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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

It was a cool Malaysian night when I had done the final tally.  A total of 8,000-plus words had been written, two thousand short of my stated goal, but with a major plot point worked through and a clearer picture of where this third draft was headed.  That the final tally came after a weekend spent with my best friends here South-East Asia was nothing short of a success, despite the missed goal.


It’s been a month since you’ve heard from me.  You deserve more than a cold opening.  Since I had last signed off with a month of radio silence — to focus my writing energy on completing the third draft of the book I’ve been working on for the last year — quite a bit has happened and I have not been maintaining this site to chronicle said happenings.  No, a cold opening won’t do here.  You need the full preamble.  So; In this past month, we’ve each of us, Beverly and I, took separate trips.  We’ve made plans to go to the F1 race next month.  I missed a deadline. And most importantly, we’ve set a date for our return.  The countdown has begun, but it wasn’t easy getting there.

In late July, matters relating to our return were coming to a head.  There have been many articles about the hazards of repatriation; they are not wrong.  It’s logical to assume that a repatriating worker will have no problems navigating the internal mechanisms of their own company.  Logical, but entirely false.  Companies pay heed — when someone is sent overseas, especially for their first assignment, help is readily available.  An entire industry exists for relocation.  Locals with experience guiding new arrivals through all the hurdles of the things they take for granted; how to post mail, how to open a bank account.  How to pay your bills.  In this, our little shoe company has been in front of the pack.  Our transition to the Little Red Dot, while far from seamless, would have been a nightmare had it not been for Cartus, the local relocation company.  Nike made all sorts of resources available.

Now, they are doing the same for our return.  Do not, gentle reader, think for a moment that Nike has washed their hands and said, “good luck!”.  But at the time, in that July of unknowing, that was not clear.  There was no return date and therefore no return plan.  Bev had to essentially search for her next job, and at the time — due to the small little holiday on the Fourth, vacations, misfortunes and even tragedies back in Beaverton — she thought she was utterly alone in this, her only ally a useless husband who could only offer platitudes.  Back then, it was a time of stress.  She texted me; “I need a vacation, plan one.”

I thought about the options.  We had spoke about Laos, but Laos in the summer is a hot miserable place and though it is close by, there are no easy options for getting to Vientiane, let alone Luang Prabang.  A few lazy suggestions were made until something hit me with the rightness of it.

“Bev,” I said.  “What do you think about going on a trip by yourself?”

Another stop here.  Folks know I’m sometimes a bit lazy.  Maybe you read that and said, “Oh, that Josh,” shook your head and clucked your tongue.  Well, this wasn’t that.  She was lost in the lack of communication, floating in the deluge of stress.  Bev needed a get away like she needs oxygen.  Getting away from me and everything else that is her new normal was key.   As she pondered my unorthodox suggestion, the rightness of it moved in her.  After a little digging, she found a yoga retreat for women on the some-what-nearby island of Sri Lanka.

Not that we’re collectively great geographers, but as Americans, I’d say we know even less about the tear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean than we do of other countries on average.  I’d go so far as to wager that many Americans, when pressed, would think the erstwhile Ceylon is a state of India instead of its own sovereign territory. Certainly I don’t know much about that richly forested island, other than some amazing tea comes from there.  I’ve never said this aloud, but jealousy reared its ugly green head at her choice of destination.  But I clung to the idea, shut my mouth, and bid Beverly a safe trip as she had a week of yoga, meditation, acupuncture and healthy eating.

The food made for a great story on her return.  Everyone had a personalized consultation with the staff doctors, and from that consultation a plan for the week was crafted.  Included in that plan was a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid.  To ensure that their clients would behave themselves in the morning buffet, each client was given a minder; a Sri Lankan woman who would hover them during breakfast, ready to assist in any way.  Or, as more often was the case, to gently remind ‘Madam’ that the doctor had said bananas, while an excellent source of potassium were to be avoided this week.  Allow me to more fully paint the picture here, folks.  This is a high-end yoga retreat.  They’re not lining the buffet up with Snickers and chocolate ice cream.  There’s no slab of bloody as hell red meat lording over the entree line like a trophy for the victorious hunters.  There is nothing in this spread that says “unhealthy”, and yet, there is another minder, power-walking over towards Madam warning her that yes, the watermelon is tasty but the doctor said dragonfruit only.  It soon became a game, Beverly told me, the clients would try to sneak an orange while their minders’ attention was drawn elsewhere.

While Beverly was meditating and stealing nanners, I too was meditating.  Michelle and I had made plans to go buy durian, that infamous stinky “King of Fruits”.  Before we did, she invited me to join her in a one-hour meditation session she was teaching.  Sitting lotus position for an hour having never done it before was an interesting experience, especially first thing in the morning before I had even had coffee.  But I managed, and soon afterwords, we had some breakfast and coffee1thank the Gods before venturing out to find our prize.

Those of you that know my father have heard of durian.  He loves the stuff.  If you’ve not, it’s a seed fruit where the seeds are held in a pulpy flesh that you eat.  The fruit is by far the strangest food you will ever eat.  Each fruit is about the size of a football and oftentimes as oblong.  It’s studded in spikes and the thick husk holds pods of the edible flesh containing the seeds.  Each seed is about the same size as an avocado seed, give or take.  However, the strangest thing about the fruit, and it’s most remarkable feature, is the smell.  Durians stink.  They smell like rotting garbage, or overripe perfume.  To each person, the smell invokes other flavors, and the taste, likewise.  It is very much like wine in this regard; multiple flavor profiles that take time and dedication to separate out.  Durian is the most interesting thing you will ever eat — and love it or hate it, you need to eat it before you die.  It is a testament to the utter oddity of our lives and the entire experience of another’s perspective; encapsulated in a pulpy, messy, stinky flesh will may leave you gagging and will leave a perfumed aftertaste.

And if you never have it, you will never understand what I’ve just written.

For the record, I did not like it.  However, I didn’t hate it.  The aftertaste to me is too perfume-like and it lingers just a little too long.  Michelle was happy as she could be eating the fruit with me.  She even went as far as declaring me the best person to east durian with; as she pointed to one of “mine” and asked if I were going to eat it.

I had a goal.  I had spent the last three months struggling with the plot of my book.  My second draft had been passed around to a few friends and the feedback seemed very much in line; the story was good, the writing good, but the main character lacked proper motivation and character growth.  Much of the book was her following around another character without clear motives.  I had some peeves with what I had written as well; the whole story only seemed to work because the plot demanded characters show at certain times.  The more I re-read the draft, I realized that I didn’t have a lot of motivation behind my characters.

Which is a pretty big fucking problem.

I met with others, thought of wild ways to shake the story up and then finally put my head down and started writing down what each one of them wanted.  Characters that I thought were minor suddenly became big players as their actions collided with Jest’s.  I had a basic plot.  I had a good list of characters.  It was time.

So I marked the entire month of August to write the book.  Then I got sick.  And hit some writers’ block around chapters nine and ten.  And, and, and… I struggled.

We had for some time been planning a writers’ retreat for us in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy/Romance/Horror/Erotica/Whatever group2can we seriously just call this the ‘Genre Group’ and move on?.  The idea was that we’d go hole up in some off the beaten-road place3but one with wifi, writers gotta Google for weekend and write ourselves silly.  We finally agreed to do it in mid-August, at Colmar Tropicale in the Malaysian foothills just east of Kuala Lumpur.  Since neither Emma nor I had been to KL, we decided to go a day early, rent an AirBnB in town and go explore KL together.

Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, or KL to just about everyone, is not much a tourist town.  I don’t say this to throw stones at the city.  I found the city charming and compelling; it has a mix of architecture inspired by the old Sultanate days, the old Colonial days and ultra-modern skyscrapers.  You may have heard of the Petronas Twin Towers; they’re slightly famous.  While they are not what I would call ultra-modern, for being over thirty years old, they exude a timeless permanence to the heart of the city.  At their base, the KLCC park winds around gentle hills, dotted with fountains and traced by a dedicated running track.

KL is a living town, a business town.  Its a bedroom town, a massive town.  There are things to do and see, but after just one day, Emma and I were satisfied and happy to move on to Berjaya Hills.  B met us late that Thursday night, and her and Emma shared the downstairs room in the guest house we had rented.  This drew a sly comment and a knowing wink from our landlord, Sherry, who exemplified the model of innkeepers everywhere; she had the gift of gab and the clear ability to read people.  As we checked out and I asked Sherry what I should be doing with the air con, she wished me well, and could I please pass on her good wishes to my “two wives”.

(A quick aside for those who have not heard this story.  B, Abhi & I went out drinking one night and ended up joining tables with an American and Brit, both completely toasted.  The American asked B how long the two of us had been married.  B, completely true to form, doesn’t say, “Oh, we’re just friends, and married to other people,” but rather, “Josh has another wife.”  Hence the running joke about me having like five sister wives here.)

So two of my wives and I caught a shuttle to Berjaya Hills, about an hour from the heart of sprawling KL.  Upon arrival, we found a French-village themed resort and hotel, complete with a stonework gantry and portcullis.  We also felt the cool breeze on us and experienced the warmest temperature we’d see up in the hills, a pleasant 24 degrees.

I wish I had brought jeans.

So we checked in, and we wrote.  We stated our goals, and I put out a stretch goal, trying to get myself back on target; 10,000 words in two days.  As I mentioned before, I fell short of that mark, but made my more realistic goal of 8,000.  However, it was not enough to get me back on track, and I’ll not make my goal of finishing by Wednesday.  I’m about 50,000 words of the roughly seventy-thousand I need to tell the story.  I won’t make it in two days.  But I did good work and I won’t stop.

More importantly, I spend a weekend with two of my best friends.  Emma and I climbed the Batu Caves in KL, shared stories over amazing Malaysian street food4seriously, its the Southern food of SE Asia.  Tasty as fuck but nothing’s held back..  The three of us shared a few bottles of wine Friday night.  When Emma hit the wall, B and I took a bottle into the other room and stayed up until late, regaling each other with stories and jokes.

It was, however, bittersweet.  Because we knew the truth.

I’m leaving.

When Bev got back, she had received word that HR had started the “re-pat” process and the proverbial ball that had brought us to Singapore had started to roll back in the other direction.  We picked a date, October the 7th (though we might push that up a day).  A timeline was put in place.  We reached out to again to secure passage for the First Class Pooch.

It’s happening.

People ask me how I feel about leaving and I have to collect my thoughts.  My emotions spin manically at the thought. Elation to be back in my beloved Rose City and among the friends awaiting my return.  Sorrow at the amazing friends I’ll leave behind, unsure if we’ll ever see each other in the flesh again.  Excitement about seasons and sweater weather.  Nervousness about returning to the rat race and job hunting.  The knowledge that I’ll look back nights like when Abhi, B and I went drinking and I’ll break down thinking about that.  The hope that I have that technology and a love for the written word will keep us bonded.  The fear that like with many friendships, time will erode communication.  The resolve that what I’ve learned here in the past year and a half will never be forgot, and those friendships will be held within my heart until the day I die.

We leave Singapore in just over a month’s time.  As it was in February of last year, the countdown begins anew.  My waking thoughts will fill with the details of moving, but this time laced with the prospect of taking it all in for when will I be back?

We leave Singapore in just over a month’s time.  My mind reels at the enormity of that thought.  My dreams no doubt fill with worry and fear and sorrow, for when will I be back?

September is the month of my birth.  It’s my favorite month.  Not only for the whole birthday thing; my anniversary is in September.  The fall begins in September and the leaves turn along with the weather.  Football starts back up.  September is a month of beginnings for me.  This year it will be one of endings.  Some of these will be good endings; I’m hoping the end of my book is among those.  But as with all endings, so too come new beginnings.  We’ll look at those new beginnings with fear and fortitude, armed with the lessons of an amazing time spent on the other side of the world.

We’ll be back.  I love it too much not to be.

Comments (3)

  • Sherri . September 1, 2016 . Reply

    Home sick and looking for a local writers group online during a brief period of wakefulness led me to your site. I am teaching at SAS for two years (anyway), from your neighbor to the north, affectionately (I’m sure) known as Vantucky. You have made me miss home but also helped me to return to a sense of possibility here in Singapore. Thanks, and best wishes as you settle back into a long drizzly winter in our beautiful Northwest. I am so homesick ( not just home sick, ouch) for it.

    • (Author) Joshua . September 1, 2016 . Reply

      Hi Sherri, thanks for the kind words. If you’re around for a while, check out the Singapore Writers’ Group. We have monthly socials (September’s is tonight at 7:30! At The Artistry near Arab Street!) and monthly critique groups and it has been a HUGE help working with them.

    • (Author) Joshua . September 1, 2016 . Reply

      Also yes — LOL — Vantucky. 😀

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