Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Dying Alone in a Far Away Land


-imagine an expat living in this house until he died days before I took this photo




-yes, this is the same place, turning something decrepit into something new: Ferringhi Walk

Let this be a symbol of how we can transform ourselves from what we have been up until the end of 2009, even those with seemingly no hope in sight, and, by using the same basic foundation of our lives yet with a new cosmetic outlook (happier, positive thinking attitude)imagine what we can be for 2010!

All the best! Happy New Year!!

Whenever I see an abandoned house in Malaysia, I often wonder if the former occupant was an expat like me, and did he die alone? Was he forgotten? This is a fear that many expats have – dying alone in some far-flung country. But then I met a man who did just that ten years ago: Bill McVeigh.

When he was alive, thousands of tourists would walk past his house in Batu Ferringhi without even knowing they were walking past a house. Even if they looked beyond the stalls offering souvenirs and fake watches, they would be hard pressed to make out a house sequestered behind a wall of trees and shrubbery (on all sides) that sealed off Bill McVeigh from the rest of the world.

On several occasions, I had heard about McVeigh, this modern-day recluse and his mélange of exotic animals, including otters, golden gibbons, and a hornbill, who lived in direct defiance to the hotels that had squeezed in around him. It was said that when he took walks along the beach, his two otters would follow him. When a friend of ours was visiting from Holland, she bumped into him. I knew I had to seek him out and meet him for myself.

Although his house was next to the Casuarina Hotel, finding an entrance among the shrubbery was difficult, so I went around back and eventually found an opening. The house was the size of a small cottage and looked unlivable – doors were off their hinges, windows were broken, and large parts of the roof had collapsed inside. Debris lay everywhere inside. Yet as I glimpsed through the broken bars of two moon windows, a semblance of a home emerged – scattered furniture, framed pictures, and book¬shelves full of books and magazines. I knocked on the front door and called out, “Hello?”

Drawn to a large cage with a beautiful golden gibbon, I ventured around to have a look. The double doors to the servants’ portion of the house were missing. Thinking there had to be a beach access, I circled around to the other side, where there were more cages, although each was empty. Feeling uncomfortable at trespassing, I made my way to the back gate, past an old donation box for tourists who wished to view his animals.

While walking along the beach, I saw a scruffy westerner with a fisherman’s air about him. His white beard was short and patchy and his top teeth were missing save for a few stumps, as if someone had bashed them in; his lower teeth were intact. He was walking at a fast clip with a large black dog that struggled to keep pace. I stopped and asked him if he owned the house by the Casuarina Hotel.

“No,” he replied, “but I’ve live there – if you can call it a house.” He then looked at me curiously for awhile. “You’re Robert.”

Taken aback that he knew my name, I looked at him – amazed. He said he recognized my face from The Star newspaper; two weeks earlier, they had featured me for winning third prize in a short story contest.
. . .
Of course, Bill McVeigh didn’t actually die alone – he had his animals, including his snakes. Nor was he forgotten either. Anni had painstakingly restored the trunk back to its original condition. Whenever I saw it, we’d reminisce about him and his house. His spirit also stayed alive in my journals, in my memories, and in my writing, and now inside my book Tropical Affairs, Episodes of an Expat’s life in Malaysia (MPH 2009).

His house, by the way, survived, too, at least the foundation and some of the walls. It had been converted into a bistro called Ferringhi Walk. On the wall are framed photographs that I took of Bill McVeigh’s house, taken a few days after he had died, after the land had been cleared. I’ll even donate a copy of this article, so the patrons can read about him. Perhaps they’ll raise a toast:
To Bill McVeigh, who lived and died in a far away land.
              -excerpt from "Dying Alone in a Far Away Land", Tropical Affairs by Robert Raymer
           
 * full article, posted 15 January 2011

**Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited
***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Novel Project: Talent, Luck, and Discipline

I was leafing through my 2003 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market (which I'll be updating soon) and came across this quote from Michael Chabon:

"I like to say there are three things that are required for success as a writer: talent, luck, discipline. It can be in any combination, but there's nothing you can do to influence the first two. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling. You just have to hope and trust in the other two."

This is so true and it gives those of us who may worry about our talent (am I good enough?) or question our luck (why is everyone against me!) Discipline also applies to many other areas. The discipline to write every day, to market your work, to remain focused on one task at a time. I wrestle with these on most days. It’s so easy while writing a novel to jump back and forth to other projects. For one, the novel takes so long and when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t see much progress, let alone an end in sight. Whereas an essay or a short story or even a blog post such as this, can be written fairly quickly. Finally, I finished something!

Many writers equate writing the novel to marriage, and short stories to the occasional fling or a one night stand. The temptation is always there (the grass is always greener on the other side…). But if you ever hope to succeed in completing, let alone selling your novel, it’s important to get back to the novel, if that is where your true heart lies, and not be tempted by all the other sideshows, too, whether it’s Facebook, twitter, blogs or email. All of these chew up your novel writing time.

Now and then, after you’ve locked in a couple of hours, you can reward yourself with a writing timeout to check all of the above. You’ve earned it. But keep it brief and then get back to your novel. If you don’t, you can kiss that sweet novel goodbye. Whatever urgency or excitement or enthusiasm you first had to get it going, will soon be gone. Out of sight, out of mind. Without that day in and day out discipline, your novel will never get written (and rewritten), let alone published and in the bookstores.

It also takes discipline to find that perfect balance for writing, for family and friends, and for living. Don’t play the martyr. Get your novel written but get a life, too!

*Update: I managed to turn that discipline into some luck, too. The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just.  advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012!  It was all those rewrites in 2010, 2011, and 2012 that got me there.

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Santa Claus Forever

Robert Raymer at St. Christopher's International School in Penang




When I was asked to fill Santa’s shoes as a last minute replacement at St. Christopher’s International School in Penang, Malaysia, I tried to beg off. Who has time for this? “You’ll get to ride in a fire truck,” Angela said, twisting my arm, knowing she was running out of expats to ask.

“You mean a real fire truck?”

My adult expat eyes lit up like Christmas ornaments.

I was so excited about the fire truck and meeting Santa Claus personally (and I do mean personally), I could hardly stand still while Angela and Anni (let’s call them elves) dressed me in a red flannel Santa outfit, complete with one stuffed pillow, and an old pair of black boots. Next came a scruffy white beard and a long red stocking cap.

Only the large-buckled black belt was missing. Instead of having a black belt (not even brown), my trusty elves wrapped a black scarf around my pillow-shaped waist – a black scarf that later unwrapped itself as I stood proudly on top of the fire truck waving to three hundred and sixty expat children from all over the world.
All three hundred and sixty of them laughed as I re-wrapped my scarf. Sud¬den¬ly I had this not-so-Christmassy feeling that this was going to be very long day.

I gingerly climbed down the fire truck, careful not to fall; nor did I wish to trip as I entered the auditorium and land on my face. Just when I began to relax, my beard started to slip.

Now which of these little monsters, I wondered, was going to try to yank it off? The little monsters promptly transformed themselves into angels as they sang for me three Christ¬mas songs, including a favorite, “Jingle Bells”.

All of them sang beautifully except this cute little girl in front, who kept asking me in her skeptical five-year-old voice, “Are you really Santa Claus?”

Deep-down inside, having walked in Santa’s shoes, I really did feel like Santa Claus. For suddenly I had this overwhelming desire to give children all over the world, no matter their race, color or creed, new toys. I wanted to give them plenty of food to eat, and plenty of love, so they’ll grow up to be loving adults who can later bestow the gift of love onto their children, and their children’s children.

The real Santa Claus can do all that, and more. A lot more.

Beneath my Santa outfit, I was merely a humble expat trying to bring a little joy to the school children, who wanted to believe that somewhere there really is a Santa Claus. Not one who arrives in a fire truck (though that’s not a bad way to go), but in an open sleigh pulled by reindeers that can really fly.
-excerpt from "Santa Claus Forever" Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Novel Project: The Mother of that Boy, draft after draft

As early as possible, after I’ve already started to write what’s looking like a novel (as opposed to a long short story) I try to force out a very rough chapter by chapter outline. What this does is force me to think ahead in terms of scenes, of plot twists. It also gives me is something to shoot for. More importantly, it convinces me that I do in fact have a novel on my hands and there’s an ending on the horizon. Naturally, in the writing process other stuff is going to crop up, new scenes, new characters, new plot twists, and that original outline will get revised along the way. I’m not locked into, it’s merely a guesstimate as to where I’m going and it helps to prevent that inevitable panic that, oh my god I’ve painted myself into a dead-end and I’m finished as a writer!

I write short, which means my first draft are pretty sketchy, bare boned as I make my way to the end. Without an end, I have nothing (I have several of those that have gone past 400 pages). That first draft only tells me that I have a novel. Then it’s the rewriting, draft after draft, where I start adding scenes, flushing out storylines, and each subsequent draft gets fatter and fatter. My “drafts” by the way, are not a mere one pass through, but several detailed edits on the computer and a printed out copy that I really rip into it), so when I have “ten drafts” I’ve gone through it about 30 times! When I do get around to that tenth draft, I focus on trimming off the fat and the excesses and tighten the writing, and the story, wherever I can. I keep doing this for a few more drafts.

For example the first draft of A Season for Fools (*now The Mother of that Boy) ,was 268 pages. Draft 11 peaked at 464 pages. By draft 14 I got down to 343!  And that’s without cutting out a single scene or chapter. It’s merely shaving off words here and there, and occasionally a sentence or two, if I’m lucky. I have another novel set in the US that is up to 20 drafts, and one set in Malaysia that’s 13 drafts and waiting, (Then there are those that only went a few drafts and died out of sheer neglect while working on a new novel.

By the way, it’s all too tempting to shift your focus to a new novel idea, than to spend the time fixing one that’s full of problems and may not even be fixable! (Marriages and bad relationships are often the same way.) Yet by fixing those problems, you can take that dead-in-the-water manuscript to a whole new level. Sometime my drafts involve major rethinking of the novel, like adding on a whole new dimension, whether it’s an under¬current or an additional layer to the storyline, or changing it from third person to first person, past tense to present tense.

Some writers (and I think this is a great idea that I’m itching to try) will take a draft and focus just on those pesky verbs, turning a weak, passive verb laden with adverbs into a strong active verb. Otherwise, this verb correction process can get lost in the overall editing, and a lot of weak verbs and adverbs and needless adjectives can slip by unnoticed just because it’s grammatically correct and sounds good.

While editing, a good place to start is looking at those verbs and also those pronouns! Initially they were good, with a clear antecedent, but after some revising and adding in new stuff, the pronoun is either left hanging or it’s ambiguous. Every other draft should be a back to the basics, so basically good writing gets through each time!

*Update: Here's the link to the pitch, synopsis and first five pages:

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Last Tango and Farewell to a Tango Dancer

Robert Raymer and Joelle dancing the tango at Runnymede


Robert Raymer and Angela Clark

Modeling at Equatorial Hotel, Robert Raymer and Anni Nordmann, 2nd and 3rd from left


Joelle, Robert, Anni




If expats are good at one thing it’s saying goodbye because we do it so often – to those expats leaving and to those staying behind. Expats come in two types: those who come to a country for a year or two before moving onto the next country, and those who come to one country and stay put. Anni Nordmann was both. She had been an expat in eight countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Switzerland, Gabon, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore – before arriving in Penang, Malaysia where she ended up staying for sixteen years.
After being away from the United States for 28 years, she’s finally returning home. Like other long-stayers-in-one-country expats like myself, I was wondering, how do you say goodbye to a fellow expat whom you thought would never leave?
               -excerpt from Farewell to a Tango Dancer, Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Last Tango at the Runnymede

The Indochine Tango Dancers.  standing Robert Raymer, Joelle St-Arnoult, Angela and Lee Clark; seated Anni Nordmann, Andre Cluzaud, Laurence, Seibert Kubsch

Anni Nordmann, Robert Raymer and Joelle St-Arnoult

Anni Nordmann, Robert Raymer and Joelle St-Arnoult
The ballroom of the Runnymede Hotel had been chosen by the Penang Heritage Trust for its ‘Spirit of the Twenties’ Dinner and Dance gala that lured the tango dancers from Indochine out of retirement. Built on the site of the house that once belonged to Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore; the Runnymede boasted one of the finest ballrooms this side of the Suez Canal. Famous for its high ceilings, polished wood floor, stained glass window and resplendent chandeliers, the ballroom’s heyday was back in the 1920’s when it competed with its arch rival, the E & O Hotel.

Although it had been well over a year since the filming, five of the original tango dancers were still living in Penang: Lee and Angela Clark, Joelle Saint-Arnoult, Anni Nordmann and I. After dusting off our dancing shoes, we slipped into our 20’s style costumes. I had even grown a moustache and had my hair plastered down as was done in the film. We gave, as one of the 380 guests put it, “a dazzling performance befitting the occasion.”

Later that evening, a contest was held for the best dressed male and female. No less than four of the five tango dancers were nominated and two of them walked off with the top prizes, Angela Clark and I.

No wonder that during the filming of Indochine, while everyone else was busy trying to sneak a photograph of Catherine Deneuve, she took a picture of us – the tango dancers.
-excerpt from "Last Tango at the Runnymede" from Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia
* Here are links to The Chistmas Party scene and the Racing Boat scene.

*Looks like I have another French connection.  Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia, has been translated into French by Éditions GOPE!

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Indochine -- racing boat scene

On the set of racing boat scene in Indochine.  Robert Raymer at left with Siggi and friend on the footbridge that the French built.


Robert Raymer with actress Linh Dan Pham


Linh Dan Pham took this black and white photo of Siggi and me and sent me the photo from the Netherlands


In Indochine, I had also been in the racing boat scene, which was set in Parit, Perak, a place I knew well, since it was one kilometer from my former mother-in-law’s house.

The French constructed a footbridge, made from solid timber, painted white with three evenly-spaced peaked, blue roofs, linking the town to the islet in the middle of the Perak River. They also constructed a matching gazebo on the islet and a dock for the racing shells. The race was between a French Navy crew led by actor Vincent Perez and a group of Indochinese plantation workers employed by the character portrayed by Catherine Deneuve, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

On the day of the filming, the current was swift, and during one of the takes, the eight-oared racing shells (brought to Malaysia from Hong Kong) got too close and collided. For several tense moments, since they had no back¬ups, everyone watched in silence as the various experts and consultants checked out the damage.

In order to take close-ups of the rowers and the race itself, the movie camera had to be mounted onto a pair of sturdy rubber rafts that had been strapped together. Not only did the rafts have to support all of the heavy equipment but also the director, Regis Warnier and several technicians needed to make the shooting a success.

Meanwhile members of Saigon’s high society, portrayed by expats from Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth, and Penang, myself included, were dressed in period costumes from the 1930’s – suspenders, hats, vests, seer¬sucker suits or navy uniforms – watched the race from the bridge, cheering the rowers on to victory.

During the filming I became close friends with the actress Linh Dan Pham, and later we danced together at a Bastille Day party in Ipoh.

-excerpt from “Parit - A French Legacy”, Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia

*Here is a link to another Indochine post about the Christmas Party scene.  In the future, if the interest is there, I'm considering posting both complete articles

**Looks like I have another French connection.  Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia, has been translated into French by Éditions GOPE!


***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Indochine - Christmas Party Scene

Robert Raymer at center on the set of Indochine


Catherine Deneuve rehearsing her dance with Linh Dan Pham


The Christmas party scene was to be filmed atop Penang Hill in the old Crag Hotel, which, incidentally, was once run by the Sarkies brothers, the renowned Armenian hoteliers who also founded the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Penang and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. After being transported to the set, I was led away by Patrick, who chopped off most of my hair. Lolita slicked back what was left with a combination of gel and mousse into a style that was fashionable back then. Alberto dressed me in my 30’s style tuxedo, with suspenders, cuff-links, and bow ties that actually had to be tied.

The scene itself begins with the arrival of the guests (although in reality this segment was shot on the fourth day). Deneuve, the other stars, and the invited guests, sat around three tables (the stars at one table and the rest divided between the other two), while the waiters waited in the wings with traditional Yule Log cakes that they would be serving us as soon as the cameras rolled.

As the cameraman, the lighting and sound technicians made endless adjustments to their equipment, the other assistants and helpers scurried about wherever they were needed. The make-up people would buzz around us like flies touching up our hair, powdering our faces, spraying water on the wilting flowers on our lapels.

While our Yule log cakes were finally being served (they had been coming and going for days) Elaine Devries' father, Emile, (portrayed by Henri Marteau), arrived with his concubine. With dramatic flair he unveiled a phonograph, his Christmas present to Elaine. A record was played and the music cranked up. Elaine then escorted her adopted daughter, Camille (Linh Dan Pham) to the small dance floor where they proceeded to dance the tango.

This was our cue. All eight of us tango dancers rose from our chairs one by one, led our ‘spouses’ to the dance floor, turning and dipping with fancy head movements.

-excerpted from “Four Days with Catherine Deneuve” from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia.

*Here's a l link to a tango clip from Indochine and some other films I've been involved with.

**Looks like I have another French connection.  Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia, has been translated into French by Éditions GOPE!

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Indochine


The Tango Dancers.  standing Robert Raymer, Joelle St-Arnoult, Angela and Lee Clark; seated Anni Nordmann, Andre Cluzaud, Laurence, Seibert Kubsch

In Indochine, Joelle and I danced the tango together. Compare this photo with us in our tacky tourist clothes.

When I was asked to dance the tango in the Oscar-award winning French film Indochine I said no. I told them I couldn't dance. Of course I agreed to be in the movie. Who wouldn't want to be in the same scene with the beautiful and legendary Catherine Deneuve, the pride and national treasure of France, and star of such films as Repulsion, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Belle de Jour, The Hunger, and The Last Metro.

At 20 million, Indochine was, at the time, to be the most expensive French movie ever made. It went on to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and an Oscar nomination for Catherine Deneuve for Best Actress. Set during the 1930’s in Indochina, the story centered around the lives of two women: Elaine Devries (portrayed by Catherine Deneuve), a proud, elegant Frenchwoman who presides over a vast rubber plantation and Camille (Linh Dan Pham), her willful adopted Indo-Chinese daughter.

Originally I was to portray one of the invited guests at a formal Christmas party at the house of Elaine Devries. In this scene, a pivotal one, Catherine Deneuve danced the tango with her adopted daughter Linh Dan Pham, and then exchanged slaps with her co-star and lover in the film, Vincent Perez – in front of Linh Dan, who had recently fallen in love with the same man.

The Christmas party scene, although six minutes long, would take four days to film. Four days with Catherine Deneuve! The scene also called for eight tango dancers who would later join Deneuve and Linh Dan on the dance floor. As things turned out, one of the tango dancers twisted his ankle playing tennis, so the casting people wanted me to play the part. I agreed. I figured the director, Regis Wargnier, would know how to work around one lousy tango dancer.

-Excerpted from “Four Days with Catherine Deneuve” from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia.


* Here are links to The Chistmas Party scene and the Racing Boat scene

**Looks like I have another French connection.  Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia, has been translated into French by Éditions GOPE!

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Beyond Rangoon

Joelle St-Arnoult  and Robert Rayme as tacky tourists.  Compare this to our costume in Indochine.

After seeing me in Beyond Rangoon, my brother disowned me because of the tacky tourist clothes I wore, which I wrote about in “Beyond Rangoon Part 1” and “Tacky Tourist Clothes” in Tropical Affairs. Directed by John Boorman, the film is about an American doctor named Laura (portrayed by Patricia Arquette) who travels to Asia with her sister Andy (Francis McDormand, who won an Oscar for Fargo); while in Mandalay, Laura witnessed a political rally led by Aung San Suu Kyi (who later won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991). But then things go wrong, and there’s a military crack¬down. Unable to leave Burma because of a lost passport, Laura tries to flee the country with the help of a middle-aged Buddhist priest whose life is also in danger.

For my small role as a hotel guest, they asked me to bring along some touristy clothes so I picked out a geometrical Balinese shirt, beige pants, beige socks and hush puppy shoes.

Deborah, who was in charge of Wardrobe, took one look at me and said, “I have just the thing for you.” She asked me to follow her to Wardrobe, which was located inside a shipping container. She held up a pair of plaid shorts.

“You got to be kidding,” I said. “That's really tacky!”

She smiled and said, “That's the look, I'm afraid,” and asked me to put them on.

“Here?”

She nodded.

When an attractive woman asks you (orders you) to undress, who am I to say no? So down went the pants and up went the shorts. The beige socks and shoes remained. So did my pale legs. Not a pretty sight. It was a wonder Deborah didn't bolt out of the container.

My friend Joelle, however, had it worse; despite her red hair, she was asked to wear a pink dress. Boorman kept referring to her as the lady in pink.

-excerpted from "Beyond Rangoon Part I" from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia.

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Paradise Road - The Sailors

Robert Raymer at left, Paradise Road

When the sailors turn finally came on the second day of shooting the Cannon Square scene in Paradise Road, we were presented with clean, white sailor outfits. We were sent outside to have those same nice, clean white sailor outfits made to look like we had been through a ship¬wreck and a battle with the Japanese soldiers. Water and oil, black powder and grease were rubbed into various places including all over our bodies. Some blood-like substance was rubbed in for color. Our black polished shoes were also scuffed up, and in some cases removed.

Three sailors were sent to have their moustaches shaved off. One refused, so he wasn’t allowed to take part and a lucky replacement was quickly found. I was sent to Simon the hairdresser and he chopped off my hair in five minutes flat. I didn’t leave him a tip.

The sailors were led to the set at the Khoo Khongsi Temple, to an enclosed court yard, where Kathy and Becky, the make-up artists, assigned us various injuries. I was given burn marks on the side of my face and a bloody nose. Two sailors were given broken legs with splints and crutches. Bruce Beresford, the director, thought one of the sailors should have a broken arm and that honor went to me. Since I was right-handed, I volunteered my left, but that was just after this photo was taken.

Taking my cues from Glenn Close and the other actresses, I looked for something significant to do in the film other than just stand around and be in other people’s way. So when a Japanese soldier was told to knock down one of the sailors on crutches, I noticed he had trouble getting up since his momentum was being pushed backwards by the soldier. If this were real life, despite a broken arm, I would have helped him to his feet so he wouldn’t get killed by the impatient Japanese soldier.

So I did, and continued to do so for the remainder of the afternoon, for about three dozen takes – from several different camera angles, for different purposes: shots from far away, up close, in front, and behind.

Helping the fallen sailor up was not easy since he was much larger than me, but then no one in that scene had it easy. It was boiling hot and the conditions were often chaotic, with people running every which way, fleeing the Japanese soldiers in pursuit. The stars had it no better. Despite her muddied clothes, her sunburned bare feet, and her bloodstained face, Glenn Close took it all very well like the hardworking, seasoned actress she is.

After the Japanese soldiers finished running the sailors off the set and presumably to our deaths, the director called for a wrap. In pairs of two’s and three’s, we trickled back to Wardrobe where we removed our clothes and washed up, slowly becoming the person we once were, albeit exhausted, and with memories to take home with us.

-excerpted from “Close Encounters with Glenn Close” from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia.

*Here's a link to the group shot of Paradise Road.
**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Paradise Road - Group Shot

Group shot from Paradise Road, Cannon Square, Penang. Glenn Close and Juianna Margulies are kneeling at center.  See how many other stars you can find in the first row.  Click to enlarge!

This is a group shot taken from the set of Paradise Road from my article, "Close Encounters with Glenn Close" in Tropical Affairs. This is Cannon Square, behind Khoo Khongsi Temple in Penang. Set during World War II and based on a true story, Paradise Road revolves around a group of women who were evacuated from Singapore before its fall prior to the Japanese. Their ship was accidentally sunk by the Japanese, who thought only sailors were aboard, not women and children. After being washed ashore in Sumatra, the survivors were rounded up by the Japanese and marched toward a makeshift concentration camp.

To endure the many hardships and the humiliation, including forced prostitution as comfort women, the imprisoned women formed a choir that sang a cappella, which moved their Japanese captors.

Directed by Bruce Beresford (who won an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy , the film starred Americans Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, 101 Dalmations), Francis McDormand (who won an Oscar for Fargo), and Julianna Margulies of the TV program ER; England’s Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) and Elizabeth Spriggs (Sense and Sensibility); and Australian Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, and who an Oscar for The Aviator).

Glenn Close and Juianna Margulies are sitting at center. I'm behind the camera wearing a cute sailor outfit (see link here). I snuck in a camera and then snuck over and stood beside the official photographer for Paradise Road. I have this enlarged and framed in my office at home. Cool shot; great memories!

*Here's also a link to three of my other films including the tango dance scene in Indochine.

**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Prove Them Wrong, Quill Oct-Dec 09





Click on to read.

*Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012!  In 2010, an earlier version of The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady made it to Round Two. Then last year, after a major overhaul of the novel, and changing the title from The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady to The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady, it was shortlisted for 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Award.  I knew I was on the right track, so I revised the novel last July/August 2011 and again January/February 2012 for this year’s competition.

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Anna and the King

Robert Raymer in Anna and the King

Here's a better look at those fake sideburns from Tropical Affairs, "The Crocodile and I". This shot is on the set for Anna and the King for the opening port scene, a converted Swettenham Pier in Penang to make it look like old Siam. Notice the ship at right. It's a fake facade attached to an ordinary yacht -- realistic isn't it? As realistic as those sideburns of mine.

*Link to "Robert and the Crocodile" excerpt from Tropical Affairs.
**Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tropical Affairs: Anna and the King: The Crocodile and I

Anna and the King: Robert Raymer holding crocodile

Taken on the set of Anna and the King, I'm in my period costume, complete with fake sideburns, proof that I held a live crocodile in my arms, a teenager according to one of my students from Sarawak, from the "The Crocodile and I" in my newly released collection of creative nonfiction, Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat's Life in Malaysia.


During the filming of Andy Tennant’s Anna and the King in 1998, while everyone else on the set was busy trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive Jodie Foster (who played Anna Leonowens) or Chow Yun-Fat (who played King Mongkut of Siam), I had my sights on bigger game.

For the opening port scene, when Anna arrives in Siam (shot in Penang, Malaysia), I was cast as one of the ten English gentlemen traders.  Like the other 800 extras for the scene, we were put in various positions along the U-shaped pier.  I was positioned with Andre, who actually was English.  Together we were given a minor task to look like we were doing some­thing other than just standing around.  With a lot of leeway to improvise, we worked on a routine pretending to check our imported goods against the custom ledgers so we could bring them into the country.

We then roped in two other extras assigned to move crates back and forth across the pier; soon “their” crates became “our” crates, which we fussed over to make sure they passed inspection even if we had to “bribe” the custom officials.
           
The routine was fun, and after a dozen takes from different angles, we had it down pat.  In addition to making us feel important, it gave Andre and me a valid reason to crisscross the pier, with ample opportunities for the cameras to pick us out of the crowd and perhaps even linger on us in our quest to get discovered, or at least noticed, so we could later see ourselves in the film.  This gives you a certain degree of bragging rights.  You could say to people, “Did you catch my latest film?”
           
Some of the extras who noticed us, especially the children, mistook us, the English Gentlemen, for the stars.  Later they hounded us for autographs, which we obliging gave.  That in itself made us feel like stars, which by the way, is huge step in getting noticed.  To be a star, you have to look like one.
           
Who did notice us was the crocodile. . .

                       --excerpt from “Robert and the Crocodile” from Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Man, October 2009 review



Click on to read.

Somehow the old version of the back-of-book blurb was used! It should have said, "Robert Raymer has had the pleasure of chasing after a madwoman who stuffed his letter down her blouse, being trapped by a monitor lizard inside his own house, and being frisked by three men wearing pincushions."

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Borneo Post 31 August 2009


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Taking this photo gave the photographer fits. He tried three different backgrounds, raised it to several heights, and kept moving the lights forward to minimize the shadows. Still it doesn't seem to do the award justice! Click to enlarge.

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.