This is the last “old” book on my Coursera list. I do have one or two more recent ones left, but those are much more fun to read and review. I almost gave this one up–it is written from a very colonial perspective, and at first it came across with a very icky feel to it. There’s historical perspective…and then there is writing about other humans as if they are animals in a zoo.
I was left with a very bitter sense of distaste and decided to just put it away and take it off my Goodreads list. But, when I went to do so, the first review on the page is from a Malaysian gentleman who recommends strongly that this book be read by all Malaysian adults–so I decided to keep going. If the people of the Malay Peninsula can get past the extreme colonial attitude…so should I.
It did get better. There was still quite a bit of Imperialistic racism, but, once Bird learned more about the culture and people, she did get better about it. There was, however, a bit disconnect for her between Christianity and “The Mohammedians.” I found her commentary intriguing from a historical perspective, and it was interesting to see that the conflict there hasn’t changed much in 200 years, but at times it was hard to take. Maybe it was because it was like looking at the West with a mirror. That is never a good feeling.
On the more positive side, Bird’s descriptions of her surroundings were delightful. She was obviously enthralled with the beauty of the jungle, the bustling cities–Singapore apparently has a LOT of fruit (SO MUCH FRUIT)–and just all of the color that exists in Southeast Asia. For all her faults (the woman thought elephants were ugly!), she is a fantastic travel writer, and while I disagree with her on many things (ELEPHANTS! I mean COME ON WOMAN!), I am glad I continued with this piece. There’s much to be learned about this region by reading The Golden Chersonese–it’s a valuable work of imperial world travel.