Stories About Stories ... with Darren C. Ong
This time around, we have Darren C. Ong, whose children's book, The Trampolines That Nadia Built, has just been released.
He's not your regular author. In fact, he's an associate professor of mathematics at Xiamen University Malaysia. His day job involves doing research on mathematical physics, and how quantum particles behave in environments with an unusual structure.
We got him to spill the beans on trampolines, dreams and lessons learnt.
Q: How does one go from being a mathematician to writing a book? I wrote this story in America, and it was inspired by my time pursuing a PhD in mathematics there. Life as a postgraduate student was intense! We were all driven, passionate people who loved learning and loved mathematics. This time was very fulfilling, but also difficult, lonely, and frustrating.
I wrote the story to comfort a good friend who was feeling discouraged with academic life. I did not intend to get this story published at first. But it brought my friend some joy in a challenging time, and I hope it will bring joy to others too.
Q: So do you like trampolines? I think I would enjoy tinkering with or building a trampoline rather than just jumping on it, and in my mind, that is what the girl in my story enjoys best too.
Q: If there was one place that you’d like to go via trampoline, where would it be? I have always had this fixation on seeing views from up high. When I was younger, whenever I was in a tall building I would try to get up as high as I could, to get the best view possible — sometimes sneaking onto the roof when I was not supposed to!
If I had Nadia's giant trampoline, I would put it somewhere scenic and just go as high as I could to see as far as possible. Perhaps on Mount Santubong near my hometown of Kuching: a majestic mountain right by the ocean.
Q: What would you like the reader to glean from this book and why? You should Pursue challenging, even impossible goals. If you fail you learn and grow by trying. And sometimes setback turns to success in ways you did not at first expect.
I think children in Malaysia and Singapore are raised to be too afraid to fail or "kiasu". This fear holds us back, causes us to miss opportunities.
Q: What is the biggest life lesson you’ve learnt? To value the people around me more. Modern culture places a high value on independence and self-sufficiency in a way that can be very isolating, and we need to make a conscious effort to push against that. Even simply reminding someone that they matter to you is valuable, and it's something that I don't do enough.
In the story, Nadia pursues her goals on her own, but cannot reach them. She needs the help of her animal friends. This theme was not in the initial drafts of the manuscript: it is funny how my own story can teach me new lessons as its text evolves.
Get your copy of The Trampolines that Nadia Built here.