Standing in the shadow of the world's tallest building, Wu Ching-you marvels at his own record-setting colossus - the opening of Taiwan's largest bookstore.
Occupying eight floors, the Eslite bookstore in Taipei's glistening Hsinyi district has a total floor area of 7,500 pings, or 24,800 square meters - the size of about four-and-a-half football fields - which makes it the biggest bookstore by size in Taiwan, and probably in the whole of Asia.
Wu's achievement didn't go unnoticed, either; just 30 minutes after 2006 was ushered in, he was joined by Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), and Academic Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) in cutting the ribbon to officially open the store.
Wu is the owner of a chain of bookstores called Eslite, a household name these days in Taipei, but this new branch is surely the jewel in the crown. With more than a million books ranging the gamut of subjects, each level of the store is like a bookstore within a bookstore. Wu, however, prefers to call the new branch "a museum of reading and living."
Set up at a cost of NT$1 billion (US$30.46 million), big is not the only feature of the Hsinyi store. Wu said he wants to add some cultural atmosphere to the area, which has become one of Taipei's bustling business centers. Wu said he hopes that through the bookstore, people will be able to have a better window on culture.
This is not the first time that Eslite has trailblazed. In 1999, a branch was opened for sleepless book-lovers - it never closes - and has become something of a local hangout. Wu said the store was planned in 1995 when the number of books published every year and the number of readers were not as many as today, and when Taipei was still somewhat parochial, with globalization something that was "happening somewhere else."
As time went on, Wu came to believe that the city needed a bookstore to match its new status as an international metropolis, and he began drawing on all his skills and experience in running bookstores to set up the state-of-art Eslite mega-store.
The Hsinyi branch had its "soft opening" on December 16 and has attracted an average of 50,000 visitors on weekends and 2,5000 on weekdays. In the first three days it was opened, sales hit an astounding NT$50 million (US$1.52 million).
Liao Mei-li, the vice manager of Eslite, said she expects the Hsinyi store to bring in NT$3 billion in the first year, which will bring the group's total revenue to NT$12 billion, with an after-tax profit of NT$300 million.
Eslite is expected to post revenues for 2005 of about NT$9 billion, a growth of 17 percent over the previous year, and is expected to make a profit of between NT$180 million and NT$200 million.
This should be music to Wu's ears, since last year was the first year that the company had turned a profit since starting operations in 1988.
Wu, however, dismissed the losses as "nothing," saying the value of an enterprise is more than its bottom line because "there are many people in Taiwan who know how to turn a buck, what matters is an enterprise's positive impact on customers and the industry."
"Any business has risks, what I want to do is to offer society some positive momentum regardless of the risk, " he said. "Everyone has his mission in the world, I carry out mine with all my heart and energy," he says.
The Hsinyi store is certainly not the final version of what Wu believes the perfect model of a bookstore should be - new ideas are in the works - but the current model will be the basic template when Wu's group ventures into overseas markets such as Singapore, Hong Kong and China, which he expects to happen in 2008.
Seeing busloads of tourists from Japan, Hong Kong and Macau descending on his Hsinyi store, Wu feels his dream of putting Eslite on Taipei's tourist map is one step closer and he said he owes this to the managing team of his group; it's their joint efforts that have helped him move on the path toward his lifelong dream. "A man can't live without dreams," Wu said, quoting Emerson when he extols people to "hitch your wagon to a star."