Bugis Street
(Singapore, about 1972)

the metallic clatter of a busy wok
will always bring the memory sharply into focus,
or the smell of joss drifting on the wind,
or sickly indian love oil.

most nights the street was blocked
at both ends by about eleven,
and then the festival begins.
no prostitutes in this street
and all of the beautiful women
are men.

a thousand coloured lights glow overhead
and the place is humming
while the USS Enterprise rides at anchor
somewhere out in the bay.
uniforms everywhere...
american bluejackets, english tommy's,
jocks, aussie diggers and kiwi infantry,
and a hundred different accents.
vietnam is the ever present nightmare,
that and the domino theory
so singapore Island is a fortress.

and all the while the stones hammer 'lola'
from a hundred different transistor radios
placed strategically to attract
the punter to those small round white tables.
you sit at mr wong's table...
you drink only mr wong's beer.

but not this night,
an argument developes
between mr wong and the vendor next door,
both men dressed in white t/shirt, white trousers
and flip-flops. mr wong looses face,
leaves the table only to return a minute or two
later armed with a broad-bladed chinese

the flash of silver was too quick for the eye to register
but no matter, it slices through bone and flesh
ripping from left shoulder to right side,
staining white t/shirt into crimson.

we drink beer as we watch the chinese man die,
from somewhere in the crowd a policeman draws his pistol
and disarms mr wong. mr wong will also die,
not in a dirty and crowded singapore street,
but suspended on the end of a rope...
two lives for the price of a couple of cans of tiger beer.

i contemplate my beer for a minute or two until
a street kid tries to sell me his mother.
he gives up on the banter and we play 'naughts and crosses'
on his slate for my change. he wins naturally, counts up the money
and calls me a "cheap charlie" when it doesn't add up to a dollar.
eventually an ambulance arrives and take
the dead vendor away...
no-body thinks to wash the blood off the street.

Mike Subritzky
IWVPA 'Festival Project'
July 2002