Posts Tagged ‘peter hessler’

Lots of odds and ends to share tonight. But first, may I simply mention that I’ve taken off every Friday in August?

Runner’s Lounge Take it and Run Thursday post is up, and Julie is inviting all runners to post their Six-Word Running Memoir… Hhmm wonder where she got that idea?…. Thank you Whitey for tipping me off to this article by one of my favorite writers about one of my favorite runners. I totally cadged by boss’s copy of The New Yorker off her today so I could read its entirety… My TNT coach, Ramon Bermo, successfully ran his 100-mile Ultra Marathon last month, and has raised over $59,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Here is his amazing, inspiring and fascinating race report, as filtered through the Nike Running Blog (separately, he emailed all his donors the in-his-own-words version, which printed out to seven pages). 100 freaking miles, people! I also found this one… Speaking of raising money, a month or so ago I signed up with Team Fox to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation (for a cure for Parkinson’s Disease), and in exchange they will get me my bib to the Flora London Marathon in 2009. Stay tuned for more, but I probably won’t start fundraising until immediately after NYC…. The New York Times Book Review gives What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami a poor review, saying things like, “There are flashes of quality,” and “the potential readership… is 70 percent Murakami nuts, 10 percent running enthusiasts and an overlapping 20 percent who will be on the brink of orgasm before they’ve even sprinted to the cash register.” Yours truly gave this book a much kinder review here…I am so psyched for the Olympics, even though I acknowledge that there will be doping athletes competing, and that some of them will win medals & go undetected despite testing…There’s a ton of coverage already online, and in print, regarding last-minute athlete updates and predictions. I feel like I need a vacation to absorb it all…Even though he’s not a runner, Michael Phelps is hard to resist, I think (for me) it has something to do with his excellence… Names: Paula Radcliffe, Ryan HallLopez Lomong, Leo Manzano

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All of this fuss about the Olympics reminded me about one of my favorite books, one that I recommend over and over to people. That book is River Town, about the author Peter Hessler’s two years spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in China — in Fuling, to be exact, one of the Sichuan province towns that would be flooded once the Three Gorges Dam was constructed. Hessler’s thoughtful, brilliantly written portrait of modern China (the book was first published in 2001) was enough to make me a) want to visit China and b) get a crush on Hessler even though I’d never met him.

Anyway, back to the Olympics and back to running. The book’s set in China, and so are the Olympics — this makes me hope for the author’s sake that people are rediscovering River Town, as interest in the country is peaking due to its hosting the Games in August. Reading in the papers about how the marathoners were concerned about breathing the Beijing smog, a memory of Hessler’s account of his own running in China was triggered.  When I first read this book, I was not a serious runner, but those scenes of him gasping up and down the city’s hills, lungs burning from the smog, as he strove to win the race, stuck with me. The two sections on his races are delightfully long, so I will treat you to an excerpt to whet your appetite for the rest.

Here, he’s about halfway through a 4k Run to Welcome Spring, when he takes the lead and the crowd begins to chant “waiguoren” (out-of-country person) at him.

And I thought: Not today. If you’re looking for people who are out of their country, out of place, out of step, out of shape, awkward, clumsy; if that’s what you’re looking for, look back there. Look for the ones who started too fast, or the men who have smoked too many Magnificent Sound cigarettes, or the people who are wearing too many clothes and are choking with heat and sweat. Don’t look at me–I’ve done this for many years in many places, and always it has been exactly the same. There are no referees, no language barriers, no complicated rules of etiquette. All you do is run.

While I’ve never lived in China, I have felt out of place, out of step, out of shape, awkward, clumsy. Heck, sometimes I call it a good day when I manage to make it to bedtime without feeling like I groped my way through. So I can totally identify with All you do is run, because that’s when I know my footing.

The sections of River Town dedicated to Hessler’s running are perhaps a dozen pages out of 400; nevertheless, the attitude he brings to his races surfaces in other situations throughout the book (his determination to learn the language, his perseverance with his students). River Town is a wonderful book about his students and fellow volunteers, about the people of Fuling, and about his own quest to assimilate in a country that may never accept him.  (You guys, you should read it!)

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