|FROM THE PLAYS
BENJAMIN SHEARES BRIDGE BY NIGHT
XIMENG: So, obedient to the engineerís art,
pronouncing the austere truth of their calculations,
concrete and iron took form:
the bridge vaulted the harbour,
high on its multiple arches.
The viaduct soared; a new road sprang,
over distance shrunken, to our furthest east.
So it stands; for us, no mean achievement.
ROSA: A view to lift up and hush oneís heart.
XIMENG: Now on a night like this, looking outward,
moonlight and mist lie milky on Kallang River.
Water and air both gleam luminous.
Shadows of land loom low amidst silver.
We seem to hang in a sphere of light,
at the heart of a universe pure and serene,
like the realm of reason itself, untouched by passion.
ROSA: Look at the eyes of the night!
Beecell windows in the glowing towers
guard the sleep of a thousand families.
Slow on midnight roads, headlights spin homeward at last
While in the city neon still blazes.
On the seaís dark bosom, like a jewelled chain,
ship on ship watches nightís passing.
Look now, a plane bends wide over the harbour,
a bright flammifer sliding across flickering stars --
one day Iíll follow that far-bound traveller,
to go see the lights of other cities;
Iíll ride that moving spark as it climbs the steep sky,
to clear our airspace and turn to the north.
XIMENG: What we are -- grows out of what we have been.
Our hope for the future -- rests on experience past.
Todayís decisions, that will shape tomorrow,
must be made in the light which history casts.
Our nation was born in times of trouble
when political passions ran to and fro.
British Empire went down in rubble.
Colonialist masters had to go.
CHORUS (on a low ominous note):
go go go go go go go go
XIMENG: We struggled to grasp our freedom and hold it.
Labour unions made hostage the town.
It seemed self-government soon would have folded.
Enemies waited to tear us down.
down down down down down
down down down
XIMENG: Out of those years we forged stability.
We learned how the balancing act is done --
one groupís interests against anotherís,
so all can pull together as one.
CHORUS (murmuring reflectively, legato):
Survival --stability -- and prosperity --
didnít come easy, they had to be learned.
Co-operate, tolerate, act as citizens --
through precepts like these was stability earned.
XIMENG: Our new young nation had hardly started
when its main economic props were withdrawn.
A main employer overnight departed.
A commercial hinterland was suddenly gone.
CHORUS (sounding worried)
gone gone gone gone
gone gone gone gone
XIMENG: Dark forbodings of doom were spoken --
unemployment would rise and imports would drop.
We could not survive with our rice-bowl broken!
They said our economy soon would stop.
CHORUS (starting to panic)
stop stop stop stop
stop stop stop stop
XIMENG: Out of that crisis we salvaged survival --
found alternative ways for jobs to be made.
Skill and persistence must be our resources.
We built industries and pushed up trade.
CHORUS (gravely, legato)
Suvival -- stability -- and prosperity
seemed impossible, newly begun.
Diligence, discipline, bold initiative --
only through these our survival was won.
XIMENG: Survival, stability and prosperity -- these we won and
you know the cost.
Should our determination falter, all we have won could well be lost.
All our gains could well be lost.
Cost well be lost -- well lost the cost.
XIMENG: This is the time, when you are asked to renew your committment
to confirm the mandate of those who have led you.
consider your own best interest, consider your past and your future.
I lack no confidence, you will rightly judge what to do.
THE HELMSMAN'S TASK
XIMENG: This is the burden of leadership, not to be easily
the job that I undertook, that has to be done.
This is the helmsmanís task, to stay in control,
to direct the ship, though the night drags on
and flesh grows weary ...
Yet steady the engines beat on the track he has set,
heading for distant haven, clear of hazard and shoal.
The bright constellations blaze overhead,
assuring his course. Uncertainties flee.
The ship drives on, though the crew are sleeping.
Tomorrow the flag-decked entry to harbour
ends proudly the vigil the helmsman is keeping.
This the reward for his long nightís labour,
alone with the stars and the sea.
MRS TEO AT THE FOOD CENTRE
MRS TEO: This is the kind of place I like to go to. Don't you
think so also?
Anytime when you need a square meal
Or when you just happen to feel a bit peckish
Always thereís something to suit how you feel
When you go to the roadside and eat some rubbish.
Actually if you are living in Singapore
You are bound to end up at the hawker centre
Not only the food that youíre going there for,
But you feel more cheerful as soon as you enter ...
You walk in at night and you see so bright
And all very crowded, you look for a table
You get pepper in your nose and you hear so much noise
Then you take a walk to see what is available.
Some people like to eat very very hot,
They go for pedas and Indian curry,
Some people must have their rice and soup,
Some people just want to get their char-siew-fan in a hurry
And quickly swallow and get back to office.
I honestly cannot see the point of this.
They have all white tiles, and daily they take a big hose and wash
The whole floor and keep it all clean.
They have little cement tables and and stools, nothing so posh;
It is all very simple. All very genuine.
Nobody has to be shy here.
There is Lim eating curry on banana leaf with fingers,
Mahmat using chopsticks, that girl selling Anchor beer
Is cracking Cantonese jokes with the Indian drinkers.
You run into your ďexĒ or the tuition teacher,
Or your doctor or the office peon;
You can come in your slippers and shorts and a smelly old tee-shirí,
Or wearing your evening dress and eau-de-cologne.
But where to go is what you must know.
Not everywhere is just the same.
On this subject everyone expert.
Everybody is playing this game.
ďThis is my special place you must try.Ē
ďThat fellowís kwai tiow just a bit dry.Ē
ďThis stall, original, always got crowd.
Over there now become very proud.Ē
Chinese or Malay or Indian or Peranakan,
One thing we all really know how to makan.
What is life for, if you canít enjoy a bit?
What is money for, if you cannot eat?
So what I say, like this everyone should --
I am going to enjoy my food.
CHENG HO'S VOYAGES
Bright were these waters when I sailed them long ago,
cleaving the waves of Dragonís Teeth Gate.
With brassy gongs, and thundering drums, and arrows falling thick
as monsoon rain,
we subjugated all these islands, exterminated pirates, made vassals
of the sultans;
then turned west towards Arabia, and Africa,
where Chinaís ships had never been.
We sailed across jade oceans to far shores of pearl and coral,
then turned south on coasts unknown.
We saw black men, strange beasts. Giraffes, zebras and ostriches
we sent back for our Emperorís delight.
Days and months we voyaged on,
each new dawn showing a new coast, still southward tending;
and the land full of marvels, the sky full of strange stars;
and the world bigger than anyone ever knew it to be, more wonderful.
KUANG HO: My servants year by year are wider spread,
in many countries, climbing, with my aid,
to be most highly placed. One generation passed or
and through my obedient agents, Iíll pull the levers of the world;
Iíll have wheels to turn, at every joint of this machine that is society.
Then as I choose, I will control supply and price.
Iíll deal out deficits and surpluses,
destroy or make employment, cause here inflation, there prosperity.
Riots and rebellions, following these waves of the economy,
will rage wherever I decree. Governments will rise or fall,
and Iíll put my people in the seats of power.
The next great war to wrack the world
will be of my devising, for the extension of my realm.
Iíll stir one hemisphere against the other.
In that bitter madness, while populations die,
on either side my agents will take control. Then in the rubble
as men rebuild, amid the great desolations and despairs,
theyíll learn to call on me -- last power left in the world.
Above the ruins theyíll raise my temples --
Kuang Ho, god of devastation, ruler of the earth.
TEMPTATION TO RENUNCIATION
KUANG HO: So Iíll sweep aside all puny obstacles;
and across the oceans and the continents,
Iíll reign from east to west.
BODHISATTVA: Mortals will worship you. You will rule the
And ... what joy will you have, greater than the pain of missing heaven?
greater than the daily agony of not being where your soul should be?
KUANG HO: What agony? I am establishing an empire here,
Iím well content.
BODHISATTVA: Child ... no need to lie to me.
For I am Kuan Yin, who turned back at Heavenís gate.
I know the spirit who lingers in this world
suffers immeasurably. I know your torment.
KUANG HO Ahh -- what do you know of pain?
BODHISATTVA: I know that eyes which have seen reality,
must recognise the worldís poor shadows, shams, illusions.
Nations, and powers, and cities,
are only sticks and painted cloths lit up within a darkened hall,
torepresent a universe ... a frame through which, a night or two,
the actors step, and speak, and pass away.
To you, who have seen what is real, all earth can offer
is like the smell of food for you to eat ,
the sound of running water for your drink ..
all empty, all illusion, denying sustenance
to your eternal thirst and famine.
KUANG HO: Enough! Be silent!
BODHISATTVA: No, don't go away! I command you, stay.
Dissolve those shields, those self-protecting,
self-deceiving lies. Say how it is,
to be a spirit in a world of men.
KUANG HO: Hard ... harsh ... bitter, intolerable!
How heavily earthís weight presses ... upon my soul,
naked of fleshy envelope, the winds of earth beat strong;
all sounds too loud, all scents too foul,
the least light piercing to the shadowy brain
llike the fierce eye of God! The lightest breeze stirs up the
and brings confusion where there should be stillness,
movement instead of peace. Each mortal moment in this jangling world
is, to me, ages of aching chaos.
BODHISATTVA : So leave the world then, child,
stop struggling and forget your dreams of conquest:
turn towards tranquility and peace.
KUANG HO: Save your solicitude, bright lady.
Iíll not buy entry to your heaven, at cost of abdicating all myself.
All my desires, passions, hates, Iíll hold on to them,
for they are mine! Iíll grasp them though they sear like molten
and let your cool Nirvana well be lost.