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Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East (1988)

by Pico Iyer

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521532,640 (3.63)15
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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Iyer in his introduction tells us this is “less like a conventional travel diary than a series of essays” of a “casual traveler’s casual observations” of the Asia he saw “over the course of two years... [spending] a total of seven months crisscrossing the continent.” Each chapter covers his thoughts about one country: Bail (Indonesia), Tibet, Nepal, China, Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Japan. Most of the essays have an overarching theme through which he looked at the country. B ...more
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K.D. Absolutely
Jul 18, 2009 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Tata J
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Book
The book is about his 6-month visit to the different countries in the Far East in 1985. Each country has its own chapter in the book but the sequence is not chronological. I think it was arranged according to how Iyer would like to impact or influence the mind of the reader and I think he was able to do that effectively. The first chapter is about the paradise island of Bali focusing on the effect of the tourism to the previously gentle and virgin island. The character of Wayan, the child-father ...more
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May 16, 2016 Arvind rated it liked it
Shelves: travelogue
The book is a travelogue of East Asia set in late 1980s. Of the dozen or so pieces, the one on Japan was superb, so were the introduction and conclusion. But the rest made me wish I hadnt picked up this book. And now I see that d 3 most popular reviews on goodreads app are 2 or 3 stars.
The author's aim is to analyse cultural impact of d West on d East and he does so with a lot of self-indulgence, whining and cliches. The usual Indian Bollywood piece that u may now have memorised, the almost ceas ...more
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keith koenigsberg
Feb 09, 2009 keith koenigsberg rated it it was ok
Shelves: traveladventure
Disappointing. Pico rails about how badly the West has polluted the rest of the world, lamenting the ruined purity of far-flung places. Michael Jackson cd's for sale in Indonesian villages? I'm shocked, shocked! For anyone who has been around the world a bit, this book is just too obvious, and for anyone who hasn't, it's a cynical and jaded expose of...nothing too interesting. What a clever fellow! He finds what he expects to find; this book is about as interesting as a restaurant review of Chil ...more
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Aug 06, 2017 Wsm rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Pico Iyer is a stylish writer.The sheer elegance of his prose in "The Lady and the Monk:Four Seasons in Kyoto" compelled me to read this one.He goes to Bali,Tibet,Nepal,China,Japan,Thailand,Hong Kong and India.His observant eyes takes in the details though some of the chapters get a bit lop-sided.In India,he writes mostly about Bollywood and in Japan,mostly about baseball.He embarks on his trip to Mao's China without a working knowledge of the language and without a guide.In several of his stop ...more
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pani Katarzyna
Mar 10, 2012 pani Katarzyna rated it liked it · review of another edition
Shelves: own-it, southeast-asia, travel, 2016
Once in a while I like to read a good travel book, preferably about Asia. Sometimes I also catch myself finishing these books with some sort of dissatisfaction. It's difficult for me to put a finger on it - is it because usually these travel accounts are written by the Westerners? Is it because of them illustrating a time in the past, almost a history, and not the flavor of "right now"? Or is it because the personality of the author barges in way too much at times?
While, a few years ago, I was r ...more
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Diana Stegall
Jul 21, 2012 Diana Stegall rated it did not like it
This book was patronizing bordering on the repulsive. This is a perfect example of how being aware of colonialism does not magically prevent you from participating in it. Pico Iyer tries so hard to be arch and snide towards careless, self-absorbed Western tourists only to end up acting just like them, every time, everywhere he goes. He never bothers to encounter anybody except tourists and taxi drivers. His "analysis" ends up reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes everywhere he goes. His fascinati ...more
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Aug 31, 2011 dianne rated it liked it
Shelves: nepal
For such an acclaimed writer, this was just ok. First of all i wonder if he actually hung out with any Nepalis - they do not call their hats "fezzes" they are Dhaka topis. Details are so distracting, it is worth getting them right.
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Jan 22, 2013 Vin rated it liked it
This was written in 1988, and I was afraid it would be outdated & uninteresting. But I certainly remember how the 80s played out here in the states and it was fascinating to read what was going on halfway around the globe... Ah, the 80s...no matter where you were, who could forget?
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Travis Wagner
May 18, 2017 Travis Wagner rated it it was ok
While Iyer does offer some absolutely fascinating accounts of East Asia, it is hard not to read many of his notions of mobility and essentialism as being indicative of his presence as a colonizing body in the countries he explored.
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Jan 24, 2017 Bill rated it liked it · review of another edition
now a fairly dated book, I read this with some interest not long after publication.
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Shivam S
Mar 31, 2011 Shivam S rated it it was amazing
Noopur Raval is a student of Masters in Arts & Aesthetics, JNU, a photographer, blogger and interesting character! In her first post she writes about her favorite travel read – Video Night In Kathmandu by Pico Iyer, on HappyReading Blog:

If I were traveling and wanted to read a book along and not get depressed as I moved and be able to put that book/travelogue’s perspective onto my own travels, which book would I pick? This is the question I would ask myself over and over, ending up carrying ...more
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Jun 03, 2012 Katie rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Pico Iyer is a talented writer and a thoughtful cultural analyst. The book is now dated, having been written in the mid-eighties, but that isn't one of my motivations for its rating. I found the glimpses of things that have definitively changed to be interesting, and often they made me wish I had some sort of comparative current nonfiction text about the region, to compare, but this is really a problem of my lack of comprehensive reading, not the book's.

My three-star rating comes from two develo ...more
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Jan 02, 2015 Michelle rated it liked it
Shelves: read-it-let-it-go
Were the 1980s another world? I didn't realise on starting this book that it was written in the 1980s. Surely, I thought, when I realised, Asia would have changed so much in 30 years that this book would perhaps seem a little out of date? Well, no. Not really. The pop song and pricing references may be dated, but many of the things the book talks about in looking at Asia from the eyes of an outsider are still valid.

Pico Iyer did not attempt to make a sociological or economic study of the Asian ...more
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Jul 22, 2013 S. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: white-rabbit, cheshire
better to be fascinating wrong than boringly nigh-correct, one supposes, and in this regard, Pico Iyer's most famous work 'Video Night in Katmandu' deserves its sort of backpacker fame, it's name dropping in Bali and Lhasa. several years before its time (first published 1988, the Soviet Union still existent), Iyer's relentless accounts of dynamic and hustler Asia, decadent and work-averse West predicts a state of affairs that comes to pass thirty years later... but the average Chinaman, of cours ...more
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Ken R
Jun 28, 2014 Ken R rated it it was amazing
Iyer travels to various Asian countries over a multi-year period in the 80s. His thesis is how American pop-culture is being exported and adopted throughout Asia. Rambo, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen are mentioned throughout the book.

Iyer covers a number of countries and regions including Bali, India, the Philippines, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Western tourism in Bali.

Movie stars in India.

Karaoke and escorts in the Phillipines.

Baseball in Japan.

Prostitution in Thailand.

Iyer depicts As ...more
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Sep 22, 2012 Kasia rated it liked it
Spotkałam sie z bardzo różnymi recenzjami Video Night in Kathmandu. Na pewno nie jest to jedna z tych książek, przy której otwierałam oczy ze zdumienia, która kształtuje światopogląd. Podsuwmowując miła lektura, ale nie czuję, żebym dużo straciła, gdybym jej nie przeczytała.
Nie sądze, że problem jest fakt, że książka powstała i opisuje Azję lat 80. Raczej dość pobieżne potraktowanie każdego kraju okazało się w moim przypadku nie wystarczające. Poszczególne rodziały/ kraje zostały skonstuowane wo ...more
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Jun 02, 2013 Philip rated it liked it · review of another edition
Shelves: tibet-india, southeast-asia, travel, japan, nepal, read-parts-of
There's never been any question that Iyer is an excellent writer. However, I would have enjoyed this book much more if I'd actually read it back when I bought it in the very late '80's. In fact, I couldn't get all the way through it now that I finally took it off the shelf, and ended up reading only those chapters on places I've been to recently or will soon be visiting. Indeed, most of his tales of how exotic (or not) Asia was back then have been long overtaken by the past 25 years of spectacul ...more
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Apr 29, 2009 David added it
Shelves: creativephilosophy, justicenonfiction, memoirs
I first heard of Pico Iyer by reading his liner notes in THE ESSENTIAL LEONARD COHEN compilation. Then I heard him interviewed about his interactions with the Dalai Lama on the NPR program Fresh Air. Clearly, he is a devout seeker with an admirable curiousity.

This book describes the exoticism that goes both directions in the cultural "East" and "West". It opens with Iyer's observations of how different Asian countries were impressed by the movie RAMBO and the numerous ways Westerner tourists ar ...more
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Jul 25, 2011 Manu rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
Set in the mid 80's, Pico's travel writing worked on two levels for me - one, in terms of his destinations, and the other, in terms of time. Right from the first page, with his interpretation of the Rambo phenomenon in Asia, his sharp wit makes this book a great read.
He uses individual characters in different places (India, China, Tibet, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, HongKong, Japan, Philippines) to describe the place's character. In some cases, the stereotypes are reinforced, but in a lot of others, ...more
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Apr 27, 2011 Jennifer rated it liked it
Though I'm a big fan of Pico's work - and, okay, this is a really weird reason to award something three stars instead of the requisite four - I didn't think there was enough "judgment" or "opinion" contained in his prose. (Yes, I know that this is what most readers hate about Iyer's central voice, but I can't help it. I'm obsessed with it.) I think what I really look for in any travel memoir, or basically any nonfictional narrative, is a stable narrator figure. I want, for all the merging and de ...more
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Wilson Mui
Jul 03, 2013 Wilson Mui rated it really liked it
I'm not typically a fan of travel books, but I found this one really enjoyable. Pico Iyer was more nuanced in his observations and they never felt too colonial or too preachy. He expressed as many sad and disappointed feelings as he did exciting ones, and it seemed like he had an energy about him that was neither too hippy-dippy-backpacker nor too stoic.

I think a lot of these kinds of books at the end come to the same conclusion, maybe because it's so true, that is despite all the strange surfac ...more
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Nov 22, 2011 Tocotin rated it really liked it
Shelves: far-east, nonfiction, used-books, travels
This was a fun book, very fast reading, even though quite dated (the 80s), about how East meets West through popculture. There was a part about Japan too, and judging by it I'd say the author has a good insight into the cultures he's writing about, for someone who doesn't speak the languages of the countries he's visited. Sure, he is a little bit too awed by the (putative) mysteriousness and perfectionism of Japan, so probably his highly poetic descriptions of other places - like Burma or Tibet ...more
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Melinda McLaughlin
Jun 09, 2009 Melinda McLaughlin rated it it was ok
I read this book in preparing for a trip to Asia - also, my boyfriend happened to own it. It was interesting, but to me, it was more that it captured the 1980s in Asia, rather than delivered any ground-breaking insight into the culture. In may cases, it was almost as if Iyer saw what he wanted to see - a single-minded Chinese populace, an introspective and peaceful Burma, an efficiency-oriented Japan etc. He does point out some contrarian aspects of each culture, but the bulk of the writing seem ...more
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Nov 21, 2011 Patrick rated it really liked it · review of another edition
Shelves: travel, non-fiction
A somewhat dated travelogue of Asia, that examines the effects of Westernization on the East. The author's time in Asia happened in the mid 80s, with the latest visit being 1987. Obviously, Asia has changed immeasurably since then, and his descriptions of a Beijing full of bicycles, the Philippines under the Marcos regime, or Bollywood movies where the women are all plump, give the book a quaint "snapshot" feel. That said, much of Iyer's observations about some of the deeper cultural phenomena s ...more
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Dan Tasse
Apr 25, 2011 Dan Tasse rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
A book of "I traveled to ____ and saw how East Meets West" stories. I mean, nothing wrong with that. Some of them were naturally interesting, particularly Burma, which he describes as this land lost in time. Also, he wrote this in 1988, but a lot of it feels like it was last year, particularly when he's discussing the up-and-coming Eastern business world.

A lot of it reinforced stereotypes: Thailand has sex tourism, the Philippines is super US-influenced, Bali has ... lots of tourists, and India ...more
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Nov 06, 2016 JoAnna rated it really liked it
Three-line review: Pico Iyer is a well-known travel writer who, like Paul Theroux, does not use flowery language to unnecessarily promote stereotypes as exotic but rather uses careful observation, gut feelings and personal relationships in an attempt to demystify foreign destinations. I liked that this book was broken up by specific themes for particular countries – baseball in Japan, movie-making in India, prostitution in Thailand, etc. – to help provide context for how Western ideals, commerci ...more
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Sep 22, 2015 Holly rated it liked it
Not quite finished yet... I have to admit, I was hoping for something else. It's a very dated book, from a privileged male solo traveller perspective. I assume this is an early book, and look forward to reading his later ones.

I find the writing to be repetitive at times, echoing nearly word for word a previous phrase.
Some of the essays drag in parts - too long and could have wrapped up his point in fewer words. Personally, I also find his perspective, reported interactions and observations pat ...more
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Jul 16, 2012 Terry rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
This book recounts Pico's Asian travels in the late 1980s. It reminded me of my own adventures, and the well written narratives brought back much of the fascination I felt originally. The exception was his description of India, where I found him to be off mark. Especially enjoyed Japan, Tibet, and Nepal. He found too much prostitution in Thailand when he should have found beauty. Suggests reading modern Asia writers Leithauser and Morley. Excellent read. I reread half of this book in Dec. 97 and ...more
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Nov 29, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I read this book while I was travelling in northern India, and while it is a little out of date now (published in 1989), it captures so many of the weird and wonderful things about Asia. In some ways, I was nostalgic for the world described in this book at a time before the great homogenization of the internet.

Like Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer is a travel writer who writes about so much more than just what he sees and does. He is an interesting educated man who bring other cultural references, stran ...more
  Alhickey1 | Oct 23, 2017 |
Iyer is one of the best travel writers. His accounts tend to be quirky and personal. This isn't a book you would read to figure out what to do in Kathmandu, for instance. It is, rather, a book that gives you at least a little insight into the cultures the author experiences. And mostly, it is just very entertaining. ( )
  datrappert | Oct 22, 2016 |
Iyer in his introduction tells us this is “less like a conventional travel diary than a series of essays” of a “casual traveler’s casual observations” of the Asia he saw “over the course of two years... [spending] a total of seven months crisscrossing the continent.” Each chapter covers his thoughts about one country: Bail (Indonesia), Tibet, Nepal, China, Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Japan. Most of the essays have an overarching theme through which he looked at the country. Bali as paradise lost, Nepal as Hippie Magic Bus Tour, India’s Bollywood, Thailand its skin trade, Japan and its passion for baseball. He admitted he had never formally studied Asian affairs and didn't know any of the languages of the countries he visited, but he is well-traveled and well-informed. At the time of his travels he was a writer on world affairs for Time magazine and had written for the Times Literary Supplement, Partisan Review and the Village Voice.

The book struck me as rather dated at times, or at least amusingly of its time, the essays mostly being about travels around 1985. A generation has passed since Iyer traveled through these countries. Iyer at first seemed obsessed with this idea of cultural imperialism, hitting that theme continually and calling tourists “lay colonialists” despite showing that those aspects of Western pop culture and ideas are things that Asians adopt--and adapt--for themselves. Just as Westerners often do the same (only to be labeled “cultural vultures” by Iyer.) He seemed oblivious to the ironies of a British-born man of Indian extraction, Oxford and Harvard educated, who called America home ranting about how cultural exchange “corrupts” the “purity” of Asian cultures--while himself as a visitor doing his part to carry the contagion. His very name is a combination of the Buddha’s name and that of an Italian philosopher. He called Japan his “ideal” and he currently lives there with his Japanese wife. So he’s a man who himself mixes cultures, yet seemed often to decry that, or at least be deeply ambivalent. He also sometimes struck me as naive and condescending. I recently read Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and though I had my issues and poked some fun at it in my review, I thought Gilbert had a more balanced view of Bali, which Iyer presented as this paradise without crime and a culture of harmony. Gilbert rather than a few weeks spent months there, and she didn’t spend time as a tourist in the usual expat haunts, but actually interacted with ordinary Balinese. The people weren’t museum artifacts to her that need to be preserved under glass.

Yet despite my criticism I don’t regret my time spent reading Iyer. He caught Asia at an interesting time. For instance traveling through China right post-Mao, experiencing the maddening house-of-mirrors communist bureaucracy and the vibrancy of the emerging market economy, Hong Kong while still a Crown colony and the Philippines as “People Power” was ushering the Marcos regime out. He’s erudite, often lyrical, witty and at times funny, and, on occasion heart-breaking. His essay on the Philippines and its crushing poverty comes to mind: sad and surreal. His multinational perspective does make him often insightful about the cross-cultural currents he witnessed. And over the course of his book, and in his epilogue and 2000 afterword, he did seem more nuanced and less judgmental about the exchanges between East and West. ( )
2 vote LisaMaria_C | Apr 7, 2013 |
Mohawk haircuts in Bali. Yuppies in Hong Kong. In Bombay, not one but five Rambo rip-offs, complete with music and dancing. And in the new People's Republic of China, a restaurant that serves dishes called "Yes, Sir, Cheese My Baby," "A Legitimate Beef," and "Ike and Tuna Turner." These are some of the images -- comical, poignant, and unsettling -- that Pico Iyer brings back from the Far East in this brilliant book of travel reportage. (Amazon)
2 vote cavrak | Nov 3, 2006 |
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