Category Archives: Asia

First emperor Qin may have used “just-in-time” production methods for his weapons

We set much of the plot for our medical mystery/thriller “Rabbit in the Moon” in Xi’an in Shaanxi province. If you’ve ever traveled there, you’ve certainly seen the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor who unified China. In 210 BC, Qin was buried surrounded by terra cotta likenesses of over 8,000 of his personal soldiers as well as 150 calvary horses and 130 chariots with 520 horses. Each clay soldier carried swords, axes, spears, lances and crossbows made of the bronze.


The tomb was first discovered in March, 1974 by local farmers when they were digging a water well. Still not completely excavated, the site draws crowds of tourists who marvel at the individually sculptured faces of the soldiers.

Scientists have been particularly interested in how the bronze weapons were made.  A recent study of 40,000 bronze arrowheads published in the Journal of Archaeological Methods and Theory argues that these weapons were manufactured within various multi-skilled units that would have included a master artisan and a quality control supervisor rather than in a Ford motor car assembly line model. The authors state that “this system favored more adaptable and efficient logistical organization that facilitated dynamic cross-craft interaction while maintaining remarkable degrees of standardization.”

If true, this ancient “just-in-time” approach was a precursor for the same method favored by companies like Toyota today.

The distance between each carved soldier is quite small, so the assumption is that they were placed in the pit fully outfitted with their weapons. According to the researchers, this suggests that the weapon manufacturers had to coordinate their work with the statue carvers in order to keep the production flow efficient. Given that Qin was known to deal harshly with those who didn’t please him, there must have been incredible pressure on the 700,000 indentured slaves, prisoners of war, skilled artisans and others said to have worked on his mausoleum complex. Skeletons in iron shackles unearthed at the site suggest they didn’t always make the grade.


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Filed under Asia, China, Rabbit in the Moon, terra cotta warriors

Despite new economic freedom, still no mention of Tiananmen

As we wrote in an earlier post,  this month marked the 23rd anniversary of what the Chinese government refers to only as “the June 4th incident”. Yet that “event” became a pivotal moment for the nation as leaders made a deal with its citizens: you can get rich (in fact, Deng declared “to get rich is glorious”), but don’t try to bring down One Party Rule.

Our recent trip to SE Asia included stops in south China and Hong Kong. With each visit since 1989 we’ve seen extraordinary changes. China has made impressive economic gains: second largest world economy, over 300 million people living middle and upper middle class lives, and almost 100 billionaires. The big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou on the mainland are so modern, it’s hard to find much of old China  there.


(photo of Guangzhou)

And Hong Kong- well that’s like New York on steroids.


(photo of Hong Kong)

What continues, however, is the fear by the government of any kind of rebellion resembling the failed 1989 student movement, or worse, the successes of the recent Arab Spring. Internet censors are constantly checking for key words like “Tiananmen” or “Charter ’08”, the online proclamation that China should embrace democracy which sent Liu Xiabo, winner of the 2110 Nobel Peace Prize to jail for 11 years.

Even Apple has had to tailor its iPhone sold in China to satisfy the government.  A recent online Daily Feed article stated that “development testers have found that when you ask about Siri about Tiananmen Square, or ‘the events of June 4, 1989,’ they receive confused or nonsensical responses. Attempts to even ask for directions to Tiananmen Square return similarly garbled results. This last detail is particularly odd because, apart from its role as site of pro-democracy protests, Tiananmen Square is a major landmark in Beijing. From a geographic standpoint, not being able to locate it is roughly akin to an American iPhone saying it doesn’t recognize the phrase ‘Central Park.'”

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Filed under Asia, Charter 08, China, June 4th incident, Rabbit in the Moon

23rd anniversary of Tiananmen

Hard to believe 23 years have gone by since the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Despite the distance of time, any official discussion of the event the Chinese government still refers to as merely the “June 4th incident” is taboo. While Hong Kong remains surprisingly open in terms of freedom to assemble and protest about that night (there are yearly candlelight vigils on the anniversary of Tiananmen), there were no demonstrations reported across Mainland China where the events of June 4th are still considered “counter-revolutionary”.

Tank Man

“Tank Man”

When the Shanghai Composite Index opened today at 2,246.98, several bloggers within China interpreted this as the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown when read from right to left. Their blogs were immediately shut down by censors. The Chinese have a long tradition of being superstitious- especially about numbers. There has been some speculation as to whether the fall in the index represented the work of hackers, but many believe that to be highly unlikely.

In the meantime, a spokesman for the US State Department encouraged the Chinese government to  “release everyone still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”

Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the statement.

Despite its acceptance of a more Western style capitalistic approach for its economy, the Chinese government is committed to one party rule at all costs.

Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 2010 and was involved in the 1989 demonstrations  is serving an 11 year sentence for his  internet proclamation “Charter ’08” urging China to end its one party rule and embrace democracy.

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Filed under Asia, Charter 08, China, Deborah Shlian, medical mystery thriller, Rabbit in the Moon, Tiananmen massacre

Our Singapore Food Fest

The Republic of Singapore is a city, a country and an island off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Because it’s only 85 miles north of equator, it’s almost always hot- sometimes wet and hot, but definitely hot.

Modern Singapore has experienced an extraordinary transformation from its original founding as a trading post of the East India Company by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Occupied first by the British, then the Japanese in WWII, back to the British after the war, it became internally governing in 1959. In 1963 it united with two other British territories to form Malaysia, then separated in 1965 to become a fully independent state. In the almost five decades since, Singapore has emerged as one of the world’s richest countries. It is the fourth-leading financial hub, the second largest gambling market, and the third largest oil-refining center.

Its five million inhabitants are among the most literate people in the world. Most are of Chinese, Malay, or Indian descent. English is readily spoken although Chinese, Malay and Tamil are also considered official languages. And while this small country is filled with amazing skyscrapers and high-rise condos, almost half of the land is covered by greenery – lovely parks and botanical gardens. Because it’s so expensive to have a car there ($60,000 just for a ten year permit to own a car!!), there is a fantastic public metro system, so getting around town is not only easy, but also inexpensive.

We had traveled to Singapore thirty years ago and though the country appeared modern then relative to China and even Hong Kong, the change today is remarkable.

What hadn’t changed for us was our memory of the incredible food.

If you’ve heard that food is a national obsession in Singapore, it’s absolutely true. We saw few overweight Singaporeans (at least compared to the US. Yet, it seemed as though everyone there is constantly eating – or if not eating, talking about where or what they’re going to be eating.

Singapore’s tourism board promotes the cuisine as a major attraction alongside shopping and the hype is well deserved. No matter where we ate – at a hawker stall, a mall food court, an outdoor family-style restaurant, or a fancy bistro, the food was outstanding.

Like the population itself, the food in Singapore is a product of diverse cultures living in close proximity – Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan (descendants of late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants to the Indonesian archipelago during the Colonial era), Middle Eastern, Thai and even Western (especially English and Portuguese).

Thanks to Anthony Boudain whose TV show “Layover in Singapore” aired just before we left for our trip, we landed in the city with a long list of his food recommendations and the determination to try as many as possible. Luckily, Deb’s brother, who now lives and works in Singapore, was just as enthusiastic as Boudain and did everything he could to make sure we achieved our goal.

Much of the best (and least expensive) food can be found in the many hawker centers. Sometime in the 1990’s the government cracked down on street food, regulating the quality and moving everyone indoors, under air-conditioned food courts.  Here are just some of the highlights  of our two day eating fest with some photos above:

Day 1: Little India

– Kaya toast-thin slices of warm toast slathered with butter and kaya, a sweet coconut custard jam. Locals often have this for breakfast along with two soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce and pepper and a cup of coffee

-Milk sweets or Mithai (I found pistachio to be the best)- a type of colorful confectionery that made with sugar, milk, flour and condensed milk, and cooked by frying. In the Eastern part of India, milk is a staple, and most sweets from this region are based on milk products.

-Lunch at Anjappar, a Cettinand restaurant (NOTE: food from region 500 km south of Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu)

–Mutton curry

–Byriani chicken- Byriani is a one-dish, highly seasoned rice based meal consisting of layering cooked basmati rice and meat in a casserole baked in an oven

–Naan (with garlic and butter)-flat bread cooked in tandoor oven

–Papadum ( a crisp, delicious Indian flatbread / cracker / wafer)

We missed the Pongal festival celebrated for four days in January. In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, The Indian version of Thanksgiving, Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season. Entire villages gather for a community feast to share their crops, and to thank the Sun God, the Earth and the cattle for a bountiful harvest. In fact, Pongal comes from the word ‘ponga’, which means boil or boil over. In a non-farming country like Singapore, Pongal marks the start of the auspicious month of Thai, a time where Tamil Indians give thanks for the blessings of the past year. The term Pongal also refers to the sweetened rice porridge that is normally cooked on Pongal day. This Pongal rice has an important meaning to the Indian community. If it boils well, the family can look forward to happiness and blessings, and a good year ahead.

That evening at the huge outdoor Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, we ate:

– Chlil crab-hard shell crabs cooked in a thick tomato and chilli-based gravy.


-Steamed fish

Day 2: we visited Wisma Atria,. Located at the heart of Orchard Road, it is one of the city’s most popular shopping strips. Besides the 100 different specialty shops, the Food Republic offers wide variety of cuisine at more than 25 stalls.

Here we tried what is often called Singapore’s national dish: chicken rice. It sounds rather pedestrian, but it is incredibly delicious. The chicken is steamed or boiled and served atop fragrant oily rice, with sliced cucumber as the token vegetable. I am told that variants include roasted chicken or soy sauce chicken. Depending on one’s taste, the flavor can be enhanced by dipping the chicken into various sauces such as premium dark soy sauce, chili with garlic, and pounded ginger

We also tried the wonton which in Cantonese, means “swallowing of cloud”. Apparently most Singaporeans prefer the dry version of the thin egg noodles, although we ate them in a chicken soup.

Despite being stuffed, my brother insisted we eat some roti prata. This dish comes from Northern India and is prepared by flipping the dough into a large thin layer before folding the outside edges inwards. The dough is then heated on a hot plate. Flavorings or toppings, if ordered, can be added either before or after it is flipped, depending on the flavorings or the desired outcome. The ’tissue’ and ‘paper’ variants are pan-fried with butter, rolled into a cone shape and sprinkled with sugar. We had egg and cheese and onion prata- outstanding!

At the top of the spectacular Marina Bay Sands casino building we watched the day end – had drinks, appetizers and an amazing view of the city and the huge infinity swimming pool

In the downstairs luxury dining atrium, we had dinner at Chef Daniel Boulud’s elegant DB Bistro  where I especially enjoyed the squash and pomegranate soup

After 2  days of non-stop eating, we headed for Thailand, our next stop on our SE Asia tour. Our appetites sated, we left with a renewed appreciation for the amazing cuisine in Singapore – still wondering how so many stay thin!

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Filed under Asia, food, Singapore, travel

“Rabbit in the Moon” book launch: standing room only!!

We had our book launch on Thursday, May 29th at the Borders Bookstore in Boca Raton. As you see from the crowd, it was standing room only!  We spoke about how we started writing novels and how we write together. Since the setting for Rabbit in the Moon is the seven weeks in 1989 from the rise of the democracy movement on April 15th to its fall with the Tiananmen massacre, we talked about those events and showed pictures Joel had taken during our travels in the 1980’s.

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Filed under Asia, Book launch, China, Deborah Shlian, Joel Shlian, medical mystery thriller, Rabbit in the Moon