Yesterday was largely spent in Kuala Lumpur, or in transit. I flew up via SilkAir, caught up on my New Yorker subscription on the Nook, arrived around 11:15, then took the KLIA Ekspres train from the airport to KL Sentral, which seems to be the train and LRT hub for the city. While on the train, I sent SMS messages to Sharon Bakar, who had invited me up for Readings@Seksan’s (which up until this time I’ve been misspelling as Seskan’s, sorry!), but discovered later that my messages didn’t go through. I also SMSed my friend Wei Fen, herself a writer and editor (Ceriph, Coast), who’d decided to get out of Singapore for the day, and bus up to KL with a couple of friends, and we made plans to meet at Bangsar Village for, what I was told, was truly awesome ice cream.
From KL Sentral I grabbed a teksi, paying a set amount in the terminal and receiving a coupon to give to the driver, and made my way to Bangsar Village and the Marmalade Café. Wei Fen was there with three of her friends, two who’d come up from Singapore with her (Steven and Alex) and one based in KL whom she hadn’t seen in years (Abbi). At first, I felt a bit awkward intruding into such a close-knit group, but they immediately made me feel at ease. After hanging out there for a while, and trying the Teh Tarik ice cream (I was sadly denied the famed Salted Gula Melaka flavor, but apparently there was a run on it in KL yesterday because it was supposedly not to be found anywhere in the city), I finally realized that the number I was using for Sharon might not be the proper one (there was a zero in brackets which was messing things up), and after fixing it, I finally got ahold of her. She’d been waiting for me for an over an hour, panicked that I’d gotten lost, thinking that I was wandering the city by myself; I felt so terrible!
Anyway, she met us at Marmalade, chatted with us for a bit, then dashed off to get Seksan’s ready for the reading. After getting some lunch (eggs benedict for me, yum!), we walked to the venue, getting lost a few times along the way but finally making it there with about ten minutes to spare. Seksan’s is a landscape architect’s firm, and we were using the first floor gallery space for the reading. It was quite a lovely space, open on both sides, breezy, with natural light filtered in from a gap in the roof tiles.
There were five other writers there to read from their work, and I ended up being the anchor reader. It was a varied group of writing: short fiction, memoir, economic thriller (I think), and even erotica (although this was cut short of the sexy bits because of the kids in the audience). I read two short pieces: “Lion City Daikaiju” (from Red Dot Irreal) and “Bachy Soletanche” (forthcoming from Scheherezade’s Bequest in May, which I read off my Nook, something I think I’ll definitely be doing again). Both seemed to go over pretty well, which was a relief; it was the first time I’d performed “Bachy Soletanche” (which was written to be performed aloud), and I was worried it was just too weird to be appreciated (it was originally commissioned for a Futurism-inspired anthology that later folded), but I got laughs in the right places, and polite applause at the end, so it couldn’t have been too bad.
I’d lugged up a number of copies of Red Dot Irreal and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany for sale, and (wrongly) assumed that someone was manning the book table, and either because I wasn’t there in person after the readings were done in order to facilitate the transactions (I was chatting to folks about ten feet away), or because the audience just wasn’t in a buying mood, I didn’t sell a single copy of either book at the event. This was quite disappointing, and it meant I was going to have to hump them all back home again. I was a bit grumpy about this, but I have no one to blame but myself.
Afterward, I tagged along with Wei Fen, Steven, and Alex again back to Bangsar Village, and Sharon was incredibly kind to catch up with us and buy a copy of Surreal Botany from me (so I did sell one after all). After hanging out a bit longer and tasting a few more Malaysian delicacies, I bade goodbye to Wei Fen, Steven, and Alex, and took a teksi back to KL Sentral, so I could wait for the KLIA Ekspres back to the airport.
As I sat there on the train, looking at my bag full of heavy books with my name on them, I had an epiphany. I stood up, walked to one end of the train, and made my way to the other, asking each group of passengers, “Would you like a free book?” I smiled, and acted as polite as possible, but I still must have looked slightly demented since a number of people just flat-out refused; some, understandably, as I discovered they didn’t speak or read English very well, but others were almost hostile. Still, enough people were open to it that I handed out eight copies of each book, and I did get some nice thanks from a pair of older Indian gentlemen.
My bag lighter, I breezed through the airport (having gotten my return ticket in the morning), took the skytrain to my terminal, grabbed some dinner, found my gate with ten minutes to spare, then flew home (reading a number of pieces from Unstuck #1 on the Nook), all without incident. When I arrived home, Anya was already asleep, and I was barely into my pajamas before I crashed as well.
It was a long and tiring day, but also exciting and very fun. Sharon was wonderful to invite me up in the first place, and she was a generous and warm-hearted host; if any of you ever are lucky enough to have the chance to work with her, do it. I got to speak with Eeleen Lee, whom I’ve known on Twitter and Facebook, and Menon Dinesh, who I met for the first time and who shared very similar views to mine about books both paper and e-. And I was extremely touched that Wei Fen generously took the time during her brief holiday to support me and attend the reading, and to introduce me to Steven and Alex, who are both really cool guys, and with whom I hope to interact again now that we’re all back in Singapore. Bummed as I was about the lack of sales, the real point of spending the afternoon and evening in KL was the coming together of like-minded people to celebrate writing and literature, and in that case, the day was a roaring success.