Time off just like that
By Toh Hsien Min
Recently I met up with an old friend whom I hadn't seen for a few years. "Four years," she said. "Two and a half," I said. No matter, because it wasn't really possible to have met up for the better part of the past two years anyway, as she had taken that time off to travel. Her list of destinations included Cuba, the Dominican Republic, everywhere in the former Yugoslavia, Tibet, alongside bits of Western Europe and the USA. I'm sure I've missed out a few. Listening to her stories could have easily taken up the whole time we were sitting at the bar munching on salt and pepper squid and heritage tomatoes and sipping albariņo, were she not outwardly centred and interested to hear what I had done with myself. I thought of saying that my last two years had been like the stretch of beach between Maconde and La Prairie on the south coast of Mauritius: casuarina-covered, white-sanded, serene and unpopulated, but with the surf pounding in from the southern Indian Ocean on account of there being no protective reef.
I would hesitate to say there's something elemental about taking off like that, not only because I don't think I could, being always that little bit more purpose-oriented so that taking vacations has always had a particular difficulty. But the other conversation I've been having recently is on how to combine a busy work life with enough time to read and write properly, to which my answer was likewise that I didn't really know how to do this consistently. When I had most of the month of December off after a trying year however, both the challenges came together. I got on a plane less than sixty hours after deciding where to go and booking a ticket, and found myself ending up in a place isolated enough that getting food had to be planned in advance, where I had no Internet connection, and which offered nothing to do after dark except to put on the radio - thank goodness for Louis Armstrong - cook, read and write. Exactly the sort of thing that not many others besides Murakami might dare to write about in unexcised detail:
In context, all that was the canvas on which Tengo could think about Aomame. In my case, I wound up writing more in December than over the course of the whole year, and wondering whether my next vacation ought to be another sustained spell of hermitic staying put.
It has felt almost like a holiday from QLRS as well, since the previous issue went out very early leaving me with an extra two weeks in the cycle - all front-loaded of course, and when January came around it did occur to me that we would have been glad of the extra time, as we had half as much again to read as we had for the previous issue. It's pleasing to be able to feature such poets as Laksmi Pamuntjak (who opens the section with the aptly titled 'A Traveler's Tale') and Judith Huang, along with a handful of some younger writers. While I was surprised at how the short stories had contracted after the bumper crop in the previous issue (though Chris Murray's is a cracking read), the space has been taken up by much more in the space of essays and criticism, with reviews of some of the major releases in the latter half of last year, by the likes of Meira Chand, Robert Yeo and Angeline Yap; not forgetting the overview review of (appropriately) Troy Chin's Resident Tourist. Angus Whitehead conducts lengthy verbal sparring with Andrew Koh, author of Glass Cathedral, and we also catch up with Alice Pung after her Singapore Writers' Festival stint. Clearly the Singapore literary scene hasn't gone on holiday.QLRS Vol. 11 No. 1 Jan 2012