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 Amazon.com: 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.

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Rumi and my favourite city

As a traveler, people often ask me about my favourite city. I like to respond that my favourite city is the place where my love resides.    I stole the words from a Persian poet.


ONCE a beloved asked her lover: “Friend,
You have seen many places in the world!
Now – which of all these cities was the best?
He said: “The city where my sweetheart lives!”

Jelaluddin Rumi  lived in the thirteenth century. I have often come across Rumi’s poems in books. Rumi was raised in a deeply religious family. Later in his life he started drifting to mysticism. And with that came beautiful verses like these…

Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are .

And

Seek knowledge which unravels mysteries
Before your life comes to close
Give up that non-existence which looks like existence,
Seek that Existence which looks like non-existence!

And finally

When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.