Kota Kinabalu is quiet this time of year, it is the end of Ramadan and Eid holidays see most Muslims head back to the kampung to visit family and pay respects to those who have passed on. For me, it is an opportunity to connect with family and to do some research for my next book Phoenix and the Dragon. Part of it is trying to trace my family tree which turns out to be a fraught exercise as I stumble upon insurmountable hurdles. I wonder about the reluctance and wariness I encounter, perhaps wounds are too still too raw or perhaps the hunger to know is not evident for those who live here, surrounded by daily reminders. It is different for those of us who have migrated, the need to have that connection is deeper, more urgent.
I persist, and slowly the words begin to flow and I uncover stories from the rare few who are willing to share. Stories about life in China in the olden days when the Japanese came, of life before and after Mao, of well to do intellectuals who dodged the labor camps and become refugees. Of being a second concubine, being disowned by family and of losing family in the war. Tales of hardship and the sheer will to survive. I weave through photos from another century and visit the graveyards of my ancestors. I come across my great grandfather’s marble headstone – a wizened grey beard hides the traditional garb worn by men in China at the turn of the century. Stories abound of opium dens and of murder – my patient efforts have resulted in a bountiful harvest.
Where my fingers were once paralysed over the keyboards months ago, they now race by eager to record events and to weave them into a tapestry which tells my story. They fill a depleted well of inspiration, that and the days here by the South-China sea. On sunny days the reflections of light dance across the shimmering surface, the deep emerald-green sliced across by fast boats which skim the surface. Being by the ocean always does things to me, it stirs things up and unblocks the chi. The cool winds ripple through my hair and blow away the staleness where my words had come to rest. It feels as if my muse has shown up and sits patiently by my elbow as I find time to write in fits and starts. I am on fire. I read once there is no such thing as waiting for the right time to write, there is no perfect environment or temperature or moment where your muse will show herself to you. I agree one must write continually despite the drudgery of putting words down on the page, you must show up every day and if you are lucky your muse might just appear. As I flesh out outlines and characters on my page I feel her nudge me in certain directions, there are times like this where writing becomes effortless. I don’t how long she’ll be here but while she is I am enjoying every moment of it.