Blog Archive

Monday 16 July 2012

The Disused Well & Other Tales by Othman Wok (Review)

Random Reviews – 7

Other Tales of Horror and Mystery

Othman Wok
(Singapore, Horizon Books 2002. Reprinted 2006)

I don’t do ghost stories. In fact, I can’t remember having read a ghost story before. However this series of reviews is meant to be random and this book just happened to be the next candidate.

Considering my scepticism, the book did not start out well. The first two stories left me saying, “So what?” The story teller went to a building, something blood curdling happened, s/he ran off in fright, asked someone else if they could explain it, the someone else said something terrible happened there years ago and that was it.
Nevertheless as I turned the pages the variety increased. There was lots to keep me reading - ghosts who adapted to the modern age by using phones, day time ghosts, pelesit (blood sucking grass hoppers), victims killed by ghosts and those who survived. The variety of settings and characters certainly added to the book’s readability. I was often left wondering what would happen next.
The book also excelled by taking apparently normal snippets from everyday life and transforming them into something ghoulish and mysterious. In fact, I preferred the day time ghost stories as night time ghost are surely a bit of a cliché by now.  ‘The Mysterious Sister’ about a little girl with an imaginary playmate was particularly good example of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. 
I read the stories as fiction which meant some of them were not all that satisfying. However there was at least one story with a surprise punch line and several that ended with cliff hangers. It was disappointing that in only one of the stories did someone have the courage to face down the ghost and make it go away. In most cases it was the victims who fled in horror.
One assumes that the author, a former Singaporean diplomat, politician and journalist, is a ghost believer since, with one exception, the ghosts in his stories always win.  The stories mainly have Malay settings. So Islam occasionally creeps in to tussle with a demon or two, but imams and quotations from the Koran are as powerless as anything else that seeks to challenge the spirit world. Presumably since the Malay Archipelago has been home to similar stories long before Hinduism, Islam or Christianity arrived here, such foreign imports have succumbed to accommodating rather than confronting the indigenous culture of the dead.

This book is currently available at The Penang Bookshelf at RM30. For more details please follow this link.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia - A Review

Random Reviews – 6 

Michael Stenson

(University of Queensland Press, 1980)

Since the overwhelming body of writing in English about the Malayan colonial period naturally has a colonialist tinge of some shade or other, it was a surprise to pick up a book which very obviously belonged to a different school. In fact, it was quite refreshing to read a socialist take on the country’s history from the start of the 20th century to the 1969 riots.

Stenson sets out to figure out why socialism had not quite taken hold in Malaysia in the way that it had in mangled forms in, say, Indonesia and Singapore. He came to the conclusion that he would not be able to make much headway unless he looked in detail at the politics and experiences of the Indian community. In many ways this community is as much at the bottom of the class heap today as it has  been ever since the British began replicating the West Indian indenture system in their plantations in Malaya. The story is both depressing and fascinating.

The Indian struggle to achieve a respected place in Malayan society is depressing as they appear to have been unusually handicapped. The vast majority of the community was, unlike the Malays and Chinese, cut off from general society in enclosed estates where employers provided enough to enable labourers to produce profits, but little more. They certainly did not have the means to organise to improve their conditions. Misdemeanours resulted in beatings and anything more serious could result in repatriation to India. The situation only began to change with the Japanese occupation which ended migration and half heartedly encouraged Indians to challenge British colonialism. 

Stenson demonstrates in fairly well argued and documented parts of the book not only the vital role that Malaya played in producing dollars for the British economy but also the crucial role that economically and socially depressed Indian labour played in producing those dollars. So the post war colonial administration went out of its way, according to the author, to ensure profits continued to be high and wages depressed. The control of Indian labour and the undermining of Indian politics detailed in the book reflect a very different form of life on the plantations compared to that recounted in Malayan Spymaster and Confessions of a Rubber Planter in Malaya reviewed elsewhere in this blog.

However amongst the English educated members of the Indian community - usually lawyers, teachers and clerks -  there were ready made community leaders, whom the British started by ignoring, but eventually came to accept. The British probably slowly came to an accommodation because they soon realised that Indian politics in Malaya seldom posed much of a threat to the status quo. Quite simply the community was often split by regional and other rivalries so that it was seldom, even after the war, able to speak with one voice. The natural leaders, inspired by the Indian independence struggle, found it difficult to articulate the needs of the plantation worker who only wanted a decent life and was often a long way off from understanding or wanting anything approaching a say in the country’s affairs.

Of course it did not help the Indian case, as Stenson clearly points out, that they had difficulties in choosing the country, India or Malaya, with which they wanted to identify. The Communist insurrection in Malaya and Maoist takeover of China helped the Chinese business class quickly throw in their lot with Malay conservatives working for independence. The Indians eventually threw in their lot too, but not without considerable dithering and clear signals from India that they should treat the new Malaya as their homeland.

Finally, Stenson argues, the failure of the Indians to radicalise on truly pan-Malayan issues combined with the distinctly Chinese agenda of the Communist insurgents left the door open for the British to preserve the economic status quo. The British found willing help matess in the Malay and Chinese parties being readied for independence thus setting the tone for the country’s politics and economy for decades to come.

This book is currently available at The Penang Bookshelf at RM110. SOLD

Books Ordered in July - Offers!

Books Ordered in July

As usual I'm letting you know of books I am ordering in the course of the month. They usually take up to a month from the date of the order to reach me. Please assume that the books are used, unless I indicate otherwise. I have also given the expected price when the books reach my shelves in blue. Sometimes I can offer some of the titles at a reduced price if they are ordered and paid for within a calendar month of the date of my order. In such cases I  indicate the discounted price in red.  If the books arrive within a calendar month of the order, such offers can be withdrawn. So if you want to pre-order any of them or have any questions, do contact me at

13th July

Glimpses into Life in Malayan Lands - John Turnbull Thomson (Oxford University Press, 1992) RM210
Malay proverbs: A compilation of proverbs and proverbial expressions with some pantuns and riddles taken from earlier publications - ES Hose (Compiler) RM400/RM360

British Malaya - Frank Swettenham (Bodley Head) RM150/RM130
Primitive Polluters: Semang Impact on the Malaysian Tropical Rain Forest Ecosystem - Terry A. Rambo (Univ of Michigan Museum, 1985) RM100
Brokers of Morality: Thai Ethnic Adaption in a Rural Malaysian Setting - Louis Golomb (Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press, 1986) RM110
The Malay Magician Being Shaman, Saiva and Sufi (Revised & Enlarged edition) - RO Winstedt (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1951) RM140
Malayan Fables - Books 1 & 2 - Ann Parkinson  (Donald Moore, 1956) RM180/RM160
The Arts of Malaya - Tony Beamish (Donald Moore 1954)  RM140
Chen Wen Hsi Retrospective - Chen Wen Hsi (Old & New Gallery, Singapore, 1982) RM150/RM130
The Temiar Jungle: A Malayan Story - John Slimming (Travel Book Club, London, 1958) RM30 
Operations Most Secret: S.O.E., the Malayan Theatre - Ian Trenowden ( Crecy Publishing, 1994)  RM60
The Long and The Short and The Tall - Willis Hall RM40/RM30
Short History of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei - Mary Turnbull (Graham Brash, 1981) RM110
Absent History: The Untold Story of Special Branch Operations in Singapore 1915-1942 - Ban Kah Choon (Paths International Ltd)  RM140

15th July

Home Port Singapore - KG Tregonning (Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1967)   RM200

16th July

The Rubber Industry: A Study in Competition and Monopoly - PT Bauer  (Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA, U.S.A. 1948) RM180

more to come...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Spray of Orchids: The Penang Bookshelf's Orchid Books Catalogue

A Spray of Orchids
The Penang Bookshelf's Orchid Books Catalogue

The Penang Bookshelf is happy to announce recent instructions to dispose of a large selection of books about Orchidaceae, Orchids, one of the two largest families  of flowering plants. The largest group of orchids are native to the tropical areas of the word, i.e. parts of Africa, America and Asia. Most of the books listed below will be of interest to the Asian orchid enthusiast, although some are appropriate for those interested in orchids in general.

The majority of the books are in fine or near fine condition. In other words the look like new.

Full details of these books are being prepared for sale on The Penang Bookshelf's website. However if you would like further details of any of them before then, do please contact us. Books are sent post free within Malaysia and also post free to Singapore where books are part of an order of more than 2kg
Tel: +60-12-972-6485

Orchids Books List

1. - An Introduction to Orchids of Asia, Mark L Isaac Williams    RM50 SOLD

2. - Tropical Orchids of Malaysia  & Singapore, Periplus  RM60
3. - Phalaenopsis species, Chiba Masaaki RM110

4. - Phalaenopsis, A Monograph, Eric A Christenson -

5. - Orchid Digest Vol 66 (4) Oct-Dec 2002 -

6. - Genus Phalaenopsis, Herman R Sweet  - RM200

7. - Les Orchidees, Phalaenopsis,  Andre Poliquin   -

8. - Phalaenopsis, Olaf Gruss, Manfred Wolff  -

9. - Vandas and Ascocendas and heir combinations with other genera, David L Grove
- RM100 SOLD

10 - Vandas, their botany, history and culture, Martin R Motes -

11. - Malesian Orchid Journal, Volumes 1, 2 and 8  - RM80 each

12. - The complete encyclopedia of Orchids, Zdenek Jezek  -

13. - Slipper Orchids of Borneo, Phillip Cribb 
- RM60

14. - A - Z of South East Asian Orchid species, Peter O' Byrne 

15 - Beautiful Thai Orchid species, Haruyuki Kamemoto, Rapee Sagarik

16. - A history of the Orchid, Merle A Reinikka - RM70

17. - Simon and Schuster's Guide to Orchids,  Editor Stanley Schuler 
- RM30

18. - Orchids of Asia,  Teoh Eng Soon   3rd Ed.   
- RM100 SOLD

19. - Highland Treasures, A Photographic Guide, Portraits of Highland Orchids in Peninsular Malaysia   
- RM100

20. - The Orchids of the Philippines,   Jim Cootes   
- RM200

21. - Native Orchids of Peninsular Malaysia,  Chris K H Teo   
- RM150

22. - A Guide to Orchids of the world,  Margaret Hodgson,  Roland Paine & Neville Anderson  
- RM100 SOLD

23. - Dendrobium and its relatives,  Bill Lavarack, Wayne Harris & Geoff Stocker 

24. - Orchid growing in the tropics, Orchid Society of South East Asia  -

25. - The Genus Coelogyne, A Synopsis,  Dudley Clayton  
- RM150 SOLD

26. - Orchids of Sarawak, TE, RS & JH Beaman, JJ Wood   
- RM300

27. -
Dendrobiums, An introduction to the species in cultivation,  Sybella Schelpe and Joyce Stewart    - RM200 SOLD

28. - The illustrated encyclopedia of Orchids, over 1100 species illustrated and identified,  Alec Pridgeon
- RM40  SOLD

29. - Orchideentafeln aus Curtis's botanical magazine,  Samuel Sprunger, Ulmer 
- RM100

30. - Bulbophyllums and their allies, A grower's guide    Emily S Siegerist   
- RM100 SOLD

31. - Orchid pests and diseases guide,  American Orchid Society   

32. - Orchids of Borneo,  Volume 1     C L Chan et al      Set, 
                                Volume 2    JJ Vermeulen      
                                Volume 3    JJ Wood
                                Volume 4    JJ Wood -
- RM500 for the set

33. - The Plants of Mount Kinabalu 2 Orchids,   JJ Wood, RS and JH Beaman  
- RM180

34. - The Manual of cultivated Orchid species  3rd Ed.   Helmut Bechtel, Phillip Cribb and Edmund Launert      
- RM100 SOLD

35. - Wild Orchids of Borneo,  Presenter  Anthony Lamb   DVD
- RM50
36. - Home Orchids Growing  - Rebecca T Northen - RM30
37. - Flora of Malaya – Vol 1 – Orchids – RE Holttum - RM200

The Penang Bookshelf's Library on Chinese Ceramics

Chinese Ceramics Collection
This month The Penang Bookshelf has been instructed in the sale of a significant collection of books on Chinese Ceramics. The range of titles should be of interest to everyone interested in this field, whether a dabbler or a devotee. Some of these titles are readily available internationally, a few are more rare. Few of these books appear regularly on the market in Asia.

Most of the books are in a fine or near fine condition, i.e. they have few, if any, blemishes and look new. Others are in very good condition.

Full details of the books are being prepared for sale at the moment. If you're interested in any of the books before they go on general sale and want further details, do contact The Penang Bookshelf by email at penangbookshelf@gmail. com or phone on +60-12-972-6485.

The prices include free postage within Malaysia and to Singapore where the total order exceeds 2kg in weight. Please ask for quotations for postage elsewhere.

1)            Treasures of China
                Ting Sing Wu
                Volumes 1 and 2  - RM220

2)            Chinese Ceramics from the Gulexuan Collection
                R Krahl
                Clarissa von Spee - RM300

3)            Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang collection
                R Krahl
                Volume 4  (2 books) - - RM2,000
                Yuan, Ming and Qing Porcelains from Jingdezhen

4)            The Meiyintang Collection Parts 1, 2 and 3
An Important Selection of Imperial Chinese Porcelains
                Sotheby’s Hong Kong - RM2,500

5)            A Collector’s Guide to Antiques
                Rebo Collection - RM100

6)            The Emperor’s Last Treasure, Remnants of Unrecorded Chenghua Porcelain
                Ho Wing Meng SOLD
                Times Editions

7)            The Beauty of Chinese Yixing Teapots and the Final Art of Tea Drinking
                Lim Kean Siew - RM250 SOLD
                Times Editions

8)            Chinese Ceramics
                He Li
                Thames and Hudson - RM80

9)            Early Ming Wares of Chingtechen
                AD Brankston SOLD
                Oxford in Asia Studies in Ceramics

10)          Ming Ceramics in the British Museum
                Jessica Harrison Hall - RM800 SOLD

11)          Chinese Ceramics in the Baur Collection
                J Ayres
                Volumes 1 and 2 - RM3,000

12)          Shipwrecked N, H
                Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds
                R Krahl SOLD
                Smithsonian Institution

13)          Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in SEA with over 450 wrecks including the Flor Do Mar
                Tony Wells SOLD
                Times Editions

14)          The Art of Chinese Ceramics
                An Illustrated History featuring 150 pieces from the Palace Museum, Beijing
                Reader’s Digest - RM60

15)          Imperial Porcelain from the Shanghai Museum
                Titus M Eliens
                Waanders - - RM200

16)          Chinese Ceramics
                From the Paleolithic Period through the Qing Dynasty
Li Zhi Yan - - RM150

17)          Possessing the Past, Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei
                Metropolitan Museum of Art
                Wen C Fong, James C Y Watt - RM150

18)          Splendors of Imperial China
                Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei
                Maxwell K Hearn
                Metropolitan Museum of Art - RM40

19)          Masterworks of Chinese Porcelains in the National Palace Museum, Taipei  
Volume and Supplement  (2 volumes) - RM280

20)          Song Ceramics
                Lu Yaw, Feng Xian Ming, Mary Tregear
                SEA Ceramic Society       Limited Edition SOLD

21)          Song Dynasty Ceramics
                Rose Kerr SOLD
                Victoria and Albert Museum

22)          Chinese Ceramics, Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644 – 1911
                Rose Kerr
                Victoria and Albert Museum - RM170

23)          Oriental Blue and White
                Sir Harry Garner
                Faber and Faber RM100

24)          Ceramics from the Sarawak Museum
                Lucas Chin SOLD

25)         Chinese Ceramics
                Ji Wei
                Reader’s Digest - RM50

26)          Connoisseur Magazine      December 1980
                For sale, the Edward T Chow Collection
                Paul Alterbury - RM50 SOLD

27)          The Edward T Chow Collection
                Part 1    Ming and Qing Porcelain
                Part 2    Early Chinese Ceramics and Ancient Bronzes
                Part 3    Ming and Qing Porcelain with Works of Art
                Sotheby, Parke and Bernet, H K Limited - RM5,000

28)          Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul
                R Krahl, J Ayres
                Volume 1             Yuan and Ming Dynasty Celadon Wares
                Volume 2             Yuan and Ming Dynasty Porcelains
                Volume 3             Qing Dynasty Porcelains SOLD

29)          Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
                Export Porcelain Fit for the Chinese Emperor
                Early Chinese Blue and White
                The Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul SOLD

30)          Ceramic Masterpieces of the Orient from the Topkapi Palace, Turkey
                Idemitsu Museum of Arts
Ottoman Turkish Treasures, Commemorative Exhibition of the Centenary of Turkish-Japanese friendship RM180

31)          Arts of Asia
                Volume 31 Number 6
                Treasures of the Topkapi Palace Museum,  Collection of Chinese Porcelains SOLD

32)          Arts of Asia
                Volume 37 Number 6
                A Special Exhibition at the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, Japan
                Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics
                Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka SOLD

33)          Chinese Ceramics in the British Museum
                Highlights of the Sir David Percival Collection
                R Krahl, J Harrison Hall  RM60

34)          For the Imperial Court
                Qing Porcelain from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art
                Rosemary E Scott
                American Federation of Arts RM130

35)          Chinese Export Ceramics
                Rose Kerr
                Luisa E Mengoni RM100

36) Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-Hua Porcelain Ware, National Palace Museum - RM300

37) Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics – Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka - RM60
38) Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect 3
                Denis SK Low - RM500