The ways are old.
Faeces stepped once fell
Near deepened tracks;
Now thickened grease films
On convex tar,
Mirrors the cyclic wheels of a factory car.
No cock crows the dawn,
But metal cold whines then morning born,
Chocking in the carburetor.
A late slut yawns away her cares;
The early hawker yokes his wares;
And numbered planks accumulate
As splatterings cease from telewires –
Life again, life of flowless mires.

Soon through market railings:
Trouser – wearing women
Worm among saris, sarongs colorfully checked;
Baju biru full of tailings,
And sams unhooked at the neck;
Here and there are tailored New Looks
Brushing the basket-arms of cooks.
O listen to the haggling drone of female rooks.

A noon-haze brings siesta time:
Sleepful is the clime.
And when the sun tires,
Feathers fly, fans flock
And couples go tasting the wind –
Thus the dusk forgets the clock.

Break of night.
Families on doorsteps stare
At the flickering lights of roving stalls.
Pairs snuggle in conditioned air
To canvas-embraces of darkened halls,
And ruttish men
Are led by trishaws.
A dollar four to Latin distortions;
Narcotic fumes hang heavy.
Thus till late.

Do ghosts of eponyms walk
And peep?
Do they see the pollen besprinkled
On city flowers and silly wives?
Do they know of the seeds
That shall immortalise these scenes,
Growing with natural cycles,
Mere repetitions?

Life there is here, but machine-life
Left in an unvarying pattern.
The essence is lost.
The change – the soul.

By Wang Gungwu
Published 1950