This bookshop in Clementi does not sell ANY books.
None. Zero. Not even the bestsellingest of the bestsellers, like you’d find in an airport.
What does it sell? A third of the shop is electronics, another third is stationery, and the last third is full of rectangular objects that are made from paper, ink, and glue and resemble books but are actually test-preparation materials, created for the sole purpose of keeping up with the Joneses—or rather, getting ahead of the Lees and the Tans.
I scowl but I feel like wailing.
THIS is what a bookstore should look like.
That’s the Barnes & Noble near where my parents live. It’s not the biggest bookstore in the city. It’s just a bookstore. One of many—a couple dozen, at the very least.
Okay, so probably all those retail bookstores are struggling, and maybe someday, possibly even soon, Barnes & Noble will die. Certainly many companies have fallen and will fall before the might of the mighty Amazon.
What Barnes & Noble will certainly never do, however, is turn into some sort of awkward amalgamation of Best Buy, Staples, and Kumon.
Hopefully other Popular stores in Singapore will continue to sell books as well as electronics, stationery, and test prep stuff. The one at Marine Parade still does.
Here she is launching her book at Kinokuniya, Singapore’s best-known downtown bookstore. She answered questions posed by another writer friend, Elaine Chiew, read an excerpt aloud, answered audience questions, and signed and sold all the copies she brought with her. It went great!
On the way into the store, I noticed Jo’s book on one of the tables in the aisle. She’s in good company, wouldn’t you say?
Interestingly, the cucumber package shows ‘salads’, ‘sandwiches’, ‘stir-fry’, and ‘sushi’ all in the correct form, even though ‘salad’ requires an ‘s’, ‘sandwich’ requires ‘es’, and ‘stir-fry’ and ‘sushi’ are uncountable.
Why, then, was it so hard to give ‘cucumber’ its plural ‘s’?
When my husband took me to a squinchy Japanese restaurant that had high chairs at a bar-style counter, the server laconically instructed me to put my bag “downstairs”, which meant “on the shelf under the seat of the chair”.
I have heard English teachers eager to hold students accountable for their spoken language deride this common Singlish use of “downstairs”, but it’s wonderful (and typical) in its succinctness.
If you use the preposition “under”, you have to include a noun for the preposition to be, well, positioned in front of. If you use the adverb “downstairs”, you’re just saying something needs to go below something else, and letting context do the work of indicating what the something else is.
Chinese has a phrase approximately meaning “down side” which can be used the way the server was using “downstairs” to adverbially indicate “under something”. It also has phrases meaning “up side”, “behind side”, “opposite side”, etc., and you can say “located opposite side” without needing to say “located opposite the hotel”, for example, the way we can say in English that “the receipt is in the bag” or just “the receipt is inside”.
I get the sense that Chinese relies on context more than English, or at least relies on context in ways that English doesn’t, since a large proportion communication in any language is always shared context.