Wednesday, May 17, 2017

dying to meet you

I first met her in July 2015, at the office of the book publisher which match-made us.

She wanted to write an autobiography, my name was one amongst a handful of writers which the publisher provided to her, and she fortuitously chose me.

Nearly two years later, the book is finally out.

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She’s not famous, not like various politicians and top civil servants whose books are written and which Singaporeans seem to love, because these routinely top the best-seller non-fiction lists.

But I wanted to write her book because of what she does.

See, AJ is a funeral director.

For me, it was a dream come true. I was later told that not many writers would have wanted to delve deep into death, but that subject sparked my writing and questioning. It was effortless, there was so much I wanted to know.

Finally, I got to write a book I would want to read (I really do appreciate corporate work but there’s only so much that’s interesting about an organization or a campaign) and which would be sold in a bookstore.

A fellow freelance writer asked – But who would want to buy that sort of book?

I mean, who doesn’t have loved ones who die, and who will die themselves one day? Death is the only certainty in life, isn’t it?

There’s all the questions I had about the hard facts of funerals, how to organize one, things to watch out for, traditional Chinese funeral rituals.

I was most curious about embalming and my high point was dressing up in scrubs and standing in one corner of the embalming room with notepad in hand, watching an old gentleman being readied for the casket.

Then there’s the emotional element. So many stories she had to share of memorable cases, of a double suicide, a family where five people were killed at one shot leaving three shattered survivors, a mother who hid the truth of her husband’s death from her son who was taking his PSLE, three sisters estranged from their father who finally made peace with him when they saw his body at his funeral.

And then there’s her.

This didn’t come out in the book (which is written in first-person and it’d just sound weird) but she’s a whirl of contradiction.

There’s the job where she buttons down in somber black and pins her hair up in a chignon, and off-work where she slides on the butt-high shorts, clips on the shoulder-duster earrings, lets loose a backful of jetblack hair and dances the salsa with abandon with strange men. (“I really live life outside of work because I know how precious it is,” she says)

She wheels and deals in English and her company is somewhat atas in nature, catering to the high-end funeral crowd, but with me, we natter on in Mandarin, which makes me very comfortable straightaway, and she lapses into Hokkien. She comes from a very traditional Chinese background.

Most of all, despite all that she’s achieved and that she’s the boss, I’m astounded at how easy it was to work with her. She didn’t give me trouble the way most of my clients do, allowed me to freely roam her funerals and the embalming room, and she even put in my name. Yes, bylines may seem a natural entitlement for those not in the know, but you wouldn’t know how hard it is to fight for one sometimes. She respected my work, which is all too rare.

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I think it takes someone who sees death every day to not make life too difficult for others, you know?

So, I’m really proud of this one. And I'm really glad I got to meet her - while I'm alive - and that I like her.

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(the book is only available in Kinokuniya and here. I understand not every bookshop wants to stock it, and she’s even having trouble with finding an official launch venue, maybe because the pantang thing is still prevalent. I have no idea)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would love to read this! Sounds so interesting.

No digital copy?

Jo Tan

Sher said...

No leh... :(

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!

Haiwei

Sher said...

thanks HW!

J said...

Congrats! Will get this to read :)

chenchen said...

Would you autograph my copy if I bought it? =)

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I found her intriguing as she is in the funeral business and yet so glamourous and full of zest. - min

Anonymous said...

Read it and found it fascinating! Kid thinks so too; he's reading it a second time :) June

Sher said...

chenchen: sure thing i'll autograph!

june: really?! my mum liked it but how come my kids are not interested at all? hrrmph.