Everything about the Island: Visiting Store of Taiwan (Taiuan-e-tiam)
“Welcome to our Taiuan-e-tiam, Store of Taiwan, where you can find local books, music and image collections of Taiwan here.” This is the introduction line on the website, simple and clear. The words “Our Taiwan” gives hint for identification of local culture, and it is the most significant characteristic of this bookstore.
Mr. Goo Seng-sam, owner of the bookstore, said in the beginning he was aiming to sell exclusively books of Taiwan, and he originally intended to name the store “Books of Taiwan’s Local Culture”. Yet Yeh Chu-lan, who worked in Advertising company, told him to go simple and could just name it “Store of Taiwan”.
“When I first opened the store, I visited Eslite bookstore to copy their catalogue but it was not that successful. Soon a friend introduced me to Yeh. They had a catalogue of books of Taiwan, arranged by Cheng Nan-jung when he was starting up his own publishing house. I then borrowed that catalogue from her.” Comparing to the time when the store first operated, the types of books Goo sells now do not differ much, only a significant increase in quantity can be seen.
The main product of the bookstore is books on Taiwanese culture and history, also with a fruitful collection of image products such as maps and manga. Multimedia products including audio and visual collection of aboriginal music, Taiwanese opera and children’s cartoons in Taiwanese languages can also be found.
Goo said in earlier years many teenagers often came for the wide collection of books on natural history and ecology. Gradually publishers on specific subjects close down one by one, and the amounts of books on natural history and ecology become lesser now. On the other hand, lately there is a boom for publications on colonial Taiwan. Goo was mostly interested in the history of Taiwanese plains aborigines, and he always wish to encourage young illustrators to work on picture books on stories of Taiwanese history. Some luckiness and chance may be needed for this project.
Goo pays attention to the creativity of young generation a lot. Together with the lively characteristic of the store, it becomes a popular place for consignments.
“We accept everything related to our store’s theme.” Goo took me to the postcard section in the corner where there was a showcase filled with postcards drawn by a motorcyclist who even brought his own shelf for it. Sometimes it was difficult for Goo to allocate space in this limited setting, but he managed to let everyone’s work be visible to customers. The packed shelves and Taiwanese cultural products makes the store an interesting environment.
Why Not Composing a Theme Song for the Store?
The owner and his wife are both charismatic conversationalists, giving the store an energetic spirit. During our interview, there were seven customers visiting the store and three of them were foreigners.
Goo expressed that the percentage of foreign customers is as high as fifty percent, of which many of them are visiting scholars who often knew about this store through friends. Many of these foreign customers, besides coming to read and buy books, also would often chat with Goo. The store presents a high degree of interaction, particularly many came to learn Taiwanese from Goo.
When we first stepped foot into the store, we saw a foreign face sitting at the counter learning something from Goo. We thought he was a close friend with Goo, as we saw the owner busily flipped through dictionaries in Taiwanese for explanations. Goo not only taught using his own voice, but also played CDs for this customer to listen.
Only after interview did we know that Miao-ling Ng from Canada paid his second visit to the store. It happened a lot in the store and the owner’s wife was clearly used to it. They sometimes even helped customers who wanted to learn more Taiwanese for language exchange matching, jotting down contact information for customers to see if anyone is interested. The contact information is written down in yearbook form, and they were kept continuously.
Goo remembered the first talk event held in Store of Taiwan, where Chen Ming-Chang spoke about his experience in composing the film music for Dust in the Wind. A customer asked him, “Aren’t you good at improvisation? Why not composing a theme song for the store?”
“Chen was very generous, especially when he had a few drinks.” With the crowd’s enthusiasm, Chen improvised some part of the song on site. He then sent the complete song one month later, and have asked Huang Jing-ya, the musician at Blacklist Studio who was nominated for Best Female Singer in Taiwanese at the Golden Melody Awards, to duet with him. The theme song, which can be downloaded on the website of Store of Taiwan, hinted a sense of 90’s New Taiwanese Song Movement.
From the liveliness of holding musical concerts and reading class in the past, to the sense of ordinary in today’s activities, Goo was keen to maintain the lively environment in the store.
“This is the reason for me to operate. Otherwise if no one comes, what is the point of operating.” Goo mentioned that the store’s revenue has gone through ups and downs with party alternations in recent years.
“The time of Ma Ying-jeou was the worst.”
This may be a particular rare phenomenon ever happened: business of a store named after its place/country origin would be affected by succession of political parties. It sometimes became too the target of anger expression. The sign and front door have been intentionally damaged for several times.
Goo has felt an obvious change in atmosphere in the store in times of the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement. The couple was originally planning to close down the store after 20 years of operation when no one wanted to take over, yet the store has persevered for 24 years already.
So, how is the business now?
“Still not getting better.” As the owner of a bookstore directly reflecting political stance, Goo is still seemingly waiting.
Interview, text and photography by Anchi Ring;
Passage translation by Yick-sau Lau.
Original text: 〈關於島嶼的一切：專訪台灣ê店吳成三〉
Owner’s Pick-ups ✎
郭英男《Circle of Life 生命之環》（世界音樂，1999）
George H. Kerr《被出賣的台灣》（前衛，1991）
Originally published at wenrootin.taipei.