[View in HD here.]
‘This is 2011 right,’ I thought to myself.
I hope I didn’t get it wrong, because the question had been whirring in my mind from the moment I stepped into the shop. Fumbling with the door handle, I was hesitant to enter as the shop was empty. After all it was only 11am; opening time. Pushing ahead despite my initial reluctance, I finally pulled open the glass door, and was greeted by the melodic ring of the doorbell (that was a nice feeling). Soon, I was mesmerized by the numerous old goodies before me, familiar objects from my not-so-distant childhood. I took another step and was officially won over by the inviting ambience; warm lighting and the soft indie music playing in the background. It felt as though I had been transported to a place where time slowed down just for me to enjoy the moment.
Have I mentioned that this is an entry in our Window series? The above is not an excerpt from a dream, but a real place. Specifically, BooksActually’s new home in Yong Siak Street, nestled in one of the Rediscover crew’s favourite places, Tiong Bahru.
For those who don’t already know this place, BooksActually (est. 2005) is an independent bookstore unlike the ones you find in every other neighborhood in our country (some say that it is actually quite “popular”). BooksActually is different because it sells books which appeal more to literature and book lovers (or some say, connoisseurs), which explains why much of their offerings won’t be found in your usual bookstores. Supportive of the local writing community, they carry many small publications by local authors and contributors including a deceptively serious looking book titled ‘Singlish’ (which is, unsurprisingly, a dictionary of our very own language). Apart from books, BooksActually also sells hand stitched notebooks, stationery and nostalgic items.
I’m a sucker for things of the past and this is probably the reason why I fell in love with this place so quickly. Remember the country flag erasers we used to play with (and collect with a vengeance) when we were in primary school? How about typewriters that are now considered cumbersome and obsolete as compared to our computer keyboards? And those vintage film cameras (another weakness of mine), oh my, the list goes on. There are so many things to explore in the shop and I felt like an excited kid all over again, getting itchy fingers and dying to touch everything I see.
The cosy shop, nestled in an equally lazy and quiet neighbourhood, brings out in one the desire to spend the afternoon there, sipping coffee and enjoying the books. Alas, BooksActually serves no coffee. BUT directly opposite them is Forty Hands, a chic and and equally inviting cafe where you can enjoy a cuppa after your excursion to BooksActually.
BooksActually’s arrival in the ‘hood is another signpost that one of the oldest estates in Singapore is increasingly morphing into an eclectic mix of the old and new.
Our recent adventures to Tiong Bahru showed up a colorful mix of people. Much of the old and familiar is still there, but the neighbourhood has also become a popular housing choice among foreigners and young locals looking to recapture a slice of the rustic Singaporean life. It’s hard to resist the charm of a gracefully aging estate, especially one with such a poignant place in our history.
Do pay BooksActually a well deserved visit, and enjoy the quaintness of this pre-war estate while you’re at it.
More pictures on our Flickr album here.
No. 9 Yong Siak Street (Tiong Bahru)
Text by Jeremy Tan. Photography by Lizzy Lee. Video edited by Song Lim.