I thought you might like to hear what’s been happening creatively at my end. Three years ago I was invited to teach at a Singapore conference run by two major Christian publishers, one US and the other UK, intended to help develop the creative, editorial, and publishing work in developing countries. There were three hundred participants from forty-three countries. This month they held it again – three hundred and seventy participants from fifty-one countries. I had a hundred and eleven students in my fiction class with five simultaneous translators.
That last conference, my plan was to stay in Singapore for a couple more days, then travel to Malaysia, which I have never visited. Instead, I held up in my little hotel room for two full weeks, and wrote half a book.
There have been a few other times when I’ve found myself entering into such a creative overdrive. The most important thing I’ve learned is, when it happens, go with the flow. So this time the plan was the same. Book a two week trip, have a place where I can stay just in case, and watch what happens. I’ve been here eight days thus far, and the effect has been identical to the last time. Somerset Maughan had it right all along. This place is magical.
Each day I write until I hit the wall, then I go somewhere and see something, walk the streets of Chinatown or Sentosa or whatever. And I sketch. I’m sketching a few days beyond where I write, which allows me space to percolate before putting it down in final form.
The only way to describe the weather here is, tropical. Hot, muggy, raining every day, humid, blistering when the sun is out, steamy when not. The one afternoon it remained clear, I took a bumboat to the lone Singapore island that remains in its original state. A bumboat is a small craft used to ferry supplies (or dumb tourists) to nearby ports or ships anchored offshore. In years past, it was also known as a scavenger boat, or privateer’s vessel. Which pretty much describes our skipper and crew. Everything about Singapore is so precise, so civilized. This boat, by contrast, only left when fifteen passengers showed up at the terminal.
The trip to Pulau Ubin Island lasted less than an hour. The ferry docked in this ratty little Malay-style village, chickens in the road, men in wraparound sarongs smoking and dozing under banyan trees, the works. I walked down the town’s only road and rented the worst bike in the world. The guy pointed me north. No map. Off I went.
The paved road gave up about five miles out. After that, it was trail riding through jungle. I have never been on a trail ride before. I am a road-bike addict. This trip gave me no reason to change my mind.
When I first started writing, one of the authors I used to shape my original style was Somerset Maughan. I always loved his description of the jungle heat, how when the branches closed in overhead the air became too heavy to breathe. Well, I’m here to tell you Maughan got that one right. I rode sixteen miles on those trails, and sweated sixteen gallons.
The highlight of the hottest day in my entire life was when, on my way back, the trail was invaded by monkeys. These guys were about a foot tall, and fast. One minute I was huffing up this steep incline, the next and the furry horde swept in. Down from trees, out of the bushes, several dozen tiny little beasts who claimed the trail.
I’m getting a bumper sticker made up when I get back – I stop for monkeys.
When I finally made it back to the ratty village and gave up my ratty bike, I headed to the ferry terminal (a rickety pier to nowhere). Then I spotted on the side of one of the ratty buildings a hand-painted sign that read, ‘Shower, Fifty dollars’.
Fifty dollars Singapore is about thirty-five dollars US.
I was tempted, man. Tempted.