Dear friends, I won’t spend too much time discussing the actual bicycle trip here, as many of those stories have found their way into the book–please read it!!! 🙂
However, I shall chat a bit about the period immediately after we returned from the trip, and as the actual book writing began. When we got back to Singapore, after 30 days on the road, living on RM10 (US$3) per day, we were obviously tired physically, but we were also energised. We had fabulous memories! Lots of good stories! Photos! Reams of illegible handwriting! We had a book to write. A few weeks later, we were on a plane back to the US to start the Fall semester of Masters’ programme second year.
All along, Sumana and I had been pretty confident about writing a book. We had written articles and papers our whole lives. Surely just a small leap? Then, as we actually sat down and tried to make sense of all our notes, the enormity of the task stumped us. How foolish we were. There were just so many questions. Do we write a straight travel narrative, a historical memoir, or do we attempt some form of gonzo journalism, inserting ourselves liberally and comically within the story? First person or third person? Chronological or thematic? Do we just touch on the lighter issues, such as beaches and Singlish, or must we address those thorny cans of worms, such as race, religion, and where the best durians are found?
Then, what tone do we want? Academic? Casual? Journalistic? To answer these questions, as with any product I suppose, many people told us to figure out who exactly our audience is. Gosh, we hadn’t even thought about it. All we knew is that we wanted to write a story about Malaysia and Singapore from the ground-up. For too long we had been listening to our governments, and our governments only. Who would read our book? No idea. Everybody, we hoped.
But how would we coordinate? Sumana was based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Who would write what? How would we work together? Who edits first? Too many bloody questions.
And so, in this blur of uncertainty, we decided to just do what we do best. Write. So we wrote and wrote. We remembered and recollected all the crazy, funny stories–Puru, the former Motorola executive who had retired to his own beach chalets in Cherating, Pahang. He let us stay two nights, and regaled all us with all sorts of ridiculous stories, all the while sneaking off to get high away from the prying eyes of his wife. And the glassy-eyed Uzbek who had let us stay in a mosque in Sungai Golok, a border town in Southern Thailand, where bombs were going off every few months, and Muslim men from ultra-strict Kelantan were soliciting Thai hookers every night.
To augment each story, we had written historical and political essays next to every one. That’s what the reader wants, we were convinced.
By Dec 2004, we had exchanged stories. They read beautifully. We patted each other on the back, laughing at the memories.
We let a couple of other friends read our work. They hated it. Too academic. Not insightful. Missing the forest for the trees.
Shit. It would take another three years for us to find our voice…