Listening In

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

God bless them, every one

7th November 2007

But the story doesn't start with Japan.

Many years - as many as six of them - before I started writing about this country, I wrote about Singapore.

I was working at The Straits Times then and after finishing a night shift, stood waiting for the company bus in the carpark.

Also waiting was a colleague from the lifestyle section. As we chatted, she mentioned that she was contributing work to a book of Southeast Asian writing.

She asked if I wanted to take part in the project.

Sure, I said. What're they looking for?

Comic writing was the answer.

So when I next got a stretch of free time, I channelled Bill Bryson. It didn't work too well. I could be wrong about this but I think that if you're going to channel someone, it helps if that person's dead.

Since Mr Bryson was, by all accounts, alive, I had to come up with material the old-fashioned way: stare at a blank sheet of paper till the brain gave you words to put there because it wanted a change of scenery.

In this case, the scenery came in two views - Singaporeans who'd discovered their Inner Party Animal and the language landscape of the country.

I'd always felt a bit of guilt for never finishing my thesis on Singapore English but the piece helped to take it away.

Besides, the story was more readable than the thesis would have been, if only because it was hell of a lot shorter.

And so, the book - Punched Lines: Sit-Down Comedy from Southeast Asia - went on sale.

I wasn't expecting it to take the world by storm, nor even by scattered showers, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a royalty cheque with more than two digits before the decimal point.

I figured that the story would end there.

But it didn't.

Now and then, a cheque would appear in the mail. No more than once a year and with the amount dwindling each time but they always left my world a little shinier.

Somebody's reading your stuff, they'd say. And, oh, here's $31 - go knock yourself out.

The latest cheque arrived today.

It was for two years of sales, which brought the grand total to...$9.56. Don't quit the day job yet, eh?

Oh, wait. I already have.

But the cheque also said, you know, people are still reading you.

So here's my world.

Doesn't it look a little shinier?

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