Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Pillow Book: 16. Mount Faber is a misnomer

16. Mount Faber is a misnomer

xxxMount Faber is a misnomer for the hill by which I grew up. It is not even the tallest hill in Singapore. I don’t know who Faber is, but the word has always sounded delightfully like fable.
xxxI went to a very small school on the hill. Radin Mas Primary School consisted of two distinct parts, the lower grades at the beginning of a long flight of stairs, the upper grades at the end. It was enough to teach one about large ambition and little achievement.
xxxAbout the efflorescence of Singaporean poetry in the last two decades, Gwee is right. It is not the result of cultural change, certainly not because of government programs. It has sprung up like wild flowers on a hillside, and it may die without altering the landscape. The best of us still aim to become admirals of a small navy, pioneers of second-rate products, prime ministers of an island. The dreamier of us turn to poetry.
xxxOn every visit to Singapore, I make it a point—of what?—to walk up Mount Faber, going by the road that winds cars and tour buses up. From the top I see on one side the public housing estates, intricate and useful, and on the other the featureless sea. Caught by the hand of the hill, as if thrown there by a storm, lodges a boat. To the hungry eye it is a seafood restaurant. To the hungrier eye it is an ark. I look at the sea again and now I see the ships on the horizon. I remember a tanka composed a while back:

Because this country has no mountains, we think highly of hills; look, we point to the peaks, where we can live.


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