In the Tanjung Tokong area is a Buddhist based sanctuary, aptly named the Bodhi Heart Sanctuary. Bodhi Heart is known amongst the locals as a space where spiritual programmes take place to encourage the discovery of a more balanced, meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle. The premises are made up of various smaller buildings that serve different purposes such as prayer and meditation centres. The main one you see as you enter the premise is the Silabodhi, an activity centre that also houses a ‘library’ of books and audio visual material available to the general public. These Buddhist based books, chants and meditational tracks are available for free. Visitors can take them home and if they feel like contributing, they can donate any sum via the collection box. The grounds are beautiful with a sleepy dog or two basking in the sun and always a ready monk, working or researching in the activity centre. Bodhi Heart Sanctuary is the perfect place to be inspired – over a dusty Buddhist tome, a simple cup of tea in the outdoor tea house, or a conversation with a similarly minded fellow.
Expanding young minds and inculcating them with good values has preoccupied parents since the dawn of humanity. Josephine Yoong founded Precious Ones for just that purpose. On Lorong Selamat, a street famous for Penang’s most expensive plate of char koay teow, the small shop sells and publishes independent books, DVDs and audio books in line with Christian teachings as well as general morality and integrity. Yoong, a professional accountant who left the corporate world with the arrival of her two beautiful children, initially focused on educational toys and then realised that the market was missing children’s books that focused on good values. She does all the research herself and has come across many gems, one of which is the Alpha series that is used in churches and even widely in the Singaporean corporate world. She also carries the John Maxwell series, which has been a bestseller for years now.
Josephine also recently wrote her own book, ‘Timmy Tapir, Do It Right’. It’s a book on integrity accompanied by a journal to chart kids’ progress as they go through and ‘do the right thing’. Timmy was inspired by another local tapir – Tony from Patricia Chew’s ‘Tony the Tapir’ series. This series uses Penang’s natural beauty as a backdrop for lessons on good values and integrity, featuring the eponymous tapir.
Having been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town understands the importance of the arts amongst the old and young. The creative industry has recently been given more attention and importance on a global stage. The doors have opened to a plethora of boutique hotels, artsy cafes and genius shops that sell books and gifts from producers around Asia, catered to those whose inspiration lies in art and design.
One such patron of the arts is the Bon Ton brand that has taken Penang by storm with its Straits Collection residences, the legendary cakes at China House’s cafe, live music performed at The Canteen and unique combination of lifestyle gifts, fashion accessories, fun clothes, stationery and a wide range of coffee table books. China Joe’s or The Bon Ton Shop has made it a point to highlight the arts, featuring works by local groups, artists, painters and thinkers. These titles have been painstakingly chosen to complement the owners’ respect for the arts.
With the advent of our very own Urban Sketchers Penang, it is only right that ‘The Art of Urban Sketching’ by Quarry Books is available here. It highlights group drawing activities on location around the world and introduces readers to that world, one drawing at a time, setting imaginations alight. Beginning online in 2007 as a Flickr group, it quickly turned into a non-profit organisation whose mission was to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting the practice and connecting people who draw on location, where they live and travel.
Just a stone’s throw away is Areca Books, the brainchild of three social historians: Khoo Salma Nasution, Abdur-Razzaq Lubis and Dr Zulkifli B. Lubis. The bookshop plays an important role in archiving all material related to Penang’s history and heritage. Just off Armenian Street, it is kept in pristine condition with the characteristic minimal signage, dark wood and gold ornate finishes of the Baba Nyonya culture.
Areca not only publishes its own material but also carries work from local researchers, writers and historians, all in the name of enhancing, embracing and maintaining the rich culture available in Penang.
It is not a surprise then to note that one of Areca’s best sellers is the famous ‘Heritage Trees of Penang’ by the wonder trio Simon Gardner, Pindar Sidisunthorn and Lai Ee May. With the help of Think City Sdn Bhd and Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the book is a 400 page full colour hardcover edition, focusing on street trees, garden trees, sacred trees, village trees, forest trees, and coastal trees – featuring over 200 species found in Penang Island. The stunning cover is graced with a painting called ‘The Great Tree’ by William Daniel. This tree is said to have existed until the year 1870 when it may have reached more than 50m high with a rotund circumference of 9m. Even the lowest branch would have hung about 35m above ground level.
It is these sorts of prized books that make Areca so important and necessary to the landscape of Penang, exploring possibilities and allowing for further research and understanding of our culture to take place.
The presence of these scholastic retail spaces shows we’ve grown rapidly in thought and the understanding of our fellow man and surroundings. After all, Penang isn’t just an island paradise – it’s an economic powerhouse, a centre for study and intellectual enlightenment, and a great place for books.