Thursday, 8 February 2007

The Night Text Came Alive

The Information Ministry is cutting back on TV ads that feature Pan-Asian actors and models for some obscure reason. Some of those Pan-Asians cried discrimination; supporters hailed equality. WildGuy, a friend and a typical Pan-Asian Adonis, might be interested in stirring that pot.

It was a disappointing day at work. Then I was out late because of an event. During the intermission, when I just, just had to go, all the public washrooms were closed. There was an encounter with a flooded washroom with an overflowing drainage outlet. When I came back there were even more mosquitoes at the venue.

It was really late when it ended. To get home, I allowed myself to be fleeced by one of the local cabbies, who, I swear, grow fangs, sprout leathery wings and develop an unhealthy fetish for velvet-lined capes after sunset.

But it was worth it.

At first I didn't really want to attend the international readings event (artfully dubbed Night of The Living Text) because of the ungodly starting time of 8:30pm, which is - coincidentally - around the same time I get off work nowadays. In the end however, curiosity triumphed, as it often does in my life.

It turned out to be quite an adventure.

Finding the venue wasn't as difficult as climbing the stairs. The elevator, disguised as a bar entrance, was as temperamental as its camouflage was deceptive. I found myself looking at a white-washed and spaciously empty art gallery, vaguely partitioned into three areas.

On the left, a Malay man (whom I later learned was Hishammuddin Rais) whose appearance I normally associated with intellectual rebels was giving an audience of a similar bent a lecture on philosophy. The gallery in the centre was empty, save the framed black-and-white photos lining the walls. I veered off to the right.

The emcee, Sharon Bakar, was already there. Later, Jordan MacVay and the missus arrived. I noticed right away that there weren't enough chairs. Since there was still time before the event, I took a trip downstairs for a potty break. Someone was smoking there and had completely corrupted the air with his toxic effluents. I resisted the urge to drown him in one of the commodes (he was going to die early, anyway).

But enough about me. Here are the highlights of the event.

  • Roger Robinson, a native of Trinidad who resides in London, gave a masterful performance as he narrated the story about a kung-fu-obsessed Trinidad boy, gambling with numbers (has anybody told him that we have something similar?), and Sharon, a girl who was nicknamed "Virgin Island" because of her hard-to-get attitude. Two rounds of laughter from the audience and Roger's apology couldn't even clue me in on the joke. Not right away, at least.
  • An atypical English language professor introduced the second reader, a fellow Penangite called Tan Twan Eng, to the audience. He also - predictably, as it is at such events - flogged his first book, The Gift of Rain. He read an excerpt of the opening chapter from the book as a teaser.
  • Kam Raslan, who looked like Harry Potter gone Kerouac on that night, read some tasty bits from a chapter in his new novel that might raise some hackles among the Malay gentry. By now I knew enough to conclude that book-flogging is a recurring theme at readings.
  • The Filipino playwright Isagani Cruz was very much the stage actress he was portraying through a monologue. Amid subtle messages about the good old days and encroaching modernity, he found time to poke fun at himself. I liked that.
  • Ke Hua Chen, the eye doctor-slash-poet from Taipei dispensed some good advice before he read his piece. A temporary technical glitch prevented us from listening to a recorded track of the same poem, with a musical accompaniment, which made a moving piece even more so.
  • Our favourite bookaholic had a new nickname.

Not that the others were boring. Everyone was great that night, and I'm sure there are others who will write about it. Work has been awful and I'm practically worn out every night for the past two weeks. But I'll get my bite back, someday.


  1. oi! you really got something against folks mentioning their books!!! last time you were moaning about me plugging snw6 - i don't have shares in it but i think it is really good. and aren't published authors supposed to come and meet their audience? just wait until your first novel comes out!

    anyway lah it was really good to see you and thanks for being so supportive

  2. hello...sorry I messed up and can't find my way to you to say hi!

    I was thinking that we have met some time back... years back actually so wanted to poke around and see if my memory is still in shape.

    BTW I don't think Kam Raslan's story is that far-fetched. The malay gentry (at least, the ones I know) wouldn't be offended at all... maybe they'd even cheer him on!

  3. Bibliobibuli: Now, now, there's absolutely nothing wrong about book-flogging by authors. I just feel that's it's so in-your-face sometimes. Authors are more than just their books.

    Thanks for organising the event.

    Madcap Machinist: No worries. But I'm quite sure we've only met recently.


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