Monday, 2 January 2017

Blueprint For 2017

I've never tried making New Years' resolutions and I'm not doing that now, even if it looks like I am.

However, a checklist of sorts would be good, just to ensure I stick to some plan and not get sidetracked by small stuff. Here goes:

  • Thinking of taking some online courses from Poynter University and learn Adobe InDesign, as suggested by some friends. Also: brush up and fortify the technical aspects of my language skills.
  • Don't get infuriated by bad manuscripts any more. They're no longer worth it; better to put that energy to fixing them.
  • This might also be the year I start getting active again: walks in the neighbourhood, back to the stationary bike, and maybe the occasional swim. But how to lift weights with my tennis elbow?
  • I might also take up yoga - the basic stuff, okay? - sometime in the later half of this year. The right arm and lower back won't the only things I'll have to watch.
  • The to-read pile. G*ds, the to-read pile! To read and review one book each week - would that be too extreme?
  • Maybe I should start drawing again. Oh yes, I used to when I didn't have a job - it was a hobby, and not very frequent. Then things got crazy and I couldn't raise a pen that way. I've ditched almost all of my early work, as it was part of my past I don't want to recall or return to.
  • I will bake my first cake, first bread and first batch of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Hoping to keep earlier hours and not hit the sack around 1am any more. Maybe the nose and throat won't give me as much trouble as it has so far.
  • I want to return to Melaka and Muar again. Loved those two towns.
Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list. There might be more things that I'm not comfortable sharing or too insignificant or mundane to share. We all want to save more, lose weight, get fit, be happy, travel and such.

Here's to another year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Comically Candid Childhood Chronicle

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 30 November 2016

Comic and talk show host Trevor Noah's memoir about growing up in South Africa was one of two books I cracked open after a weeks-long reading drought and I was glad that it's good.

During the run-up to the 2016 US presidential elections, the host of The Daily Show, along with many others, heaped scorn on the man who, against expectations, will move into the White House in January.

Like his colleagues, Noah seemed to have a hard time digesting the outcome. "This entire result is sort of like [Donald] Trump's hair — I know it's real, but my mind can't accept it."

One can understand his apprehension over the United States' future under Trump. After all, the post-election tensions probably reminded him of what he experienced as a kid.

Noah's story begins with a piece of legislature from the apartheid era — the Immorality Act, 1927 — that criminalises interracial relations. Noah's biological parents broke that law and he was Exhibit A.

He considers himself fortunate not to have been a casualty of a system that openly discriminated against non-whites, thanks to pockets of calm within his family, society and circle of friends that allowed him to come of age during the death throes of the apartheid government and the early years of freedom.

But he also had to deal with issues such as poverty, bullying and domestic violence. The heart-rending story of his mother's own childhood and abuse at the hands of her second husband are particularly haunting.

Noah's mom, Patricia, figures prominently here. Her own story is scattered throughout the pages. Headstrong and deeply religious, she worked and paid her own way out of the slums to give herself and young Trevor a better life.

However, young Noah was precocious, albeit smart, resourceful and filial. He got into all sorts of mischief, including shoplifting and music piracy, and got locked up for "borrowing" his stepfather's car. Yet, here he is, making a name for himself in comedy and hosting a TV talk show in the States.

But what's a book about a comedian without a few laughs?

At times, you feel as if he's sitting at his desk on the set of his TV show, narrating his story. So perhaps one can be forgiven for thinking that this book was ghostwritten by a Daily Show staffer.

An anecdote that starts Chapter 3, for example, says that in South Africa, someone had been tried in court for killing people with lightning a few years ago — and attorneys are not allowed to argue that witchcraft isn't real. "No, no, no. You'll lose."

There was also his mother's fears of being poisoned by some family members. Starving, he once argued that he could pray to Jesus to detox the food they served (his mom gave him a robust religious upbringing), only to be told, "Trevor! Sun'qhela!" — something along the lines of "Don't question me!" in the Xhosa language, which everyone should save for future use.

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because it's his story, it's his name on the cover, and it is (forgive me) unputdownable. And he wouldn't lie to us, would he?

So much of Noah's story is reminiscent of many childhoods, notably those coloured by issues of race, religion, gender and class — divisions that seem invisible to children but become more apparent later, no thanks in part to adults. Some will be able to relate to his situation at one point or another.

Born A Crime
Stories From a South African Childhood

Trevor Noah
Spiegel & Grau (November 2016)
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-59044-3

Buy from:
•  Amazon
•  Book Depository
•  Kinokuniya
Hilarious and sometimes hair-raising hijinks take place between keen observations on and insights into family, society and government. The writing sounds natural, the voice — astute, witty and honest — comes through, bringing the author's world and the absurdity of apartheid into relief. (Back then, the Chinese were classified as "black" and the Japanese were "white" — for real?)

As one reads on, though, the levity lifts and it starts getting bleaker, a little angry and disquieting, especially towards the end. Parts start sounding a little too confessional for comfort. One appreciates his candour, but will he get into trouble for it?

Regardless, you feel for Noah but, most of all, you feel for his mother and the sacrifices she made. In that sense, his account of his formative years is also the tale of his mother's success in raising him and a tribute to those who helped him in life.

Thanks to them, a boy who was born a crime has grown up to be anything but.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Book Marks: Oneworld, Scams, And Don't Sell A Book Like This

"It has to be great writing, really good storytelling, a strong voice, a strong story, and something else about it that makes you think, that stays with you, that you mull over.

... If you look at [Marlon] James and [Paul] Beatty, both of them have that edginess to them that 'this is important, this is opening a world that you ought to see and that you probably aren’t aware of', and that's what makes it special for me. I'm not saying everybody buys books like that, but to me that's what makes it great – although maybe it's what makes it risky for everybody else."

Get acquainted with Oneworld, the publisher behind two Man Booker winners.

"In these days of POD (publish-on-demand) technology, the vanity presses may promise to ship the books when they are ordered, which at least relieves the author of having to warehouse the books. But the vanities still charge large amounts of money and the author is still left with an empty bank account and shattered dreams. Or worse. Some scammers take money from hopeful authors and deliver nothing at all."

Read about some red flags of publishing scams.

In The Daily Beast, Tom Leclair argues that the US National Book Award "has gone to hell":

A fiction judge in 2005, I’ve reviewed the fiction finalists the last seven years and have managed to pick four winners, but it’s tough to make a buck as a book tout. The panel of five judges changes every year, so there are always different tastes, criteria, personalities, and loyalties in play.

... Corruption can also enter in. The year I was a judge, one colleague tried to give the award to a family friend. Another judge supported the writer with whom she shared an agent.

"Indian historical crime fiction has come of age!" someone enthuses. All fine and dandy, until near the end...

"My own humble attempt at creating an authentic Indian historical detective series hits the shelves this very month with A Very Pukka Murder, published in India by Harper Collins and in the United States by Poisoned Pen Press."

I think there should be rules against writing pieces like this.


  • "Rumours of a literary uprising in Singapore are true", writes Darryl Whetter for Singapore's Straits Times. Perhaps, but there are some things to note before diving into the city-state's literary scene.
  • "...despite the increasing realisation that digital and print can easily coexist in the market, the question of whether the ebook will 'kill' the print book continues to surface." When it comes to discussing whether print books will die, is one's aversion to change a factor?
  • "Many young people here know about the Dragon Ball, but nothing about this novel," says a designer of Eva Luedi Kong's German version of Journey to the West.
  • "Though he shared select passages with friends and failed to burn it before his death in 1798, there is no evidence to suggest that [Giacomo Girolamo Casanova] ever intended the work to be published. Indeed, more than its explicit content, it’s the work’s length and the level of quotidian detail clotting its pages that made it unpublishable."
  • "Racism in literature manifests itself in myriad ways: characters whose personalities are reduced to their accents, cultural dress or foods; brown or black characters “rescued” by white saviors; the “surprising” friendship between a white character and a character of color; or, a white character’s journey to a “foreign” or “third world” country in search of enlightenment. These narratives ... exist mainly to service and conform to the white gaze. And yet they are rarely deemed problematic in book reviews. The reason why has everything to do with who is writing those reviews."
  • "...comic cookbooks can do something for home cooks, too — make recipes less daunting and easier to follow. Cookbooks are still in demand, but many — with their overly aspirational food photography — wind up as coffee-table books for the kitchen."
  • The sun rises again! Amir Muhammad's dormant non-ficiton imprint Matahari Books appears to have been reactivated. It is releasing a new title and is calling for submissions.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Book Marks: Indonesia at Frankfurt, Aspirational Bookshelves

This piece on Indonesia's success at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair pretty much makes the case for continued government support for future appearances there, considered to be one of the world's major book fairs.

But I wonder if this is accurate:

Indonesia's success, he said, also made neighboring countries envious — since, unlike Indonesia, they do not have big-name writers.

"We have a long list of world class and award-winning writers — from Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Andrea Hirata, Ayu Utami to Laksmi Pamuntjak and Eka Kurniawan," [literary agency director Thomas Nung Atasana] said.

"They probably have lots of money and support from their governments, but do not have strong content like ours."


"Is there something just a little bit gauche about displaying books in one's home that one isn't actually reading, and has no intention of reading?" someone asks in Slate. "I have no intention of consuming The Bront√ęs at Haworth or The Woman's Day Book of American Needlework cover to cover, but nor are they fraudulent representations of my interests. Is it acceptable to treat books as decor, a representation of one’s aesthetic aspirations rather than one's intellectual biography?"

Apparently, to the last question, yes. "Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time."

Then it also has to be asked: "Are book collectors real readers, or just cultural snobs?" Or is it just a really bad case of tsundoku?

"His book clout is all the more impressive when you consider that he neither writes his own books nor does he likely read the ones by others that he helps turn into bestsellers with his tweets. ...But since when has Trump needed practical knowledge of an industry before getting into it? One of his greatest strengths is his unabashed, unashamed, total pimpage, and he's brought it to the publishing industry in full force."

Of course, the article is talking about Trump's "startling" ability to sell the books he's pimped, including The Art of the Deal and the late conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly's The Conservative Case for Trump.

With regards to the latter:

...The Conservative Case for Trump ... was published on September 2, 2016, literally the day after she died at age 92. Trump, who spoke at Schlafly's funeral, tweeted on the book's publication day: "As a tribute to the late, great Phyllis Schlafly, I hope everybody can go out and get her latest book, THE CONSERVATIVE CASE FOR TRUMP." Schlafly's book has sold nearly 500 percent more copies than her previous tome, Who Killed the American Family?

Perhaps this is what Trump wanted from his presidential run.


  • "Queerness has always existed between the lines in novels about teenagers," writes Mitchell Sunderland in Broadly. Now, it seems that queerness is now stepping out of those lines and into the forefront. That's gotta be good, right?
  • "It's hard to hide the stretch marks in a book this pregnant with meaning, which is why I wish [the author Daniel] Menaker had strained far less to trace the word origins undergirding his 'meaningful mistakes.' ' Who knew that a book with typos and malapropisms can be interesting? I'd pity the editors, though.
  • The kind of subjects in these digital novels this guy writes sound like the light novels or cellphone novels in Japan, some of which are being adapted into animated features or games. Haughtiness aside, the bits about hard work, franchising and staying true to your vision are pertinent.
  • For evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick, "the Devil was literally everywhere." "Women, witches, gays and lesbians, teachers, Dungeons and Dragons players, atheists, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and worst-of-all, Catholics (just to name a few)...".
  • "Books were also magically portable. I could drop them into a bag and take them back to the Ministry and they would still work even when I was there. In their pages I could sneak out into the world but still remain in the sure circle of my higher calling." How Flannery O'Connor's books led a man out of a religious commune and back into the world.
  • In Rwanda, writers and publishers are cultivating reading habits among children, particularly where local languages are concerned. Some of the obstacles to that goal sound familiar and seem to be facing other publishing circles in Africa.
  • LitReactor lists top ten ways writers annoy their Twitter followers. That's nine ways too many.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Opacity And Remoteness Of Academic Texts

"The idea that writing should be clear, concise, and low-jargon isn't a new one — and it isn't limited to government agencies, of course", writes Victoria Clayton in The Atlantic. "The problem of needlessly complex writing — sometimes referred to as an 'opaque writing style' — has been explored in fields ranging from law to science. Yet in academia, unwieldy writing has become something of a protected tradition."

Indeed, but why?

[Steven] Pinker, a cognitive scientist, says it boils down to "brain training": the years of deep study required of academics to become specialists in their chosen fields actually work against them being able to unpack their complicated ideas in a coherent, concrete manner suitable for average folks. Translation: Experts find it really hard to be simple and straightforward when writing about their expertise.

I believed for a long time that academics wrote that way because elitism - writing for their peers and seniors instead of the public in a tone one can use to dry laundry. I'm not the only one who feels like this. In The Conversation, an article on "redetermining paradigmatic norms" in academic writing states that:

The complex work of academics and their unwillingness to write for a more lay audience is unsurprising to some commentators. Journalist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times writes that the academic industry "glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience", while philosophy professor Terrance Macmullan argues that "most intellectuals simply don’t bother trying to engage the public."

The same article, by Siobhan Lyons, a tutor in Media and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, also claims that a 2013 writing guide issued by the University of Technology in Sydney advised, among other things, that academic essays be "written using more complex grammar, vocabulary, and structures."

I also believe that this obtuseness is why people no longer trust the experts in matters such as climate change, finance and vaccines.

But textbook publishers might have also been taking advantage of this "brain training" to price their books sky-high, implying that certain types of knowledge must commensurate with the amount of time and effort taken to compile it. Which makes sense.

However, with online storage capacities growing, textbook prices (and tuition fees) rocketing, and attention spans shrinking, is it still viable to be so opaque when recording and conveying knowledge? The widespread TL;DR syndrome among us might also be a sign that it's time to change the way we record, teach and learn.

An expert's value in his field depends not only in his ability to absorb and retain information, but to apply it to his field and further develop it - and get others to take up his work as well, picking up where he left off.

Distilling opaquely written knowledge to more plebeian levels will go a long way towards that, but other things must also be considered - passion, interest and the ability to use that knowledge - before one argues that such a move would cheapen the value of these compiled texts.

I doubt it would. As Ms Lyons stated:

...complexity shouldn’t be confused for intellect. Writing in a more straight-forward way does not necessarily mean compromising on quality; as George Orwell outlined in his essay Politics and the English Language: "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent."

Regardless of how it is recorded, knowledge is valuable. Someone has to go out there to get it, make sense of it all, and put it down in letters, numbers and symbols. All that work is what people are paying for.

Like how some nutrients from our food need to be reduced to simpler forms for better absorption, making the language more layman-like doesn't lower its value, but makes it more easily understood. How is that bad?

Taking the stuffy prof out of the pages might be tough, as not every text may survive the process. Ms Lyons noted in her piece that...

...not all academic work is designed to be written for a general audience, which is why academia is distinguished from other kinds of writing, such as journalism. Each industry has its own specific lingo, from medicine to law, complete with its own buzz words and terminology.

Considering the amount of material already out there, it's probably too late to have it all reworded for the masses. But maybe we can start with what is being written right now. Which brings us back to the issue of accessibility and money.

With academic texts so inaccessible, even for those willing to pay, a black market in academic papers seems to be thriving. Also looming large is the threat of book piracy.

Compensating academics and the publishing ecosystem fairly would also go a long way in encouraging their work and enhancing its quality, which also wards off tendencies to rely on essay mills and those who peddle dodgy material. You can't talk about ethics and integrity if you're worried about income.

A pay-walled, well-maintained online alternative to shelves of bulky books heavy enough for weight training can be attractive to those who require regular access. Digitisation has its own issues, and some publishers are understandably reluctant to do business in countries where fraud is rife.

But with places such as Southeast Asia, India and the Far East hosting many voracious consumers of digital content (and students desperate for reference material to help them get top grades), an ethically administered digital textbook library or store makes more sense.

All the better if that material was written plainly (or in a stylishly academic manner), so that we can spend time using that knowledge instead of figuring out "what did this writer mean by that?"

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Book Marks: Beatty Wins The Booker, Etc.

A local novelist apparently adapted the script of an Astro First telemovie, Inayah, and did not credit the original author. Nor was the script's author told when the book appeared on bookshelves. But how did the novelist manage to get her hands on the script in the first place?

And it seems the Shah Alam High Court dropped a lawsuit filed by the author of the Ombak Rindu novel against Karangkraf and Tarantella Pictures and ordered her to pay costs. The Sinar Harian report in Malay said that the author sued over copyrights to Ombak Rindu, which was turned into a silver-screen blockbuster. Reportedly, the filmmakers changed the plot for the movie without her permission. Some might be wondering if the author's also miffed that she'd signed away a cut of the RM10 million gross box-office pickings.

Also: Bookstore, don't like that lah, bookstore. Why-lah you stop selling his b- oh, I see. Though it does have a "for mature audiences only" advisory on the cover, I'd rate this kind of humour closer to primary-school level. Hopefully, the whole book isn't like that.

LA-born author Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize with The Sellout, which The Guardian calls "a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation."

Okay, now I'm interested. And Beatty can rub that award in the face of the college professor that said "he would never be a success as a writer".

Previously only awarded to writers from the Commonwealth, the republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe, the Man Booker, several years ago, was opened to any English-language work published in the UK.


  • When the Hanjin shipping company went bankrupt and its ships and the cargo ended up in some legal limbo, many wrung their hands because OMG OUR STUFF IS OUT AT SEA. Including Emil Ferris, whose graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, was on its way to stores abroad when Hanjin folded. Maybe it's time to look into this aspect of cargo shipping.
  • "More than just gift-shop staples or coffee-table decoration, art books and catalogues serve multiple purposes for those who produce them. They are important educational tools; they extend the revenue from temporary exhibitions; and they provide a way for curators and art historians to explore ideas too complex to include on gallery walls." How Canadian publishers are curating successful relationships with art galleries.
  • "They have such an ability to really truly tap into and take interest in the authors in a way I haven't experienced elsewhere, and it's amazing ... They're very selective and when they do that, they do it not only as one person, but as a company. Our experience is the whole company feels unified." A bit about Shambhala Publications, said to be the world's largest publisher of English-language Buddhist books.
  • According to Anthony Albanese, the Australian Labor Party's spokesperson on infrastructure, transport and tourism, "the proposal to abolish parallel import restrictions in the book publishing industry does not stack up when the impact on jobs and culture are taken into account."
  • Can a film's revenue stream structure be applied to a book? Much of the proposed structure in this piece is not new, except the last bit about subscription and rental services. Should book publishers start their own iBooks platforms? Or is it too late for them? Something to mull over.
  • Christopher Marlowe, the playwright and author of The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus has been credited as one of Shakespeare's co-writers for several plays in The New Oxford Shakespeare. I did read somewhere that Marlowe, also an alleged spy for the government of the time (and who tragically died in a brawl), had faked his death and re-emerged as The Bard, so I guess this announcement also put that rumour to rest.
  • "The definition of light novels is fraught with complications; even Japanese readers get confused by this question." One doesn't root around for book-related stuff in Anime News Network, but I thought this piece on light novels was interesting. "Nobody can predict the future, but one thing is for certain: light novels are not going away anytime soon," the piece says. "In today's media environment, light novels and anime need each other in other to thrive."
  • The Frankfurt Book Fair was "awash" with anti-Semitic titles, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center monitoring group. Authorities at the fair also confiscated these titles from "stands identified as violating their exhibitors’ contractual commitment against incitement to hate or violence." Noted "violators" were books from Iran and Egypt. SIGH. Why can't we have nicer things from Iran, like this book from this young fella that promotes modern Persian literature?
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism reported five surprising trends in the book industry - in the US, presumably. But some of these might be global as well.
  • It’s time to get cooking with the World of Warcraft Official Cookbook with stuff like Dragonbreath Chili and Moser's Magnificent Muffins. Do you serve the latter on Moser's Blessed Circle?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Book Launch And Two Hours In A Small Town

The first time I'm in Kuala Kubu Bharu and it's for a book launch.

The late Sudirman once sang, "When in Kuala Kubu (Bharu), write
your name on the stone". Don't think there's space.

These days I don't share too much about long trips before the day I set out, lest I jinx them. Especially to places I haven't been to before. Even so, I missed several turn-offs while leaving KL and couldn't find the venue upon reaching the town, until a random turn put me on Jalan Syed Mashor, where the Galeri Sejarah KKB was.

The scene at the back of the building looked festive, with banners, crowds, and a stage (really just a mic with a stand). A canopy sheltered the spot where books were sold. There was even a mobile book truck, peddling familiar titles from Fixi and Maple Comics, among others.

I thought I was late, until a voice called people to gather around for the speeches.

Lyrical writer, master orator, passionate eco-warrior and, we
are told, a one-man model of energy efficiency.

Among the VIPs were Dato' Seri Ir. Dr Zaini Ujang, Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water; Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia Rosly, former Director General of the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning; YB Lee Kee Hiong, State Assemblyperson for Kuala Kubu Bharu; and Termizi Yaacob and Ridzuan Idris of Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (the Kuala Kubu Historical Society).

Jahabar Sadiq, former CEO and editor of the now-defunct online news portal The Malaysian Insider was also there, along with Aizuddin Danian, who I knew from my early blogging days. Aizuddin is also the photographer who took Rehman's author portraits.

During her speech, Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia let slip the fact that the next day, 24 October, was Rehman's birthday, so he was invited to the front so that the assembled can sing "Happy Birthday" to him.

Now you know where and when to send presents.

Although born in Taiping, the writer and former journalist seems to have been adopted by Kuala Kubu Bharu and has become a favourite son. On this Sunday, he reciprocated with Small Town, an homage to the place where he wrote his other two books, A Malaysian Journey and Peninsula.

Celebrating the launch of the book and the author's upcoming birthday.

Some of the contents of Small Town came from those two books, and also includes some artwork from artists from the town. Most of the artists were present when Rehman handed out copies of the book and what he said was their pay, in large brown envelopes.

Rehman also dedicated Small Town to the history, natural beauty and people of Kuala Kubu Bharu. In his sonorous baritone, he also shared some titbits about the town, the first planned township in Malaya. "I thought the first planned township was Taiping, but no." He spoke mostly in Malay, with a bit of English, though I think the crowd was at least bilingual.

Commonly abbreviated as KKB, it is the principal town of the district of Hulu Selangor. During the Selangor Civil War in the 1800s, Raja Mahdi forted up there. Local lore claims that the original town was destroyed in a flood after the British district officer, Sir Cecil Ranking, allegedly shot a white crocodile locals claimed was a river guardian.

The front of Galeri Sejarah KKB, where the book was launched

These days, folks at KKB are putting their town forward as a historical and pristine eco-friendly destination, and it seems Rehman is in the vanguard of this movement. Since ditching his Astro feed, the old guy's taken up cycling, rolling all over the area alone or with his buddies. G*d help you if he spots you littering or leaving your car's engine running as it idles.

Eventually, came the round of thank-yous to the VIPs, guests, those who collaborated with him on the book ... everyone. He also pitched other books being sold during the event, also related to Kuala Kubu Bharu. One of these, Golden Raub, which Rehman wished he had read when writing his paean to the town, is about the opening of Raub's gold mines.

The book was written by Victor Bibby, a descendant of British-born Australian engineer William Bibby, who opened those mines (some information can be found here). I think Bibby was at the launch, though I wasn't sure if it was him.

I did not come all this way to return empty-handed

Rehman seemed happy that others besides himself are digging up these nuggets of history and writing about them, before they are gone forever. He also thanked the weather for being nice, albeit hot. Even if it had rained, he said that "the water's pristine, you can shower with it."

Mindful of my less-than-robust gut, I only had two pastries. I was more thirsty than hungry, and the sun was relentless. Though I did spend some time in the shade, I was soon worn out.

Of course I had to pick up Small Town, right? Priced at RM39.90, copies were going at a discounted rate during the launch. Proceeds from the book sales would go to Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (PESKUBU) or the Kuala Kubu Historical Society. If that fact hadn't slipped my mind as exhaustion and the heat took over, I'd have bought two.

One more look at Galeri Sejarah KKB, along Jalan Syed Mashor,
before heading home

I almost didn't make it that day.

I had gone to bed depressed, woke up dejected and wanted to stay at home first. However, I did tell several others I'd be going, even if it was merely a distraction from my blues.

Though I had left an hour late than I'd planned, I made it on time for the speeches.

In his speech at the event, Termizi Yaacob compared history to a tree, with its branches and leaves, growing, branches spreading outwards from a single point. Later, as Rehman spoke, a leaf fell onto my arm and stayed there.

I was then reminded of an artist's "life goal" to catch a falling leaf "fresh" from a tree, and thought how similar it was to chasing dreams. With how leaves tend to fall, however, you could run yourself ragged in pursuit of that one leaf. That's okay if you're young and buzzing with energy.

A souvenir (the leaf, not the book) from my solo out-of-town venture

When you get older, you'd learn how to do it better: stay near a tree that's shedding leaves and keep an eye on the nearest ones. Don't run after them as they fall. Or, if you're feeling lucky, just stand beneath said tree and wait for a few leaves to fall on you. Some leaves, like certain things, aren't worth the chase.

Travelling sixty-plus kilometres to catch a leaf sounds extreme but at times, you have to go that far, maybe farther, when you've been under the same tree for a long time. A taste of unfamiliar air is good, too.

(I needed the distance because I haven't been writing much, either. The muse didn't just warrant a kick in the ass but a couple of hours in Christian Grey's "Red Room of Pain".)

I'll be keeping the leaf for a while to remind me of my day in this "small town" and, when one's mind, heart and feet itch for the new, to just go for it, even if the chances of catching it are slim.

"So you went to KKB," a friend WhatsApped me later that night. "I thought you went off on a random drive to nowhere."

To me, one who seldom ventures outside his tiny comfortable urban bubble, Kuala Kubu Bharu was "nowhere".

Now, it's "somewhere".