Archive for the ‘biblio corner’ Category

It’s been a while. So much has happened yet so much left unwritten. But in a way, I feel that I am more alive these days than I had been before.

As I strive to live in each and every moment, I am thankful too, for every person and blessing along the way that has brought me to the beginning of another new journey.

This is a story about a new beginning many years ago.


Some partings are poetic. My favourite sensei gifted me one literally.

Years ago, she ignited my love for the Japanese language when she came to Singapore to teach at the foreign language centre run by our education ministry. I looked forward to every lesson she taught and enjoyed every minute of the time she spent with our class. Sadly, her contract ended two years later, and she had to return to Tokyo with her family.

Before she left, she gave me a book of poems by a Japanese writer Yuri Mitsuhara (光原百合). The title was Michi「道」, which means “The Path”. It was a pocket-sized picture book, or e-hon as the Japanese would call it. Each poem was accompanied by a delicately beautiful hand-drawn illustration of forests, fields, hills or lakes by the award-winning Niigata-born illustrator, Ken Kuroi (黒井健).

Mitsuhara herself was born in Hiroshima and studied English literature and linguistics in Osaka University. She is well known in Japan for her large volume of works, ranging from Japanese mystery novels and translations of English novels to poetry and e-hon. Michi was published in 1989 and was one of her earliest works.

The book featured 14 short poems and my favourite was the opening piece Tabi no Hajime ni 「旅の初めに」, which means “The Beginning of a Journey”. It aptly summed up the anticipation and trepidation that I, and probably my sensei too, had felt at that time – she had found a new job in Tokyo and I was awaiting the start of my junior college years.

As our paths diverged and took us further and further away on our respective journeys, we lost contact with each other.

Three weeks ago, when I retrieved the book from my bookshelf, it suddenly dawned upon me that perhaps there could be clues to where my sensei was right now. I decided to turn to Google.

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, her profile popped up in one of the search results, much to my delight. With the click of a button, and an email that she wasn’t expecting, we were reunited online.

Amazingly, both of us were about to begin our new adventures once again. I am going back to school for my full-time studies, while my sensei is taking up a new teaching position in Paris. It felt as if everything had gone a full circle.

And here’s the poem. I couldn’t find any English translation, so this is my feeble attempt at translating it.

The Beginning of a Journey

The mountain paths are difficult

So set your sights on the tree in the distance

And take your steps towards it

Look up if you think you have lost your way

Keep your eyes on the tree

And you will arrive there someday

You can reach for a milestone far away

Or aim for a goal, oh so high

When you traverse a path that is long and far












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Saw the trailer for “The Iron Lady” online two week ago. Meryl Streep had me hooked and all excited about the movie in a span of two minutes.

When I told Peh about it, the first thing he did was to shove a book into my hands – Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World by Margaret Thatcher.

Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World by Margaret Thatcher (cc-nc-nd)

Yes, I have been given a reading assignment. Peh is making me read my old birthday present before the movie arrives at our local cinemas in February 2012.

Peh gave me the book years ago. He isn’t a political person; he just thought I would agree that a book by a prominent world leader like Thatcher made interesting reading.

I haven’t quite gotten around to opening the book all this time. He probably realised that.

Since then, I’ve been bringing this yellowing book onto the train everyday, inching through a couple of pages at a time. (My train journeys just happen not to be very long.)

My slow progress aside, I have also been wondering if I am reading the book a little too late.

You see, I like to check the publication dates when I read my books. And I realised that this book was published in 2002.

Look around us now. Almost ten years on, the world has undergone tremendous transformation. The Cold War sounds like a page from the Babylonian history. The Asian values debate is like a forgotten tune from the old 1990s CDs.

I haven’t come to the chapter that captures Thatcher’s thoughts on the formation of the European Union, which interestingly seems like a timely topic as the Eurozone crisis continues. Though of course, the chapter title, Europe – Dreams and Nightmares, already gives a strong hint at what’s to come in Chapter 9.

So, can we say that the world has truly changed since this book was written?

At every flip of the page, this question pops in my head. Whatever the answer may be, it’s definitely going to be useful for me to read more in the next 366 days and have an enriching new year.

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The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam (cc-nc-nd)

This post is going out oh so late.

But oh well, The Train Reader has been terribly busy lately.

Anyway, it was a season to be jolly, as usual, at the end of last year. (Yes, this has been sitting on The Train Reader’s lap for that long.) It wasn’t exactly a time that I thought I would pick up a book that was in essence, a journal of pain and suffering.

Yet for some reason, The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam jumped out at me, as I made my way through the mountain of popular chick lit books, vampire romance novels, get-rich-quick manuals, and other discounted publications at a year-end book fair.

What I find captivating about this memoir is that the narrative, stripped of all pomposity, touches the heart – mostly wrenching it – in its simple, unpretentious way.

Mam, who after growing up in abject poverty and surviving much of her young life in Cambodia as a sex slave, managed to escape and leave for France. Instead of leaving all reminders of her past behind for good, she chose to return to her home country and embark on a mission to save other young girls from the same dire fate she once faced.

In 1996, with the help of her former husband, she founded AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, or Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances). This non-profit organisation works with the local police to conduct raids at brothels, and shelter and rehabilitate the girls whom they rescue. Nine years later, the US-based Somaly Mam Foundation was born.

Mam’s years of efforts did not go unnoticed.

She has received several international awards including the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child in Sweden. She was the Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2006 and a CNN Hero in 2007. She was also invited to be one of eight Olympic flag bearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Torino, Italy. And in 2009, she was named one of the TIME 100 most influential people.


A miracle in fact, for someone who has suffered the unthinkable. In fact, Mam’s life is a classic story of triumph against all odds.

Like a diamond that can only unveil its immaculate shine after undergoing multiple cuts.

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Looks like Ken’ichi Matsuyama (松山ケンイチ), one of the red-hot idols in the Japanese pop cultural world, not only sells jeans, mobile phones and candies, but is also helping to move books off the shelves with his looks.

And we’re not talking about the manga series called Detroit Metal City (DMC) or the one titled Death Note.

The young actor is known for his leading roles as a very confused singer in the movie adaptation of DMC and uber-cool detective L in the movie versions of the latter.

Kadokawa summer 2009This year, he became the face of Japanese publisher Kadokawa Books’ marketing campaign “Discover: Kadokawa Books – 100 Books of Summer” (発見。角川文庫 夏の100冊).

Apparently, the 60-year-old publisher has been rolling out its marketing blitz every summer. (And so I reckoned I should be posting my entry here before summer is over in the Northern Hemisphere.).

And where can Matsuyama’s presence be found?

On TV, in black and white commercials that featured him reading or walking in surrealistic environments. Think dialogues that go: “‘How are you? I am a human being.’ ‘I’m a human being too. Nice to meet you.'” You get the idea.

If you don’t, try this:

And on airwaves, in radio commercials featuring Mastuyama’s readings of excerpts from the late writer-director-photographer Shūji Terayama’s (寺山修司) novels. Nothing fanciful. Just Matsuyama’s calming voice luring you into the world of the spoken words, and hopefully the written ones as well.

Matsuyama bookmark frontOn the bookmarks in the 100 books recommended for summer reading. This might have driven some fans to lay their hands on as many copies of the books as possible, though you might wonder how many books sold are actually read.

Of course, plastering his face all over the books probably does the job best. Like printing special editions of classics with him as the cover boy instead of featuring the regular illustrations on the book cover. So now, you can have a forlorn-looking Matsuyama gazing into the stars on your copy of Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜).

And we see how the publisher has harnessed star power to sell books, even age-old ones.

A cool and edgy Mastuyama aside, there is also a cute hippo mascot doing the job of attracting buyers for reasons other than the books themselves. Like mobile phone accessories, tote bags, tee shirts and even a trolley suitcase which readers could exchange for with their hard-earned loyalty points chalked up over several purchases.

The publisher even offers pretty protective book covers which come in seven designs. Readers are entitled to one for every two books purchased.

Unfortunately, our local bookstores do not offer the same promotion here…

So there goes my classy Girl with A Pearl Earring book cover. And the cheery Keroro Gunsō cover.


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bookmarksBooks are a wonderful invention. So are bookmarks.

And Japanese publishers seem to have the knack for binding the two in a perfect union.

Japanese books, especially novels, often come with delicately designed bookmarks nestled between the pages. And you never know what illustration or design your copy comes with.

I find delight in discovering the leaf of paper between the pages of my newly bought book. Like my latest purchase, that came with a sleek bookmark bearing the image of Japanese idol Ken’ichi Matsuyama of Death Note fame. (More about that another time.) Wonder if any other reader shares this tiny ripple of excitement as I do when opening a new book.

This slip of paper probably doesn’t cost the publisher much, but it definitely goes a long way towards giving the reader greater convenience and a more gratifying reading experience. Not to mention how well it serves as a constant reminder to the reader of the name of the publisher.

A practical touch, for publisher and reader alike.

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