(Interviewed by Jeanette Thomas on Good Morning, a TVNZ breakfast telly show. They let me wear my unitard.)
‘Don’t read this book with a broken rib—you’ll ache from cover to cover. Should become a classic of Mongolian cycling literature.’ —Tim Krabbé, author of The Rider, The Vanishing and The Cave
‘Tom Doig is not your average traveller and Mörön to Mörön is not like any other travel book. Bowel-splittingly hilarious and irresistibly absurd, this book is for everyone who’s ever asked themselves the golden question of travel: Why the f**k not? —Benjamin Law, author of Gaysia and The Family Law
‘Funnier than Bill Bryson … Doig is Hemingway in a unitard.’ —Chris Flynn, author of A Tiger in Eden
Finally, a YouTube review that’s shonkier than my book:
Among Lonely Planet guides, endorsements for various restaurants around the world and poignant tales of “self discovery” in foreign lands, the contemporary travel writing scene leaves little room for comedy. However, Tom Doig’s first book, Mörön to Mörön, points at the standard of travel writing and laughs.
Part travel guide, part comedy, part tragedy, and in no way an endorsement for the towns it visits, Mörön to Mörön holds no dirty detail back in its illustration of its subjects and surroundings. But the book’s main charm is its use of comedy to ease the intensity of such gritty detail. The book covers Doig’s trek across Mongolia, with his best mate Tama Pugsley, from a town named Mörön to another, different town, also named Mörön. “Why? Because it was there,” the tagline reads, illustrating the boyish nature of the two eponymous “morons” and their journey. The trip has no real purpose. Tom and Tama are happy to see kilometres and kilometres “of dusty, treeless plain” at the expense of a more enriching experience — simply because the names of the towns are funny. Doig justifies all of this in his first chapter by saying:
“Some went to expose the awful secrets of Mongolia’s commie-era pures under the dread Choibalsan […] But I wasn’t really interested in Mongolian culture or history of geography or politics. If both Möröns had been in Kazakhstan, I would’ve wanted to go to Kazakhstan.”
He and Tama are very much a boys’ club, a bromance, and their treatment of women often takes the form of a joke — seen in phrases like “She was a total Mong-MILF!”. However, for the most part, the duo’s moronic behaviour is inoffensive and harmless. It is, after all, “Christmas, New Year’s and Schoolies all rolled into one”. Their friendship is only enhanced by their ability to bypass bouts of cabin fever and their shared comfort in discussing bowel movements. However, culture is the most prominent basis for comedy. The book is able to offer a “First World” perspective of Mongolian society, without getting bogged down in racism or “us vs. them” attitudes. The jokes Doig makes about Mongolia act as a comedic overlay to lighten the destitute situation of the locals. The abrasive manner Doig employs to write about cross-cultural themes works in his favour. He doesn’t make a stark judgement on the destitute nature of the locals’ situation, but he doesn’t need to. The facts speak for themselves: “We passed a petrol station with a big MT logo at the front, rusted fuel cylinders on the grass out back. We passed the rotting corpse of a dog. Dirt tracks branched off to the left and right”. If it exists, why hide it? By trekking from Mörön to Mörön, Doig shows us an untouched side of Mongolia. He enables readers to glimpse the vast expanse of something so foreign and empty it even exceeds his expectations of the “Third World”:
“There was none of the exotic mystique of the Cambodian villages we’d been traipsing through a week before, no street-corner cripples or child beggars to appal and titillate us. The place was all boarded up, tucked away.”
The desolate area is enhanced by Tom and Tama’s complete isolation from the rest of the world. Their navigation relies on a dodgy GPS pointing them to the east of the country. They share one iPhone between them, and rarely have the opportunity or reception to use it effectively. Their struggles without the aid of technology are symptomatic of the comfort that spoils us in the developed, tech-dependent world. On the surface, it’s funny. Hilarious, actually, watching two white men amble their way through foreign lands. But it simultaneously shows us a darker side of the Third World. Doig laments at one point, “Mörön wasn’t like a crowded Third World town, where domestic activity spilled out into the alleys, and you could wander around staring into the lives of people too poor to afford walls”. Of all things, walls are not something people often “go without”. The idea of not being able to afford them seems absurd and really sad, but there it is. But it’s funny, picturing Tom staring into an open space a Mongolian family might call home. Despite its often-callous jokes about Mongolian people and culture, the book is sensitive in the way it deals with culture and nationality. It highlights cultural difference in a comedic way to allow us to look at the harsh realities that engulf rural Mongolia’s locals, without being bogged down in the emotional sympathies that Third World travel writing often tries to evoke. Doig even talks about the irritating nature of a travel book complaining about a “dirty” and “crowded” train in China. Mörön to Mörön stops us from turning into bleeding hearts. Writers should be free to make jokes about anything they like. Sure, they might be offensive, but as with any Chaser stunt, or mockumentary Borat-esque film, these jokes are intended to make a deeper cultural or sociological comment. It is far easier to laugh at something than it is to work up a fuss about its offensiveness. A travel book that laughs at its writer, its subjects and itself, Mörön to Mörönthrows us into hot, sweaty, poverty-ridden Mongolia with the boys, and forces us to laugh until we feel just as moronic as they do.
Two new travelogues from two young male writers demonstrate that your own story is much more interesting if you throw yourself about the globe. Enter what New Zealand-born Melburnian Tom Doig calls “misadventure tourism”, an aggressive form of travel that preferences adversity over leisure.
As Doig says in Mörön to Mörön, a book about him and his best mate, Tama Pugsley, doing a bicycle trip between two Mongolian towns of the same name (Mörön, pronounced muh-run, means river in Mongolian): “Us morons wanted plenty of suffering to go with our scenery.” And plenty of suffering is experienced by Tom and Tama as they cycle 1500km in 23 days on bikes they assembled themselves in China. Pedalling over steppes and through gorges, sometimes forced to backtrack, and sleeping at night in tents they carry in their panniers, the two blokes meet every challenge with toothy grins and grim determination. On a sentence-by-sentence level Doig is constantly in motion, almost obsessed with the corporeality involved in every small and large action. He’s most comfortable recounting the physicality of experience – the screwy personages that need negotiating (whether by talking, dancing or wrestling with them), the strange meals that need eating and the steep hills that need climbing: “… as we biked away from Naadam my gears squeaked and crunched and my perineum burned”. Still, his prose isn’t without grace and subtlety. Descriptions of the Mongolian landscape and the occasional village stand out: ” … against the clarity of the plains, this slapdash architecture, plonked on the unbroken landscape seemingly at random, seemed impudent, pipsqueak, a scrap of redundant punctuation just waiting for a passing horde to edit it out”. Across almost 350 pages it can feel sometimes there is too much cycling and not enough everything else. Still, by the end the repetition of hardships goes some way to bringing us into the experience – a deliberate and ultimately triumphant move. With glossy photographs aiding the imagination instead of dampening it, and the random interjecting of QR codes (are we really sticking to this technology? Surely a screenshot or even URLs would suffice) that link to video clips that are equal parts delightful and disgusting, we might well be a third participant in this audacious trip. With the odd sexual flashback, a heady mix of narcotics and alcohol consumption and a shameless masturbation scene that, like it or not, will stick in the memory, Mörön to Mörön is a truly moronic and gratifying descent into the sensual … [review of Mr Snack and The Lady Water: Travel Tales From My Lost Years, by Brendan Shanahan] … The pronoun “I” dominates both Mörön to Mörön and Mr Snack and the Lady Water, and it’s a frantic I, one that on every page seeks to prove the authors are consciously alive, and have lived. There’s more than a hint of desperation in these two books, as though Doig and Shanahan, male, of similar age, both at the end of a decade or longer of chasing something intangible through numerous national borders – have at least got a book to show for their efforts, and for their youth. Yet writing stemming from desperation always beats the disposable, and neither Doig’s nor Shanahan’s works could be called throwaway. Aggressive misadventure may not appeal to everyone when planning a holiday, but these books will fit right in place on a table next to a mai tai on a lounge by a pool in any opulent and comfortably dull seaside resort.” ends * * *
‘The best and funniest adventure story I’ve read: five stars.’ – Amazon review. (If you’ve read and loved Moron to Moron, why don’t you write us a nice review on Amazon and/or rate it on Goodreads? And if you didn’t love it – well, that can just be our little secret …)
(… front page of the Taupo Times. Living the dream!) Moron to Moron – book review The Big Issue, No 431 (26 April – 9 May 2013) by Tim McGuire FOUR STARS ‘Glancing at a map, you may or may not have noticed that there are two towns called Moron (Mörön) in Mongolia. Even if you have noticed, you probably didn’t feel compelled to cycle from one town to the other. Well, Tom Doig did. With his best mate, Tama, Doig mountain-bikes across 1487 kilometres of Mongolian wilderness. Obsessively worried about encountering rabid dogs, dehydrating, being trampled, becoming lost or failing to reach civilisation in time to witness Mongolian wrestling, theirs is a mission likely to fail. But, reading the book, you can’t help but cheer the guys on. This is Doig’s first book, though you wouldn’t know it from his prowess as a storyteller. He fuels his narrative with a perfect balance of observation and research, seriousness and out-of-this-world absurdity. Written with boundless originality, Doig’s natural skill as a humorist is the book’s standout quality, lasting the distance from start to finish. Both a hilarious travel memoir and an epic bromance, Mörön to Mörön is a feat in itself. Don’t attempt what Doig did, but let him take you along for the ride.’ Moron to Moron – book review Launceston Examiner, 11 May 2013 by Martin Stevenson ‘Quirky … arduous … Moron to Moron offers a tantalising glimpse into why explorers undertake seemingly meaningless, if not mindless, expeditions.’ Moron to Moron – book review Waitaki Herald, 29 May 2013 by Joanne Bennett ‘I’m sure it was exciting being there … If they were trying to make the reader feel the hard work of dredging through impossible terrain, they succeeded.’ Moron to Moron – book review Daily Post (Rotorua, Bay of Plenty), 25 May 2013 by Graeme Barrow ‘well written … an enjoyable as well as unusual read. The two are not expert or even organised travellers. They make so many blunders …’ Moron to Moron – book review artshub.com.au, 14 May 2013 by Travis Englefield ‘Travel book, adventure memoir, epistolary paean to a friendship, every-man’s guide to cross-country cycling … The tone throughout the book is a kind of Kiwi every-man, in essence and vernacular, which makes the book infinitely readable … the book is simply a picaresque narrative whose incredibly simple premise is rendered incomprehensible by the rejection of a recognisable trajectory.’ Moron to Moron – Radio New Zealand interview with Phil O’Brien 28 May 2013 “In 2010, Tom Doig and his mate Tama decided to attempt a hard-slog mountain-biking trip across Northern Mongolia because it sounded like a fun thing to do.” “Tom Doig, you’re a hell of a guy” – Phil O’Brien “Working with Words” – interview for the Wheeler Centre 9 May 2013“We spoke to Tom about multi-tasking nightmares, being an ‘anti-aesthete’ and why you can’t teach people How to Be a Genius …” more “What I’m Reading” – for the Meanjin blog 29 April 2013 “I don’t have a bedside table. Actually, I do have a bedside table, but I’m not sure exactly where it is …” more * * * 12 December 2011 Tom Doig and Tama Pugsley are extraordinarily pleased to announce that Allen & Unwin will be publishing Moron to Moron as a full-length travel book, written by Tom, in 2013. Allen & Unwin is Australia’s leading independent publisher, has been voted “Publisher of the Year” ten times including the inaugural award in 1992 and eight times since 2000, and is generally awesome. Zang! * * * (Image originally appeared in the Herald Sun, May 27, 2011: “Lego and trams as inspirations“, by Wendy Tuohy) Writers of Not Your Nana’s Slide Night, part of the Emerging Writers Festival, are Elyce Phillips and Tom Doig. Picture: Andrew Tauber Herald Sun THE art of writing literature is a serious business, but for Lisa Dempster, director of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers’ Festival, it should also provide opportunities for plenty of serious fun. Dempster heads what is turning out to be one of the city’s fastest-growing arts festivals, with 50 events this year — its eighth — involving 350 writers. And though all activities aim to help engage the brains of our city’s vibrant community of wordsmiths — from bloggers to fiction authors, genre and comic writers — most are designed to do it in a way that is also entertaining. As well as readings, workshops, discussion and panels, new events such as Not Your Nana’s Slide Night (where travel writers talk about 20 slides as they flash by for no more than six seconds each), Lego Poetry (where people make poems from words on Lego blocks and post them on Twitter and Facebook) and Tram Tracks (a live event on a tram) are all aimed at capturing imaginations. “It’s a festival for anyone who writes, really, about creating professional development for writers, to inform and really connect them,” Dempster says. She says 90 per cent of people in the audiences at Emerging Writers events “self-identify” as writers. “What we do is try to break down barriers between audiences and panellists. It’s not just about going and consuming stuff, it’s about getting involved,” she says. She stresses that the festival is not a youth festival, and since writers may “emerge” at any age, everyone is warmly welcome. “The community of writers in Melbourne is really growing — not just because we have more means to communicate (through writing) but our being a City of Literature as well is really bringing people out,” she says. EMERGING WRITERS’ FESTIVAL, May 26 to June 6. Visit www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au * * *
(Review originally appeared on Lisa Dempster’s blog: Everyday Adventure, 17 November, 2010) I read a lot of travel writing and this small offering zinged me in all the right places. I have long professed a hatred of travel diaries (day one, I did this, day two, zzzzzzzzzz….) but this blog record is pretty much perfect. The premise is interesting – riding between two Mongolian towns called ‘Moron’ – without being ridiculous in its ‘zaniness‘. Beautiful photos. Just the right amount of commentary, which starts out hilarious and energetic before sliding slowly into exhaustion and dissatisfaction. The end point is less of a focus than the journey. The trip was done by Tom Doig and his mate Tama (aka ‘the morons‘). I just loved the unpredictability of it, the randomness. It was even by chance that I found Moron 2 Moron; someone at TiNA told me about Tom’s trip, and then when I remembered it, I hit google and it pointed me to the blog. There are just under thirty entries for a trip that took just under a month. I read them all in order (start here) and it takes just over an hour. It was just so refreshing to read an unpolished, real, enthusiastic account of a trip. I could practically feel the sweat and dust. If you like to ride bikes or read travel books, go read this. I love that it isn’t too packaged, there’s no blurb, that the writing is unpolished and immediate. In this case (and perhaps only in this case), the diary format works.