You already know that a good percentage of the world's population speaks English as a second language. And if you have read my stories about my Malysian friends, you've probably gathered that most of them speak my mother tongue well enough to make up for my gross inadequacies in Bahasa Melayu. But every now and then, I run across a Malaysian whose grasp of the English language is really quite extraordinary.
Khairul Hezry is one such person. He uses English with such skill, flexibility, precision and laser sharp wit that it drops my jaw. Honestly, I know few Americans who can entertain me with crisp, cohesive and clever prose as Khairul can.
|Hopefully, the book in his back pocket was previously sealed in a waterproof plastic bag.|
So how did this unassumingly modest and remarkably private economist-type from Malaysia pick up his mad English skillz?
Well, for one thing, he has a British education. He graduated from the University of Wales, so that tells me he is a) smart and b) used to being around other smart people who speak English.
Also, Khairul is an avid reader. As in, he reads pretty much anything he can get his hands on and keeps a book in his back pocket 24/7. More often than not, his reading material is in English.
Thirdly, he writes about what he reads. Yes, our own Khairul is none other than the Malaysian Reader, and his blog is one of my favorites. I don't necessarily read the same books as Khariul reads, and he certainly sees the world differently than I do, but he spins a fine web of words and I always enjoy his point of view.
|Also, Kharul loves Star Wars. Not relevant to our story here, but always a sign of a superior human being.|
This photo of some of the toys in his collection has served as his Facebook profile pic for as long as I can recall.
The other day, in his blog, he told the story of his budding career as an interviewee. Here's the bio he wrote for this recent interview, which will give you a taste of his writing style:
Khairul Hezry is in his late 30s and has been reading books for as long as he can remember. His first book was either a Spider-Man comic or a book on dinosaurs. Or maybe Spider-Man fighting a dinosaur. He resides in Petaling Jaya and shops for books either at MPH 1Utama or Amazon.com. He also blogs about books and other stuff at themalaysianreader.com.
Sadly, for me, that was the high point of the interview. No offense to Khairul; as usual, he responded to the prompts with typical flair and style. But the questions posed to him struck me as off-target. Primarily focused on the Malaysian publishing scene, a subject he admittedly knows little about, the interviewer failed to tap into Khairul's undying passion for books and reading.
After reading through the interview twice, a thought jumped into my opinionated and self-assured little brain.
"I could ask better questions than that."
A few Facebook messages later, my interview with Khairul was a done deal. Here is what the Malaysian Reader has to say for himself:
[Editor's note. Ahem. In order for this intriguing intro to make sense, you need to see the last sentence of his interview post: Khairul H., available for email interviews because that way I can take my time and answer the questions anyway I want to. Usually while naked.]
How did I discover my passion for reading? I honestly don't remember. Whenever I'm asked about the first book that I read as a child, I always say that my first book was either a Spider-Man comic or a book on dinosaurs because those two were the books that I remember most from my childhood. The adventures of a costumed man with superpowers and giant lizards with sharp teeth biting each other like two rival gangs fighting over territory are the perfect subjects to a young boy. I'm pretty sure I had no idea what was going but the pictures and the color were enough to grab my attention.
|Looks like the superhero gene has been passed on to his son.|
My maternal grandfather was a bookworm and I probably got the reading gene from him. Maybe it skipped a generation? I never visited him often enough because my mother was from Sabah (on the island of Borneo...look it up) and we lived, and still do, in Peninsular Malaysia so we had to fly across the South China Sea to visit her dad. Which kinda limited the amount of visits. You can't say, "Hey, let's go to Grampa's this weekend!" "Sure, do you have RM1000.00 for the plane ticket??"
|Khairul's daughter is strolling along the shore of the South China Sea, rather than flying across it.|
I think he and I were the only readers in the family.
Where do I find time to read? I bring a book almost everywhere I go. There's no guarantee I will have the time to read the book but I feel calm knowing there's a book within reach. If I don't have one, I start shaking like a junkie looking for a fix.
|Khairul's caption for this photo: "I'm on holiday. If I wanna read Superman by the beach, I WILL read Superman by the beach, dammit."|
Bonus question: are you the kind of reader who falls into a book and pays no attention to those around you unless they are shouting in your ear?
Yes. I remember once I was reading something in a bookshop. I don't remember what it was but it must have been good because I totally did not hear the wheelchair-bound person saying, "Excuse me." She practically had to shout before I noticed her.
List five books you have read more than once. What makes them worth a re-read?
Most of the books I have re-read are my comics or if you prefer, graphic novels. TINTIN and ASTERIX are particular favourites. The Europeans begin and end their stories in the same graphic novel. None of that "To be continued next issue" tease that American comics love so much. I also have collections of comic strips that I flip through now and again. Today, there has been a boom in comic strips being collected in hardback so there's an excuse for me to upgrade from the paperbacks. My favourites are: PEANUTS, BLOOM COUNTY, CALVIN & HOBBES and I just bought POGO Volume 1 recently. Except for POGO, I've followed all the three strips when I used to read Malaysian newspapers.
Novels I have re-read are Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie and Pratchett's Discworld series of books.
If you could live inside the world of any book, which one would you choose and why?
Wonder Woman's. Because I'm a straight dude and there's a woman running around in a bustier and panties. Why wouldn't I want to live in that world? Of course that means I have to live in the DC Universe where aliens invade every other month but with WW there, it's all good.
|Technically, I would call this more of a skirt than panties, but I see your point, Malaysian Reader. Wikipedia|
It forces you to use your imagination. When you read, parts of your brain light up (they've seen this in CAT scans) so reading is brain exercise! Movies and TV just spoon feed information to you.
Give us a quick summing-up of your favorite physical properties of a book.
The heft of a book. The smell. I used to sniff every book I read. I don't do that as often now but I swear I can tell the publisher of any particular book just by sniffing the pages. I should be in THAT'S INCREDIBLE or RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! God, I'm so 1980s.
If you wanted to articulate the benefits of being a reader, what would you say?
I know more stuff than you, non-reader. Kneel before me!
Name a few books that have changed you as a person.
I don't think there is one. Changed me? No book has done that. They have entertained me, educated me but changed me...tough one. I suppose FAST FOOD NATION made me stop eating burgers (well, I wouldn't say "stop" but it was a few years after reading the book that I even had the need to taste a burger again).
What else should we know about you?
Everything I learned about America I learned from MAD magazine. Thank you, Bill Gaines.
|Hmmm, Khairul, have you read this new book from MAD on the subject of American politics? It's got pop-ups! Hope to see it covered in your blog soon. Amazon|