Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Singapore Notebook, 25 November:

We have done a fair amount of walking here and I seem to be walking differently. I don't mean I quite know how I walk in England, nor do I here but every so often I find I straighten myself up and swing my shoulders more. I am becoming more languid and it appears to help progress through the thick, hot air. I have noticed some Africans and Caribbeans walk like this in England. Maybe this is how the walk comes about. Heat makes you languid and you become loose-limbed. Before long it is languor as style. Maybe.

That's a big maybe on the edge of nonsense but one is simply less trussed up than in the bracing climate of England. Nothing braces here only work and work goes beyond bracing, it is practically the rack: the rack of long extra hours, of returning to the office at midnight, of coming up with a solution in the small hours. If you are a child there is the rack of extra activities, the supplementing of school hours teaching with more maths, or language, or art, or physical exercise. For or read and because it is likely to be all those things and more. It is as if everyone were in training for a big event due the next minute. It is, after all, what has brought the place to this extraordinary vertiginous point. What is more, overwork can become pleasure and pride, a corrective to the feeling of inferiority following the disppearance of empire. I can see the t-shirt now: I'M STRESSED AND I'M PROUD.

I suspect there is a languid figure inside the tense Salary Man prototype. The languid figure moves through its own air of memory and desire. It mourns, sighs, yearns, and falls into a gentle sleep. On the bus yesterday two girl students fresh out of an exam with anti-prototype t-shirts, one with a variant on the Keep Calm and Carry On (Whatever) slogan under an image of the crown, with the same crown but upside down, the legend reading: PANIC AND FREAK OUT NOW. The other girl's T-shirt, more subtle perhaps but also telling, says: SHAKESPEARE HATES YOUR EMO POEMS.

Results are vital after all and the exam period is the rack of all racks. One can never assume  anything of the individual soul (mild looking accountants dismember bodies, fierce looking punks secretly adore kittens) but Singapore is, visually at least, a conformist society. The young may be longing all the more to break out but they don't look to have broken much. On the same bus just one young girl with hair dyed silver and lilac and a stud through her lips. The rest are in neat clothes, their dark hair neatly done, with more or less style. The sports posters around campus exhort them to DO BETTER, to EXCEL, to AIM HIGHER.

Languid Man does not get much of a look in. Languid Man languishes, desires, dreams, and feels a certain sadness and regret in the twistings of his much-racked intestines. As to Languid Woman, where is she? She is not the tired figure trudging home with shopping bags or dashing late into the office. I doubt she is hanging about in the doorways of Geylang.


Yesterday we met with two Indian friends who have recently arrived in Singapore to work. Pallavi is a scholar, editor for major publishing houses -  and poet - looking for a job here; Abhishek is an engineer by training but is now in advertising and is trying to write novels and short stories in what spare time he has. They are our children's age - warm-hearted, intelligent, talented, absolutely delightful. We go for a meal near the National Gallery and talk over steamed dumplings and noodles. I first met Pallavi in Delhi on my first visit to India where she attended a class I gave at the Katha Festival. I remember her even then, a lovely attentive face, not very much older than the children in front of me. We have met briefly since, in Delhi again and in London. This is the first time we have met her husband. They were married some six months ago. We ask her if she has some wedding photos and she finds some on her phone. The costumes of both bride and groom are beautiful, they themselves are beautiful. We hear about the preparation, the reception, the families and friends and relatives. She is hurrying to finish her PhD. He reads intensely, his admirations shifting, wondering if he will ever be good enough.

There is something a little uneasy about Singapore for them. The place is beautiful, but too new, too grand, too ostentatious, too Disneyland. India is replete with the past: here the past is erected, demolished, erected and demolished again. It is, in effect, presented in terms of the future. It may be in the haunted building in the park that was the gasworks. It may be in the heart of Languid Man. Hard to know, they think. The future is the past waiting to happen, I think.

The sun is out and the circular building directly in front of our window is all clear lines and sweeping curved shadows. It has something of the flying saucer about it. Perhaps it will rise and head off into the unpredictable sky. Perhaps it will start to spin like a top, like the castle in the Hungarian fairy tale that turns and turns on its one duck leg. You think that's surreal? No, it's just the Folk doing what Folk do, slaving, dreaming of a more languid existence, spinning and spinning, rising and vanishing into the weather.


Pallavi said...

Singapore is lovely though, we feel, with thoughtful considerate, architecture and amiable people. As we get to know more people and some become our friends, we look to gain a richer understanding of Singapore.

Thank you for your very kind words, George. It is wonderful to have you and Clarissa as our friends.

Anonymous said...

"The languid figure moves through its own air of memory and desire. It mourns, sighs, yearns, and falls into a gentle sleep."

...such beautiful, soothing words, somehow. like a painting or a dream that is true.

Gwil W said...

Emo poems??? I just read a couple as I was in sad and complete ignorance of the form. My considered opinion/conclusion: Shakespeare t-shirt rules OK!.

George S said...

He generally does.