Light begins to seep through the early morning mists,
its 6:30 on the 30th floor and sunrise is minutes away.
Humidity hangs in the air like droplets of moisture waiting
to cling to something in this tropical city of four million,
give or take a few, the liberty of anonymity is not permitted.
This land of death to drug dealers, murderers, and insects
offers contradictions in many forms, controlled civic functions
and uncontrollable private behavior, calm surfaces and turbulent
undercurrents, colonial pasts and modern futures, all the blurs
of civilization not quite free of the past nor rooted in the future.
This city of eternal Raffles where streets of colonial shops and
stalls nestle amid the cozy modern architectures with proper
proportions and laughing spirits lays claim to ethnic groups
of past, present, and future, spirits of separation and dislike lay
in their distinct districts awaiting the next fermented fever.
There are only two seasons here, the hot and humid summer
followed by the hot and humid winter, only separated by four
more inches of rain for three or four months, a caste system
for the weather. Nine am and the streets are only half filled
while people scurry about the sidewalks on their way to work,
shops don’t open until 11 or 12, no one seems to be in any great
hurry, just the rhythmic beat of shoes against the concrete.
Old men as thin as twigs recline in their pedicabs, cell phone
in hand, looking at who called, maybe a tourist will drift by,
be coaxed into a ride and tell his friends back home, always
another fare, another coin in the sock, a life of gray hairs and
rice in the bowl, business is business. Women stroll into malls,
department stores, unconcerned women with time and money,
shopping is the national sport, a contact sport, not for sissies.
Want a post card, I can take your measurements for a custom
suit, very good quality material, I sell you a digital camera, cheap,
I make you a special price, wait, come back, I have more goods.
Only women shop, men just buy, don’t believe me, how many times
has a man gone into an electronics or hardware store and said,
“ this table saw looks cute, I have the perfect spot in my workshop”
or “this computer looks good on me, the guys will be jealous”.
No, men only buy, men are led around by wives and girlfriends
like automatic teller machines on wheels, dispensing cash and
credit cards, holding the bags of swag, shopping is a woman’s sport.
Evening comes and you can’t find a cab, streets are crowded, jambed
with automobiles and buses, people swarm the streets like angry ants,
people going home, going to malls, driving in their cars, all going
somewhere, mostly nowhere, to tourist bars, restaurants, trendy clubs.
Being fat, obese, is outlawed, women must be thin and supple as a
sapling being swayed in a summer breeze, youth and western fashions
are worshiped, obsessed over, carried by the ever present high heel
spikes, toes open to the world, hemlines raised well above the knee.
They wear these haute couture well, these tall slim as reeds women,
envy of the western world with bare heels slapping against insteps
of sling back pumps and sandals, no casual sloppiness, proprieties
will be observed with grace and dignity, these visions of western
male fantasy. Here, competition matters, life a series of competitions,
each level of school determines one’s fate, the tests that lead to placements,
placements that lead to professions, and professions that determine where
you live, who you marry, what you can buy, your pigeon holed life.
Clean cities come at a price, orderly societies exact a toll, rules form
fences, there is no free lunch, you get what you pay for, your exact due.
Paradise, is it worth the price of admission?