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The Mesmerisings of Tunku Halim

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tunkuhalim

I am an author, novelist and short story writer

For most MM2H retirees, their residence here is their only home

This is the unedited version of the letter published in today’s Star newspaper:

The Sultan of Johor and many others have lamented the new Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) requirements. Other than an increase in the liquid assets needed and dropping the visa’s validity from ten years to only five years, retirees now need a monthly income of RM40,000 instead of the previous requirement of RM10,000.

You may well ask how can a retiree earn RM40,000 per month?

To answer that question, let’s look at interest rates. In the past few years, interest rates have kept falling and with the pandemic have plummeted globally to almost zero. Many Malaysians now struggle to obtain a fixed deposit rate of above 1%. 

So to earn RM40,000 a month based on a 1% return would mean that a retiree would need assets of RM48 million (40,000 x 12months = 480,000. Then 480,000/0.01 = 48 million).  As such even many wealthy retirees will find it impossible to earn RM40,000 monthly based on interest earned on bank deposits. Even if they plunge into riskier investments, perhaps through units trusts or a bond fund, say with a return of 3%, they would need to invest RM16 million. 

Stipulating a monthly income of RM40,000 means that only the super rich can retire in Malaysia. I wonder what was the purpose behind the changes. Are there too many foreign retirees in Malaysia so that we need to cull their numbers? Have they caused a social problem in this country? If we do persist with these new requirements, perhaps the MM2H program could be renamed MMUH, which would be short for Malaysia My Unaffordable Home!

It would be interesting to compare our program to what is on offer overseas. You can retire in the Philippines with a deposit US$10,000 (RM42,000) which can be used as part of a property purchase with no limit on your length of stay. Just across the border, Thailand offers an annual renewable visa with a deposit of 800,000 Thai baht (RM103,000) in a local bank, those funds being available to cover your expenses during the year. 

Choosing to go further afield, you can retire in Portugal with the D7 annual visa merely with proof that you are earning 7,200 Euros (RM35,500) per year, which is to cover living expenses. There is also Panama where an annual income of US$1000 (RM49,800) gets you in. So our MM2H program which now requires an annual income of RM480,000 doesn’t stack up well against the competition.

So what does the new requirements mean for retirees already living in Malaysia?

When their visas do come up for renewal, most of them will be forced to leave the country. This would be pity as they would have made friends here and have become part of our community.. Some have married locals and these circumstances may well force them to live apart If they’ve bought properties locally, they would have to sell them which will take time, effort and may suffer financial losses because of our now softer property market. Some even have children enrolled in our schools and they will have to be uprooted.

To many foreign retirees, Malaysia is not their second home, but their only home. They are our guests and deserve to be treated fairly.

Tunku Halim

The writer is an author of numerous fiction and non-fiction books including A Vanishing (part of the Midnight Children trilogy), Scream to the Shadows and A Children’s History of Malaysia.

ARE BOOKS A WASTE OF TIME IN THIS DIGITAL AGE?

Reading books is a waste of time. Especially fiction.

If you want to find information it’s all online. So why bother with books? As for short stories and novels, they’re just stories and how could they even begin to help us?

Such disingenuous thoughts, unfortunately, are to our and our children’s detriment.

There is, of course, unlimited information online. Studies, however, show that we only absorb a small percentage of what’s on screen. We don’t properly read the article but rather our eyes scan through the page, only seeking out the relevant information. That’s because when we’re online, we cannot fully concentrate. Our minds are too ready to be distracted by the next thing, whether it’s a message, a notification, social media or the latest news. It’s craving to move on. Even as I’m writing this, I’m tempted to check today’s headlines, but I have to force myself to continue writing.

Reading a physical book is different. 

With our phones put aside on silent mode, we can give full attention to what’s on the page. We can fully absorb the information, arguments, nuances and conclusions. That’s because we’ve given it not only our full concentration but also our time. There are no distractions. Our minds are in contemplative mode, ready to receive and to learn. So, if we want our children to be properly educated, let them study from a real book or, at least, have the information printed out.

It’s the same with fiction. Online stories are not properly read. The characters, descriptions, settings and plot are not fully absorbed. Once again, the mind is in distraction mode, ready to jump to the next thing. A physical book, limited in its paper and ink, keeps you bound to it. Books allow us to be alone with the writing and our thoughts. It promotes contemplation and peace of mind.

But what are the use of stories?

A few months back, I was on a panel at an online conference held by the psychology department of the Malaysia-Wales University entitled “Reading Fiction: How does fictional literature help us to understand the human person?” At the conference, we all profoundly agreed that stories are extremely useful. They provide a simulation of real life. Research shows that those who read fiction are much better socially, have better empathy, creativity and have a stronger grasp of language. These are all qualities that can help us in work and business, attributes our children can have if they regularly read fiction.

A few months ago, as one of several judges, I attended the online prize-giving of the Maybank Foundation – Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing Contest. The quality of the entries were sound but, honestly, could have been better. Although writing does improve with practise, reading copiously is a cornerstone of good writing. If we can write good fiction, our overall writing, whether it’s an essay, a report, a sales presentation or an email, will improve considerably which will help us in school, university, our career, work and business.

So is reading books a waste of time?

Definitely not. Some years ago, I said to my son: “The day you stop reading books, is the day you stop learning”. And that, in this age of screen and, particularly, social media addiction, is the sad truth.

So I encourage you and especially your children to use the time at home, during this MCO period, to read physical books, to educate and improve ourselves and to find greater peace of mind.

Tunku Halim is the author of the children’s books The Midnight Children – The Vanishing, History of Malaysia – A Children’s Encyclopedia and A Children’s History of Malaysia.

This letter was originally published in The Sun newspaper in Malaysia on 13/7/21

Midnight Children Trilogy in The Star 25/4/21

Tunku Halim’s ‘The Midnight Children’ trilogy is a series of dark fantasy novels for children combining Asian mythology and Gothic elements.

When you think about horror fiction and dark fantasy in Malaysia, Tunku Halim is a name to crop up first on any blood-stained list.

Since the 1990s, the 56-year-old author – with a legal background – has been spooking readers with his brand of “world gothic” tales and collections, including Dark Demon Rising, Horror Stories and Scream To The Shadows

In these pandemic times, Tunku Halim has put on a new – frightful -mask and taken on the challenge of writing stories for children.

He has written for a younger demographic before, focusing on history in books such as History of Malaysia, A Children’s Encyclopedia and A Children’s History Of Malaysia.

With the recent release of The Midnight Children trilogy (published by Penguin), Tunku Halim has turned his attention on spooky-based fiction for children.

“It all began when my publisher told me that her daughter had said that she really wished I wrote children’s stories. I thought it would be wonderful if her daughter could read a children’s story of mine,” says Tunku Halim in a recent interview.

“But I’d never written a story for kids and I wondered if I could do it. So I sat down one morning after breakfast and wrote a story about a vanishing dad, ” he adds.

Three books, pandemic productivity

To Tunku Halim’s surprise, the story not only took on a life of its own, but started to multiply. The author ended up writing three short stories, before realising he could expand the collection.

“About three quarters of the way through, I thought it would work better as a novel. After, all I had been using the same characters throughout the stories, and all I needed was an overarching narrative to link them all together.

‘Gothic elements are found in mystery, the unknown, a hidden secret, an old mansion, omens, a female in distress, all of which unfold in the trilogy. So there’s a lot to enjoy!’ says Tunku Halim about his new books for children.


‘Gothic elements are found in mystery, the unknown, a hidden secret, an old mansion, omens, a female in distress, all of which unfold in the trilogy. So there’s a lot to enjoy!’ says Tunku Halim about his new books for children. Photo: Filepic

“And then as there was so much exciting stuff happening in the first novel, I realised that it would have to be a three novel series, ” he elaborates.

The Midnight Children comprises (in order): The Vanishing, Cemetery House and The Moonlight World. Tunku Halim wrote the first two books during the first movement control order last year.

Each book follows the stories of teen siblings Zak and Min, and the strange adventures they get into after their father mysteriously vanishes one morning.

In The Vanishing, Zak is trapped in his bedroom by vicious snakes, while Min encounters scary spider-like creatures. To make things worse, a man gives them a box with a finger bone inside!

Things get scarier in the next book, where Min is forced to move to the mysterious Cemetery House, while Zak, chased by terrifying creatures, can’t get home.

It all builds to a climax in The Moonlight World, where the two siblings face off against creatures known as Yak-Yaks, and their king.

“I used creatures and spirits from Malay and South-East Asian myths in the three novels. But you’ll also find unique creations from my own dark imagination. I won’t want to go into the details as I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, ” says Tunku Halim.

Enough to scare, not scar.

A child-friendly Tunku Halim

While Tunku Halim does have a daughter and a son, he insists he didn’t base the characters of Zak and Min on them. They did, however, give him great insights on writing the sibling dynamic.

The author assures us that his new books were more in the realm of spooky fantasy rather than being outright horror.

He is mindful that he is writing children’s books, and did not want his readers to get nightmares.

“Having said that, the wonderful thing about books, compared to movies, is that if things gets too scary, we can always skip a paragraph or page which you can’t do with a movie.

“Nor are there any jump scares in books, which I think is a cheap way of scaring viewers. But I don’t think there’ll be any reason to skip paragraphs in the Midnight Children trilogy, ” says Tunku Halim, who as a child enjoyed the Narnia Chronicles before moving on to the Lord Of The Rings and Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant in his teenage years.

In many nostalgic ways, he adds that it was a fulfilling experience to realise his new children’s book project.

“I enjoyed reading about what Ragdoo gets up to, a character that doesn’t appear until the third book. I also quite like the horrid Uncle Obb, whom we don’t really get to know until the second book, Cemetery House. I like the way how everything comes together in the last book.”

The feedback for the Midnight Children has been encouraging, and Tunku Halim admits “it is better than for my adult tales.”

Which does the author find harder: writing for children, or writing for adults?

“Both have their own set of challenges and I wouldn’t say one was harder or easier than the other. You have to be disciplined when writing for kids. You have to stay within the boundaries of children’s expectations, comprehension, and values, ” says Tunku Halim.

“You have to write from a children’s point of view, which means often having to recall your own childhood. You have to be very focused when writing for kids which makes it harder but also, in some ways, easier too.”

In a time-tested book industry observation, Tunku Halim also feels children are more unforgiving than adults.

“If kids don’t like a book, they’ll just put it away, never to return to its pages. Adults, having paid good money for the volume, will try to finish it, ” he concludes.

The Midnight Children Trilogy

As a nine-year-old, I loved the Narnia Chronicles and then, to win a prize of 10 chocolate Mars bars, I read the Lord of the Rings in record time in high school. In my late teens I came to enjoy the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I enjoyed reading fantasy and watching fantasy movies too. But I didn’t think I would be much good at writing fantasy.

(I must confess I’ve only watched the first season of The Game of Thrones. I’m waiting for you to invite me over to watch the rest of it!)

I also enjoy writing for children. It began with A Children’s History of Malaysia, followed by History of Malaysia – A Children’s Encyclopedia. But I never thought about writing stories for kids.

Then, a couple of years ago, my publisher at Penguin mentioned that her daughter wished I wrote stories for children. That set the ball rolling. I wondered if I could write a story for her daughter. I ended up writing several stories and these stories came together as a novel called The Vanishing.

Photo taken after receiving the books from my publisher a few weeks ago

Then I decided the novel shouldn’t end there because there was so much more to tell. I still wanted to spend time with Min, who is ten, and Zen, who is twelve. And so I wrote two more novels Cemetery House and The Moonlight World which completed the Midnight Children trilogy.

(I wrote both novels during the first MCO in 2020. Not having any distractions really does help!)

The three books are best described as a spooky fantasy and I’ve received such great feedback. To be quite honest, I think the feedback is much better than for my adult tales!!

TH in NST

There was an article about me in the New Straits Times yesterday.

Here’s the link: https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/sunday-vibes/2020/11/645234/prince-darkness-malaysian-horror-doyen-sheds-light-his-dark

The printed article also featured a carcoal drawing of me by the artist, Miang.

TH in Nikkei Asia

My thanks to John Krich for his article which appeared in Nikkei Asia recently.

Here’s the link: https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Arts/Malaysian-horror-writer-screams-from-the-shadows

Say ‘Hello’ to Halloween in Ipoh

I’ll be in Ipoh this Halloween.

Although I’m no big fan of this US import, with spirits and ghouls that pale in comparison to our horrific and most ghastly local ones, I do like to meet readers and fellow writers and so take this chance to do so.

Julya Oui will be joining me and she has a new book out. I’ll be reading from The Rape of Nancy Ng – 13 Nightmares.

This is, in fact, the first time I’m doing a reading in Ipoh in all of my 29 years of being published. So I’m looking forward to it.

Online Talk on Friday 26/6/20

I’ll be doing an online talk this Friday.

It’s a bit short notice, but I hope you can attend … it’s especially for kids age 9 onwards!

File_000-2 copy

Creative Writing Online Talk

With this virus hitting the world like a tsunami, Tenby Schools have very kindly invited me to give an e-talk this morning to their secondary students.

To supplement that talk, I have added a few resources from this blog. These are the posts I’ve previous put up on on creative writing:

  1. Why the craft is so wonderful

2. Where do I start?

3. Let’s get talking

4. Character building stuff

This mind map (I love mind maps!) might be helpful too:

CW-seminar-20Jan-color

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