So this is something that’s been in the works for ages now, and something that’s very close to my heart. A year ago, after I was named as the Changi Airport social media ambassador, I pitched a passion project to Changi Airport Group that revolved around my two big loves – reading and travelling. I’m someone who travels a lot, both for work and leisure, and it is both a blessing and a privilege. Much of who I am today has been influenced both by the places I’ve been to (hence: the cultures I’ve been exposed to, the conversations with people halfway across the world that help shape my understanding that there is no one way to see a subject) and by the books I’ve read (for who’s first trip wasn’t through the mesmerising turn of the page?).
The one big thing both books and travel have in common is the ability to afford us perspective and subsequently, empathy, for the world that extends beyond the confines of our individual being. This empathy is ever more crucial in today’s world – a world that is quick to condemn and point fingers, a world that is quick to dismiss another person as wrong and thus, erase everything they are trying to say as irrelevant. No. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, growing up, it’s that the black and white of our childhood rarely remains so clearly demarcated. There is a heck load of grey, and there are two sides to any given issue – often, more than two. In a world that has become so far extreme, it is a good thing to learn that two opposing ideals can co-exist and each be valid and justified without completely erasing the other. It helps us see people who are different from us as an individual, not a statistic. This thing? It is called balance. And it is a balance that springs up from empathy.
And so with this in mind, the project pitched to Changi Airport and their tenant, Times Bookstores, had one clear goal – to recommend books to readers, browsers, and travellers that would bring them places, not just physically, but in terms of perspective and ideas. Thus the #jemmarecommends shelf was born (a play on Changi’s existing Changi Recommends service).
The airport made perfect sense for this collaboration – airports have always been a place of transit, a place where we long to go somewhere new, find out new things about ourselves and the world, and I wanted my little shelf to reflect that same sentiment as well. Changi Airport, in particular, has always been one to push boundaries and outdo itself – I mean, what other airport in the world has drawn such love from their local community that entire families go to the airport as a family outing for dinner or to play? I myself grew up at the airport, long before I started to travel, spending hours each weekend studying in their cafes or public areas – in fact, one of my earliest childhood memories involve my parents taking me there as a treat to watch planes take off and have Swensens ice cream. The point is, Singaporeans love Changi Airport, and it is not a love that is taken for granted – the Changi of my childhood and the Changi of my now is so vastly different, it is often hard to imagine how it can improve further from here on. But it does, and continually impresses us.
The point of bringing that up wasnt to debate the varied joys of Changi’s many innovations (sunflower garden?? Raindrop installation?? Butterfly garden??) but to illustrate the kind of spirit Changi has always espoused – one that is always changing, innovating, and cementing its place as a leader in the travel industry. It is equal parts my project pitch and that spirit that allowed for the birth of this collaboration. I will tell you first hand that it is incredibly difficult to pitch new ideas that have not been tried and tested by other markets to any big brand, especially multi billion dollar corporations like so. People like to err on the safe side, and as a freelancer, I am perpetually trying to convince my clients to try new things. If you don’t try new things, I argue, you’re always going to be following behind other brands. It is an argument that has had moderate success. But Changi’s ethos of perpetual innovation has allowed for this collaboration to happen, because they could understand the benefits of trying something that had no quantifiable precedence, and it is a hopeful sign to me that this will pave the way for more meaningful collaborations in time to come 🙂
As you all know, books have been my life since I was sentient, and I really hope to bring the joy of reading to all of you – not just joy, but new ideas, world views, and a better understanding of privilege and empathy. After multiple rounds of curation and discussion with Changi and Times Bookstores, we soft-launched our travel shelf at the end of last year, with ten books segregated by long and short haul flight recommendations. The ten books were books that not only inspired me, but that I deem culturally significant, and at a very basic level, are ten damned good books purely in terms of writing, style, and storytelling. Times Bookstores has been an invaluable part of this process, not just in the obvious way of being the bookstore involved in the collaboration, but also in helping me understand so much about how the publishing industry works, and being available for me to bounce ideas off for curation. Which brings me to the next part..
Earlier this year, Times proposed a new element to phase two of our collaboration – stickering the books with our #JemmaRecommends label. This not only allows us to recommend more books than one shelf can hold, it’s also a really nice way for people to immediately identify the recommended titles around the stores in Changi.
The stickers are designed by my talented friend Warren Tey, who is kind of like a superstar in the graphic design world ◡̈
Now, obviously logistics dictate that we can’t sticker every book that I recommend because then firstly we will not have enough stickers and secondly what if people want to buy books that dont have stickers on them? So what we did was sticker selected titles from within my recommended list (trust me, that list goes on and on and on…) in each Times Travel/Relay bookstore, and so the recommended books vary from bookstore to bookstore but they’re all still good reads. So the next time you’re in Changi airport, try to spot the stickered titles in each store! 🙂 And the shelves are still live in one bookstore per terminal, which you can visit if you’d like to see a bigger selection of recommendations.
I have also been extremely heartened by the response to the shelf so far. Besides the news coverage we’ve received, I’m perpetually getting little dings on my phone notifying me that a new person has visited the shelf and uploaded a picture of it on instagram stories or snapchat, and people have been emailing me about the book recommendations, taking it upon themselves to either recommend me more books or giving me their reviews of the books i’ve recommended. It’s been amazing.
So thank you, guys.
And thank you, Changi Airport and Times.
To the rest of you – we will be continually updating the recommended list of books (honestly, i dont think I’ve gone through so many books so quickly in my life… so, so many) and as always, I welcome your suggestions. And one more thing – if you enjoy the books, if you like the idea of these collaborations – please buy the books. Collaborations like these are difficult to implement and even more difficult to justify because they are not traditional campaigns which are sales driven or meant to highlight a particular marketing imperative. I think it is obvious that this is a passion project on all ends – but we have come to a point, I believe, where collaborations with social media personalities need to go beyond just telling you what the best lipstick to buy is (though girl, we all know we love our lipsticks). And many people are happy to stay with the existing mode of collaborations, which makes it very difficult to push the boundaries towards collaborations which may not be the most sales-driven, but weigh in heavily on being more meaningful. So when you purchase a book from the collaboration, what youre signalling to everyone is that you support the messaging and idea behind the entire collaborations. I think it is as good a time as any to clarify that I dont earn a cent from this collaboration – that all the time and effort put in curating, reading, curating, promoting the books collaboration is purely of my own volition. But if you would like to see more collaborations of this kind, not just from me but throughout the industry, you enable the industry taking a small step in this direction by buying the books. You enable it by creating chatter around the collaboration, by always showing me and people around you that you are interested in seeing content like this. And you force everyone – brands, influencers, the industry – to step it up.
Thanks again guys, for reading, generally, and then specifically here. I’ll see you at the turn of the page. x