Oral tradition versus historical ‘fact’

Working on the WWII book today, making choices: the Indian National Army, as described online, is not the same as the Indian National Army in the oral history I grew up with, stories and unspoken attitudes of my elders who lived through the war. I may of course not be remembering perfectly. I can talk to people who were alive at the time, and have, but I find they don’t remember perfectly either. Some memories are crystal clear and consistent, even down to using the exact same words each time they tell the tale,, others vague and shifting. So it’s up to me. At the end of the day, it’s my book; and I’m fiction for a reason. I will do the research, but I will write from my memory of the oral tradition.

I just heard my father chuckle and say, “What to do?” about these sorts of quandaries. So I’ll stop quandary-ing now, and get to writing.

What do writers, sword dancers, and zombies have in common?

I write. I dance, sometimes with a sword balanced on my head. Google ‘bellydance sword’ if you’re curious what that looks like.

Writers aren’t as interesting to watch as dancers. ‘America’s Top Writer’ is not the hot new reality show for a reason. Paint drying has far more glamor. When I’m trying to get my writer’s head on, I look and sound like a zombie. Most of me is elsewhere.

At this moment, I am trying to send most of my self back to 1941-1945 Malaya, where there was a war and an Occupation on, and once I’m there I am planning on watching and eavesdropping and sniffing out secrets and the scents of wartime food. I will have imaginary people in my head.

Some dancers wear a very serious face as they dance. Dance swords are hollow, but. Drop one on and you’ll see, it has impact. Serious business, like most dropped things in life; something breaks, possibly your foot.

Nevertheless, I personally can’t help grinning like a loon when I do sword. The sheer improbability of the thing makes me feel like a child blowing a first soap bubble, or lighting a sparkler for the first time. A thing turns into something other than itself: I, a perfectly (more or less) normal human being am standing here, dancing, even, with the edge of a blade sitting on my head, and it’s easy.

Yup. Easy. But only after you know how, after you’ve practiced, and only when you’re in the zone. In the zone, magic keeps it up, body and sword and music are one. Unfortunately this is related to the zone where soufflés never fall, stocks yield steady profits, kids never get sick, it never snows more than is pretty but not a nuisance, your nearest and dearest never irritate you…. Impossible and good things happen – for a while.

It’s easy in the zone. It’s hard to get there, and unfortunately it’s all to easy to leave it. (One tiny wrong move of the head, and boom: sword’s on your foot, have a nice day.)

Writing larger pieces is like keeping the sword up for longer periods of time. 20 secs even a beginner can do by a fluke. Couple of minutes, still not so hard. 10 – 20 mins, that’s a real challenge. It takes prep time and focus or a crazy high level of expertise (Google ‘Parri double sword’ to see what crazy high level of expertise looks like. She dances with two swords balanced at right angles to each other, on her head. Extreme expert.)

No writer finds balancing a book in their head easy. But once you’re in the zone, it’s fun. That’s you sledding down that hill, skating on that pond, skydiving, balancing that sword…

Unfortunately, sledding downhill and trying not to fall out is not the best time to, say, balance your checkbook, help a friend decide who to date or figure out why their printer won’t work. Braincells are busy elsewhere and everyday life gets interesting. Trees jump out to ambush your car when you’re parking (really, at least they do me).

In this silly place, company is a blessing. It’s lonely, not to mention slightly loony, to be stuck alone with a headful of imaginary people. But conversations in words of one syllable or less are best, and what someone’s cat did or, ‘Isn’t that a gorgeous tree’ is probably the right speed. Calm voices and emotions are best (sudden loud noise, sword or book on head, isn’t going anywhere pretty). Ladies and gentlemen, assume your writer friends are slightly deranged if they’re inside a book, and be gentle. We can be quite entertaining in that state.


Malaysian meditation technique for cold weather

Yesterday I posted a Holiday leftover poem for a cold day. Today it’s really cold, subzero windchill and Malaysia is in my mind.

We have dessert called ice kacang, which is shaved ice with lots of good sweet things on it, like aduki beans and palm sugar and coconut milk/cream. The meditation is as follows: like in bed under a lot of covers. Visualize the excess of winter around you piled up into giant mounds in a field. Now, drizzle it with your favorite sweet things. Take your time. Let the warmth of the covers sink into your bones and the visualized taste of the sweet sink into your heart/tummy (the two are closely related!). Tomorrow, or the day after or the day after that, once we’ve sweetened and eaten all the winter, it will be spring. My parents and grandparents got through living under foreign invaders in WWII (the Japanese Occupation) by devising a hundred thousand tasty things you can do with tapioca.

Speaking of which, drizzling sweet things on tapioca pearls is a wonder also.

Images: Ice kacang and sago gula Melaka.


From an old friend in Malaysia, the best explanation of Deepavali. Light to all!

Deepavali the Festival of Light

Deepavali / Diwali is a combination of two names, Dipa, which means lamp and Awali, which means row or line. So in essence, this festival is referred to as the festival of the row of lights. It is widely celebrated wherever Hindus can be found. It is marked by exploding lights, fireworks and so forth. Hindus celebrate it to mark the triumph of light over darkness.

In Sanskrit, light means good and darkness means evil. Therefore, this is a celebration of good overcoming evil.

Happy Deepavali to all who yearn for light to wipe out darkness!

Cantonese talk radio

People arguing on a Cantonese language talk show on the radio in California. I recognize a word every few minutes and am ridiculously happy, imagining it’s Malaysia 30 years ago. Words i know in Cantonese: ‘hurry up’, ‘don’t make a fuss’, and ‘beautiful’. Also, ‘how much is that?’ accompanied by a pointing finger in a marketplace.

WWII reference in today’s New Straits Times

Friends in KL, please kasi tolong sikit. There’s an article in today’s New Straits Times 27 August 2012 about the Japanese Occupation, title is ‘…bodies carted off in lorries…’ Can someone please please cut out this article for me, and anything else on the Occupation, and send it to me? I’ll send address, postage… Also it is time to start asking, ANY family stories on the Occupation you can share with me? For a book I’m trying to write. If it’s not accurate then it’s not respectful, so please help.

“Made our point, now let’s go eat”

If anyone had gone down to Dataran on the Sunday after Bersih 3.0, apart from the barbed wire, everything was back to normal… Made our point, now let’s go eat. This is why we are not Egypt. In this we agree with our government. We are NOT Egypt. But then why respond in such Mubarak-like fashion?

Marina Mahathir, daughter of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has launched a stinging attack on UMNO leaders


Largest moon tonight: suddenly I remember Kuala Lumpur in the early 70’s, sitting In a garden with tall trees, hawkers bicycling by singing out the names of their foods. My uncle stopping the mee man, because it’s an hour past dinner and clearly time for a snack, especially in the Da(w)son family.

Greens at Bersih

Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas!: Pahang MB proposed dumping Lynas’ radioactive waste in Sungai Lembing

The state of Pahang on the west of peninsular Malaysia is home to the oldest virgin rainforest in the world which deserves some respect. And so, there were green shirts in the rallies too.

Tsunami in South Asia

‎6.7 earthquake in Indonesia and Indian Ocean tsunami alert, 2nd earthquake and some alerts lifting, but, prayers please for coastal areas of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand. Friends and family but also, ever single person is someone’s beloved. And so, prayers please.

Obsessed with my own home country and (horribly) forgetting: Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Maldives… Presumably, hopefully, nothing will happen. But still, prayers for all countries around the Indian Ocean, and the coastal populations.

Dance and free association

Dance practice is better with a belt (just arrived). Now a mirror… and, for writing, a non-computer/printer covered work table with luxuries such as many colors of paper clips. and pens. and highlighters. and erasers… Early childhood note: white erasers with tiny multicolored dots embedded, did anyone else think the dots tasted like candy?

coppahead’s deviantART gallery

Brilliant black & white portraits from a young Malaysian photographer and Red Cross relief worker who spent this long weekend locked down with his colleagues in their base because of random shootings and kidnappings. Do check them out. The people are radiant. And send a good thought to the photographer.