Hello Kindle!

My best friend purchased a Kindle Paperwhite and I hopped aboard the moment I knew. Our shipment comes in tomorrow! Here’s my booklist (thanks to the best friend who has gone and hunted down, killed and mounted these prizes onto my digital library. Figuratively, of course) : 

  1. A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
  3. The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
  4. The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
  5. To Have and Have Not (Ernest Hemingway)
  6. The Garden of Eden (Ernest Hemingway)
  7. True at First Light (Ernest Hemingway)
  8. Across the River and Into the Trees (Ernest Hemingway)
  9. Death in the afternoon (Ernest Hemingway)
  10. Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Ernest Hemingway)
  11. Islands in the Stream (Ernest Hemingway)
  12. The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton)
  13. The Harmony Silk Factory (Tash Aw)
  14. Map of the Invisible World (Tash Aw)
  15. The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
  16. The Garden of Evening Mists (Tan Twan Eng)
  17. The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five (Doris Lessing)
  18. A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)
  19. The Gathering (Anne Enright)
  20. Fingersmith (Sarah Waters)
  21. Oxygen (Andrew Miller)
  22. When we were orphans (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  23. Fasting, feasting (Anita Desai)
  24. number9dream (David Mitchell)
  25. The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)
  26. Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenieds)
  27. The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides)
  28. Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood)
  29. The God of small things (Arundhati Roy)
  30. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
  31. Sacred Hunger (Barry Unsworth)
  32. The remains of the day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  33. An artist of the floating world (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  34. Posession: A Romance (A.S. Byatt)
  35. The fifth child (Doris Lessing)
  36. Johnny Panic and the Bible of dreams (Sylvia Plath)
  37. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
  38. Winter trees (Sylvia Plath)
  39. The Colossus (Sylvia Plath)
  40. The Essential Rumi
  41. Say I am you (Rumi)
  42. Xaipe (e.e cummings)
  43. is 5 (e.e cummings)
  44. no thanks (e. e cummings)
  45. the enormous room (e.e cummings)
  46. viva (e.e cummings)
  47. one times one (e.e cummings)
  48. tulips and chimneys (e.e cummings)
  49. 95 poems (e.e cummingBrothers Kamarazov (Fyodor Dovtoevsky)
  50. Brothers Kamarazov (Fyodor Dovtoevsky)
  51. Brave new world (Alduous Huxley)
  52. Cat’s cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
  53. Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
  54. Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut)
  55. Start, Moon, Stars (Kurt Vonnegut)
  56. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
  57. Happy Birthday, Wanda June (Kurt Vonnegut)
  58. Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
  59. The master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
  60. Bluebeard (Kurt Vonnegut)
  61. Henry and June (Anais Nin)
  62. Seduction of the Minotaur (Anais Nin)
  63. House of incest (Anais Nin)
  64. Little birds (Anais Nin)
  65. A spy in the house of love (Anais Nin)
  66. You get so alone at times that it just makes sense (Charles Bukowski)
  67. Women (Charles Bukowski)
  68. The pleasures of the damned (Charles Bukowski)
  69. Cheri (Colette)
  70. Le ble en herbe (Colette)
  71. Le pur et impur (Colette)
  72. Selected poems of Alberto Caeiro
  73. Fernando Pessoa : Self-analysis and 30 other poems
  74. Cancioneiro (Fernando Pessoa)
  75. Mensagem (Fernando Pessoa)
  76. O eu profundo e os outros eus (Fernando Pessoa)
  77. O pastor amoroso (Alberto Caeiro)
  78. Le soleil etait encore chaud (Arthur Rimbaud)
  79. Poesies (Arthur Rimbaud)
  80. Soleil et chair (Arthur Rimbaud)
  81. Le bateau ivre (Arthur Rimbaud)
  82. Illuminations (Arthur Rimbaud)
  83. Ariel (Sylvia Plath)
  84. I know why the caged bird sings (Maya Angelou)
  85. And still I rise (Maya Angelou)
  86. Letters to my daughter (Maya Angelou)
  87. Mrs. Flowers (Maya Angelou)
  88. Life doesn’t frighten me (Maya Angelou)
  89. Tar baby (Toni Morrison)
  90. Sula (Toni Morrison)
  91. Jazz (Toni Morrison)
  92. The bluest eyes (Toni Morrison)
  93. Love (Toni Morrison)
  94. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  95. The collected poems of Langston Hughes
  96. Simple speaks his mind (Langston Hughes)
  97. Selected poems of Anna Akhmatova
  98. The short stories of Langston Hughes
  99. Picnic, Lightning (Billy Collins)
  100. The apple that astonished Paris (Billy Collins)
  101. Sailing alone around the room (Billy Collins)
  102. The trouble with poetry and other poems (Billy Collins)
  103. Taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes (Billy Collins)
  104. The lover of God (Rabindranath Tagore)
  105. Broken ties and other stories (Rabindranath Tagore)
  106. Gitanjali (Rabindranath Tagore)
  107. Blood Meridian, or the evening redness in the west (Cormac McCarthy)
  108. Siddharta (Herman Hesse)
  109. Steppenwolf (Herman Hesse)
  110. East of Eden (John Steinback)
  111. Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)
  112. Beyond good and evil (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  113. The stranger (Albert Camus)
  114. From here to eternity (James Jones)
  115. A song flung up to heaven (Maya Angelou)

The year ends in an avalanche!

I promise to STOP ordering deliver-to-your-doorstep-fast-food even though it is such a life saver at times. I’ve had too much so that I’m craving my fruit smoothies and plain, no-meat salads. 

So much has been happening. I know I promised to lock down on my thesis til year-end and go on a well-deserved week-long reading holiday to Penang (where I’d sit at the beach evenings at end, glued to the Kindle, sipping on green juice + tea + organic non-alcoholic Chardonnay) BUT looks like the tables have been turned. I spent October doing a tv interview, performing my poetry, meeting new people, sampling really good apple crumble, getting new jobs, freaking out over the lack of time, going over faculty duties and planning out Danielle’s holiday activities. 

Come November, I will hop on a plane with my sister and foot our way through Bali/Borobudur/Surabaya, have poolside breakfasts at our cousin’s villa which is a drive away from the beautiful Bali beaches and touchdown midweek, plunging right back into work. I have a seminar to prep for, an immense amount of editing and adding-to my thesis and after that fold November away neatly with the Georgetown Literary Festival. 

December will mark the beginning of the end of my thesis *hopefully*. And Christmas. And the complete manuscript for Project Artery sent out to meet editors and publishers for the first time. And the end of the year. 

I can do this. Even if it means trudging through with green juices and a tonne of pizza. 

To the last sprint into 2014!


Sun, sea, sand and super-charged!

It’s a rainy Friday and I have just concluded a week of work + fun at the beautiful Penang Island.

THE CONFERENCE was golden. I arrived a day earlier, checked out the beach, grabbed coffee with my hands-down favourite Malaysian writer and national laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh and spent the next 3 days sitting rapt and drinking in every word the keynote speakers and plenary session speakers had to offer while furiously taking down notes in my wine notebook. Two years ago, you would find me going to every single session throughout the conference and come home with frayed neurons and a body so tired it couldn’t haul itself to the shower. But now that I’m older (and smarter!), I pick and choose so that I can spend the time in-between mulling over my notes, sorting my thoughts and dashing off emails. On top of that I bought books and hatched future projects with people I am so psyched to work with.

PENANG ISLAND is magical. I spent a lot of time along Feringghi (Park Royal) and Georgetown. On Wednesday, I popped out of the conference during lunch, walked to the beach, kicked my shoes off, sat by the sea and typed away on my laptop, no matter that I was wearing formal clothes and every one else on the beach were in bathing costumes, towels and bikinis. The scent of the sea, the sound of waves (I lived by the shore so the sound of waves was there almost ALL the time but more apparent at night) and the whole relax and unwind atmosphere at Penang had me wrapped around its pinky that all I can think of is (a) another holiday to Penang, please! and (b) move to Penang! I love the beautiful colonial bungalows which spot the island and one of my dreams is to get one, restore it and live in it. As for food, I am super stuffed with Penang goodness that I never want to eat ever again. Really. I managed to drag my best friend food hunting. It was tough but worth it.

NOW THAT I’M BACK and have an almost endless list of things to get done (yikes!), I feel thankful for the beautiful week I had in great company, getting super stuffed with knowledge (and food) and being smitten by the beautiful island.

It’s so hard to get back to work but you’d better believe that starting now is better than putting it off to tomorrow no matter how tired / post-holiday-ish you feel.

If you have nothing to do this Saturday (August 31st), do head to this beautiful art gallery to hear me read some of my poems at Readings. Here are the details if you’re in for art + poetry + fun + food on a lazy Saturday afternoon-

Venue: Seksan Gallery. 67, Jalan Tempinis 1, Lucky Garden, Bangsar.
Time : 3.30 – 6.00 pm

See you there!

25 happy thoughts

Lists are  my absolute go-to when I’m upset, down, panicky .. basically when I’m feeling anything negative. That as well as this pick-me-up book called “Bounce Back” which my best friend gifted me earlier this year. As I’m seated in a tea place (yup, having rose tea while trying to work and kick out the panic) and don’t have my bounceable book with me, I’m going to resort to a list of happy thoughts. Here goes ..

  1. I have bags of organic rolled oats, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, cranberries, dates and raisins on my kitchen table which I’m gonna chop up, mix and dunk in honey to make home-made snack bars.
  2. Gabrielle Aplin’s English Rain is a beautiful compilation.
  3. I enjoy working hard.
  4. I’ve enrolled for Math class.
  5. I had my green juice in the morning even though I had to bolt out the door in 30 mins.
  6. We spend a lot of our lives sleeping and I am so fortunate to be cuddling with someone I love every single night — my mum or my little sister or Elfie or my best friend when I stay over.
  7. Comfortable bedding and pillows.
  8. I love avocados and cranberries and was surprised to find a recipe online for chicken avocado sandwiches which involved cranberries.
  9. I’m getting my car serviced.
  10. Checking my mail and finding my inbox chock-full of art for Project Artery.
  11. Speedy email/text responses from my clients and colleagues. Very important, that.
  12. Waking up to rain and a lot of wind.
  13. I have a bottle of bubbly (organic and non-alcoholic Chardonnay – yup, go figure) in my kitchen which I’ll bring to the beach to have while I read next week.
  14. My hair is curling out again. *happiness!* (long story)
  15. I want to make dorritos and salsa from scratch for the next Black Hole Theater screening.
  16. Hand-written letters in French from Fanny all the way from Paris. And she takes the time to pen out 8-10 pages of words and slips in a few photograph prints now and then when she goes on vacation.
  17. Not buying things I don’t need so that I can get more into my house fund.
  18. I am slowly but surely conquering my fears each day and getting better and better at it.
  19. I have a banana in my bag to snack on later in the day. Yum!
  20. The beach and conference next week.
  21. I’m so blessed to have my best friend accompany me next week so I don’t have to sleep alone at a strange hotel on a king size bed. Plus an adventure buddy + beach-reading buddy! 
  22. I have many primary school friends on my Facebook friends’ list. 
  23. I will spend a lot of time this week going through my poetry and editing work.
  24. My mum’s birthday is exactly 2 weeks from now. I get to eat cake and she gets to open gifts!
  25. I feel a lot better already (:

How to get the most out of your next conference / workshop / symposium / seminar / you-name-it

So … I will be spending the greater part of this week washing my hair, reading and putting together a 3-day wardrobe into my little black travel bag for yet another conference I will be attending from the 27th to the 29th of August.

Conferences are a real investment, at least for me they are. You fork out the money for it (and they are NEVER cheap), spend a lot of time planning travel and accommodation, compensate for months before hand on your work schedule and when you finally get there, despite the travel fatigue, you have to stay awake, listen, rush from one session to another, try to superhuman-ly attend parallel sessions, meet new people, shake hands and smile, get back to the hotel room in the evening, eat crackers and fall asleep while reading more abstracts, all this while keeping your fingers crossed that you gain something, anything out of this whole investment, in my case contacts and knowledge.

When I put in THAT much of time and effort into making it to a conference, I want to get the best out the whole experience. Here are some things I try to stick by :

GO PREPARED. You’ve invested so much money and time to get to the conference and it will be a shame to go unprepared. Ask yourself what you want to gain from the conference and work in that direction. Read up and jot down all your questions before getting there. When you’re there, take down notes because as amazing as you want to believe your memory to be, you will not remember everything when you get home. Have a notebook and a pencil, have all your tech devices charged and ready. Also, be mentally prepared to sit in for hours at end listening to presentations.

NETWORK. Meeting people isn’t all about making professional connections or propping up ladders to get you where you want to be. It’s good to know people in your industry/field but personally, I find it even better to get to know people for who they are. Be able to collapse your entire research/what you do down to 2-3 sentences, smile, hand out name cards and most importantly follow up after the conference. There’s always Facebook. Otherwise, dash an email and keep in touch.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. No coffee. Carry your green tea and bottled water along. I plan to carry along mints/sweets/BoostJuice’s 6″ wonder bars in my satchel to slap me awake when the fatigue starts setting in. When I’m sleep deprived or strained, I fall ill. Immediately. All the time.

HAVE SOME FUN. You’ve gone all the way there, it would only do justice to sneak in some fun even if just a little bit. The first time I went to a week-long conference fully sponsored by the National University of Singapore, I sat in my room the whole time that I wasn’t attending talks, busy working on something or the other. On the last day there, some attendees banded and went to a few places in the city and that was it – that was all I ever got out of my 7 days at Singapore, just one evening of the city center. I’m older now so I know that you CAN go to a conference AND have fun. The conference I’m going to this time is on an island which can only mean beaches and breeze. I’ve decided to grab my best friend along with me this time and arrive a whole day earlier to explore the area. We may even take a blanket, a good book and a bottle of organic non-alcoholic Chardonnay (yes, can you believe it? My student gifted me a bottle of that stuff) to the beach and read an hour or two away.

Now off to get my reading done. Be prepared and everything will work out just fine.


Although I enjoy working at coffee places for the ambience (total focus, no one trying to peek at your screen or talk to you, space, wifi, infinite refills of filtered water, people with tablets and other working devices, human noises, the smell of roasted beans), I try not to make it a habit for reasons such as that I get palpitations and have sleep cycle issues after having coffee + I’ve recently misplaced a very important book which may have been left in a hurry at one of the cafes I’ve patronized in the past week. Also, if I save the money I spend on cafes, I’d be able to buy a moleskine each month.

Enter: Coffitivity – portable cafe ambiance to bring with you wherever you go, whatever the work.

And found on their site, a very clever move on bringing in  (cited!) research as to why coffee place noise and activity are great for work + creativity, and I quote directly from their site :

“Research shows it’s pretty hard to be creative in a quiet space.

And a loud workplace can be frustrating and distracting.

But, the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee house is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.

Our team has delivered the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop, which means when your workspace just isn’t quite cutting it, we’ve got you covered.

Coffeetivity, enough noise to work”

Followed by a link to the journal article! (and for that, I’m totally bought over!)

I love coffitivity because it’s great ambience minus the harshness of caffeine and in my case, palpitations and painful insomnia. Plus if I follow up on the putting-the-money-aside-plan, I’ll be having a happy Moleskine hour on a monthly basis.

Enjoy your coffee (ambience sans the caffeine)!

Things my father taught me

I’ve always attributed my super adventurous, swashbuckling, sword-wielding psyche to my dad. Believe it or not, I grew up a very sheltered kid. While my sister and brother built swings, climbed trees and hunted insects in the garden, I spent my toddler years right up til my adulthood lying in armchairs, reading my life away, punctuating my days with piano practice and filling up notebooks with stories and illustrations. By the time I turned 6 and started school I had already finished half the classics — Ben Hur, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Chesterton, etc. etc. My dad however, didn’t believe in having a child’s nose glued to a book. And so he made me gangsta. He brought my sister and I fishing (yes, on a boat, out into the open sea! with worm bait and pro equipment!), taught me to ride a bike at 11 (yes, I was a late bloomer), got me playing tennis (at 15!), taught me to swim (at 9!) and had me drive stick shift at 16. Looking back, I think of all the times I hated adventure and laugh because right now, I build pillow forts, love physical activity, play-wrestle with people who’d let me wrestle them down, bike down hills and crash into trees and climb fences when I misplace my keys.

There are many things my father taught me (other than Mandarin which I have forgotten and how to drive stick shift which I still remember) that I still think of when I’m stuck in a rut or when life just turns in on me. They are things that held true then and still hold true today.

1. Don’t let your feelings do the talking. If you’ve spoken to me, you know that I’m super expressive. If you’ve worked with me creatively or are close to me, you’d know that I quote Cummings on feelings. Having feelings and letting them dictate how you live are two different things. Just a few days ago, I didn’t make the cut for a grant I badly wanted. Naturally I felt like staying in bed and crying for the rest of the week but I didn’t. I felt bad. But feeling bad should have no effect on my schedule and my work and most importantly on how I treat the people around me.

2. Don’t say “I don’t know”. And this, I repeat like an incantation to my students. “I don’t know” is not acceptable. If you don’t know, find out. If you don’t know how to do something, ask. If you don’t know how something’s done, try , make mistakes and find out how it’s done. But saying “I don’t know” in resignation is not okay.

3. Don’t stop learning. The more you know, the more there is for you to know.

4. Be kind. This, I didn’t hear from him but saw him do. When I was very little, my father, Desiree (who was about 2 at that time) and I were eating at this little Chinese food court. Desiree and I were picking on our food as children do while my father would remind us to eat and stop playing. Halfway through the meal, a homeless man with scraggly hair and torn clothes comes in and goes from table to table asking for money. Desiree and I stopped playing because we were afraid of the man (lol!). When he came to our table, my dad didn’t seem to be paying him any attention. Good, I thought. He’ll go away. But in the next minute, my dad had the  man sit with us and got him some food, (I think the man ended up eating Desiree’s and my food as well) and spoke to him about how hot the weather was as if he was just any other man. Needless to say my sister and I sat silent the entire time, scared out of our wits. Funny, yes. But he sure taught me a lesson I remember to this day. To be no respecter of person but to treat everyone equally and to be kind. Even if the man ends up eating your kids’ food as well.

I have my father’s eyes and allergy to alcohol although I wish I inherited his stoic discipline and will power instead. When I think of my father, I think bravery, I think courage, I think charging head-first into the unknown. I also think of loyalty, of kindness and of holding my breath under water. I don’t know if I’d do any better/worse with someone else as a dad. Probably I would be a fat kid with glasses, reading in an arm-chair, driving automatic and staying as far away as I can from dragons.