The cutest bookseller in the world

A part of my heart is lost in Rangoon, somewhere between street 27 and 28, across the Scotts market on Montgomery Street. This is where I met the world's cutest bookseller. Every visit to her bookshop ended up in me finding a book on Burmese history, and trying to negotiate the price down, and the cutest bookseller always winning. Don't tell her that I let her win, just to see that victorious smile. One more week, and I would have ended up as the leading authority on the nation's history.  You can travel half the world but there is no point, if you can't make a little girl smile.

Good Day Books, a delightful little English bookshop in Tokyo

We love small independent bookstores. And this one is special as I find that they have a dedicated espionage section. This bookstore is centrally located just a couple of minutes walk from Gotanda station. I was happy to find a 1960s travelogue on Russia. 

Walking direction from Gotanda Station. Keep walking along the train line towards Meguro and you will see the building. 


Time travel via outdated travel guides

While some may celebrate the current state of travel  – with the nets and webs and the convenience of maps on mobile telephones, I miss the days when the world was young. The days, when closer to the equator,  we were told to avoid taking photos in the noon lest we overexpose the camera films – the days when you wrote postcards in Herat, and send a telegram when you needed something urgent.  One of the ways I recreate the magic is by trawling used book shops for old travel guides.

Rangoon and Calcutta were the favorite cities for book hunters – home to large used books stores where the owners seem to know where exactly a particular book is. Now those cities have changed their names and they would rather sell pirated DVDs. Here is one of last remaining joint for book lovers  in Asia –  Junk bookstore in Kuala Lumpur.

Two floors of treasure for us to dig in. The owners seem to know the books and often they will be able to tell you where the books on a particular topic are.

My find this time round is a travel guide from 1974 – almost as old as me. The days when you could bus from Iran to Afghanistan, on to Pakistan, across India and to Nepal. And you had to buy a pass for alcohol consumption for India. And when our Djakarta was so compact. And back when Cholon was the budget accommodation hub of Saigon, not the evil Phạm Ngũ Lão. Anyways, if you are looking for some time travel, here is the address of the bookshop. It is not too far from the central market and the Chinatown area.

Naughty Big Data Engines

So I powered up the Android phone after many days. It had many updates. After updating, I stumbled to the Play store. The Play store had some recommendations for me.

The top item was a naughty book. Now you may think, I was searching for something naughty on this phone. Honestly, the only thing I searched for on this phone was a Podcast called “New Books in Anthropology”.

Not sure how Google interpolated from innocuous podcast to these books. I wonder if everyone gets to see such naughty books – just so that we get into the habit of downloading ebooks.

Down the page, curiously, another recommended book was on big data. Would we get tired of webs second guessing our intent?  Would we long for serendipity?

Myanmar IT magazines and open source intelligence

Internet Journal is a popular IT magazine in Myanmar. I always like to get a copy from the local Myanmar enclave whenever I can. It helps me figure out what devices and technologies are popular in Myanmar when I am away from The country for an extended period.

Internet Journal from Myanmar

Not just limited to Myanmar, but I would often buy Thai, Vietnamese and other magazines too. I can’t read most of these languages. But, even glancing at the photos gives me an idea of what technology and fashion are currently popular. These magazines also give me topics that help start a conversation when I meet a person from these countries.

Come across a mention of a book on a website, find the book on Kindle store via this bookmarklet

You often encounter mention of a book on a web page or a blogpost. Sometimes you are intrigued enough to buy (or perhaps download a sample chapter of) the book. You probably end up doing these actions.


Highlight the name of the book and copy it.

Open Amazon.com website.

Select the Kindle book from the search field options.

Paste the book that you copied earlier and run the search.

I find this a bit tedious. So I made a bookmarklet (by made I mean, I found a bookmarklet on the net that was doing some other search and I changed the code a bit to search the Kindle store)

If you want to install this bookmarklet in your browser, head on to http://bit.ly/kindlesearch

Container Terminal 9

I was in Tsing Yi in Hong Kong. From my window I could see the Container Terminal 9 stretching all the way to Rambler’s Channel. I have always been curious about how well the global logistics system works.

And then I wondered about the history of containers. Who first thought about moving things in metal boxes? How did so many companies and ports standardize on the size of containers? How does the system work so well?   A search on Amazon, and I found The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger .

Learn how a truck driver went on to build the container shipping system.

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. 

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.

judgedee_clip_image001jpg