Category Archives: Work

Once More for the Skies, Dear Friends

Pretty in spring

I’m back. Again. Hello, anyone!

A lot can happen in six months. Or seven. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. And when the days fly past, part of me can’t help but feel guilty on days when I’m not squeezing every drop of creative brain juice possible onto the page by the time the clock hits bedtime.

But as a friend pointed out, I need Sanity Breaks too!

I’ve needed a lot of Sanity Breaks this year.

Here is a quick summary – Good and Bad – of what’s happened/happening since February.

  • I had the most amazing time in Texas – yay!
  • I returned home safely to Edinburgh (I swear!)
  • I had one  short story published in an anthology
  • I’m halfway to editing my Malaysian urban fantasy novel (faster! *cracks whip*)
  • I’ve been frantically planning a trip to Europe this month with my parents – woo!
  • I’ve been working full-time in a clothing store since April – double yay!

Yes, after months of agonising, dread and drama, I finally chased down that most elusive quarry – a permanent full-time job in the UK. Pity it took a year before I could corner it, but better late than never, at least!

A summer view outside my window

The sad thing about it? My visa expires this year on Dec 10, and that means I must go home to Malaysia, leaving behind a gorgeous city and amazing, amazing friends. And because I’d be disappearing the whole month of October for my Europe trip, I had to resign from my job end of September. No company was going to let me beam off the planet for a month and take me back another month, only for me to disappear into the Delta Quadrant when December hits. Unless you were a Very Nice company.

It’s been an incredible experience nonetheless, these past few months, working in the clothing store. But that’s a story for another day.

The Bad News

The downside? Let’s just say I’ve had a bit of an emotional crisis. The kind that involves family, challenges your sense of identity and esteem, and bitchslaps when you choose to butt heads against walls people have built an entire lifetime. The kind of crisis that makes you want to curl in bed and give up.

I have to admit: May, June were tough months. It was hard to concentrate. I had the emotional equivalent of train wrecks stuck on Repeat in my brain. I spent months questioning who I am, what I am, what I should be.

Even now, with the Europe trip of a lifetime about to kick off in just four days…well, some days are hard.

But guess what?

I’m still here, still writing, still living and reaching for the Dream.

I am Rocky Balboa. I am Jean Grey. I am hunger and anger and joy and pain, and I am NOT giving up. Blue skies, ahoy!



Filed under Depression, Family, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Work, Writing

Keeping me Weird

Hi everyone!

Man, didn’t mean to drop off the face of the earth, but I had two (well, maybe one) good reasons!

First of all, once again jobless. Despite the hope I’d be asked to continue at that supermarket I did a Christmas contract for, I’ve not heard a lick of a word from them. But perhaps that is a good thing! Perhaps this is a sign from On High that I should get off my butt and submit (yet again) applications more relevant to my degree and work experience.

In the meantime, what have I been doing ever since I finished my novel?


Yes, this fantasy video game has utterly swept me into its snowy world and done a damn good job of helping me forget the pain/depression of losing a stable means of income. But I would also be fooling myself. If I wanted to, I could always go back to that dishwasher stint, or head out there and perform the same old rituals of the (job) hunt.

I just chose not to. For over a month and a half, I chose to – for once – have FUN. I chose to lose myself in Skyrim. And oh, has the obsession been sweet.

God, this is a beautiful, beautiful game. Words just can’t describe it. These past few weeks, I felt like I could do anything – slay dragons, wrestle giants to the ground, and tackle most obstacles merely by poking it with a sword and castle-sized stones. No messy job hunts. To earn money, all I had to do was to raid tombs and rob the dead, or help a girl find love in a small town, or reunite ghostly lovers searching for each other on an ancient battlefield.

I could go on and on about the game, but let’s just say that Skyrim is the reason I disappeared from Facebook and much of social life, leading people to actually wonder what happened to me! In fact, I played this game so much the fingers of my right hand swelled up, requiring me to drastically realise that, okay, perhaps I should ease back on the 12-hour, bladder-tightening gaming sessions.

But in the end, when it comes to my prospects, it’s just as Paolo Roy says about unemployment: I have to figure out how to live on my own terms.

Hack and Polish

It has not all been fun and games! I have actually started the editing process for my novel. This requires me to print it all out, as having it on paper makes it much easier for me to spot the minute and structural details I should fix.

And what a whopper the novel turned out to be! At 14-font and single space, the manuscript was a murder weapon-worthy 258 pages.

With my muse dragon, Fangthorn, and Fuzzy Red Hat of Inspiration.

Now that I gave myself a month to let the novel ‘rest’, I could start rereading with a fresh mind.

Good news, at least. So far I’ve gone through three-quarters of the manuscript and it isn’t as bad as I thought it was. There are two, three chapters that need serious reworking but otherwise…it could work. I just need to get to the ending before I can get down to the serious rewriting.


But there is, also, another reason I’ve not bothered job hunting the past month. February is when I fly to Texas for an exciting month-long vacation I planned half a year ago. And after a whale of preparations, I am finally here!

Austin's motto, seen on a colourful row of T-shirts at the airport.

That’s right. I’m in the US of A, and so far my holiday is fantastic 😀

I’m come across a customs official who tawks ta me in dat distinctive Brooklyn accent, spotted people in Amish-like robes, and eavesdropped on Americans who chatter straight out of all those US telly programmes I grew up on back in good old Malaysia.

It’s a surreal feeling, and I must stop acting like such a tourist and stopping every five steps to take photographs! I have a feeling people will not look too kindly to me stalking them with a camera.

But hey, at least I brought my homework – the manuscript which I saved on my thumb drive and plan to edit when I get some free time at night.

And in case people are wondering: No, this vacation will be, for once happily, Skyrim-free.

Will update soon, I hope! 😀


Filed under Books, Computer Games, Depression, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Role-Playing Game, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Understanding a Little Better, or Day 26 NaNoWriMo

I should have remembered word travels fast.

The only person I’d told was the restaurant manager. But it didn’t take long for the kitchen staff to wander in my direction while I hovered somewhat uncomfortably over the too-low sink, my hands flying over dishes that hectic Saturday night. My last night there, for a while.

It started with: “Would you like this pancake?” one of the girls asked me in Mandarin, by the grilling stove. “I’m afraid it’s a little burned but it should still be good.”

I smiled. I’d love to have it. This was the same girl who’s passed me a mandarin orange and once a Hershey chocolate – both welcome little surprises in the midst of intense dishwashing.

Then one of the cooks passed by my sink and chirped, “So where are you going?”

I said I had a temporary Christmas job at this supermarket. When I told them the name, they said, “Wah! Can I still apply?”

“Any more jobs for me?”

“I should apply!” one of the newer cooks said, a lanky handsome bloke peering in on the chicken in the deep fryer.

“That place has long hours, you know!” the girl at the grilling stove agreed.

Lanky sighed, stirring the chicken. “Ahhh, all I know is cooking anyway.”

I’m used to being in my own little world when I do the dishwashing. While my mind passes the time lately by replaying Skyrim theme music over and over, I’d be conscious of the cooks bustling around the kitchen and bantering with each other in Cantonese.

During less hectic moments, more than one would always burst into song. I can never understand the words, but I could tell by the way the boys poured emotion into the soft, wistful words that it would be something about love, about finding that Someone to end their loneliness. The best Chinese ballads usually are.

Then when I had about an hour to go on my shift, one of them again wanders in on me. Alan is a longtime restaurant staffer who usually does waiter duties. When the orders come flying in however, he’s been known to step into the kitchen and whip up a mean stirfry.  He’s also cocky and cheeky, and I’ve learnt to take everything he says with a pinch of salt.

Two weeks ago, he must have seen how much I was struggling with the dishes, back when I had yet to develop a system for doing it efficiently. He’d said in English, “Aiyah, come! I help you! Very easy! Very fast!” And he proceeded to demolish the mountain of dishes while I watched…and learned.

That night when I was about to leave, Alan had said, “Hey! You owe me ten pounds! I helped you!”

“I’ll give you a foot massage later!” I’d retorted, playing along with the jest to the amusement of the kitchen staff.

But the next week I baked brownies for Alan and other restaurant people, as thanks and also to spread some goodwill among the staff. The manager – who’s worked in an Italian restaurant and baked cakes for them before – paid me the highest compliment when he said the brownies were beautiful and evenly cooked.

Alan, however, said: “Your cake, ah, not good! Not enough chocolate! Put milk in next time. You still owe me ten pound, ah, I help you!”

“He’s just joking,” the manager told me later. I nodded. It’s how Alan is. Alan, in my mind at least, exemplifies what many Cantonese are like – rough and gruff but actually possessing deep layers of kindness inside.

Last night, Alan again said, “Come, I help you!”

I didn’t really have many dishes left to wash, but I let him anyway. He did the soaping while I rinsed and put away the drying plates. And he fell to talking. Boy, could he talk, jabbering in an amusing spatter of English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay.

“My Malay not very good, let’s practise!” said the boy from Seremban, Malaysia. I wandered away to put away the dishes and came back to find him reenacting how he might order something in a typical Malaysian coffee shop. It translates to something like: “Hello, I’d like to order your roti canai, kopi ping and–what’s chicken wings again? Can you give me discount? Thank you, good bye…”

“You are very funny,” I said in English.

“I not funny, but I’m funny! You know what I mean?”

“That you’re kay poh chee?” I deadpanned. I don’t think he heard me calling him a busybody.

Then for some reason we got to talking about his time in school, which made me realise that I knew very little about him or even what age he was. He looked like a teenager but acted like a world-weary veteran of the restaurant scene.

“My Malay teacher, ah, I ask him if I can pass this test. He say, Caaaaan! I can pass with flying colours! Flying colours all red down the paper! Then when exam time came, I got 100 percent mark. You know what I do? When I pass up the papers, I put ten ringgit money there for the teacher, all pass!”

Then he started giggling and chatting with the other cooks in Cantonese, saying certain choice (and I suspect raunchy) words that made one nearby waitress – who was from China – blink and quickly tell me in English, “You don’t need to know what he said!”

Alan, back to me while he heaped in another pile of dishes, “In my school, there was one Indian girl. She, ah, the most beautiful girl in class! Everything she do, she do better than me. I get B, she get A. I get A, she get A plus! My school got a tennis team and we only need her, one!”

My leaving was with relatively little fanfare. The kitchen staff had whipped up some “really nice” dishes for supper, said the restaurant manager, which I suspected was because of me. However because I was given some extra greasy grilles to wash, I didn’t have time to sit down at the table with them. They made sure however to pack me a takeaway before I had to rush for the bus.

“Keep in touch,” the manager said to me. “Just give us a call if you want to come back.”

I nodded.

NaNoWriMo wordcount

43000 / 50000 words. 86% done!

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November.


Filed under Books, Fantasy, Food, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Not Addicted, or Day 24 NaNoWriMo

That’s right, I skipped another day.

The reason? I got the supermarket job. And then events were suddenly hurtling towards me like a car high on gremlins. I’m to be hired for the Christmas season (Ho Ho Ho) and then perhaps…perhaps we’ll see. I’ve given up on that promised Royal Mail job, and this one at least looks like it’d be more stable. One shake of the manager’s hand later and I was rushing off for my kitchen job (money is money). Came home and crashed without writing a single word.

The next day (today), I had to attend the induction session which is basically one grueling day of videos, forms, quizzes, tours, trials, briefings, you name it: Alcohol, safety, equipment, toilet, boxes, food, toilet, vests, boxes, toilet, more equipment, stairs, up, down, up, toilet again?

It felt like a whole day of that, especially since for some reason my bladder decided to shrink to the size of a walnut.

The moment I got home, I passed out, woke up, then cattle-prodded my muse into churning out the words until I hit the mark. Somewhat.

This would not be possible whatsoever if my novel was not at a point where things blow up and heads go flying, so to speak.

I can’t believe I am surviving this NaNoWriMo experiment so far. I’ve had to juggle my time, compromise, learn discipline, write like a demon and find reserves I didn’t know I had. But was it all worth it?

For me? Sure. Without this crazy adventure, this novel would be one more idea locked away in my head. Say what you will, I’m enjoying the challenge however much it is sucking my hours, brainspace and occasional sanity. I’m starting to feel it, though. Getting ragged around the edges. Numb. I don’t think I’ve even mentally celebrated getting this job yet.

And to top it all off, I lost my warmest winter hat to the bus. AGAIN. That’s the fifth damn hat in two years! I swear it’s a conspiracy of evil buses out to devour the world’s knitted wear.

Will be working tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, all night shifts. This should be…interesting.

40021 / 50000 words. 80% done!

I did a Naughty

Pssst. Don’t tell anyone. I bought the video game, Fallout: New Vegas, thanks to Steam. It was going cheap too! A one-day deal! I’ve already downloaded it and plan to peek at it a few minutes as soon as I finish this post.

Just a few minutes. After all, hey, need to reward myself right? But not too long. Must sleep a few hours, get up, write and go for first day of work…

I’m not addicted. Really.

My preciouuuusss.

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November.

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Filed under Books, Fallout, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Uh Oh, or Day 22 NaNoWriMo

Well, guess what I feel like now?

I think I’m in trouble.

I realised with a start last night that I forgot to read Week 3 of No Plot No Problem, the guide written by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. When I flipped through that chapter, I blinked upon seeing you’re supposed to finish your novel around the 50,000th word!

Ahk! Now I have to radically think how I’m going to end the story. Some might say why let 50,000 words restrict you? Why not keep writing? Ahh, but see, that’s part of the challenge. Thinking how you could wrap up this storyline with a nice bowtie and leave readers (hopefully) begging for more.

A lot of things – real life – seem to be happening in the space of 24 hours, and I will cover that later. Right now I’ve got to rush (“Run, Chris, Runnnnn!”) for the second stage of this job interview, which involves meeting some manager and taking a tour around this supermarket. And after that, rush for night kitchen job like a bunny on dopamine.

Meanwhile I’m getting worried hearing nothing about that Royal Mail Christmas mail sorting job since I got the provisional offer letter weeks ago. And apparently I’m not the only one, if you’ll believe the complaints. One way or another I must get a job soon!

NaNoWriMo wordcount

36461 / 50000 words. 73% done!

Again, could not do my Malaysian novel yesterday. I shall hereby flagellate myself with chocolate cake.

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November. So far I am surviving!

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Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Work, Writing

Demons Make Me Do It, or Day 21 NaNoWriMo

William Faulkner is one of those authors whose books I am unlikely to read in my lifetime. There are just too many titles I need to read for research, and when it comes to writing and reading in between life demands like earning a living and crawling from your cave now and then to socialise, Mr Faulkner is unfortunately low on my list of priorities.

Still, thanks to a friend, I had the pleasure of coming across an interview of this Nobel prizewinning author, and much of what this man has to say resonates in me deeply.

Intense, intelligent and deeply committed to his art, Faulkner pretty much says the written work – likening it to a work of art – is everything. “The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said… His obligation is to get the work done the best he can do it; whatever obligation he has left over after that he can spend any way he likes.”

There’s also something assuring about him saying an artist would never be satisfied with his work. “All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.”

I’m also quite amused about how he says the best job ever offered to him was as the landlord of a brothel. “It gives him perfect economic freedom; he’s free of fear and hunger; he has a roof over his head and nothing whatever to do except keep a few simple accounts and to go once every month and pay off the local police. The place is quiet during the morning hours, which is the best time of the day to work. There’s enough social life in the evening, if he wishes to participate, to keep him from being bored; it gives him a certain standing in his society; he has nothing to do because the madam keeps the books… All the bootleggers in the neighborhood would call him “sir.” And he could call the police by their first names.”

My perfect job would be to work in a bookstore, or a library, or heck, any job that has me on my feet.

Or I could molest trees. I would totally do that for money. (C) Chris Scott at

The point Mr Faulkner was making is that peace and solitude is the best environment for a writer. “–And whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”

I tried booking tickets for my would-be first opera performance recently, The Barber of Seville , a show I always wanted to see. I had a minor heart attack when I saw the price of the tickets. “High culture, high cost,” a friend wryly said. I guess I’ll stick to roleplaying, the internet and Facebook games for my leisure ;P

I also love Mr Faulker’s description of a writer: “An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why… The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”

I don’t know about other writers, but I have all these stories in my head that sometimes I’m afraid that if I don’t write them all down, they’ll go away and a little piece of me dies. I have this voice, a voice I don’t listen to enough, saying gently yet firmly: What are you doing just leaving them in your brain like that? You must get it all down! 

Mr Faulkner also made me smile when he says the artist should have no time to listen to critics. The artist should be too busy writing. “The artist is a cut above the critic, for the artist is writing something which will move the critic. The critic is writing something which will move everybody but the artist.”

Best of all, he talks about how a writer needs three things – Experience, Observation, and Imagination. “Any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” (I wonder if 1.5 counts.) “With me, a story usually begins with a single idea or memory or mental picture. The writing of the story is simply a matter of working up to that moment, to explain why it happened or what it caused to follow. A writer is trying to create believable people in credible moving situations in the most moving way he can.

And this is my favourite sentence of his: “The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”

Here’s to me hopefully breathing in life.

NaNoWriMo wordcount

I’m beginning to wonder if I should not have it the other way around, that I should write my Malaysian novel first, then my NaNoWriMo novel later. I should be spending more energy and care with Malaysian Dark after all, while the NaNo thing is supposed to be something fun and recreational – something I could do when I’m not so spent.

Ah well, at least I managed to do 600 words more of Malaysian Dark last night. One of these days, I should explain why every word I write about this story is a victory for me, a symbol of why I choose to live without fear.

As for my NaNo YA novel, things are really taking off like a rocket! I am about to boot my main character out the window, as it were, and I foresee angst and pain and tears and bloodshed. Good times.

35533 / 50000 words. 71% done!

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November. So far I am surviving!


Filed under Books, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

My First Pancake! or Day 19 NaNoWriMo

Something exciting happened to me last night during my kitchen job.

I was frantically washing dishes during the busy Saturday restaurant shift when the Uncle suddenly asked me to helped him grill two pancakes. So he passed the turner to my stunned self and left me with two pancakes sizzling on the grill.

I was ecstatic. My first cooking duty! Lives were at stake here! From dishwashing, I have graduated to Pancake Grilling. Soon I might move up to Soups, and perhaps a week or two, Starters. Or even *gasp* a simple Chicken Rice or Curry Noodle. In time, why, I could almost envision myself as a master chef of Chinese cuisine! My father would beam with pride.

I was so excited, in fact, that I burned the pancakes. Ooops. Quickly I flipped them over and hoped no one noticed. It’s not too bad. Just some charred bits over here. Surely the customers won’t notice if one side is nicely fluffed and perfect? Argh! The fire is too hot! What? More pancakes? Coming! *Plop* *Plop*

The Uncle finally took the turner away from me and I shamefully banished myself back to the sink after he couldn’t help noticing how crispified his pancakes were getting. At least he was kind about it.

I suppose those master chef ambitions will have to wait.

Afterwards I asked the restaurant manager if I could buy eggs from him, because I’d been so busy making my NaNoWriMo word count (I was quite proud of hitting the minimum before work!) that I had no time to rush to the grocery store.

I needed the eggs for the brownies I planned to bring to a friend’s clothes and books swap event, and it just so happened I baked these same brownies for the restaurant people last week!

But when my shift was done, the manager passed me eight beautiful eggs, when I asked for six.

“Don’t worry, just take it,” he said when I asked him how much.

It’s humbling moments like these – just when I think I can never be a part of their world – when I wonder if I’ve deeply misunderstood these people, or if my heart is too small.


Brownies are done, and I’m ready to run to my friend’s house. And after that, my second tabletop roleplaying session with another group of friends! The RPG game is called Anima, and I play an “insufferable” thief named Sevren Gale – I had to buy a Disadvantage to get some perks for my character, and so ‘Insufferable’ was it.

Didn’t have time to write more of my Malaysian novel after I came home aching from work last night, but I feel I deserve a bit of relaxation today.

For the first time in weeks though, I’m feeling so ready to write. I am in the ZONE. I can’t wait to get back and write!

31739 / 50000 words. 63% done!


Filed under Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Role-Playing Game, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing