He tried to reach

deep into his memory bag

but his hand fell through

the invisible bottom.

O How he used to jog down

Orchard Road

from Hilton

eons ago

but all was a blur

in his mind.

Nothing he saw

would trigger a flash

of some sort –

Singapore changes everyday

like a chameleon…

It keeps on hurtling headlong

into the metropolitan future,

where people are always

in perpetual motion

as if driven by the state’s

ideological libido.

Is this postmodern capitalism

at its idyllic best?

The face of tomorrow

every nomad aims for?

No one idles in a corner –

as in Manila,

where you can lose your shirt

while tricksters congregate

as if waiting for dole-outs

& miracle…


How long has it been

since the 70s

when last he would fly

in & out

of Southeast Asia?

Nothing has remained solid:

time & the people

have turned murky liquid

& momentum

of outward forces

has driven him

to places

where nothing familiar stays:

It’s a carousel

where everything goes in circles

with questions terribly unanswered:

Does he see the blank

disposition of children

fed on mercantile dreams?

None, they’re all on shopping


crazy over Paris fashion

& techno gadgets

to keep away ennui…

But here,

old people clean up hotel suites

& turn gofers

in McDonald’s cafes…

This is how one ends up

in his twilight year,

taking charge of kids

who would eventually disappear.


Everyone lives off Facebook

community –

thumbs up

& you are delighted

how well you’ve been positioned

as X target of cognitive mapping.

If only for Wi-Fi

& you will have spent

longer days & unbearable nights


in a room

where all points are in parallax,

or are the guys still alive?

No longer primed to be hermetic

that you can cultivate

like an indoor flower:

the electronic ghost


your privacy is a door

swung open

because the globe has turned


at the click of your fingers.

Without the gizmo

you are wont

to retire in a hole

to sullenly expire

if not for the pictures:

you stupidly imagine

you are freezing and alone.


F. is Muslim,

her head scarf on

like some visible arsenal

to affirm custom

& tradition.

But she moves around

the corporate world

without her mental luggage

in tow.

Nothing negative to clinch

a deal with a client –

all is tack & procedure

& matter of course.

She would drag you

into fancy restaurants

that serve halal

to savour the evening life –

minus talks over politics

she steers clear of:

life is short enough,

no time for wars

& flare-ups over

antagonistic culture…


Her family has its own company,

but V. prefers to strike out

on her own.

O She’s not the marrying kind,

never aware her biological clock

might be ticking fast.

O She’s young, thank you

& will not cast a net

for some fancy dude

to weather the blues…

Shuttling between Sing

& Jakarta,

occasionally Manila,

where she inspects

business outposts –

O She would rather show off

the picture of her dog, Carlos.


The Bekasi workers

took several days off

for the holiday season,

she says,

but they’ll be back

to finish the job,

she assures.

It’s been raining since December,

ushering in some light flooding

on campus.

But the bad news wasn’t

entirely new,

she could hack it

as a way of life here

in this district

where local workers

are customarily slow –

like Filipinos –

to fix something in a jiffy.

They have all the time

on their hands,

legacy of colonial lassitude

that surfaces

from the unconscious

this neck of the woods.


The bathroom

is gauge of degree

of civilization –

not gothic churches

where penitents

troop for procession.

The shops are open

for a country

that doesn’t seem

to sleep,

where comfort rooms

are virtually antiseptic,

squeaky clean.

You wouldn’t dare

shit & mess up

the white porcelain.

The air-con

perpetually hums,

& you tend to catch a cold

if you shrug off

a sweater.

First world ambiance

is heavy like a 3-D film

on this equatorial island,

& you wonder

if the old colonialists

gifted the natives

with freedom & discipline.

All is a matter

of context & definition

for gifts in exquisite


may be a Trojan horse

of the imagination.

Where goes Sing?


would find the scene cool

at first encounter,

but they are cautioned

if it turns second skin –

something may be awry

in this frenzy

of consumption?

When would be

the final reckoning

for this way of life

inside the bubble?


They tunnel

under Orchard Road,

an underground train route

that connects shopping malls…

Here, where Chinese pedestrians

smelling of Paris cologne

& attired in continental fashion

dawdle in coffee shops

after a day-long shopping.

The metro rail criss-crosses

in a grid of pit stops

to make life easier –

according to state edict –

& you can only interject

what’s the buzz!

In a city that constantly hustles,

as if catatonic…

O where have all the human

refuse gone?

They’re invisible,

shuttled to side quarters

where they live in silence.

Bangladesh labour

does menial jobs –

see them rule

the airport counters! –

 & Malays

are virtual outcasts

on the totem pole of power.


He used to dandle her

as a child,

but now she leads you

through the maze of the city

with impeccable certainty.

She has become

a citizen of the world,

who knows the ins & outs

of underground cities

& international airports

like the back of her hand.

O he cannot believe

how time has flown so fast…

& you can only marvel

at the speed of light

that leaves you

suddenly aging on the spot.


The plane rolls down

the runway with a muffled thud –

the newly-acquired airbus

the crew boasts

can fly over Latin America, Europe

& Asia-Pacific.

& you wake up suddenly

as if you have sniffed

a malodorous smoke

from a nightmare.

Back in the squalor of Manila

where a beggar bilks you

for helping the chauffeur

manoeuvre into a parking slot.

No, it isn’t fun in the Philippines –

something bizarre & carnal

in that entrepreneurial jive.

& you dare not close your eyes:

you might get roughed up,


A gift of a blitz vacation

from a daughter

who rues you’ve been


by the conspiracy of thumb suckers

at the court of royal jesters.


You can’t go home again,

Thomas Wolfe

is oft-quoted.

Here in Manila

where the city sleeps off

the daily regimen of chaos:

Media headlines in Singapore

play up a gunman who killed

7, wounded 8

in the neighbourhood

to celebrate a New Year

that is always pestiferous…

What kind of self-delusion

is this

among people

who persist they’re uniquely

in Asia-Pacific better off?

O How can one live

in the daily squalor?

Public toilets smell of shit

& urine,

the metro rail cars chug along

like broken machines…

O Nothing has moved,

like the snake-like traffic

& they count like Cyclopes

their secret blessings?

The black Nazarene

is occasion for police briefing…

O Nothing is done

without the ceremony

of the Faithfull’s madness,

the fallen’s degeneration,

the poor’s supplication…

Amen, amen, amen…

[But his heart longs

for family & friends:

is it on perpetual exile?]


Yes, Manila is home

where loyalty & betrayal

occur like disease’s metaphor –

here, where senile mafia bosses

inflict their dynastic rule,

pushing envelopes for senators

under the table;

here, where the good perish

with the vicious

like angels & devils locked

in saturnalian rapture;

here, where city slicks

gang up on paisanos

& provincial cops ambush cops;

here, where aging bodies ache all over,

their joints & sinthome of knots

that won’t link up

unlike James Joyce’s;

here, where cynics wonder

if the secret of living

is in the bosom of the Black Nazarene

who strolls like a muted king;

here, where recluses stay away

from the ululating crowd

who will sell their country

after professing their souls in frenzy –

O This is home,

god-forsaken Manila

where oligarchs hold court,

& peasants/workers share

the pain & sadness

over the beasts & children

of the dark, dark future!

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