Musings & Inspiration

Things on my writing desk. What’s on yours?


Cameron Highlands


Looks like Switzerland, doesn’t it? This is Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, famous for its tea plantations. You can drive there from Singapore. It used to be much colder that you had to wear a jacket. Nowadays, I am told climate change has altered the temperature. If you like peace and quiet, do a bit of writing, painting, this is the place.


What’s in a name?  roses-821705_1920 (2)

Did I ever tell you the story about Isabella? This story of mine was first published in an Egyptian magazine years ago. It was entitled, “What’s in a name?” It’s pretty long but I’ll give you the short version of it here.

I woke at 7 a.m. to a loud banging sound coming from my front apartment door. I opened the door to find a girl about eleven or twelve smiling at me. She pointed to a wicker basket on the floor and said, “Isabella.”

What do you think I thought it was? I kept waving my hands and told her to go away. I thought she was trying to sell me a baby. She grinned and kept repeating herself, “Isabella.”And I kept telling her to go away.

The girl shrugged and gave me that “suit yourself” look before going upstairs to the next apartment.

Later, at work, I told a few people what happened that morning. Everyone laughed at me. I soon found out why.

You see, “Isabella” or “Zabella” as the Egyptians pronounced it, is the Arabic and Greek word for trash. The girl had come to check if I had any trash to throw. She was an independent garbage collector.

Days later she appeared again. This time, I didn’t shoo her away. In fact, I followed her outside to see her father waiting on a horse cart.


Coffee Brouhahadownload

Years ago, we offered coffee to some guests who came over to our place. They were not friends, just acquaintances. The coffee was not the watery kind they usually drink in Singapore, which comes in tall glasses or mugs. This is coffee that we’ve been drinking in our household for generations. It is brewed Mediterranean style and served in small cups.
After the coffee had been served, I excused myself for a minute but I could not help hearing one of the guests utter loudly in the Malay language, “What a stingy bunch of people – look at those tiny cups!”
Unknown to this person, I spoke the language. You should have seen her face when I replied.
I explained this was a strong, thick brew. If the coffee had been filled up in tall glasses, everyone can expect to suffer palpitations within ten minutes… to last for hours. Maximum: Two cups before it hits you.
The person who had made the remark looked puzzled while the rest somewhat understood.
You could look at this incident in many ways. Was it a cultural misunderstanding or did I encounter someone who thinks the worse of others? Incidentally, the cups had been served on a tray with a full pot.


Kindle Covers


Beautiful, yes? I found these Kindle covers on Etsy.  All the more reason why I am not taking sides in the pro-Kindle or pro-book camp.  Recently, someone who was flying somewhere told me he wished he had his kindle with him instead of having to carry a heavy tome on board the plane. Of course, it makes sense to travel light. So having a Kindle has its useful purpose.


Lady with the Umbrella


What words to put on this fine embroidery work? This is my mother’s work, but I’ve never asked her who the lady with the umbrella is. I have known her since I was a kid – the lady with the umbrella, that is, seeing her weaved into various materials, fabrics, dresses.  Maybe she’s a Charlotte or an Isabelle.  Check out more designs at  ATFlair 


Where is your writing spot?

Cafe Louis Philippe, Paris

Cafe Louis Philippe, Paris

Are you one of those writers who enjoy working on your manuscript outside your home? I would love to, but then I am worried about people staring at me, especially when I am humming intensely while writing an action sequence. I wonder how they’ll react if they see me  in my method writing mode.

You’ve probably heard of the strange habits of some writers. I don’t think Benjamin Franklin, for example, would have survived writing in a café, because he loved to compose in the nude.

There’s an assortment of other things that I might do just to get the right sentence or paragraph out. I might talk to myself, to see if the dialogue flows naturally.

The closest that I can manage is to keep a notepad and scribble notes for that daily or twice daily epiphany. But that’s as far as I can go. I can sit at a café for hours, day dream, and soak up some inspiration. Everything else would be off limits to the general public to see – like Area 51.

You might have your own style. It’s not unnatural for writers to write in a café or a restaurant. There are no rules, I guess. As long as you are comfortable with your environment.

Me and the Myna



I was pulling out of the driveway when I saw a Myna a few feet in front of me. Usually, they’ll flutter away at the sight of an approaching vehicle. They’re pretty fast so I didn’t think anything of it. Not this one. It just stood there.

On a closer examination, I noticed it was munching on a piece of apple, and it refused to move. I paused, and then jerked the vehicle slightly to signal to the little guy to get out of the way.  Amazing — it refused to budge. I thought maybe I could drive over it, centralize the vehicle so that I wouldn’t hit it. But I became concerned that it might panic and flutter into the hydraulics. Do you want to die?

I stopped the vehicle and got out.  I tried to shoo it away. It just ignored me. So I came closer. It skedaddle a few feet away. I picked up the apple piece and tossed it nearer to the bird. It took a step forward and continued munching on it.  Did I learn anything form this? Yes. I have time for even the smallest of creatures. And birds have low IQ.


Only in my mind…


What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you see this picture? I have this habit of putting quotes on things that catch my eye. Like these two embedded sculpture that I saw in Venice. This quote was the first thing I thought when I saw these two Knights:

“Steady man…we’ll get the next round of pizza.”

Then again, I am always exercising dialogue in my head, some serious, some funny. In this case, well, I guess it’s because I can’t remember any of Macbeth’s quotes to attribute. Or may be I was just plain hungry.

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