By A. Jessie Michael

Of all the major festivals in the world, none I think is more universally celebrated than Christmas. There is something in the air in December that reaches far and wide.

When I arrived in China in 2012 to teach, I found a dismal artificial, Christmas tree with tangled streamers, in my classroom, in March of all months! The students who had put it up had no notion of the origins or the meaning of Christmas (or any other religious festival) except that it was universally fashionable to celebrate this thing called Christmas, in December, with a tree. It did not occur to them that it should have been taken down in January. It was in Florida and Australia that I discovered the Christmas Shops. I could not imagine that they stayed open all year round. At Christmas, Floridians have Santa Clause, sleigh, reindeer, and lights and whatnots on their rooftops, down the driveway and all around the garden. Sydney lights up the city and has amazing light displays of the nativity on the outside walls of a Church. Singapore lights up Orchard road and makes it a tourist attraction. No city is spared this dressing up.

In the Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur near where I live, this year it is a White Christmas! There were white trees laden with white cotton and white streamers; there were white swans, still, on a glassy lake and deer motionless under cotton laden trees. There were even polar bears in mid-prowl on snow. Outside it was 33 degrees Celsius. The hotel lobbies in the city are even more beautifully done up. When our children were small, we used to take them hotel-lobbies just to view the decorations.

The origins of Christmas are religious and holy but always seen as a time for joy for everyone.  Over the years with the advent of Santa clause with his legendary beginnings and his multiple selves, followed by Rudolph and his red nose competing with the Baby Jesus, Christmas has taken on two separate lives, the sacred and the secular. The first sings of the Child in the manger and the other of jingle bells and chestnuts on the fire. The sacred is Middle-Eastern, the secular is undeniably Western what with snowflakes and sleighs- bells. Yet there is no tension between the two. Somewhere in between, the twain do meet. The droves of people at the Mall with their children and cameras seem genuinely happy. The mood is infectious. I know for a fact that many non-Christians and total non-believers put up trees and exchange gifts just not to miss out in this season of goodwill.

91RK0gVPWQL.jpgFor believers in my city and in other towns in Malaysia, I know the churches will overflow at every service — the Christmas eve services and the morning ones. It is always the case.  The giving-trees are up where one can hang gifts for orphans. Christmas choir performances are on full swing if you care to check your events page on Facebook. At the same time, embassies are running their Christmas charity bazaars. There are the untold tales of those who celebrate with almsgiving. They visit the prisons, the homeless, the orphans or the aged with food, gifts and cheer. It is the season of giving and prayer and the season of joy, one in which even the saddest of hearts will smile a little and the hardest of hearts will melt a little. Everybody is in the mood, even the naysayers, who, like Scrooge, stomp their foot and  say — “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge then did a volte face.

Charles Dickens  had captured the essence of the season beautifully in his novel written in 1843, A Christmas Carol — that charity, compassion and love reign supreme in this holy season.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Neil Humphreys
Neil Humphreys (Picture credit: Alvin Loh, CraftsmenSG)

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I started when I was around four or five and haven’t stopped since. It’s not a job. I no longer have a say in the matter. I am never allowed to stop writing. I think writing. I sleep writing. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I can never switch off.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

There are several. My latest fictional work – Marina Bay Sins – is a psychological crime thriller. I’m fascinated by our ongoing ability to do extraordinarily profound and stupid things, to be knowingly selfish and selfless, to be kind and cruel, often at the same time. That’s the character bit. As for the plot, well, I find the hypocrisy of Marina Bay and all it represents rather nauseating. I’d have more respect for the place if it held up a sign that read: “We’re here to take money from the addicted, the desperate, the vulnerable and the incorrigible, and we don’t really care where the money comes from.” At least that’s honest.

My latest non-fictional work – Saving a Sexier Island – is a funny/poignant tour around the island’s finest and weirdest heritage and historic sites and it’s an unapologetic call to arms. Save it or risk cutting the umbilical cord to our nation’s soul.

Third, my children’s book series, Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase, is in the process of being adapted by an international TV network. The children’s books involve characters that are cheeky, irreverent, inquisitive, funny, clumsy and often wrong – i.e. they are REAL children, not one-dimensional archetypes. And children have related to the characters, which is wonderful. Plus there are distinct environment themes in the series that are very important to me, but are presented in a subtle fashion without battering the kids over the head with them. As with most audiences, if you make them laugh, you might make them listen.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Lydia Kwa Pix

 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

There’s a force inside me that compels me to write. I feel unwell if I don’t write for a while. I think I write simply because it’s part of my be-ing in the world. I need to communicate. Not just with others; but essentially, I need to express and explore what I am not sure yet what I know or don’t know. I need to ask questions.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

If you are referring to the most recently published book, then it would be sinuous, a long poem, published by Turnstone Press in October 2013. But Pulse (Ethos Books, 2014) is the most recently released edition of a novel that was first published in Canada by Key Porter Books in 2010 (just months before it shut down). So, if I may choose to focus on Pulse:

I’d grown up in Singapore and left for Canada in 1980 to begin my studies in psychology at University of Toronto. Even though I’ve spent most of the past 35 years away from Singapore, I am very much connected deeply to the country of my childhood. Pulse is a novel that explores the experience of a queer woman living in Toronto who re-visits her past and engages with the disorienting landscapes of the present. I wanted to explore the various levels of trauma—collective and personal—that mark us, and how we creatively seek to transform those wounds. The book is a work of fiction. But I have certainly borrowed from my knowledge and memories.