Bras Basah 1953


Singapore Memory
Thumboo, Edwin

Edwin Nadason Thumboo (b. 22 November 1933, Singapore - ), Emeritus Professor at National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, is widely regarded as the unofficial poet laureate of Singapore. He is best known for writing on national issues. His poem, "Ulysses by the Merlion", is a major work in Singapore literature. He was the first Singaporean to be conferred the SEA Write Award and the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 1979 and 1980 respectively. His other awards include the National Book Development Council prizes for poetry (1978, 1980, 1994), the ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award in Literature (1987), the Public Service Star (Bar) in 1991, and the Meritorious Service Medal in 2006.

Note: Written permission from the poet ( is required if the poem recording is used for anything other than classroom teaching in Singapore.

Bras Basah 1953
by Edwin Thumboo

Where the first Rendezvous brooded
By a row of old shophouses, since sadly slain,
A special road began. A point of colonial
Confluence: Dhoby Ghaut, the YWCA with
Manicured tennis lawns for memsahibs who
Then took tea and scones. Across a Shell kiosk
Where Papa parked his Austin Seven, then off
To Hock Hoe’s for piston rods and Radex

Think of the names: Dhoby Ghaut, Prinsep St,
The three Cathays, a name the Lokes made
Famous: resplendent building, our tallest then;
Fantastic camera shop; and that popular Store
Where Rudy’s wife, petite, temporarily demure,
Quietly assessed her customers as she held her
Intelligence above show-cases. Two doors away,
Heng, increasingly called Mr, sold German cameras
To Japanese sailors, was en route to a partnership.

And the bookshops full of stuff: Penguin New 
Writing to Palgrave’s G-Treasury; Q’s Oxford 
Anthology, a blue spine among mouldy issues 
Of The Wide World where imperial dreams, 
The White man’s burden trudged across Asia and
Africa, up Ruwenzori’s mist and moon, then down
The Brahmaputra. Mainly first-hand accounts, 
Direct, unshorn, marching against superstition.
Plain narratives rising in majesty, in power, art.
No cute theory of the Other. Only them natives.

And the Rendezvous after school; affordable.
The man with the mole, ladle in hand, presided,
Holding the extra spoonful, balanced fate,deciding
If he liked you. Two doors away Simon Ong’s
Family shop of fishing tackle, Winchester torches,
Knives of Solingen steel. Outside, a Woodsville tram,
Full of St Andrew boys, swings around the corner,
Tires squealing.

       Standing there, the world grew,
Bit by bit, seemed different with each fresh vantage
Shift in weather; hormonal stir, sweet unknowing;
An ache that knew no words; a quickly passing mouth.
As eyes caught more lit with sensuous guilt, when 
Curves beneath Convent uniforms heaved and turned
With the mind’s proposal, the rainbow’s ripening,
As thoughts fingered image, each chance encounter.
Experience became a word as Life cease to be simple.