As a child, my parents encouraged me to read a lot, even though they aren’t readers themselves. We weren’t rich, but they’d buy books for me whenever they had money to spare, so I had no shortage of Peter & Jane books and Enid Blyton novels. For that I am truly grateful. Because without books and the magic of imagination and wonder, I would not be who I am today.
Course, I think my mom regrets it immensely, now that the house is running out of space to store my books lol.
But I digress.
A friend’s daughter had her birthday recently, and since she likes reading (a rare thing among kids these days, I think!), I thought of sending her a book. A Neil Gaiman title if I could find it. But since my friend lives in the Philippines, I had to look for a store/retailer that could deliver there.
I first went to Amazon, but apparently it has a policy whereby books, music, video and DVD products can’t be shipped internationally (coz of copyright issues). Same thing with sites like Kobo and Kindle (even the e-version! If you’re in a different country, it only allows you to read it in that country wtf).
After what felt like hours (and getting annoyed that we’re in 2020 and it isn’t even convenient to buy a fahking book to gift to someone overseas) I ended up at the website of Fully Booked, a books and stationery retailer in the Philippines. Their flagship store in Bonifacio Global City, Manila, is known for its cool lifestyle-oriented aesthetic; similar to how BookXCess is like here in Malaysia. They also have an online arm, and they ship within the Philippines. Perfect!
The site is easy to navigate and offers a seamless online shopping experience. Books are sorted by category (children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, lifestyle, art & design, etc.), and they also have a tab for special collections and bestsellers. If you know the title/author you’re looking for, there’s a search bar you can use to navigate the site. Aside from books, Fully Booked also carries stationery, totes, clothing and novelties, as well as toys and games.
After selecting your order and adding them to cart, simply key in your details and check out. Payment can be done via (for those in the Philippines) Dragonpay through options like Over-the-Counter Bank Deposits and Over-the-Counter Non-bank payments, and credit card. Since I’m based in Malaysia, I chose Paypal as my mode of payment, and it automatically converted the currency from RM when deducting the amount (this is based on standard international conversion). You can also choose to pay via Cash on delivery, provided you have a minimum order of PHP799. Free shipping is also available for orders above that amount.
Once I made the order, I received an email confirming my purchase, along with a tracking number. It takes about three to five working days to process, after which they’ll send another email informing you that the shipment is on its way.
All in all, I think it took about five days in total for the book to arrive, which is quite efficient!
I originally wanted to get Coraline, but it wasn’t available, so I chose a lesser known Gaiman title which I thought she would enjoy.
Cinnamon is a picture book set in a make-believe place in India. It talks about a talking tiger, who is the only one who may be able to get a mute princess to speak. Illustrated by Divya Srinivisan, the book is full of colourful illustrations that both adults and children can enjoy.
I was glad to hear that she enjoyed reading it – and that it piqued her curiosity about Indian culture. That’s another great thing about reading : it encourages us to broaden our minds, and with that, our understanding of the world.
So that was my review of using Fully Booked for the first time. Even if you don’t live in the Philippines, I think it’s fairly convenient to buy something from Fully Booked as a gift for someone there. The only downside is that you can’t give it as a ‘surprise’, since you’ll need to key in their contact details.
PS: Thank you Mr.A for the photos!
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Since 2009, Malaysian bibliophiles and book hoarders have made their annual pilgrimage to the Big Bad Wolf Sale, which is held every year around Feb/Mac or Nov/Dec and is touted as the largest book sale in the region. The last time I went in 2018, they had over 3 million titles!
Due to the pandemic, many events have had to be cancelled – so the BBW won’t be held physically this year. They are, however, having an online sale, so you can still shop for books from the comforts of your own home. The sale went live at midnight on Nov 4, and will run until Nov 11 (which is shorter than the usual BBW which usually runs for 2 weeks).
Now, although BBW and BookXCess (BBW’s parent company) has been around for some time, they’ve always been more of a brick-and-mortar business – as evidenced by their bookstores, which are all beautifully designed as ‘lifestyle hubs’ where you can sip on a coffee, work, study, etc. There is of course nothing wrong with this; I personally prefer physical bookstores and the joy of finding an awesome book hidden in a corner shelf , getting to inhale the smell of paper, touch the sleek edges of the page. Hmm.
But we are living in uncertain times, and many businesses have had to accelerate their digital processes and shift to a more online-centric model to cater to shifting consumer needs/demands. BBW’s first online sale will be a test as to how well it’ll be able to cope. So far, there seem to be a lot of teething problems.
Since going live at midnight, many users have complained that the website is inaccessible – probably due to the sheer amount of web traffic which is overloading their servers. When they do get in, some have problems creating an account, while others can’t browse because titles are not showing up on the pages. Still others have said their cart turns up empty after they’ve selected the items they want to purchase, and some users haven’t been able to checkout at all.
I’m part of a local book group on FB, and these are just some of the frustrated comments:
Curious, I went to the website myself at around 11AM today. It loaded fine at first…
But upon trying to register for an account:
Tried again at 12.40PM and managed to get a form to fill up, but after filling it up and pressing ‘create account’, it cleared my data and requested for me to fill up my details again.
Now I’m not trying to be mean here or say that they’re doing a shit job – I’m sure their IT department is working round-the-clock to resolve these issues, and despite how some people have commented that “Oh you should have been prepared knowing that there will be many people surfing your website”, I know Murphy’s Law applies – you can prepare for every possibility in the world, but things that will go wrong will go wrong.
But I also understand the frustration on the consumer’s side – one comment said it took them an hour to register an account, an hour to browse and select their books, and another hour to checkout because they had to keep refreshing the page – a total of four hours. In a digital-savvy world of instant gratification and convenient online shopping, four hours just doesn’t cut it.
That being said, there are also customers like these – which is when you know you’ve done something right with your brand:
If you do manage to get in, BBW 2020 does have great discounts, up to 90% off on 40,000 titles and with over two million books on sale. They also provide free shipping on orders above RM180. If you’re buying above RM300, you’re entitled to a further 10% discount with the code BBW10% off.
Anyway, I hope they manage to sort things out soon because I do think that they are doing a good thing – which is bringing books to customers. There are also many pros to going online, namely avoiding the crowd of shoppers and the massive traffic jams that are a signature of BBW sales every year.
PS: I initially wanted to browse some of the titles, but perhaps this is for the best seeing as I have a TBR pile from AS FAR BACK AS 2013 LMFAO I HATE MYSELF WHY AM I LIKE THIS LOL.
Have you ordered books from the Big Bad Wolf Sale 2020? How was your experience?
Been a minute since my last post – been busy with life and stuff.
I recently went for a close friend’s traditional wedding ceremony, and it was not only great fun but also an eye-opening experience. I realised that I know so little of my own culture lol.
I was also in SG a couple of days ago for a work meeting with the SG team – there are major changes coming and I’m not sure how I’ll cope, but the only way is to soldier on I suppose. I’m not going to kill myself over it because my anxiety charts are off the roof lately.
I’ve also been working on some part time projects; these will come in handy if my (day)job suddenly goes tits up – so even though they’re eating into my time at the moment, I’m trying to keep them going.
I also found some time to finish Salem’s Lot (finally!). Trying something different this year in that I want to upload more videos, so here goes the review. I still don’t like appearing on camera, so for now voice will do:
If you don’t like my nasally drone-y voice (ha)!, here’s a summary –
Fans of horror should definitely read Salem’s Lot, one of King’s earlier novels (I like to call it his ‘Renaissance’ period). The horror titles he produced between the 1970s – 1990s are some of my favourites, the likes of Carrie, Cujo, Pet Sematary, The Running Man, It, The Shining and The Stand. To put it simply, Salem’s Lot is about vampires – the kind that rips your throat out and sucks you dry, not the sparkly lovestruck kind.
The horror in Salem’s Lot is less about what people do to others, but goes back to a more primeval fear, of evil personified as monsters lurking in the dark. It’s the fear you get while entering a damp and dark labyrinth full of unknown creatures, rather than the fear of walking home at midnight looking out for muggers. (does that make sense?) The characters are well developed with good story arcs, and you can’t help but root for them to overcome dangers thrown their way. The climax of the novel is a bit of a letdown, however, and I feel that it lacks that oomph in its resolution. Still, I think it’s a great horror novel and a great introduction to King if you are not yet familiar with his work.
Fun fact: Stephen King has had 83 novels published. Which one is your favourite?
Japan is a fascinating place, but it is also one that can seem rather… unusual to outsiders.
Like how they’re insane sticklers for punctuality (the management of a train service issued an official apology ‘for the inconvenience caused’, after the train departed 20 seconds early). Or their crazy dedication to order and their need for conformity (there’s a Japanese saying that goes ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’. So much for individuality).
Conversely, the flipside to this restraint and rigidity is pretty extreme, which is why you have things like hikikomori (a social phenomena where mostly youngsters cut off any contact from the outside world, becoming ‘hermits’) and high suicide rates.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a reflection of this duality.
I came across the book while browsing at Kinokuniya, and attracted by its cover design (in baby blue, canary yellow and bubblegum pink), flipped it open. I remained rooted on the spot for an hour and a half. The book itself was not a long read, but it was certainly one of the more interesting stories I’ve read in a long time – a tongue-in-cheek look at Japanese society and its hypocrisies and machinations.
Keiko Fukuhara has been a convenience store worker for over 18 years, and is by society’s standards, an oddball. At 36, she is single, unmarried and has no ambitions to climb the career ladder, content in the monotony at the store. In fact, she thrives in the everyday tasks of arranging perfect displays to maximise sales, shouting out Irrashaimase! to customers, anticipating their every move and reflecting that efficiently to cater to their needs. She calls herself a ‘cog’ in the machinery of the store.
As we delve deeper into the story, which is told through Keiko’s eyes, we learn that Keiko is not quite ‘normal’, and that she herself is aware of this, albeit in a detached kind of way. Like the alien that has learned to blend itself in with the rest of the crowd by putting on a mask, she has learned to hide her thoughts, although at times she still gets confused with how she should act. It is rather eerie to read the degree of self-awareness when she narrates her mimicking the way her colleagues speak and dress, and how it changes with every new person that comes to work at the store (I’m reminded of the film Body Snatchers). While discussing things with groups of people, she ‘carefully arranges her facial expressions’, as it she herself is incapable of showing her natural emotions.
Keiko also reveals psychopathic tendencies, as recalled in an episode from her childhood when she and her classmates find a dead budgie. While all the other children were crying, she snatches up the bird and tells her mother that they should eat it, mortifying her mother. At a school fight, when two boys were fighting and the rest of the class were screaming for them to stop, Keiko grabs a chair and hits one of the boys over the head – her reasoning being ‘they wanted them to stop’. Even more disturbing is the casual way she thinks of stabbing her sister’s son when the pair come visiting, because he wouldn’t ‘shut up’. Of course, Keiko has learned from her childhood experiences to hide these thoughts and not act upon them, because it isn’t ‘normal’. She does not seem to be bothered by it though – it is simply the best way to go about life efficiently.
In a sense, her convenience store job has given her a purpose and a measure of ‘normalcy’. But it seems everyone in Keiko’s life, from her colleagues to her well-meaning family, do not want to leave her alone – intent in making her ‘conform’. They bug her about dating, about marriage, about finding a new ‘real’ job, etc. and as time passes, she finds it harder and harder to justify and to fit in.
At the store, she meets Shihara, a misogynistic social outcast unable to hold down a job. Despite working at the convenience store, he despises it and looks down on his colleagues as well as the manager, and finally gets fired for slacking off and also stalking female customers. Shihara rages against how society wants people to conform, telling Keiko how “Strong men who bring home a good catch have women flocking around them, and they marry the prettiest girls in the village. Men who don’t join in the hunt, or who are too weak to be of any use even if they try, are despised.” But while Keiko seeks her form of ‘normalcy’ in her convenience store job, Shihara wants nothing more than to loaf about and hide away from the pressure of it all. The two strike up an unlikely deal in order to try to get everyone off their backs – by moving in together.
Like the convenience store where most of the story happens, everything seems bathed in an artificial, fluorescent light. The conversations sound unreal, plasticky, but it works well with the overall tone of the story and the character who, as the story has established, is incapable of feeling and appearing normal at times. But in a way, you can’t help rooting for Keiko. I think despite how the character is and her complete lack of empathy and feeling, most people have felt like Keiko – she just wants to live life her own way, no matter how different it may be to others. And who are we to deprive other people of such a right, if they aren’t harming anyone?
Modern fiction is so mired in morality and social justice themes that it can get rather preachy. Which is why, to me, Convenience Store Woman was such a refreshing read. Despite Keiko’s quirks and odd behaviour, I never felt that the author was judgmental. In fact, I felt that Keiko had a right to her version of normalcy and happiness… like from a job at the convenience store.
A book store that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week sounds like every bibliophile’s dream come true – and you can actually find it at Book Xcess @ Tamarind Square in Cyberjaya. Opened last year, it’s also the largest book store in Malaysia, spanning over 3,000 square metres of space.
*As a self-professed bibliophile, it’s a little embarrassing that I haven’t been to the place until recently, despite it being quite close to where I live. Lol.
The Book Xcess at Cyberjaya is the company’s seventh outlet, and like all their other stores, sells new books at discounted prices of up to 80 percent! (apparently how they achieve this is by getting surplus titles that can’t be sold. They’re all in brand new condition!)
Most of the books are 1/3 of the price you get at regular bookstores, so you can get really good deals. They carry up to 200,000 books. If this isn’t bookworm heaven, I don’t know what is.
HUGE floor space, divided neatly according to categories. You have stuff like general fiction, classics, teen fiction, non-fiction: biographies/historical, children’s books, architecture and design, comics, graphic novels, romance, young adult, fantasy/sci-fi, and many more. Note that because these are surplus books, you might not always get the newest or the most popular titles (eg if you’re looking for Harry Potter / Hunger Games / etc. you might be hard pressed to find them here).
Because the space was converted from a carpark, the design actually incorporates elements of that into the store, such as the overhead signs which have been left in their original spots, the pillars painted over with numbers, and the concrete flooring with ‘exit’ and ‘parking’ signs.
There’s also a nice spot for you to hangout with your laptop, complete with power points. No charges! Very popular with students for their assignments. There’s also a cafe serving drinks, cakes and sandwiches.
A section selling beautiful notebooks and journals. They also carry craft books and pop art wall hangings.
Spent a good two hours browsing. Bought some books for a friend and one for myself – Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I heard about it from an architecture library curator, who said they used it for book discussions. Haven’t started yet but it’s basically told through the eyes of Marco Polo in which he seems to describe different cities in his narrative, but they’re all actually about the same city – Venice.
Book XCess @ Tamarind Square is open 24/7, for if ever you feel like hanging out at a bookstore at 2AM.
BOOK XCESS (CYBERJAYA)
L3M-04, Tamarind Square, Persiaran Multimedia, Cyber 10, 63000 Cyberjaya, Selangor
Some other pictures I took of Tamarind Square. Love the architecture here, which is a mix of industrial (raw, unfinished concrete, greys and black steel) + lots of greenery. Pity there aren’t many shops here.
KL has its fair share of libraries, but did you know that there’s one dedicated exclusively to promoting Japanese language, arts and culture? And it’s been around since the 1990s!
The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur Library is located on the 18th floor of Northpoint in Kuala Lumpur, and was established by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) – a semi-government entity under the Foreign Ministry of Japan, which seeks to promote mutual understanding of Japan in other countries, mainly through the areas of arts and culture. Back in the day, the Internet was not as readily accessible as it is today, and the library was setup to provide students of the Japanese language in Malaysia with learning resources. Today, it boasts an impressive collection of over 14,000 books, CDs, DVDs and other materials.
The library’s Japanese decorations are immediately apparent, from the traditional wall hangings that feature subjects such as dragons and tigers, to the dolls dressed in elaborate kimonos that greet visitors at the counter. There’s even a tatami room, complete with sliding doors and papier mache lanterns to give it that Zen vibe.
As for reading material, they come in various genres, in both English and Japanese: from novels and literature from bestselling authors such as Haruki Murakami and Keigo Higashino, to Japanese language books, exercise books for learners, the latest magazines in fashion, entertainment and travel, manga, as well as cookbooks.
Children’s books section.
A quiet corner with a view of the city. Members (you can sign up by providing two passport sized photos and pay a RM10 annual fee) can utilise the audio /visual equipment to listen to recordings, or watch films and documentaries.
My favourite section was definitely the manga corner, which had tatami mats where you can lounge with a book in hand. They’ve got popular titles such as Slamdunk, Bleach and One Piece, to name a few.
Verdict: The library isn’t massive, but I like how fun and educational it is, especially for lovers of Japanese culture. The only downside I can think of is that it’s not very accessible, even though it’s open to the public. Since it’s part of the JFKL, the library is located within an office building, and you’ll need to register at the security office before you can proceed to the 18th floor. Parking is also difficult to get if you’re driving, so I suggest parking at Mid Valley and walking over from the connecting bridge, or just taking a Grab.
JAPAN FOUNDATION KUALA LUMPUR LIBRARY
18th Floor, Northpoint, Block B, Mid Valley City, No 1, Medan Syed Putra, 59200, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Opening hours: Tuesday–Friday (10.30 a.m.–6.30 p.m), Saturday (10.00 a.m.–6.00 p.m). Closed on Sunday, Monday and Public Holidays.
Contact: 03 2284 6228 (ext. 401/402/403) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve always found novels that revolve around Chinese culture fascinating – especially if the stories are set in the olden days. Maybe I’m compensating for my lack of connection to my Chinese roots. Growing up fourth generation Malaysian Chinese, it was always hard to fit in : my Chinese peers shunned me because I attended Malay school and never picked up Mandarin (what most of the Chinese here use), English was my first language and Cantonese was what I spoke at home. In recent years, I’ve been peppering my parents with questions (grandparents are gone so I can’t ask them directly) – how did my great grandparents come to Malaya? Did they have siblings in China? What did they leave behind? Some my parents could answer, but most of the stories are lost because things were different back in the day. Their mothers and fathers did not sit down and talk to their children like how we do today; they were too busy making ends meet.
Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls offered me a tiny glimpse into life in that era. The novel tells the story of two sisters living through the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, before they fled to perceived safety in America.
Pearl and May are what they call ‘beautiful girls’ – socialites from a middle class family who wile their days away posing for artists in vibrant, cosmopolitan Shanghai and mingling with foreign friends. Growing up sheltered and pampered by their parents, they are blissfully ignorant about the situation unfolding around them: the Japanese are advancing into their home city. When their father declares himself bankrupt due to gambling, the sisters are shocked and angry as he has promised them to a ‘Gold Mountain Man’ – An American Chinese, who has returned to China to seek brides for his sons, in order to repay his debt. They meet the sons, Sam and Vern, the latter who seems to have a mental disability. The couples have a simple wedding ceremony, but after the men have left for America, Pearl and May refuse to board the boat, thinking that the family would be too far away to do anything. Little did they know that this missed boat would be their last safe passage out of China.
Just days later, the Japanese attack Shanghai. Their father disappears; the girls and their bound-foot mother flee to the countryside. Ambushed by Japanese soldiers, Pearl and her mother are raped. Pearl survives thanks to May, who was in hiding when the atrocity was taking place, and they end up in Hong Kong. With only a little money and possessions, they try to exchange their tickets for passage to America to look for their husbands. Once there though, the sisters realise that America was not the ‘land of the promised’ that they had been led to believe…
Shanghai Girls may be a fictional story, but it is set within a historical context which sees the characters going through various key events in history, including the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, Hollywood’s Golden Era, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the rise of Red China. Real life characters, such as actress Anna May Wong, Madame Chiang Kai Shek, ‘Mother of Olvera Street’ Christine Sterling are also woven into the fabric of the tale, making the events seem real and timely.
Mostly though, it explores the relationship and dynamics between its two principal characters, Pearl and May, who happen to be sisters as well as best friends. As we follow the characters’ journey – their downfall into poverty, being forced into an arranged marriage with men they do not love, fleeing their beloved city and to finally arrive in America – I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the hardship that the characters have had to endure, knowing that these were the stories of millions of immigrant Chinese who escaped China during the war.
Life is never a bed of roses, and See tells it the way it is. Once the girls have arrived, thinking they’ve found freedom and sanctuary, they realise that their new family has other plans for them, hemming them into Chinatown’s old ways and rules. The Chinese face discrimination, as suspicious government officials terrorise the community hoping to catch illegals. Despite feeling unwanted and bullied by the locals, Pearl and May struggle to adopt what they believe is an American way of life.
Not all is doom and gloom however. There are uplifting moments, and because they are few and far between, it feels all the more precious.
See is superbly talented at fleshing out descriptions, so much so that the reader can almost envision walking through the streets of Old Shanghai or the gaudy alleyways of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. I also like how she peppers the story with cultural references or beliefs. For example, horoscopes play a big part in Pearl’s beliefs – she, a Dragon, is a tamer of fate, while May the sheep has characteristics that Pearl believes makes her do the things she does.
The novel is a poignant and well-researched piece centred around the indomitable human spirit to survive against all odds and relationships, set amidst a colourful and descriptive backdrop of East meets West. As a Chinese-American writer, See also captures the collective essence of what it is like for many immigrant Chinese families all over the world – the hardship, the bitterness, the longing for home, the fleeting moments of joy and the things they have left behind in search of a better life.