Wang Gungwu, Head, East Asia Institute, National University of Singapore


The ways are old.

Faces steeped once fell

Near deepened tracks

Now thickened grease films

On convex tar,

Mirrors the cyclic wheels of a factory car.


No cock crows the dawn,

But metal cold whines the morning born,

Choking in the carburetor.

A late slut yawns away her cares,

The early hawker yokes his wares;

And numbered planks accumulate

As splatterings cease from telewires --

Life again, life of flowless mires.


Seen through the market railings:

Trouser-wearing women

Worm among saris, sarongs colourfuly checked;

Baju biru full of tailings,

And sams unhooked at the neck;

Here and there are tailored New Looks

Brushing the basket-arms of cooks.

O listen to the haggling drone of female rooks.


A noon-haze brings siesta time:

Sleepful is the clime.

And when the sun tires,

Feathers fly, fans flock

And couples go tasting the wind --

Thus the dusk forgets the clock


Break of night.

Families on doorsteps stare

At the flickering lights of roving-stalls.

Pairs snuggle in conditioned air

To canvas-embraces of darkened halls,

And ruttish men

Are led by trishaws.

A dollar four to Latin distortions;

Narcotic fumes hang heavy.

Thus till late.


Do ghosts of eponyms walk

And peep?

Do they see the pollen besprinkleed

On city flowers and silly wives?

Do they know of the seeds

That shall immortalise these scenes

Growing with natural cycles,

Mere repetitions?


Life there is here, but machine-life

Left in an unvarying pattern.

The essence is lost.

The change -- the soul.



Reproduced with the kind permission of Wang Gungwu.

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singapore Literature Overview

Last Modified: 25 July, 2002