Saturday, 3 August 2013

Mr Wong Goes West by Nury Vittachi

published 2008





[Mr Wong goes to Ah-Fat’s Kopi House for lunch]

Wong was powering into a mammoth, lip-blisteringly hot curry lunch when Dilip Kenneth Sinha arrived. The feng shui master greeted his friend with a flash of his eyes, his mouth being too full to use for speech….The angular, black-dressed Indian astrologer clearly approved…

For both of them, eating was a serious business, and the activity did not benefit from frivolous distractions such as conversation. Both concentrated fully on the task ahead of them: to empty the dishes on the table in the shortest possible order with maximum possible pleasure…

There was another distraction: the arrival of Ms Xu Chong-li, a fortune-teller, who threaded her way carefully through the tables, anxious to avoid staining her clothing. Although she was a rather grand fifty-something lady who was always expensively upholstered (she had been a banker before giving it up for astrological pursuits), she loved cheap kopi house meals and was delighted to slide onto the seat next to Sinha…

[Mr Wong] held up his hand to get the attention of Ah-Fat, who was walking past with a steaming dish of something that smelled like small animal marinated in mouth-searing chilli. ‘One more of everything’ Wong yelled.



observations: Mr Wong is the feng shui detective: it is claimed that he uses the principles to solve crimes. In fact (a bit like Poirot and his psychological approach) there’s not much evidence of this: feng shui is a key aspect of the books – Vittuchi claims all the feng shui references are real – but it is there to add interest and entertainment, along with his incomprehensible assistant Joyce, and his crew of fellow mystics. The stories – there have been five books and apparently a number of short stories - are light-hearted and very funny, and even-handedly rude about aspects of Eastern and Western life. Misunderstandings and failures of communication occur frequently. The books wander round geographically – this one starts in Singapore then moves to Hong Kong, and Mr Wong is to be employed by the British Royal Family (including the hitherto unknown Princess Marjorie, sister of the current Queen) on the extremely convincing grounds that the Royals could do with a bit of feng shui to improve their image and increase the general happiness and popularity. Sadly the threatened visit to the UK doesn’t truly materialize. Perhaps another time…

The books are very readable, very amusing and very well-written. This one includes the magic phrase ‘evil nightmare monkeys’, and uses the term greenies for environmentalist. There is a conversation conducted solely in terms of 1970s song titles. And one character has a watch by Seiko, underwear by Calvin Klein, and a waistline by Dunkin’ Donuts. (Need a picture to illustrate that.)

Links on the blog: The sadness of Princess Diana’s end came up in this recent entry, while the (obviously completely different from Princess Marjorie) Princess Margaret featured here.

The pictures are of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco a hundred years ago, and are from the New York Public Library.

4 comments:

  1. This is a series my husband reads. He has read #2 and #3 in the series, has #4. The first one and the last one are on his list when they become available here. I have not sampled it yet, but maybe I will soon.

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    1. You should try them Tracy, especially as it sounds like you have them in the house! I found them fun and funny.

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  2. Moira - I like the different approach to thinking and to detection that we see here. I've always liked that sort of innovation and I have to admit I'm not an expert in feng shui - it's interesting to get a sense of its history. Even if the references aren't 100% real, that's a very interesting approach to telling a story.

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    1. They are lightweight books, Margot, but none the worse for that, they are good-natured and enjoyable, and we can all be grateful for that sometimes!

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