I HAVE a chapbook of four linked short stories, titled THE BILLION SHOP. Published by Math Paper Press in Singapore in July 2012, it is available at BooksActually in Singapore, or buy it from them online. It was reviewed in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and also has a Goodreads page.
Here’s the story behind the title:
The Billion Shop was a shop near my office that sold paper money and other artefacts for ethnic Chinese people to burn as offerings to their dead. It no longer exists: Jixiang Traditional Foot Massage now stands in its place. I’m not one to lament change, and trust in Adam Smith’s invisible hand that the good people of Toa Payoh would rather please soles than appease souls. But I’m also sentimental: about places gone, loves lost, ideals overturned or, more often, outgrown. Consider these stories, then, as my own paper offerings to my dead.
I HAVE ALSO edited an anthology of cat-themed short stories titled FROM THE BELLY OF THE CAT. Published by Math Paper Press in Singapore in November 2013, it is available at BooksActually, or buy it from them online. It was reviewed in The Straits Times, and also has a Goodreads page.
Here is its most excellent blurb:
Writers and cats have long enjoyed a special affinity, unsurprisingly since both spend much time sitting around and judging people. Discover the Lion City through the eyes of its cats and their humans in From the Belly of the Cat, an anthology of fifteen feline tales by some of the city-state’s most exciting writers and notorious cat sympathisers.
For best results, read this book at home on the sofa on a rainy afternoon, with a cup of warm tea within reach, and a cat by your side.
SOME of my short stories have been published online:
CHANEL AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN at The Brooklyn Rail, February 2017; originally published in the anthology Sayang (Math Paper Press for the Singapore Writers Festival, 2016).
The real-world inspiration might seem obvious, but this story really started out as a tribute to the self-named.
Some time passes, and the flight attendant is now 7,632m under the sea, at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Down here, the water is zero deg C, but all the salt keeps its molecules from knitting into ice. She rests on ground that has never been dry; pressing down upon her is layer upon layer of ocean. These environmental conditions, hostile to the development of life, are helpful in preserving her flesh, its fatty tissues transmuted to inert wax.
She wonders if anyone knows she is here.
MEAT BONE TEA on the Weidenfeld & Nicolson blog, August 2014; reprinted in the anthology UNION: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing From Singapore (ed. Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar, Ethos Books, 2015); reprinted in the anthology Best New Singaporean Short Stories, Volume 2 (ed. Jason Erik Lundberg, Epigram Books, 2015).
This story is special to me for three reasons:
1. It incorporates my fascination with airports;
2. It incorporates my terror of small talk;
3. It incorporates poorly disguised Nine Inch Nails lyrics.
The title refers to a delicious Singaporean dish, a peppery pork soup.
The engineer’s plane is passing over the Bay of Bengal as Emma’s train emerges from the ground at Kallang. They are on the dark side of the planet and when each looks out the window they see a blurred face against the emptiness of the universe.
FOREIGN LAND in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, April 2013.
This is a real short story at a little more than a thousand words. It involves mammals and a beach.
The village by the sea was in a foreign land. By foreign land, I don’t mean just any land other than the one that issued my passport. This land was one I had absolutely no links to, neither by birth nor ancestry, history nor economy, literature nor language. That was precisely why I had decided to go there for my vacation.
SEASCRAPERS in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, October 2011; reprinted in the anthology Best New Singaporean Short Stories, Volume 1 (ed. Jason Erik Lundberg, Epigram Books, 2013); reprinted in the anthology Passages: Stories Of Unspoken Journeys (ed. Yong Shu Hoong, Ethos Books, 2013).
An estranged couple are drawn back together when one of them suffers from amnesia. Commissioned under the PasSAGES project of the Singapore Writers Festival 2011.
She wakes at dawn and watches his face. She imagines the dreams rippling beneath the calm, stark planes. Dreams are what help perpetuate memory, she remembers, or misremembers, reading once, subsurface currents that weave through and animate the detritus floating in the ocean of the mind.
CARDIFF in Mascara Literary Review (Australia), October 2010.
A schoolboy and a schoolteacher are drawn together by the need to escape.
You can’t find the words to unravel the knot of emotions suddenly swelling in your chest. This feeling of cosmic and cruel injustice, that of all the random places in all the world to be from, you had to be from here. This place so tiny. Insignificant. Unsophisticated. Hot. Except when it rains.
CITY IN C MINOR in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, July 2010; reprinted in the anthology Here And Beyond: 12 Stories (ed. Cyril Wong, Ethos Books, 2014).
An advertisement for a world-famous cellist’s concert starts a young girl on a journey to a world so unlike her father’s.
Years into the future, having earned enough of her own money to visit Europe and even attend a few concerts there, she would realise how the plaster pilasters of this British colonial-era building, their carvings indistinct under sloppily-applied layers of whitewash, were but crude simulacra of the architecture they were meant to resemble half a world away. But on the night of the concert by the world-famous cellist, as she matched the number on her ticket to the number on her seat, she gazed down at the crowds milling below and thought she had never been in such a grand and antique place, with its chandeliers and plush seats, its air-conditioned wintry chill, its olfactory swirl of paint, dust, wood and perfume.
THE TRADER in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, January 2008.
A young man trades his way up Wall Street in the late 1980s.
And Mark could see all those tiny figures, all in black, that hurried out of the ground, along the streets, and into these buildings, streams of people becoming stacks of people becoming a buzz of voices that would pour through phone lines, lines that connected the skyscrapers of this city, and of cities all over the world, in an invisible yet all-engulfing web. It was amazing how much business was done this way, done with a voice coming out of a black plastic receiver. He forced himself to wonder what these voices were doing now, if they drank their coffee black or au lait, if they ate breakfast at home or in the office, or at all. In this way he tried to see them as actual human beings.
AND SOME of my stories are only in print:
THE PORTCULLIS in Here Now There After (An anthology ed. Yong Shu Hoong, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions, Singapore), 2017.
A story borne of my fascination with the Barbican Centre…
One afternoon in early December, as the sun was setting, I was reading in my room and gazed out of the window to rest my eyes, when I saw the grey concrete bridge. I was surprised I had never noticed it before, but then it blended so well into its surroundings and only caught my eye because of a trick of the waning light.
AFTER THE FIRE in Esquire Singapore, March 2013.
How the dearly departed enjoy the paper houses and other material trappings we burn for them to use in the afterlife.
We live in a neighbourhood of mansions. Palatial residences with hundreds of rooms. Swimming pools, jacuzzis, tennis courts, golf courses, stables (complete with horses), movie theatres, garages full of cars (all German marques, of course). And everything cared for by servants who do not complain, do not tire and do not age. Welcome to Chinese Hell.
THE STORY OF THE KISS in Fish Eats Lion (An anthology ed. Jason Erik Lundberg, published by Math Paper Press, Singapore), 2012.
An old woman meets someone special.
The old woman sits in the café. Her coffee cup is warm against her palms as she looks out the window at a world white with rain. Someone sits in the chair across from her, and she turns and sees that it is her long-lost love.
THE BILLION SHOP in the Southeast Asian Review of English, No. 50 (A journal published by The University of Malaya, Malaysia), 2012.
An undergraduate attends the funeral of an ex-classmate killed during national service, Singapore’s compulsory military stint for male citizens.
This remark about the unpeaceful expression, prompted by my saying that I would go view the body now, was actually the first time anyone had referred to JJ since my arrival. Prior to that, they’d asked me all the usual questions: when I had arrived in Singapore, when I would head back to Chicago, who else was in Chicago and when had I last seen everyone. Rather banal stuff, especially given the circumstances, but this time the call-and-response felt strangely comforting, the recital of dates, places, names signalling a world where everything was in its right place.
ASTORIA in Coast (An anthology ed. Daren Shiau and Lee Wei Fen, published by Math Paper Press, Singapore), 2011; reprinted in the catalogue of Die Vermessung Deiner Wohnung: Singapur Unheimlich/The Measure Of Your Dwelling: Singapore As Unhomed art exhibition at Galerie Berlin, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, 2015 (in German translation by Thomas Manhart).
A woman visits an old school friend living in a quiet seaside town on the west coast of America. It ends up being a life-and-death affair.
Back in primary school, I had a classmate who told me that when I died, my soul would float eternally on the surface of the sea.
AND SOME of my stories have not been published, yet.
But that doesn’t mean I love them any less =)