For the past month or so I’ve been shuttling back and forth from the library checking out as many travel and guide books as I possibly can in one shot. How to decide where to go? Read. A lot. Surprisingly, the history and geography sections of the guide books have enlightened me way more than I thought they would – I had some vague notion about Thailand as being pretty independent, but didn’t realize that it was really the only country in Southeast Asia that didn’t succumb to colonization thanks to King Mongkut. (You’d think that I would have remembered this after having played one of the royal Siamese children in the “King and I” and having that pointed that out to me on a map every day for nine months. Sigh.)We’ve been using the guide books as jumping off points to do more research online, cross referencing it with advice from friends/friends of friends/friends of friends of friends and reaching out to organizations and people that have similar goals as we do. We’ve even pulled out the giant atlas that’s been collecting dust in the corner and studied the green and khaki blobs and microscopic place names for hours. And slowly we’ve been whittling down the pile. We picked up a couple of books at Idlewild on 19th st and 5th ave. They have a great selection of world literature and travel guides, and has one of the nicest spaces of any of the bookstores I’ve been to in Manhattan. We chose The Bridge, a sort of memoir/profile about the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, which I’m currently in the midst of, and China Road, about China’s dizzying pace of development, which Wayne has in his queue. We’ve been trying to get a feel for the context of the places we’re going to visit as much as possible from both native and outsider perspectives. I also recently finished Fuschia Dunlop’s memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, which was absolutely fascinating and inspiring. But more about that later.