A Writer’s Journey – A Coincidental Meeting

Days before I went to the book festival, I decided to visit the local library at UTC Johor. I had admin work to do there and just decided to check out the library scene here. Back in Singapore I loved the library and would go literally every evening just to look at the books. If I knew I didn’t have time to read them I would still at least just want to look at the books. Or sit in between them. Some kind of a disease I have or something I’m not sure. Now with no libraries nearby me, I just go to bookstores to just look at books. When I think I can buy them, I’ll buy them. Otherwise just looking at books sends me some sort of a blissful feeling. There are books on my computer table. There are books on my side table. Books on my dressing table. Books in my bag. I used to have books in my toilet too. I just prefer my company to be books.

The library at UTC didn’t give me a sense of awe libraries in Singapore did. But comparing them would be comparing two separate governments. I guess the Malaysian government thought less of libraries than Singapore did, but oh well! I let my fingers run through the spine of the rarely-opened books, as if telling them, “Hey, mommy’s here,”. The books there were not bad, but I didn’t know where to start. The sailing of my fingers through the bookshelves stopped when I saw the name “MATLUTFI” on the cover. I opened it, read a couple of pages, and put it back. Nah, not for me. I can’t relate to these types of chatterings.

However, the book nearby Matlutfi’s caught my eye. Her name was Gina Yap Lai Yoong. I thought it sounded familiar; I’ve never read her book but pretty sure her name’s floated somewhere in the writing sphere. I picked up her book which was titled A Writer’s Journey, took it with me to the hard plastic chair and tables (did I tell you, Singapore’s libraries have cushion and sofas?). Her book was interesting, all right, but I was trying to discipline myself and not borrow anything I don’t have time to read.

…and I guess that that was a book that needed to be read. The second time I went to the book festival (I was there twice, meaning I went, then went back to Johor, then went back again) I saw someone whom I felt like I knew. It was just a instinct, something telling me that I know this person. My publisher quickly introduced me to her.

“Fifi, this is Gina…”
“Gina Yap?”
“Gina Yap Lai Yoong, yes.”

And inside of me fireworks activated. Not because I was a fan of her, but because as if it’s all meant to be you know? Of all the books I picked at UTC Johor’s library I picked hers, and of the so many other books I could’ve picked there, I met the author to the only book I picked to read the week before. It’s it some kind of magic? Like connections, long lost ends of strings finding their way back to each other. Except that I’m the only one who felt that way. Gina, on the other hand, had no idea who I was. (Oh, I saw Matlutfi too. He’s cute but I don’t fangirl over married guys.)

I was a bit embarrassed by my obvious fangirliness (when it comes to writers I just fall in love too quickly). She seemed a little bit reserved, probably because writers are introverts. I didn’t mind. I wanted a picture with her because OF ALL THE BOOKS I PICKED I PICKED HER BOOK TO READ AND SHE’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME but I returned her reservations with my own set of coolness too. Calm yo self, Fifi.

That was my publisher’s booth (and #LIGA), and I had books to sign. “Chill, Fifi. You’re a writer too,” I told myself and bit my lip, resisting the urge to ask Gina for a picture together. I sat down and began signing the books my publisher told me I had to sign. I forgot about my world and surrounding when I enter books.

“Hm, nice,” I heard a voice from behind me say.

Eh? I turned around and looked up. Gina was observing me, the author of A Nobody’s Observations, sign my own book.

“You think my signature is nice?” I asked, shameless as always.

“I like watching people sign. Yours is susah nak copy. Good.”

Gee, thanks, I guess? I said in my head and she walked away to talk to more people.

The coolest thing I got from her when I eavesdropped (sorry not sorry) her conversation with my publisher was when she said, “I just want to write. I don’t want to do all those things.” I saw my publisher nod and said okay. Wow, I thought to myself, if I ever became that good an author, I wish I could just tell my publisher that I “just want to write” too.

That’s the end of my journey with Gina face to face.

And the next day she was a guest panel at Perhimpunan 1000 Penulis, which I didn’t stay long for because of a certain author I wanted to meet (read previous post). The lady next to me, who turned out to be a Dato Dr when I googled her, asked me who she was, if she was Malay or Chinese. Gina had just announced on stage that she feels “hancur apabila orang kata saya Cina menulis dalam Bahasa Melayu. Pada saya, saya menulis dalam bahasa kebangsaan saya sebagai anak Malaysia,” – or something like that. I enthusiastically replied that “Dia cina dan dia famous tau! Semalam saya baru jumpa dia!” Macam baru jumpa celebrity gitu. The Dato Dr Lady gave a thought and I excused myself to run to chase after a doctor called Beni Rusani.

I didn’t think of Gina anymore after that, engrossed with my own books and life and cats.

One day, days after PBAKL, looking through my book revision and envelopes stacking on top of each other, I was reminded of a wisdom I heard from an author named Gina Yap Lai Yoong, “I just want to write.”

I tweeted it. And found her on Twitter. It turned out she didn’t know her book was at the library! Libraries, perhaps! I rolled up my sleeves and went into some detective mode. A few days earlier a stranger commented on my picture and it turned out that he was the librarian who helped me with the library card registration. So it’s true, people do look you up on social media! I asked him if he could help me look for a book by GINA YAP LAI LOONG, on the shelf with MATLUTFI (I didn’t remember her book title). Efficient librarian, that guy was. He sent me pictures of Gina’s book from all angles on the bookshelf. Thank you very much! I sent them to Gina. She seemed happy. The librarian asked me what I was doing, and if I had eaten. I’m uncomfortable with questions about what “I’m doing” and if anybody cared if I’d eaten, you know. I just don’t think that there’s any purpose in you finding out where I am or if I had eaten. So that’s what I said. “Terima kasih kerana soalan itu, tapi rasanya saya tak ada keperluan untuk saya jawab.” So kaku baku Melayuku, kan? He apologised, and said bye.

I began to feel challenged when I read more and more writings in Malay by my new-writer friends. Their words seemed to flow effortlessly while I claim that reading Malay aku sakit kepala. Embarrassing! I marah myself. Memalukan betul, kulit coklat hidung pesek nama Salamah tapi bila berbahasa Melayu, hancur bersepah. I happened to have things to do at UTC Johor, so I dropped by the library to see what books I could borrow to help me with my Malay. At home I had already retrieved my Kamus Dewan from the dungeon and piled up my Malay books to draw inspiration from. I also went there to find out who the guy who commented on my picture was. I only saw his name but didn’t bother to look at his pictures.

I walked in and nodded at a librarian who nodded at me back. He seemed scared. Like hesitant. I walked over to the LITERATURE section of the bookshelf and voila, found Gina’s book. By her side were other books like Cara Membuat Duit Dengan Menulis and Become A Writer and all that kind of things. I checked out her book and a random book on Cara Penulisan Puisi. Both Chinese names but writing in Malay. I’m so proud of them, and at the same time I want to ketuk my kepala with a senduk. Memalukan!

To the main counter I go. The librarian had fear in his eyes. I know I have this effect on certain people. I don’t know why. But need I tell you, that in Singapore libraries, I can check out books myself? That I don’t need to queue at the counter? Gee. I miss Singapore libraries.

“Ah! So you’re the guy who commented on my picture on my Facebook!” I told the librarian.
“Oh, so you didn’t recognise me?”
“Nope. I only recognised your name,” I pointed at his name embroidered on his shirt. His face loosened up and I could see him relaxing. Oh, okay. Good job in scaring people, Fifi!

Back to Gina. Her book, the one I borrowed, A Writer’s Journey, was insightful, and I gave it four stars of five on Goodreads. I haven’t finished it, probably at 7/8 of the book (because I think I’ve gotten what I needed to learn from her book), but here are some things I remember from her writing:

  1. Writer’s block doesn’t exist – you find inspiration anywhere on everything anytime and me too I carry a notebook everywhere.
  2. Writer’s retreat is important – I do this, yes
  3. Books are your best writing teachers– yes
  4. Aim for completion, not perfection – this is important because I always want my story to be perrrrfectt. This afternoon I found out that I have two over 50000 word manuscripts I don’t want to touch anymore because they’re so weird. This part of the book served as a reassurance to me that I can do it.
  5. Writing pacts – which I don’t think I need. I don’t like people asking me how I’m doing lol, so kepo. I can do it myself. I think. O.O
  6. She observes her surroundings too (P.S. I wrote A Nobody’s Observations)
  7. HAVE A WRITING SIGNATURE. This part struck me hard – like O M G I’ve been signing the SAME kind of signature everywhere!!! Aaaah, I’m reevaluating my signature now. I need a new signature. That is if people still want me to sign their books.
  8. She signs her books only in green or blue? ink. – Yes! I sign my book in only pink ink! If it’s not pink, it’s not from me. I will always choose pink ink. I believe there are two buyers who got my signature in black — yeaa that’s a ghost that signed your book.
  9. Her teacher encouraged her to write and became her inspiration to be a writer – yes, my teachers too.
  10. Both her parents don’t read. Imagine that. My mom doesn’t read, my dad is an avid reader. My mom used to tell me buying clothes is better than buying books. And I just saw my dad buy more and more books. Ha ha ha.
  11. She’s never been rejected. – Thinking about it, I’ve never been rejected either. I sent my manuscript to two publishers and they both liked it. I don’t know what they’d say if they read my fiction books though, yikes.

I don’t remember what else she wrote – but for the authenticity of this blog post I’m not going to open her book to reread.

Okay. I think I’ve had enough of fangirling over Gina for now. I’m done. Back to me being just another fellow writer in Malaysia.

It was VERY cool to meet fellow writers. If you’re struggling with writing, I’d recommend Gina’s book. Even I as a *ehem* published writer found her book inspiring. That was a so tak tau malu sentence to write.

Sorry about that.

P.S. Earlier today I walked into an MPH shortcut. Meaning that one MPH has two entrances that I could use as a shortcut to the other side of the building. I looked at its bestsellers list and found Diagnosis Apokalips, which has a zombie doctor on its cover I’d like to read more about, and I found my feet floating myself to the bookshelves on the OTHER SIDE OF THE STORE, and found more Gina Yap Lai Yoong’s Fixi books. I got two of hers, and that zombie doctor book, and then tepis my own tangan from getting all the Diagnosis series. Ugh! Penyakit!

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