I have not long returned from a trip to Asia, after having been fortunate enough to be chosen by the Australia Council and Austrade to attend the Taipei Book Fair and then travel on to Seoul for meetings with Korean publishers. I was not at all prepared for the feast of books and book readers that I encountered! Wow! What a trip! First of all, I did a bit of a detour and stopped off in Hong Kong where my gorgeous niece lives. It was Chinese New Year and there was much celebration to welcome in the Year of the Horse. Having never been to HK I did not really know what to expect and was so amazed by the confluence of old and new and how easily and effortlessly East meets West. Amazing, shiny skyscrapers dwarf old temples and tearooms, while old men play mahjong in peaceful squares just a block away from the hustle and bustle of downtown designer shopping. I think I walked around with my mouth open and my eyes the size of saucers, delighting in the sensory overload I encountered at every step. My obsession with dumplings started pretty much on the first night! Ironically, despite all the newness, the first thing I saw on leaving the airport was that old familiar DYMOCKS logo! They have several franchises in HK and, according to the locals, they do good business. Next stop Taipei! Having been surprised by HK I did not, in my naivety, have much in the way of expectations for Taipei. A publishing colleague who lives in HK had said to me that it’s a very modern city but that was all I really had to go on. I arrived pretty late at night so didn’t see much on my way to the hotel. But when I woke in the morning and drew back my curtains, I was amazed by the very sleek, very modern and very impressive city stretching out before me. Wide avenues, skyscrapers, loads of people … I couldn’t wait to get out amongst it all. On my way to the book fair, I listened to my publishing colleague Nerrilee Weir, who had been several times before and was incredibly knowledgeable, guiding us newbies and telling us as we went along about the amazing bookshop Eslite that is open 24 hours. It covers four floors and surrounding the book section are little concept stores that sell eyeglasses, furniture, writing material, etc. I couldn’t wait to get there. The fair was busy and the Australian stand, located next door to our neighbours New Zealand, looked very impressive. (Next year, NZ is the Guest of Honour, which is a big thing at book fairs.) On the first day we were greeted by the team from Austrade Taipei, who were very efficient and delightful and ensured that we were all busy with appointments. The Taiwanese are not only lovely people but great book readers who support a vibrant publishing industry. My agent, Chris Lin, helped with appointments if language was a problem and we all laughed a lot and enjoyed the cultural exchange! Our titles were warmly received and I feel very confident that we will place some titles in Taiwan. The fair is open to the public from day two and I must admit I just loved seeing and meeting the endless number of attendees, especially the young ones who respect their own culture but are very curious and embracing of Western cultures. They are very proud of their country and I was often asked what I thought of Taipei — it meant a great deal to them that we were positive. Mind you, how could you not be with a city that has a 24-hour bookshop?! I visited Eslite fairly late one night and finished off my browsing with a few glasses of delicious red wine in ‘The Library’ — where else!! Next stop Seoul! Now I don’t do cold — being Mediterranean, I do hot and hotter — so I was slightly worried about the fact that it snows and that Siberian winds blast through the place. On leaving the airport, I was like a little child experiencing snow for the first time, delighting in such an unusual event, but by the end of the trip I was over it. The novelty had well and truly worn off! But I think I will leave my Seoul experience for next week, as there is so much to say about Korea and Seoul and publishing! Till then … happy reading, happy Asia!
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