Slow Boats to China - book review
by Gavin Young
I have always had an interest in travel books, particularly ones with a watery dimension.
I was therefore tempted by a 35 year old paperback called Slow Boats to China which charts a journey from Greece to China using whatever boats were available to hand at the time in the late 50's.
Young was a journalist and familiar with the middle and far east in the post war years spending much of his life either reporting or writing from the region. Rumour has it that he spent some time working for MI6 but in the main he was a travel writer, one who travelled lightly and comes across as a man well able to relate and empathisise with all those he came into contact with. Sadly Young died in 2001 but leaves behind a legacy of well written travel books and in particular his Slow Boats to China and Slows Boats Home.
Even in the 1950's when this trip took place, the journey was a challenge with few boats able or willing to carry him from port to port but only twice did he have to take to the air to link sections of the journey. I very much doubt that such a journey could be completed today and instead I suspect you would need to take your own boat.
One thing which hasn't changed is piracy. He fell foul of pirates in the Philippines ajust as surely as you would at the Horn of Africa today. With some fast talking and skilfull bonding he escaped with his life, just.
Its a fascinating read as he explores people and places in distant locations, but always respecting those he met and taking a genuine interest in their lives.
All in all an absorbing read which was as informative as it was entertaining..