Tag Archives: photography

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?

Skyrim.

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.

PLANE HOPPING

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! 😀

6 Comments

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

A Christmas Memory

Merry Christmas, everyone! Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth, but a lot of things have been happening the past few weeks.

For one thing, I finished my first novel!! 😀

After starting it in March 2009, with a Masters in between, I have finally hit the finish line at 97,800 words on December 20, 2.20am (yeah, nice number 😉 ). In the words of my former mentor, I have SLAIN THAT DRAGON!

Now I am letting my dragon roast and cool for a while to clear my mind of doubts and second guesses, before I start carving–I mean, editing the novel in January. It still needs a lot of work, but at least the story is not irredeemable, I hope.

How do I feel? Excited, relieved, a bit emotional too to tell the truth. Since I first started writing the novel – back when I was a journalist in Ipoh, Malaysia – so much has happened. I flew across half the world, met amazing people, and became blessed with good friends.  In these two years, I also lost my grandmother who was taken away so suddenly. And I tried not to miss Malaysia so intensely.

What Christmas Means to Me

Christmas always makes me think of my grandmother. My Poh Poh would cherish those rare times I’m home for Christmas, and on the eve we would go for midnight Mass together with my brother. Not being much of a churchgoer, I could never understand why people would turn up several hours before a midnight Mass.

Once, we’d turned up five hours early for the midnight service! I remember, deep down, of feeling resentful of having to go so early. Despite arriving at 7pm, every seat inside the church was already taken and people were filling the rows of plastic chairs outside on the church porch. Sitting beside my Poh Poh, I’d hold the thin white candle that scalded my fingers with melting wax despite the manila card ‘hilt’. I would spend those hours praying, reflecting on my life, playing with balls of wax and trying not to wish for a music player.

Time passed faster than I thought, as I had a lot of people to ask God to look after, there was plenty of things to reflect on my life, and soon enough I’d find myself daydreaming (nightdreaming?) about some story in my head. In the landscape of my mind, characters played out betrayals, dramas, fought, schemed, and were made to not swear so much (‘because you people are in church, darnit!’)

And then the moment came in the Mass to stand and wish Peace Be With You, where you are supposed to nod or shake the hand of your fellow Christians. I am ashamed to say this is the part I always, always hate most about Mass, because I would cringe at having to do this with strangers. I can’t help it, I’ve always resented it. It’s like a teacher forcing you to sing the national anthem, or your friends egging you into sticking your tongue against a lamp post in winter.

Once that Peace Be With You business is over however, my tensions about the whole Mass dissolve. I could relax like normal people.

Which is why it’s ironic that when I hurried into church this morning for Christmas Mass, late as usual, I flopped myself onto a wooden seat…only for the priest to call, “Now let us make to each other the Sign of Peace!”

With a gasp, I hopped back up and dutifully clasped the hand of the man beside me and the people around us. (Speaking of which, this is amazing to me: I come late and I can still find plenty of seats at the St Mary’s  RC Cathedral. I presume there are not many Roman Catholics in Edinburgh!) I waited for my insides to squeeze with anxiety when I had to meet their eyes, or for my heart to pound when I shake their hands…nothing.

Perhaps it’s because I was already breathless from rushing here, perhaps I didn’t have to wait in dread anticipating that feared moment of the Mass. Instead, I felt almost…calm. The Mass went on, and it was only when the choir launched into a noel that I nearly broke down.

The main reason I came to church was to light a tea light candle for my Poh Poh, as I’ve done for her last Christmas mass. I’m sure she would have preferred I go for Mass every Sunday, just as I’m sure she must have hoped I speak to her more when she was alive. In 19 months, I’ve had time – and good people – to help me deal with the grief and the guilt, to make me understand it’s absolutely normal to feel regret, as long as I don’t let my life be ruled by it.

As long as I live my life without fear.

Today, at least I could place the candle in its holder and say: Hello, Poh Poh. I’m here. And I’ve done it.

Merry Christmas!

6 Comments

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

Almost There, or Day 28 and 29 NaNoWriMo

This is it! The final sprint! I have officially 24 hours to somehow type 4,629 words to reach the 50,000 for NaNoWriMo!

God, hope I can do it. No thanks to an error by Open Office, I learned to my dismay that it had overcounted my novel by over 1,700 words. Thus leaving me with 4,629 instead of a comfortable 3,000.

Bah! Open Office, I spit on thee! Now I must run like the chicken, be the bunny on speed, fly like the wind! 😛

(Actual) NaNoWriMo wordcount

45371 / 50000 words. 91% done!

4 Comments

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

My Liebling, or Day 27 NaNoWriMo

Now it’s my turn.

A dragon-sized Thank You to Limebird Writers and J.C.V for nominating me just days apart for a Liebster Blog award! I don’t think you can receive the award more than once, but it’s a great honour nonetheless.

Now I hope Limebird Writers don’t mind, but I am going to shamelessly steal their definition of what this award is 🙂

“The Liebster Blog Award is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers, all in the spirit of fostering new connections. Liebster is German and means ‘dearest’ or ‘beloved’ but it can also mean ‘favourite’ .”

It seems I now have to nominate my “top five” picks, which I presume means my favourite writerly blogs, and let them know by leaving a comment on their site.

Apparently this includes then “basking in the love from the most supportive people on the Internet – other writers”, and most of all, to “have fun and spread the karma!”

Fun, I can do. I am not very good at basking. Which reminds me too much of basting, as in the basting of turkey, a word I just learned last month and which sounds to me like stewing in your own grease and sweat while an editor skewers you with a Death Star glare. (Can you tell NaNoWriMo is eating my brain?)

But anyway! On to my five picks, which was very hard, I can tell you. So many blogs to choose from!

I hemmed, I hawed, I headbanged and curled up in a foetal position on my bed. (Nicholls, I noticed you were nominated too, so I got to pick another one 😉

So here they are in no particular order! Go check them out, because I find them particularly inspiring, uplifting and even soothing after a long, hard day.

1) The Canary – This group of writers and editors have been churning out a massive amount of exciting content, from reviews of YA novels and literary titles, to brutal yet fascinating dissections of book blurbs.

2) Wife and War – I’m not very good at appreciating poetry but I find Amalie Flynn’s poems to be haunting and utterly mesmerising. This blog is about her coping as a military wife and reconnecting with a husband returning from war.

3) Deb E – Her tagline is ‘Writer, Illustrator, Mum’ – and it is debatable which job is the hardest! I love blogs about writers working on their novels, and there’s something about her fiction and art I enjoy.

4) Ika Writes – It’s not often you find another Malaysian who writes fantasy, much less someone so committed to getting her work out there. (I plan to attend Worldcon too, Ika!) She’s rewriting her fantasy novel with an eye to getting it all shiny and polished next year, last I heard.

5) Blood on Forgotten Walls – I find Ever Dundas’ stories somewhat dark and disturbing – and I like it! Her art is also amazing, and I could lick her name cards.

These stood out for me, and I wish I could choose more! Gute Nacht, everyone 🙂

NaNoWriMo wordcount

46453 / 50000 words. 93% done!

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Contests, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Triumph, 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.

4 Comments

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

Things that Burn, or Day 25 NaNoWriMo

I set fire to my jacket yesterday.

Which was, probably, a silly thing to do.

It was my favourite house jacket, the one I like to zip up and sleep with over my two or three layers of shirts in ‘sunny’ Scotland.

It all started, ladies and gentlemen, when I wanted to grill some sausages for breakfast. But because the kitchen was warm and I didn’t like the sleeves obstructing my hands, I took off my jacket…and for some reason tossed it on top of the stove. Maybe I was still suffering from sleep-dep, I don’t know.

Now, see, naturally I thought the hob was switched off when I cheerfully ripped open the plastic bag and shoved frozen sausages into the oven. But I still shouldn’t have put my jacket there in the first place!

I closed the oven door, only seconds later to detect this horrible smell. Thinking a bit of plastic had somehow been left in the oven, I opened it, checked the ice-caked sausages, but no, it looked okay. Back in they went, and that horrid smell returned. I checked a second time.

That’s when I noticed smoke emitting from my jacket.

Ahk! Ahk! No! Bad fire!

I rescued my jacket – it hadn’t burst into flames. It was still usable and one side was slightly burnt. The zipper had gone all twisted. I will definitely not be able to zip it up again.

But what was more alarming was the horrid stench that still lingered, and for a moment I feared I was inhaling something dangerous. I threw open the kitchen window, then the garden door in the living room. I felt better.

Later I learnt that my jacket was 70% acrylic, and that burning acrylic apparently releases “oxides of nitrogen” and frickin’ hydrogen cyanide.

Holy bovine! I was inhaling cyanide?

There is No Kettle

This is worse than the time I accidentally set fire to the kettle years ago. Now, now, the kettle thing wasn’t actually my fault! It was my parents’ and it looked like a normal kettle which you put over the fire. I didn’t notice the plastic bottom it had.

How was I supposed to know it was an electric kettle!? Electric kettles should not be masquerading as kettles. The humble non-electric kettle gets enough grief as it is, having those fancy doo-dads stealing their thunder.

Flames leaped from melting plastic, and I don’t know how I did it, but I grabbed that kettle and set it down on an old rug. The fire went out, and I stared woefully at my parents’ kettle glued to the rug with gooey plastic.

My parents still tease me for wrecking their new kettle, while I tried not to hide my burning face in my hands. You can certainly bet that story will be whipped out and passed around the relatives for special occasions, down to every obscure branch.

Lord, that was scary. Must not put jackets on stoves! 😛

First night of work went well yesterday. Tonight is the last of my kitchen job, at least for now.

NaNoWriMo wordcount 

42103 / 50000 words. 84% done!

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, 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.

Leave a comment

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