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

Three Faces of Night

Quavers quiver along the violin strings

And fingers grasp the: whale-skin threads,

Trace the image of hallowed things.

Hark the bass dum dum

Followed by the swish swish feet;

And the talking jerky with the swinging beat.


Saxon cut and Mongol shape

Dravidian red

Flows as the bandsters ape.

The Swiss wheels move to a tired midnight

The fans whirl warily in the lights,

And grin whisks us all to randy talk

While the baldish lapel the lips in some walk;

The cultured strapless shows the sights.


Let's go to the next world

The crowds wait their share of the steaming fun

At the kuey teow stalls of the kerosene glare

And in the shadowed, rubbish lined malls,

The whisperings have just begun.


By the drains, sandalled squats

Lick their durian seeds;

Near the lanes the night-soil workers

Wipe their stinking beads;

And urchins at the car park do their good deeds.

The herbal cool-tea colours the bowls;

Mango skins attract the flies.

Oh watch the chee-kee woman cense the skies,


"This is our progressive Paradise."


What of the world between,

Neither heaven nor hell?

King pawn move, a no-trump call

Or, a first run movie thrill

Or maybe at supper a port-wine pull?


Likeliest of all

They have set up the alarm: bell

And put the vases out on the sill

And tucked the children in for to morrow's school.


We are the audience

0f the three camps!

We are the campsters, too.

We rush around

To see the others,

But the mirror is a prism blue.

Thus we live in triple spheres:

In laughter, in stillness, and in tears.



Reproduced with the kind permission of Wang Gungwu.

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singapore Literature Overview

Last Modified: 25 July, 2002