Bukit Timah, Singapore

Lee Tzu Pheng.

Bukit Timah, often abbreviated as Bt Timah, is a planning area and residential estate located in the westernmost part of the Central Region of Singapore. Bukit Timah lies roughly 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the Central Business District, bordering the Central Water Catchment to the north. Owing to its prime location, Bukit Timah has some of the densest clusters of luxury condominiums and landed property in the city, with very few public housing. (WIKI)


In the first stanza, the poet establishes the location – the highway and the city. Phrases such as ‘muddy canal,’ ‘coarse grasses,’ connote the rather unpleasant surroundings. As opposed to nature and its beauty, the city is described as undesirable. The mention of schoolboys ‘stumbling’ gives an idea of their drowsiness, maybe hinting at how their childhood is boxed up in rooms with four walls; there are no blue skies, lush greenery or the playfulness and bonding with nature that used to be a reality.

The second stanza personifies the city as a maw, or a throat, consuming men and machines. It is the highway upon which they ‘endlessly flow’ and are swallowed by the city. The idea of feeding the city with men and machines is a rather obvious reference to civilization and industrialism, which fuels capitalism and perpetuates materialism. Men, or people populate the city as there are more job opportunities. They labour at the multitude of organizations and factories – the machines mentioned in the poem. Men and machine (alliteration – machine is onomatopoeic) then symbolize the industries and people working their and populating the city. The buildings, the companies, the production of goods and services: all of these, of which the city is constituted, depends on man and machine.

These people are flushed out of their short dreams – they do not get enough sleep. Their lifestyles are completely swallowed up by the city where they work tirelessly. It also connotes that they seem to be bound in an endless cycle where they cannot dream freely and more elaborately. Their dreams and hopes perhaps are cut short. ‘Suburban Holes’ connote their miserable and less-than-satisfactory lives. Its as if their humanity and dignity is removed: they are described in animalistic language. These individuals, stripped off their dignity and their hopes, are thrown into (churn) the chaos of the city. They arrive very early in the morning – ‘before sky opens.’

The third stanza provides specifics, zoning in on the individuals and their particular experiences in the city- beginning with a rather oppressive imagery: ‘Under the steaming morning’. This phrase connotes the harshness of the atmosphere (Tactile Imagery), which adds to the unpleasantness of the city experience. Ambition is personified, and ‘flashes by in a new car.’ The people who can afford such a lifestyle seem to flash by – showing off, flamboyant and ostentatious. The car is new – this may point to the materialistic mindset, where there is no consideration about sustainable living. No thoughts spared for the preserving of nature.

The salesman, on the other hand, does not flash by in a new car: he takes it day by day: ‘faced with another day of selling his pride.’ He is reluctant, he is not content or satisfied. He has to abandon, part with or lose his pride in order to do his job – moving from stranger to stranger, asking them to buy a product the profit for which he would not enjoy. He merely would get a negligible fraction of it. He rides a motor scooter (Lambretta).

The old farmer seems to be carrying a good harvest of heavy fruit while the women wonder how they will survive the bad monsoons. The poet captures their struggles – the children did not have enough to eat. The poet mentions that these were the days when markets existed in Bukit Timah, before these began to disappear as the city began to consume the communities and gave way to large companies and conglomerates – probably hinting at the supermarkets.

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