Another bookstore closing

Another bookstore closing — this one a major retailer in Hong Kong. The major overhaul in the publishing market continues as traditional, large book retailers are finding it more and more difficult to be profitable.

The impact of e-books and Amazon has certainly been slower in Asia than in the USA. There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this. Amazon doesn’t have the reach and muscle in Asia as it does in the United States, but that is changing. Amazon has Amazon Japan, Amazon India, and Amazon Australia throughout the Pacific Rim and South Asia. But vast swaths of Asia have a huge gap and many obstacles to overcome in order for e-books and e-readers to be readily used and available, as this paper from June 2014 points out: http://ala14.ala.org/files/ala14/ALA2014-SEA-Ebooks-paper.pdf.

Despite the lack of dedicated e-readers and the lack of commercially available e-books for purchase, traditional bookstores in the region are STILL closing down.

Right about the time Borders was shuttering its USA stores for good, a Malaysian company purchased the franchise rights to open Borders Bookstores in Malaysia. When Penang’s Queensbay Mall opened in 2007, one of the featured stores was Borders. It had a huge retail footprint with its standard books, music, and coffee shop. But within the first year of operation, it could easily be seen that the music portion of their store wasn’t making money. It kept getting smaller and smaller until the music was removed altogether. Skip ahead a few more years and they remodeled the store once again. But this time, they cut the store in half, making it just a fraction of its original footprint.

The Borders franchise here got creative and tried new things. They opened up a Borders Express outlet at another mall in Penang. This was a very small retail location – kind of like a teaser of their other store. This small location lasted only a few months before it was shut down.

Time and time again, bookstores in the region find themselves unable to remain profitable, despite the fact that e-readers and e-books are not popular here.

I can imagine that the future of e-books in Asia looks bright because there are so many markets to grow in and so much of the region is already extremely tech savvy. But that technology also underlines some of the problems which booksellers will have to deal with including a reading public which has its attention severely split between the myriad of entertainment options found on the Internet. Many bookstores will continue to struggle to stay relevant in the every changing technological revolution we are all a part of.

What’s Going On in Hong Kong?

One country, two systems.

In 1997, Hong Kong was transferred back to China after Britain’s 100 year lease expired. The British-Chinese transfer agreement stated that, while Hong Kong would from that point on be under the sovereignty of the Beijing government, it would remain “untouched” in that certain civil liberties and democratic ideals which were not realized in mainland China would continue in Hong Kong for the next 50 years. 1997-2047.

One country, two systems.

What would happen in 2047 remains unknown, but perhaps the current demonstrations in Hong Kong are giving us all clues as to what is to come. And should it really come as any surprise?

In a country where anti-government demonstrations are not welcomed and free speech must toe-the-line with official Beijing policy, different pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are protesting Beijing’s resistance to true democracy in the HK government’s administration. The protesters are demanding that those who want to run for office should not be vetted or chosen by Beijing, ensuring that the top HK administrators are pro-Beijing.

The protests are intense and the images of the Chinese security force flashing their muscle and threatening crackdowns are ominous. The thoughts of the Tienanmen Square Massacre linger easily in one’s mind, even though this is a different situation.

But is it really that different? The main difference is, perhaps, that those living in Hong Kong were under the impression that they had certain democratic rights and civil liberties when in actuality they do not. The pro-democracy students of Tienanmen knew they didn’t have the rights but were demonstrating for them.  Is there really any difference between the two? Not much.

Once again it comes down to power. The communist politburo is afraid that real democratic reform will threaten their power. If only they could realize that power from government is not derived by the gun one wields, it comes from the consent of the governed, and when a government deprives the citizens of their God-given civil liberties, the people have every right to make their demands known and to ask for redress of grievance.

What’s going on in Hong Kong is a struggle of political philosophy. It might end bloodily by the end of a rifle, but that will not be the ultimate ending because people will always strive to be free. It’s their right.

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #7 – Hong Kong

In some ways, I’ve always felt that Hong Kong feels like the anti-Singapore (which was #8 on my list.) Singapore seems western in many ways – especially in infrastructure and city-planning. Hong Kong feels Asian. Hong Kong has the crowded streets, the messiness, the small shops, restaurants, outdoor eateries that make it so fun and fascinating. Now of course, Hong Kong is a spectacular city in its development. It has one of, if not the most, awe-inspiring skylines in the world. The topography of Hong Kong with its rugged mountains and hills is beautiful.

Hong Kong has it all. Dim sum. Shopping of all varieties. Hawker stalls and top-notch restaurants. The breath-taking Victoria Harbor. Make sure to ride the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. It’s cheap and thrilling! Explore one of the many other smaller islands. We used to stay at a guest house on the quaint Cheung Chau Island, where motor vehicles were not allowed. What a wonderful and relaxing getaway on the edge of one of the world’s most exciting cities.

That’s why it’s number seven on my list.  Here’s a recap of the countdown so far:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Singapore

7. Hong Kong

6. ?

A Waterfall that Fueled an Ending

Here is a picture of Thac Ban Gioc, on the Vietnam-China border in the Vietnamese province of Cao Bang.

Thac Ban Gioc

What does this waterfall have to do with my new novel? Until yesterday, nothing. But the mind seeks ways to justify actions and plot-lines, and I often find that the way I do that is going back to my experiences. It’s there; I just have to flesh it out. Spend a little time thinking, and suddenly, all is obvious.

OK, let me be more specific.

I’m down to the final 10,000 or so words of my untitled third novel. For the longest time, I thought the father and son in the story would be leaving Vietnam on a plane to Bangkok. From Bangkok, the son was going to decide that he had unfinished business and I was going to figure out a way for him to jump the border somewhere and get back into Vietnam to finish things. However, as I finally reached the point where Bangkok fit into the plot, I realized that Bangkok didn’t fit into the plot.

Now what?

Should they not leave Vietnam?

Should they go somewhere else?

Is there another secret way into Vietnam?

And then the waterfall came to my mind. I traveled there on a long 6 hour motorbike trip a good dozen years ago. It was an amazing trip and breathtakingly beautiful. The waterfall, when we saw it, was during low season and not completely filled out as it can be. But wonderful nonetheless.

I remember chatting to a guard there and he told me not to put my foot in the water or he would have to arrest me because the water is the international border between the two countries. I promised that I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to find out what a Cao Bang jail was like.

But in contrast, the Chinese from across the border, treated the ‘sacred’ water as a play-land. They got on little boats, crossed unabashedly to the Vietnamese side and splashed joyously in the water.

My first thought was, ‘no fair’. I want to do that! But I didn’t, mindful of the young guard who was polite enough to warn me about his handcuffs.

And so my travelling party enjoyed the majestic scene by sight only.

But now, as I tried to think of a way to get a person across the Chinese border, my mind immediately came back to the happy Chinese crossing at will on their little tourist rafts.

I got it!

And so the plane which was heading to Bangkok was diverted to Hong Kong. One short flight to Nanning, a tourist package to the falls, and my protagonist is set to illegally cross the border to finish what he started.

Perfect.

I love it when little ideas and memories provide the template for everything you need.

Now, to write it!

(Photo Credit: Me! I took it. The background on the other side of the water is China. The foreground is Vietnam.)