Yours truly in a Red Dao herbal bath. Photo: Affandi Hamid
I’d sent this piece in for a writing competition, but I didn’t make the shortlist, so here it is for you guys.
I had begun my trip to the highlands of Vietnam expecting to learn more about the cultures of the Red Dao minority. What I hadn’t planned for was having the trip turn into a culinary experience, which in turn had me reminiscing my own identity and childhood.
It was a three hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi, followed by a nine-hour train journey to Lao Cai. Then came the hour’s drive up the winding hills to Sapa, punctuated by the 13km hike to a Red Dao village, where I was to spend two nights.
Photo: Sunyu Kim
Some ten years ago I wrote this: “I woke up to a world greyer than usual. It’s as if Crayola came and took away the colours from my life.”
No, it wasn’t a Myspace post.
Sometimes I like reading my old work just to see what I was thinking at the time, and as much as I like to poke fun at my younger self, he does give me some hints as to why I am the way I am today.
If feelings were a scale of one to ten, I would have been hovering at a three for as long as I can recall. This was why I took to reading my old posts just to see how far back I’d stopped caring.
Hugh had always had an odd bond with his tipple
for it brought as much misery as it cured
And as his dinner crusted on his lips
How is it that
the mind can be so fragile
yet the body so resilient?
Photo: Augusto Navarro
Check out Part 1 here if you haven’t already, so that you can understand the story in its entirety. Hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did writing it!
Calen exited the underground and was greeted by air he’d learned to tolerate. A strong undertone of steel wafted wherever he went in the Sprawl, and that was when the occasional miasma—garbage, oils, human refuse—wasn’t among the blend.
The odour still assaulted his senses, even after having lived with it for so long. The more privileged would at least be able to seek refuge in their homes, because these homes often had filtered air-conditioners installed. For Calen, fresh air was never an option.
Photo: Alex Knight
Calen often rode the mag-lev from the first station to the last. Today, he sat beside a patchwork of steel that resembled a humanoid. It stood motionless in its designated docking bay. A Justicar, it was called. Calen—as well as everyone else—knew them better as tinheads.
The thing finally jolted to life, something Calen was waiting for for hours now. That was his cue to earn some chits. He followed the robot as it thumped down the train. Mag-lev, he corrected himself. Trains were only a fragment of his dad’s old stories. Stories of when policing was still done by humans, with much more compassion.
Photo: Nikko Macaspac
You wake up, you get ready, you join the morning commute. You work, you eat, you join the rest of the evening commute. You spend the remainder of the day tackling odds and ends, before it’s time for bed, after which life hits the replay button. Again, and again, and again.
There’s got to be something more to this.
So you want to be a writer in Malaysia
Yep. I’m as bored with listicles as you. Photo: Joshua Rawson-Harris
Great. Another top-ten things article. Here’s a stick. See that dead horse? Go ahead. Have a go.
Despite the cliché, there’s a reason for all this trite. If you’ve ever asked me what it takes to be a writer in Malaysia, what courses make the best gig magnets, or what laptops produce the best word diarrhoea, then this piece is for you.