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Some Excerpts from the Lonely Planet Master Guide

SUMMER BLOCK-KUMAR

You are about to enter a land of contrasts!  This seductive country is a maddening mix of old and new, up-market and down, trendy and tribal.  This is truly where East meets West in a dizzying blend of colors and textures, where you can buy ethnic textiles and a fake Rolex in the same day.  Where else can you find impoverished pensioners and mobile phones in the same city?  Perhaps you are from a uniformly sterile, monolithic culture manipulated by the iron hand of global capitalism?  Well, then you are in for a surprise!  From malls to mosques, from wretched waste water to the World Wide Web, [country name here] is truly like nowhere else!

When it's time for a meal, do as the natives do!  To the locals, meals are more than just a time to eat – they are a time for families and friends to come together.  While in your home country you doubtless eat alone under the flickering light of a single bare bulb, joylessly shoveling mouthful after mouthful of industrial sludge into your spoiled, lonely gut, here meals are communal affairs, where rollicking dances, mournful folksongs, and bacterial meningitis are all equally liable to break out at any moment.
 
In this captivating land of contrasts you will find wet markets.  The name is apt.  Shopping here is an adventure, a whirlwind of flavors and fragrances in bustling markets that are vibrant, colorful, and malarial.  Whereas you are likely used to buying your groceries at faceless big-box retail chains where, grey, tepid, and hopeless, you shuffle benumbed down endless fluorescent-lit corridors of frozen lasagna and sanitary napkins like a walking corpse, here you can barter briskly for the native fare.  (There will be some corpses.)
 
Get ready to:
Scamper through museums and monuments.
Sashay down the fashionable shopping streets in soil-encrusted Tevas.
Opine on the recently contested elections.
Sip the inimitable local brew.
Stumble down the cobblestoned back streets.
Recline very still on the floor of the lobby until you can keep down liquids.
Embellish your past experiences in the hostel bar.
Snap a photo of a sad-eyed street urchin.
Beguile local peasants with your nonjudgmental friendliness.
Sleep in a yurt.
 
All it takes is a little luck, an open mind, and a universal sink plug – so get trekking!
 
A word of warning: Sadly, this proud nation's treasured monuments and pristine natural vistas now fall prey to the scourge of package tours. During peak travel months, you'll find the very sights that drew you here swarming with coach parties, hoards of loud-mouthed Americans and snap-happy Japanese clutching their guide books to their neck wallets as they tumble blindly over ancient ruins like lemmings to the sea.  Leave two months earlier and stay fifteen kilometers to the east of wherever they're heading.





Summer Block just returned from two years living in China and the experience was neither complex nor magical.  Find more of her embittered work at www.summerblock.com.