Macau was strangely comforting. Having spent the last 500 days in lockdown, the mere mentions of ‘airport bus,’ ‘altitude,’ and ‘visitor’ seemed like bumping into long-lost friends, if that makes sense. Not that I was some big jet-setter before this pandemic, but I did enjoy the liberty of visiting at least one new place every year when I could afford to, and so I miss both the rush and the lingering, even all the distresses of traveling and living in foreign lands. This book just about nailed these very specific emotions and experiences.

What I enjoyed about this collection of travel essays is how it truly does not sugarcoat or romanticize the realities of being overseas. It asks a lot about cultural identity, social norms, relationship building, and tolerance when it comes to differences, which were all insightful in terms of situating oneself in an unfamiliar space, physical or otherwise. I also liked how the author, as an expat in China, was able to find parallels in the way Filipinos and Chinese (and other nationalities, eventually) led their everyday lives in that particular timeline. 

(I will say, though, that the reading experience would have been richer had there been photos from the trips accompanying the words, but maybe it was intentional so the reader’s imagination gets activated and they end up producing the visual instead. At least, that’s what happened with me, hence these postcards. ^_^)

A lot of people, including myself, would claim travelling is also healing, and this book, I dare say, embodies that. Written “following the trauma of the death of the author’s mother,” the emotional unpacking in between pages lends a sense of preparation or processing to the reader, depending on their personal experience, and to me, that candidness and sincerity bring this train ride of an anthology closer to home. ☁️

The reviewer received a sample copy from the author. The book is now available in online bookstores, and at Bibi Mangki Bookbed (for room use only). Visit here.

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