A Little Bookshop Story

I don’t have much space on my bookshelf anymore. In fact books are spilling off the shelves, perched precariously as they are. Yet as any diehard bookworm will tell you, there is nothing like coming home with a bagful of delicious finds from the bookshop with a big silly grin as if we’d discovered the most precious gems in the world.

To me, there really is nothing like a book.

As a child, I’d spent countless hours with my head stuck in a book. I was quite embarrassed to be called bookish and nerdy but that was essentially what I was.

Back then, it was all for the joy and pleasure of reading and letting stories carry me up and away to lands I could only imagine.

Until today, that book habit has stayed. Of course my repertoire includes lots of marketing and business books, besides the fiction and memoirs which I read.

Each country I travel to, I make it a point to poke my head into a bookshop.

In Cochin airport, before departing India, I found Sankar’s which despite its relatively small size, sold fantastic contemporary titles aside the usual Ayurvedic books on health and healing. You guessed it. Although I had checked in my luggage, I decided to hand carry the pile of books – the selections were that enticing, not to mention cheap!

The books were of good quality, printed on quality paper and not the see-through type of paper we usually associate with Indian reprints. Added to this, after conversion from rupee to ringgit, it was really inexpensive and worth buying.

When I was in Hong Kong in March this year, again one of my quests was to find at least one of the three bookshops I had jotted down. With real estate being what it is in HK, bookshops should be quite interesting. I mentioned to Nic that we really should look for Flow, a secondhand bookshop in Central, before we left. We wandered down some narrow streets in Central and almost gave up as the warren of tightly packed shops and confusing signboards completely overwhelmed us.

Evening market scene in Central, Hong Kong
Evening market scene in Central, Hong Kong

It was one of those evenings where dusk really fell fast – we felt chilly and had to duck into Lan Fong Yuen cafe for a rest and a cup of its famous milk tea (only to discover that they proudly proclaimed the milk was imported from Malaysia!). Once we felt rested and re-energized by the tea, we stood outside the tiny cafe and casually glanced around us. What did we find but Flow the bookshop, just a few steps away from Lan Fong Yuen!

Lan Fong Yuen, the famous nai-cha place in Central, HK
Lan Fong Yuen, the famous nai-cha place in Central, HK

Flow was on the first floor, above a contemporary Thai restaurant on Lyndhurst Terrace. We looked around for a way to go up, only to find the stairs were located behind the restaurant!

We finally found Flow organic bookshop!
We finally found Flow organic bookshop!

Up two short flights of stairs and we entered into a book haven. It wasn’t much bigger than my hall at home but oh the eclectic titles made me swoon. Books of all shapes and sizes, of all subjects, even audio CDs were available. From design to spirituality, from fiction to Chinese history, you name it – Flow had it and at reasonable prices too. (I found out about Flow from this article – it was one of HK’s best indie book nooks.)

Flow bookshop, above Cafe Siam
Flow bookshop, above Cafe Siam

If it were not for the fact that we had to rush off to attend an Irish dance performance (that month being the Hong Kong Arts Festival and we specifically bought tickets for this performance), Nic and I would have been stuck in Flow till closing time. When we got back to SP’s apartment that night, we gushed so much about this secondhand bookshop that she visited it a few times after we left HK. I said I would visit Flow again the next time I visit HK.

About a week ago, SP emailed, saying that Flow would be closing up as rent prices in HK was rising dramatically. I was saddened! Flow was one of the best finds during our trip to HK, much better than any of the cafes or museums we’d been to. On its Facebook page, it said it had been 13+ years at its present location and they were having a sale prior to moving. I hope Flow is moving but not closing up!

Of course, in Penang I have my regular secondhand bookshop in 2020 in Midlands One-Stop. I go by every now and then to check out its stash of Terry Pratchett books.

Everyone in KL and PJ – at least all my bookworm friends – had told me that I should go to Book Excess in Amcorp Mall. I have been to Payless Books but friends literally persuaded me that I should go to Amcorp Mall to see for myself.

And so I did. The place was huge and its books were new and affordable and I wanted to take every book home. It was like finding a pot of gold! Every book simply cried out to be taken home.

I had to make some choices – I knew I wanted them but I knew my shelf space was running out. I so wanted to read Agatha Christie’s autobiography and Paul Coelho’s memoir. But you know what, I did buy Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France as well as a book on beading. The rest were pure business books. We bought so many books we qualified automatically for their member discount card.

It’s a blessing and curse sometimes to give in to my book-buying spirit!

More Books From My Fave List

Here are more books from my fave list. In case you missed out my first book list, you can check it out here.

11. Waiting for Your Cat to Bark by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg
This is for website junkies only. When I read this book, I totally understood what they said because that’s what we practise here in Redbox Studio. It’s all about communication, psychology and logical design. It does not matter how many hits you get if your hits don’t convert.

12. The Greatness Guide by Robin Sharma
Yes, I met Robin Sharma recently and yes, I bought this book for Nic (had it signed by Robin himself too). But I started reading it and found it enthralling, with short reminders about living a great life. With 101 stories, I found that I could pick it up, riffle through a few pages of stories and continue another day.

13. 1434 by Gavin Menzies
I did not manage to read his first book, 1421 but that didn’t stop me from buying this second book. Gavin writes non-fiction so this is a book about how the Chinese ignited the Renaissance in Italy. So now we know it wasn’t really the brilliant Italians that started it all – they copied off the Chinese! The Chinese, led by Admiral Cheng Ho, brought with them the tools and technology to share with the Italians. All of a sudden, dear old Leonardo da Vinci seems redundant! If you’ve never liked history, after reading this, you’ll want to be a historian. (Update: I read that “Doing Da Vinci” the documentary that gets a few engineers together to build some of the machinery which Da Vinci wrote about but never built will be shown on ASTRO. Hah. For all we know, Da Vinci copied those OFF the Chinese. Look at the similarities the Italians have with the Chinese. Noodles/spaghetti?)

14. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
I don’t have to retell the story of why I love this eye-opening book. It throws all you know about money and finances out of the window. See my little story of this book.

Other equally notable books by Robert are: The Cashflow Quadrant, Retire Young Retire Rich. All teach you how to take control of your financial future. It’s one of the best and most influential reads of this century!

15. Brand You 50 by Tom Peters
Tom Peters’ book is about branding but written in short, quick quips and tips. Formerly from McKinsey, Peters’ books can be a shock to your visual senses. He loves using typography and colours to underline his points and boy does he have plenty of them. I can only take so much of Peters’ books before my eyes get tired. His ideas are radical and cool though. I suggest dipping into them maybe 3 pages a day!

16. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker
I read this book before I saw the man live on stage. I much prefer the book to the real man, sorry to say. I’ve even bought his books for friends because what he says is true – if you don’t change your blueprint for money success, it does not matter how much money you have, you won’t be able to keep it or do much with it. Starting with the right money attitude and blueprint is essential if you want to live well and rich. Most of us live with the money blueprint of our parents. We inherit the blueprints and if we are not careful, they could ruin our chance at success. This book is a life-changer. A must-have on your bookshelf.

More excellent books:
Seeds of Greatness by Denis Waitley
The Little Red Book of Sales Answers by Jeffrey Gitomer
Success Built to Last by Porras, Emery & Thomson

Coming up: My best-loved fiction list!

How To Prepare For Ivy League

We’ve worked together with Chen Chow before, and have organised 2 highly successful talks (under the auspices of Mensa Malaysa, Penang branch) when he came to Penang in the past 2 years to talk about getting a scholarship to study in the USA.

He is formerly from Cornell University (2005), and a former JPA scholarship recipient so he definitely knows what he is talking about. Oh and he is also the head interviewer for Cornell scholarship applications in Malaysia.

What I most like about Chen Chow is his helpful and humble nature. You don’t see much of this any more.

Yet despite his busy life (and yes, he does hold a full-time job in KL), he is still willing to travel to Penang with his own money so he could speak to parents and youths about what it takes to get a scholarship to study abroad.

He can hold a room captivated with his 3-hour long talk and still, parents and youths cannot get enough of him. Chen Chow is so engaging and so full of ideas and tips that people still want to linger on after the talk to pick his brains!

But what makes it all worthwhile is that Chen Chow sms-ed me a few months ago and told me that 2 of the youths who attended his Penang talk managed to secure JPA scholarships for study abroad! It was a fantastic feeling!

I felt really happy for these 2 students – one will be studying engineering and the other, law. And it all happened because Chen Chow shared what he knew about aceing scholarship interviews, what to write in a scholarship essay, how to stand out in a roomful of potential scholarship candidates, what candidates ought to write in their application forms and lots more.

I mean, I’m way past applying for scholarships (hey, I’m 35 and I left school a LONG time ago) but even I got excited. I bet the parents and youths were more delirious after hearing the inspiring stories of Malaysian students who have made it to Yale, Harvard and other Ivy League unis. This is really Malaysia Boleh spirit!

He does not come to Penang often although he is a Bukit Mertajam local. So if you want to study overseas, get into the top US universities without burdening your parents, the best way is to find out where Chen Chow is speaking next and listen well.

His upcoming activity is a 3-day workshop for students only at Taylors University College, from 1 to 3 August. The maximum number he is taking is 250 students so don’t miss out if you want to learn how you can get a US scholarship.

With a stellar list of facilitators (current scholars and previous alumni of Ivy League universities), it’s worth every bit of your RM25 for the 3 days! (YES, can you believe it? Only RM25! That’s not a typo.) You’d get to mingle with these scholarship recipients, get firsthand knowledge and learn what it’s like to study abroad.

But hurry as Chen Chow told me seats are really filling up fast!

(The college application resources are worth a look too!)

Look What I Bought for RM87

books from the secondhand bookstore

Didn’t mean to buy so many books but I could not help myself when I went to my regular secondhand bookstore.

If I didn’t stop myself, I would have bought more. And a few more old issues of the O magazine by Oprah. And In-Style, too.

One of the most exciting finds was this tiny booklet by Gustav Verbeek, a comic artist who lived at the turn of the old century (he died in 1937).

What’s interesting is he only drew 6-panel comics. If you read it one way, you get half the story.

If you read the comic panels the upside down way, you get the other half of the story!

His comics are mainly about the silly adventures of two characters called Lovekins and Muffarroo. Both are odd in their own way. But it is simply amazing how creative Verbeek is because once you turn the picture upside down, a totally new ‘scene’ appears!

You can take a look at what I mean by looking at this drawing of his. First you see how Muffaroo is attacked by a big fish in his canoe but when you turn the comic upside down, you see Lovekins being caught by a giant bird. How amazing is that!

And the story does make sense. And this Dutch-American man did this type of comic every week for the 64 weeks that he was drawing for The New York Herald newspaper.

It’s like the ambigrams made famous by Dan Brown in Angels & Demons. Ambigrams are graphic art where the word reads the same both ways!

Of course, Verbeek’s booklet of 6 stories were a complete steal at RM1.50. I don’t think you can get it anywhere even if you had pots of money.

The things one can get at the secondhand bookstore!

My List of Must-Read Books For Business & Life

This started off as an exchange of lists between Vern and me. (Vern – this is for you!)

She gave me a list of must-watch movies because I’ve basically missed out on a lot of good stuff over the years. So in return, I am giving her a list of must-read books in case she ever thinks of starting her own business and wants to get a really good head start.

1. The E-Myth books by Michael Gerber
I wished I read his books way back when we first started our business. Michael Gerber’s books tell you all you need to know about owning a business and running a business. There’s a distinction between working IN your business and working ON your business. If you work IN your business, the business can never grow. If you work ON your business, you may end up happier, freer and richer. Once you read these books, you must take action or it will be such a waste. Start with The E-Myth Mastery and then go on to The E-Myth Revisited.

2. Small is the New Big by Seth Godin
If you know me well, you know I absolutely love this bald man called Seth Godin. His ideas are more than just revolutionary, they’re funny and sometimes worth a think. Small is the New Big talks about small little things that make a big difference whether it is customer service, marketing or R&D. His writing is highly readable and he stays clear of jargon and gobbledegook. I always rethink the way we do things around here in Redbox Studio each time I re-read his book.
Also check out The Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside and Unleashing the Idea Virus.

3. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
I absolutely reach for this book when I need to boost myself. Yeah, I’m not the chirpy bird all the time. I love the way Jack illustrates his success principles one by one. If there ever was a book that could literally pick me up from the doldrums, this is it. I can read it over and over and still NOT get tired of it.

4. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Now Blink is the kind of book that you read if you’re curious about intuition or what intuition really can do in everyday life. Blink is about how you know things you cannot explain. This book allows me to re-think gut instinct and pay more attention to that gut feeling we all sometimes have but don’t really bother about. I wrote about it too so if you want a pseudo-review that piques, go here.

5. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Warning – if you are a staunch Catholic or Muslim or a faithful believer of any of the world’s oldest religions, reading this book will do 2 things to you. Either you fall off your chair laughing because the writing’s so funny and sarcastic or you will toss the book aside because it attacks all you’ve believed in. I’m the first type. I’m Buddhist you see so I don’t really believe in God (oooh, being blasphemous here!) and I believe way too much in karma and past lives so I had good fun reading Dawkins’ atheist outlook. Of course he can be annoying in some parts but for most parts, he really makes me see how questioning religion opens up … ta-dah…. more questions! He’s really fiendish and totally British so read Dawkins with an open mind. Or he really will open your mind.

6. Influence, Science & Practice by Robert Cialdini
I’m the geeky type in a way and I love research especially scientific research and their outcomes. Cialdini’s book is a fantastic journey into the psychology of influence. Social influence, that is. I once took a class in Psychology during university and enjoyed new ways of looking at things so this book was perfect in telling me why humans behave the way they do, the words you can use to get them to do what you want them to do and how you can use them in your life. For good outcomes of course. Each story is backed by real-life research that had been carried out. So expect nothing less than social science at work here.

7. Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker
This is a tiny, thin booklet. It’s not even a book and it was expensive. But the quality of a book lies not in its thickness, this much I know over the years of reading. You can find crap even in thick tomes. People can still write about nothing although they think they’re elucidating a point. But Drucker is Drucker. He is concise and precise, locking in his best ideas about self management (one of the important keys of business) in this tiny book with a cover that’s as plain as can be. It is an essential reminder that success starts with oneself first.

8. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne
One of the most popular books of its time and what a splash it caused for the business community. It was the MUST READ book of the century. While most business books talk about being on top of the competition, this book told you to get out and eliminate the competition and make them irrelevant! As it is written by 2 academics, the book tends to be brittle and dry in some parts but me being the “I-can-wade-through-any-academic-reading” person (thanks to doing my MA and being taught never to be afraid of text or citations), I found this book brilliant in its insights. It tells why Cirque de Soleil is in a class of its own apart from other famous companies like Samsung. Ever wondered why suddenly there’s a Korean wave/revolution all across the world? They use the Blue Ocean Strategy! (Did I mention Kim is Korean? But duh!)

9. A Whole New Mind by Daniel H Pink
If you haven’t read this book, man, where have you been? Besides being the kind of book you can feel pretty smart after you’ve read it, Pink’s book gives you clues and tips about how you can conquer the future. Yup, using both sides of your brain. The left and the right sides. Pink basically says that to survive in the future, you not only need IQ (very important in the past 40 years or so) but you also need EQ (very relevant now). The future belongs to people who can harness both IQ and EQ, creating products and jobs no one probably has heard of until they were created. I mean, did you know about Facebook before it appeared? Or about how essential iPods are now that you know what you missed before they came to the market?

10. Getting Things Done by David Allen
You can’t go through life if you haven’t organised it. And getting things done is one of it. Allen’s book teaches how you can overcome the eternal busyness of work to focus on what really matters – a.k.a your work! I mean, the real stuff. The stuff that you are paid to do. His method is practical with an aim on clearing away the messy stuff so you can focus on real stuff. Getting things done is almost cultish. Never have we had so much of technology but also never have we had so much to do so Allen’s book teaches you how to slice away at time-wasters and truly be productive. Everyone needs this book from freelancers, businesses to stay-at-home moms. I wrote about this too.

Another list coming up soon. I’ve got a pile of fave reads and this is just half of them.

Now’s your turn to share. What is your favourite book and why?

This Book Disturbed Me

I was reading this book just this week by a Singaporean writer.

It was just a random pick because I was getting bored by the other 2 books which I’ve yet to finish. And this book called out to me.

It has a green cover. Dark green.

Reading a book is like having a relationship. First impressions count. That’s called judging a book by its cover. If a cover looks good, it will be picked up. Then I browse. Next, I look at the table of contents. If it appeals, I jump right in.

It’s not shallow. It’s just how people in a ‘noisy’ information world process this overload of information. How we take short cuts to minimize time wastage.

I am not a discriminating reader – I read everything from fiction (except sci-fi) to non-fiction (business and management).

This book which I picked up was full of great information. It spoke about building a world-class business. The writer took examples from his own business and quoted other world greats like McDonalds, Apple, Microsoft.

Nic who had read the book earlier said while it was informative, it was skimming the surface. The information was just enough to get a would-be entrepreneur excited but then did not really give how-to or indepth techniques.

As Nic had critiqued the book, I wanted to find out if it were true. If you wanted to start a business and wanted someone to condense the most popular business books of the world into one single book, this book saves you time.

Of course, the writer tried to pack too much into one book. I appreciated that he tried to cover all manner of business in one go and make the book something of value to every reader.

What spoiled the book for me was his inattention to details. While I cannot fault him for grammar and typos (he is a business person, not an English major), I find it disturbing that his editor did not catch half the mistakes/typos in his book!

Before I read his book, I had a good impression of this person. He’s young and successful with a business spanning a few Asian countries. I like his no-nonsense writing style, direct and no waffling about. He has enough resources to hire a good editor to edit through and catch the silly mistakes.

But he apparently didn’t.

He overlooked the small details and that annoyed me. Imagine reading a paragraph and then seeing a capital letter in between for no reason whatsoever. Or reading till the end only to realize there’s a missing URL because the sentence is hanging. Let me not talk about kerning or spacing of the subheads – that will be going into the layout of the book.

Now I start to wonder if he really wrote it or used a ghost writer!

While I may be an extreme case of nitpicking, I think a good book is about both content and delivery. A shoddily edited book reflects (badly) on the writer. A shoddily written book meant the writer is not very careful with details.

In case you are wondering what the book is (now that I’ve piqued your interest), it’s one of Adam Khoo’s books.

I’ve a right mind to email him and tell him about these niggling mistakes! (But with Google, maybe he will be alerted that someone wrote a review of his book sooner or later.)

At least this will spare the next edition from aggravating other readers. Plus considering most of the people who gave positive reviews about the book are academics (and this is SINGAPORE!).

Do you think book authors have a responsibility to go through their books well with their editors and get their books properly proofread before they go to print? One or two errata is fine. But this is not one or two typos.

Oh well. That’s why this book disturbed me.

(Oh ya, I blogged about pizza at T-Jays and the chef sms-ed Nic to tell him he read that post. Never underestimate the world of technology! News spread fast.)

Eat, Pray & Love: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Mantra


Jana gave me Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray & Love when I was in KL a few months ago.

We’re both book-mad in the same way and love the same kind of reads. But Jana’s more feminist than me so I was surprised that this non-fiction was slipped into my hands, with an urgent “read it”.

Have I heard of Elizabeth Gilbert!

She was interviewed on Oprah sometime ago and I had caught that episode but it didn’t make sense to me as I hadn’t read the book yet (then).

And with all things ASTRO, they always have re-runs so I managed to catch the same episode AFTER I read her book.

One Woman’s Spiritual Journey

Elizabeth Gilbert personifies much of the modern woman in a prickly situation. She is a writer. This book is real. It’s based on her one year of travel first to Italy (to eat), to India (to pray) and to Indonesia, Bali island (to love as love found her!). It sounds unreal because she was given a book deal to travel and write so this book is the result of that one whole year.

When she started, or rather before she started her journey to the three countries beginning with “I” (it sounds contrived, does it not? Everything seems to fit. To fall seamlessly into its own place of ironies. Her own journey, looking for herself, “I”…three countries, three different missions, one goal – to discover herself. Maybe I am too bloody jaded about Americans.

Maybe.

Her story is one that most modern women share. She was in a marriage, trying for a baby. Found herself not wanting either. Didn’t know how to get out of it.

When she finally divorced, she decided to go after what she really wanted in life.

To learn Italian in the native country of Italians.

To eat without feeling guilty (the sin of today’s civilisation!)

To spend 4 months each in Italy, India and Indonesia.

To go to an ashram in India and learn meditation.

To find the medicine man in Bali (Ketut Liyer) whom she had met years ago and to become his ‘assistant’ and English tutor.

Eventually she found love in Bali.

She returned home, wrote this book and it touched so many women because it’s adventurous, exciting and deeply philosophical.

Why I Adored This To Bits

Sigh. We’re women lah. We empathise with such books. We flock to such authors. They give us reasons to discover ourselves.

I would be a liar if I said I didn’t like her book. I loved it. I felt I was taken on the same journey to these 3 countries and saw the same landscapes, met the same people, laughed at the corny jokes, loved and hurt, and teared at the same time.

Gilbert is not a soppy writer; her strength is in her words, flowing softly like a breeze. It rushes out at you at certain times, augmented by her love of self deprecating humour despite her heartbreaking circumstances. She kept me glued to the book because I really needed to know if she reached her goal.

If you’re a woman and love travel and culture, Elizabeth Gilbert may make you eager to jump onto the next plane and go in search of Ketut Liyer, her Indonesian medicine man. I loved him because he was just so real!

This book is a keeper.

You would want to dip into it just for fun and accompany her on her spiritual path once in a while to remind you of your own spiritual journey too.

Something you can pass on to your girlfriends too.

While you’re at her website, read her thoughts on writing too. Lovely!

Turning Life into Stories

If you’re a closet writer (like me lah) and want to learn from a real writer for free (and get to ask all those burning questions on writing short stories etc), do make yourself free for Robert Raymer is coming to Penang this Merdeka weekend.

He will be doing a whirlwind promo tour of Penang to promote his new book, Lovers & Strangers Revisited. (He lives in Kuching, by the way).

Tomorrow he will be at Institut Perguruan Persekutuan P.Pinang from 9 am to conduct a workshop on “Writing Narratives and ‘Neighbours’: Making Choices” This is open to the public.

You can also catch him at MPH Gurney Plaza at 3pm tomorrow where he’ll teach you how you can turn your ideas into short stories, using examples from Lovers and Strangers Revisited.

Finally, if you’re still keen to learn more from the man who recently won 4th place in the 2008 USA National Writers Association Novel Contest, you can still meet him on Sunday (Hari Merdeka) at the Little Penang Street Market. He’ll be selling books at one of the stalls and giving a reading at Segrafedo at 12 noon.

I’ll be there as a friend and supporter as well as pick up a few writing tips myself.

So if you love writing and want some tips to hone that craft of yours, make a date with Robert this weekend!

Spotting a 10 Million Dollar Fake in 2 Seconds

I bring at least 2 books whenever I go to Kuching. I know that I will have lots of time to read unlike the stolen minutes when I am in Penang.

This round, I picked up a non-fiction to read. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Blink wasn’t in my list of must-read books but something I picked up as Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point which was a major hoo-haa of a book last year. I hadn’t read The Tipping Point but after Blink, I now know I must backtrack and read that.

But I am planning to re-read Blink.

I don’t usually read the same book twice because I barely have time to read. But if a book warrants a second read, it is definitely worth my time. Ha!

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Are You A Daily Writer?

I write. I write in my journal, I write in my blog, I write in our business blog and I write, scribble, jot down stuff and ideas that get into my head when I am reading books. I’ve written all sorts of things – from letters to the editor, travel articles, commissioned pieces, to short angst-filled pieces, short stories (soppy and crappy though they may be) and assignments in my student days.

You would think that writing is easy as I’ve been writing for so long.

I can tell you, it isn’t easy. Writing takes a lot of time, even though friends think I can spew words out like a fire hydrant. You know this thing about the Muse? When the Muse isn’t there, the Muse isn’t there. I struggle for words, sometimes I struggle to think of a topic. I can stare at the screen and not a single idea swishes by.

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