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,
Crying, “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 tomorrow’s school.

We are the audience
Of 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.

Author – Wang Gungwu

Book – Pulse

Publisher – Beda Lim (Singapore)

Year published – 1950


Chicken Rice in Singapore – SAMPLE ITEM PAGE


Coffee Shop, Clementi

Excerpt from Coffee Shop, Clementi

Fish porridge and beefball noodles scald
Tongues out for quick thrills; where chicken rice
Bubbles, as pure kueh tutu steams,
It’s not only fast food on the cheap
I come for. Plundering appetites, voices
Riding high, eyes which eat, while waiting.

By Leong Liew Geok

Love is Not Enough

Times Books International (1991)

Forever Singlish

We don’t care: we like to speak it leh;
When we end with lor, hor, lah,
People say our English kana-sai
Why do they care? Hard core kaypoh-
Bo dai chi cho.

It got rhythm- like when you say
Who pass urine in the lift? Chau si!
Aiyah; Chau Ah Lian; Chau Ah Beng; Chau Buaya;
Chau Ah Kua; Chau Mamak; Chau kayu; Chau Goondu-
Who else?

It got reason- like when the secretary say
You hold on arh, he’s on another line;
So you wait for him to finish- wah piang, talk
So long, boey tahan, some more I kena
Scolding from boss for wasting time.

We say sorrysorrysorry to make sure we are:
So pai say, we have to repeat two, three times;
Then say excuse! When we overtake or cut in-
Only once. Short cuts must be short and sweet,
If sometimes we cannot cheat, so chia lat

No lubang; so teruk. Kiasu cannot lose,
Kiasi cannot die; machiam machiam words
We also try. Proper English? So lecheh,
So correct, so actsy for what? Wah lau,
Already got your meaning before you finish!

Vegetable Aimal, Mineral, Abstract:
It makes all this rojak, chickenfeed.
Hands all over the place; poke here, touch there,
Growing only like a samseng kia.
People cannot control, also cannot compare.

No class Singlish here to stay,
No big shot can have his way
With how people talk, what people say.
Rules are rules: our bo chap mouth refuse
To listen, follow or to choose.

By Leong Liew Geok

Women Without Men

Times Books International (2000)

The Sneeze

The Sneeze

That hawker there,
Selling mee and kway-teow 
Is prosperous, round,
Quick moving
With practised grace
He blows his nose,
Tweeks it dexterously, secures complete evacuation
Then proceeds to comply with the slogans,
The injunctions on the need to

Keep Singapore clean —
Keep Singapore germ-free
Keep Singapore …

By wiping his fingers thoroughly on his apron.
He is not going to dirty the drains,
Clutter the spittoons.
he obeys the law,
Deals with his cold seriously.

If you sneeze after a meal
Of mee or kway-teow 
It is really the steaming-hot soup,
The chillies and pepper that discomfort you.

By Edwin Thumboo

Gods Can Die

Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) (1977)


When the world comes to an end you will be eating Hokkien Mee

When the world comes to an end you will be eating Hokkien Mee.

When the last Panda dies from a heart attack from an overdose of Viagra in some western Zoo that he was sent to as a cub as a gift of goodwill from China, you will be counting how many pieces of sotong the stallholder  gave you.

When the oceans start overflowing and start swallowing up small coastal cities, the death toll will not even reach the 6PM news on the hawker centre TV screens.

When all the fish have gone extinct, and all the chickens died of some flesh-eating version of bird flu that also managed to wipe out three third world countries in the space of two months, it will be ok because there will always be enough prawns left in the sea, and you don’t need chicken to make Hokkien Mee anyway.

When the tidal waves start flooding large coastal cities like Sydney, LA, Vancouver it will not matter because there is still not enough lard in your 5 dollar plate of Hokkien Mee.

When the earth starts to crack open and swallow up all the cities people stupidly decided to build on faultlines, you might be intrigued by the noodles on your plate trembling ever-so-slightly from aftershock.

When buildings in Malaysia start to collapse from the aftershocks, believe that it was because they were poorly built anyway.

When the governments of the world start going completely mad, and the threat of nuclear war is imminent but probably won’t make much of a difference at this point in history, keep believing that Hokkien Mee noodles grow out of the ground on a farm somewhere in Kranji.

When a Malaria epidemic hits Southeast Asia, remember to swallow your government-sponsored malaria vaccine after your meal and thank God you live in a functional country.

When the ocean starts to encroach a little bit on reclaimed land in Changi, Juron Island, the CBD, just remember you were never promised that Singapore would be ‘flood free’.

When the first child to die in a flooded neighbourhood on the ECP gets reported, be glad you live on the 20th storey.

When Resorts World finally  disappears underwater, you will be eating Hokkien Mee.

When the first families die in a tsunami that hits Pasir Ris, you will be eating Hokkien Mee.

And it will be bloody good Hokkien mee. So good you will want another, but you will never get another because the stall owner will be dead. And his wife will be dead. And his son, the only other person with the recipe in his head will not remember it because he fucked off to open a dessert bar in Dempsey Road which only serves people who can say the phrase ‘post-apocalyptic’ with a straight face.

So go on, enjoy that fucking plate of Hokkien Mee because it will be the last plate of Hokkien Mee you will ever taste, that will ever be tasted in the world, and be glad, be fucking glad that you are, because when the universe implodes on itself, and that tidal wave rears up to engulf this island and there is screaming everywhere and you finally look up and see the wall of water about to swallow the Old Air Port road hawker center,

the taste of prawn stock, lard and MSG will be the only thing left to hold on to.

When the Barbarians Arrive

When the barbarians arrive

lay out the dead, but do not mourn them overmuch.

a mild sentimentality is proper. nostalgia will be expected on demand.

cremate: conserve land, regret no secrets. prepare ashes for those with cameras.

hide your best furniture. tear down monuments. first to go are statues with arms outstretched in victory, and then anything with lions.

it is safer to consort with loss, to know the ground yet suggest no mysteries. purport illiteracy.

have at hand servants good with numbers. err in their favour between schemes. keep all receipts

out of sight. as soon as is proper, embrace their laws and decline all credit for your own.

confound their historians. give up the wrong recipe for ketupat, for otak.

lay claim to the tongue of roots, the provenance of trees. when the chiku blooms, tell them it is linden. when linden, tell them it is ginko.

recommend laxatives as love potions. attribute pain to the passage of hard feelings. there will be a surge

of interest in soothsaying. do not tell them how it will end, or when. progress, while difficult, is always being made.

on no account acknowledge what your folktales imply.

never deal in the dark unless you can see the whites of their eyes. when they speak of god

bow your head to veil piety, shame, laughter, or indifference.

dress your children like their long-dead elders. marry your daughters to them.

soon you will attend the same funerals.

By Alvin Pang

Arc Publications (2012)

Listening to Mukesh

Driving to your block,
I slide in my father’s cassette
of old Hindi songs and I am
humming in twilight
to the legendary
playback singer’s baritone
releasing those sounds in that
language that makes me feel like I am
home. In the back of my throat,
I can taste my grandmother’s
translucent thin chappatis
that as children we would
hold up
to the light,
the dough so evenly rolled out
by her hands that not
one lump would show.
I never appreciated them till her hands
shook so much,
she could no longer grip
the rolling pin.

I hear the children from the slum
that emerged behind my grandparents
small two-storey apartment block.
They are swearing
in that deliciously punctuated rhythm
only the born-and-bred tongue
can dance to.

I am home for a while.
I can smell dust and kerosene
in the air and hear
high-pitched devotions to the gods
blending without objection
into the stone thud bass
of the latest film song.

Jamming my brakes at a traffic light,
I realise home is supposed to be these
dustless streets and the smells
are alien culinary concoctions,
like pig’s knuckles and chicken anatomy,
that my migrant tastebuds
cannot migrate towards.
I have taught my tongue
to like the garlic sting
of Hainanese chili paste
and form some Hokkien curse words.
It even enjoys the harsh bite of it,
but it is not
a taste, a language
that makes my heart sing
like these notes on my
car stereo.

Jaoon kaha batayen dil,
Duniya badi hain sangdil
Chandini Aiyen Ghar Jalane
Sujhe Na Koyi Manzil.

Tell me where I should go
in a world filled with indifference.
The moonlight filters into my house,
But I do not belong,
nor can I think of a destination.

By Pooja Nansi


(First published in Stiletto Scars: Word Forward, 2007.)


The one thing they taught me was never to waste.
This is brain food, they said, as my mother set down safe,
modest dishes. Circled them around the single,
silver pomfret, whiskered catfish,
sole, black bass or snow white cod.

They did this every night, laying the delicate
meat across my rice, all still sighing hot breaths
from the stove. We lingered on, circled
those sleek bones after the other plates were bare,
drawing out minute, jewelled slivers. Picking at hidden corners:

The fish’s nape, left to the very end.
My too-short skirt. Upstairs’ constant rowing.
The bitter, bitter stomach. Math grades, the unending
heat, a cousin gone bad. Scraps, bits,
morsels that needed careful picking.

By Lee Jing-Jing

Quarterly Literary Review Singapore Vol. 9 No. 1 Jan 2010