Life and Words

This is a short piece that was featured in Issue 7 (Page 35) of the International Council of Malaysian Students magazine! I started out as a Junior Associate for the Canadian chapter of the council last year, and although there has been a lot of work it has been very rewarding. This piece details my experiences as a writer thus far, and here it is:

I became a writer by accident.

The Malaysian independent publisher, Buku Fixi, the brainchild of Amir Muhammad (director of ‘Lelaki Komunis Terakhir’), was just exploding onto the scene with a litany of pulp fiction novels and anthologies which dealt with contemporary Malaysian issues, running the gamut from crime and punishment to ruminations on life.

When the calls for entries first began making news on Facebook in the winter of 2012, I was still in my second year at the University of British Columbia, fiddling with protein models and scribbling out stories during the weekends. In the end, I scrapped enough experiences and ideas to put together a story. The result was ‘Katak’, which was published in ‘Love in Penang’, launched at the Georgetown Literary Festival the following year.

Since then I’ve had several other stories published in other collections, including ‘KL Noir: Blue’ and ‘Cyberpunk: Malaysia’. All of my stories involved different characters struggling with different situations, but ultimately there was always a common theme running through them. They all deal with displaced individuals, strangers lost in transit in new environments, cities, and even countries. For instance, ‘Ah Beng’s Wedding’, which was recently adapted for radio by BFM 89.9, follows the tumultuous day-to-day life of a reluctant gangster as finds himself working in a Chinatown gang after fleeing his violent town amongst the plantations, while ‘Night in a Garden in Ipoh’ features a ghostwriter back in Ipoh despite spending her whole life trying to escape from it, trying to earn a living while remaining condemned to be invisible.

Most of my published stories are semi-autobiographical in the sense that they deal with the sense of alienation that I experience sometimes. I have not returned to Malaysia for almost four years, instead stumbling from my campus by the sea to the arid prairies and to the banks of the Yangtze River, and a lot of my memories of Petaling Jaya have become almost as distant as a fading dream.

Perhaps that is why I write.

By setting all my stories in Malaysia, with some minor references to my own life as a student in Vancouver, I can maintain that fragile link to the tropics where I first sat down at a table and picked up a pen for the first time. So many things have happened in Malaysia, and by exploring and writing down our own stories we can better understand ourselves.

Take the legends and superstitions ingrained in our collective memory, like the flamboyant miners from the thirties who drove along the highways in their Mercedes-Benzes, and even the Rajah Charles Brooke and his fascination with the vast interior of Kuching. These are among the stories waiting to be told in, all of which came together to define us as Malaysians.

Today the English literary scene in Malaysia is stronger than ever before; while the new literary giants like Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng continue to make waves abroad, many new writers such as myself are finding their voices for the first time, filling pages with the experiences that have shaped our present, and our future.

And as for my future? For now I keep writing, and waiting.