City Book Room: For a New Generation of Literary Talent (Part 1)
By Quek See Ling
I can’t help looking out for the warm light shining through the third floor’s darkened windows when walking down North Bridge Road. Seeing it always brings comfort.
This bit of warmth emanates from a bookstore in North Bridge Centre — City Book Room. Originally established on 9 December 2014 in its founder’s home, this bookstore in North Bridge Centre only started business on 1 June 2016.
Questioning One’s Aspirations
Born in 1983, Tan Waln Ching is the founder of City Book Room. From the town of Bidor in Perak, Malaysia, Tan travelled to the National University of Singapore in 2003 to further her education in Chinese Studies. After graduation, she worked in an art gallery for almost a year before joining World Scientific Publishing’s Global Publishing imprint as an editor from 2008 to 2012, accumulating experience in areas such as editing, soliciting articles, arranging layouts, organising lectures, and corresponding with other booksellers. It was while chatting with Yeng Pway Ngon, the renowned local author and then-owner of Grassroots Book Room, when Tan learnt that Yeng’s deteriorating vision after receiving electrotherapy had significantly reduced his typing speed. Out of kindness, she would show up every weekend at the bookstore to input the publishing information of book after book into the computer, and emailed them to the library for their book selection. This “weekend typist” task lasted over three years. After that, she assisted in organising the well-received book launch Yeng’s novel, Art Studio. Yeng invited her to join Grassroots on a permanent basis. While job hopping is typically accompanied by a raise in salary, Tan took the new job knowing that she would see a pay cut of $1,000. “I don’t place a great emphasis on money. As long as it’s enough for me to get by.”
Under Yeng’s mentorship, Tan learnt about wholesaling, making orders and arranging books, financial management, and other relevant knowledge, coming to understand readers’ needs and developments in the humanities. “When I was working at Grassroots, Mr Yeng frequently asked me about my aspirations. He also said that people can suffer and sacrifice a lot for their aspirations. I feel that this is an important question, as it continually motivates me to think about my future, and about what life means to me. If we are dissatisfied with our current life, and harbour hopes for a better lives for the next generations, then we should make changes beginning from our generation.” Tan wrote this in an article titled “City Book Room”, published in November 2016 in the electronic journal S/PORES.
Yeng was thinking of shutting Grassroots down when he retired, but Lim Jen Erh, Lim Yeong Shin, and Lim Wooi Tee took it over in August 2014 and moved Grassroots to Bukit Pasoh Road. Tan decided to take over the publishing Yeng’s work, persisting in the work of publishing quality books in the hope of providing a shot of vitality for the Singapore book industry. City Book Room is located on the third storey of North Bridge Centre, just a few units away from Grassroots’ original location, evoking a sense that the torch has been passed.
In today’s where smartphone-dominated world, establishing a physical bookstore seems incredible, and many people worry for Tan’s hopes and aspirations. “My maternal grandmother would often tell me that we must strive to be good and do good things. She never said that I had to earn a lot of money. My paternal grandmother also often said that it is important to be happy, and to do something that makes you happy… Since every choice that we make inevitably comes with its difficulties, I would rather do something that makes me happy, something that helps people and benefits everyone.” Tan’s innocuous response to Lianhe Zaobao highlighted that growing up with this sense of purity has given her a positive and optimistic character. Both her architect husband and her businessman father have offered her moral and financial support as well.
*Special thanks to City Book Room for providing the images.
(Translated by Daryl Li)
Please look out for City Book Room: For a New Generation of Literary Talent (Part 2)
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s). Reproduction of content will require full and clear credit to the author(s) and CSCF.
About City Book Room
City Book Room
Founder: Tan Waln Ching
Year Founded: 2014（Physical Store: 2016）
Address: 420 North Bridge Road, #03-10 North Bridge Centre, Singapore 188727.
Opening Hours：12pm – 7pm (Daily)