Wait a minute, where are the books — ?
People sometimes ask me what I miss the most from Arizona, now that I live in the Philippines. For me, the answer is easy: the public library. (A close second would be Mexican food.)
In 1993 my wife and I seriously considered moving here to Davao permanently. We even came over and lived here for six weeks as a kind of test drive. No internet then, no bookstores that carried foreign books – the best you could do was a few foreign magazines. No Skype or Magicjack, either, back then long distance to the U.S. was about 80 cents a minute.
Now, of course, life here on Mindanao is completely different. Internet is available nearly everywhere, and although the available choices aren’t always as fast or reliable as we might like, internet service is reasonably priced and the bandwidth is adequate for most purposes.
But having internet isn’t the same as being able to go to the library. Where I came from (Phoenix) the public library has about 600,000 books, and if that isn’t enough, the university library has another 4.5 million volumes.
You won’t find anything like that here. There is a city library, with about 42,000 books, but, shockingly, providing foreigners with a supply of the latest English-language best-sellers does not seem to appear anywhere in its mission statement. There is a bookstore chain, National Bookstore, with stores in the malls, which carries a small selection of books in English, and there are small shops that sell used paperbacks. So if you read a lot, you’ll probably need to get books from outside.
Personally, I like libraries. I can’t imagine life without books. From early childhood to the day we got on a plane to move to the Philippines, I probably averaged at least one or two library visits a week.
But I also like tropical seashore, and that’s hard to come by in America unless you’re a whole lot richer than I am.
Fortunately for me, Amazon solved that dilemma by inventing the Kindle. For those who haven’t heard of it – and I was surprised at how many of the ex-pats I run into here haven’t – the Kindle is an e-book reader. Amazon has more than a million titles available for the Kindle, and nowadays essentially every new book published is available as a Kindle book.
When you want to buy a book, you simply search for it on Amazon’s web site, buy it online with a credit card, and it downloads automatically to your Kindle. A single Kindle will hold literally hundreds of books, and the battery lasts at least a week or so between charges under normal use.
You don’t even need a computer. You can browse for books and purchase them right on the Kindle. All you need is WiFi, which you can find in most internet cafes, many coffee shops, hotels, etc., and the Kindle will connect automatically.
The Kindle editions of most books cost less, often much less, than the dead trees editions. And best of all, many U.S. libraries nowadays have large collections of Kindle books – you just go to the library web site, check out the books you want, and they download themselves to your Kindle, for free.
Although Kindles are not generally available for sale here in the Philippines, it is possible to order one from the Amazon.com web site. I just did that, after breaking my old one (they are quite sturdy, but like any electronic device with a screen, not unbreakable). By the time you add in the shipping charge and the import duty it turns a $69 item into a $120 item, but for a machine that lets me carry hundreds of books around in my pocket, I consider that a bargain.
So my advice to anyone coming here to live is: if you like to read, bring a Kindle. Might even want to bring two, in case you break one. Don’t plan on being able to get the reading materials you want in bookstores here, bookstores are few and the selection is very limited. But with a Kindle, the world of books is just a few clicks away.
Now if someone would just open a good Mexican restaurant . . .