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Book Review of Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer
In 1983 Time magazine journalist, Pico Iyer set out to rediscover the East, and observe how the Western world had encroached upon and imposed its own version of pop culture, capitalism, and consumerism on the far-flung, and often remote countries of Asia.
Indian by birth, born and educated in England, and raised in America, Iyer seems to be a walking incarnation of the convergence of East and West. It is this unique upbringing that shapes Iyer’s outlook, and allows him an unbiased vantage point from which to observe the ever changing position of the West in the East, and vice versa.
From China to the Philippines, Thailand to India, and many other stops along the way, Iyer is constantly confronted with Asian countries and people whom adopt and adapt Western culture to their own particular needs, while at the same time retaining their unique traditions and culture.
In Bali, an eleven-year old schoolgirl hands out embossed business cards for her souvenir shop by day, and performs ancient Hindu dance rituals at the temple by night to appease the gods. Teenagers sporting Western cowboy hats in Tibet pay homage to traditional death rites in which vultures consume deceased bodies, and in Japan, the all-American sport of baseball is transformed into a uniquely Japanese pastime.
Iyer is adept at pointing out the sometimes humorous, incongruous realities of Western influence on Eastern culture, yet his frank and accurate portrayals of the people he meets, and the countries he visits show that not only is it the West that influences the East, but often the East has an effect on the West as well.
Although written almost twenty years ago, Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu remains an accurate, witty depiction of some of Asia’s great countries and tourist destinations, and the meeting and exchange of Western and Asian cultures.