A Library of Curious Reads

The Book Museum cum Ethnology Center in Marikina City is an exceptional reminder of how reading and travelling share more than one thing in common. Being the first of its kind in Asia, the museum houses some of rarest books both from local and international publishing scenes, as well as a rich collection of artefacts from different indigenous regions in the Philippines. The facility is owned by Atty. Dominador Buhain, a scion of the affluent founders of Rex Book Store, Inc. More than anything else, the museum is a massive storehouse of all the souvenirs Buhain had acquired from his travels. It is founded by sheer passion for adventure and discovery, offering visitors not only an encounter with unique items but also a glimpse into the life of an avid globetrotter.

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Main Building (Book Museum)

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The museum has been on my radar for quite some time but I managed to visit it only just recently. I am automatically drawn to the idea of a place which treats books as pieces of artefacts rather than mere literary works. It is one thing to read a novel and it is another to know how every single page of it was compiled in order to make a physical hardbound book. The Book Museum offers both experiences in a manner which celebrates the trade of Buhain’s family. Upon entering, guests are promptly welcomed by the statues of Juanito and Jovita Fontelera. This is perhaps to remind everyone that the entire place is a loving tribute of a son to the legacy of his parents. A colourful mural by local artist Leo Aguinaldo backdrops the statues. It is some sort of a montage with images of different milestones in the evolution of book publication, from the historic invention of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press to the literary contributions of local printer Tomas Pinpin. By closely looking at it, one will realise that the artwork actually shrouds the main building of the museum.

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The two-storey main hall where the book collection of Buhain is curated has a circular shape almost similar to that of a globe. At the ground level, visitors can follow a spherical corridor with wall-to-wall shelves. Books of different disciplines are exhibited in ledges and they are catalogued according to their country of origin. Interestingly, the main highlight of the museum is not a particular book nor any literary document, but a massive replica of the owner’s right foot sitting at the centre of the building. The sculpture, which is made of Romblon marble, is yet another representation of the lawyer’s love affair with travelling.

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A Collection of Rare Texts and Manuscripts

All the featured literary works inside the museum offer an interesting story, but a handful of them are highly rare and remarkable in the most special sense. I have listed down all the notable items in Buhain’s collection that every visitor should not miss seeing:

1. Miniature Set of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Anyone who would ever dare to take the quixotic task of reading all the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare must also have the strength to carry and store numerous books. The great Bard had written a total of 37 plays (at least according to the recent count) and 154 sonnets. One of the many challenges of a reader is the substantial length of Shakespeare’s works, especially if they are collected in a single volume. The miniature set of Shakespeare’s masterpieces in the Book Museum is the answer to our major bookish struggle. Buhain purchased the mini collection from Frankfurt, Germany in March 2012. The books are so tiny that a single human hand can hold four of them all at once.

2. One of the Smallest Books in the World (The Lord’s Prayer)

A small copy of The Lord’s Prayer, which was printed at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, is another rare find inside the museum. The book features seven translations of the sacred text using words that can only be seen through a magnifying glass. With a measurement of 3.3mm x 3.3mm, the book alludes to the idea that even a faith as small as a mustard seed can do amazing things [Luke 17:6].

3. A Chinese Poem in the World’s Smallest Tablet

Although Buhain bought the world’s smallest tablet in May 2013 during his visit to the Yungang Grottoes in the Province of Sichuan, the ancient item was originally from the City of Chongqing in Southwestern China. I tried to capture the Chinese characters etched onto the tablet using my phone, only to realise that it takes a high-end camera lens to make the symbols visible due to its size. The tablet contains a poem by Pan Gi Hui called ‘Peach Flower Stream’ or ‘Peach Blossom River’:

A bridge flies away through a wild mist yet
Here are the rocky and fishermen bean
Oh, if only the river of floating peach petals
Might lead me at last to my mythical love

4. First Edition of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

The museum takes pride in having one of the original and first editions of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This will surely attract the interest of all Potterheads out there as it fittingly sits next to a replica of Sirius Black’s wand. The fourth book in the phenomenal series by British author J.K. Rowling follows the adventures of a student wizard named Harry and his controversial participation in the Triwizard Tournament. According to AbeBooks, original printings of Harry Potter books can cost from $40,000 (Php2.1m) up to $55,000 (Php2.9m) EACH! This means owning even a single copy of it can make you an instant superstar at Gringotts.

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5. An Ancient Copy of Johannes Piscator’s Translation of the Holy Bible

An old copy of the Holy Bible, translated by German theologian Johannes Piscator, holds a significant importance in the museum. Piscator is considered an authority when it comes to translating the Scriptures, as well as penning some of the most important works in theology. His translation of the Bible not only includes the New and Old Testament, but also some scholarly commentaries and informative annotations. This particular copy was purchased by Buhain in Germany.

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What’s next for the Book Museum?

In order to gain more attention, the Book Museum cum Ethnology Center offers other exciting services and hosts cultural activities. At the end of the tour, guests are invited to dine at the James Dean Café inside the compound. The restaurant is also brimming with personal mementoes owned by Buhain. Apparently, the lawyer who loves to travel is at the same time a huge fan of Hollywood’s ‘Little Bastard’. Every dish in their menu is named after a popular James Dean movie, including Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden.

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People who visit the museum are asked to complete a short survey to help the administration improve its service. If the staff think your comments and suggestions interesting, they will give you a free book from the REX Book Store adjacent to the museum compound.

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The museum has been in operation for five years and I think it still has a long way to go before it becomes an established institution of education and tourism. Visitors will play a crucial role in realising the vision of Buhain to turn his personal passion into a shared experience. I think the museum needs to device more marketing tactics in order to receive the attention it deserves. Perhaps one of the challenges of the facility is its location which is not commercially strategic enough. Writing this blog is my personal contribution in furthering the crusade of the museum to promote curiosity and love for books.

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The Book Museum cum Ethnology Center is located at 201 Southeast Dao St., Marikina Heights, Marikina City. The admission fee costs Php300 per head, inclusive of a guided tour and a Php100 coupon consumable at James Dean Café. People can visit the museum every day from 9AM to 5PM.

 

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