Where the Pavement Ends: One Womans Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, & Vietnam by Erika WarmbrunnA thoroughly enjoyable travel book from the point of view of a woman who is not really soul-seeking, not healing from a tragic life event, not exoticizing the people she encounters or the places she goes.
Erika Warmbrunn is a young woman in the early 1990s who has a lot of world travel under her belt. A somewhat failed theater nerd with serious wanderlust, she sets out to explore a place that not many people go, that wouldnt be on most peoples summer itineraries -- Mongolia. She decides to ride her bike from Russia, near the Mongolian border, all the way through Mongolia, through China, and through Vietnam down to Saigon. But the heart of the book is Mongolia.
Speaking as someone who knew very little about Mongolia prior to reading this book, the author does a great job describing the Mongolian countryside and culture. Sandwiched geographically and culturally between the U.S.S.R. and communist China for many decades, in the early 1990s Mongolia was experiencing a re-appropriation of some of the Mongolian cultural elements that had been stifled by Soviet patronage.
What Warmbrunn finds in Mongolia is something that makes your heart ache -- a cultural and societal innocence that is unattainable in the developed world. People do not knock on each others doors - they just walk in. Young children can leave their homes for hours without the parents worrying about accidents and abductions. Several generations live together under one roof without anyone feeling like they are a burden. Gifts are given freely and food is a constant relationship binding agent between friends and strangers alike.
There is also a complete lack of privacy and an unrelenting grasp on doing things the way they have always been done. People have very little money and almost no modern amenities. There are also seemingly no vegetables. Like, ever. Warmbrunn manages to make herself a carrot salad one day and a well-meaning friend points out to her that carrots are for horses.
Only about a third of the book is dedicated to Mongolia - the rest is divided up between China and Vietnam, but you can tell that the country and its people are what Warmbrunn really fell in love with during her trip.
Once she is outside of Mongolia and into China, the landscape and the people change. The impact of capitalism on the Chinese people is noticeable at every turn - everything is about money, how much things cost, how little one pays, how much money does your father make?
The culture is different, the homes are different, and the language remains a constant struggle, whereas after a couple of months in Mongolia Warmbrunn becomes somewhat conversational. From the felt tents in Mongolia, Warmbrunn spends her nights in cement boxes and encounters Chinese bureaucracy.
Once in Vietnam, she struggles with the echoes of the Vietnam War and what her whiteness and Americanness amid the Vietnamese people mean. There is definitely white-mans burden going on, but it is respectfully analyzed. She is constantly chased and harassed by screaming children - something that brings out her worst side which she speaks honestly about.
There are some endearing bits like the fact that she names her bike and refers to it in such loving terms that you forget the bike (Greene) is not a person, or at the very least, a semi-horse. The people she meets along the way mostly shatter the stereotypes she had expected to encounter. We learn what could happen to a young womans body when she starts bicycling long distances every day and the irony of how our bodies can process even the most foreign (to us) foods that are completely natural, and what happens when we then suddenly re-introduce processed food (clue: NOT good).
There are some criticisms that I have about this book, but they are very minor and have mostly to do with the rush in which she occasionally moves from one scene to the next. But I have a very high tolerance for long narratives, and perhaps she wanted to steer clear of making the book overly long.
Overall, two thumbs up for this book, and kudos to Warmbrunn for showing that a woman can set out to explore the world on her own and on her own terms without having to be fearful at every turn.
Meet Pat Sloan
Online QALs are a great way to meet online friends who share your passion for patchwork. Plus, you get the inspiration to start a project and the motivation to complete it. Your online friends will be cheering your progress all the way to the finish line! A big PLUS in our book! Buy the book and sew a row—or two or three or more! Top prize? New books and fabrics shipped to your door for 9 months in a row!
I just listened to this podcast and loved your enthusiasm to share your quilting passion, enough for me to look up your website. Thank you!! A fellow quilter. Pages Home About Shop Here! Okay, so this just happened: Yes, I was interviewed by Pat Sloan for her podcast! I finally sent a message to a public email address for Pat and found that, indeed, she wanted me on her podcast.
Every year since then, Pat has assembled a new team of top-notch Designers, featuring one per month throughout the year. At the end of every year, Pat offers a suggested quilt setting. Blocks are posted on Auribuzz on the 15 th of every month. Pat has a deep passion for making quilting fun for herself and for everyone around her. She loves to hang out with quilters on the internet as well as visit them in person. Be inspired to get more done!
Pat Sloan’s My Secret Garden Free Mystery Block of the Month
You can hear about why we started this project and get all the project details HERE. Jane and I want to introduce ourselves, as we can get to know you and you get to know us!
This year Pat's theme is 'The Secret Garden'. With Block 9 Pat travels down to Sunny Florida! The past blocks and supply list are here. Pat's Video Tutorial. The Bonus is a repeat of Block 2 with different color placement.