Tuesday, March 12, 2013
|Photo by Rhonwyn Hagedorn|
The Ah Bak would have his clerk bring us some soda drinks. While the two men talked, Ah Bak’s staff would come in to ask for his signatures on invoices, inventories and purchase lists. Everyone in the shop – from the labourer who carried the books in from the lorries to the accountant—were men.
Knowing that I loved books, Ah Bak asked me, “Do you want to work in a bookshop?”
When I looked shyly at the floor, in deference to an elder, Ah Bak laughed, “You’re a girl – you should never work in a bookshop. Bookshops are for men. It’s hard work!”
This was why I always associated the book trade with men. Then, one day, a woman named Yvonne Chau from MPH called, inquiring about my interest in selling ‘Stories for My Mother’.
After I agreed with the terms, a sales agreement was faxed to me to sign. “I’ll bring you the original copy of the agreement to sign where I come to pick up your books,” she confirmed after I faxed the signed agreement back to her. The agreement, between the buyer and a new seller, took less than half an hour.
A blue Proton Iswara showed up several days later. Yvonne, the Assistant Merchandising Manager of MPH turned out to be a five-foot-two young woman with shoulder-length hair. I asked if anyone was helping her carry the seventeen packages of books.
“I’ll do it, don’t worry,” she said as she picked up two heavy packages and carried them effortlessly to the boot of her car. In her two-inch high heels. In her knee-length skirt.
I was impressed.
That encounter was the beginning of my dealings with MPH – all women except for the Head of the Marketing Department and a pick-up boy. Yvonne continues to pick up my books for urgent orders.
Since then, I have seen women carrying big cartons of books, collapsible book shelves, chairs and tables at new MPH outlets, warehouse sales, book fairs and shops. They climb ladders to put up displays, banners and decorations. Clearly, they are as capable as the bookshop men in Ah Bak’s shop.
“Where are the male staff?” I once asked a woman in MPH Headquarters.
“Somewhere,” she looked around the office before she answered.
She had not thought of the question as more than half of the fifty six staff attached to the HQ are women. Twenty-one of them work in the accounts department where there are only three male staff. Nearly all the operations, marketing, merchandising and administrative department staff are women. Five out of seven in the Marketing Department are women. The Head of the Merchandising Department and the Chief Operating Officer are women. Most of the women work at the Headquarters, and more of the men work in the warehouse.
Most of these women love reading, and they enjoy the challenges posed by the book trade. As for women like Yvonne, moving books from the local authors’ places means she gets to meet the authors and gets a glimpse into their lives and the realities behind their writings.
“It makes a difference when I’m not just working for the money, but for the meaning of life!” she shares.
If Ah Bak were alive today, what would he say about all these women in the book trade?
- by Chong Sheau Ching
|Photo by Rhonwyn Hagedorn|
I was at the World Book Day celebration organized by MPH Bookstores, the Spanish Embassy and a local college on April 23rd. The crowd gathered at the event comprised mostly of college students, the future pillars of our information economy.
The Spanish Ambassador, H.E. Alvaro Iranzo, gave the keynote speech and spoke about the Spaniards’ love for book reading. World Book Day is celebrated in a big way in Spain. There is an all day long celebration with jazz combos, street dancing, chorus groups singing love songs, authors autographing books at bookshops, and 24-hour reading of Don Quixote. Men give women roses while the women give men books! By midnight, the Rambla, once a watercourse, is afloat with roses and tiny red-and-yellow ribbons with tiny written words like ‘t’estimo’ (I love you).
Spanish children grow up loving books as the culture of reading is embedded in the society. Parents read, and so children read too. Teenagers who love reading grow up to be adults with a deep love of books, and knowledge. The Spaniards recognize that reading is the best way to acquire knowledge about life and the world in general. Knowledge also begets more knowledge. And with more knowledge, one thinks, and sees more.
“I grew up in the world of books and so books have shaped my character and personality,” the ambassador reminisced.
I was inspired.
Next on the program were readings of poems and passages from famous novels by six students of the college that included five international students. The audience, comprised mainly of college students, was quiet at first. Murmurs then turned into normal conversations, in total disrespect to the people doing readings on stage. In contrast the foreigners stood quietly paying attention throughout the readings.
I was embarrassed.
Why did people attend a World Book Day celebration if they were uninterested in the culture of reading?
And when young college students, the crème de la crème of our society, show public disrespect to book readings, what does it say about their knowledge acquisition attitude? What do books mean to them? A means to get a degree, a job and money? Or a vehicle for life-long learning?
Can we count on them to innovate solutions to better our lives in the future? Can we trust them with their knowledge?
- by Chong Sheau Ching
Thursday, March 7, 2013
This dish will melt your heart out as it simply oozes with chocolaty goodness. Preparing it seems pretty effortless since you need no mixer or fancy moulds. In fact, you can even bake it in aluminium cups if no small baking dish is available in the kitchen. Here goes the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a few souffle dish/bowl (picture below) or ring moulds. Brush the bowls with butter and sprinkle a little bit of flour if you want to invert the cake onto a plate. In a double boiler, melt 230g dark chocolate and 225g butter. Once it melts, add in 250g fine sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolve. The next step is important. Turn off the heat but do not remove the bowl from the pot with the boiling water. You are about to add in 210g egg whites.
Pour in the egg whites slowly while continuously stirring the mixture. Keep stirring until the mixture slightly thickens. When the mixture has mixed well, you can place the bowl on a worktop and sift 120g flour (plain/superfine) onto the mixture and mix well until no lumps is seen. Now if you are going to bake it straightaway, it will take around 13-15 minutes. If the mixture has cooled, then bake it for 15-18 minutes. If the mixture is cold from the chiller, it needs 18-21 minutes baking time.
Once baked, sprinkle a little bit of icing sugar, to achieve that elegant effect, followed by a dollop of cream and some strawberries on top. Serve immediately. This is a recipe from Pastry Arts Academy and it works all the time.