Sunday, 5 September 2010

Book Review (The Sunday Times): 101 Places Not To See Before You Die

By Catherine Price
Harper / Paperback
249 pages / $28.95 / Borders

An edited version of this review was published in The Sunday Times on 5 September 2010.

This is a timely response to those heavy tomes about 1001 Exotic Sights To Visit or 501 Great Movies To Watch before the Grim Reaper decides that your time is really up. But why limit to just 101 proscribed places, when there are inner city ghettoes, nuclear test sites, Al Qaeda training camps, Guantanamo Bay and other disaster zones littering our planet?

This decidedly slim volume is clearly tongue-in-cheek, as No.12 on the list is “Your Boss’s Bedroom” and No.86 is “Your College Campus Four Months After You Graduate”. These are not exactly geographical locales, but an indication how pathetic one’s life could actually get. Personal experience, perhaps?

According to Price, the United States of America lays claim to the largest number of taboo sites in the world, more than a third. There are the usual tourist traps, well-known (Mount Rushmore) and obscure (Winchester Mystery House, California, left), much-ado-about-nothing events (Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Montana’s Testicle Festival), non-entities parading as must-visits (Wall Drug) and the entire state of Nevada.

Several entries are eye openers, like a body farm (where putrefying corpses are studied), rendering plants (where post-abbatoir animal remains are processed, left) and pig lagoons (the less said, the better). Addresses are not provided, to protect the necrophiliac and terminally inquisitive. She includes “Vomitoria”, but it is not what you and many people think.

Men may not concur with a woman’s perspective, as she includes the Bull Run at Pamplona (from the perspective of a bull), the Amsterdam Sex Museum, naked sushi (nyotaimori, left) and its alcoholic equivalent, wakame sake. There is really no need to be politically correct here, is there?

Thankfully Singapore’s Tiger Balm Gardens does not make the cut, and the closest one gets from home are Grandpa and Grandma Rocks on Koh Samui, Thailand, landforms so named because they resemble human genitalia, with photographs included. China gets several hits, headed by Beijing’s Museum of Tap Water (left) and the New South China Mall at Dongguan.

The sheer randomness of the chapters is baffling, as if drawn from a hat, and one gets the niggling feeling there is a lot more has been left out. A sequel perhaps? Do not hold your breath.

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