It hasn't much to do with music, but it's too good an insight into Singaporean life to be allowed to pass.
About to head off to India for a prolonged examining tour during which I foresee long and lonely evenings accompanied by cockroaches and rats in dreary hotels, I have been anxious to stock up on good reading material. I'm heavily into Evelyn Waugh's tales of Guy Crouchback and the Second World War and, having consumed the first two volumes, I went in search of the third, Unconditional Surrender.
Of course, overlooking the obvious problems of finding authors in a culture where forenames are regarded as family names (hence, Evelyn Waugh is often filed under E - for Evelyn - Auberon Waugh under A -for Auberon - and so on), there was the fun I had getting the staff (who, in bookshops are usually employed because of their inability to read) to grasp the difference between Waugh and War.
Then there is the impossibly weird filing system, in which each bookstore (even different branches of the same chain) adapts its own unique variant. Well versed in the machinations of shelf-stockers who would put the Mma Ramotswe novels of Alastair McCall Smith (variously listed under A, M, C or S, depending on that day's shelf-stacker) under Crime (misled, I assume by the "No.1 Ladies Detective Agency" tag), Feminism (Mma Ramotswe), Race Relations (the characters are all Black Africans) and even Non-Fiction (true, McCall Smith's characters really do come alive through his marvellous prose). I assumed it was too much to expect Evelyn Waugh to be under either Classics of Fiction, and looked at War, Auto-Biography and even Gay and Lesbian (well his Brideshead Revisited has a certain homosexual tinge to it).
Not finding it on the shelves I sought out staff and their trusty computers. One shop maintained it was not published yet (Penguin brought it out in 1955), while I eventually found it on a counter display beside an assistant who, ogling the computer, claimed it was "Outta Stock".
But not before two hugely amusing encounters with desperately daft shop assistants. Painful spelling attempts to get both title and author across eventually yielded this response;
"When was it published?"
"Oh, in the late 1950s I think".
"Oh. Then we won't have it. We only sell new books".
"But I want a new copy. I gather it's been reprinted many times since then".
"No. We only sell modern books. There's no demand for anything over 10 years old".
"In that case, are you telling me you don't sell The Bible or Shakespeare?".
Imagine going into a music shop. "I want a copy of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata". "Sorry. We don't sell old music. Would Richard Clayderman's greatest Drivel suit?"
And they used to laugh at the stupidity of Hong Kong shop assistants??!