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An old second-hand books seller - 10 Dec 2007 Back to stories index

He used to be a collector of all kinds of books since he was young. He worked in the railway transport department for 27 years before setting up his own small business in Bangkok. He had been to many places, met and made lots of friends, and witnessed the important events many of them never been mentioned in any kind of public media. He bought many books mostly from the second-hand book shops around the country. From his first hand and indirect experiences as well as from reading the awareness of being open to different sources of information, being non-judgemental and need of searching for the truth with honesty and fairness came to stay deeply in his mind.

When the time he resigned from the transport department he had accumulated a decent amount of money from his saving and humble living. He then set up a small home-office with his wife to do non-formal education for the youth, write articles, and do more research on the communication and relationship along with media and history. He approached old friends now holding high ranking positions in state and private companies and corporations. He offered to provide articles for their monthly and yearly publications.

At first their small business looked fine. They had obtained some small research assignments and writing stories to publish. The money rewarded were small, but it was no problem for them since they both had monthly pensions, an own apartment to live and no one to support. However after a year or two they were advised to change the way they wrote. They were also receiving fewer students for their 10 Baht an hour learning project. Apparently the interest in their kind of learning was nearly non-existent in Thailand. In their office cum study room there were thousands of books. The reading, finding out, discussion and practicing the knowledge in real life cases were main activities in their class. It looked as if these did not attract modern-day youngsters much.

By the time their small company reached its 10 year anniversary they were having almost no business. During these 10 years they had published 15 books of their own. The prints were very small - all less than 1000 each due to very little interest. And all of them never sold more than 500 copies each. More than half the buyers were local and foreign researchers and students doing their theses. For each book the old man and the old lady did months of hard works searching and managing information. The income from these books did not even cover the expenses. But they always said the happiness of being able to provide such a useful work was worth much more than the money income.

They went on with nearly no job for another 2 years before they moved to northern Thailand - the wife's native land. They still continued teaching and reading, but not for money, in village schools. They helped with some management in their relatives' farms for living. There the wife died of old age 10 years later. The old man came back to Bangkok to see his old apartment on Ladprao road surrounded now by department stores, mini-marts, karaoke lounges and other development. The apartment was now looking quite unfit to the modern city life. His pension was not enough to pay for all expenses. To test the water he re-activated his home business by putting the old sign in the front. There was no sign of interest. Not more than 100 meters from his was a language and computer school where students came to learn English and computer. Foreign teachers were teaching English.

"How much is this book?" a young lady asked. He suddenly came back from the thought. He looked at the lady and her male friend and then answered,"20 Baht."

They picked more books and showed him for the price. "110 Baht for all these 5 books," the old man offered. "Could it be 100?" the lady requested. The Asian looking man in humble looking dress whispered in English, "Don't ask for discount. It is already very cheap." But the lady took the books for 100 Baht that the old man discounted.

"Well. I also was like that in the past. Hope you don't have to sell the books when you are 75," the old man talked to himself clutching the 100 Baht note in his hands. He now could be sure of food for a day. He re-arranged his books on the table as if his book selling business was quite active. People were coming back from their works. Some of them bought food from the many stalls selling hundreds of different kinds of food. He was the only second-hand books seller on the platform at that area.

He never bought a single book for the purpose of re-selling. He bought the books in the time span of more than 40 years, one to 10 books each week. Since his salary was small he could buy only used books and cheap new books, and he had to buy a little at a time over so many years to accumulate his personal library to do what he wanted to do: distribution of knowledge, skill and thinking. But his plan did not make much success. Or was it a failure?

When he first thought of selling his books he was deeply sick in his heart. Last year it became reality that he could no longer effort to live on his pension without extra income. Savings were all reduced to zero and he started to borrow money. He remembered a student who did not return a book said to his friend, "How much is the value of the old book? 20 or 30 Baht, what a little thing?" This came back to him from another student to his sorrow. "Well, boy. I don't blame you for not knowing the real value. The life and the surrounding you live in have made you what you are now," the old man thought. He sometimes asked himself whether he had tried enough. He thought he did.

Now at the age of 79, he is one of many street sellers selling things on the road-side platform. He is one of poorest. Every evening he carries a folded table, and a card-board box full of used books from his collection.

One day he said to a fellow street vendor, "I am selling a content of my heart. Anyway I should try to believe that this is one last way for me to distribute knowledge and at the same time feed myself." But the kinds of books he had did not make good sell. He did not have popular magazines with beautiful ladies photos outside and inside. So it was not surprising when his new street friend commented in reply to him, "My old brother, why you don't sell magazines with photos of celebrities and gossips? They sell well, you know."


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