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December Reading

The clock is ticking away for 2015. It’s December—the time of the year for holidays, gatherings, food, celebrations, and for some, distraction from readings. I usually like to sit by the fire place with my punkins and read mysteries. On the eve of my annual trip home in Asia, December also sees many travel/history/historical fiction crammed into my readings. This year Myanmar is put on the spotlight.

Since the country has opened up to tourism, development of infrastructure has gone on a break-neck speed, and so are the prices which has more than doubled compared to 2011. It’s the perfect time to go or it will become another Angkor Wat (Cambodia), heavily tread by package tours.

Before traveling to Myanmar, an excellent historical novel to read is The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, which I have read years ago. To refresh and to gain relevance of the upcoming trip, I’ll reread. The book enables reader to appreciate the days before the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the years under the British rule, the Second World War and the Japanese occupation.

Other books on the “read-dar” include the mandatory Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi, The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U, and Burmese Days by George Orwell. I usually would read up on the travel guide while flying over the Pacific. That said, for the first time ever, I’m ditching Lonely Planet for the more updated Rough Guide on Myanmar. A two-year-old guidebook is too dated, at least for the prices on accommodations and transportations, for a country that is growing with an lightning speed.

(Booking Through) Vacation Spots

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Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?

I always seek out and visit local bookstores when I travel. Being a frequent traveler, I have blogged so much about bookstores overseas, ones that I never miss and frequently visit while I’m in town. The ones in Hong Kong are really my backyards, despite the fact that most of them are located in pretentious and soulless malls. During the most recent trip there in April I had the pleasure to find trade paperbacks of On Chesil Beach and A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. Distributors of Hong Kong bookstores are usually from the UK so there is a fairly good chance that I’d find a trade paperback for a title that is still available in hardback only in the US. Eslite has a book emporium that is open 24/7 in Taipei. When I was backpacking through Malaysia last December, to my utter delight and surprise, I found two wonderful bookstores in Kuala Lumpur. For a country whose primary language is not English, Kinokuniya at the Twin Towers offers a very expansive selection of titles in English language. This is where I finally found a copy of Somerset Maugham’s travelogue, The Gentleman in the Parlour. Treaded by so many backpackers and tourists, the Thai capital of Bangkok is also a heaven for book lovers. The alleys in main business districts of Silom and Sukumvit are dotted with many small, hole-in-the-wall bookstores full of used titles. They’re like bookcrossing centrals with towers of paperbacks left by other travelers. Not to be missed, of course, is Shakespeare & Co in Paris, which Lewis Buzbee has mentioned in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Closer to home, in the neck of my wood is Stinson Beach Bookstore in Stinson Beach. I always stop by and see what’s on their new book table on the way to Bolinas. It’s your classic neighborhood-style bookshop housed in a wooden shack with a porch. How they fit in all the books in this tiny little shop I have no clue. But they have more than enough of a selection that will keep me from running out of books to read while I’m up along the California coast.

Melaka to Cameron Highlands

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I spend 6 hours on the road from Melaka to Cameron Highlands via Kuala Lumpur today. The bus ride is reasonably comfortable, consider that the AC is weak] and uneventful. Most tourists like me but seems like I’m the only one traveling alone.

I wake up early to the cacophony of my protesting stomach since I didn’t quite have dinner last night in Melaka. The scarcity of restaurants that stay open late [late means after 7 pm] made me abandon the idea of dinner. It was a bit disappointing, a foible on the trip to Malaysia so far. Most of the shops closed down after sundown, leaving them indistinguishable from the dilapidated shophouses. In fact, some local restaurants, especially the ones serving tasty Nonya [Malaysia- or Strait-born Chinese] food close after lunch. I was so starving that no sooner had the taxi dropped me off at the Melaka bus terminal did I buy two buns and down them in no time.

I will develop nostalgia for Melaka even though it leaves me hungry. The abandoned shophouses, the solid colonial colors, along with time-frozen traditional Chinese courtyard hutongs, and the riverine view along the brick embankment, give the town an emphasis of silence, rather than loneliness. forgetful of its ancient greatness, Melaka modestly thrives.

W. Somerset Maugham keeps my company on the road. As befit my purpose, in The Gentleman in the Parlour, it pleases him to be rid of ties, responsibilities, and duty when he travels. I cannot agree with him more. To the list of things to be rid of I add cellphone. I enjoy the freedom of traveling from place to place, and observing the difference in ways and customs of local people whom I encounter. The experience adds to my personality a new layer that I am somewhat a different person than before I embark on the trip.

By the time I check into my stylish room in Cameron Highlands [I decide to treat myself better here], it’s almost dusk. I dropped off about 8 lbs of dirty laundry accumulated from the previous days at a local laundromat for wash-and-fold. It costs an economical RM6 [USD1.80]. Then I book a countryside tour for tomorrow that will cover the tea plantations, strawberry farm, bee farms, and butterfly garden. I plan to take it easy up here on the highland, which was used to be vacation spot for the colonial British to evade the stifling heat of Kuala Lumpur.

The Travel Pile

The finalized vacation pile, consists of only trade paperbacks to ease my load.

Literature
1. The Gentleman in the Parlour, W. Somerset Maugham [Armchair Traveler Challenge #5]
2. Peace Breaks Out, John Knowles
3. Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov [Russian Reading Challenge #1]
4. Mrs. Craddock, W. Somerset Maugham [Outmoded Author Challenge #5]
5. Slammerkin, Emma Donoghue
6. The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick
7. Why I Write, George Orwell
8. The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
9. Contempt, Alberto Moravia
10. The Eustace Diamonds, Anthony Trollope
I’m only halfway through the book so I’ll take it with me–a “classics” airport novel.

I also have to get one of the books under my Armchair Traveler Challenge list on the left to wrap up the challenge.

Non-Literature
1. Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei
2. Fodor’s Bangkok Best 25