August 7, 2021
Favourite second-hand book stores in South East Asia
These shops are not just about books, but this is where I met many interesting people in these cities. Visiting these places on my travels often meant that I had to book extra luggage for my return flight, but it was always worth it.
The stores are
Dasa Books, Bangkok
D’s Books, Phnom Penh
Books of Awesome (BOA), Saigon
March 30, 2021
Sometimes AI is naughty. Last night I set up Siri to control appliances. I gave them Russian names - who dare hack devices that show up in Cyrillic. The lamp is called Solaris (an alien planet from a Polish novel/Russian movie). The fan is called Buran (snowstorm).
As I was waking up this morning, drowsily I asked Siri to “Play some music”. It starts playing the Soviet anthem. No need coffee anymore.
R/musictheory discussion on why it sounds so good.
March 26, 2021
The Great Bitter Lake Association
The ship stuck in Suez Canal reminds me of an incident from late 1960s. At the start of the Six Day War, Israel quickly captured one side of the canal. To prevent Israel from using the canal, Egypt blocked the canal with debris. 15 ships got stuck in the part of the canal called the Great Bitter Lake. The ships were from opposing Cold War camps - West Germany, the UK, the US, Bulgaria, Poland etc, including one traveling from Singapore to the UK carrying toys for Woolworths (1960-70s SG used to manufacture many consumer goods).
Overlooking their idealogical differences, they formed a sort of pseudo-country called the The Great Bitter Lake Association. They organised parties and sports events to keep up the morale. They even issued their own postage stamps. It’s an interesting insight into how humans try to make the best of any situation. I heard about this some years back on a Radiolab podcast.
The Great Bitter Lake Association
February 20, 2021
The Land of Big Numbers
These days we can only travel via books or movies. This collection of short stories is by a WSJ reporter who was based in China. Her stories are extrapolation of news stories that you may have heard from China - a farmer building an aeroplane from junk, passengers stuck in a new metro station, sudden craze for a fruit or food etc.
Podcast interview featuring the author
December 10, 2020
“This one is thin and small, but it’s important. When you had something you wanted to tell someone, you would write it down on a piece of paper and paste this ‘stamp’ on it. Then they would deliver it for you, anywhere at all. But that was a long time ago …” The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa.
For me, sending letters is just an excuse to send cute stamps. Many years back when I used to travel in Chinese trains, almost every third person was a stamp collector. The stamps may wonder why no one loves them anymore.
November 18, 2020
The little phone
I was fond of my iPhone 5s. I continued using it as as a travel phone even after I got a newer model. It felt nice holding it - little but solid. Along the way, I switched to a dual sim phone. I just didn’t have the heart to store the little phone in some dark drawer so I passed it on to an acquaintance who was having trouble with her phone.
A few days back, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a note from her. It read:
You would never know
How much I love your phone
How my phone has been supporting my life Etc
I think I need a book
To tell the world my story
At first I assumed that it is too little, how can it help me deal with my huge problems
But surprisingly it works
Thank you sir!
It has been a long hard year. It is nice to receive such a message.