All over the islands, breech babies grew up to become valuable members of any community—for their reputed skill in easing out fishbones stuck in one’s throat.

All her life, Purificacion was called upon to conduct the task, just because she was delivered feet first.

Occasionally, in the middle of the night, the caterwauling in Barrio Ejemplo in the town of Asingan would abruptly die down, and the folks knew the men had just declared a cessation of streetcorner intoxication because of a little accident.

Mang Kardo, a thin, wiry man with a squeaky but often loud voice, had done it again, orated while carelessly wolfing down roasted milkfish. Now he had to stop from his perorations, shake and quiver as he rose from a wooden bench, and attempt to harrumph in his screechy manner, again and again, until Big Boy Reynoso pulled up his bulk from the bench across, strode over and gave poor Kardo a mighty whack on the back.

Hong Kong is currently going through something of an identity crisis, both literally and figuratively. The literal crisis is the rise of a so-called “localist” political movement, some proponents of which have even called for Hong Kong independence. The more figurative crisis are the regular pronouncements that Hong Kong is having difficulty working out its place within China and the wider world.

Andrés de Urdaneta is a name that few other than specialist historians will immediately recognise. He was one of the last of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers and navigators from the Iberian peninsula whose voyages resulted in redrawing the globe in more or less the form we know it today. Christopher Columbus has a country and several cities named after him; Ferdinand Magellan has the famous straits. But Urdaneta has no such monuments.

Perhaps this is because Urdaneta didn’t discover how to get anywhere, but rather less glamorously but no less importantly discovered how to get back. Until 1565, no fleet had succeeded in sailing east from Asia back across the Pacific to the Americas. It was Urdaneta, a survivor of earlier expeditions, who first worked out the right winds and currents across the uncharted waters of this vast ocean. His discovery was called the tornaviaje, or ‘return trip’.

There is no faster way to gauge the depth of a well than to drop a stone, and wait for the heavy thud signalling it has reached the bottom.

Indian writer Karan Mahajan is more ambitious. In his latest book, he throws not a rock, but a deafening bomb that leaves in its wake a trail of dead bodies and scarred souls, in a mad scientific experiment aimed at exposing the deepest and darkest corners of the multi-layered well that is the Indian society—and if the well has to explode in the process, so be it: it would just be collateral damage. As one of the novel’s terrorists provocatively argues, “I’m pointing out the flaws in the system. Terror is a form of urban planning.”

Hong Kong’s Sir David Tang has for several years had a column at the Financial Times answering reader questions on various matters of modern living, from how to dress for a job interview to (only in Britain) what to take as a house gift when invited up to shoot. These, or least a selection of them, have been gathered up into Rules for Modern Life: A Connoisseur’s Survival Guide.