"I read a book one day, and my whole life was changed." - Orhan Pamuk
In this era, when it is easy to drown in the waves of mass information, reading books has become more precious than ever.
Independent bookstores can be seen as the lighthouses of a city, each with their own unique charm and distinct characteristics. Such bookstores are usually a reflection of their owners; their tastes and preferences in books, music, interior design, aesthetics, and even their life philosophy are infused into their bookstores.
Walking into a new bookstore is just like meeting a stranger full of stories.
Here, we have picked out two of Kunming's most distinctive independent bookstores.
Daguan Book House
Daguan Book House was opened alongside the Daguan River in 1985. Since then, it has specialized in reference books and documents about Yunnan, in areas such as anthropology, ethnology, agriculture and forestry, geology and hydrology, horticulture, ethnic languages, and even sports.
The bookstore remained by the Daguan River until the end of 2019. When the current owner, the quirkily named Zebra, took over the bookstore from her parents, it moved to the current address: 607 Jiahua Residence, 2 Qingfeng Street, Wuhua District.
Among the works held at the store, many do not have electronic versions, and have been out of print or are the only known remaining copies, one of the reasons for the stable flow of customers. Books which have multiple copies can be sold, but if a book is the only known copy, you can only borrow it with a membership card, meaning the store also acts as a library.
The shop features some rare handwritten documents, which were discarded for unknown reasons and archived by Zebra after she discovered them. These handwritten lecture notes of a wildlife sciences course taught in 1990 written down by the professor have since been preserved in the bookstore as well. The notes also feature some of his drawings and Latin inscriptions.
We are lucky to have people like Zebra who still search for and preserve these writings and documents, like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Wheat Field Bookstore
Wheat Field Book Store has been a utopia for artistic and rock-inspired youth since it first opened its doors. If you needed one name that sums up Wheat Field Book Store, it is Bob Dylan.
The owner of the bookstore Ma Li has his own post-rock band, Strange Days, and his personal favorite has always been Bob Dylan. The most obvious items to catch the eye as you walk into the store are the posters, CDs, vinyl, and books of Bob Dylan. Besides these, there are countless books and personal biographies of other rock stars, as well as their record collections on vinyl.
Wheat Field Book Store also holds a significant volume of books, and every single copy was picked by Ma himself. He has been running the store for 20 years.
The coolest rule of the store is that you can unpack any book and read it in the store. If you don't end up buying the book, Ma will re-package the book again himself. "An independent bookstore should be a free and cozy place for people to read, it is not a just a store for selling books." says Ma.
Wheat Field Book Store now has two locations. The larger, newly opened one can be found at 78 Guofang Lu, store number 2-1 in Wuhua District.
If you have some time to kill, go for a stroll and check out these two charming independent bookstores. Have a tea or coffee and chat with their owners if you come across them, they are definitely hidden gems worth exploring.