Sunday, 17 May 2009

Blookish And British

For this one, they actually rang me up and sent me a copy of the text to check. Not much to do, really. This time they did a better job.

Sadly, another review of mine for Anchee Min's The Last Empress will never make it to print; they apparently published an overseas review of this book instead, not knowing they had mine on file. So it goes...



Slight ride

first published in The Star, 17 May 2009


Unless hosted on a subscription-based system, password-protected, or set to private, blogs are generally open to the public. So why compile the posts of a public blog into a paperback volume for sale?

Well, for one thing, charity. Which is nice of the authors. But I think some readers would have a hard time fathoming the need for this "blook".

A blook is a book derived from a blog. In 2002, Tony Pierce collected posts from his blog on Hollywood and published them in a printed book called Blook (the winning entry from a contest Pierce held to name his book, sent in by American professor, blogger and media guru Jeff Jarvis). Which is what two women who travelled 12,500 miles (about 20,000km) on three wheels for charity did with their blog posts.

British belles Antonia "Ants" Bolingbroke-Kent and Jo Huxster, both in their late 20s, have been best friends since secondary school. Bitten by the travel bug early in life, they'd planned to go on a jaunt upon graduation from uni. But their plans were derailed when Huxster succumbed to depression for several years. Bolingbroke-Kent also became more aware of mental health issues when she lost another friend to suicide.

Then, when a recovered Huxster was on vacation in Bangkok in 2002, she encountered the cute tuk-tuk. The diminutive, garishly decorated three-wheelers that throng Bangkok's roads rekindled the girls' enthusiasm for travel – but on a much larger scale than before.

Their trip, they decided, would start in Bangkok and end in Brighton, England – a journey of those aforementioned 12,500 miles. It would aim to raise £50,000 (RM270,000) for a cause close to both girls' hearts: Mind (www.mind.org.uk), a mental health charity for England and Wales. And ... they'd be travelling in a custom hot-pink tuk-tuk that they euphoniously christened Ting Tong.

"Ting tong" actually means "crazy" in Thai. It's like the gods wanted them to go on this trip, which eventually began in May 2006 and ended triumphantly in Brighton 14 weeks later in September that same year.


No crazy 20,000km trip would be complete without mechanical tantrums from their best supporting character, of course, despite Ting Tong having been souped up to withstand the long miles. But the emergencies always got a helping hand from the tuk-tuk manufacturer in Bangkok, and even from some locals in different countries.

Hard-core romantics will be disappointed to know that, being a sponsored charity tour, it wasn't all roadside camps and grubbing for roots for dinner.

Nor were there any run-ins with smugglers and paramilitary types, thank goodness – although Ants scrapped one route over the possibility of US missiles over Iran.

The trip and its purpose were heavily covered by the press in most countries they visited, but to keep their audience more up-to-date, the girls blogged. And I read the dead-trees version of their crazy adventure; a cut from the proceeds of the blook's sales will go to Mind.

According to the girls' website, tuktotheroad.co.uk, the trip raised £24,000 (RM129,600); donations to the cause still being hosted at justgiving.com/tuktotheroad has since raised the figure – as of Friday – to slightly more than £45,000 (RM243,000).

The book gives quite a bit of backstory about the girls' lives, from how they first met to Huxster's struggle with depression, and the events leading to the birth of their tuk-athon.

In the tradition of a typical travel book, there's a travel resource section at the end, and a frequently-asked questions list for aspiring cross-country tuk-tuk daredevils. Suffice to say that this is not something anybody does on a whim!

Tuk Tuk to the Road is an enjoyable ride, but isn't anyone involved in producing this book worried about the story going stale after the second re-reading? I know I'd be. The only reason I'd ever pick it up again is if I need a distraction from other more important things. You know, like, reviewing other books....



Tuk Tuk to The Road
Two Girls, Three Wheels, 12,500 Miles

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent and Jo Huxster
Friday Books
262 pages
Non-Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-905548-65-1

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