Omoide noto - Memory Notebook and iWinkd

So we are in Kyoto and staying in this lovely ryokan - a traditional guest house.

And what do we find here, a dairy...

Some stories inside, most are in Japanese

and one in Chinese too

You will find in this many of these guesthouses. They are called Omoido noto, or memory notebook. Guests can leave their experiences of Kyoto and the guesthouse in this diary. 

Omoido noto is like a blog of a place. I like this concept. How can we use this. Early in 2008, we build a service called iwinkd. 

Conversations with Future Readers

I had loaned out this one book on some esoteric topic. While it was still on loan to me, I received an email informing me that someone else has reserved the book.  Wow, there is someone else who is interested in the same topic as me. 

Couple days later, I was at the library returning the book. The librarian was printing the reservation ticket for the person who has booked the book. I asked her if I can leave a note in the book pointing the next reader to my blog post (about the book) and inviting him/her to discuss the book with me. The librarian quoted some privacy rules and brushed me off. 

This was one of the situations that prompted us to build iwinkd. We were figuring out what would be a totally non-intrusive way to get two strangers to talk about an object that they both encounter and care about. 

So I am reading this book Fatherland by Robert Harris.

And I want to connect with future readers. One of the initial ideas we had was to leave my email and blog address. I figured that might not work. I needed a neutral space where people can come in. Lets see how this works on iwinkd:

I head on to iwinkd and create a message for the future readers.

iwinkd comes back with the tag for your message.

Place this tag somewhere in the book. One can use a post it.

Someone else encounters to book couple of weeks later and finds the tag. The new reader types in the tag at the iwinkd website.

He reads the message that I left for him. And decides to leave a comment.

Hopefully, we can keep talking about the book. 

Good to be a monkey in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Somehow I wandered into the town of Praphuap. The idea was to keep traveling north from the Thai border but I guess this is the northernmost I will go to this time round. The sea side here hosts couple of mobile bars in the night. There is a night market with good local food. I spend the time learning Thai from some students, talking to a food vendor who loves her dog deeply, and trying lots of local foods. 

Growing up in 1960s China

I always bore my friends or their parents in China into telling me about life in the 1950s, the 60s and the 70s. I love looking at old brownish photographs from those days.

I am reading “The Attic” by Guanlong Cao. He talks about his growing up in China, 20 years after the revolution. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in studying modern history of China. You read about distant and near events unfolding from the point of view of the family. Interesting are author’s description of Shanghai street markets of his childhood days.

The Sikhs had been brought to Shanghai by the British during the colonial times, primarily to serve as gate watchman. After the revolution their quiet personalities carried over into their new, meager business. Off in a corner of the market a tall gloomy Indian crouched beside the hind leg of his horse. A huge white turban rode above a pair of deeply socketed eyes. Patiently he waited for a rare customer to come over for a cup of freshly squeezed mare’s milk. As a ritual some mothers like to feed their newborns a few spoonfuls of horse’s milk. They believed that the galloping speed of the horse would boost the quickness of their babies’ mind.

And the food!

Sticky-rice balls, fried rice cakes, scallion pancakes, steamed bread, meat-filled buns, boiled sesame dumplings, seep-fried pork steaks, skewers of barbecue lamb, fragrant steam and greasy smoke rose and lingered above the Penglai market from dawn until midnight.

Now, we are hungry, more details about the book at Books: The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord’s Son

Judge Dee

One movie I like a lot is “The name of the Rose”. It is a detective story set in a Benedictine abbey in early 1300s. Sean Connery plays a monk investigating a series of murders in the abbey. I have been searching for similar historical detective fiction. The other day in the library I found a book called “The Chinese Gold Murders” by a Dutch author Robert Van Gulik.

The hero in the book is a smart and righteous magistrate called Judge Dee, who solves couple of murder cases and uncovers a smuggling racket. The stories are set in the Tang dynasty (676 AD). Judge Dee was a real person by the name of Di Renjie. He lived from 630 to 700 AD. He rose from the rank of the magistrate to eventually become the prime minister. Chinese writers in the later periods started using his character in detective stories. Most of these later stories were fictional.

Van Gulik was a scholar of Asian history and a Diplomat. He revived the character of Judge Dee. Initially he translated some of the existing stories. Later he went on to create his own stories based on the Judge Dee character. The stories are very detailed with colourful portrayal of the cities and the society. Van Gulik also illustrated the books and each of the books. In his drawings, Van Gulik used later day Ming period costumes as the Chinese writers generally do. Each book story features at least one nude.


To make a little girl smile

You can travel half the world but.

I often meet fellow travellers who lament that they have not travelled to many countries. It is often the complaint of those of us who come from less wealthy countries and less welcome passport -  we always lose out on the exchange rate and have to go through extensive visa process before we can travel.

I tell them about this one time in Bangkok.

The Korean enclave at Sukhumvit is one of my favourite places. Whenever I am in the city, I often end up here for a bowl of cold noodles. This time around, I was at a travel agent’s, looking to find a way to Pyongyang. There were some raised eyebrows; not many go to the North. The travel agent looked for a book for the airport code. With a knowing smile, I said, “try FNJ.” The travel agent was probably now convinced that I was a spy or a nuclear weapons dealer.

Through the glass door, I could see a little Korean girl with a giant water gun. It was the second day of the Thai water festival, and kids all around Thailand were spraying people with their water guns. The little girl looked up expectantly at people walking by — mostly serious looking neighbouring Korean shopkeepers. She was hoping to get their approval to soak them. Most just glared at the little girl. She gave up and sat down in a corner with a sadding face.

I excused myself from the travel agent. I walked out to the little girl. I raised my hand in surrender and called out to her. “Chingu” (chingu = friend). She looks at me stunned, but soon enough her face turned happy. With a loud shriek and fierceness of a North Korean secret agent, she emptied the water gun on me.

You can travel half the world. But, there is no point if you can’t make a little girl smile.

Lovely toys

I was in the sleepy little town of Huanglongxi in Sichuan province of China. One of the street vendors had set out this game. I tried but could not get even a single ring around the lovely toys, while the local kids laughed at my “foolish” throws. I plan to practice at home and return soon.

ah the lovely toys I will get you soon


When I don’t have anything to say, I conveniently pick up a childhood story. Here is a story of a game we used to play in childhood days.

Childhood days, I used to live in Jaipur, a city in India . There used to be this empty plot at the corner of my block. They had started building a house.

(the area we lived in)

Some legal trouble had caused the work to stop halfway. They could only finish digging the foundation. The site was full of sand dunes and trenches giving it a battlefield look. Every evening, after school, we ran to that site to play “war”. To make the “war” more realistic, we would make two teams - one team represented India and the other team played the enemy ( Pakistan or China - the two countries that India had fought wars with) . It was very hard to get someone to play the enemy as all the kids wanted to be India . I would love to be the evil enemy even though I knew that the unwritten rules of our war dictated that I lose at the end.

(the two armies facing each other on two sand dunes, throwing grenades at each other)

The “Indian” army would scream “Jai Hind (Hail India )” . I would hail ” Pakistan ” and attack the hated enemy. Our grenades were these harmless little sand cakes found in the sound dunes. It would hit you and just disintegrate into sand. Sometimes, I would play China . Shouting “hail chairman Mao” I would jump on the enemy. In the end, I would be surrounded by the Indian army. They would ask me to surrender. I would refuse and call them names. I would be shot at and I would hurl down the dune, rolling all the way. I would really enjoy the rolling down part. After hitting the floor, I would hail my country one more time before valiantly dying.

(the evil enemy surrounded by the good army and shot)

Sometimes, we would play the other wars happening at the time: The Iran-Iraq war or the Falklands War. The “war” would last a total of 20 minutes. After that, I would walk home with trepidation hoping the sand in my school uniform would not be discovered.

(walking home, leaving a trail of sand behind)

That was our “war”. It was fun, especially the rolling down part. Unfortunately, the real wars are not. People get hurt, People die. I don’t know how to stop wars or how to stop people hating each other. Many a times, we make someone enemy because we think of him as different - different religion, language or colour.

(bloody real wars)

We need to find similarities, not differences. I think if enough people try to find common causes, then we won’t fight. We may still go back and play war again at my sand dune. It is fun, especially when you get shot and you roll down the sand dune.

Funny Building

It is fun to see some of the old building in Singapore and Malaysia. I found this building in the Gaylang area in Singapore.

The buiding in Geylang area of Singapore
The pillars had these bas relief in plaster of Sikh policemen. British colonies in the East, as far east as Shanghai, often had Sikh police. 

the first policeman

the second policeman

A poem For Ling Ling

Tina was talking about a little niece of hers. Ling Ling is three years old. It seems she is very naughty and keeps fighting with every one. If you scold her she will try to beat you. I like Ling Ling already. Here is a poem for her.

Some one bring bring,
To me Ling Ling,
heard she is feisty,
I like kids nasty

Ling Ling on one of the rare occasions when she is not beating any one

The Lantern Show In Zigong

Zigong is famous for its lantern show. The people here are expert at making all kind of figures - human, animals, scenic spots, scenes from historical books etc. with their lanterns. There is a park near the city center where they exhibit these lanterns.

Tang Ladies
Tang dynasty scene

Mr Bush
Even Mr. Bush was here.

Evil Sars
Here is the evil SARS virus. You can see the doctors in the background

Wu Song killing the Tiger

Wu Song the tiger slayer. He appears in two famous classics - The outlaw of the Marshes and The Golden Lotus. He is a valiant fighter who kills a Tiger with his bare hands. Later he kills his sister in law (the golden lotus) and her lover as he discovers that they poisoned his brother. He runs away from justice and becomes an outlaw.