I'M IN PROBABLY the world's strangest and most wonderful bookshop. It's called the Bookworm and it's a curious structure on the roof of a factory building in Beijing, China.
I could tell this place was special long before I got here. It was in conversations with Jenny Niven, one of the staff members, that I began to realize that it was an unusual bookshop.
Me: I'll arrive in Beijing late afternoon. What time does the bookshop close?
Jenny: It closes at two.
Me: Two? It can't close at two.
Jenny: Two in the morning. Or when the bar closes.
Me: Bar? What bar?
Jenny: There's a bar there. Open till two.
Me: I've never heard of a bookshop with a bar.
Jenny: This isn't really like a normal bookshop.
That was the understatement of the year. The Bookworm is a glorious complex of glass-walled rooms on top of an old pump house in San Li Tun, the bar area of Beijing. It is a library, a bookshop, an events centre, an Internet cafe, a journalists' meeting place, a business centre and a dozen other things -- including a storehouse of the most interesting information about China: books that you don't normally get in this country. It is open all day -- at the moment, it is early morning and I am eating a massive English breakfast. But it closes when the last customer leaves, and that can be as late as six in the morning.
I am speaking at a couple of events here as part of a Beijing literary festival. I'm sandwiched between some good acts -- Julia Donaldson of "Gruffalo" fame and John Ralston Saul, the essayist.
Last night I run a wonderful workshop session: I was thrilled at the creativity and intelligence of the group of 16 or so Beijing writers who gathered for the meeting.
It convinced me of the truth of the gospel I have been preaching: that Asia was, in the past, the centre of world creativity, and that it one day can take that position again.
It's fun to be in Beijing. The most common sign you see in countries in the West is No Parking. The most common sign in China is probably "Act in Accordance with the Principles of Civilization". In Beijing, you see signs all over the place saying "Love your Capital". During the handover in Hong Kong, there were signs which sprang up all over the place saying "Love the Motherland". There were signs that went up on pingpong tables which said: "Love the furniture".
Can you imagine governments in the West telling you what to love? Can you imagine the reaction if American was suddenly plastered with signs informing people that the must "Love the Republican Party"?
Hang on a minute -- actually, that's pretty much the main message of several major media outlets in the US, including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.