I recently read Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster. He travels around China by train. He has lots of interesting things to say. Sometimes his attitude can be a bit annoying, but it’s still an interesting book.
Nothing puts human effort into better perspective than a ruined city. "This was once a great capital," people say, pointing to fallen walls and broken streets and dust. Then you stand in the silence of the lifeless place and think of Ozymandius, King of Kings, covered by a sand dune and forgotten. It is very thrilling for an American to consider such a place, because we don’t yet have anything that qualifies – only ghost towns and fairly insignificant small cities, but nothing like the monumental corpses of once-great cities that are known in the rest of the world. Probably American optimism arises from the fact that we don’t have any devastated cities. There is something wearying and demoralizing about a lost city, but it can also give you a healthy disregard for real estate.