Made in Malaysia book
From a bustling kopitiam in Georgetown to a remote longhouse in Sarawak, Made in Malaysia is about the people I’ve met, loved and learned from in my journey as a writer across this beautiful land I call home.
Nearly nine years in the making, the book starts at the beginning of my adventure as a freelance writer. Up till then, I had spent my entire working life in a cubicle, so I gave myself six months to get reacquainted with my country.
Backpacking in Sarawak – where, among other things, I got invited to stay in an Iban longhouse – opened my eyes up to the untapped treasure trove of stories that Malaysia is. I turned my observations about the interesting characters I chatted up on buses and trains, in cosy mom-and-pop eateries and obscure but charming small towns, into newspaper articles, many of which were published in The Star. As my stories usually involved random acts of kindness, my editor referred to them as “feelgood stories”. Eventually, I got my own column, Navel Gazer.
Although I’d dreamed of becoming a published book author, the thought of it materializing never occurred to me until 2007, when Eric Forbes, Senior Editor of MPH Publishing, left a comment on my blog in response to “Smiles and borak-borak”, my article about befriending strangers in a warung. Over tea at Central Market, we talked about many things. He thought my kind of stories – which I learnt were called “Malaysiana” – would do well in a multicultural country like Malaysia.
I remember my heart beating very fast when he said “author.” For me, it was important that the book could make a difference and touch the hearts of my readers, no matter who the stories reminded them of, whether it was a taxi driver, a makcik in a warung or a kind stranger who left a fleeting yet unforgettable impression. As much as I yearned to fulfil a childhood dream, I didn’t want to publish a book for the sake of doing it. So I told Eric, thank you, I’ll come back and look for you when I feel that I have collected enough real-life experiences to warrant a book.
The moment came years later in early 2013, when I caught up for tea with Cheong Fatt, my childhood friend and a photography buff. He proudly showed me a stack of beautifully printed photos he had planned to give to his subjects as a gift, something they could hold in their hands and remember fond memories by. In that moment, I knew I had to get this book out. Many of the stories were first published in Navel Gazer, my column in The Star, but I have also added new material, including backstories of each encounter and photos that puts a face to some of them.
This book is a heartfelt thank you to the angels I met on my writer’s journey. Their stories have moved and refreshed me, made me laugh and cry, and taught me what it means to be human.
I hope they do the same for you.