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