Ever since I was a little boy, I developed a love for reading. Basically, I would read whatever I could lay my hands on – be they be newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, story books, Reader’s Digest etc.

Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved

To this day, the love of reading is a love that I still maintain as I approach my 60th year of existence. For Malaysians, once you reach 60 years of age, you are automatically recognized as a ‘Warga Emas’ (literally a golden citizen, in Malay), bestowed with some of life’s priviledges (in Malaysia at least) eg reduced fare on the MRT and LRT, trains, assigned seating etc.

Reminiscing as one often does when one gets to this stage in life, I remember the days when we, my younger siblings and I, lived in the quarters reserved for government employees (our late father was a teacher and later headmaster whilst our mother was a nurse) in Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak, Johor Bahru, and would always keep an eye out for our friendly newspaper delivery man.

Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved

He was a middle-aged Indian guy, tall (or so it seemed to us then as, well, we were only yay-high), wiry but definitely fit and strong. It stands to reason for he has to pile all the newspapers due for the day’s delivery onto his bicycle and would then cycle around a few neighbourhoods to complete his daily deliveries.

Mind you, our neighbourhood was not actually flat ground, undulating at more than just a few spots but at least, flooding was the least of our problems back then should it ever rain non-stop for more than a few days.

But back to our friendly neighbourhood newspaper delivery man.

His routine would be that, as he approaches to complete his deliveries at the different homes, he would ring his bicycle bell, informing the occupants of his presence and of the delivery. So tuned in we were to his routine, we could actually zoom in to the approximated time he would be completing his delivery at our place.

Some of my collection of books. (Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved)

Little that we realize then that the chime of his bicycle bell was the trigger to our inbuilt competitive spirit for, upon hearing that chime, we would just drop whatever chores we were doing and raced each other to see who would get first dibs on the newspapers delivered.

Normally, being the eldest and therefore the strongest (?) and the largest, I would be the first to get my hands on the delivery. (Nowadays I am just large.) BUT if ever I were to fail to be the first due to being ‘indisposed’ or ‘occupied’, I knew I could always fall back on Plan B.

Plan B was simple and it is basically a back-to-basics plan which would require me to pull rank, assert my birthright and lay claim to the newspapers. It worked pretty well until my late father got wind of my Plan B (somebody complained!), stepped in and enforced fair play.

Well, much has been said about Asian Tigress mums but never do you ever underestimate Asian Tiger dads, especially the old-school types. Just one look is all it took for peace and order to be restored, never mind fair play. But, as always, I digress.

Back then, the newspapers were what the newspaper people would describe as broadsheets. It takes some skill to read them broadsheets, I can tell you that. Folding at the right places and to be able to scan for the most interesting articles to read. I did not realize, til much later, that my routine became a habit, but I would normally start at Page 1 and continue to Pages 2 and 3 before moving on the back pages for the sports news, especially news on football.

Amongst the first few books that I ever owned (other than school books that is), Magic & Superstition. Given to me for my birthday in 1971. (Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved)

The routine continued when I furthered my studies in Ole Blighty but by then, either by design or by accident, Page 3, with its visual enhancements, took centre stage, to be joined later by Page 5.

It was also not til I was in Ole Blighty that I was able to afford paperbacks. In Ole Blighty, they were cheap, comparatively, or so I thought, with far more titles to choose from. Before that, from primary to secondary school, my main source of reading materials were primarily the school libraries. But as us old timers know, school libraries back then do not stock titles from The Liverpool Press (am still wondering what the fuss was all about as I have yet to read any of their publications), Harold Robbins, Tom Clancy or even, my favourite, Robert Ludlum. For one, they were either deemed ‘unsuitable’ (read that as being TOO exciting) for ‘young and growing minds’ (read that as being uncorrupted).

But beggars can’t be choosers and going with the flow, my reading favourites were essentially limited (but still enjoyable) to Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series, Reader’s Digest and the now defunct monthly Malay student magazine,Dewan Pelajar (bought for a princely sum those days in the 1960s and 1970s).

I remembered that I was so into the Famous Five that I actually signed up to be a member of the Famous Five club, despite the club being registered in the United Kingdom. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered a fellow member of the same exact club after I enrolled in my boarding school, that Eton of The East, The Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) in 1973. And we were in the same dormitory at that. What a funny old world this is.

Anyway, I kept my membership card and badge many moons ago (or was it many, many. many moons ago?) as a keepsake of times gone by. Somewhere. Now if only I could remember where that ‘somewhere’ is. It makes me wonder whoever coined that phrase ‘If memory serves me right’ ever got it right.

I began my collection of paperbacks when I was in Ole Blighty. My collection of titles grew by leaps and bounds as I took my passion of reading to a new and different level. I did a lot of travelling by trains and buses those days and whenever I travel, before boarding I would regularly buy one of those paperbacks on display at the train stations or bus terminals. By the time I reached my destination, I would have, on most occasions, finished the title.

Of course, they were exceptions especially when I was dead tired before boarding making napping a better option than struggling to focus on the progressively-blurry words that ultimately turn my screen black. One of these exceptions was James Clavell’s book Shogun. I must admit that I enjoyed the book thoroughly as well as its dramatization on TV, for the most fascinating to me was the discovery that the book was written based on actual characters in Japan’s feudal past.

The book itself was classified as a work of fiction but with a twist. Based on actual characters of feudal Japan, its also a book of learning of sorts eg of duty, of codes of conduct and the internal and emotional conflicts that it brings as well as serving as an insight into the Japanese society, culture and mindset and in a way, a lesson in the history of Japan.

Why could I not finish the book, ask you, if it was THAT good? Well, I bought that book for my train journey from Cardiff to Liverpool. The train that I was taking was not the fast InterCity 125 but rather what we Malaysians call the Inter Kampung. The Inter Kampung takes the long route to Liverpool, a different line to what the InterCity would otherwise travel and the journey would last about 6-7 hours or so. More than ample I thought. Until I actually bought the book. Its a VERY thick book but very much worth the read, but with emphasis on THICK.

I re-read Shogun several times after that and believe me when I say this, it is still a joy to read.

It was also during this time that I began to start reading the works of Robert Ludlum, so much so I believe I have ALMOST his entire works. Not including those that are ‘co-authored’ with other writers eg Covert One, Jason Bourne (other than the first three) etc.

I notice that this ‘co-authoring’ thing is a somewhat new concept, for me that is, as these books were written after Ludlum himself had passed on but based on the characters developed in Ludlum’s earlier works. How that is done or could be done, is still beyond me. Could they be based on storylines, plots, scribbles and notes that the man himself left behind? The ones that he had planned on writing but could not complete.

For fans of Jason Bourne (me included), I would say this though. Although the characters and the subplots in the movies may differ from that in the books, Matt Damon’s portrayal of Jason Bourne in the movies is as good as it gets. So much so that its difficult to visualize Jason Bourne as other than Matt Damon. Not unlike Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow or Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved

There was a time early on in my career, I was in Kiel, Germany (then known as West Germany) for a training course. Kiel is the capital of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein and lies on the south western coast of the Baltic Sea. It was a long term training course conducted auf Deustch and I can tell you, it can get a bit taxing and stressful at times, speaking and thinking in a language that you have yet to master.

To de-stress myself, I would, once a week, go to the local stores and get copies of The Economist, Newsweek, Time and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), head on down to my favourite local bakery and sit myself down for some Kaffee und Apfelkuechen. With second helpings of course, both the coffee and the apple pie. Good way to de-stress yourself that : good coffee, apple pie and magazines that you can read WITHOUT opening the Woertebuch every once in a while.

Today, my aim is to grow my collection of hard covers. Not just any old hard cover but hard covers of books that I have read and loved. I do not however know whether I will ever go the way of e-books. Have tried reading a few of them but somehow it does not feel the same to me. That feeling of paper bounded either as a paperback or as a hard cover in the palm of your hands, and of course the stains of black ink as well. My son is into it though but then again, I grew up in different era than his.

Images by Shah Said ; @ all rights reserved

I have also started my personal collection of coffeetables and before somebody asks me, the answer is NO, they are not tables where you place your mug of coffee or tea. In that collection of coffeetables, there’s a place reserved for one special coffeetable said to be released soon : one of MCKK Class of 73-77 (Class of 73-77 : Then and Now) – our stories, our adventures, our triumphs and our failings.

Can’t wait.