TAIPEI — Rows upon rows of books in different South-east Asian languages are stacked neatly on shelves on the ground floor of this three-storey walk-up located in a small lane in the heart of New Taipei City’s bustling Zhonghe District.
At Brilliant Time Bookstore, the books are not for sale, but you can take them home for a small fee and return them any time you like. “We are therefore neither a bookstore nor a library,” said founder Chang Cheng.
The bookstore’s story started two years ago, when Mr Chang wrote a column in the highly regarded Commonwealth magazine calling for greater understanding of South-east Asian culture and history among the Taiwanese.
“I noticed that there were hardly any books in Taiwan about Asean countries,” he said, adding that he urged Taiwanese to send such books to him so he could share them with others.
The donations slowly started coming in, including from Taiwanese tourists visiting Southeast Asian countries.
Today, Mr Chang gets an average of 50 books a week, some of which he sends to partners in other parts of Taiwan so they can be handed to foreign workers from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
He rents the space for NT20,000 (S$910) a month, and the bookstore takes in about NT60,000 every month through the talks and language classes it conducts. Brilliant Time itself stocks about 5,000 books, said Mr Chang. Two staff members help him to run the place, which is frequented by tourists, foreign workers and students.
“We obviously cannot make money from this,” he said. “But what we can do is foster a better understanding of South-east Asia among Taiwanese and provide foreign nationals access to books from their home countries.”
The place has attracted not only book lovers, but also VIPs. Ms Tsai Ing-wen visited in April 2015, months before she won the presidential election, while Mr Ma Ying-jeou was there a year later, shortly after losing to Ms Tsai in the election.
“I hope to keep this going as long as I can,” said Mr Chang.