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BOOKS TO GO

Picturing Hong Kong and Surviving in Russia

June 28, 1992|COLMAN ANDREWS | Andrews' latest book, "Everything on the Table," will be published by Bantam in November. His new travel book review columns run biweekly in this section

HONG KONG: HERE BE DRAGONS, edited by Rick Browne and James Marshall, essay by Simon Winchester(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $40). Most coffee-table travel books are photographic fairy tales, collections of romantic visual fables with the smokestacks cropped out, the dull skies brightened. The observing eyes in these cases may be acute, but they are rarely jaundiced, or even mildly critical. Thus, though the resulting photographs might well be evocative, they aren't always evocative of what a place is really like. This is not the case with this photographic portrait of mysterious, beautiful, banal, ugly Hong Kong in the early 1990s. The work of 11 international photojournalists (including the two editors, who shot these images over a single 10-day period in January, 1991), this is a beautiful book, but it is not always a pretty one. If we see palatial hotels, quaint temples, savory-looking food, fresh-faced Boy Scouts and ballet dancers, glittering skylines, and exquisite misty seascapes, we also see sweatshops, construction sites, drug addicts, the homeless, the bloated plutocrat and the garishly made-up socialite. This is nobody's fairy tale. Yet somehow the Hong Kong that emerges here, through the photos and through the snappy, authoritative, broad-stroke supportive essay by Simon Winchester (Asia-Pacific editor of Conde Nast Traveler), is an attractive one, diverse and vital and irresistably strange. Perhaps that's why the Hong Kong Tourist Assn. itself is among the nine American and Hong Kong corporate sponsors of the book (AT&T, DHL, Kodak and Mobil are among the others) that are prominently acknowledged, complete with color logos down one side of a striking photograph just after the contents page. Business as usual, I suppose.

RUSSIA BUSINESS SURVIVAL GUIDE (third edition), edited by Paul E. Richardson (Russian Information Services, $24.50 paper); WHERE IN MOSCOW (second edition), edited by Paul E. Richardson (Russian Information Services, $13.50 paper) , and WHERE IN ST. PETERSBURG, edited by Paul E. Richardson (Russian Information Services, $13.50 paper). Recent visitors to Moscow and St. Petersburg bring back tales of Russia as a traveler's hell of canceled flights, late trains, vanished reservations, inedible dinners (at something rapidly approaching Paris prices) and famous attractions that shut up tight. Clearly, Russia is no place for the amateur tourist today, so the amateur needs professional help. That is what's offered by these three publications, all from a Vermont-based organization specializing in up-to-date practical information for the Russia-bound business traveler. "Russia Business Survival Guide," "written by and for people doing business in Russia," includes sections on Russian business law, business customs and other subjects that will not much interest the average sightseer. But it's also a treasure house of what I suspect would be indispensible intelligence for any person visiting either of the two great Russian capitals for any reason whatsoever. For example, there's a glossary of Russian place-name changes (the city of Zagorsk, for instance, is now Sergiev-Posad, and spy novel aficionados will appreciate learning that the Dzerzhinskaya metro station has taken back its old name, Lubyanka), a guide to placing long-distance calls and a list of what to take to Russia with you (among other things, a universal flat bathtub stopper for doing laundry in your sink, and, for restaurants, a clean cotton handkerchief to serve as a restroom towel and to wipe off greasy silverware). And even among the business-specific information, there is much that could be of use to the general traveler: notes on the Russian sense of time and the so-called "cult of largesse," for example. There are also detailed maps and an extensive business telephone directory, white and yellow pages both. The "Where In" titles, slimmer and intended as an aid for the "independent" traveler, are excerpted from the Business Survival Guide, and include only the telephone directories and maps. I'd rather have the whole pirozhok.

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