Place of Interest – Orchard Road

Orchard Road; Singapore

Orchard Road by Edwin Thumboo
(Taken from Angelia Poon, Philip Holden & Shirley Geok-lin Lin, WRITING SINGAPORE, Page 255) 

Free and easy. He walked as if following

A sentence unfolding in his head.

Perhaps he did, the way he paused, fingered

His chin, puckered brow, turned for second looks,

Chatted with a stranger, refused brochures,

Opened a can of sweating Tiger for a swig,

Then folding the city map, his stride lengthened

Sliding smooth and cool beneath angsanas,

He had reached a junction of sorts, perhaps … a

Semi-colon, no more, no less, keeping grammar

Hungry, ready for enjambments, byes, neat touts,

Undulating clauses, metaphors, branded goods.

The day offered its little comforting intimacies

As he started stitching memories, yet un-named,

Then afternoon sun lit a compassionate face

My sentence stopped. 

Orchard Road is definitely one of the key attractions in Singapore for both tourists as well as for local residents. The Orchard district is well known for having a lively and vibrant atmosphere, continuously bustling with human traffic. Orchard Road itself stretches 2.2 kilometers, however more commonly referred to by local Singaporeans, the term Orchard tends to encompass Orchard Road and its vicinity including locations like Tanglin, Somerset, Dhoby Ghaut with iconic buildings such as the PARAGON, ION Orchard, Ngee Ann City, Plaza Singapura etc.

2002 12 05 Orchard road in Singapore(Image taken from http://www.teachmefinance.com/Countries/2006/Country/2002_12_05_Orchard_road_in_Singapore.html)
A crowded area at Heeren, one of the many popular shopping places in Orchard Road

orchard_road(Image taken from http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/tourist_maps/map-1-orchad_road_static_map.html)
A picture displaying the local area map meant for tourists’ navigation. Although only occupying a small land area, Orchard Road is packed with numerous dining and entertainment facilities as well as hotels and shopping boutiques.

orchard-road

(Image taken from http://www.photos-singapore.com/orchard-road.htm)
A signage at part of the Orchard Road stretch

Orchard is a bustling street, often packed with both Singaporeans and visitors to the country, where shops are abundant, ranging from traditional small pushcarts to large-scale sophisticated branded boutiques. It is also probably one of the best-known shopping districts in Singapore.

Singapore-Ice-Cream-Sandwich-1
(Image taken from http://www.followmefoodie.com/2010/06/singapore-ice-cream-sandwich/)
Couple making a living, setting up a mobile cart selling traditional ice cream and waffles cones

IonOrchardLouisVuitton(Image taken from http://singaporefountainpen.blogspot.sg/2009/08/singapore-360-day-7-ion-orchard.html)
ION Orchard; one of the newly established malls located in Orchard with levels of luxury brands and boutiques

As seen in Edwin Thumboo’s poem titled Orchard Road where he draws attention to the popularity of the Orchard Road being a tourist attraction. Orchard Road “Free and easy” seems to indicate a particular type of tour that people can opt for, free and easy, at their own time and pace as an alternative to being part of a guided tour group.  “A sentence unfolding in his head” would be a representation of the tourist’s state of mind, somewhat uncertain, yet looking forward to the events unfolding. The anticipative mindset with a tinge of apprehension experienced by an individual in an unfamiliar background while travelling in Singapore, as seen in the lines of “the way he paused, fingered his chin, puckered brow, turned for second looks”.

Thumboo then moves on to describe the scene happening in Orchard Road, with communications between of the tourist and other passersby, “chatted with a stranger, refused brochures”, which are common day-to-day occurrences such as the advertisements after given out in the form of flyers along the streets or presence of tourists sightseeing in Singapore. Friendly greetings are exchanged and affable relations are established between tourist and the locals. As the tourist familiarizes himself with the situation, his courage and inquisitive nature allows him to open up and take in his surroundings. “Folding the city map, his stride lengthened “ “hungry, ready for enjambments, byes, neat touts” indicate his readiness to explore Orchard Road and experience new sights.

As the day progress and the tourist comes across different events, he picks up valuable insights, “Then afternoon sun lit a compassionate face” shows the delight of the traveler has towards his new impending experiences. “Stitching memories, yet un-named” displays the unique memories that one can obtain from his travels, which is difficult for another to experience the exact encounter.

Overall, Thumboo’s representation of Orchard Road in Singapore might be one that is extremely dynamic, in a fast paced environment. The lack of full stops throughout the poem creates a sense of fluidity in reading, bringing out the feeling of continuity and endlessness, similar to the actual occurrences in Orchard Road, Singapore. The encounter experienced each individual from his travel is likely to be truly understood only by himself, as each experience is distinctive. Thumboo’s description of Orchard Road as a location where time stops for no one, where every individual is actively caught up with their activities with no intentions of pausing.

Place of Interest – Singapore River

Singapore River

1Singapore River before the late 1970s where it was highly polluted
(Image taken from http://www.ura.gov.sg/skyline/skyline02/skyline02-04/text/changingfaces2.html)

2Singapore River after the clean up from the early 1980s-today
(Image taken from
 http://www.singapore-vacation-attractions.com/boat-quay-photos.html)

Singapore River by Lee Tzu Pheng
(http://poetryprosedrama.blogspot.sg/2010/10/singapore-river-by-lee-tzu-pheng.html)

The operation was massive;

designed to give new life

to the old lady.

We have cleaned out

her arteries, removed

detritus and silt,

created a by-pass

for the old blood.

Now you can hardly tell

her history.

We have become

so health-conscious

the heart

can sometimes be troublesome.

Singapore River by Koh Buck Song
(http://poetryprosedrama.blogspot.sg/2010/10/singapore-river-by-koh-buck-song.html)

there was a time

it could be said

the old subject

stretched its rule

in the empire

of the easel

now, refreshed,

the lady revels

in another reign,

clear, iridescent

fresh winds have carried

the old tang away

and in this revival

a new mirror

re-projects, rules

the new imagery

Singapore River is definitely a place relevant to Singapore’s literature as it has always been a valued location since the founding of the country. Dubbed as the city’s heart in Singapore, the Singapore River plays a very important role in sea routes contributing to the economic prosperity of the country. Singapore River flourished port city, where its trading ports were crowded with heavy human and sea traffic. However, with increased human flow, Singapore River gradually became a dumping ground to traders, street hawkers and passersby alike. Singapore River was massively polluted till the late 1970s.

In the mid 1970s to early 1980s, the Singapore government decided to take action to remove the litter, curbing the pollution issue and improve the standard of living of the citizens. The government implemented better sewage and drainage system cleaning up the highly polluted waters, refurbished riverbank walls, initiated to conserve surrounding architecture, provide a source of leisure (e.g. dining and water activities) and even as a tourist attraction.

The poems by both Lee and Koh highlights the changes made to the river and the effects of the clean up. Both poets personified the Singapore River as a female; an old lady in Lee’s Poem and a lady in Koh’s poem. The message brought across in both poems by enlarge are also parallel; the movement to clean up the river definitely has its benefits, however the transformed Singapore River would lose the uniqueness and perhaps its former lustre as well.

Mentioned previously, in Lee’s poem, she uses an “old lady” as a personification of the Singapore River, where “her” revamp was done so well and thoroughly that Lee pens “now you can hardly tell her history”. It was hard to imagine or picture the initial state of the river; the dumpsite, dirty and congested yet bustling with diverse activities. The overhaul of the river displayed positive effects, especially to improve Singapore’s standard of living and eliminate health problems associated with polluted waters (such as gastrointestinal diseases and malaria etc). Akin to a heart surgery, Lee describes the clean up as the unplugging of the river’s “arteries”, “creating a by-pass for the old blood”.

Similar in Koh’s poem, where he describes the Singapore River clean up, removing clutter and as “the fresh winds have carried the old tang away” appearing to be “clear and iridescent”. This illustration of the old Singapore River where the new waters are clean and glistening after the facelift given to the river, giving “her” a new image and new-found pride.

With a major reforms and change to the existing infrastructure, there will a wave of fresh perspective but irreversible changes will also be made. Lee mentions, “We have become so health-conscious the heart can sometimes be troublesome” possibly indicating her worry that the extremity of changes might pose a threat to the distinctive society and that could be almost entirely absent in Singapore today. Some features, in this case of the old Singapore River will become a matter of the past such as its dynamic liveliness and spirited area, turned into a sophisticated neighbourhood, prim and pristine. In Koh’s words, “a new mirror re-projects, rules the new imagery” indicates a redefined Singapore River, giving a whole new paradigm shift. Similarly mentioned in Singapore Places, Poems, Paintings, many poets and painters are indeed lamenting the loss of vibrancy, personal touch unique to the local culture.

Following are two paintings of artists illustrating the Singapore River too, at different points of time. Lim Tze Peng’s Bygone Bumboats completed in 1982 is likely to be representation of the Singapore River before the movement to stop pollution and the attempt to clean up the area. Hua Chai Yong’s Skyline completed in 1981 most probably represents the state of Singapore River after the revamp.

Lim Tze Peng, Bygone Bumboats (1982)

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(Image taken from http://eservice.nlb.gov.sg/viewer/BookSG/138f37ff-4fd8-43a6-8215-baf0e79311d3) ) 
An artist illustration of bumboats, traditionally used to ship goods and supplies. The date of drawing could indicate Lim’s reminiscence of the old bumboats before Singapore River was revamped.

Hua Chai Yong. Skyline (1981)

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(Image taken from http://eservice.nlb.gov.sg/viewer/BookSG/138f37ff-4fd8-43a6-8215-baf0e79311d3
Hua’s painting could exemplify Singapore after efforts of the clean up was made; less polluted rivers, more ordered waters and a generally more sophisticated Singapore.

In general, from abundance of material, be it in the form of poems or paintings, it could be seen that Singapore River is definitely a place of interest in the literary circle.

Other References:

http://www.singapore-river.com/history-singapore-river
http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_148_2005-02-02.html

Place of interest – Pasir Ris Park


Pasir Ris – Sunset by Margaret Leong

Pasir Ris – Sunset

I

The clouds drew sunset from the sea

For palettes of cerise and aquamarine,

Drew mountainous heapings of blue aside

And piles of spindrift green;

But the spun-foam aerial colours

Were left on an ebony beach,

Till an indigo black opaqueness

Stretched as far as waters could reach.

 

(Taken from Writing Singapore, pg 183)

Pasir Ris refers to ‘beach bolt-rope’ in Malay which means a narrow beach (National Parks). Pasir Ris, located in the east of Singapore, was originally an underdeveloped area with kampongs and villages. It was well-known for several of its plantation estates such as the Singapore United Plantations and Loh Lam Estate. Pasir Ris beach was a popular attraction for water skiing, picnics, or gatherings in the 1950s, to 1970s.

Today, the new landmarks there include the NTUC resort, Pasir Ris Beach Park, its MRT station and the shopping mall, White Sands. The NTUC resort is popular with the locals for gatherings as it is one of the first luxury resorts fully equiped with the amenities of a country club made affordable for the ordinary Singaporean. The Pasir Ris Beach Park is along Elias Road, is popular for family outings with a playground for the children to play at.  The 35 ha park is cut through by Sungei Tampines and spans between the end of Jalan Loyang Kechil and the NTUC Pasir Ris Resort. It offers a wide range of activities such as water sports, cycling, inline skating and barbeque pits rental. In the park lies a 6-ha mangrove forest for people to explore. Broadwalks are built to bring visitors closer to this mangrove community. Further, another feature of the park is the 3-storey high Bird Watching Tower located within the mangrove forest.

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(Image taken from http://www.gogobot.com )

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(Image taken from http://ranzlifestylez.blogspot.sg/2010/09/my-past-work-10-sep-2010-sunrise-pasir.html 3

Pasir Ris Park
(Image taken from http://ranzlifestylez.blogspot.sg/2010/09/my-past-work-10-sep-2010-sunrise-pasir.html)4

Mangrove in Pasir Ris Park
(Image taken from http://www.wildshores.blogspot.sg)

In the early 2000s, Pasir Ris Beach was being polluted with bacteria, making the beach water unsafe for people to come in contact with. The bacterium is found in animal and human faeces which may cause gastro-intestinal illnesses like vomiting and diarrhoea if swimmers come into contact with it. This problem is due to the smaller sewage system in the area as well as possible leakages of the untreated sewage into the water. However, with several measures implemented and the massive cleaning up of the beach, it was announced safe for people to swim in Pasir Ris Beach again in 2012.

5
Signboard to warn people against gong in the water
(Image taken from   http://www.healthxchange.com.sg/News/Pages/Pasir-Ris-beach-still-polluted.aspx )

The Pasir Ris park is a popular location for people to enjoy the magnificent view of sunrise. This is significant in Margaret’s poem, Pasir Ris – Sunset, as she name the poem with the opposite, seemingly in a seemingly mocking manner, to mislead her readers.  She started off the poem with ‘The clouds drew sunset from the sea’ to create the imagery of a beautiful sunrise at the sea. She also tried to create the imagery of the Pasir Ris Beach Park by mentioning ‘heapings of blue’ and ‘piles of spindrift green’. However, she ended the poem by analysing on the filth of the beach. Pasir Ris beach is easily classified as one of the dirtiest beach in Singapore. Margaret’s mention of ‘an indigo black opaqueness/Stretched as far as waters could reach’ clearly refers to the pollution of the waters. This spoils the beautiful imagery created in the early section of the poem and acknowledges the reality of dirty waters in Pasir Ris Beach Park. In my opinion, this is done intentionally to reflect her mocking of the beach, by creating a beautiful imagery and spoiling the impression by bringing up the pollution problem. This is similar to her chosen title of ‘Sunset’ in Pasir Ris which is clearly in contrast to the reality of Sunrise instead. Thus, I feel that instead of glorifying the beach, Margaret was mocking at it.

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Sunrise at Pasir Ris Park
(Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/98328258@N00/5444455739/)

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Another view of Sunrise at Pasir Ris Park
(Image taken from http://www.wildshores.blogspot.sg)

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Dirty waters and trash being washed up the shore in Pasir Ris Park
(Image taken from http://www.wildshores.blogspot.sg)

Other References:

http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_801_2005-01-24.html
http://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=parks&id=26&Itemid=73
http://www.healthxchange.com.sg/News/Pages/Pasir-Ris-beach-still-polluted.aspx
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1179351/1/.html

 

 

 

Place of Interest – Tanjong Katong

Tanjong Katong by Cyril Wong
(http://cyrilwong.org/tanjongkatong.html)

Across the street from where I live is a pub
where dance-hostesses backed up against
middle-age drain the excess years from their
skin with make-up and bad lighting. A murder
was committed there once, involving the knife
of a heart betrayed and heated dialogue still
heard in popular drama-serials on television.

This church is probably the tallest building
this corner of the street, its rooftop crucifix
like someone with arms open and ready to
hug heaven. Repainted the same colour, walls
hide their age and windows stained a deeper
shade of opacity darken now to the density
of irises, as time turns the page of an afternoon
to start on another about a dream-stained quiet.

In another pub, there is a karaoke-corner
with a billiard table draped in smoke but
held down by the leaning bodies of men
hitting tarnished balls into holes as women
watch the games with cigarettes holding up
their fingers, bitching in Hokkien, while
Cantonese pop songs with American beats
spill out onto the road when a door opens.

Nearby, two schools wait for demolishment,
their vacant fields slowly tenanted by weeds.
My mind replays ghostly episodes of soccer
matches or sleepy rows of uniformed children
waking up reluctantly to the muted recording
of their newly-orchestrated school song
nobody can ever remember the words of.

from Below: Absence

TK 1

An old picture of Tanjong Katong in the past

(Image taken from https://s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/cdn.wotevermedia.com/cms/magazines/covers/180/Tanjong_Katong.jpg)

In the past, Tanjong Katong used to be located near the sea side. At this area, it had more wealthy migrants and they were mainly the English, Portuguese, Anglo-French and Chinese. In the late 90s and mid 20s, Tanjong Katong was a wealthy suburb where there were beach side retreats, mansions and boathouses. After Singapore gained independence, there were lots of issues needed to be taken care of. One of it was the shortage of housing and land. As Singapore is developing, it needed to construct more housing and recreational facilities to cater to the needs of the growing population. Due to the shortage of land, it had to reclaim land all the way to East Coast Park. As Singapore has migrants from different parts of the world, the marriage of the Chinese and Malay created the Peranakans. At that time, Tanjong Katong had more Peranakans which led to the strong Peranakan’s culture being infused into the Tanjong Katong district. Hence, till today Tanjong Katong is still known for its Peranakan culture and cuisines.

TK 2
Shop houses along Tanjong Katong streets

(Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/Tanjong_Katong_Road_2.JPG)

From Cyril Wong’s poem, it illustrates the things he saw in Tanjong Katong. The night life in Tanjong Katong is very happening. The pubs play loud music with many people inside drinking and playing billiards. This district seems to be dangerous as conflicts and fights often happened. Till today, many of the old infrastructures in Tanjong Katong still remained such as the pubs, church, coffee shops and schools. In this district, there were no tall infrastructures except of shop houses. Thus, the ‘tall’ church seems to stand out in this district. With the old infrastructures in Tanjong Katong today, it brought back the memories of the past. However, due to the advanced development and technology, most of these infrastructures would have to give way to the skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Other References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katong
http://www.tanjongkatong.com/

Place of Interest – Merlion (Esplanade Bridge)


Merlign by Alvin Pang

Even though there are more
websites on you than verses
Even though you evoke
cameras more than pride
postcards more than praise
Even though your titan child
is now terrorising history and
small children on Sentosa

Still you seem to have a face poets love
to woo. There was the old gentleman,
windswept, seablown, wandering home
with a suitcase of dreams, who
treated you like a queen, hoping
to press you for secrets.

And then the lady with the thick glasses,
who thought she saw Ezekiel’s cherubim,
the sign episteme of higher forces
forever barring the way to paradise.

And that young man, himself half lion,
with barbed tale raised, his words coiled
like a fist. Eyes louder than silence.

Still others, perplexed
as much by your blank stare
as their maddening need to know,
burden you with the fret
of lost causes and years of waiting

Become now the need
to apostrophise what is rock
to make it bear weight.
How we wallow in metaphors!

As a child I walked through a garden
to gawk at the back of a giant too tall
for a child’s mind
to wrap around. Risking the simplest
of pleasures: a closer glance, a furtive stroke,
Pitting heights with the dwarf twin, long since gone.
Reaching for scale and contact,

And now, as a man, forever measuring shadows.

No need to go on with this pretense,
these riddles and voices. This is a heap
of fashioned stone, too light to carry souls.

Rough beast, you are neither idol nor ideal.
Your heart is hollow, cold, and open
for admission, but we have nowhere else
to hide our dreams. Take what names
we have to give, and hold our secrets well
Keep what matters and what counts
The rest you can spit as spray.

(Taken from http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/pang.html)

 The Merlion is a mythical creature that represents a Singaporean identity. ‘Mer’ means ‘sea’ in French, hence Merlion literally refers to sea-lion. This explains the creature with lion head with a body of a fish, or mermaid.  The lion is a reference to a tale whereby Sang Nila Utama reportedly encountered a lion when he first stepped on the shores of this island, leading him to name it Singapura. The fish body reflects Singapore as a port city dependent on the maritime trade. In addition, it also represents the origin of Singapore as a fishing village.

The Merlion was designed in 1964 by Fraser Brunner for the Singapore Tourist Board (STB) and functioned as its corporate logo from 1966 to 1997. The Merlion was a popular symbol for tourist souvenirs. There are five Merlion statues in Singapore, with the most popular ones located at the Merlion Park, adjacent to One Fullerton at the Marina Bay waterfront. One of them stands at 8m tall, weighing 70 tonnes. The other stands at 2m tall, weighing 3 tonnes. However, with the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the statues were relocated to a new pier on another side of the Esplanade Bridge, as they could no longer be seen clearly from the waterfront.  The Merlion statue faces east, which is believed to be a direction that brings prosperity as dictated by the guidelines of Chinese geomancy.

Unfortunately, on 28 February 2009, the larger statue was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, causing a crack in the Merlion’s mane, and a hole at the base of the statue due to falling debris. The statue was repaired and restored for public viewing by 18 March 2009.

The Merlion tower at Sentosa is completed in 1995. on a hill 23m above sea level and stands at a height of 37m. It is an 11-storey building, excluding the uppermost observation deck, which allows visitors to enjoy commanding views of the Singapore skyline. Made of cement, the tower is also externally reinforced with a thin shell of concrete fitted with 16, 000 lights that, when switched on after dark, trace the outline of the statue. The eyes of the Merlion are also installed with equipment that enables them to project multi-coloured laser beams.

Another Merlion statue is located outside STB’s office at Tourism Court, standing at 3m tall. A similar statue can be found on Faber Point at Mount Faber. It is owned by the National Parks Board and was installed in 1998, following the redevelopment of the park.

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Merlion at the Merlion Park
(Image taken at http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Singapore/North_East/Hougang/photo356989.htm)

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Merlion after relocation at esplanade bridge
(Image taken from http://www.thebestsingapore.com/best-place/merlion-park/)

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Merlion at Sentosa
(Taken from http://www.travelandtourisminfo.com/singapore/Sentosa_Island_Pictures.asp)

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Merlion at Sentosa at night
(Taken from http://www.thefoodpursuit.com/sentosa-island-beach-station-singapore/ )

Alvin Pang wrote ‘Merlign’ which plays a pun on the word Merlion as they have the same pronunciation. He started this poem with ‘there are more /websites on you than verses’ and added on with it evoking more ‘cameras more than pride’ and ‘postcards more than praise’. This seems to highlight the superficiality of the Merlion as a representation of Singapore, and a Singaporean identity. When one mentions the Merlion, one think of Singapore. However, do Singaporeans really associate themselves with the Merlion as an identity? The first stanza thus questions the significance of the Merlion to Singaporeans. Alvin seems to point out that the Merlion creates more attraction towards the tourists rather than the locals.

Towards the end of Merlign,  ‘No need to go on with this pretense, /these riddles and voices. This is a heap /of fashioned stone, too light to carry souls’ seems to imply the lifelessness of the Merlion. This points out that the Merlion is merely a statue, without any life given to it. In my interpretation, Alvin seems to imply that the Merlion is just an inanimate object with not much significance attached to it, to the Singaporeans. Furthermore, he calls it a ‘Rough beast’ and thinks it is ‘neither idol nor ideal’. This implies the redundancy of it as a Singapore icon. Lastly, Alvin also wrote that ‘Your heart is hollow, cold, and open/ for admission’, again implying the superficiality of the statue as an icon and place of interest and attraction. The ‘coldness’ implies the lack of bond between the locals and this icon.

Thus, Alvin seems to question the Merlion being an icon of Singapore. He feels that it is merely a statue to boost the Singapore tourism, rather than having the Singaporeans feel themselves linked to the Merlion identity.

Other references

http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_938_2004-12-27.html
http://meridian103.com/issue-7/history/merlion/
http://singgifts.com/singapore-merlion-story.html
http://www.newasia-singapore.com/travel_information/introduction/history_and_origins_20070609390.html

 

Place of Interest – Toa Payoh

A Brief History of Toa Payoh by Kok Buck Song

(http://www.btptc.org.sg/About%20Us/Poem.html)

they say
there is no history
made in Toa Payoh,
that Economy, Polity, State
are major tenants
in Significance’s estate

but this being,
whose amniotic fluids,
swamp and swill,
were channelled seaward
through monsoon drains,
instant rivers,
was once a brave new world
of giant pigeonholes sky looking,
rigid under morning sun,
a pioneer in its time,
so should not earliness and vision
receive, as in Sentosa’s museum,
decorum, grace
and privilege of place?

the pride and self-sufficiency
of early settlers
eclipsed:
town centre, bus terminal, the first SEAP Games,
the emporium’s sacks of fragrant rice,
children’s playgrounds, the garden’s lake and town,
the Queen’s lookout
excite no more
and the children of Toa Payoh
are the mothers and fathers
of Woodlands, Pasir Ris,
distant orbits of the new satellites

this town delivered so fast,
labour pains
now claim a second strike:
this time, cranes and the wrecker’s ball
strip the old town
colonise once more
this, one of Modernisation’s
first ports of call

in our History’s eye,
growth is so swift
rebirth also
gets short shrift

TP 1

Toa Payoh Village in 1963

(Image taken from http://remembersingapore.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/toa-payoh-village-1963.jpg?w=640&h=355)

Toa Payoh is located in the center of Singapore. It was once an undeveloped area full of farms. There were many squatters living in this area. In 1962, Singapore was developing thus it needed more land for development and to construct better facilities and housing for the growing population. At that time, the people living at Toa Payoh had to move to other places. Over a few years, Toa Payoh had slowly developed and it was one of the earliest area with public housing estates.

TP 2

Toa Payoh New Town

(Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b8/Toa_Payoh_Town_Centre_4,_Aug_06.JPG)

Currently, Toa Payoh has been developed into a new town where the housing and facilities within this new town could fulfill the needs of the residents living in this area. From Kok’s poem, it illustrates the development of Toa Payoh from the past to the present. Kok might have felt that the changes of Toa Payoh from the previous swampy area to the fully developed new town happened all so quickly that no one could remember Toa Payoh’s past. In the past, Toa Payoh was once a swampy area with low living standard. Developments occurred due to the economy growth, policies and government. Over the years, upgrading works were constantly done in Toa Payoh to keep up with the changing demands of the population so that the living conditions and standards could be improved. Soon, Toa Payoh is developed into a town filled with the necessary facilities and transportation that could cater to the needs of the residents living in this area. Due to the advancing economy and technology, the government also started developing Woodlands and Pasir Ris into new towns just like Toa Payoh.

Other References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toa_Payoh

Place of Interest – Bukit Timah

Bukit Timah, Singapore by Lee Tzu Pheng

This highway I know,

the only way into the city

where the muddy canal goes.

These are the sides of coarse grasses

where the schoolboys stumble in early morning

wet-staining their white shoes.

This is the way the city is fed

men, machines,

flushed out of their short dreams

and suburban holes

to churn down this waiting gullet.

They flow endlessly this way

from dawn, before sky opens,

to the narrow glare of noon

and evening’s slow closing.

Under the steaming morning,

ambition flashes by in a new car:

the reluctant salesman faced

with another day of selling his pride

hunches over the lambretta, swerving

from old farmer with fruit-heavy basket.

The women back from market

remark that this monsoon will be bad

for the price of vegetables:

their loitering children, too small for school,

learn the value of five cents, ten cents,

from hunger and these market days.

All morning the tired buses whine

their monotonous route, drag

from stop to stop,

disgorge schoolchildren, pale-faced clerks,

long-suffering civil servants,

pretty office girls, to feed

the megalopolitan appetite.

This highway I know,

the only way out of the city:

the same highway under the moon,

the same people under the sea-green

of lamps newly turned on at evening.

One day there will be tall buildings

here, where the green trees reach

for the narrow canal.

The holes where the restless sleepers are

will be neat, boxed up in ten-stories.

Life will be orderly, comfortable,

exciting, occasionally, at the new nightclubs.

I wonder what that old farmer would say

if he lived to come this way

Bukit Timah

Located in the central region of Singapore, Bukit Timah district is named after Singapore’s tallest hill which stands at an altitude of 163.63 metres (537 ft.) and is the highest natural point in Singapore. Spanning 25km long, Bukit Timah is the main road linking Singapore to Johor, through the Bukit Timah railway station. Furthermore, the old Ford Factory in Bukit Timah, is where the British surrendered Singapore over to the Japanese, who used the factory as their headquarters during the war. As such, Bukit Timah had witnessed much of the historical war moments.

Bukit Timah was also a granite quarry in the 19th century, surrounded by vast stretches of plantation and rainforest. However after the Japanese Occupation, existing farms and plantations in Bukit Timah evolved into industrialised buildings and high-rise flats. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bukit Timah was a major industrial center. Today, Bukit Timah is better known to be the residency for the wealthy, occupied by luxury estates, making Bukit Timah Singapore’s premier residential district.

 bukittimah railway bukit timah landed property

(From left, Bukit Timah Railway Station in 1900s and Bukit Timah landed property in 2000s)

The poem touches on a theme of conservation along with Singapore’s drive towards urbanization.  Where villages are transforming into industrialized buildings, the poet expresses her personal view of Singapore’s steer towards modernization resulting in the inevitable erasure of past memories as seen from “This is the way the city is fed, men, machines, flushed out of their short dreams”.

In a passive and gentle conversational tone, the poet goes on to describe the frugal lives of Bukit Timah residents before the changes of industrialization, from “their loitering children, too small for school, learn the value of five cents, ten cents, from hunger and these market days”, where the mention of “alcohol” and “nightclubs” in the poem corresponds to the portrayal of the poet’s mental image of the future Singapore.

Overview_BukitTimah

The poet is apprehensive of Singapore’s development into a city, from “disgorge schoolchildren, pale-faced clerks, long-suffering civil servants, pretty office girls, to feed the megapolitan appetite” where she referred the people to be the victims of urbanization. At the same time, she acknowledges the benefits of industrialization, from “The holes where the restless sleepers are, will be neat, boxed up in ten-stories”, shows that people will be better off in the high rise flats. On the other hand, she puts up resistance to the idea as seen from “Life will be orderly, comfortable, exciting, occasionally, at the new nightclubs”, the mention of nightclubs here indicates a sense of unfamiliarity to the poet, as well as uncongenial to the poetic self.  Also, from “I wonder what that old farmer would say / if he lived to come this way” seems to show that she is hesitant and  uncertain about what the future brings, as she verbalized the thoughts of a farmer aloud, of their livelihood being threatened when urbanization transforms the farms into buildings.

References

Chee), Tham (Seong. “Essays on Literature and Society in Southeast Asia.” Essays on Literature and Society in Southeast Asia. http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=h6SOvP6FLskC&pg=PA174&lpg=PA174&dq=reviews+on+lee+tzu+pheng+bukit+timah+poem&source=bl&ots=6rybnDPhGT&sig=4RzYYajud44PFvBGWJj0vI4oAH8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vgtXUaieFsn-rAe44oGQCQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed March 23, 2013).