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Humans of Hong Kong: Going with the flow with Surdham Lam

By Nicole Hurip 15 July 2020

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a brand-new story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home.

Surdham Lam runs a secondhand bookstore in Sheung Wan, or as he describes it, an intersection of a passion project, artwork, and sacred calling. He also pioneered a roving library concept that is essentially “the largest library in the world” with no limitations and restrictions on how long a book can be kept. You are also free to pass it on to other interested readers once you’re finished with it, decentralising the process of book lending and redefining the notion of a library as a free-flowing vault of knowledge beyond a physical location. Join us as we discuss with Surdham the meaning of life, destiny, and joy. 

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“Surdham is composed of two parts. The first part, sur, means God, the divine, Buddha; dham means space, paradise, beautiful. When the two parts are put together, it means the space where the divine stays. So in a way, a bookstore is a space where the divine stays. What is divine? Wisdom. Wisdom goes into a writer’s mind, and into a book. The whole space comes from the same idea. My name gave me the inspiration, and my duty is to create a divine space for people to come together, to share together.”

“Books are friends to me. I still recall the other day, I wrote a poem about the bookstore. I had a sentimental moment when I came in, when I touched the edge of the books. So I started writing the poem, in Chinese. In-between the narration of the bookstore, I described it like this: This is yet another day. I take out my keys, putting it in, listening to the sounds of the key, and then I pull the door open. Wow, a whole room full of books awaits me. Waiting for me to touch them on the shoulder. One by one, to say hello to my friends, my dear friends. This is how I see them. Every book is a friend. I do my best to see a friend being here, and being, one day, passed on to someone. Every time I pass a book on to someone, I’m not selling a book to them. I’m flowing a book to them. It is like swimming in a river. The books swim from this side of the river to the other side, happily going to a new home. And my mission, in that part, is fulfilled. One book at a time; it is a kind of joy.

“Books are also like teachers. I like books about the mind, about thinking. I have learned a lot of new wisdom throughout the years. The difference between running a bookstore and not—it’s like going to a famous university. Being in this business, I meet a lot of excellent professors. And they keep coming in. That’s a very miraculous thing; you don’t know how generous people here in Hong Kong can be. They really give you the best books. They truly want to share them with other people.

“It is the same with the visitors as well; they are friends and teachers. I meet a lot of great teachers here.”

“Destiny is the end of the track of a 100-metre race. You focus on that, at the time. And when you reach it, there’s another destiny. That’s how I see it. If you’re talking about the final destiny, I guess it’s paradise. I don’t have the full description, but I know that there is a paradise, and it is here now. I always remind myself that here and now, it is the best time, the best place, or even the only possible place that I can reach my destiny. Because who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? I’m not worrying about the what-ifs, if something is going to happen. It will. When you achieve your goals, you feel happy, but then you continue on. You wouldn’t say that’s the final step. That is also the interesting part of life.”

“The meaning of life? Living moment to moment. Stay joyful, moment to moment, to celebrate yourself first, but at the same time, you trust that your celebration will welcome other people. First of all, you have to make yourself joyful, so that you can overflow, and share the joy with others. This is my motto.”

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.