November 11, 2018
Indonesian books and an Afghan movie
I was in Jakarta to watch an Afghan movie. The movie had Indonesian subtitles but maybe because of some similar words in Dari and Urdu, and perhaps because the family life and issues facing the youth are somewhat identical in South Asia and Afghanistan, I could make sense of the movie. The movie is about a young Afghan girl who is getting ready to go to a law school. Her plans are thrown astray because of a romance with a young Iranian immigrant and the resulting complications. I will recommend the movies as it gives us a glimpse into urban Afghanistan where people are enjoying the normal life.
The mini-theatre when they had the showing is in the same building as a bookshop I often like to visit in Jakarta. I love the Aksara bookshop as it always has a decent selection of translated novels or anthologies by local writers. This time I got talking to one of their staff who loves reading too. The only thing more joyful for me than finding a new bookstore is finding a bookstore owner or staff who loves reading also. It always reminds me of bookstores of bygone days in our Rangoon or Calcutta, where all you need is to tell them what you are feeling like - perhaps you are missing Tibet or just had a heartbreak. The owner, without even looking up, will tell you that the perfect book to cure your heart is on the second floor, the third book on the fourth shelf on the wall to your left. Such astute bookseller could give you insights into the local lives and compare it with popular literature, not to mention recommendations about local authors to check out. More than the books, it was a joy to talk to the owners as perhaps more than any other person in that city, they have seen the change in the intellectual fiber of the city.
Below are the books that I picked up from Aksara.
Last year in Jakarta, I bought a story collection called “Monsoon Tiger And Other Stories” by Rain Chudori. I like stories where people remember their cities. As I kid, I wanted to be a kid in all countries. So I try to live my younger days in another country via such stories. This time I found a guidebook on Jakarta by the same author. The destinations are based on the places that the author is fond of. Some of these places are also where something significant happened in her life.
The next book is a collection of stories from a magazine called Jurnal Perempuan. The four stories that I have read so far are about women in unique situations and how they deal with it
- a woman in a loveless marriage just getting into an affair,
- another woman who has left her sex-work to get into a monogamous relationship with a married man,
- a woman who reflects on symmetry and the human body as she has lost a part of her body to cancer
- and a girl who works as a domestic help in Singapore. She accidentally breaks her employer’s favorite porcelain spoon. The story talks about the loss of agency that such employees face and how even sneaking out of the house to buy a replacement spoon can be a daunting task.
The last book introduces lesser-known authors, beyond the more accessible Java island. So far, I have only read one story from this book. It is a story set in Jakarta where a kind religious preacher opens his house to two drunkards. Rather than forcing them to reform, he gives them the space to change themselves. The end of the story has a twist where the reformed duo takes on a path that often shocks the more open-minded religious teachers.
November 10, 2018
I will possess your city
“Why do you travel to the same city so often?”
“You know how when a cat loves someone, it tries to claim that person by rubbing itself all around. I am that cat, and I love your city.”
November 2, 2018
The Mac in China
I remember, I think it was in 2004, I was in a fast food restaurant in Central China typing something on my iBook. A fellow patron came and sat next to me. He explained that he wanted to see how the OSX compared to Windows. Those days Macs were not so common in China. My new friend was impressed by the design of the laptop but he felt that Apple might never make a dent in the Chinese market as it was too pricey for the average Chinese customer. He also felt that the Chinese customers were geek and they didn’t mind the occasional housekeeping on Windows. Domestic Chinese app makers used to make adware-full and creaky apps that ended up slowing down the Windows.
I suggest the following factors that might aid Apple’s growth in the future 1) the Chinese will make more money and 2) people and their geeky neighbour or geeky nephew will get busier and they will not have time to fix things. My new friend was still not convinced.
I remembered my fast food cafe friend while watching the Apple man’s presentation earlier this week. There was one slide about the rapid speed at which Mac is catching on in China.
I think the analysts and trend watchers often equate Apple stuff with high end specially when it comes to develping economies. They seem to discount that almost everywhere people get tired of tweaking things and at some point find something comfortable and stick with it.
November 1, 2018
Such a cute
She said she does not believe in Valentine’s day or Halloween. But I always believe in her.
October 23, 2018
The mysterious loss-making yet expanding foreign fast-food chains in Vietnam
A few weeks back there were some articles about fast food companies losing money in Vietnam. They even had some experts explaining that foreign fast food can’t compete with cheap local food in price and variety. (I think that there is a big enough market for both) . Yet, you see many such companies opening more outlets. What is this mystery?
Actually, you just need to dig a bit more and you’ll find the answer. It’s not just fast food, nearly half the foreign-invested enterprises report losses. They allegedly make use of transfer pricing (activities that make use of legal loopholes and complicated paperwork) to show smaller or absence of profit. Even the party newspaper has weighed in on this. http://en.nhandan.org.vn/business/item/6444402-transfer-pricing-a-challenge-to-vietnam’s-tax-authorities.html
I recall people making the same argument in China about 15 years back. China too had a lot of affordable and diverse range of street food. Over the years local and foreign fast food chains have become a part of everyday life. I remember in the early 2000s, Mc Donalds targeting grandparents who used to pick up their grandchildren after school. They had a spacious play area for the kids.
I found this dinosaur at an Mc Donalds in Beijing in the spring of 2004. People usually go to the fast food places when they feel like sitting in air-conditioning and away from the pollution of the street.
October 21, 2018
In 1979, China and Vietnam fought a brief border war. One reason for China’s aggression was Vietnam’s toppling of the China supported Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. These days, this particular war is not mentioned much in China. But in the early 1980s, there were some books and movies that depicted this war. I will recommend the movie 高山下的花环 (Garlands at the Foot of the Mountain).
What I find interesting in this movie is that they never show the Vietnamese soldiers. The story is told from the point of view of a group of Chinese soldiers who are sent to the border to clear the “Vietnamese invaders”.
The fact that China had previously aided Vietnam in the war against the U.S. is highlighted a few times in the movie.
There is one part where the soldiers are shocked to find Chinese supplied weapons and rice in a Vietnamese pill box that they had just cleared. There are some Vietnamese lettering on the wall that read “a decisive war”. A little later in the movie, the Chinese soldiers have run out of water and they decide that it is fair game to cut some sugarcane from the surrounding plantation. A short snipped from the movie is embedded below. Turn down the volume on your phone/computer as the clip starts with a loud refrain.
The whole movie with subtitles is on YouTube. You can search for it Via the Chinese title 高山下的花环.
Further reading on how this war prompted the modernisation of the Chinese army: A round table review of a book on this particular war