Wrong Way Around Magic by Ruth Chew

Ruth Chew writes books that take kids on magic adventures. In Wrong Way Around Magic, the only magic is a pair of field glasses (binoculars) that takes two kids to some place which is probably pre-modern China, though the text never really says.

When and Why I Read Wrong Way Around Magic

I was trying to figure out whether the plot involved time travel because a book blogger asked me about it.

Genre: children’s fiction (fantasy)
Date started / date finished:  22-Jan-17 to 22-Jan-17
Length: 128 pages
ISBN: 0590460234 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1993
Amazon link: Wrong Way Around Magic

 

Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

In Chinese Whispers, a Brit with a British/Chinese family background tackles seven commonly believed myths about China:

  • China has an ancient and fixed culture.
  • The Chinese are irredeemably racist.
  • The Chinese don’t want freedom.
  • China has the world’s finest education system.
  • The Chinese live to work.
  • The Chinese have re-invented capitalism.
  • China will rule the world.

Unlike many Western authors who write about China, Ben Chu doesn’t think China necessarily poses an alarming threat to the West. Even if his conclusions turn out to be wrong or based on incomplete data, it’s healthy for someone to be out there countering the fears that spring purely from ignorance. The mob always says, “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it scares us,” not just in Beauty and the Beast. This book can help us understand.

See below for what stood out and when and why I read the book.

Continue reading Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

T’ung Shu: The Ancient Chinese Almanac

T’ung Shu: The Ancient Chinese Almanac is not the almanac itself, but rather an explanation and sample of what is in the almanac, a yearly publication with hundreds of years of history in Chinese culture.

My copy of this explanatory book is a quality hardcover with printing in both red ink and black ink on some pages. See below for what stood out, and when and why I read it.

I’ve never bought a copy of the actual almanac, though I’m sure it’s available in Singapore. Here’s an online version: http://www.dragon-gate.com/tool/almanac/

Continue reading T’ung Shu: The Ancient Chinese Almanac

Two Travelogues by Guy Delisle

There’s a huge difference in style (as well as size) between the Guy Delisle book about Shenzhen and the Guy Delisle book about Jerusalem. In the Shenzhen book, the drawings are darker and fuzzier like pencil or charcoal sketches, whereas the drawings in the Jerusalem book are very clean, with splashes of color added.

I think part of the reason is the separation in time between the books. The Shenzhen book was published in 2006 about a trip in 1997, and the Jerusalem book was published in 2012 about a trip in 2008.

In terms of content, I think I enjoyed the Shenzhen book more. China feels frustrating and foreign… but you’d expect it to. Jerusalem feels if anything more frustrating, since in theory it’s less foreign. The ongoing conflicts there involve the political ideologies and religions of the West. In reading this book, I realized I know very little about those conflicts…

As always, I admire the artist’s nonchalance in the face of daunting situations, and his ability and willingness to transmit his experiences to us in words and pictures. Sometimes the episodes depicted are funny and sometimes they’re not, but they are eye-opening.

More on when and why I read the books below.

Continue reading Two Travelogues by Guy Delisle

Chandni Chowk to China (2009)

For me, buying this movie was a bit like buying a German-Spanish dictionary, in that it made me a consumer of the product of two cultures, neither of them mine.

Lest you think that’s just an analogy, I hereby present my German-Spanish dictionary.

Chandni Chowk to China is a Hindi musical martial arts comedy.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

The main character is a superstitious Indian guy named Sidhu who works as a lowly vegetable cutter in a place called Chandni Chowk in Delhi. He has a lot of self-pity but not a lot of motivation to improve his station in life. (One day while cutting potatoes, he finds one that looks like the elephant-headed god Ganesha, and uses the coincidence as an excuse to neglect his duties, which earns him a kick in the pants from his foster father.)

His life changes when two Chinese guys somehow decide he’s a Chinese hero reincarnated and a Chinese fortune-teller friend convinces him to go to China. It’s wacky but kinda fun.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/chandni-chowk-to-china-2008/id312058686

See below for more about the movie, including SPOILERS.

Continue reading Chandni Chowk to China (2009)

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Life and Death in Shanghai is an amazing book about an amazing woman. The tone in which she tells her own story is deadpan, but the events are extremely dramatic. If you’ve never read about the Cultural Revolution, it’s eye-opening.

Some of my memories of the book are:

  • how Nien Cheng’s private home was turned into living quarters for several families, and regular household routines were disrupted by food rationing;
  • how when destructive Red Guards came knocking, Nien Cheng tried to preserve, and in only some cases succeeded in preserving, some antiques she had in her house, by relinquishing them to be stored in government museums;
  • and how after she was arrested, she had to live in a freezing concrete cell, where her food was insufficient and her clothing was insufficiently warm, yet she maintained exquisite poise and self-assurance.

A few passages from the book are reproduced below.

Continue reading Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Guan Yu aka Guan Gong

This is Guan Yu. I saw this Guan Yu statue at Just Anthony (a Chinese furniture and antique shop) a few months after arriving in Singapore, though I didn’t know who he was.

I took the photo because I though it was exceedingly strange for a warrior to be shown in a pose reading a book. Warriors, I thought, were shown on prancing horses, holding swords or spears, or surveying the landscape. They’re not shown reading.

Ah, but you see, he’s a legendary Chinese general, and he’s reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War. That makes sense!

Figurines and statues of Guan Yu are common, since Guan Yu is commonly worshipped as a deity, or at least displayed as a kind of lucky charm. Most of the time, Guan Yu is shown riding his horse like a boss, wielding his special weapon like a boss, or just scowling and holding his very dignified beard, but some of the time, he’s shown seated, reading a book like a boss.

Hats off to you, Guan Yu, for choosing to fight with your brains and not just your brawn.