FOR about 75 years, Tong Ah Eating House has stood out in Keong Saik Road for its distinctive red-and-white facade and shape as it sits on a triangular plot of land.
But from tomorrow, this old-school coffee shop will head out to a new shophouse, even if it is just a few doors down the same road.
The move marks the uprooting of a business the great-grandfather of Tang Chew Fue, 50, started at the spot in 1939, a date embossed on a sign proudly displayed at the top of the three-storey building.
Tang blames the upheaval on the sale of the property to a foreign investor, believed to be a hotelier. It is valued at about S$8mil (RM20mil), he said.
The coffee shop's owner is a relative of Tang, who rents the place for S$8,000 (RM20,000) a month. He declined to go into the reasons for the sale and neither the relative nor the new owner could be reached for comment.
Nicknamed Ah Wee, Tang took over the coffee shop from his father in 1999.
Little has changed on the menu as the Foochow family stuck to its winning formula of serving kaya toast in the morning and zi char food at night.
He will keep the menu intact in the new place at 35, Keong Saik Road, but he worries about his profit margin as he now pays 50% more in rent.
"I feel squeezed. Property prices have gone up as many private investors have bought land here," he said.
He also worries that the loss of outdoor seating, for which the coffee shop is known, will hurt his business.
"The outdoor seating is important to me. In the new location, the interior is large but my customers will have fewer carpark space," he said.
The coffee shop's customers, mainly office workers and residents in the area, were similarly nostalgic.
"Eating on the five-foot walkway is a treat that has been around for a long time. It is a special ambience with an old-world charm," sales executive Lee Siew Song said wistfully.
The 55-year-old works nearby and eats at the coffee shop twice a week.
Tong Ah is the second old-world coffee shop to change hands in just over a month.
Last month, 70-year-old Hua Bee coffee shop in Moh Guan Terrace in Tiong Bahru was leased to hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 41.
As a result, one of its two stallholders, coffee-seller Tony Tiang, 58, called it a day. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
A new kind of tourism seems to be emerging in the shadows of a world riven by conflict.
IT was a little over three weeks ago that the early morning silence of a base camp near Nanga Parbat was pierced by gunfire.
A number of men clad in the uniform of the Gilgit Scouts opened fire on the camp of mountain climbers. When they stopped, 10 climbers and their local guide lay dead.
The climbers originated from China, Russia, Nepal and Ukraine. The killers, it is alleged, were locals. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility for the attack. The reason for killing the climbers, they said, was in retaliation to the drone strikes inside Pakistan.
The attacks were widely condemned in Pakistan and abroad. Local news media focused on the area where the climbers were killed, pointing out how another part of Pakistan known for its scenic beauty was stained with the blood of innocent people.
In the international media, the deaths of the climbers received some attention, but unsurprisingly not the prolonged coverage that would have been afforded had the climbers been American or British.
On the lopsided scales of international sympathy, the world weeps most for only certain types of victims.
In Pakistan, where the tears have long since dried up, here was yet another example of why the terrain of the country, from the icy beauty of the northern mountains to the beaches of the sandy south, belongs to war and warmongers.
A few people cried at the death of tourism in Pakistan; most, however, were informed of the passing of recreational travel long ago. For years now, Pakistanis, residents of a country in conflict, have not been able to travel with the same freedom as before.
In these dark days of daily catastrophe, many an evocative eulogy has been written in memory of the Swat that was not known for shooting schoolgirls, and now for Nanga Parbat that was known for feats of human endurance and courage.
At the same time, while tourists of a certain sort may be driven away by the spectre of danger and the idea of an excursion being ravaged by militant groups, a new kind of tourism seems to be emerging in the shadows of a world riven by conflict.
In recent years and months, as protests and clashes have broken out in Egypt and Turkey, droves of "revolution watchers" from Western countries are reported to have headed to Tahrir and now Taksim Square, so that they can claim the badge of bravado that allows them to say they were there.
With the tools of social media at their disposal, they have reported effusively the drama of teargas shells being lobbed at crowds, security officials wielding their batons and the infectious fervour of the protesters surrounding them.
Here is a drama that differs from the usual tasks of the tourist: the taking in of the local sentiment of discontent and revolt, instead of appreciating ancient or natural sights.
If the latter pertains to the exotic and different, the tourism of conflict aims at taking in tempestuous, uncertain danger – the ultimate in thrill-seeking.
There are limits, of course, to the extent of danger that war tourists are willing to endure, and Pakistan, which has an excess of danger to offer, is too far off the scale to benefit from this newly developed taste for the perilous.
For the tourists of war and revolution, anger and protests are entertaining, so long as they do not impinge in any real way on the possibility of their return to calmer shores.
Awarded the dubious title of the most dangerous country in the world, perhaps Pakistan needs to start marketing its unrest, its uncertainty, its dark depravity as a way of attracting those bored of the easy, unexciting stability of existence in the rich world.
> The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
In China, traditional publishers are taking unusual steps as they seek to make the move into the digital age.
AS China's digital publishing industry continues to grow, publishers are looking for new ways of obtaining and telling stories. Gone are the days when authors simply penned their tales, presented them to the publisher houses and hoped for the best.
In addition, several of China's best-known, long-established publishers are using the digital arena as a shop window for their products in the hope of boosting sales of books in brick and mortar stores.
Last September, one of China's oldest publishing houses, the 101-year-old Zhonghua Book Co, entered the world of multimedia publishing by instigating a poetry contest that targeted mobile phone users.
The format was simple: applicants simply had to compose an ode using the rigid formulas of classical Chinese poetry and send the resulting poem to Zhonghua via a text message.
Over a period of four months, 43 million wannabe poets texted their work, either as original content for the competition or as messages to friends, who in turn forwarded the poem to other recipients. Software containing a template for the poem and the rules of composition was downloaded more than 50,000 times in one month.
By the end of the competition, the number of posts and reposts on mobile devices totalled 129 million, a huge number given that Zhonghua's biggest-selling physical book, Thoughts on the Analects of Confucius, sold 320,000 copies.
"The competition was our attempt to popularise ancient Chinese literature in the modern age and to market the brand of our publishing house, which is famous for classical Chinese texts," said Bao Yan, Zhonghua's president.
It was the first time that Bao and her team had attempted to promote and develop the physical market potential of classical Chinese literature via the digital medium.
Zhonghua estimated the revenue from the competition at nine million yuan (RM4.6mil), although the publisher had to split that sum with the telecom companies and its other partners.
However, rather than hard cash, the publicity boost for Zhonghua's traditional publications was the most valuable thing to emerge from the competition, according to Bao.
Meanwhile, the lessons learned from cooperating with local governments and technological partners could prove invaluable as the company looks to the future.
Zhonghua is just one of a group of traditional publishers attempting to carve out a niche in the multimedia world, but they are finding the going tough.
In the past three years, the income brought in by digital products has accounted for less than 10% of the annual revenue of the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
That disparity stems from a lack of familiarity with operating methods in the world of digital publishing.
"No one in the publishing world knows how to benefit from it (digital publishing) in terms of finances and branding," said Li Hongfei, the director of the language press' digital department.
"We may have good ideas, but without obvious signs of return publishing houses are reluctant to invest their money in a digital arm. All in all, the major businesses are still focusing on traditional paper productions."
Li's comment echoed a quip made by the language press' deputy president, Xie Wenhui: "Doing nothing in the multimedia world means we are just sitting still and waiting to die, but taking action in the market could mean we die more quickly."
However, Lin Hua, deputy president of Cloudary, the biggest online hub for contemporary Chinese literature, said at the StoryDrive China forum organised by the Frankfurt Academy in May that online content can be a money spinner, especially if marketed correctly across a range of formats.
For example, the novel If You are the One by Fu Rong San Bian, one of Cloudary's biggest sellers, became one of the most successful examples of the transmedia trend when it was later made into a movie by the Chinese director Feng Xiaogang.
No quick returns
The branding effect is already evident; best-selling e-books can have a positive influence on sales of the equivalent paper publication.
"The digital performance of a book often provides clues to potential sales in brick and mortar stores, but it will be a long-term process, even with clear goals and a good plan of action," said Li. "No one should expect a quick financial return."
Wang Hui, chief editor of the Chinese-language version of Psychology magazine, said: "Traditional publishers enjoy the advantages of being well established and enjoy good reputations in the industry, but those factors can also prove to be shortcomings."
Like Zhonghua, Sanlian Publishing House put a new twist on a traditional industry when it opened a workshop for authors, graphic artists and, crucially, readers, in 2009.
Work and story ideas are submitted online and if the readers judge the material to have potential, the authors and artists are invited to attend the workshop and develop their ideas in collaboration with the readers.
Zhang Zhijun, Sanlian's deputy head, sees the workshop as a major influence on the publisher's future development.
Sanlian is no stranger to innovation. In 2003, it was the first publishing house on the Chinese mainland to publish graphic novels, such as those by the popular Taiwan-based cartoonist Jimmy.
"The open nature of the workshop offers more opportunities to get to know authors from all walks of life, people with special ideas they would like to share through our platform, " said Zhang.
Meanwhile, illustrated and interactive books are now assuming greater importance for publishers and the format of the workshop, equally open to creative types and their audience, means publishing in the digital world can break accepted rules.
For example, some companies have given readers the opportunity to influence the course of stories published in instalments by asking for, and often incorporating, their ideas on story and character development.
"Interactivity in the reading process, no matter at what stage, is winning more readers because people have become accustomed to it through computer games and related activities," said Holger Volland, deputy president of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"As we all know, in the search for good content, uniqueness and novelty are more important than anything else," said Zhang, who decided to retain full independence of the workshop by declining all offers of financial support and cooperation from other organisations: "We have to maintain our purity; that way we can produce a lasting and sustainable future in the publishing world."
Zhonghua's Bao believes in the merits of classical Chinese literature and regards her company as being in a unique position as it acts as a cheerleader for, and repository of, ancient literature.
To that end, the company is exploring the potential of promoting the classics through "fragmentation", that is by publishing free extracts from classic works in the hope that readers will be enthralled and rush to the stores to buy a copy of the book in question.
For Sanlian, the path seems clear but also hard. Around 99% of the illustrated books it publishes and sells in its own bookstores are written by foreign authors.
"We lack local talent to create good material that will prove competitive," said Zhang. "It's an opportunity as well as a challenge. If we get it right, we will be starting on the road to success." — China Daily/ Asia News Network
Quality is king
"The core value of a publishing house, even nowadays, relies heavily on the process of selecting content. High-quality content is the most important thing, regardless of whether a book has been published digitally or in the traditional format. The content provider should be responsible for quality.
"How to protect excellent quality and purify it should be the first priority when digital book editors think about their work. No decent publisher with a good reputation is proud of quantity on its own.
"Also, heavy competition is unavoidable at this stage of development. It is not a good sign for any part in the industry to worry only about the product price at the expense of the service provided and brand value established. No clear rules and regulations have yet been set and the market needs time to mature."
— Pan Kaixiong, vice-president of China
All the free downloads will die out
"The volume of digital reading content on JD.com is still very small. We started our e-book business in February 2012 and it now has more than four million customers. However, 80% of the 140,000 e-book categories comprise digital copies of printed works, the same format as Amazon and is quite distinct from other Chinese publishers. Readers have different preferences; some like e-books, others like traditional books.
"Literature, management and social sciences are the categories with the highest e-book sales online, while education, scientific works and children's books are the most popular among traditional readers.
"Right now in China's publishing industry, self-publishing - original works published and sold online by the authors – has emerged as a major trend. At the same time, a new habit of consuming books online has emerged, as a lot of consumers appear to be willing to pay more for digitalised content and the price of the content has risen as much as threefold. So the number of free downloads will decline gradually and finally disappear.
"The positive landscape of digital publishing encourages publishers and prompts a greater number of people to read e-books. The benefits for the content creator, however, are still blowing in the wind. As to whether they can earn more money than traditional writers, I don't think anyone can guarantee that in the short term."
— Shi Tao, vice-president of JD.com, one of China's largest online business-to-customer retailers
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