By the sound of it, Bangkok is a Chicago economist's perfervid fantasy: everything is available, for a price. So there's no need to pack medicines, for example.
And everyone knows that the gravest sin is to overpack. But I always do, because I take books. Books are, as Savonarola insisted, a burning issue.
The dilemma is particularly severe on this trip, because I could take a number of guidebooks (the yellow Lonely Planet weighs as much as a late Harry Potter), and there are all sorts of other books that I'm only ever likely to read while generously leisured, swinging in a hammock (to take some ambitious examples from my shelves, Karl Popper The Open Society and its Enemies; two books on financial mathematics; James Joyce Ulysses; Gibbon Decline and Fall, unabridged; Zoe Oldenbourg The World is Not Enough; A Book of Middle English; etc).
English books are available on the road, but they are a) very expensive or b) fairly expensive, second-hand, and rubbish (Cherish Your Inner Tree). What Is To Be Done?
Soon, the answer will be to take an e-book, the book equivalent of an i-pod. I looked at various e-ink devices:
- Amazon Kindle. Looks great. Uses a 3G network, so can be used to download content anywhere. Anywhere with an NFL franchise, that is. Not sold outside the US.
- Readius by Polymer Vision. Features a screen that rolls up, 4 GB memory, 10-day battery life, 5 inches across the diagonal when unrolled. It has both USB and mobile phone functionality. Unlike Kindle, it will operate almost worldwide, using 3G network. It weighs only 115g! Will also play MP3 files and audio books. The downside: it will be launched in the third quarter of the year at a cost comparable to an i-phone.
- The Sony PRS-500 Reader is an ageing e-book reader in the US. More recently, Sony introduced the PRS-505. Neither has wireless or 3G functionality, and neither is available in the UK. End of research.
- Sony LIBRIé. This is a Japanese language reader. It can be hacked for other languages, but that's beyond me. And it's getting on.
- Hanlin eReader by Jinke, a Chinese company, which allegedly also calls it the i-book. Retails for $325. Also sold in Turkey as the WalkBook, $310. Nothing to suggest it's available in the UK, which for electronics companies is a small island off Africa.
- Cybook Gen3 by Bookeen. At least this is sold in the UK. It costs £245 direct from bookeen but is currently sold out. Weighs 174g, with USB connection.
- iRex Technologies iLiad Reader. Also available in the UK. This comes with a stylus and you can annotate PDFs, with some difficulty it seems. USB or Ethernet. At £377 + VAT, it's very expensive.
It's too soon to take one travellling, it seems. Right now, they cost a lot and have low connectivity. It's not worth spending several hundred pounds to avoid the burden of carrying a few books. So the answer at the moment is to give up, or even, at a pinch, to mail books to Bangkok. In fact I've compromised and downloaded quite a lot of free content from Project Gutenberg. It has thousands of classics, although they're generally in old editions or old translations, like Wordsworth Classics but costing even less. I'm considering taking my laptop with me for various reasons. Even if I do, I don't suppose I'm going to want to read much on it, because reading from a small backlit LCD screen is hard on the eyes (this is the motivation behind the beautiful nanotechnology that is e-ink). I do, though, have some good stuff in fun-size quanta: Aesop, Arabian Nights, Boccaccio, Sherlock Holmes, Saki, Wodehouse. I'm looking forward to these.