Aug 20, 2009

On Race, Religion and Foreign Talent

Another poem from my book:
Train Ride to Singapore

The train pulled out slowly
like a long sigh
and I saw from my window
how you stood alone at
the station platform
with hands in your pockets -
you refused to wave
but smiled a reluctant, sorry
kind of goodbye.

Five years ago we skipped
the bahasa melayu class
to play chor dai di
in the dirty, deserted
alley behind
Ah Hin's coffeeshop,
we talked about girls
and about all the
things we'd do
when we were old enough
to get a job or into
university -

things were so much
simpler then.
Now we understand that
the colour of skin
opens doors for some
in this country,
forever closes them
for others.
I'm going south
alone to chase a dream,
because I can,
you can't,
for this I'm sorry
and I really don't know
if I'm ever
coming back.
Some years ago, this poem drew the attention of Associate Professor Dr Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf, from the University of Malaya. Well at that time, she wasn't an associate professor yet. She was still working on her dissertation about race, religion and Asian literature. She discussed my poem above in her dissertation.

Train Ride to Singapore is written in the first person. However, it's not about me. It's really about Sam, a Malaysian friend of mine, who had come to Singapore to further his studies. The "you" in the poem is a friend of his, who didn't get that chance. Of course, the background to the poem is Malaysia's NEP, which discriminated against non-Malay citizens of Malaysia (among other things, in the area of access to university education).

I first got to know Sam, when we were neighbours in an NUS hostel. One day, Sam had shared with me his bittersweet reflections on leaving his home country, Malaysia. I promptly converted Sam's account into a poem - that's how I created Train Ride to Singapore.

Sam is still in Singapore today. He works as a private banker with Citigroup.

I have written many posts about foreigners in Singapore. I think sometimes this may give rise to the impression that I don't like the foreigners here. That's untrue. Many of my best friends are foreigners. Foreigners are human beings too. All human beings strive to find happiness and avoid suffering. They try to do the best they can for themselves. If that means going to live in another country, well then, that's what they'll do. You can't blame them for that.

To put it another way, the failings of the Singapore government are not the fault of the foreigners here. Many aspects of our government's FT policies are stupid, but the foreigners can't be blamed for that.

Incidentally, the National Library Board has bought more than 20 copies of my poetry book, Two Baby Hands, and put them at different branches around Singapore. So you don't have to buy the book - you can borrow it too.


Indiana said...

Great Poem. Concise, emotive, about chances opportunities, simpler times and racial divides.

At first reading I thought it was about a Chinese and a Malay Singaporean with one taking off to Australia to study while the other couldn't, so thanks for the clarification following.

As said, good poem.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Thank you.

I should point out you can't take a train from Singapore to Australia. :D

Ee Vonn said...

Wow! It's such a touching poem. I really understand the feeling of it as I'm also a Malaysian Chinese who is studying overseas. Haha, Mr Wang is so cute, "can't take a train from Singapore to Australia." :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

whilst I like your perspective and analysis of issues in general, I'm beginning to get a little annoyed at what I can only see as shameless self plugging. I hope you can be less obvious about it.



Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Gasp ... If I cannot plug myself on my own blog, wherever shall I plug myself?

Anonymous said...

I kind of want to know what defines an FT. I am a Singaporean. Half my life is in Spore. Half in the USA. All my higher education and all work experiences are in the USA.
Am I considered an FT ?