My Travel Story: Leaving Singapore

Photo from Proper Pictures

This is an excerpt from my book on my working holiday.

It was seven at night. A family of four stood nearby. The girl, who had on knee-high boots, was the only one with a suitcase, a pink suitcase with polka dots around the height of approximately thirty inches.

“Could you help us to take a photo?” she asked.

“Sure. 1,2,3, smile.”

What smiles, they looked so similar, I thought.

Twenty three people strolled past us. The guys spoke animatedly with their hands moving across the air. The girls covered their mouths when they laughed, you could only see their eyes curving slightly. Japanese, I was sure. It was drizzling outside but it didn’t matter to anybody here. The rain didn’t break any of their smiles.

A pair of hands swung across and tightened around my neck. I yelped. The grip was released. I turned around and made a clearer picture of the hands. It was fair and lanky. The nails were painted a black matte. If I hadn’t know Gina since I was a kid, I would think that she was some cranky vampire-girlfriend wannabe.

“How many times do I tell you not to that? Especially when there are so many people around.”

“You always fall for it. And I’m not going to be doing it for six months. I couldn’t help it. Hello auntie.” Gina greeted my mother, who was used to her antics. “Have you found your Couchsurfing host?”

“Oh, I would be staying with my friend. I know her back in the zoo. She is studying there. I have prepare everything I need.” I looked over to my mother.

“Come back after one week,” my mother said, “And don’t speak to stranger. I know what you are like outside.”

“That’s too short. It would be such a waste. I spend six hundred on the air ticket.”

“Young lady, you’re going to come back after a month. No longer than that. One month is enough. That’s it.”

“Oh, auntie, you know Wing knows how to take care of herself. She has been taking care of me since, erm, let me see, thirteen years. Almost since I’m born,” Gina said

“Gina. Please, you are twenty two, and I have never taken care of you. Stop making me sound old. We just hang out as friends do.”

“Well, I’m just trying to help.”

“Time to check in.”

“I’ll wait for you here,” my mum said.

I picked up my red 45-litre backpack and moved towards the check-in counter.

“Your mum doesn’t know you are couchsurfing?” Gina paused. “Staying at some stranger’s house?” She raised her eyebrow and smiled. It always irritated me when I saw that particular smile.

“Someone once went to stay over at her boyfriend’s and told her mum that she was with me.”

“Nasty. By the way, it’s ex-boyfriend. You think you would meet somebody there?”

“Me? I would be too busy finding myself.”

“Oh yea, that’s the purpose of your trip, to seek for the purpose in your life kind of trip. How would I forget that? It’s so dramatic. Anyway I’m sure you find one, it just happens to you when you go overseas. Any news with the French mix Japanese?”

I tilted my head to the right. I saw the feet of a couple and shrugged my shoulders.

“My dear Gina fortune teller, how am I supposed to live so far away, without your smart divine interpretation of events? Life is going to be so lonely and boring.”

“So sweet of you,” she said, pinching my left cheek. “You really are going for six months? Your mum wants you back in one.”

“We’ll see how.”

We had dinner together. My mother made use of this opportunity to remind me of her do’s and don’ts in overseas. They all could be simplify to a few points.

The Do-s: find a tour, come back after one month, preferably one week, call back every week.

The Don’t-s: talk to and believe in any strangers, walk around alone.

All this while, Gina, who sat beside my mother, was pursing her lips, keeping her eyes soft and nodding almost every second. When my mother finished, Gina accentuated her final nod and looked at me with wide eyes. I could feel her smile but she hid it well this time round.

We walked towards the departure gate. My mother hooked my left elbow, slowing my pace. Maybe the rain was bothering her joints, she had been complaining of the dull aches when the weather worked up.

“One month,” my mother repeated her mantra.

“Maybe.”

We were standing outside the departure gate when she reached into her handbag and passed me six fifty-dollars notes. She knew that I only had four hundred New Zealand dollars with me. She always believed that it was always better to have enough money for travel, even if this was a working holiday and I could earn money on the road.

“You don’t have to, you know.”

“Use it well.”

I took the money and hugged her. I was definite about how long I would be away and I was sure she knew too. I turned to Gina and we hugged.

“We are yin and yang. These things, you are always talking about in Facebook. It sounds so weird from me. You write some of the weirdest stuff. Just want to say, you still got me, you get it?”

I nodded. My voice would crack if I were to say so much of one more word so I turned and walked towards the gate. This was the day I left for New Zealand, my home for the next six months.

Wing is the writer of this website. Her relentless pursuit of finding the meaning of life (and the term living to the fullest) has brought her to work in the zoo, work in a pet shop, volunteer work here and there and travel to Philippines, New Zealand, Tonga, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan. She finds a bit more about herself everytime she travels, even in Singapore. She believes in the quote, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” by Helen Keller.

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2 Responses to My Travel Story: Leaving Singapore

  1. Derick says:

    Hey Wing, here’s a feedback for you.

    As with all feedback, take it with a pinch of salt, compare it to other feedback, pick what you agree with, reason out clearly to yourself why you disagree with the rest and then just ignore them.

    You got your technicalities down (The “”s and the commas and the fullstops). Didn’t notice any grammatical error but don’t forget that it’s perfectly fine to have grammatical errors within dialogues.

    Not everyone speaks with perfect grammar.

    The dialogue is better than most of the dialogues I read from local works. (You’re using contractions, good.) In fact, the dialogue is great. They’re not paragraphs-long and the sentences are short as how people tend to speak in real life when conversing.

    The dialogue feels just a tiny bit awkward because they’re all so grammatically precise, but if that’s exactly how your mother and gina speaks, then by all means continue.

    However if you agree that you can better capture their voices, it’s a simple matter of listening to them more. Even families who ‘speak good english’ use Singlish as well, albeit not as much as your typical Singaporean families, but they still do and so don’t be afraid to include it.

    A couple of well placed ‘lahs’ and ‘lehs’ in there will not cause you to lose your non-singaporean readers, but it will make it sound more local and true-to-life.

    (Again, your dialogue is great. I only focused on it because the one common praise I get from the majority of my feedback is that I do good dialogue. Your dialogue is great. Your dialogue is great. Your dialogue is great. Now try and make it even better.)

    You have actions accompanying most of your dialogues, good.

    Pacing and flow is good in general except for this

    “Gina. Please, you are twenty two, and I have never taken care of you. Stop making me sound old. We just hang out as friends do.”

    “Well, I’m just trying to help.”

    “Time to check in.”

    “I’ll wait for you here,” my mum said.

    Without any action accompanying the last 3 dialogues, it feels abrupt when you say “time to check in”. In my head I saw Gina saying her line and then you just downright ignored her and said yours.

    Pacing is tricky when it comes to writing because,

    ‘Edmund waited for 3 whole hours.’ is 2 seconds to your reader. Dialogues without action can sometimes feel like just 2 people taking turns to read text book to one another.

    You seem to understand this point already, but don’t misunderstand and think that ‘Oh I need action for EVERY SINGLE DIALOGUE’. You don’t. In that scenario up that however, you did.

    You have 5 senses. Your readers have 5 senses.

    Engage them.

    You do a good job describing what we see visually. The photos help as well. (Shiok right, can use photos. I don’t have that luxury for my fantasy novel.) Now try sharing what they can hear as well, what they can smell, what they can taste because sometimes something can smell so bad that you feel like you can taste it, and what they can feel/touch.

    “It was drizzling outside… …” Heard of Show, Don’t Tell?

    That was telling right there. You don’t have to SHOW everything because then your story will turn into a melodramatic, artsy-fartsy, story. But if you could have shown that it was raining, let your readers hear the the raindrops, let them feel chilly, you’ve added a new dimension to your story.

    Twenty three people strolled past us.

    An exact number would imply that there’s an importance to it. You are diverting the reader’s attention to the precise amount. If 23 people is in fact important in the story, good. If it’s not important, you just distracted your readers unnecessarily. (Just learned this recently when I wrote a short story for V.Day)

    Overall a pleasant read. I wasn’t cringing which, trust me, is a whole achievement on its own.

    Keep it up, Wing!

    - Derick

    • dream says:

      Wow, Derick, that’s a really detailed critique! I’ll keep it in mind. Well, it’ll be hard to capture Gina’s voice and the drizzling was from my point in the airport. But the comment on the dialogue, senses and number sure make sense to me. Thanks a lot for the input :D

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