Fall 2007 Vol 5.2
Selected Poems
Ouyang Yu

The Kingsbury Tales: a make (believe) book

In Malacca, our Malaysian tour guide tells us
That the Chinese believe there is another make (believe) world
This banknote she is holding in her hand, she says, is make (believe) money
Worth a billion dollars that you burn for the dead
Because they still live in the other world read the make (believe) world
And need to use the money
If you burn it the smoke will go up and turn into heaven’s currency
There are many other commodities for you to burn in order to turn
Into their properties such as this make (believe) sound system
And this DVD player and this computer system with electronic games
As long as you burn they will turn
In their heavenly graves

Afterwards, in a Singapore noodle shop
I ordered a zajiang noodle when the idea of a make (believe) book came to me
As I pondered upon the absence of books in the make (believe) commodities
What if I die and someone, to wish me well on my heavenly journey
Wants to burn a book for me and what make believe
Books are there to burn and turn
Into a new currency to buy more books with
And if I could start a new business making make believe
Books for the non-book buying Chinese
In Singapore and elsewhere
Already, I hear voices
From above, imploring:
We don’t need books
We need one billion dollar bank
Burn us money, burn us
More money

The Kingsbury Tales: if there were 10 Ouyang Yus

If there were 10 Ouyang Yus

I’d love to have one marry an Indian
And become Singapore

And I’d love to have one marry a Malay
And become Malaysia

And I’d love to have one marry a Cambodian
And become Cambodia

And I’d love to have one marry a Chinese
And become Hong Kong

And I’d love to have one marry a German-French
And father a new colony as yet to be named

And I’d love to have one marry an Iraqi-Malaysian-Chinese
And father a far stronger Iraq than what we want to see

And I’d love to
I’d love to . . .

Have one to marry someone white
And take her back to China 100 years ago

The Kingsbury Tales: speaking Chinese in English

Disembarking in Singapore
The first thing that catches my attention is their use of a Chinese expression
For ‘Arrival’ that I’ve never seen before
As I explain to Nikki, this
到 着 has the effect of writing the ‘arrival’
With a single ‘r’: Arival

And that reminds me of a Hong Kong twist
Of the ‘Don’t Disturb’ into ‘Don’t Harass’ in
骚 扰, a case of overstepping
The linguistic boundary. Further down the track, as our van speeds up towards
Gallery Hotel, this Malay lady assures us that ‘everything will be fine la’
Which starts all of us, including Nikki, on a linguistic crash course:

‘Here we are la,’ our Malay driver says
‘Thank you la,’ I say to him and comment, ‘the weather is hot here’
‘But I am a warm weather person, la,’ Nikki ventures
And queries, ‘Is this something like the English “Isn’t it”?’
‘That’s right la,’ I say

After a quick shower, Nikki and I go out for a coffee and beer
Looking at the same time for something to light our cigarettes
‘Sorry la,’ the girl says. ‘We don’t have matches la but we can
Borrow you a lighter’ ‘Ha-ha-ha,’ I laugh and say to Nikki
‘You see in Chinese they use one word, jie, for both lend and borrow’

And, God, Nikki is quick for afterwards when I foot the bill
And we leave for the Festival Opening she says to me, lighter in hand:
‘I’ll borrow this back to them’
In the Opening we are held waiting, more waiting, till a Singaporean
Woman says, ‘You know, these people are so imporTANGT’

This morning I go for a buffet breakfast and am delighted to see
The sign of ‘Scramble Egg’ for scrambled eggs
In a nation without the passive voice, I guess
You can go on to create things like ‘break English’, not ‘broken English’
‘Speak English’ not ‘spoken English’, and, finally, ‘marry couple’

Instead of ‘married couple’ of these two languages

The Kingsbury Tales: the mix

It’s hard to write a tale in this situation, e.g., Singaporean Airport
Surrounded by chairs and passengers in them
Before boarding for Australia

But if this poem has to be polemic
Without meaning to
Let it be

When Ratna tells me that she is Malay
Born of Indonesian and China
And when Giles tells me that he is a Eurasian

Born of a Portuguese and Filipino
With a Chinese grandfather
When I recalled meeting Desmond last night

A Peranakan who spoke effortlessly good
Chinese and English and looking
Unashamedly so

When I recalled Kirpal, too, a Sikh who married a Chinese
And had three Sikh-Chinese daughters
And married another Chinese and had a Sikh-Chinese son

And who said, among other things, that
If Chinese and Indians intermarry more
The U.S.A. would be definitely defeated

Then, it is then, that the conclusion draws itself for me
That a society cannot achieve multiculturalism without first achieving
This racial mix, which, in typical Ouyang speak, is the great Fuck