July 16, 2020

Everyday beauty, countries and people

In Tokyo, I always like visiting the Muji Found” stores. These stores display handcrafted objects of everyday use from around the world.

The Beauty of Everyday Things

The Beauty of Everyday Things

I borrowed this book by an early 1900s author who encouraged people to look for beauty in everyday objects — perhaps he was the inspiration for Muji Found.

The Beauty of Everyday Things

One essay is addressed to the Korean people; the author was unhappy with Japanese annexation of Korea. It is said this essay made many denounce the author as a Korea apologist and a traitor.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Russia House. There is a party at a Moscow author’s house. Everyone one is in a happy mood contemplating the future (it was the late 1980s, reforms had just started in the Soviet Union). A visiting British author (played by Sean Connery) says to his Russian hosts If there is to be a hope we must all betray our country, we have to save each other because all victims are equal and none is more equal than others. It’s everyone’s duty to start the avalanche.”

Talking about Korea, Whenever I read a book about Pyongyang, I miss the cold noodles (Raengmyon, 랭면), more so in July/August, you need this dish to beat the heat.

See You Again Pyongyang

Luckily in Singapore, I am near the mini Korean neighbourhood where a small hidden away restaurant serves this.

Cold Noodles

I will recommend See You Again in Pyongyang by Travis Jeppesen. The author gives a glimpse of everyday Pyongyang. The book is also serves as a quick history refresher on North Korea.

There is an encounter with a North Korean soldier that the author describes. He got into a casual conversation with a border guard on the North-South border. Halfway, the soldier asked the author about his home country. The author replied that he is from America, expecting the soldier to break off the conversation. The unperturbed soldier sensing the author’s discomfort, reassures him Countries are countries, people are people”.

Reminds me of a similar encounter with an elderly man from Lahore I once met at Jakarta airport. We must’ve spoken for 15 to 20 minutes about Lahore, the summer heat, the street food. He asked me where in Pakistan I am from. I replied that I am from Bombay, half expecting the man to politely signal the end of conversation. But as soon as he heard my reply, he displayed a kindly smile and regretted the never-ending conflict between our countries.

Korea Japan Books
July 10, 2020

Encounters in Meguro, a Japanese monk in 1900s Tibet

One day while roaming around Meguro, we spotted a temple festival at one of our neighbourhood temples.

Local youth pounding mochi (rice cake) at the festival.

We decided to explore another nearby temple - the Tenonzan Gohyaku Rakanji Temple (the 500 Arhats temple as it has many statues, each with unique expression). There is a small museum attached to the temple dedicated to a Japanese monk and traveler. As I was browsing the photos I remembered that I had read about this monk before.

Meguro Fudo Takisenji Temple

Meguro Fudo Takisenji Temple

It was around 20 years ago when I was myself exploring Western China. I had just discovered the writings of Peter Hopkirk. And it was in a book called Trespassers on the Roof of the World” in which Hopkirk described Ekai Kawaguchi’s stay in Tibet.

Peter Hopkirk, Trespassers on the Roof of the World

Those days Tibet did not easily allow foreigners in. Yet, there was race on to make sense of Tibet between the Europeans and the rising Asian power Japan. Japan had just wrestled Korea and Taiwan from China and they were wary of the Russians who had designs on Tibet and the area now called Xinjiang.

Ekai Kawaguchi

Kawaguchi spent some time in British India learning Tibetan. He then sneaked into Tibet pretending to be a Chinese physician. He spend around two years in Tibet learning about the cuture and building a name for himself as an effective doctor.

Ekai Kawaguchi Route

Link to the book on Project Gutenberg Three Years in Tibet by Ekai Kawaguchi

Link to the Tenonzan Gohyaku Rakanji Temple

Japan Tibet
July 6, 2020

Congo, where the time travels in reverse

Tim Butcher writing in Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

WanderLearn Podcast epsiode featuring the author

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

I had previously mentioned this book while talking about how cheap Chinese imports encourage commerce in places where there is no local manufacturing.

Books Africa
June 24, 2020

Bhuta and Daiva

Sometimes an official forms asks me to fill my religion. But they do not have Animism as an option. While interesting that a recent research on my ancestral belief is from a Japanese researcher.

Panjurli (boar spirit deity) headpiece used by dancers. (Image from Wikimedia)

Generally, Bhūta rituals are treated derogatorily by intellectuals and outsiders. However, local people worship ghosts, the dead, ancestors, heroes, animal deities, forest deities, mountain deities, earth deities, and tribal guardian deities. They are important and intimate objects of worship for the locals. In some situations, Devas, the god worshipped by higher class, are mixed or coexist with the lower rank deities called Daivas or spirits called Bhūtas. During rituals, pāddana narratives on the origin myth or historical story of the Bhūtas and Daivas, are chanted before the main rituals, most of which are filled with tragic atmosphere. Often the emotions of envy and grudge are also chanted about, depicting complicated historical background.

Link: Bhuta and Daiva: Changing Cosmology of Rituals and Narratives in Karnataka

June 11, 2020

Longing for the early days of the web

When people long for the days of the early web, the glorious idiosyncrasies of personal sites and forums, they are really longing for a time and a space where people were free to communicate their own values. Now that space is owned and rented to the highest bidder. A site like LinkedIn wraps you up into a tiny, uniform package, sets you in an enormous data warehouse next to millions of other tiny people just like you, and sells the lot of you.

Link: Ruminations on outsourcing our values

My feelings are same too. I miss the chaotic days of personal homepages.

June 9, 2020

Forced Social Isolation Causes Neural Craving Similar to Hunger - Scientific American Blog Network

The need for connection– to form and maintain at least a minimal number of positive, stable, intimate relationships– is a fundamental need that affects our whole being, permeating our entire suite of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. While voluntary solitude can be great fodder for creativity, and being alone doesn’t necessarily indicate loneliness, what happens when people are forced into isolation and are severely deprived of this fundamental human need?

Link: Forced Social Isolation Causes Neural Craving Similar to Hunger - Scientific American Blog Network