To Singapore, where Southeast Asia’s largest bookshop — Kinokuniya on Orchard Road — has agreed to host a book signing event with Alain Robert. The French wall-climber, author of With Bare Hands, is in town for a few days and we’ve taken the chance to line up some interviews with Singaporean newspapers and Mediacorp radio.
Despite having lived in the region for 16 years, it’s my first time in the Lion City, and I’m interested to see how it compares with Hong Kong. The two cities are rivals, especially in business. On the surface they seem similar: small, developed city-states with majority Chinese populations and economies based on trade. But I soon find that there are many differences too: Singapore’s town planning knocks Hong Kong out of the water (it’s a much more pleasant city to walk around), and its preservation and re-use of historic buildings is a great achievement. We’re often told that Hong Kong’s lack of land is the driving factor behind the demolition of all our built heritage, but it’s clear that government policy has played its part too. Singapore has less land than Hong Kong but they have managed very well. Of course an authoritarian government with unlimited powers to mould the cityscape has helped; this is another stark difference between the two.
The relative cheapness of land in Singapore translates to more floor space for retail, and the city’s bookshops are correspondingly larger than their Hong Kong counterparts. The Kinokuniya flagship store has computer terminals at its four corners to help you locate books; it would simply take too long to browse the shelves otherwise. And there’s an area in the centre of the store set aside for book signings.
Other book chains such as Borders and MPH have equally large branches, but one smaller shop I found is also worth a mention: Select Books in the Tanglin shopping centre specializes in Asian books of all kinds.