Postcards from Chinatown


Singapore Memory
Heng, Terence, 1978-

Terence Heng (b.1978) is a photographer and visual sociologist. He has published two books of poetry, _Live a Manic Existence with a Cup of Sanity in Your Hand_ (1997) and _From Where I’m Standing_ (2004). His poetry has also been featured in anthologies such as _No Other City_ (1999) and _From Boys to Men_ (2002). His visual work has been featured in a diverse number of formats including academic journals (Cultural Geographies, Visual Communication) and the mainstream media (Straits Times Through the Lens Spotlight). His research focuses on diasporic, racial and spiritual spatialities in suburban Singapore, particularly Bukit Brown Cemetery.
"Postcards from Chinatown" was written in 1997, based on a photographic study of old Chinatown, particularly Smith Street Complex and Block 1 Upper Pickering Street, the latter of which housed Terence’s paternal grandparents, and formed a significant part of his childhood memory. The poem was conceived in a period of commodification in Chinatown, where its landscape was (and still is) slowly being transformed into unrecognisable modernities.

Postcards from Chinatown
by Terence Heng

Racks of clothes along racks of clocks, as
if ticking away the fashion of the eras.
Fortune telling weight machine, I never
stepped on one before. Durian sign sale,
bicycle underneath no-bicycle sign.
Rusty trishaw parked outside renovated
lifts. And an old dental surgery somewhere
next to an older barber in the HDB. 
Urn, three joss sticks burnt out sometime ago.

That was in the background where I walked,
background of the closed down emporium,
background of the foreign worker outside
an unopened shophouse. Background wet market,
background unanswered responses to the cajoling
from the hawkers in the background hawker centre.
Background, backstage.

Our performance dictates a different set of scripts.
Souvenir shops selling Chinese hats and fake
pigtails stapled to the end.
Umbrellas for holding water.

Postcards of nothing that we really do.

I’ll sell this as distinctly local. Our whole stage of
rojak culture and the embracement of strolling
down the street back into the tour bus. Shiny shiny
trishaws and fluorescent T-shirts peddle you around
the incorporated country. This is Singapore,
ladies and gentlemen, although you don’t see
the locals anywhere.