2008

I wonder if you miss me. As you lie, lonely in your guest room bed.

Are you still sleeping there, I wonder. Or has she let you back in? And even then, do you just sleep? Or do you run your hands all over her body like you did to mine, like you did to hers before you ever laid eyes on me.

These things are not supposed to matter now. I am not supposed to care. You are hers and I am mine.

But the broken part of me looks for you. In chance encounters with strangers, in affairs (clandestine or otherwise) where I make sure that this time, no questions are asked and no promises are made. In older men, in figures of authority.

I was a child when you found me. And now, I am a ghost.

A ghost slowly coming back to life and with that life, remembering all the things I used to feel. Your breath on my neck, fingers drawing circles on my skin, tears running down my face.

I will forget you, I tell myself. But my self wants to remember.


About this piece:

At a certain age, love becomes less epic. When one is young, the end of an affair can feel like the end of the world as one knows it.

I wrote this piece eight years ago (give or take) about a person I still think of as “2008”. A part of me feels sad for that broken little girl. The other part just wants to laugh and say, “Grow up, you’ll get over it.”

Lost children

“Sometimes I don’t know what you want,” he said. He was still awake after all. I thought about continuing my pretense.

“I know you are awake,” he said. I stayed silent a while longer and then I sighed.

“I don’t know what I want,” I said.

“You have got to figure it out sometime, you know,” he said.

I sat up in bed. The covers slipped but I didn’t care. In the past, I would have pulled the covers up to my chin to cover my almost non-existent breasts. But in Andre’s eyes, nakedness was natural. He resented clothing. These days, I sometimes went without a bra. It was strangely liberating.

“I used to know,” I said. “I used to know what I wanted. I had a plan… get good grades in high school. Do sports. Do clubs and societies. Get a good testimonial. Get a scholarship. Become something… someone. I wanted to be a doctor.”

I shrugged. I rested my elbow on my knees, my forehead on my palm. It was surprising how much it hurt, even now, after all these years.

I hadn’t stuck to the plan. People had expected things of me, from me. Anything less than a PhD was a failure. I was meant for a life in academia. That’s what they told me anyway. I was too other-worldly to live in the real world. Let your brother take care of all those things, everyone said.

By “all those things”, they meant “money” and “power”. My brother was the golden boy. He would make it big in the world.

He, unlike me, had always known what he wanted. When we were six, he had said, “I am going to be a business man.” And then he had started breeding and selling fishes.

At six, I spent an abnormal amount of time staring out of windows and daydreaming.

“What happened?” Andre said. He rubbed his palm against my thigh. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. I got lost,” I said. And I realized that it was true.

“Mmm,” he grinned. “A little lost girl.” I wondered if I should get angry. I carried on the joke instead. Because laughing was easier.

“Mmhmm,” I said. “I’m waiting for Peter Pan to come and lick me into shape.”

“Lick?” he said and lifted an eyebrow. Then he dropped back onto his pillow and sighed. “Peter Pan is just as lost as the rest of the lost boys.”

I snuggled back into bed and leaned my head on his chest. His arm wrapped around my shoulders. It was an unconscious gesture. Muscle memory.

“Maybe that is what Wendy is for,” he said. He rolled his chin around on the top of my head. I moved my head away and tilted to look at his face. It was serious.

“Wendy,” I huffed. “She’s lost as well.”

“So just like that. Everyone is lost. Damn it all and be done with it.”

“Perhaps,” I said. I bit my lip. “Maybe it isn’t about finding our way. Maybe we’re just meant to find each other.”

“And huddle up for comfort?” he said.

“And huddle up for comfort,” I said.

END


About this piece:

I wrote this in 2009 as part of a personal project The Man Beside Me. It was an exercise in improving my dialogue in fiction.

It’s been almost 10 years and the editor in me cringes at so many parts. But I’m leaving it (mostly) unedited as a way to remember where I was as a writer.

Is this enough?

“I’m from Klang. Of course I have gangster friends,” I say. And even though my head keeps repeating ‘don’t say it, don’t say it’, I blurt it out. “My best friend died while I was in college.”

“Oh,” she says. She shifts and curls up closer to me. “How old was he?”

“18,” I say, waiting for her to ask what happened.

“What happened?” she says, looking into my eyes now. I run my fingers up and down her naked back.

How do I tell her this story? There are days when she thinks I don’t notice but she gives me this look and I know she doesn’t understand what I have said. How could she? With her fair skin and her ‘oh, I like Indian food. We had a maid who cooked for us’.

Like the other day when I got a press invitation to a movie, on Deepavali!

We would like to extend this invitation to the editorial team to join us for a night out at the movies on 22 October 2014 (Deepavali Day) at GSC One Utama.

“I don’t understand,” she’d said. “It’s not compulsory. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“Yes, but it’s Deepavali. And it’s a public holiday. So insensitive!”

“So? You can reject it right?”

“That’s not the point. Imagine if they had sent a non-halal buffet invite to the entire editorial team. Or if they organized something like that during raya.”

“Okayyyy… would it have been better if they had just sent the invite to the non-Indian people?”

“No, that’s still ignorant. That’s why la, my friend says that Chinese people cannot see things from other people’s point of view.”

She’d given me this look and a smile and I’d thought, “This is why my mother wants me to date an Indian girl.”

She nudges me with her hips and I am back in the present. “So… what happened?”

“We were on the road, you know, just in the car. I was driving because my friend was slightly tipsy. Another friend was sleeping at the back.

“It was public holiday time. Should have known la… There was a roadblock and as usual, we got stopped.

“Then they want to check our car la,” I say.

“Oh my goodness. I’ve never been stopped before. One time a policeman shouted at me through the window. I took down his ID number and complained about him,” she says.

I roll my eyes. “Ya, you can do that. Chinese ma.”

“Please la,” she says, laughs. “Then what?”

“Don’t know why my friend go and show his anger. So they took him away. The other friend and I went home. Next day his mom called, said he didn’t come home.

“Then they got a call from police station. They said he died of alcohol overdose or something. But then his body had too much of bruises. After that my other friend joined a gang. Got protection, he said.”

She doesn’t say anything. When I finally look at her again, I can see that she’s troubled. “I don’t understand,” she says. “How could you let something like that happen? How could you let them get away with that?”

“That’s the problem, babe. We don’t let it happen. It just does. There’s nothing we can do.”

She lifts herself up and leans back into the pillows. “No way,” she says. “I’m sure that there was something you could have done.”

Her eyebrows are bunched together in a frown and I can see the gears in her head turning, probably thinking about that ‘I am the master of my fate’ poem she spouted at me the other day when I complained about how unfair things were sometimes.

Before she can say anything else, I do the only thing that’s still keeping us together. I pull her close and kiss her. “Don’t worry about it, babe,” I say, moving my body over hers.

She doesn’t understand so many things, but her body understands mine. “Maybe this is enough,” I think. “Maybe…”

END


About this piece:

I wrote this in 2014 as part of an assignment for UnRepresented KL. We were meant to write something inspired by a documentary about race-related police brutality.

At the time, the ending of the story felt contrived; one of the characters did something that felt “out of character”. I moved on and wrote other things.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about the issue of race (especially in Malaysia) and remembered this story. I’ve edited the ending but hopefully, preserved the theme.

This is that.

A round-up of and casual commentary on things I’m reading, listening to, watching or thinking about.

Eating is overrated.

Every time I eat a meal that’s supposedly “really good”, I think about Kate Moss’ famous quote: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Foie gras, 10-course molecular gastronomy, a delectable Sunday brunch – all of which totally amazing when in the moment – weigh me down post-consumption. Everything feels too greasy, too heavy, too rich.

There is a much deeper satisfaction in a small bowl of plain oats, biscuits dipped in Milo, a cube of cheese.

“Ugly” is relative.

We often think that the story The Ugly Duckling is about an unattractive person coming into his/her own ie. transforming to become something beautiful. We think it’s a story about appearances.

However, could you really compare the beauty of the duck, to the beauty of the swan? They are both beautiful and/or “ugly” in their own way.

I like to think that The Ugly Duckling is a story about finding your tribe, the people who can appreciate and embrace your “ugly”. It’s a story about finding a place you belong.

Losing is learning.

I finally had the opportunity to catch up on the third season of Food Wars, a Japanese anime in which the protagonist Yukihira Soma wants to become the top chef in an elite cooking school.

The thing about Soma is, he has no raw talent. Compared to some of his other classmates, he doesn’t have a superb sense of smell or a “god tongue”. And yet, he has no fear of losing.

He keeps pushing himself, understanding that losing to someone better, means that he gets to learn from them.

Being a “proper” Chinese: Lesson #1

In this lesson, you will learn one of the rules you must follow to be a proper Chinese. What do you mean are there rules? Of course there are rules.

The first rule of being Chinese: When it comes to things like house work, paying for a meal or gift giving, if the other party says “No”, you “have to insist”.

Say you’re in a relative’s house and you’ve had a meal. Since your host cooked dinner, the polite thing to do is help to clean up. Clear the table and take everything to the sink, even though your host will definitely tell you, “Just leave everything there lah.”

Put everything in the sink and at this stage, your host will again say, “Just leave it there. I’ll wash everything together.”

This is a trap. The polite thing to do is to switch on the tap anyway and start washing up.

Wash up all the dishes, even the ones that were already in the sink. As you’re soaping the dishes, your host will say, “Eh, I’ll do it lah. Just leave it.”

Do not make the mistake of listening! Keep washing those dishes. If you must say something, it has to be along the lines of “no worries”, “please [let me do it]” or “you cook already, I must wash up lah”.

If your host is following the correct protocol, he/she will no longer ask you to “just leave it”. Three times is the ideal number of times to indicate refusal.

Two times is too few. It tells your guest that you didn’t really intend to clean up yourself (even though this is really the case).

More than three times is too many. Having to insist more than three times will make your guest feel awkward and heaven forbid that happens.

In cases of gift giving, the receiver will probably say something to the effect of “eh, no need lah”. As always, you have to insist.

Some receivers might even go as far as to push the gift back into your hands. If this happens, you have to engage in a push back and forth battle until the receiver accepts it.

Contingency measures:
If the receiver folds his/her arms so that you cannot push the gift back in, you should leave it behind when you leave the place (even if it’s a public restaurant). This way, the receiver of the gift knows that you are really sincere in your gift giving.

Similarly, if you have eaten out and you want to pay the bill – you should always pay the bill because this indicates social superiority (unless you’ve just eaten with your boss; it’s more polite to let him/her pay) – you have to get physical and force your money into the waiter’s hand.

If the other party wins, you should leave money on the table (equivalent to or more than the billed amount). If you want, you can even reinforce your actions with words like “if you don’t take it let the restaurant have it”. Trust me, no proper Chinese will just leave money lying there.

For more information, feel free send your questions to: [redacted]

Challenging authority, going against the grain

A round-up of and casual commentary on things I’m reading, listening to, watching or thinking about.

“You want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write code.”

I’ve had a casual interest in cryptocurrency and blockchain tech for more than a year now. And diving deeper into decentralized tech has made me want to go back and read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I finally got around to doing it and was able to appreciate it even more this time around.

In this YA novella, the protagonist, Marcus goes against a government that’s become obsessed with “catching terrorists”. The book explores themes like government and human rights, as well as provides an entertaining introduction to cryptography, privacy and decentralized technology.

If you’re looking for a fun, weekend read, you can download the book (released under a Creative Commons license) on Doctorow’s website: Get the ebook

“What we do going forward defines who we are.”

At the end of last year, I requested book recommendations on Instagram and Wool from the Silo series was on the list. The blurb at the back of the book was not very informative so I had no idea what I was getting into.

But by the end, I was loving it.

My key takeaways were: 1) Whatever I know of the world is tiny compared to how gargantuan it really is; 2) The adventure cannot start until you step outside your known world; and 3) a question: does authority always “know better”?

Don’t operate heavy machinery when listening to this!

I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts to add to my library. Although My Dad Wrote a Porno has been running for about three years (and isn’t all that new), I only recently looked it up.

It is hilarious!

The podcast is hosted by Jamie Morton and his friends – Alice Levine and James Cooper – and was created after Jamie’s father wrote the erotic novel Belinda Blinked.

In each episode, Jamie reads a chapter of the book, all the while being interrupted by James and Alice. Not surprising, as there are many WTF moments and inexplicable scenarios.

I’ll admit that I listen to this mostly when I’m driving (that’s my podcast time) and it’s not a good thing. I’ve missed turnings, forgotten things and been honked at while listening.

If you still want to have a listen, episodes are available on their website: My Dad Wrote a Porno

There’s more than one way to the top!

There’s a period before I fall asleep, after I’ve done my reading. That in-between time when the lights are out, that’s my Netflix time.

The other night, I rewatched Monsters University and fell in love with it again. It’s not one of the greats, by Pixar standards but I am always inspired by its ending.

Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc, where the two characters Mike and Sulley are partners and “top scarers” at Monsters Inc. The company converts the screams of children into energy that powers the monster world.

[spoiler alert]

Long story short: In spite of their final achievement at university – together they manage to scare a group of adults and create enough scream power to fill up a room full of storage tanks – they are expelled due to their earlier behavior.

And yet, they never give up on their dream – to become scarers. They start from the bottom, in the mailroom and work their way up.

I like to think that’s how Sulley was able to take over as CEO in Monsters Inc. He’s not just a scarer; he’s been on the ground in a bunch of other departments and he knows how the company works.

Sometimes, bad situations are only bad if you see them that way.

How do I become a better writer?

Alternate Title: Why have I started this blog?

Writing is an easy thing. It’s merely arranging letters and words on a blank piece of paper so that they make sense.

But what does “sense” mean? And to whom are the words meant to make sense? The difficulties of writing lie in the answers to these two questions.

In an online course I once took, the lecturer said that there were two things to consider when writing – audience and purpose.

A letter would have a different tone compared to a speech. An article about how to become a better writer would have a different structure than a short piece of fiction.

But none of this really answers today’s main question: How do I become a better writer?

After more than 10 years of writing articles (for blogs, magazines, newspapers), fiction, annual reports (and whatever else you can think of that requires writing), I am still learning. There’s always room to grow in writing, better ways to achieve results.

Writing – the act of putting words on paper – may be easy, but writing well is a whole other ball game1.

After all these years, the only thing I can think of to improve one’s writing is a combination of these: Read, Write, Share, Listen.

1/ Read

Some blogs with advice about writing say “read great writers”. Others share practical tips from great writers and depending on which writers are quoted, you may find yourself with opposing pieces of advice that seem to work perfectly for that specific writer.

One piece I keep coming back to, however, is Stephen King’s “prime rule” of writing. “Read a lot and write a lot,” he says in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Which is why I say, instead of just reading great writers, read all writers. Even the unknown ones faithfully publishing fan fiction on the Internet. Decide for yourself what you like or don’t like. Figure out why a piece works for you and uncover the faults in a piece that doesn’t.

Confucius said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

By identifying and verbalising your issues with a particular text, you are able to understand the mechanics behind creating a good piece of writing.

I personally derive value from books about writing, but what I’ve come to realise is that all of the value gained is theoretical at best.

The only way to become a better writer, is to write. Write. Keep writing.

2/ Write

This is one of the reasons I’ve started this blog. It’s a way for me to explore a new aspect to my writing, a way for me to work on pieces that tickle my fancy.

In 2009, when I wanted to improve my writing of dialogue in fiction, I started a blog called The Man Beside Me. After a few months and several pieces, I noticed that dialogue in my other writing began to improve as well.

I suppose this is a sort of deliberate practice. At the same time, it’s something that I’m doing for myself. There’s no need to satisfy a board of directors or convince a potential customer.

But there is a need to be critical about my own writing. And there is a need for feedback. I’m hoping that’s where you’ll come in.

3/ Share

I could write all of this info down in a private journal, but what sort of feedback would that get me? Nada, zilch, zero.

By sharing my writing, I’ll learn more about how to present ideas, how to dress my stories up and strip complex ideas down.

Perhaps I’ll chance upon other experienced writers who can provide some insights into how else to present content, how I could make my sentences tighter, how to drive a point home.

Which brings us to…

4/ Listen

I am ready for criticism. Not everyone is going to like everything I write. And sometimes, those with the most hatred can provide extremely astute feedback.

I don’t always follow all the advice given, but I listen and I consider the points. Sometimes I may follow the advice but even if I don’t, this helps me identify the “faults” in my writing and rationalise why I’ve done things a certain way.

So to answer both title questions…

I’ve started this blog with a dual purpose.

One, to practice writing without external restrictions on content and style. It’s not enough to be good; I want to keep becoming a better writer.

Two, to document explorations initiated by intellectual curiosity. Let’s see where this rabbit hole leads!


  1. The usage of the phrase “a whole other ball game” here is an example of lazy writing, which results in a clumsy sentence.