electrified, fizzled, the wailing brightness, smacked itself against the
screens of cars. Oh the grotesque tragedy of not being allowed to live in this
micro paradise permanently. My dad had seven sisters, six of which resided in
Kuala Lumpur and my mother had cousins in Singapore. Being from a Punjabi, Sikh
background, Singapore was like an Eastern Pandoras Box I would open
throughout my childhood and life. Away from the bleak and featureless Isle of
Queen Lizzie and the cultural constraints of familial life as a
young South Asian girl/woman.
Everywhere were rippling
wet foreheads, domes of moisture and fluid dripping sticky down torsos, inside
shirts and soiled petticoats. It had been my second home for a long time, I
adored riding the air conditioned and immaculate monorail, smelling the exotic
diets of the indigenous people wafting through the carriages. There were solid
jade blockades of greenery and phosphorescent, vertigo inducing buildings
rising towards the heavens. Everywhere seemed to sizzle and boil, this kind of
shimmery and frustrated heat made you exhausted, even before you had reached
your destination. There was a stampede of too sultry days and a lurid light in
the coming days. I noted the solid blockade of jade green trees where
everything sizzled. The climates apparent problem was it glimmering heat.
My mothers family had
emigrated to Singapore from Malaysia some decades ago and owned a string of
compact sugar cube like flats. This was a cosmopolitan city, a cultural
hot pot of many different races including Punjabi (my family), Tamil, Indian,
some Malay people, but a largely Chinese population.
Chinas Town I would find a secluded spot to peruse the shops and
restaurants. Cooing at the jewel tones and imperial and oriental architecture.
Wedging myself in an intimate restaurant watching the supremely flammable
dishes being brought out to slobbering customers on steaming platters. I
usually ordered gallons of Oolong and Jasmine tea, and just people
watched, I was on good terms with the owner and would order dim sim: dumplings,
sauces of variant colours, bite size wontons that were crêpey
and translucent creams, noodle rolls and egg tarts.
Sometimes I would consume
all the delicacies and other times I would nibble on them. Sometimes the people
that I would observe would be glossy as a photo or they would seem dulled and
sullen of youthful or glittering with curious eyes. They could have an old
innocence or a young innocence it did not matter about the age. So many
colours, honey melon yellow, razor blade silver, garnet brightness, vulva pink
I recall the white day, the
sun was spawning its rays into the sky and they bounced off ruinous buildings
that had opulent histories. I wore a dress that was a shade of blood
burgundy, with amazing black crystal encrusted ankle boots that showcased my
elongated limbs that people said seemed to go on forever. I was not accustomed
to the sparkling humidity.
You could see the sunburnt
injuries of the sun inflicted on my mothers face.
The heat smacks you in the
eyes, liquefying your innards, brain and all. Frying your genitals. I also had
consumed seafood that day, in Singapore at a food stall, it was cheap there, it
was fried some sort of Stingray washed down by sugar cane water, then some star
fruit with drizzled honey and an Asian Beer. I remembered the juicy slice of
orange dawn that had met me at the end of the evening.
How to decipher this
jewelled hotness on the magnesium white sands of Sentosa Islands Siloso
Beach, where I had fried my body for some many summers to a chocolate hue. The
cyan water seemed to be carbonated and the fizzy waves would slush along the
beach leaving in its wake seaweed and occasional dead jelly fish and shells. It
was a long sheltered beach, when I was eight and we would have any celebrations
on the island I would be dressed in a short Chinese silk jacket and white
pleated skirt, we would eat food and set off firecrackers and get ang
pow, money in red envelopes from our Punjabi and Chinese relatives,
interracial marriages were not as uncommon as some may think in South Indian
Sentosa meant peace
and tranquillity in Malay, which originated from the Sanskrit term
meaning contentment. I never really knew this, what was more
disturbing was when it was a British Military base once and a Japanese Prison
of war camp it used to be referred to as Pulau Blakang which in
Malay means Island of Death Behind. Maybe there were lots of hungry
pow (prisoners of war) ghosts driven by such impassioned emotions ambling and
dawdling along the beach. I felt this shrill chill, as I sensed their
animalistic and ancestral eyes boring into me with a kind of deviant glistening
shine. Almost in their sad damnation they were not venerated any more by their
relatives. There was reclamation of the land from the sea and seventy percent
of the island was covered by rainforest with monitor lizards, screeching
monkeys, rainbow bright parrots and vanity driven peacocks.
The crystal bright musical
fountains would cavort around with watery glee and were a prized attraction.
The prismatic attraction seemed to publish the sky with delight and abstract
shapes of wondrous luminosity. My cousins and I would stay until the oily
darkness of the night would gag a golden and weary sun smudged by an upset
lipstick sunset. We would let our honey coloured toes subside into the
crumbling sands and try and catch lava orange crabs in cheap, neon bright
plastic buckets to release, sometimes my uncle would spike and fry them on a
small beach fire to have as a snack. It was a macabre sight to see my uncle
consume lobster and wonton soup. He would select a ruby bright lobster from the
fish tank of the food stall near the beach for his meal. I remember wanting to
emancipate this crustacean victim. Protruding was the monolithic stone, white
Merlion, this cultural edifice, a mythical creature with a lions head and
a fishs body, it embodied Singapore. Singapores original name was
Singapura meaning lion city.
Gon Xi Fa Choi
a sharp scream that had reached a new octave, it was Chinese New Year. A swirl
of amethyst and kaleidoscope bronze fizzled between fireworks
Oriental faces scrutinised
the illuminating and dangling lanterns, they seemed to be multi coloured, crepe
paper and crinkling. The sky seemed a glossy blue...
I wore a
Cheongsam (Chinese Silk Dress) of shimmering turquoise, it almost
had a metallic haze around it. It was embossed with sewn golden floral detail
and the odd, red fire dragon. The silk sheen seemed appropriate in the almost
Chinese tea room that also had bamboo green matting and Oriental silk screen
paintings. There were some porcelain Chinese deities adorning various shelves
behind where we were. It also doubled up as a restaurant for a new years
feast. I adored all the trinkets, a new dimension of pepper red and pomegranate
diffused into the room. My cousin Jaswinder had obsidian hair, night coloured
hair, he was chomping on a juicy candy floss pink prawn. The crowds outside
were rowdy and my aunty put a protective arm around me. We feasted on coconut
rice with soy sauce, fermented tofu and stir fried greens with chilli chicken
and thick stick noodles.
The skyscrapers, broad
leaved parasol trees, colonial spires, Buddhist and Oriental gardens and
architecture personified the exoticism of this urban jungle. The Singaporean
night seemed like a glittering oddity to me, I had come many summers from
infancy, adolescence, to teen hood and now adulthood. The moon was frosted, I
felt more at home here and in Malaysia where my much of my extended family had
resided more than the bleakness of England. The streets seemed studded with
Buddhist temples and trinket shops. The Eastern dimensions of the strewn
Buddhist temples I liked to languish in, this psychotic break of
Was I a cultural leech in
this micro ethnically diverse cosmos, I adored one specific Buddhist temple it
was the Kwan In Thong Hood Cho Temple om 178 Waterloo Street. It
was built in 1884 and was dedicated to Kwan Im (Guanyin) the goddess of mercy
and was a refuge for the sick and destitute during the Japanese Occupation. I
would go there to meditate quietly among the holy shimmer and the flurry of
people. I would pray for sick relatives but more recently myself as I had a
metastatic body, I had Ovarian Cancer. I would kneel on the prayer carpet in
front of the Buddha this lapsed Sikh girl, melancholic hazel eyes and toffee
skin. I didnt want any tumors to be wrapped around my remaining ovary and
commandeering my body. I prayed for Guanyin for compassion, this Bodhisattva.
The temple was bustling with luckless devotees.
The temple was an example
of ancient Chinese courtyard architecture, its rainbow bright craftsmanship,
its emerald light and melancholic tinkle brought me peace, away from this
mental and emotional mutilation. In the prayer hall kowtowing to the Goddess of
Mercy, yellowed swastikas adorned the roof, the ridges embellished with
calligraphy and decorations signifying good omen which I could suckle up like
sacred godly breast milk. The aroma of incense stagnated outside the temple in
an urn, the incense sticks would stain the temple ceilings with soot just like
those cancerous cells were tattooed on my body. My fertility was dying like the
scented smoke of the I-ping sticks
The glazed beams of a
bronze flourish seem to electrocute the air at my cousins Punjabi
wedding, she was marrying a Caucasian man, much like I had in the UK. Weddings
were generally the reason why we came so often to Malaysia and Singapore.
Guests of caramel, macchiato, chocolate and coffee tones seemed to multiply in
the luxurious banqueting suite. Everyone was pollinated in sequins, crystals
and diamanté, jewelled saris, parrot coloured stalwart kammeez (Indian
Suits), rhinestone sherwani, festive turbans and Indian gold and Anarkali
jewellery and industrial quantities of cosmetics plastered on sweaty faces
including my own, my false lashes were half off my clown painted visage and the
I had sweated off my gold eye glitter.
A poem I wrote best
describes the wedding and set the scene:
This plethora of swollen
jewels tattooed to her skin.
In this peculiar
procession of arresting silks.
oozing gold jewelry swelling caramel bodies.
Sweating like drenched
fish in this bedazzled, break dancing Bhangra festival.
Dola is drumming with its
This flashy fish scale
wives, gyrating, thrusting with sparkle pop dexterity.
This rainbow screeching
The luminous lashes jewel
This tripped oriental
Caked in cosmetic
Quaking elders shriveled
with their husband and turbans and head scarfs.
Hideous coughs of
Flame curling curries,
thigh deep infuriating sabjis and crackling poppadoms
Chomping at the bit for
methi (sweet -in Punjabi).
Dazzled in a crown of
flowers are the unwed sisters.
Reveling in heavy handed
flashes of Nikon.
Sodden in crazed tears of
loss grappling at her fathers shoulder.
Eyeballs like pickling
Levitating on gold
To foster the bonds of
Clogging her dainty mouth
with egg less, wedding cake.
Enticing hands drew her
in, frail, glittered bridal body into
a boa constrictor crush
Plying her, feeding
A reservoir of bronze
bodies, feasting, swiveling, and frolicking in Hindu melodies.
The altitude of the Far
East, this juxtaposition with her bleached bridegroom.
Auntie-Jis cooing over cobalt blue eyes, oozing over his creamy
And how his genes will
prettify the Asian gene pool.
His luminous beauty
against this dusky daughter.
Out of her doll shell
this bride panting into her new western reality.
Imperial white and
Chewing on her twinkling
chuni (headscarf) now caught on her scintillating nose
I presented this poem as a
present in golden calligraphy on an ornate card to my Singaporean cousin Yasmin
as wedding gift. I was weighed down in a regal gold and hot pink crystal
studded lengha (Indian occasion/ceremonial top and skirt). Before my
airport departure I sponged up the sedated nostalgia. The droppey eyed western
guests were bedazzled by the strobe lights and the sun-these pale figurines
were lobster burnt and almost scorched to the skin. Suspiciously navigating the
ethnic and cultural borders, the ambiguous customs. Borrowing countries and
cultures from each other. I grabbed a delicious plate of fish curry and a plate
of Dosa (a flattened, layered piece of rice batter) noted the high sari count
in the area known as Little India, a renowned part of
The aroma of greasy
parathas and sweet cardamon tea wafted up the vibrant street to my nostrils
giving me a tropical sense of deja vu.