Friday, February 26, 2016

Bookshop stories

Gerak Budaya is the best sort of bookshop, a place that supports writers and writing, story-telling and poetry readings, and community events.

I got into a long conversation with a man who came in with his bicycle, sweat dripping of his long curly hair (he could have shaken his head, and like a dog, showered the room, but he didn't), saying 'hot, hot, hot' and looking like maybe he'd just come from his yoga class. He parked the bike in a back room and came back out to compliment the woman working in the shop on her choice of music - Nina Simone singing Ne Me Quitte Pas. He said he had been to two of her concerts. Also several Keith Jarrett concerts; "There were people everywhere with their mobile phones held up. It quite destroys the atmosphere. I was at Hamlet, you know, with Bernard Cumberbatch, last year, in London. He had to ban phones - so many people were doing selfies - 'here I am at this moving performance turning around in my seat and instagramming and tweeting about being there', it's terrible."

He was born in Singapore to a Welsh father and maybe a Nonya mother, I forget, and he was an academic in Southeast Asian studies. His name is Gareth. I told them I had studied Southeast Asian history and politics at Auckland and he said, one of the most important academics of the region is a New Zealander, Anthony Reid. "He taught me Indonesian politics", I said, and he told me Tony had been standing just where I was only a few months ago. They didn't have his latest book, A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads in stock, or I'd have bought it.

There was a young blond American girl buying several books by local poets, and Gareth drew her into the conversation. She's from Virginia and had just come from Thailand to renew her visa, travelling by air to southern Thailand, then by ferry to Langkawi and across to Penang. She's living in a village outside of Chiang Mai, tutoring in English on the side while she trains in Muay Thai, thai boxing. She wants to fight professionally. She told us her father was a Navy Seal in the Special Armed Forces and had taught her a bit when she was a child. Gareth asked her if she wrote poetry and she blushed as said yes, and he tried to encourage her to come to a jam session and read.

Gareth is organising an event for Shakespeare's 400th anniversary which I didn't even know is this year. He's getting 150 people to each read a sonnet and some of the volunteers have asked to be do a translation of a favorite sonnet in their own language.

Street scenes today.

Mee wonton soup

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