Last summer, we took a trip to Japan and then to Hong Kong, and I’m now at last getting to the backlog of blog posts that I had dreamed of writing when I was there.

Of course high up on the list was visiting some stationery shops, but we also tried to pencil in some bookshops if we were in the neighbourhood. One of my favourite places that we visited was Flow Books, in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, a used English-language bookshop. Sheung Wan is a bustling and busy neighbourhood on the island, one of the earliest areas settled by the British, and the buildings and architecture reflect that. We didn’t explore too much of the neighbourhood, but it’s definitely on the list for a future trip.

Flow Books is located on the second floor, not unlike many if not basically all small and independent businesses in Hong Kong where ground floor commercial space is at a premium. The shop has a prominent sign to let you know you’ve found the right building, which, as a shop that was formerly located down a lane way, I can tell you is very handy.

Ah, my goodness.

I cannot express to you what a delight and joy and reprieve from travelling it can be to find a bookshop, that warm and fuzzy feeling of recognizing familiar spines and digging through stacks to find treasures. Of course it’s a surreal and unique experience to select books that reflect some of the country we’re visiting in, but visiting this English language bookstore in Hong Kong was also a pause from the mentally exhausting state of always being somewhere new, existing in a foreign language and a foreign culture. In Japan, we spent a lovely afternoon wandering through Jinbocho, Tokyo’s book district, but with most of their books in Japanese, it was more of an interesting sightseeing tour than it was something from home. We are very lucky in Toronto to have our share of excellent bookshops and libraries and places to sit and swim in books, and there’s nothing like travelling the world to remind you of this.

I got a chance to meet and chat briefly with the proprietor who was extremely understanding of a heat-frazzled mama and her curious boy,* and there was also something lovely about that: from one small shop doing business in paper and ink to another.

For Caleb, too, this was a delight. A comfortable and cosy spot to get lost. In fact, while we visited the Hong Kong public library often during our stay there, this was in many ways much more familiar and welcoming than the library system there, which has a very different culture from the Toronto library system we’re used to.


In any case, you might have noticed that the trip was a while ago and I’m only now beginning to dip back in.

It was an incredible voyage, where we learned new things, saw new sights and were bedazzled by the world. There was a huge learning curve for us in visiting vendors and bringing our kids along for the ride. It was tremendously inspiring and renewing for us as a stationery shop and also for us as a family, however, I for one, at least, despite our slow pace to accommodate two young children, was also exhausted.

That’s all to say that throughout the trip I accumulating various ideas of things I wanted to write about, along with photos of places we visited that I wanted to share, and upon return, I promptly soaked back into home life and put everything else on the back burner. As I’m now, six months later, revisiting our trip, looking through my journals and scrolling through pictures, it’s a huge mental whoosh of looking back on sweaty kids on swing sets in Hong Kong and the apartments we stayed in and Caleb reading books on the MTR. Lots to come.

From Flow Books, I picked up Brothers, a story about two step brothers growing up, finding love and success, in China. And that Traveler’s Notebook taking on a well-earned patina. Brought back to Canada with me all sorts of magical things.

*Jon stayed with a sleeping Naomi outside in the stroller. Alas, there are a number of places in Hong Kong that are not accessible.

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February 04, 2020 — wonderpens

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