October 19th, 2008

We just got back from the book fair at Ditan Park. For so many years now I’ve been aware that the fair happens once each year, but have never quite gotten off my arse and gone to check it out. Glad I finally did, but it was just a little underwhelming. It was a bit too much like they’d gathered all the city’s bookstores into Ditan Park, thrown in half the city’s DVD stores, and Panjiayuan for good measure. Oh well, there were plenty of books and they were cheap, and that’s the point.

I guess I was expecting to see something a bit special, rather than the ordinary, everyday contents of ordinary, everyday bookstores. I guess had we made some kind of effort to check out the lectures or whatever they were….. But it was books I wanted, not people blethering about books. There’s a difference.

And it was crowded. But nowhere near as crowded as when I went to the Spring Festival Temple Fair there several years back. That Temple Fair has been the archetype of ‘crowd’ in my mind ever since. But it was crowded enough that a pleasant, sunny, dry autumn day became hot and sticky and uncomfortable. And of course, all the hassles and frustrations and irritants that crowds bring…. Still, it wasn’t too bad.

Although, if I’d been selling books there, more than a few people would’ve found their jianbing or roast kumara travelling down their throat at a much higher speed than they’d originally planned.

And a trip to the toilets revealed that either the food stalls were not as hygienic as one would wish or many men were so excited to be at the book fair they’d lost all ability to aim. Somehow the porcelain squatters had managed to collect only a tiny fraction of what they were designed to catch. Now, I’ve seen, and used, some bad toilets in my time, but one look in there would’ve instantly turned the worst case of dysentery to severe constipation. It sure as shit made me glad we’d eaten before we entered the park.

But ranting aside, it wasn’t a fruitless trip. In fact, we came away with a few books and a couple of gifts. I got a book called 《茶艺百科》, because considering how much tea I drink and how much I like tea, it’s long since time I expanded and deepened my knowledge of that particular herb. It’s a fairly slim volume and doesn’t seem to be quite so wide-ranging or in-depth as the title suggests, but I think it’ll suit my purposes for now. lzh picked up three small recipe books, so hopefully that translates into an expanded range of tasty food for dinner. And we got a few sheets of stickers and a pile of children’s books. No, not for us, we won’t be in need of such things for a while.

lzh’s cousin has an intelligent wee two-year old boy who is in desperate need of stimulation, so most of the books are for him, but a classmate of hers will be popping a sprog this winter, so the stickers and I think one or two books are for her. But it was good to see a huge, huge supply of reading material and related items for kids at the book fair. There was stuff for most ages, although the younger the child you’re buying for, the more you’ll have to search. We even managed to get a bilingual character/pinyin/English edition of Little Red Riding Hood, and I’m sure we could’ve found more similar stuff had we had the energy and patience. I was a little disappointed with the range of books available, though. Volume was good, range was a little narrow. I mean, most of the children’s books were educational in some way or another, and there didn’t seem to be much of a more purely entertainment value. That’s ok, at the age levels we were buying for education and entertainment are one and the same, but it made me wonder about the older kids. But perhaps I just wasn’t looking closely enough. I mean, Harry Potter was easy to find and I’m sure there was more around.

I guess my only regret in the book buying is not getting a set of those old pocket-sized comics. I found one set that had 《小兵张嘎》, which would’ve been pretty cool to read, but the guy wanted 20 kuai and I didn’t want these comics that badly, and considering how close I live to Panjiayuan I’m sure I’ll get plenty more chances to buy such things.

Anyways, the irritation of having to wade through crowds, nasty toilets, and an apparently narrower range of books than I was hoping for aside, it was alright, really. And chances are I would’ve discovered a much wider range of books had I had the energy and patience to look more closely. We came home with a decent stack of good books, and spent very little money in the process, and so in my book the day’s trip counts as a success.

4 Responses to “书市”

  1. Micah Sittig Says:

    You’re the opposite of me, I went to the Shanghai book fair this year and was only interested in the talks. The books seemed to be bland and disorganized, so I pretty much just breezed through that part…

  2. wangbo Says:

    Nah, Micah, I think it was more that I had the idea of cheap books stuck in my head, and being a bit of a hoarder, especially when it comes to books…. But yeah, I should definitely take your approach next time round, that would make it far more worth the trek up to Ditan. That would mean actually planning ahead, though, which would mean paying more attention to what’s going on in the city.

  3. Micah Sittig Says:

    You’re right, I happened to be bored at the doctor’s office and picked up a newspaper advertising the Book Fair with a list of the authors giving talks. I’m not sure where you’d see that information if you weren’t paying special attention or happened to wander into it.

  4. wangbo Says:

    So I guess I pay too much attention to the news and skim the other sections of the papers far too quickly… Guess I’d better change that habit.