Would I have chosen ever to read a book on business?
Would I have chosen to read a book on travel?
The two combined in one title – a double threat!
This book is a romp. Written in the dry first-person voice of the author, with casual asides and throwaway caustic observations, I giggled a lot. In the second portion, which I have come to think of as ‘Shanghaied in Shanghai’ (my nod to the peerless 1970s group, Nazareth – and wholly apt here), I roared.
The opening chapters, being a sort of loose record of doing business in South America, takes the reader by road and air and foot – and occasionally by the throat and other vulnerable body parts – from Sao Paulo in Brazil to Venezuela, through Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile, gives a nod at Peru, and finishes in Argentina. A travel itinerary to envy, if it were not generally to visit remote car manufacturing plants to view electricity meters and utility bills and dealing by turns with recalcitrant managers and obstructive and overly zealous security guards. There are some hairy moments recounted – notably burning buses, insurrection, and a military flight on ageing air fleet – and the skill of the writer is that you are right there with him, sweaty and with heart palpitating as what looked simple in the planning develops regularly into anything but.
In Jin-Ae, the author’s female business companion for a trip to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo, we meet a creation of literary genius. She is a modern day, Asian Becky Sharp – and it is hard to construct a more incongruous pairing than her with her boss. She smart, impeccable, driven, and ambitious; her employer – in her immutable opinion – not any single one of these things, and clearly an obstruction and frustration to her doing his business much better than he had ever imagined it could be done! This partnership could not endure, but while it does it is wonderful. As daily her vampiric nature drains the resistance and life from her nemesis, the Van Helsing of utility invoicing. Hilarity peaks when she takes intimate opportunity in the back of a taxi to pop breath fresheners into his open mouth as he is mid-sentence! I rooted for her, and cringed at her presumption, was appalled by her behaviours, and adored her by turns. Characters such as she colour life for the rest of us in the monochrome.
It is not a stodgy manual of management protocols and marketing ploys – more a delightful, off-beat travelogue with an off-beat much travelled narrator, plenty of vivid characters to meet en route, anecdotal fun, plus an education on local cuisines. And, too, there is the fabulous (for sure in her own estimation) Jin-Ae……. what more could a reader want! Take it as your companion read next time you holiday abroad or climb aboard any aircraft. It will give you a lot of laughs, and the occasional cold sweat!