Monday, March 25, 2024

Trust the Novel Writing (and Rewriting) Process


Two years ago, in March of 2022, after finally completing a sixth novel (set in Pompeii about an unusual friendship be­tween an American backpacker and a British expatriate widow re­siding in Malay­­sia), I got the idea to rewrite a couple of my other novels (to give them a fighting chance in a tight US/UK market).  While I was at it, I did all five novels, plus two col­lections of short stories (in­clud­ing Lovers and Strangers Revisit­ed that I blogged about), and a play, a comedy based on the short story “Neigh­bors”

I knew that a quick read wasn’t going to do them justice, so I decided to give each novel what I came to call the 9X treatment.  First, after printing them out, I would line edit each manu­script 3X (three times)—in black, in blue, and in red.  Then on the com­puter, I would go through each chapter 3X—making additional corrections and tightening the writing by cutting and rearranging sen­tences, paragraphs.  (Never assume your writing is good; assume you can make it better!)

Then for the final 3X, I would go through each manuscript beginning to end.  The first pass is straight forward and gives me a good feel for pacing, structure, chronological order, inter­nal logic—is it working or not?  For the second pass I would start with the last chapter, then the next to last chapter, working my way to the first chapter.  Editing chapters out of sequence is power­ful.  It makes you think…wait, did I mention this detail earlier; then double check those early chapters and make the necessary changes.  A good way of catching those errors of omissions!

If I add new details at this stage, I would immediately go back and reference those details, if neces­sary, in the earlier chapters (lest I forget later).  Of course, I would do the same while editing the manu­scripts in var­ious colors, scribbling in my notes and reminders to add in or move around various para­graphs or a shift a scene to a more effective lo­ca­tion.  Then I would go through the manu­script one more time from beginning to end to com­plete the 9X process.  For the short stories, since each story is complete within itself, I would stop at 6X. 

Early during this novel rewriting process, I got a great idea for a seventh novel.  Not want­ing to be distracted, I began shoveling notes (and eventually note­books) into a loose folder.  By mid-2023, I added my Pompeii novel back into the mix to help cut the length and improve it with fresh eyes, impressed by what I had accomplished thus far with the other novel re­writes.

I also created a progress chart for all eight manuscripts since their progress ov­er­lapped, and would then check off each completed step in the 9X process.  No skipping steps along the way just because no one is look­ing!

True, it was a lot of work.  It's also a nice feeling knowing that I followed through the entire proc­ess, thus keeping my commitment to myself.  When I started, I didn’t think it would take two years!  Nor had I planned to do all five novels, let alone redo that sixth novel, plus both collection of stories and that play that had been sitting idle for nearly a dec­ade.  I kept think­ing, while I’m at it…

And while I’m at it, I’ve started a new progress chart for 2024 and the remainder of this decade (and the next—I’m being ambitious!) for future novels, beginning with that seventh novel, having accumulated over 400 pages of notes these last two years.  Plus, I have several previous novels on hold for one reason or another, some with com­plete rough drafts; others, a third of the way through the first draft; or with hundreds of pages of notes already in the computer, including sequels to the other six novels.

Itching to get started, I’ve already begun writing that novel number seven.  In the meantime, I’m hoping one of these six re­written novels will open the door for the others, making all the hard work pay off.  Or maybe it will be this seventh novel… You have to trust the novel writing (and rewriting) process.

       —Borneo Expat Writer

 My interviews with other Malaysian writers:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize. 
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey
Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009. 

Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani, author of Complicated Lives and Life Happens.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

“On Fridays” UiTM Google Meet That I Almost Missed!

May of last year, I was up at 5:15 a.m. to get my son off to school.  Not feeling well (lack of sleep, perhaps), I went back to bed.  A phone notice woke me up, informing me that my story “On Fridays” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which I recently rewrote and blogged about, was being discussed in a Collaborative Teaching at Universiti Teknologi MARA or UiTM—Penang (Bertam campus), led by Associate Professor Dr. Mohamad Rashidi Pakri of USM (discussing the literary aspect of the story) and Nazima Versay Kudus of UiTM. 

Previously, during Covid lockdown, I had been invited by Nazima to join Google Meet to answer questions about my short story "Neighbours" also from Lovers and Strangers Revisited for her Faculty of Health Science students.  This time around, since it involved about sixty students from several classes from Health Science, who are learning about narrative writing, it was more practical to record and share the session among the students than to get them all together at one time, even online.

Surprisingly, I had not been forewarned, or was I a last-minute inclusion—hey, let’s wake up Robert to see if he’s available!  Either way, I was too late for the discussion, but I did manage to join the Q & A session.


“On Fridays,” the first story from Lovers and Strangers Revisited has been published over a dozen times in seven countries.  In 2003, it appeared in The Literary Review (USA) and Frank (France) in a joint publication.  I had sent the story to the editor of Frank, unaware that he had been asked to be the guest editor of The Literary Review, so he chose “On Fridays” for their joint issue on Expat Writing.  The story, about an expat living in Penang, Malaysia who sits beside a crying woman in a taxi, later appeared as a reprint for Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010.  Since then, the story had been revised several times in my effort to finally get it right… 

I would like to have listened in the session, to hear what the students thought of the story since they would be freer to discuss it without the presence of the author—for fear of embarrassing themselves or offending him—so why did we have to read that stupid story in the first place?  It nearly put me to sleep!  Hopefully, no one said that or felt that way!


By the time I came on board, or online, (freshly showered and wide awake) some students may have already left (is he coming or not?)  The questions they did ask me were straight forward.  Why did he, the unnamed first-person character, feel com­pelled to hold her hand instead of just speaking, “Hi, how are you?”  Was it im­portant that she wore traditional clothes?  Did the story really take place?  Was it a true story?  More than once, in the past, I had been asked, “Have you found her?”  “Are you still looking for her?” Many of these ques­tions I had discussed in the Story Behind the Story (which I wrote for all seventeen stories for the MPH publication), about how the story came to be written, how the story evolved after its initial publication, what significant changes I made to the story (and why) that led to subsequent publications overseas… 

Having wrote the story in 1988 (first published in the March ’89 issue of Female in Singapore), I feel honored that the story “On Fridays” is still being taught in 2023, 35 years later, and it still resonates with university students who can identify with the characters, even a lonely expat inside a share taxi on a rainy day sitting beside a crying Malay woman reading a letter on blue paper…

       —Borneo Expat Writer

 My interviews with other Malaysian writers:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize. 
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey
Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009. 

Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani, author of Complicated Lives and Life Happens.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Rewriting Lovers and Strangers Revisited


Every few years I get this urge to rewrite the 17 stories from Lovers and Strangers Revisit­ed.  No doubt that seems silly and a waste of time for most writers since the book has already been published.  Had I not done so, it wouldn't been published a second or a third time!  Originally published in Singapore as Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia,1993, Writ­ing in Asia Series), I revisited the stories in 2005 when a Malaysian lecturer requested to use the collec­tion for a course on Malaysia and Singapore literature.  The book—after consulting with an editor and going back to the original inspiration for each story, vis­it­­ing many of the ori­gin­al settings and over­hauling the stories, adding new scenes, back-stories, and endings—was repub­lish­ed as Lovers and Strangers Revisited (Silver­fish Books).


In 2008, a third revised ver­sion with two additional stories was published by MPH, which I wrote about in a blog about publishing in Malaysia and Singapore, that later won the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Awards and was translated into French.  To complement the MPH edition, I wrote a blog series, The Story Behind the Story, about the devel­op­ment and the sig­nif­i­­cant changes of each story that led to their various mag­azine/lit­erary journal publica­tions—often used as writ­ing/teaching aids in schools, colleges, and uni­ver­sities.  The main char­acter from the story “Neigh­bors”  was featured by an expat teacher in the New Straits Times, “Are You Mrs. Koh?” 

So why revise the stories again?  I’ve always felt that Lovers and Strangers Revisited, based on its publishing track record, deserves a wider audience both inside and outside of Ma­lay­sia/Singapore.  For example, the collection is still available in French by Editions GOPE as Trois autres Malaisie.  In fact, the publisher will be exhibiting the collection along with his other Malaysian titles at a French book fair in Kuala Lumpur on 24 March 2024, which should translate into more sales!.


So far, thanks to rewriting those published stories, the individual stories have been published 82 times in 12 coun­tries (11 stories in USA and UK); taught in Malaysian secondary school literature for six years (“Neigh­bors”), as well as in Cana­da and USA (Ohio University); and several stories have been taught for years in various Ma­lay­sian universities and private col­leges.  Film stu­dents at Ohio Univer­sity found the original collection in their library, came to Malay­sia, and filmed, “Home for Hari Raya.”  

Maybe because of this persistent belief that these stories (individually and as a col­lec­tion) are still relevant—they are still being taught in Malaysia as of May 2023 and are still being published in the USA (“The Stare” appeared in Thema, Spring 2021).  As I began editing again (clarifying details, cutting need­less words or phrases, tightening the writing), I could see significant improvements in each story.

Also, the process feels like a trip down memory lane, both as a writer and as an expatriate living in Malay­sia.  “Mat Salleh,” for example, was my first published story, a non­fiction short story, 28 January 1986 (New Straits Times) and my first published story in the UK (My Weekly).  "Teh-O in K.L." was my first published short story is USA (Aim). The other stories, all published but one, are all loosely based on my early ex­peri­ences or on my ob­­ser­va­tions of kam­pong and modern-day life in Malaysia.  Not all the memories are good—a failed mar­riage for me (“Dark Blue Threads”) and a neighbor com­mitting suicide (“Neighbors”); nevertheless, these stories are my Malaysian roots, so to speak, having lived in Penang as an expatriate for twen­ty-one years and taught creative writing at USM for ten years, before moving to Sarawak to grow new roots.

The real payoff, of course, is that these revised stories now have a chance for future publica­tions in the US or UK or Australia or elsewhere—the main reason I do it.  Or the collection, fingers crossed, is republish­ed to a wider audience.  Or the play that I added as a bonus, “One Drink Too Many,” a comedy adapted from the short story, “Neigh­bors,” is produced in Malaysia or Singapore.  Preferably, all three!

What helps me to keep the faith in Lovers and Strangers Revisited (and the individual stories) is rereading the MPH back-of-the-book reviews and other review snippets that I include while marketing the collection to agents and other publishers: 

MPH Publisher’s synopsis and reviews from the back of the book:

In this collection of 17 stories, Robert Raymer portrays the traditional in modernity, the unexpected in relationships both familiar and strange, the recurring theme of race even as contemporary Malaysia finds ways to understand its multicultural milieu.

In the title story, a selfish writer gets more than he bargained for when two former lovers haunt him in more ways than one. In another story, a man's loneliness turns into obses­sion when he shares a taxi ride with a Malay woman. A Clark Gable lookalike is a bar­rister wannabe with a shocking secret and gossipy neighbours reveal more about them­selves than the man who commits suicide. Elsewhere, expats cross the border to Had Yai to experience a good bargain in the Thai flesh trade before going home to their wives in America.

In this republished edition of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Raymer's snapshots of scenes from various walks of life provide an insider-outsider view on love, family and culture, and urges a second look at ourselves in the mirror of self-awareness.

Praise for Lovers and Strangers Revisited

'Raymer not only writes from his own viewpoint as a foreigner and observer, but also delves into the minds of desperate Malay woman, a young Indian girl, an adulterous Chinese couple, and an old Chinese man who survived the Japanese occupation... He has an uncanny ability to hold a mirror up to the people of his adopted country, not as a for­eigner but as one of us. His stories are full of personalities that you know, you work with them, or live next door to them, or eavesdrop on them at the kopi tiam.' The Borneo Post

'This account ("On Fridays") of a crammed ride with strangers in a taxi may well stand as a metaphor of Raymer's own experience of living among Malaysians... He imbues each of the characters in his stories with a realistic, genuinely believable voice even as he tempers it with the valuable perspective of an observer.' New Straits Times

'Raymer gives a lushly and rich and multi-layered rendition of the Malaysian way of life as colored and influenced by his own experiences from his twenty years as an expat here... These stories are some of the few authentic portrayals of the inner workings and inner plays of the average Malaysian's life in all of its robustness and unique cultural settings.' The Expat

A little ego boost for sure, something all writers need now and then.  Also, it’s good to touch base, like stretching before exercising.  Awfully glad I rewrote those stories.  Now that 2023 is over (having rewritten eight bookssix novels and two collections of storiesin two years), I’m ready to embark on new writing projects for 2024 and beyond... 

—Borneo Expat Writer

 My interviews with other Malaysian writers:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize. 
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey
Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009. 

Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani, author of Complicated Lives and Life Happens.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Being Seen on TV by a Friend

“You’re on TV!” my wife told me over the phone, calling from a Toyota dealership where she was having her car serviced.  A friend of hers had texted that she was watching me on TV.   I soon realized that it was a repeat of the Past Present Future Episode 5: Writing Natives episode on TV Sarawak that featured Golda Mowe, author of such novels as Iban DreamIban Journey and Iban Women that I had blogged about.



After interviewing Golda a few years ago, I had been asked to take part in a docu­men­tary about her writing life.  The filming for my part was done at my house, which made it convenient.  Unfortunately, I missed the actual program but I was glad that at least someone I knew watched it (or a at least a repeat version of it).


I told my wife to let her friend know that I would be available for autographs.  I’m still waiting…

      —Borneo Expat Writer

My other Interviews with First Novelists:  

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.
Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009.
Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 

Also, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, author of Complicated Lives and Life Happens.

Five part Maugham and Me series

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Sarawak Author Golda Mowe Featured in a Documentary


Congrats to Golda Mowe on being featured on Past Present Future Episode 5: Writing Natives, which aired 4 August 2021 on TV Sarawak (TVS). 

Having come across my author-to-author interview with Golda, Deborah Christopher, who studied Cinematography at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) where I taught for a number of years, asked me if I was in­terested in being interviewed for a documentary featuring Golda Mowe.  Golda, from Sarawak, is the author of the novels Iban Dream, Iban Journey and Iban Women

                                                                        Blue Lotus 15

Deborah is the co-producer for a documentary series named Past, Present, and Future, a project funded by TVS.  Each episode highlights different stories of Sarawak personalities who have incorporated their culture and traditions from the past into their present (and future) careers or projects.

I was glad to hear that Golda Mowe was being featured since she is underap­pre­ciated and de­serves a wider audience.  I was impressed by her discipline, her persistence and her will­ingness to rewrite.  Many Malaysian writers do not seem to want to put in the extra work, thinking it is good enough for Malaysia.  The good ones, like Golda and others that I have interviewed who want to attract an international audience, know better.

Due to the on-going pandemic, the project was delayed.  Then last year the film crew nearly got locked down in Sibu while interviewing Golda.  Meanwhile, I made a list of things to do before the film­ing:  reread Iban Dream and purchase and read the other two novels in the  series; prepare for the interview by coming up with something interesting to say; make notes, reminders of what I need to do the week and the day before the shoot (including domestic chores—sweep­­ing, dusting, cleaning the living room); and more reminders for the morning of the shoot itself (arrange mythology books on table, make sure I have handy everything I may need—water bottle, pen and notebook, outline of my talk in case I go blank.



After reading Golda’s three novels, I learned a lot about Iban myths, their fears and dreams, their omens and taboos, their customary laws (cannot refuse a visitor if he makes a request to stay at your longhouse and cannot refuse food offered to you), the significance of weaving patterns (and the harmful risks of trying to weave above your skill level) and also retribution, an obligation to take avenge if one of your relatives was killed.  Also, that the ideal matrimonial match should be between a feared head­hunt­er and a gifted weaver.


For the documentary I was asked to talk about Golda, her writing, and her life journey, which got me to thinking in terms of The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, a book by Christopher Vogler, which I picked up at a writing conference in Maui, along with a companion book, Myth and the Movies, Discovering the Mythic Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films by Stuart Voytilla.

Vogler, inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, author of Hero with a Thousand Faces, discusses the use of archetypes such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Threshold Guardians, the Herald, the Shapeshifter (gods and demons), the Shadow and the Trickster.  Also the Mystic Structure and Stages of the Journey:  Ordinary World; Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Meeting with the Mentor; Crossing the First Threshold; Tests, Allies, Enemies; Approach to the Innermost Cave; Ordeal; Reward (Seizing the Sword); The Road Back; Resurrection; Return with the Elixir.

This mystic structure can be applied to nearly every story from adventures to romance to slapstick comedy, even to animation such as Disney’s The Lion King.

To prepare myself for the documentary, I broke my presentation into four parts: (1) Golda’s use of mythology; (2) her plots and themes; (3) her personal writer’s journey and how we met (MPH workshop that I conducted in 2009); and (4) her writing in Sarawak and publish­ing in Singapore.  I had written a blog about publishing books in Malaysia and Singapore.

A common theme in all three of Golda’s novels is the hero being made a scapegoat or an outcast—you against the world (both visible and invisible).  The hero, even as a child, is often forced to undertake the ‘hero’s jour­ney’, like Tarzan, or Mowgli in The Jungle Book, or Simba in The Lion King, often cast out unfairly by society.  In Golda’s Iban Dream, the child Bujang, is raised by an orangutan…destined to be a great warrior.  All three novels are connected by a cursed family line and each hero/heroine sets out to prove that they are not cursed, to right wrongs.


Deborah and Jeremy Emang (the producer and director), along with the rest of the crew, Shawn and Elisha, arrived at my house for the half-day shoot.  They proceeded to set up the camera and lights and the rest of their equipment in one section of our living room, aimed at me sitting at a round table and with several coffee table books on mythology and lost cities, lost empires, including Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, with a nice backdrop of collected items from my travels.

Once the filming began, I proceeded to talk about Golda’s personal hero’s journey as a writer and her own mystic journey, some of which I had learned from my research from my previous interview.

Then I spoke about the hero’s journey within her stories and how it dates back to ancient Greeks, which she, coincidentally talked about during her own segment.  When most people think of mythology, they often limit themselves to Greek and Roman mythology, dating back to the Trojan War.  But every culture has their own mythology, and Golda Mowe wrote about the Iban mythology that is important to her.  She writes about what she knows, what she has learned, and from her meticulous research to get the details of her rich Iban heritage correct.  It’s these details that make her fantasy novels palpable.  As a reader, we are caught up in their journeys, their quests, their battles with demons and headhunters.

I continued to talk until I heard an all too familiar jingle from an ice-cream truck.  Knowing that sound equipment for the filming could pick it up, I took a much-needed break and drink of water.  We waited several minutes until the vendor made his rounds and took away his jingle.

I picked up where I left off and continued to say what I felt needed to be said on Golda’s behalf.  I had done my home­work and was well prepared.  After the interview, Jeremy told me that he had written a list of questions but I had answered all of them as I spoke, so there was no need to interrupt me.  He could relax, check off each un­asked question, and concentrate on the filming. 

Jeremy Emang 

A few weeks later, Deborah contacted me to borrow my three Golda Mowe books for another shot (since Golda was still in Sibu) and promptly returned the books.  During the actual documentary, I appeared four times; however, I was bleeped only once.  What I said was the right word for the context (bullsh…ing).  I thought they would cut it from the actual documentary.  Instead, I have my first recorded ‘bleep’ caught on film, a badge of honor.

Although I didn’t get a chance to meet Golda again, it was good to see her on film.  Since she did all the hard work, the research and writing her books, she deserves all the credit for her well written books about Ibans in Sarawak.  I wish her all the best with her writing and hope she continues her hero’s journey that all writers must undertake if they dare to dream and write and see their work published.


                      —Borneo Expat Writer

 My other Interviews with First Novelists:  

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.
Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009.
Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 

Also, Malachi Edwin Vethamani, author of Complicated Lives and Life Happens.

Five part Maugham and Me series



Saturday, September 4, 2021

A Final Farewell to a Tango Dancer

I originally wrote this article “Farewell to a Tango Dancer” in 2003 for a farewell dinner for Anni Nordmann before she left Penang, Malaysia where I first met her, and later published a revised version for Tropical Affairs.  Having learned that she had recently passed away due to cancer, I thought I would post the article as a final tribute to Anni.

                                                                   Joelle, Robert, Anni

If expats are good at one thing it’s saying goodbye because we do it so often—to expats leaving and 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?

Like Anni, when I came to Malaysia 20 years ago, the intention was never to stay for very long, but as years went by, I became settled.  Initially I was awed by those long-time expats who had been here for ten or twelve years, and thought, how do they stay that long?  Don’t they miss their families and friends back home?  But as the years went by, as we started our own families here, this becomes home,             

Although I moved to Penang in 1985, Anni came in 1987 with her Swiss husband and three-year old son, Chris.  Later we discovered that before we met, our paths had crossed several times.  Anni was living in Holiday Inn, where her husband was the general manager, and I had been to the Holiday Inn on many occasions, attending various func­tions, including a Thanks­giving dinner for Americans where she was also present.  My ex-wife and I were close to Stella, Holiday Inn’s guest relations officer, and attended her wedding, as did Anni.  In 1991, after four years, after Anni had already left Holiday Inn, after her husband had moved away to another hotel in another country, we finally met.


During the filming of Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve and Vincent Perez, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the director decided to do a day shoot instead of a night shoot for the Christmas Dinner scene, thus several male expats had to back out as guests and tango dancers.  So the casting people called me as one of the replacements.

Before the actual filming of the scene, all eight tango dancers met in Hotel Equatorial with the film’s choreo­grapher.  In walked Anni, a classy looking Ameri­can who played polo and taught horseback riding.  Anni, however, was not fated to be my dancing partner.  Instead it was her good friend Joelle Saint-Arnoult, another longtime expat from France.  For one week we learned how to dance and turn and dip to perfection.



Our Christmas Dinner scene in the old Crag Hotel atop Penang Hill took four days to shoot.  Elegantly dressed in period outfits from the 1930s, Anni sat directly across from me, so we had plenty of time to get to know one another.  A few weeks later, Anni, Joelle and I were invited to take part in the racing boat scene in Parit, Perak.

with Lind Dan Pham 

After Indochine, all three of us were extras in Beyond Rangoon—also set in Penang—di­rected by John Boorman, starring Patricia Arquette and Francis McDormand, and Paradise Road, directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Glenn Close and Cate Blanchett.  In Beyond Rangoon, Anni and I worked a few days in wardrobe when they needed extra help to deal with 2000 extras, where we gained a whole new perspective into movie making.

In 1992, Anni, Joelle and I were asked by Angela Clark another tango dancer from Indochine, to help  revive Penang Players after a twelve years hiatus.  Our first play was Admirable Crichton where Joelle and Anni had small acting parts.  Anni’s big part was sound effects, and I was stage manager.  Our behind-the-scenes roles continued for several produc­tions including, Gosforth’s Fete, Between Mouthfuls, The Mousetrap, and Dick Whittington and Wonder Cat.  Joelle played the Wonder Cat and Anni’s son Chris, then age 10, played Dick Whittington.

During this time, Anni and I shared other adventures, too.  She helped to dress me up as Santa Claus for St. Christopher’s School, where her son Chris was attend­ing.  Thanks to Indochine, we became models for Hotel Equatorial, City Bayview, and Bacchus, a French restaurant owned by Joelle and her husband.  We were then hired to dress up as Colonial Officers and their spouses at the E & O Hotel for 200 French Lotto winners. 

For the Penang Heritage Trust’s Twenties Revival at the former Runnymede Hotel, we were asked to reprise our roles as tango dancers from Indochine and put on a performance.  By then, the eight tango dancers in Penang had dwindled to five.


Anni and I shared a penchant for visiting places where we didn’t belong, like the remnants of a house in Batu Ferringhi where another long-term expat-cum hermit named Bill McVeigh was still living out the remainder of his life before he passed away.  We snuck into several abandoned bungalows, including one where we were chased by bats, and another time, I tore my shirt slipping through a hole in a fence. 

 There were sad moments too, like giving blood to a fellow Penang Player who later died of cancer; although he was from Penang, he was a long-term expat in France.  Anni, at her own personal risk, once helped another expat flee Penang from an abusive husband. 

In the last five years, Anni devoted herself to “The Farm” at Lone Pine Hotel, where she taught horseback riding, resurfacing now and then to do the sound for yet another Penang Players’ production.  Meanwhile I settled to a life teaching creative writing at USM, went through a divorce, and eventually met someone wonderful from Sarawak and remarried. 

While I concen­trated on teaching and my own writing, Anni offered to read an early draft of my novel and gave helpful feedback.  Over the years she had edited two more of my novels and some short stories.  Extreme­ly supportive of my writing, she, Joelle and others from Penang Players volunteered to launch my collection of Malaysian-set short stories, Lovers and Strangers.  Later they did again for the revised version, Lovers and Strangers Revisited.  By then Anni had left, although I acknowledged her in the book.

When Joelle first told me that Anni was leaving Penang, I contacted her and we quickly caught up with each other’s lives, reminiscing about all the adventures we had shared in Penang, as well as airing each other’s concerns about her returning to the US and her future life as a former expat whose heart will always be in Malaysia where she had spent a third of her life.  When I was going through a difficult custody battle for my son, she gave me the timely advice to “keep your head high”.  I know she will be do the same no matter what happens in the US where many fellow Americans have never traveled out of the US, other than weekend trips to Mexico or Canada, and have no desire to do so.

Like many other short- and long-term expats in Penang, as well as hordes of local friends, especially those in Penang Players or from The Lone Pine—we will miss Anni, particularly Joelle and I, who will remain behind in Penang as the last two tango dancers.

*Later, in 2006, I left Penang for Sarawak on the island of Borneo in East Malaysia where I still reside as an expat. Joelle remains in Penang.