Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Killed by Books (活在書堆下 - 羅志華 - 青文書屋)

A year ago, Law Chi-wah (羅志華) was killed when stacks of books fell on him in his warehouse. A year later, his friends published this book in memory of him.

As far as I know, he is the only person ever killed by falling books. Some people, apparently without malice, consider that it is actually an apt - even though extremely sad - way for him to die. For he was the long-term proprietor of 青文書屋 (1981 - 2006), one of the original “Second floor bookshops” (二樓書店 ) in Hong Kong. These bookshops specialize in literature, history and philosophy. They were popular among certain readers for a while, and actually helped to nurture some of the few writers in Hong Kong. I had been to 青文, but cannot remember whether I had actually met Law in person.

“Popular” is, of course, a relative term. Second floor bookshops did not choose to open on the upper floors, where they are hard to find, visibility and traffic are low, ... Not many people actually read books in Hong Kong to start with. Hence bookshops that specialize in unpopular topics such as literature, history and philosophy really cater to the minority among the minority. Hence they have to move to the upper floors because of the lower rent.

And with the appearance of large chain bookstores in recent years, second floor bookshops are essentially doomed, and many have already closed. 青文書屋 itself was forced to close in 2006. Since then, Law had been storing his books in a warehouse, and trying to find a place to re-open his bookshop. Before he died, he had actually rented a place at the Shek Kip Mei Creative Arts Center (石硤尾創意藝術中心). Now, it seems, his friends may be able to revive his dream. Being a dreamer myself, I do hope that they succeed.

In any case, it is not a flattering portrait of Hong Kong.

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