A Page about the History of Printing

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Have you ever happened to wonder what produces and makes visible the letters, words, shapes, and patterns on the pages of the physical books we read today (and have been reading for centuries)? What does the word ‘print’ mean to you? Give it a thought. Printed materials are commonplace items in the twenty-first century: our tiny world abounds with books, newspapers, posters, pamphlets, and the like. But when and how did this ‘technology,’ which allows words and images designed in the mind to be transposed to paper, originate?

Let’s begin with the printing press. The innovation of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century is hailed as one of the greatest inventions of humankind, and with good reason. Gutenberg is said to have invented the printing press that employed mechanical metal movable type printing technology, which used individual metal block letters that could be arranged, rearranged, aligned, and spaced in what is called a forme (a flat stone that holds the loose letters of the page in place inside a steel frame), enabling the ink to transfer evenly to the paper.

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 Gutenberg’s Printing Press (http://vrworld.com/2014/08/17/week-history-gutenbergs-bible/)

 At the outset, Gutenberg’s creation received backlash from the well-heeled in Europe: they preferred handwritten manuscripts, which evinced wealth and luxury. Over time, as word spread about the printing press, Europe witnessed the growth of a new trade. Printed texts, mass-produced, became an incredible way (cheap and convenient) of distributing information and knowledge throughout Europe. This creation eventually birthed the Printing Revolution, ushering in the transformative potentials of print technology. In more ways than one, the printing press shaped the world as we know it, revolutionising education for the masses, communication, the creation of ideas, and the dissemination of information.

A Forme (wikipedia.org)

However, if we were to move further back in time, we would see that woodblock printing was probably the earliest printing technique. The first movable type printing method was developed in China in the eleventh century by Bi Sheng, a Chinese artisan–making him the inventor of the movable type. Interestingly, the oldest extant book that was printed using metal movable type is a Korean document on Buddhism, called the Jikji, printed in 1377.

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Woodblock Printing (top)

The Jikji (bottom)

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Print lovers can find out more about the fascinating origins of printing in Asia, such as our comic book, Origins of Chinese Science & Technology, and the more detailed reference book, Chinese Science and Technology.

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Early moveable-type printing, illustrated by Fu Chunjiang (Origins of Chinese Science & Technology)

Even in today’s screen-saturated world, it is important that we recognise the cultural, social, and political power of printing. Even the simple act of putting words to a tangible artefact and creating a dazzling assemblage of straight lines and curves gives meaning to our art, our livelihood, and our existence.

 

Works Cited:

  1. Elverskog, Johan. “The Gutenberg Fallacy and the History of Printing among the Mongols.” Tibetan Printing: Comparison, Continuities, and Change, edited by Hildegard Diemberger et al., Brill, LEIDEN; BOSTON, 2016, pp. 21–37. JSTOR,
  2. https://www.advantagebookbinding.com/blog/book-binding/things-didnt-know-history-book-binding/
  3. https://www.psprint.com/resources/printing-press/
  4. (https://www.richardpennington.com/2017/03/and-so-my-campaign-to-bring-jikji-back-to-korea-comes-to-an-end/)
  5. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/478014947919983132/)

 

 

Legacy of bookstores in Singapore

You might be familiar with famous bookstore brands in Singapore such as Popular and Kinokuniya, but did you know that Singapore’s bookstore industry has more than 100 years of history?

It all started in 1881, when the first bookstore named “Kelly & Walsh” was established in Singapore. Situated at Raffles Place, it was the first Singapore bookstore that published books related to the Southeast Asian cultures. In 1905, Koh Hoon Teck, the founder of Koh and Company, set up Singapore’s first locally-run bookstore. It was located at 90 Bras Basah and sold books, postcards and stationery.

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Logo of Kelly & Walsh

NLB Archives, 2018

As the years progressed, bookstores that specialised in producing books in a single language started to emerge. The Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Book Company, established in 1897 and 1912 respectively, were dominant players in the Chinese books industry. Kedai Haji Hashim, founded in 1922 during an age of low literacy within the Malay community, was the preeminent bookstore specialising in selling Malay books. It was based in Kampong Glam, an area known for its strong ties with the Malay community and connections to Malay culture. The establishment of these bookstores specialising in a certain language contributed to the linguistic vibrancy in Singapore’s multilingual and multi-cultural society.

The period between the 1950s and 1970s has been termed the golden era of Singapore’s bookstore industry. Many bookstores and publishing businesses began to spring up like mushrooms after the Second World War. Examples of bookstores that emerged during this era were The Youth Book Company and Everyman Book Centre. The competition in the local textbook market was especially fierce, leading to significant changes in various aspects of the production process like content, illustrations, format and paper quality.

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Old bookstores in Singapore

Singapore N Beyond, 2016

In more recent times, bookstores such as Popular and Kinokuniya have become the household brand names that most people flock to when they want to buy books. Today, Popular Group owns a total of 187 bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Popular Group’s impact on the Singapore book industry has definitely been game-changing and it remains the only surviving company among the five major Chinese bookstores of its founding days. Kinokuniya has an extensive range of international books, with a wide selection of Chinese, Japanese and French titles, catering to the increasingly diverse tastes of Singaporeans.

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Kinokuniya at Bugis

Books Kinokuniya, 2019

Niche bookstores such as the Chinatown feminist haven The Moon and the Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop in The URA Centre have opened up in the past few years. Both rely on other attractions such as coffee and events to draw clientele. Such concepts are more appealing to the younger generation who are not just interested in the content of the books, but also want to immerse themselves in a pleasant atmosphere when reading books.

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Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop

Epigram Books, 2019

However, the demise of many bookstores in recent years is a very pressing concern. Bookstores such as Harris and Borders, which have been around for decades, have closed down in the past few years. Even a major bookstore like Kinokuniya has been downsizing in recent years, as it closed its first and longest running bookstore at Liang Court in April 2019. As more and more consumers turn to online bookstores or e-commerce websites to purchase their books instead of patronising physical bookstores, it appears that the demand for physical bookstores has waned over the years. On top of that, distractions such as smartphones and social media keep people from spending time on books.

From the first ever bookstore established in Singapore till now, the concept and focus of bookstores has evolved tremendously. There is certainly a lot more to explore about Singapore’s rich legacy of bookstore and book publishing and you can find out more from one of the books published by the Singapore Book Publishers Association, titled “Lead Stories”. It will be sold at the upcoming Singapore Book Fair from 31 May to 9 June, held at the Capitol.

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“Lead Stories” published by Singapore Book Publishers Association

Singapore Book Publishers Association, 2018

 

Food for thought: How are physical bookstores still relevant in today’s society?

 

Sources:

  1. Chou Sing Chu Foundation (2016). “A Brief History of Singapore Bookstore Industry”
  2. Singapore Book Publisher Association (2018). “Lead Stories”
  3. Olivia Ho (2019). “A chapter closes for Bookstores, but new ones open”. The Straits Times.

 

Print-on-demand books and what it means for the book industry

What is print on demand and how does it work?

Print on demand is a book distribution method made possible by, and inseparable from, digital printing. It prints books only in response to orders, and only prints the exact amount ordered. Due to the capabilities of digital printing, print on demand is capable of filling an order for one book profitably.

Print on demand suppliers maintain databases of books on behalf of their publisher clients. Publishers submit books to the print on demand supplier in the form of PDF files for each book. When the files first arrive they are logged into the database system, examined for technical errors, and a proof copy of the book is created for the publisher to review. The publisher places orders for the number of books to be printed and the printed books are distributed to booksellers, other offline and online retailers, chain stores and library suppliers etc.

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The Book Designer, 2009

What does this mean for industry publishers?

Print on demand technology has helped revolutionise the book publishing industry. Previously, books had to be ordered in bulk copies for it to be printed. This required a large amount of risky investment because publishers would not know how well books would be received in the market, especially during the first print. This technology also eliminates the need to keep unsold books in inventory and reduces the wastage incurred when unsold books are pulped and thrown away.

There are some drawbacks to print on demand technology as well. They cost more per unit than books printed offset and it is not economical to use this technology for books that are required in bulk.

However, given the shrink in demand for physical books in today’s society, it might be more economical for publishers to use print on demand technology instead. Publishers need not spend money on bulk printing books which might not even be sold. Instead, print on demand guarantees that money will not be wasted from unsold stock and publishers can diversify their titles by publishing more varied types of books with lower quantity.

What does this mean for self-publishers?

Not only is print on demand technology beneficial for industry book publishers, it has also made things easier for self-publishers. Budding authors who want to sell their books need not go through the traditional route of sending their manuscript to publishers and go through several rounds of administrative work before their work gets published. Print on demand allows authors to skip all these processes and go straight to the printing process. Authors will also have complete control over their book and no one is going to edit their work and take out their “personal style” or omit sections they know to be important.

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Infographic on how print on demand works

GraphicsPedia, 2018

While print on demand technology is not a new discovery, it is still relatively uncommon in Singapore. With this alternative printing option now available, we’re excited to explore new ways of publishing and printing our books. 

For one, we’ve started to think about bringing back some of our most popular but out-of-print titles, such as Love Stories from Ancient China, and maybe even the Return of the Condor Heroes series! What other ideas can you think of for print-on-demand books?

We’re looking forward to seeing how POD technology shapes the future of Singapore’s publishing and printing industry.

 

Sources:

  1. Friedlander, J. (2009, December 04). How Print-on-Demand Book Distribution Works. Retrieved from https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2009/12/how-print-on-demand-works/

 

 

StoryFest 2019: Make Believe

How do words we see printed black and white on books come alive to conjure up a whole range of images and emotions in our minds? How do strings of words transport us to another world, another era, another dimension?

Through storytelling, of course!

Storytelling has always been an integral counterpart to words and books. From the 21st to 24th of June 2019, StoryFest 2019, an event to showcase the art of storytelling, will take place and Asiapac Books is excited and proud to be partnering with StoryFest 2019 to bring books to the storytelling audience!

Presented by The Storytelling Centre Limited and The Arts House, StoryFest is an annual festival that celebrates and showcases a variety of styles, repertoire and cultural arts presentations of storytelling from Singapore and around the world. With the theme of ‘Make Believe’, StoryFest 2019 invites audiences to be open to new experiences and to allow their imagination to soar as they listen to stories that are beyond belief.

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StoryFest 2019 Poster

Some highlights in the Asian premieres include the epic poem of Gilgamesh, the life story of Frida Kahlo as well as Celtic and Italian legends. Family audiences will be delighted by South American jungle folktales and partake in storytelling with music. The festival also features local commissions – the Young Storytellers Showcase ‘The Wings of Love’ presenting emerging storytelling talents, and The Singapore Showcase ‘Make Believe’ featuring storytelling and spoken word artists.Through workshops and masterclasses by practitioners from Singapore and global experts, participants can identify the various ways of using applied storytelling in their daily life or in their work space.

For the first time the festival presents a visual storytelling exhibition, closely linked to mythology and symbolism in narratives. Continuing with the theme of expanding upon the visual art and storytelling, StoryFest 2019 has workshops on “The Doll Maker’s Narrative” and effigy making that focus on the process of crafting narratives through a secondary medium.

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Asiapac Books booth during StoryFest media preview

Asiapac Books will also be having a booth to share the love of reading books to the StoryFest audience. We will be bringing in many children’s books from various publishers, alongside our very own publications such as “Journey to the West” and “Once Upon a Singapore…Traders”. This is a fantastic opportunity for you and your children to immerse yourselves in the wonderful world of myths, magic and stories.

So what are you waiting for? Come join us at StoryFest 2019: Make Believe from 21st June to 24th June at the Arts House (Old Parliament House)! See you there!

For more info on the full programme, click on the link provided below.

Venue: The Arts House

Address: 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429

Event Website: StoryFest

Date: 21–24 Jun 2019

 

Sources:

  1. StoryFest 2019 Official Website: https://storyfestsg.com/2019

 

 

 

More Than Just a Corridor: The History of the Five Foot Way

by Gan Siang Hong

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image credit: Thimbuktu

When designing Singapore’s town plan, Sir Stamford Raffles introduced many changes to Singapore’s architectural landscape. One significant feature he included was the five feet wide corridor that lined the fronts of shophouses, commonly known as the five foot way.

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image credit: Mothership

The five foot way served many purposes. It provided shelter from the sun and rain, a safe path for pedestrians, and a space for vendors to do business. A unique trend soon emerged from the existence of the five foot way: the five foot way libraries.

In the 1950s, the five foot way libraries were the best source of books for many avid readers of Chinese literature. The libraries had a wide selection of books, from tales of romance to adventure stories. For those who could not read, there was also an assortment of comic books available. To rent a book cost only a few cents, and would provide hours of entertainment for adults and children alike.

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image credit: The Long and Winding Road

The five foot ways were more than just corridors; they grew to become hubs for social and cultural activities (much like the void decks of today), and they hold fond memories for many Singaporeans.

To commemorate the spirit of the five foot way, the Chinatown Business Association has organised the Five Foot Way Festival, to be held on the weekend of 23 – 24 March.

As part of the event, Asiapac Books will be opening our very own Pop-up Five Foot Way Library featuring our favourite vintage and new comic books! Grab a stool and travel back in time to Chinatown’s early days of roadside libraries and storytellers. Make sure to play our old-school Tikam-Tikam Books game with attractive prizes to be won.

Do come early to reserve a good spot for the Street Storytelling performances on Saturday(2PM) and Sunday(3PM)!

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Pop-up Five Foot Way Library
Saturday 23 March: 11AM-9PM
Sunday 24 March: 11AM-9PM

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Street Storytelling 讲古
Chinese legends narrated in English
Saturday 23 March: 2-230PM
Sunday 24 March: 3-30PM

We’ll see you there!

 

Heroines of the Past, Celebrated Today: International Women’s Day 2019

by Gan Siang Hong

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AAJ News, 2018

Today, we commemorate a very special occasion: International Women’s Day. Even Google has changed its homepage to feature quotes from prominent female figures. Among these quotes, there is one by the Indian Olympic boxer Mary Kom that is particularly powerful. She addresses all womankind and declares, “Do not say you are weak, because you are a woman.”

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India Today, 2018

Indeed, the only true limits are the ones one sets for oneself, and Mary Kom asserts that a woman can achieve as much as any man. There have been many women who share Mary Kom’s mindset, playing significant roles in shaping history and society. To understand more about these heroines, we explore two of our graphic novel titles featuring women as prominent characters.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Hua Mulan: Legendary Woman Warrior tells of a story that has been related across countless generations, and is widely known across the world today. In the stead of her old and sickly father, Mulan joined the army and fought for her country. She became an iconic legend not just because of her achievements, but also because of her strong values. What she lacked in physical strength and endurance, she more than made up for with rigorous training and a sharp intellect. Never giving up and always putting her family and country before herself, Mulan is the embodiment of heroism that men and women should all aspire to.

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The second book is titled A Dream of Red Mansions, a comic book adaptation of the profound literary masterpiece that took China by storm in the 18th century. Through the bold, expressive style of Seraphina Lum’s art, we experience life in the shoes of the various members of the Jia Clan, a wealthy Chinese family. What is particularly intriguing is the fact that the family is a matriarchy, where women have the bigger say.

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the Beijinger, 2017

As the story progresses, we witness many of these women struggle with relationships, loss, family feuds, and ultimately forge their own path in life. Throughout various hardships, the characters display an admirable strength of will to remain true to themselves and their beliefs. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to say that the book is a veritable testament to the inner strength of women, and a celebration of their contribution to society.

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Untappd, 2019

Women have just as big a role in our society as men, regardless of the era. It is only right that we give them due credit for all that they have done, and perhaps try to understand better the struggles they face. For this purpose, look no further than Hua Mulan: Legendary Woman Warrior and A Dream of Red Mansions: the perfect reads for International Women’s Day.

Journey to the West: Vision, Perseverance, Teamwork

a review by Gan Siang Hong

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Modelled after one of the greatest chronicles in human history, Asiapac’s Journey to the West tells of Sun Wukong’s quest for immortality and enlightenment. By handpicking the most exciting parts of the story and compressing them into one compact, colorful volume, Chang Boon Kiat has created a gripping tale that can be enjoyed by all ages.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

A story would not be complete without a cast of interesting characters, and Xuanzang Sanzang’s merry band of Buddhist disciples do not fail to disappoint. The book hits the ground running with the flashy introduction of Sun Wukong, and Chang’s portrayal of the mischievous but powerful Monkey King hits the nail on the head.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

From Wukong’s dialogue to his simple but distinctive design, everything is taken into careful consideration to craft a character that is just as awe-inspiring as he is likeable and entertaining. Wukong’s fellow disciples, Pigsy (Zhu Bajie) and Sandy (Sha Wujing), while not as prominent within the story, are given similar treatment with their unique appearances and personalities.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Journey to the West seems to understand that a good antagonist is as crucial to the story as any protagonist. From imperial generals to bloodthirsty demons, every character has a strong design, making each one as memorable as the last. And, while interesting on their own, the diverse cast of antagonists truly shine when pitted against Wukong and friends, and their dynamic interactions give life to the trials and tribulations which they represent in the course of the journey.

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The Straits Times, 2018

An important dynamic that is explored within the book is the conflict between Sanzang’s benevolent character and Wukong’s impulsive and violent tendencies. Their encounter with the White Bone Spirit and Sanzang’s subsequent banishment of Wukong leaves the reader to consider this conflict’s significance.

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Maxiphoto, 2016

This dissension between teacher and disciple is representative of the conflicting ideologies of Law and Chaos and how it affects our actions. One may immediately assume that being lawful is the best course of action, but is that really true when Sanzang always ends up in danger, only to be saved by the chaotic Wukong? The profound lessons that this story imparts to its readers are simply another aspect of what makes it so engaging.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

All in all, Journey to the West more than does justice to the original Chinese novel. Chang’s adaptation transforms it into a wondrous tale of action and adventure that is thematically rich, yet easy to understand. Amidst all this, the true message of the story is made clear: that what is important is not the destination, but the journey.

Remember Where You’ve Been: Celebrating the Singapore Bicentennial

by Gan Siang Hong

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Singapore Bicentennial Office, 2018

A song by the popular rock band All Time Low goes, “Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.” As Singaporeans, there are many things we can do to commemorate our heritage and culture, and this is all the more relevant in the upcoming year. 2019 marks the Singapore Bicentennial: a yearlong event that encourages us to look back on Singapore’s journey and understand our roots.

 

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Singapore’s history goes a long way back, with records originating from the late 13th century. The prospect of approaching such a vast well of history may appear daunting, but the Singapore Bicentennial Book Bundle is certainly a good place to start.

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Zaki Ragman, 2010

We begin our journey through the past with Legendary Tales of Singapore. This compact yet intriguing volume tells of various folktales dating back to Singapore’s very early days under the rule of Sang Nila Utama. As far as legends and fairy tales go, the stories behind the origins of our Lion City are as interesting and exciting as they come, and Zaki Ragman’s quirky art style makes the book even more fun and approachable. Definitely worth a read.

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Singapore International Foundation, 2016

We now move on to Singapore’s age of globalisation, when Raffles first set foot onto the island. There is much to be learned and admired about the man, and there are few better sources of information than Stamford Raffles: Founder of Modern Singapore. Zhou Yimin’s well-drawn illustrations make exploring Raffles’ life an easy and enjoyable experience, and the book is a great way to understand the part Raffles played in Singapore’s rise to glory as a trading port.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Next, we delve into Singapore’s more recent past as a rapidly developing city in the 1900s. Once Upon a Singapore – Traders features various tradesmen from this period, showing us how they contributed to the socio-economic aspects of life. Alan Bay’s vividly colorful yet simple art style serves the story well, and makes readers feel right at home in 20th century Singapore. Traders most valuable lesson, however, comes from reminding us of what these tradesmen could offer that today’s industries cannot: the human condition.

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Youth.SG, 2015

Just as Singapore is not complete without its diverse multi-culturalistic social landscape, the book bundle would not be complete without Gateway to Singapore Culture. This informative title tells you everything you will need to know about Singapore’s various ethnic groups and the traditions that they hold dear. The illustrations and photos breathe life into the text, enhancing the learning experience, and who knows? Perhaps your newfound knowledge may serve as a good conversation starter.

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Gallery 5150, 2019

As we go about our everyday lives, we often lose sight of how important it is to appreciate how far we have come as a society. This year, it’s time to remember where you’ve been. The Singapore Bicentennial Book Bundle is ideal for anyone who wishes to glimpse into Singapore’s past and celebrate our achievements thus far, and readers both young and old can hope to take away valuable lessons from these four rich and engaging titles.

Get them from our website!

A Malay folktale: The Princess of Mount Ophir

It was said that a beautiful fairy princess lived at the top of Gunung Ledang. She had been raised by a group of beings that were half-man and half-beast. Because she was a fairy princess, she never grew old. Her beauty was enhanced by the breezes that blew atop the mountain.

Many sultans sought her hand in marriage. Yet perhaps the mountain sought to preserve her purity, for no messenger ever reached the top of Gunung Ledang. And so, the princess spent her days on the mountain, dancing and singing in the cool air.

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Then came the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah. He sent three of his best warriors to find the princess. It was believed that the journey was so tenuous that only one of them managed to make his way to the princess’ home. There, he put forth Sultan Mansur Shah’s proposal.

The princess replied that she would marry the sultan if he was able to provide her with three items: seven vats containing women’s tears, seven trays of mosquito hearts and seven drops of his son’s blood.

Upon his return to the palace, the warrior conveyed the princess’ message. The sultan was crushed when he heard it. As he sat in his royal chambers, he lamented, “I can provide seven vats of women’s tears and even seven trays of mosquito hearts. But to prick my son for even one drop of his blood is impossible for me to bear!”

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And so, for many more years, the princess remained atop Gunung Ledang. It was believed that she eventually did find her true love, a fierce warrior named Nakhoda Ragam.

She moved down from the mountain to live with him. Her bliss was shattered one day when they were spending time together. He had tickled her so much that she accidentally stabbed him with a needle as she laughed uncontrollably.

After the incident, the princess returned to the mountain and never laid eyes on another man again. Soon after, Nakhoda Ragam’s boat was destroyed in a storm and the debris became the six islands off Malacca.

An introduction to Chinese cuisine

To the Chinese, eating is a very important part of life. It is a social activity and helps to break the ice. In Chinese society, food is also a measure of success.

More than just eating, the Chinese also love to cook as it is seen as an art in itself. Chinese cuisine places emphasis on colour, aroma and flavour. Not only must a dish taste good, it must also appeal to the senses to be able to whet the appetite.

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Cooking methods

There are countless ways to cook the same ingredients, and each way of cooking imparts its own unique flavour to the food:

  • Steam
  • Boil
  • Double-boil
  • Stew
  • Poach
  • Braise
  • Stir-fry
  • Shallow-fry
  • Deep fry
  • … and many more!

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Eight main cuisines

  • Sichuan, with characteristic rich and spicy dishes like Gongbao diced chicken
  • Shandong, with dishes like Dezhou braised chicken
  • Suzhou, with its carefully presented steamed crucian carp
  • Guangdong, with distinctive sweet and crispy dishes like roast suckling pig
  • Fujian, famed for Buddha Jumps over the Wall
  • Zhejiang, which emphasises fresh food and natural flavours, particularly seafood
  • Huizhou, which favours delicacies from the land and sea
  • Hunan, which features rich foods with strong colours like cured meats

Now, tell us, which is your favourite?