This post is also available in: German
Three words: Cats. In. Bookstores. Yes, this is indeed a thing. I found both in Tiong Bahru, but before I start salivating on my keyboard, first things first.
It is an hour past noon when I hop on a train to Tiong Bahru, with the goal in mind to wander around a bit and drop in at one of the many café’s to grab dessert. Having heard that there is a flourishing coffee shop culture in this part of Singapore, hidden in the middle of what looks like your normal residential area, the food lover in me is excited. I don’t even consider bringing my camera with me, expecting to only snap a picture or two of a delicious looking dessert with my iPhone. It is supposed to be a fast thing. Find my way to the suburb, fill up the belly with something tasty, then head back into downtown.
After a short stint at Drip’s Bakery Café, I am out on the roads again quick enough and wander aimlessly through the streets in the general direction of the nearest subway station. But then I see it, a small white sign with “Books Actually” written across it in neat green lettering. Next to it, piles upon piles of books glitter invitingly in the store window.
While I rarely miss having a home, I wish, almost daily, that I still had my bookshelves. I drag my kindle around the world of course, hundreds of books loaded onto it, but despite the convenience of it all, I still miss holding a physical book in my hands, smelling the fresh paper and proudly giving it a special place on the shelf once I finish it.
It doesn’t even take me the famous split second to decide that I want to go in and in my mind, I’m already cancelling my plans for the rest of the day. The place definitely has the hipster touch, it’s an independent bookstore, specialized in fiction and literature and seems to offer an especially varied selection of poems, essays and short stories. Books Actually supports local authors from Singapore and publishes their works through their own publishing company, Math Paper Press. Most of the books that are offered in between the bags, pencils, postcards, teacups and all kinds of vintage objects can only be bought in this one bookstore and can’t be purchased anywhere else.
My gatherer-gene has been activated and before my inner eye, I already fantasize about leaving the place with a big bag of books in each hand. I decide, despite my suitcase dangerously hovering around the 20kg limit, that I want to buy one of the books. As I’m digging through the piles and picking up books here and there, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. A cat is licking its paw happily, which it then puts down to look at me expectantly. A head scratching is in order. Soon another cat shows up and I’m left wondering how many of them are actually living in this bookstore.
I leave the cats be (believe me, it wasn’t easy) and dive back into the piles of books.
Then, words catch my attention.
“If birds could travel between universes and timelines, what might they see in alternate versions of Singapore?” – The Ayam Curtain
The sentence intrigues me as soon as I spot it in a small, white book with a red metal bird on the cover. It belongs in the category of microfiction and offers close to 40 short stories about alternate versions of Singapore, utopian, more often dystopian and sometimes confusing and crazy. While I do prefer long novels and have never been a big fan of short stories, this neat little book was exactly down my alley and within hours, The Ayam Curtain, edited by June Yang and Joyce Chng, manages to become one of my favourite books of all time.
I highly recommend dropping in at Books Actually if you are in Singapore and picking up your own copy of The Ayam Curtain.
Books Actually can be found here:
9 Yong Siak Street