Monday, 17 November 2014

Singapore Notebook: Sunday and Monday
Little India and Migrant Workers 1

I am getting used to being here.

No, that's not true. I am getting used to the climate. I am getting used to drifting storms that throw a fit then either die away or hang around for a couple of hours stomping about in the dark. I am getting used to the rough layout of the island. I am getting used to taxis. I am getting used to the campus (though I still walk the wrong way from the return shuttle bus stop) and I am certainly getting used to Fusion Spoon / Fork and am beginning to like it. I like the staff. I like that hollow, almost cavernous space with its mad chandeliers. I am certainly getting used to food in all its varieties - or maybe I am simply getting used to eating. One eats. One learns to eat. One learns to eat in moderation. One survives or one thrives. We shall find out which.

Today, for the first time, a day in, apart from a meeting in my office, to which I now catch the shuttle bus, with a student who gave me some poems to look at. The topmost poem in the sheaf was a sequence on food - beautifully constructed, sharp, funny, even a touch melancholy. 'This poem about food is not a poem about food' as the censor might say. Or not entirely. Food itself, like most things, is about something else. There were a couple of other good poems too, one about the custom of burning paper effigies on the anniversaries of family deaths, another about being a child in the war, possibly taken from a memory of the grandfather.

There is so much intelligence in this place it is a little humbling. I have a number of slim volumes now and they are all, if nothing else, intelligent. And, of course, they are more.

But back to record.

On Sunday we were met by a friend, the poet Toh Hsien Min who is also high up in banking now. Hsien Min was President of the Oxord University Poetry Society and had invited me some sixteen years ago. His poems are humane, often formal, elegant.  He asked where we would like to go and we said Little India.

In the heat of the day Little India looks and feels much like Big India. Arcades, street stalls, lots of jewelry, lots of gold, lots of sweat, some temples, some clothes, some food courts. (The reader may detect a food theme running through this and every other post, but let me tell you there are very few fat people here.) Narrow street on wide street. Old red light streets that are still red light streets but without the red light. Prositution and brothels are legal but soliciting is not. I don't see girls hanging around but perhaps they are and I just haven't noticed them because they don't look particularly like girls hanging around.

It is hot. A tiny cinema is playing a film titled FUTURE OF IMAGINATION NINE. A van selling MARINE EQUIPMENT is parked in front of it. I want to see the first eight in the series.

It begins to rain. It begins to pour down. We raise umbrellas and proceed until the rain stops and the sun takes up its proper place. We chase round shops looking to find sim cards that will work in our phones, but without success. We have bought sim cards but they don't work because, as someone suggests, the phones are locked. We can manage without.

We stay down town to meet a young couple, Ruben the (internationally successful) painter and Jennifer (poet, slam-champion, model, stand up comedy artist). They are both slim as saplings and look about sixteen. Ruben meets us at the MRT station and walks us down the riverside where we find somewhere to eat. Jenn arrives later, utterly changed. Her hair has been bleached, severely cut, straightened. It has been a long and painful process but she is about to go off to Monaco to model something. She looks a little shocked but new and beautiful. They are sophisticated, charming, urbane and half our age. Or less. We talk art, poetry, performance, language, football. They insist on paying for the meal which includes two different kind of pretty large crab and much else. Delicious crab. Later we see the live crab in bundles waiting to become food. We don't see this first. We walk a while past the museums and the area where the Writers Festival had taken place then I suddenly feel very tired. We grab a taxi back.

This post is going to be too long so I am splitting it into two. Pictures to come later.

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