On Tuesday I beat the rain and the fast approaching typhoon and hustled over to the newly renovated Central World Plaza. I wanted to check out the new B2S store located there, the one that’s being billed as Bangkok’s largest bookshop. But first, as usual, lunch called. I had not been back to Central World since they started tearing up the place about six months ago. And let me tell you, they still haven’t finished everything. I would guess that at least half the shops still have not reopened. I saw dozens of “Coming Soon” signs and more than a few barriers and blocked hallways. Central World has always had a confusing layout, and now it’s worse than ever thanks to the many detours and dead-ends that abound. That problem will no doubt be fixed in short time, but you can’t get around the fact that even though everything is bigger and brighter, the sprawling Central World remains a poorly-planned shopping center. Even the exterior is odd. Tiny recessed fountains squirt out pathetic little jets of water, soaking patches of the outer concourse. What damaged mind designed this crap?
I headed to Black Canyon for lunch, eager to devour my standard Tuesday lunch of Gaeng Keaw Wahn Gai and iced coffee. Since the construction work at Central World, I’ve been patronizing Black Canyon branches at the Mall Bangkapi and Major Ekkamai, waiting for this one to reopen. I always preferred the one at Central World; it had nice ambience and offered larger portions than those at other Black Canyon branches. Well, let me tell you, both of those advantages no longer exist. The new location is tucked away down a dark hallway, so far off the main concourse that I had to ask for directions, and it no longer offers a window with outdoor views. And the portions of chicken curry have shrunk to new low levels. Oh well, it’s back to the Mall Bangkapi next time for me.
But the bigger disappointment turned out to be this new B2S store, which I found after taking a few more detours and consulting a mall map. Yes, it occupies three floors, but the stock does not consist of only books. The first floor is devoted mainly to music; CDs and DVDs. As you would expect from a Thai retail shop, the filing system ranged from haphazard to bizarre. For example, I found Steve Earle and Roy Buchanan filed in the “Easy Listening Vocals” section. Up on the second floor there is nothing but stationery and office supplies. If you have a fetish for ballpoint pens and colored files, this is the place to hang out.
The actual bookshop is located on the first floor. Yes, there are thousands of books in stock, but the way it is organized is utterly baffling. If you thought trying to find books in local branches of Asia Books was a challenge, you will be cursing a blue streak by the time you are finished perusing the titles at B2S. Simply put; these people don’t have a clue how to organize their books. Not only is alphabetical order a distant concept, they appear to have little knowledge about which books go in which sections. Over in “Young Adult,” for example, I found John D. MacDonald (yes, the Travis McGee mysteries), Maeve Binchy, and David Eddings. That’s an unlikely a trio as you’ll find anywhere on a book shelf. Oh wait, I think there were some Anne Rice books in there, too! Robert Ludlum was in, not one, but three different sections. On other shelves, the alphabet would start, as you would expect, with the letter “A” – and then take various twists and turns, going from B to D and jumping to H, before going back to D, and then backwards to C, then again to B, and finally getting back on track to J. And so on. I got a headache just trying to make some sense of it all.
I wandered over to the travel section and made a brave attempt to find guidebooks on Myanmar. Or perhaps they were still filing them under Burma. I checked both letters but couldn’t find them anywhere, until I finally noticed the Lonely Planet Myanmar guidebook stuck in between Portugal and Mexico. But there was also a Footprint guide to Myanmar hidden next to the Laos guidebooks. I had not seen this Footprint book before (I’ve scoured most stores in town, looking for Myanmar guidebooks), and was curious when it had been published. It was covered in plastic so I had to ask a clerk (which turned into a series of confused clerks) to unwrap the book in order for me to check the date. As I had suspected, it wasn’t the latest edition. No, not even close; this one was published in 1997. What??!!! I double checked to make sure. Yes, 1997. Unbelievable! And they were selling it for 750 baht! But at least it had a price sticker. Dozens of other books that I saw in the Southeast Asia section had not been priced yet.
Over at my little (by comparison) bookshop on Sukhumvit Road, we’ve undergone some staff changes this past week. One of our longtime employees, Ying, has left to go to work for her aunt, who is opening a coffee shop in Ko Samui. Replacing her on the coffee machine and cash register is Fai, another young Thai woman. Working the other shifts, along with Kiwi and me, and helping to keep the books in order and the cappuccinos foaming, is the always dependable Pomp. We all got together last Friday night at the Great American Rib Company (on Sukhumvit Soi 36) to give Ying a big sendoff. Lots of beer, messy barbecue, and big smiles; it was a great combination!