Interview with Peter Hessler: Country Driving

Back in 2001, Peter Hessler looked at his hands. He’d been living in China since 1996, when he began teaching English in a school in Fuling, an experience he recounted in his book, River Town. But now he wanted to go farther into the country. Since he had at least three good fingers on each hand (as well as both thumbs), he was eligible for his Chinese driver’s license, and he went in to take his test.

The test featured questions such as, “If another motorist stops you to ask directions, you should: a) not tell him; b) reply patiently and accurately; c) tell him the wrong way,” and, “If you give somebody a ride and realize that he left something in your car, you should: a) keep it for yourself;  b) return it to the person or his place of work as quickly as possible; c) call him and offer to return it for a ransom.” Of course, Hessler passed, and his license was, in some ways, a passport into a China he’d never seen—a China that is changing so fast it may never be seen again. The trips he took resulted in his new book, Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, a triptych of pieces about his travels. I emailed Hessler and spoke with him by phone at his home in Ridgway, Colorado.

Read the interview here.


Oh, Canada?

I went to Canada for the same reason explorers have always sought the horizon: It was an unknown, a land of mystery. I grew up in a border state but I couldn’t tell you which province is directly overhead. Sure, I laughed when George W. Bush was stuck for the Canadian Prime Minister’s name. But now that W is gone, I can say what I secretly thought then: “Glad that wasn’t me!” I know more about Mexico than I do about Canada, and I’m not sure why. It’s like there’s a long black hole stretched across the 49th parallel.

Among the few things I did know about Canada before my recent trip: It’s cold. It’s inhabited by a morally upright people. They like syrup and hockey. Their beer is even worse than ours. These things, I can now report, are all true. But there’s more! Canada, I discovered, is nothing like Jack London made it out to be. And Vancouver, the city where I stayed, is a lovely place with cars and electric lights, which is good, since the Winter Olympics will take place there shortly.

So, if you’re planning to attend, or go north for any other reason, here are a few more things to know before crossing the border.

Read the list here.