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Bookstores vie for readers

Bookstores vie for readers

F or those people starved of reading matter there are two new English bookstores in Phnom Penh which will sell both new and old books.

Soon to be opened 'Bert's Books' is a secondhand bookstore near the 'No Problem Cafe' managed by Bert Hoak and Jef Young, both former UN Volunteers with Untac who married Cambodians.

Alaskan-born Hoak describes how in his homeland he bought a shipping container and, in the five days he had to fill it, he went rushing around all the secondhand bookstores buying up their stock.

Hoak says the shop will have 15,000 paperbacks and between 10 and 20,000 schoolbooks: mainly readers; textbooks in mathematics, social studies, science and technical materials on subjects like metal working and welding.

Hoak describes the paperbacks, which will sell for around $3, as "good mindless reading. We have Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, John Le Carre, Tom Clancy and I will even sell Jack Kerouac."

The Alaskan said the store will have microfilm reading machines and a microfilm library which will cover some 7,000 books on development issues from birth-control to solar power.

He says: "Basically, we just want to make some dollars but also make a contribution to Cambodia."

Hoak adds: "I have a Master's in International Administration which allows me to be unemployed in virtually any part of the world."

In contrast The Phnom Penh English Bookstore, which opened in May this year, sells over a hundred of the latest release paperback titles imported by air from Bangkok.

Shop manager Kik Sakoun said the store also has children's activity books, magazines, English video courses and dictionaries and encyclopedias all at US prices.

Sakoun said 70 percent of his customers are European and the store averages about 20 clients per day. "Families like to come and browse. The parents will pick up Colleen McCullough, Alex Haley or Kaye Gibbons, the teenagers will check out Rolling Stone magazine or PC Magazine and the children will go for the dot-to-dot Barbie magazines or coloring activity books."

He said: "Cambodian buyers are usually young students, [both] male and female. We are more than willing to take their orders for textbooks which are unavailable here."

"We want to help people educate themselves. Everybody is excited to learn English. We have sold all our dictionaries and encyclopedias as well as our children's books.

"Cambodians want more educational books. We are expecting a new shipment next week."

Sakoun has more plans to help Cambodians learn foreign languages and maybe expand into French language books.

He says: "I'd like the children to read instead of playing on the streets. I have had a meeting with the Minister of Information and the Minister of Education to discuss setting up a library."

Sakoun also intends to put up a noticeboard which patrons can use to advertise or exchange their goods.

The store is located on the corner of Streets 51 and 302 and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 8 am till 12 noon which Sakoun says is the shop's busiest day.

TNG Publishing Group owns the bookshop and Sakoun co-manages the store with American Bill Deeter, East Asia Regional Manager for TNG.

Sakoun says: "Bill Deeter is touring the region to explore new opportunities for English bookstores in Laos, Vietnam and Burma."

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