National Geographic : 1966 Aug
He meant the racial riots of 1964, in which bloody fighting between Malays and Chinese had smashed the peace of the city. It was partly to learn the story behind that sad strife that I had come to Singapore, for just such violence had helped bring about the mutually disturbing divorce of the 14-by-26-mile island country from the newly formed nation of Malayan states called Malaysia, which it had eagerly joined less than two years before.* For reasons I would discover later, Singapore's great urban Chinese majority and Malaysia's rural millions were not yet ready for political union. But this was neither the time nor the place to discuss that matter. "No more fighting," my informant went on. "Only sometimes is hard for Malay boy to find good job." I asked whether the problem might not be com petition, rather than discrimination. He half agreed. "Anyway," he grinned, "government gives us same things Chinese have, clean water comes in pipe, have doctors, can go to school." In a wide spot in the walkway a circle of men sat talking in low voices. They acknowledged my intru sion with mild faces and civil gestures. One was carving a tholepin. Another was honing a knife. Turning shoreward, I saw a small girl smelling flowers in a tiny garden where bougainvillea, jas mine, and hibiscus grew in earth-filled tin cans. Bugis Street Changes by the Hour The second goal of my expedition in search of the city's three worlds was Bugis Street, a chameleonic Chinese thoroughfare whose character changes with the passing hours from residential street to market street to dining street to shopping street (pages 284-5). Ten minutes of brisk pedaling brought us in range of its beautiful smells. Here, where buildings the size of a modest American home may sleep 50 people, cooking has been crowded out of the kitchen and into stalls on the sidewalk. Nonetheless, Bugis Street serves some of the best food in Singapore, a city that offers some of the best food in the East. I told my driver to return in an hour and proceed ed on foot into a hungry man's heaven. Here were prawns big as bananas, gray-pink on glittering ice. Pyramids of cockles awaited steaming. Heavy clawed crabs hunched in truculent rows. Next came crusty sides of "streaky pork"-a sort of bacon baked brown in a barrel-hanging from hooks where ruddy sausages twined. Then naked chickens, glistening with oil, dangled beside baked ducks, brown-glazed with sweet soy sauce. Beef strips broiled; crisp vegetables simmered; thin noodles called mee writhed in kettles under so licitous spoons; rice stood in steaming mounds. As I sat down at a rough wooden table, a young *See "In Storied Lands of Malaysia," by Maurice Shadbolt, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November, 1963. 274 Slow-motion ballet based on the Chinese art of self defense starts off the day for office workers in a cool and verdant park. The formal ized, snail-paced exercises Tai chi chuan-stress man's harmony with nature, a Taoist concept. The men gather informally each morning for the workouts that improve their muscle tone and sense of balance. Nimble-footed Malays entertain guests at the Raf fles Hotel with traditional dances. They move in fig ures, much as in American square dancing, then pair off in undulating duos, their bodies never touching. The seemingly effortless motion calls for faultless timing and rhythm. The music reveals Western influences, proba bly brought by 16th-century Portuguese traders.