Books, Bookstores, CDs and More UK Things

An Oxfam store in York

Ads for books
The streets of London are filled with ads and billboards, but there aren’t a lot of ads for iPhone X, cosmetics, and skin clearing products, which is a shocker. Instead, there are many, many ads for plays, movies, and books.

My most precious book find was ‘Butt’, a compendium of Butt magazine’s most intriguing interviews, which I found in one of the Waterstoneses (the five-storey one, the one where I could spend the rest of my life).

Fun fact: the United Kingdom, not Kinokuniya, has all the books you could ever want. But I could be wrong. Hearing strangers talk about books in the bookstore was a heart-stopping experience that has never happened to me before.

In Bangkok, we have Dasa, secondhand book and CD sellers. In the UK, they have Oxfam. Oxfam is better because every penny you spend goes to charity (and to the salary of Oxfam employees). When you buy a bunch of books, CDs, vinyl, or DVDs from Oxfam, you’re not really hoarding but donating and living your best Christian life.

HMV
I posted a photo of myself browsing CDs at HMV on Instagram and it came off sounding a bit shady because I captioned it with ‘I love museums’. I didn’t mean to imply that CDs, DVDs and Blurays are relics from the past. If you know me, you know that I am never shady toward anything that I hold dear. I need to explain this.

I spent around 4 hours in HMV stores – one in London and another in York – an amount of time that could have been spent in more ~important~ places or in other horror tours. But, to borrow a phrase from tour brochures, no visit to the UK is complete without a 4-hour stop at the local record store!

And what a record store. They have CDs from 1997, one of the best years in music, and DVDs and Bluray of movies and TV shows that you will never find in Asia. I bought Jeff Buckley’s ‘You and I’, which is probably the 57th Jeff Buckley posthumous live album release. It is the rare Jeff Buckley album that’s properly mastered, ie, doesn’t sound like it was lifted from cassette tape recordings like the albums ‘Live at L’Olympia’, ‘Grace Around the World’, and ‘Mystery White Boy’. Jeff Buckley died in 1997.

Only those who remain fascinated by physical media would see the wonders of such a magical place like HMV. Having visited a 1st world country for the first time, I was stunned to see a record store like HMV whose continued existence in the UK can be explained by two things:

1.) Piracy is a serious offense

2.) People consume culture by the bucketful, and we all know that the best way to consume things is by the bucketful. I only stayed for a week but the Brits seem very, very cultured. It’s very nice.

Whenever I go to an exotic country like the UK, I try to visit a record store and look for Jeff Buckley, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan albums. I collect things, I don’t know why! But here’s a nice Italo Calvino quote from his essay “Hermit in Paris” which explains this mania of mine:

So now we are entering into the limitless Paris adored by collectors, this city which invites you to make collections of everything, because it accumulates and classifies and redistributes, where you can search as in an archaeological excavation. The collector’s experience can still be an existential adventure, a search of the self through objects, an exploration of the world which is at the same time a realization of the self.

Thanks, Italo.

Asian Food
European food is blandish but some sausages are scrumptious. I say this as a very Asian person who has only stayed in the UK for 7 days. Asian food is so good that you can’t not have it for more than 3 days. It seems silly to eat Chinese food while in Sheffield but on your 3rd day without an Asian meal, you start yearning for Asian soup and other Asian dishes that assault your Asian senses.

Harry Potter shops
There are plenty of Harry Potter stores in York which JK Rowling probably liked. York was exquisite. It’s no wonder pubs are a big thing; they’re warm places filled with stone-cold foxes, a great variety of beer, and human warmth. Yes, human warmth. Everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t know anyone, you could try butting in a conversation, or go with someone like our friend Aya who’s the mayor of Sheffield‘s London Street pubs. She could really rule that pub circuit.

If I were a Potter person, I would have died on right there on The Shambles, a quaint little district lined with wizard and witch-themed stores with names like ‘The Store That Shall Not Be Named’ and such. But what I am is a Chucky stan, which is why I was more excited about the HMV stores where all the Child’s Play movies are sold along with many horror movies, including the elusive ‘Cult of Chucky ‘ and ‘Halloween H20’.

I have a suggestion: The Philippines should market Jose Rizal’s novels ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ like York does JK’s Harry Potter. Then, we shall put up Noli Me-El Fili stores all over the country, so someone could die in our streets out of sheer joy of finding a store that sells exclusive Ibarra collectibles.

Dreamgirls would never leave you
I was stunned upon realizing that the ‘Listen’ number in the ‘Dreamgirls’ movie was turned into a Beyoncé solo performance. In the play, it’s a Deena and Effie duet about listening to the girl you originally were, before you turned into a duplicitous, scene-stealing broad. I bet they changed it in the movie to make sure Jennifer Hudson doesn’t out-Beyoncé Beyoncé, which she ended up doing anyway. The West End play was very good. The Curtis character, unremarkable in the movie, is a commanding charmer in the play.

Trip steps
I fell down the stairs in the Air BnB apartment where we stayed, and it’s not even one of the trip steps which the Scottish peoples deployed in the old days to trick burglars into killing themselves. No one can be sure that the ‘trip steps’ were designed to kill burglars, rather than just seriously injuring them, but given the Scots’ fascination with killings and executions (at least in the old days), that’s probably the real intention. If you’re walking around Scotland, watch your steps.

Could I live in the UK?
I probably could, but I was told that the cold can be unbearable. I have no doubt that’s true. And for a thin-skinned skinny Asian like me, it could be a big problem.

I thought, yes, I could live in the UK because the people are polite, and as we all know all we really need in this world to survive is the warmth of human friendship and to be treated with politeness at all times. Living in a cold country like England sounds exciting and if things don’t turn out well, I could Down and Out in Paris and London myself and write a bad memoir about my difficulties with visas and things. I’d like to see a movie where someone moves to another country and shows how difficult it is to legitimize one’s residence. London has Waterstones and HMV, — also things necessary to survive — but for now we stay put.

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Create Your Own Adventure in Taipei

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You are not guaranteed to have an interesting time when you visit Taipei. Your plane will arrive on time, a pleasant-looking, English-speaking guard will help you use the bus ticket vending machine, and the bus you will hop on to will have extremely comfortable seats where you will view Taoyuan’s gloomy cityscape. You will feel like pressing play on your iPod’s baby-making playlist because the weather demands it. Whitney Houston’s ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ might seem like a divine idea but Alicia Keys’s ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ will be a more inspired choice.

It will be cold but not oppressively so. You will be surrounded by attractive couples snuggling up to each other because there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

It will be an uneventful hour-long ride from the airport to the main city, but you can make it more interesting when you get off at Taipei Main Station where you will wait for a cab, which is a great place to start a scene. In the waiting area you will notice that some people will have the same idea of spicing up their Taipei stay. A Caucasian male could turn up out of nowhere and steal your cab, and then get upset when the cab inches forward because the cabbie realizes he’s blocking traffic. There is just the slightest possibility that said male will be doing this not out of a sense of entitlement, but due to an encounter that no one but himself knows about, unless he decides to let everyone know what an awful time he had just had involving a flight attendant and an accidentally spilled coffee. For two minutes, you will be fascinated by his outrage, but you will see the next cab ready to take you and you will forget about this upset male.

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You can make your first cab ride special neglecting to look up or remember the address of your hotel and behaving like a clueless tourist who opens himself up to victimization. If this happens, spend some time later in bed to thank Jesus and Jesus’s Daddy the Taiwanese are not the scamming kind. Taiwanese cab drivers have smartphones and they will look up your hotel’s address and might not show any sign of annoyance. They expect this sort of behavior and they have the decency to not let your carelessness affect their aura of professionalism.

While the cab driver checks her phone for your hotel’s location, you shall not utter a word because doing so will be fruitless as she does not speak English and anything you say will just be noise, an unwanted series of blubbering sounds that will drown out the Taiwanese pop on the radio that sounds so much more pleasant than your gibberish. You will spend the next 15 minutes marveling at your capacity for touristy neglect. It might not make for a great conversation fodder but, sometimes, a forgotten-hotel-address story is all you can ever have. You should not have nothing.

At a busy time as New Year’s Eve, all hotels and motels will put up a “No Vacancy” sign and will be unwilling to take latecomers. This is yet another opportunity to create some excitement. Four-star hotels will always be willing to make room for you, but why choose comfort when you can book an equally expensive hotel with a spectacular view of corrugated tin roofs?

Your idea of Taiwanese food will consist of noodles and good chicken but these will be hard to find when you get to a district like Zongshan where you will realize that there are more Japanese, Korean, McDonalds and KFCs lined up in the streets than noodle houses and colorful and probably filthy, flavorful, filling street food. You could settle for a random restaurant that serves a youthful clientele and proffers self-serve beer and rice stations. Choose a restaurant that, in place of a proper menu, offers “expert meal suggestions”, which you might have to brace yourself for weirdness, but could end up raving about the rest of the night. This could turn out to be the best-tasting meal you will ever have for the duration of your stay, but you will want some sort of self-torment, with the encouragement of willing companions, by not going to the same place and trying other food.

Due to a sense of adventure, you will find yourself sipping ‘Honey Black Tea’ that will taste like sewage. When you describe this beverage as ‘equal to sewer water in taste’, it will not only be because you’re obnoxious. Your companions might not know that your intentions are pure by warning them about this sewage-tasting tea.

You will wise up and choose a pizza place for your next meal and this place will wipe your sewage-sipping tasting tears away with their excellent-tasting peach iced tea (with real, live peaches) freshly picked from the rooftop peachyard.

Bars will be open until late and the bartender will serve you the warmth of a scotch and a conversation. You will feel like abusing this warmth because it will get cold very fast. There will be trips to memorial halls, night markets and Chinese temples, but you might want to experience, more than anything, the 24-hour bookstore. In Eslite Bookstore, you will see a bunch of college guys sleeping and who doesn’t like the sight of that?

It will take all of your willpower not to snuggle up next to the sleeping dudes who wisely pick the Architecture & Design section as their dozing area. The feeling this bookstore incites in a person is similar to the feeling incited by viral TV commercials where a young person grows up to be a doctor because when he was 9, a stranger gave his sick father soup because the boy and his father are dirt poor. I’m not sure how that relates to the boys sleeping in the bookstore but both scenarios are warm and inviting. All I know is, that is how a bookstore should be.