Melyza Pakianatham came across my collection of short stories, now in it's 21st year, during her teacher's training stint in Penang (Institut Perguruan Persekutuan Pulau Pinang) where I gave a seminar on creative writing back in 2006. Four years later, she contacted me in March of 2010 to inform me that she had chosen my books Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2008) and Tropical Affairs: Episodes from an Expat’s Life in Malaysia (MPH 2009) as the subject of her dissertation on the use of Malaysian English for her Masters in English as a Second Language at the University Malaya, titled, “The Use of Malaysian English in Robert Raymer’s Short Stories.”
Melyza made plans to travel to Kuching to interview me in May 2010, but due to her father’s illness she had to put her graduate studies on hold for two years. Fortunately her university allowed her to continue her research. When she contacted me again in July 2012, I was in the USA after my father had passed away.
I was trying to answer her questions as to why I would use Malaysian English in various contexts without being able to refer to my books, then I remembered that my brother in Colorado had a copy so when I reached there I was able to complete the remainder of her questions without further delay.
Many of the words that Melyza had highlighted were articles of clothing like baju kurung in “Home for Hari Raya” (adapted into a film by Ohio University), or related to food, such as kenduri (celebratory feast) in “Mat Salleh”. From the context, readers would have a good idea what the word meant. Others were common slang words like Mat Salleh (for white man) from the same story or place name like kampong (village) or madrasah (the village religious center) in “The Stare”. I told Melyza that I preferred to use Malay words that were common in certain Malaysian contexts such as parang (machete) and bomoh in “Smooth Stones” since ‘witch doctor’ had other connotations that could confuse non-Malaysian readers or give them the wrong impression.
Granted another extension for her thesis due to the difficulty of having to take care of her father and her grandmother, who had been hospitalized numerous times in the recent months, Melyza persevered.
Now her work is finished and bound for shelves, including my own. So congrats to Melyza. It was an honor to have my books chosen as the subject of your dissertation.
Nice, title, too!
—Borneo Expat Writer
*Here's a link to my website, to MPH online for my three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.