I’m glad February was a short month because I’m so ready to move on into March.

For some time now Chinese New Year has been a difficult time due to family health issues. And of course, like Christmas, it’s a strong reminder of those no longer with us. But it’s been getting easier to be grateful for memories and I’m grateful for that, in the midst of everything else going on.

And I finished the final (I hope!) copy edits for the Betel Nut Mystery. I’m quite fond of this book. Purely for the sake of research, I got myself some betel to try. Chewing it is supposed to induce feelings of energy, euphoria, heightened awareness as well as an increased risk of cancer and turning your stool red. Given those caveats I suspect I didn’t try long enough—no euphoria but also no red stool!

And I started working on the Paper Bark Tree Mystery. This is the part of writing I love the most. It’s part writing, part outlining, part ‘interviewing’ characters about their past. So many/ too many ideas but it’s huge fun. I know I’ll have to throw out two thirds of what I put down, but I’ve got to a time line that I like and think I can work with and I’ll be plunging ahead in March.

This time all I’ll get to play around with is Tiger Balm. Because a key ingredient in Singapore’s famous Tiger Balm pain relieving ointment is cajeput oil distilled from the leaves of the Gelam—aka Paper Bark Tree!

I also learned these leaves have anti-bacterial and painkilling properties, so if you’re ever scratched or bug bitten while out hiking and recognise the spongy trunk covered with flaky bark… please don’t say you read it here and get me into trouble with the National Parks people!

And a lovely thing happened. There is a clump of ‘tia shu’ (literally ‘iron tree’ scientifically Dracaena fragrans) just outside and for the first time since we moved here five years ago it bloomed this February. The sweet fragrance was wonderful, especially strong in the kitchen and bathrooms, especially in the evenings. And I hear they’ve been blooming all over Singapore. Maybe because of the unusual weather we’ve been getting, maybe because, as some people believe, they are a sign of good luck coming.

I’m happy to believe that. The lovely floral fragrance is already good luck. Hope there’s more coming our way. Happy March everybody!

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