Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What are you reading?

It took me about one month to finish Kublai Khan! Other books, as well as magazines, were calling: Pick me! Pick me!

Kublai Khan, written by John Man (Bantam Press, 2006), is a very readable book (ahh, why weren’t our history books written like this?) about the great man’s life. He continued the grand, ambitious plans of his grandfather Ghengis Khan (who was brought up by Hoelun, his widowed mother-- a strong woman but was rejected by her clan and was reduced to scrabbling for mountainside berries).

The Khans conquered all the countries surrounding land-locked Mongolia, from Iran and Persia in the west to Russia in the North and the Middle Kingdom in the east. They had grand plans to conquer Japan, Burma and Vietnam and as far south as Java!

It’s a fascinating book about Kublai and his time and so well researched that the author is able to tell in minute details about events not only in Mongolia, China and their immediate neighbours, but as far as Europe, Japan, Burma, Vietnam and Java. In spite of the details, something I tend to skim over when the reading gets tedious, my interest never waned. It helps, I guess, with the author narrating the story in a conversational tone. He even speaks directly to the reader when he gives directions to where he thinks Kublai was buried: “…you take the road east… you head north over grassy hills… descending, if you dare, you cross the Kherlen…”

There are interesting ‘trivia’… like the recipe for a dirty bomb-- more about that later—and info on how high-born Mongolians were executed. No drawing of blood was allowed but it was okay to sew the wrong-doer in a sack and let horses trample him to death. Then, there’s Kublai’s new legal system which the author described in detail… including the punishment of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ reserved for treachery, the most serious crime.

The author tells how Islam spread to China. Skilled Moslem craftsmen and scholars were imported, from the conquered Arab nations, to work in the Middle Kingdom, China, (so called because the country lies between the mountains and the sea) where Kublai made his base (instead of in his native Mongolia). These were the people who first brought Islam to China. Later, through Marco Polo, Kublai requested that the Pope sent 100 Christians from Europe to teach Christianity in China. Kublai himself identified with Buddhism although his mother, Sorkaktani, was a Nestorian Christian.

Today it takes just several hours to fly from one corner of the world to another. In Kublai’s days, travel was overland and it took 250 days just to go from Ukraine to Beijing!

Now, the dirty bomb recipe. The author calls it the ‘shit-and-beetle bomb’.
7 kg powdered human faeces
400g root of a certain herb
200g oil from a certain tree which grows in India and Indonesia
400g of a type of poison
100g blister beetles

The ingredients were packed in gunpowder and wrapped in thick paper before being covered in resin. Each bomb weighed 10 to 15kg and was placed in a giant catapult called a trebuchet before the fuse was lit and fired.

Sorry, I had to leave out the names of three ingredients. Can’t risk kids trying to make bombs at home.

I enjoy reading books which tell me something new. And I learnt a lot of new stuff here. Genghis Khan, also by the same author, is now on my reading list!

So, what are you reading?


  1. Hi, I was browsing throught the and saw the interesting Kuala Penyu post - and only then realised that it was your blog.

    I bought your footprints book and enjoyed it, thank you for documenting life in those days for younger generation like mine.

    This Kublai Khan book sounds like my kind of read and will look for it the next time I am back in KK. I am currently reading Tiziano Terzani's A Fortune Teller Told Me - which is a good read too.

  2. Hi Jewelle! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked Footprints. I wrote it especially for the younger generation.
    I'm pleased that Kublai Khan has captured your interest. I'll look for Terzani's book too. Can't resist a good book!

  3. Hi :)

    First of all, I love your writing style.

    And second of all, I'm wondering where I can find your book. I'm kind of a bookworm myself, and I'd love to read a book written by a fellow Sabahan.

    Third of all, I just finished reading 'The Complete Horowitz Horror' by Anthony Horowitz. I usually don't read horrors, but that one was a good book. I'm going to read 'Have a Little Faith' and ' Tuesdays With Morrie' next, both by Mitch Albom.

    I think I'm going to browse through your blog some more when I have the time.

    Cheers :)

  4. Hi Dict MFG,
    Sorry, I missed your comment. Thanks for visiting... and the compliment.

    You can get Footprints from Times, Warisan. The last time I checked, Times Suria hasn't replenished their stock. Neither have the Popular Stores. Also available at Harris and Times in 1Borneo.

    I like Mitch Albom too! I haven't read 'Have a Little Faith' but I've read the others.

    I'll read your other story one of these days.