The Hong Lim Suite

The Hong Lim Suite:

       i. Sweet coffee and potted palms

 

Hong Lim block wakes bean curd soft

through the steam of morning’s first rice,

the steely beat of pak choi diced

and gossip flavoured Hokkien

sizzling sharp with galangal root

 

and splintered chicken feet chippings.

As the hawkers call the start of day,

a Singapore dawn spreads gin sling pink

on door glass and twitching curtain backs.

Merchants raise their shop guards, stack out

 

wads of temple money, sandalwood

sticks and prayer beads. On the first

floor, doctors sniff their herbs,

grocers open up sugared drinks

and unwrap today’s fresh moon cakes. I

 

wander through the meat market,

the stench of blood as strong as

bleach, shivering ornate flesh stains

adorned on butchers’ aprons.

From the balcony I spot the

 

Mah Jong players grouped at

plastic tables, withered and torpid

seniors rattling through a slow old age

with symboled tiles and their daughters’

flasks of cha in hand. By ten o’clock

 

the stalls are heaving, the poor flock here

for three dollar dining, monks

wander, trading braids for coins.

Travelling whites come to break

their breakfast rules: bacon and toast

 

swapped for dumplings and noodles,

their cereal traditions cornflaked

into bowls of coconut milk, curried

in their foreignness. I order

from Coffee Station and take

 

a seat by the plant beds, am tutted

by locals five metres away for taking

the smoking table. I watch the tai-tai

pour the coffee jug to jug, add the sugar,

a layer of condensed milk. I had asked

 

for black. She brings the chipped cup over

through the roar of clucking Hakka,

Malay, Telugu, Cantonese, Tamil, not

a broken word of English. “Xie xie,”

I mumble, endeavouring Mandarin gratitude,

 

I should have known from the menu

she was Teochew. She rolls her eyes

at my faulty Chinese and leaves. I sit there,

sweating in the Peranakan heat

that steams the emerald leaves

 

of potted palms and rides on the spitting

flames of vinegared woks. I breathe the fumes

of pungent pans of shrimp broth and

Peking duck ovens, my elbow by a piece of onion,

dropped from some diner’s clumsy chopsticks.

 

 

The Hong Lim Suite:

       ii. Homeland

 

Sudden claps of monsoon

thunder mute the food hall’s

neon buzz, a congee rain

falls thick and tacky through

the gaps between the levels.

From New Bridge Road,

old Zhìxin burrows through

the sheltering shoppers,

 

he stops at Lok-Lok Tao Foo

for a cheap feed and a cigarette.

Taking the prize seat by

the rails and overlooking the lawns,

he vents a yawn and opens up

his paper. ‘Shandong farmers

water their fields with hoses,’

he reads aloud; news from home,

 

he scans the page for names of towns

that as a boy, he’d known; he stares

at paragraphs, skipping characters unremembered,

unlearned. A keen breeze flicks the downpour

at his dusty sandalled feet, soaking,

quenching the dry cracks in his skin.

He recalls the distant rains of Shandong past,

followed by the rich mud scent of Spring.

 

 

The Hong Lim Suite:

       iii. Pink Dot

 

Crowds gather in Hong Lim Park, the voice

in Speaker’s Corner billowing out from under

pink umbrellas. Girls, Apollo handsome,

link their arms and cheer the megaphoned

 

speech; boys stamp their shoes to Western

pop beats, grinning porcelain pretty, their mothers

in tow and revelling in their gaiety. Policemen

line the borders plain-faced, watching gatherers swell

 

into a guava pink dot beneath the soup-warm

drops of rain; they separate the flowering

of the first male kiss and lead the culprits away.

The hissing crowd, dismayed, dissolve their circle,

 

decree in loud letter-shaped battalions, L-O-V-E.

In the tower block, Chinese throng the railings,

jeering the loving mass below with fire and

brimstone wording. I rise to go, pink dollars

 

in pocket, piety burning in my ears; I pass a female couple

queueing for the toilets by the stairs, bowing to a

Buddhist nun who hands them paper daisies, herself one

who knows too well how hard enlightenment is won.

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One thought on “The Hong Lim Suite

  1. Pingback: Good News! More publications on their way. Stay tuned for more! Follow the links below to read FRAKKNUCKLE teasers… | KAMIKAWA 神川

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