We are so thrilled to introduce our new BK retailer, Yen Fong, and her beloved store Tabiyo in Malaysia. Her shop, as well as her virtual presence, has been a constant inspiration for me. The look and feel that she creates in her journal pages that feel effortless and beautiful all at the same time is so enjoyable and personable. If we ever visit Malaysia, I am 100% certain that I will be sitting at the 2nd Space coffee shop that shares the space with Tabiyo. I hope you enjoy her interview and beautiful photographs from her!
Baum-kuchen: If you were to meet someone for the first time, what would you tell them about yourself? What are your roles, and where are you from?
Yen Fong: Hello, my name is Yen Fong. I’m a store owner selling stationery and lifestyle products in my beautiful hometown Seremban; a small city that is about an hour drive from Kuala Lumpur city. I love my job and all the things we sell in our little shop. I don’t mind keeping our scale small so that I could manage everything by myself, that’s what I enjoy the most.
Baum-kuchen: What was your life before Tabiyo? Did your past background play a role in your decision to open Tabiyo?
Yen Fong: I think so! I started Tabiyo in the year 2012. During my college years, having my own business was always a part of my plan. After working as an Interior Designer for almost 8 years, I finally met my “soulmate” - Traveler’s Notebook.
I have always been fascinated by paper products. Every year end, I’d get excited to visit bookstores for my yearly planner; I had all kinds of planners at that time. I got to know Traveler’s Notebook (or journaling community) through a Taiwanese magazine. There wasn’t anyone who was selling the Traveler’s Notebook back then and it just so happened that my friend managed to get me a set during her trip to Japan. I fell in love immediately when the actual product was in my hands. But then, I was wondered, what if I run out of refills? I guess everything happens for a reason. During that time, I found myself starting to fall into a comfort zone with my full-time job. I felt I needed a change and a new goal, hence, that’s how Tabiyo started - with only a few SKUs from Traveler’s Notebook.
Baum-kuchen: Tabiyo and 2nd Space look so fun and inspiring! How does your shop/cafe work? Is there more in the same building?
Yen Fong: Our physical shop is a double-story old house; we moved in here 2 years ago. When I first viewed the unit, I already knew this would be our future “home” for both Tabiyo and 2nd Space. Elements that attracted me in the house were the spiral staircase, the flooring, the open corridor upstairs, the airwell, the opening on the facade which was designed to improve air circulation during the olden days, and many more. Then, I started to imagine that the front part (living hall) would become Tabiyo’s retail space, and the back part (kitchen) with the existing air well would turn into 2nd Space.
We have a lot of customers and friends from all over Malaysia who are willing to travel for hours just to visit us. I felt that besides “shopping” for stationery, we could offer them a space to hang-out and a place for journaling after long hours of driving. My husband and I loved to cafe hop back then, and to try hand-drip coffee was always on our list, hence, we thought why not have a small corner to serve hand-drip coffee so that our customers would stay longer with us? That’s how we started 2nd Space with only a hand grinder, an electric kettle, Hario v60 / smart dripper, and selected beans. A few months later, I met Lixian (who’s also Tabiyo’s customer). We started to chat and found out that we share the same interest and vision towards coffee and our hometown. Together with her and my husband, a proper 2nd “space” was born.
Baum-kuchen: As you welcomed a new family member and took on a new role as a mom, what are some of the lessons and insights you learned in regards to running your own business?
Yen Fong: I find time management is very important. Before we had our daughter Ziling, we could access all things anytime, anywhere. Now, I need to carefully schedule my to-do for today, tomorrow, this weekend, or much further. That’s why I find keeping a journal is very important. I enjoy the process of documenting the growing process of Ziling too. Apart from that, empathy is what I’m learning too, the capacity to place oneself in another's position.
Baum-kuchen: What words would you use to describe your analogue aesthetic?
Yen Fong: On-the-go? Free & easy?
Basically I can survive with basic journaling tools: that is a Traveler’s Notebook, my favorite pens (Kaweco Classic, TRC Brass Ballpoint Pen, TRC Fountain Pen, and my latest new favorite - Pilot Juice up), an Instax photo printer, a stack of assorted paper (Dear Paper Lovers v3 that we have made), tapes, and rubber stamp that is versatile such as the shapes / geometric stamps from Mizushima and Osco Labo, and BK stamps for their meaningful quotes.
Baum-kuchen: What are your favorite analogue artifacts to stay organized and inspired?
Yen Fong: Traveler’s Notebook and Jibun Techo!
I enjoy using Traveler’s Notebook in Regular Size as my travel journal and to record special occasions. Their design for unlimited customization possibilities is so addictive! The vertical layout is perfect to fit in maps, prints, photos, words and collages. I’m grateful that with Traveler’s Notebook, I managed to record my 3 months working holiday in Japan. I penned down my encounter every night, the experiences are just so precious! I feel like I can travel back to those days whenever I flip through my past travel journals.
As for Jibun Techo, I started to use it as my daily planner in 2018. I love the overall layout, the lightweight paper, and the part where we can open it flat. I carry Jibun Techo with me everyday to jot down to-do lists, my visions, and notes for work. I can foresee that I would use it for the next few years, hence I decided to purchase a TSL cover from BK last year.
Baum-kuchen: What would be your dream analogue or lifestyle project?
Yen Fong: Ever since we started the “Dear Paper Lovers” series, I have been searching around to get more paper variety for our journaling community. We also did a “Paper Buffet” before and we are glad that our community loved the idea and enjoyed it. My dream analogue project would be a combination for both “Dear Paper Lovers” and “Paper Buffet”, to share with our community about the beauty of paper, the wide variety of choices which would allow them to customize their own personal notebook / refills with the papers that they have selected.
Baum-kuchen: If your younger childhood self and now adult self collaborated on a stationery artifact what would it be?
Yen Fong: How about a storage box? I loved to collect pencil cases when I was young. I think I've always been an “organizing freak” ever since I had my own room during my college years. I changed and reorganized the furniture in my room at least twice a year (there was only a mattress, a study table, a cabinet, and a portable wardrobe). It may have ended up the same but I enjoyed the process of reorganizing. Even now, I am always excited to move around our shop furniture (thanks to all the movable furniture) to give a fresh new look for myself and our visitors.
Now I'm starting to imagine if I could customize my own storage box for stationery! There would be drawers, paper trays, numbers of removable compartments where we could keep changing it to suit our needs.. so awesome!
Baum-kuchen: Any words of advice or encouragement you would like to share with our analogue/lifestyle community?
Yen Fong: Be true to yourself and enjoy the process of keeping memories by journaling. Journaling can be easy and handy with just a pen and paper. Some of our customers are afraid to start a journal because they can’t draw, or they find their handwriting is ugly. But, if we go back to the original purpose of keeping a journal, our journal is used to record the day’s events and our observations which are meant to be kept private.
Baum-kuchen: Is there a favorite quote you live by?
Yen Fong: “If not now, when?” This quote gives me courage whenever I feel hesitant to make a decision. It may sound reckless if I apply this quote when the decision is about something big, but for me, to live in the present wisely and earnestly is more important.
Where to find Yen Fong:
Instagram: tabiyo_yf , tabiyo_shop_
Tabiyo website: www.tabiyoshop.com
BK Artifacts mentioned or featured in Yen Fong's story:
- Traveler's Notebook - Regular Brown
- TRC Brass Ballpoint Pen
- TRC Brass Fountain Pen
- Mizushima Stamp / Shapes
- Trust the Process Stamp
- "here now with you" Stamp
- [TSLxBK] Jibun Techo Cover - Matcha
- "Journey is the Destination" brass plate
- "Paper Airplane" brass mini charm
I enjoyed reading about Yen Fong’s shop in Malaysia. The quote she mentioned is part of a larger quote and is even more relevant in this time in which we are living: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” and is attributed to Rabbi Hillel of Babylon, c. 110 BC.