NON-FICTION: THE CASE FOR TRAVEL

October 27, 2019

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Living Globalised: The Best Adventures are Powered by International Perspective is three things. First, it’s a brisk travelogue following the adventures of two intrepid young men — one Pakistani, the other American — as they visit new countries and connect with various new cultures. Second, this book falls into the loose category of motivational reading for this day and age — a kind of Dale Carnegie-formulation for the jet-set-LinkedIn generation — and is rich in anecdotes and tips. And third, this book gives the reader a sideways peek into the workings of the booming international tech entrepreneurship fad.

One of the two authors, Jeffrey Eker, Jr., is an engineer from the United States who has managed technical teams and worked as a technology consultant. He founded a company that created the CultureCloud app to connect travellers and build social communities. An inveterate traveller himself, Eker’s bio notes that he has visited 23 countries outside the US. He is also a frequent conference speaker and has delivered a TEDx talk titled ‘The International Perspective’.

His co-author, Sarang Shaikh, is a passionate engineer and entrepreneur hailing from Karachi. Like Eker, Shaikh is also a kindred traveller spirit, having visited 12 countries. He is very active with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the biggest global professional association for electrical engineers. Living Globalised is his second book; the first was a motivational read titled Inspire Your Motivations. Shaikh is also a frequent speaker at local events and works with local non-governmental organisations.

An American and a Pakistani pen a book that brims with serendipity; the central message is along the lines of ‘if you try and extend yourself, you will have happy accidents’

The subtitle sums up the book in a nutshell: “the best adventures are powered by international perspective.” The book brims with serendipity; the central message is along the lines of ‘if you try and extend yourself, you will have happy accidents’. The mechanism by which this happens is twofold: the surprising possibilities of the human spirit and the enduring power of human connections. This mantra may sound incredibly simplistic and commonsensical — and it probably is — but the stories in the book testify to its effectiveness.

The two authors write alternating chapters in the book. Most chapters present snapshots of a particular trip or event. Each starts with a pithy statement to highlight the theme of the chapter. For instance, in one chapter, Eker’s inspiration is summed up in the words: “There is a difference between interacting with and learning from the world around you. Take nothing for granted.” Shaikh starts off one of his with a quote from American writer and mountaineer John Krakauer’s book Into the Wild: “The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.” When writing about his experience of America, Shaikh paraphrases former American president Ronald Reagan: “America is too big for small dreams.”

The chapters conclude with mental action items and follow-up exercises to encourage the reader to appreciate the themes. These include thought exercises that are actually quite interesting. Readers are encouraged to engage with unfamiliar ideas, concepts, practices and even cuisine, and explore different eras via film or books, or by talking to different people and getting their perspectives.

Living Globalised abounds with interesting anecdotes and insights into different cultures. We are introduced to confections such as the Dutch buttered bread called hagelslag, and the lapis legit, which is a Dutch-Indonesian dessert comprising 20 to 30 layers of individually baked cake.

Eker’s experience of delivering his public talks is valuable for would-be speakers. As a one-time IEEE member myself and one who has visited his fair share of various international conference venues to present his work, I found myself nodding at quite a few insights the authors have highlighted, and especially their advice on how to learn and benefit from these.

Eker has a knack for pointing out the little things in life that we take for granted and he celebrates them. On the other hand, Shaikh’s distinctly Pakistani take on things can be quite refreshing. Occasionally, we even encounter moments of genuine depth. For instance, on a trip to India, Shaikh is having a wonderful time when he accidentally strays outside the territory covered by his visa and lands in hot water with local authorities; and he notes that cities — much like people — have distinct personalities of their own, including decidedly negative sides. When visiting an American friend, he is shaken to the core at being asked to wait alone while the family has their lunch in a separate room. After encountering developed countries, Shaikh is also forced to confront and wrestle with the desi concept of jugaarrh [making do] which permeates our very genes.

The negatives here are very few. The writing is a bit uneven in places, probably because the two authors have markedly different styles, and also because they are engineers and not professional authors. Second, there are short, succinct passages commenting on the various themes of the book towards the end, which have been penned by friends of Shaikh and Eker. These tend to detract from the overall feel of the book and read more like short, punchy Facebook-style posts with mixed results.

This second point isn’t really a negative, but rather a missed opportunity of sorts. We are living in a time when the world seems to be descending into chaos. Globalisation is on the retreat and a racist discourse is rearing its ugly head in many countries again. In these times, the cross-cultural experience is more vital than ever and we urgently need an honest, serious engagement across borders, cultures and faiths. There is a pronounced lack of strong and well-articulated arguments for this today, and this is a dimension that Living Globalised could have tapped into, but unfortunately it does not. Shaikh and Eker seem well qualified to make that case — if they had chosen to.

This same sentiment occasionally surfaces in the many quotations that are sprinkled about in the book. For instance, we find this gem by self-help author Mark Manson: “Travel is such a fantastic self-development tool. It extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. It then forces you to re-examine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live!”

In short, Living Globalised is a nice and uncomplicated read, perfect for a lazy weekend. If it inspires you to travel and explore foreign cultures, then it has achieved its purpose. And it is a definitely recommended read for those aspiring to break into international entrepreneurial circles.

The reviewer is an assistant professor at the NUST School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Living Globalised: The Best Adventures are
Powered by International Perspective
By Sarang Shaikh and Jeffrey Eker, Jr.
Roshni, Hyderabad
ISBN: 978-9699726033
216pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 27th, 2019