In his book, The Counterattack of Bookstores, Koichiro Shima, who founded the Japan Booksellers Award, commented, “The displays in bookstores create a venue for the encounter between people and books. Each bookstore has its own way of orchestrating such encounters.” In an era where everything takes place online, a random encounter at a physical bookstore becomes something that people look forward to. At the end of the day, each and every encounter is unique in its own way.
「開店是因為我有一個mission，生命如泥土，人生的經歷如一雙手，不斷地塑造生命的形狀。多年前埋下的種子，成為了我的信念、職業，也是開書房的第一步。」足跡書房（Traces of Books）的店主Map說。走進位於炮台山的富利來商場，經過長長的電梯，走到商場的盡頭，有一間帶點英式風格、細小而精緻書店。打開綠色的大門，頭頂一盞通透綠色的燈罩，散發著柔和溫馨的黃光；人走進去被兩旁的木書架包圍著，眼睛卻被窗外的大樹所吸引，樹影婆娑，像一幅會動的畫。這大概是每個人心中理想的書房的模樣，一個樸實、熟悉又秘密的空間。與其說它是一間書店，倒不如說是一間迷你圖書館。「心理、語文、歷史、烹飪、小說、漫畫、宗教、兒童書，什麼類型的書也有，甚至是報紙雜誌、咸書（高質的）也有呢！這裡的書大部分都是人們捐贈的，當然我也會作嚴格挑選。」沒有章法的排列，眼睛掃過密密麻麻的書架時，總會有意外驚喜。
When people visit bookstores, they don’t necessarily buy books; the act of visiting is itself a pleasure, a kind of participation, and a journey of discovery. Just like traveling around the world, books offer a window for us to see the world. If visitors to bookstores don’t buy books, or bookstores don’t have books to sell, what kind of encounter will there be?
“I opened the store with a mission. Life is like mud, and life experience, like a pair of hands, forms its shape. This mission has become my belief, career, and has inspired me to take the first step in opening a bookstore,” said Map, the owner of Traces of Books. Walk inside Fu Lee Loy Shopping Centre in Fortress Hill, take the long escalator up, and walk til the very end of the corridor where you will find this tiny, exquisite bookstore decorated in a traditional British style. Push open its green door and you walk into the soft, warm yellow light exuding from the transparent green lamp shade above your head; there are numerous books on the wooden shelves on either side of the wall, but what catches your attention is that enormous tree outside the window. For many, this would certainly be an ideal bookstore—a simple, familiar, and secret space. Instead of “bookstore,” one might call it a mini library. “Psychology, language, history, cookery, novels, comics, religion, children’s books… we have all kinds of books; even newspapers, magazines, and pornography (high-quality ones)! Most of the books are donations, but I do screen through them carefully.” The books are randomly placed on the packed shelves making it easy to be surprised while scanning through the titles.
It is a bookstore that does not sell books. People are welcome to come and read. They can bring their own books, or simply just come to sit and relax. There is no such thing as a minimum charge, nor a time limit. “A lot of people have asked me how such a bookstore can make money and how do I run it. In fact, making money is not the reason why I opened the bookstore. Traces of Books is a place where people can feel safe, comfortable, and relax as if they are being embraced.” Isn’t it a luxury to have a place like that in a city where land is extremely scarce and expensive? “I would say that enrichment of the soul and happiness is what I’ve gained.”
這個看似無人看管的空間，卻有著自己一套的存在方式。「除了開門和關門，其他的事情都是self-service的。前來的人自己看書，義工每星期來幫忙清潔整理。來看書的人，我會稱他們為足跡者，他們都懂得尊重，知道這裡可以做些什麼。這種狀態已經5個月了，我覺得香港人真的很自律。開始時也會有『會不會有人偷書呢？』的想法，但開店至今都沒有發生，而且我也是nothing to lose。」
“I suppose Hong Kong people must be exhausted having gone through so much in the past few years. The young people, especially, have been greatly affected. I think taking a rest, crying, talking to others, and reading can all bring strength. My father teaches in a rural school and always has books with him. He influences me deeply; he’d share with me the books he likes and we’d read together. It’s actually quite romantic when I think about it. He believes that knowledge can bring change to people’s lives and in turn make a positive contribution to society. I also believe that books can inspire us to imagine and transform that imagination into power.” You might think that you are picking a book from the shelves, but Map thinks that it’s the book who picks its reader. “There was this one time, when I was reading while minding the store, I locked eyes with a stranger. He asked me what I was reading, and from there we started a brief conversation. He told me about the book he was reading and how he shed tears because he was deeply moved by it.”
“I believe that people get attracted to different kinds of books at different stages of life. When I was young, I liked to read Yi Shu, Qiong Yao, Jin Yong, and Ni Kuang. The Golden Years and In the Dim Light are definitely page-turners for me. The Golden Years, in particular, meant a lot to me. A girlfriend of mine and I are like the two protagonists in the book; we went through jealousy, misunderstanding, and separation, yet, we are still very close friends . This book is easy to read and touches my soul. At that time, I was leaving Hong Kong, so the two of us exchanged this book after signing our names and writing a message on the cover. The book is like a testimonial of our precious friendship.”
Map was going through quarantine in Australia while we interviewed her. “Even though I’m not in Hong Kong, the bookstore is still open! A bookstore is a place where people can take things slow and it shouldn’t be closed so easily. With so many abnormalities happening everyday, we need to continue living a normal life. I met a Russian here whose family is in Ukraine, and I felt connected while chatting with him. It made me believe that even if I can’t change the world, I should never forget and always stick to what I believe in.”
This seemingly unattended space exists in its own way. “Aside from opening and closing the store, everything else is self-service. People come to read, and there are volunteers who do the clean up every week. I call those who come to read the ‘footprinters’. They all know how to respect the space and are aware of what they can do here. The bookstore has been running like this for five months already, and I think Hong Kong people are highly disciplined. At the beginning, I also wondered, ‘Will people steal the books?’ But nothing like that has happened since we opened. I have nothing to lose anyway.”
When we chatted with Map, she’d always say , “Young people, do your best.” Being so approachable and encouraging is probably due to her work as a social worker. “My job offers me a lot of opportunities to meet with different people. As a social worker, I can understand people’s behavior and the rationale behind it. I went to study in the United States when I was 18. An exchange student who studied social work shared with me some photos he took at a summer camp. One of them shows a little black girl standing on a tree, smiling happily. It made me wonder what she did at the camp that made her smile so big. At that very moment, I felt like I was on fire and I really wanted to do it. Yet, I worked in the business for 15 years straight after graduation. Years later, I went back to school again and eventually became a social worker.” Because of work, Map is good at understanding people’s needs. “Most of the time, people just need a place to unload their burdens and spend time with themselves in peace.”
I first visited Fu Lee Loy Shopping Centre because of an exhibition at Shijo Gallery. As I walked around the centre, I was amazed by how this once old-fashioned mall had quietly transformed itself into a venue that houses trendy flower shops, grocery stores, boutiques, and even art spaces. Creativity and passion brings along tremendous vitality into this old shopping centre making it shine once again . “Uncle Nan is making a miracle by revitalizing this shopping mall. It is a place full of love and care. A lot of young people, artists, and dreamers managed to do what they wanted to do here. This is a blessed place. I hope that I can stay here as well, until the day I can’t do it anymore.”