.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Rare book

I already own a guidebook for China but I left it behind in Cambodia because I figured it wasn't worth carrying that weight around for eight months. I figured I'd be able to pick up a cheap second-hand one in Vietnam.

The shops here have plenty of stock of many different guide books, usually in pirate editions. Up till a few days ago I hadn't seen one for China.

Around the corner from where I'm staying is a shop that Lonely Planet Vietnam describes as a 'big second-hand bookshop'. Big? I must have walked past it at least twenty times before I realized there was even a bookshop there. And as anyone who knows me knows, I am supersensitive to bookshops.

So, I dropped in. They had a second-hand copy of Lonely Planet China. Checked the edition—2005. Not too old. The previous owner had written copious notes in the margins and underlined half the book. I can live with that. Maybe some of the notes might even be useful. So what are they asking for this? On the cover are stickers that say: 'Original'. That's correct. It's not a pirate edition. 'New price $30.' Yep, on the back the US price is $29.95. 'Now rare. $28.' I burst out laughing. The woman at the counter looked up at me. I explained the joke that had made me laugh. She wasn't amused.

I decided to look somewhere where they didn't have such a humorous idea of pricing books. There is another shop I'd spotted a few days before that had a few second-hand guidebooks but none on China at the time. I went back there. They had one. Same edition. But when I opened it I saw that at least twenty pages had been ripped out completely and some animal, it appears, has bitten a piece of about 4 cm radius from most of the other pages and a smaller chunk out of a few others. Gee, I wish I could find the person who previously owned this one. There might be a good story in it.

There is another bookshop in town that Lonely Planet Vietnam says has 'the best selection of English language books in Hanoi'. They have both new and second-hand. I hadn't been to that part of town but decided it was time I ventured a little further from the old quarter. One of the staff members said 'hi' to me in an Australian accent. There was a pirate edition of the book I was looking for. The price? 250,000 dong. That's $18.50 in Australian money or $US15.50—for a pirate edition that can be bought in Cambodia for around $US3. Or at least could be back when I was last there.

Obviously I'm not going to Cambodia to buy the book. And I'm starting to think that perhaps 'now rare' is correct for Hanoi at least.

I decide to go back to the shop with the half-eaten copy. No, I'm not going to buy it. I'm just intrigued to see how much they're asking for it. The price? 50,000 dong. The woman explains that the book is out of print and will not be available until around November. She says she has a friend with a good second-hand copy that he will sell for 400,000 dong if I'm interested. I tell her I can get a pirate edition for 250,000. She is at first disbelieving.

I decided that the following morning I'd connect to the internet and see if the book is in fact out of print. But the next morning there is a bit of storm activity about and I decide against connecting my computer. I go straight to the bookshop with the pirate edition. I don't want to enter China without any information in my hands.

When I get there I have a chat with the Australian. He tells me that the book is in fact out of print. He says they would not normally sell a pirate edition but under the circumstances they feel they are helping people in need. (Like me.) Apparently they had to make a trip to Hoi An to get these books. He says there's none in Hanoi and I can agree with that. I've been looking in all the bookshops and all the pirate bookstalls. We chat on. I'm intrigued as to why the pirate books are so much cheaper in Cambodia than here. I ask if he knows where they are printed. He says he heard they were printed after hours at the Government Printing Office in Ho Chi Minh City.

I fork out my 250,000 dong and take my book home. That afternoon I connect to the internet and check the Lonely Planet website. It says that there is a new edition now available, released in May 2007. So why hasn't it reached Vietnam yet?

Labels: , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?