Written by Kit Chan
Translated by Venus Purnama
Photos by Kit Chan
There should be a bookstore in Cheung Chau Island — if there isn't any, well, let's open one ourselves.
That was the start of TO-DAY BOOKSTORE, as straightforward as the founders' motto on their instagram: reading is our daily breather.
TO-DAY was founded by a group of "new islanders" — "seven grown-ups and two kids, to be exact," said one of the founders Sim Ho. They respectively moved in from the city to Cheung Chau for two to five years, and have been "kai fong (neighbors)" and friends ever since.
Coming from different walks of life, with someone working in the media, or as social worker, sailor, artist, adminstrator, teacher, plus a full-time mom, the group bonded over their love of reading, and decided to open a bookstore together, as they couldn't find one in Cheung Chau.
"Cheung Chau does have a book store named after the island, selling novels by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) and Yi Shu (Isabel Nee)," Sim explained. "but after the public library was built (in 1982), the owner turned the business into a stationery store and there were no more books."
The idea of owning a bookstore has been in their minds for two years, initially with a crazy plan of setting a pop-up store at one of the founder's rooftop. Then this bright yellow brick house was up for rent last summer holiday, located at the end of Pak She Street. Blessed by the shrine of the Earth god next to the store, TO-DAY opened its doors last September — Cheung Chau finally has a place to sells books.
"Living in Cheung Chau is more convenient than one would imagine, if we could find K-pop dance studio and Japanese steamed bath here, how is it possible that there is no bookstore?"
"Our motive was really quite simple, the bookstore was solely for self indulgence, there was no big deal, not even about dreams," Sim stressed. All along, the group believed the islanders deserve a bookstore. "Living in Cheung Chau is more convenient than one would imagine, if we could find K-pop dance studio and Japanese steamed bath here, how is it possible that there is no bookstore?"
Unsurprisingly, book selection is based around the owners' preferences, shelfing in what they like to read, instead of what the market wants; hence the bookstore enjoys the freedom to take in a number of individual publications and zines rarely seen in mainstream bookstores.
One of the founders Sim Ho.
The main table showcases the owners' recommendation, a mini exhibition of different books with a loosely connected theme, with eye-opening after activities, linking up book contents with daily life.
First, they introduced readers to "the World of Botany", seemingly inspired by island life, with plant hunting hikes for families after reading sessions; then there was "Reading City Space", exploring local street names as well as the humanity and history behind, with sharings from an expert on Hong Kong playgrounds. The latest display titled "Living Well in Chaos" echoes with reality, advising readers on how to keep calm at times of absurdity.
First, they introduced readers to "the World of Botany", seemingly inspired by island life, with plant hunting hikes for families after reading sessions.
There is also a corner filled with picture books for children. "Right from the beginning, we knew that this would not be a store only for grown-ups. As a bookstore for an island, there should be some distinction to set us apart from bookstores in the city." With the beach and hills as their playgrounds, Sim believes children at Cheung Chau are brought up to be more outgoing than city kids, hence a bookstore should provide a quiet space — besides the library — for young ones who might want to pick up reading.
"We hope TO-DAY could be a family bookshop, not just for hipsters or the stylish, we welcome everyone to come in."
"Right from the beginning, we knew that this would not be a store only for grown-ups. As a bookstore for an island, there should be some distinction to set us apart from bookstores in the city."
Their hopes were met with positive response, as the bookstore gradually became the artistic hangout for families in Cheung Chau. Picture books sold better than expected, bringing in actual profit, with the Cotton Tree's Chinese version of "Petra" being one of the store's bestsellers.
Besides books, the store has a selection of alternative household items for neighbors, such as Yuet Wo Soya Sauce from the New Territories, environmentally friendly tissue paper, detergent made by islanders from the tip of lemons, local vegetables and so on.
"We never intended to reach out to the community, we are simply bringing about the closeness we experienced among the neighbourhood, and paying it forward." The cafe bench placed outside the store says it all: the long term goal is to have more interaction with neighbors, and collaborate with more skilful and unique islanders.
As the bookstore became part of the community, Cheung Chau accepted the store in return, treating the newcomers as their own;
The islanders and the island connected by one bookstore.
Such an outcome seems trivial and pure, but important nonetheless, just like the beginning of the bookstore.
Similar to its English name, the Chinese name of the bookstore literally means "living day by day", with an implication of carrying on, "which definitely is not the same as dragging on," Sim insisted.
To enjoy a good read, learn how to gracefully cross rough waters — come rain or come shine, live for today.
Address: TO-DAY BOOKSTORE, G/f, 68 Pak She Street, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong