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.

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