Two lovely poems and a Singapore state of mind

People talk of a New York state of mind (below are the lyrics of the song by Billy Joel). Surely, there’s a Singapore state of mind, too.

I was reading what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters from Singapore after a two-day Asean summit in Phnom Penh.

Today reports:

Citing the furore over blog posts by National University of Singapore scholar Sun Xu, who is from China, Mr Lee said: “He shouldn’t have made that blog post. He did. He has been chastised. He has been disciplined. He has expressed his contrition. He’s sorry about it. And I think we should accept that. We should have been able to move on from that and deal with it as one person who mis-spoke.”

He added: “We should not because of one incident make that into an issue – that all immigrants are like that.”

I am sure the Prime Minister is right. The reason people settle in Singapore is they come to like it. They may have moved in for the money and the convenience, the economic opportunities, but I am sure most of them assimilate. How can one not like at least some of the things about Singapore? It grows on you. Even if you are not in Singapore, a picture, a news report, a poem can remind you of Singapore.  The feeling can be so intense, the image so vivid.

Take this poem, for instance, which I just read on the Online Quarterly Review of Singapore.  It’s beautiful:

The sky, the sea and the dog
By Judith Huang

The big sky laps the wooden planks,
string bean poles hold nothing but themselves,
sticking out like a ratted wall
on both sides, it and its reflection.
The sea is something spiritual to me,
said the round woman, on the dark-sand beach.
The dog we watch with a wary eye
is magical because he swims and drifts
between the wall, where he leaps from pole to pole
and our dark beach, and sniffs at our charred fire,
and when we wake the kelong is at sea,
and seems a fence, a fence that strangely moved
in the deep night, and loomed in front of me.
We were fevered with the blankets’ cold,
and the rain’s cold, and so we left
that place dripping, sandy plastic bags
on our sore bums, on rusty mountain bikes,
and never saw the floating dog again.

Marine Parade - Singapore

Oh, I also loved this poem about  Singapore.

A Malaysian Comes to Singapore
By Irian Way

The checkpoint looks bigger than Singapore!
Glossy doors and uniforms slide aside
Automatically, away from lips curved
Like whips, neatly fixed over the preserved
Tips of blunted nails. They key us inside
The system, and then we’re off as before

Down the expressway – though now everything
Is in English, all but stray traces
Of race safely effaced in the bright
White letters of white words bleaching places
And faces. They wait at the crossing

(Here the traffic lights actually function!)
– then tick on scentless feet through the doors
Of nine-to-five jobs, across citrus-washed floors
Stacked sky-high in this “city in a garden”

Where the manicured trees trapped in the breeze
Of our engines tremble.

Green leaves, blue seas,
In the shadow of whitewashed HDBs

Clean as teeth in the gold maw of a lion
God – it’s a colouring book of a country,

Waiting for a story.


The foregoing poem appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore in July 2008. Quite a lot has happened since then. There have been new chapters, new developments in the Singapore story.

Finally, here are the lyrics of New York State of Mind by Billy Joel.

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighbourhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I’m taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind

I’ve seen all the movie stars
In their fancy cars and their limousines
Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens
But I know what I’m needing
And I don’t want to waste more time
I’m in a New York state of mind

Me? I am in a Singapore state of mind.

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