Creative Nonfiction by Pavle Radonic

 “Weather Report” (Singapore, 2011-2022)
             By Pavle Radonic

1. Armchair Travel

Which big cat’s pee smells like buttered popcorn?... Friday after lunch coming from beneath the trees in the little park opposite. Panda Magazine. Another further curly question too followed below. Inuka the resident polar bear had passed away some months back, at an advanced age. It may have been a world record for a polar bear in captivity, certainly one in the Tropics. Steamy Singapore athwart the equator, the aircon off the dial all those bear years. Icy-poles by the bucket load. The naming had followed a contest run by one of the newspapers, or the department of conservation and environment it might have been. “Inuka” emerged the winner. Much sadness at the passing. Was there another, a replacement in the pipeline? No doubt there had been much expertise attained over the journey. Four foot tall at the Bras Basah bus stop. In the pic the panda lay on its back luxuriating in leafy hollow, couldn’t be happier. From memory there were reports of some kind of medical intervention, injections or the like in order to maintain the colour shade around the eyes of the pandas here. Bleaching in the sun you could understand, despite best laid plans, the fans and aircon. Large billboard with the WWF tag. None of the other commuters seemed to be giving a second look. It was hot after so many days of unseasonable cool. Mid-year was ordinarily peak heat & humidity.

There was no time for the circuit up to Bras Basah, the library and rounding back by the old graveyard of nameless dead beneath the crooked markers. Most days the hike stretched to Lavender MRT and once or twice weekly Kallang. No time this afternoon. This afternoon the decision was made to cut through Dunlop and directly onto Kubor. The surprise was the newly erected sheltered walkway along virtually the entire path. Verandas on Dunlop provided cover right to Jalan Besar, Big Road. Beyond it was usually scorched bitumen until the Queen Street Terminal. No longer. What you found now was newly erected shelter on either approach to the recently completed station—on Besar itself and turning the corner continuing to Arab Street. There may have been a short stretch on Victoria Street by the school earlier, where the sun poured down like the molten lava currently in Hawaii. Now that short little run had been extended, 1.9m. cover and screening all the way. One was no longer in the tropics really. This was almost armchair travel. There were no fans or air-con along the way; these had been installed at some of the larger bus-stops. Air-con curtain, free wifi, massage chairs too was it? Late last year the government had promised 200 kilometres of sheltered walkways across the Republic. Duly delivered. Difficult to know what to think. Was this for real? It was impossible to air-con the entire island of course. The top 7-10% could skip between condo-car-office-resto with minimal exposure to the environment. Sheltered walkways was not bad for the rest, especially compared to the poor neighbours in Malaysia and Indonesia. A major roadway on reclaimed land out East had recently been raised one metre. Malaysia—or the Southern State of Johor at least—had signed water and electricity provision for the next forty years. The government certainly was not resting on its laurels. Planning for the uncertain future. Innovation and robotics they were underlining. Technological savvy. Flexibility in the workforce and tailoring in the Ed. sector. Singapore was positioning itself to survive the challenges ahead.

2. Pasturelands (Singapore)

Many a long month now these colourful moos have been missed chewing the cud on the pastures here. The civic powers were bringing them back, the cows together with the happy hearts that were currently being hung on trees through the parks and open spaces across the Republic. No sooner was the Happy Cows, Happy Hearts campaign reported in the Straits Times this morning than three trees on the walkway from Aljunied MRT could be seen sporting the fibre-glass up on their trunks, about three metres off the ground. (Out of reach of treasure-hunters.) These particular hearts showed the undulant contours of full-to-bursting health and vitality; organs of luscious rich tones that might outlast a fortnight of the sun here.

Happy Hearts Love Green the leading hearts on the trees at Aljunied called in white cursive to the Mainland and Indian workers returning from their construction sites. The campaign also marked fifty years since Mr. LKY began his famous tree-planting campaign, coinciding with the levelling of the jungle that had created the haven on the equator.

Moove Media had been involved in the promotion of a kinder society in Singapore. Six hundred of the agency’s cows were due to be placed in over 50 locations across the island, reminding the populace “to zoom out to see things that are of more value surrounding us—family, the environment and care for people,” Moove M. CEO Jayne Kwek was quoted.

Together with the hearts tied to the tree trunks others have been mounted on the backs of selected cows in the herds. Green, orange & blue cows; hearts remained vibrant red. Earlier in the week the S. T. featured the head of the Nature Society here, who in an Op-ed drew attention to the dwindling greenery of the island. Currently there remained 29% remnant forest cover on Singapore. The Nature man drew attention to the difference between that kind of greenery and the kerb-side planting, the roof-top gardens, cultivated parks; &etc.

“Wild greenery makes S’pore a global eco-city,” the headline ran, contrary to the substance of the piece.

3. Dry-Bone Kampung (In the Monsoon)

Last night big Beefy disturbed and engaged the author in equal part. Neither the pineapple tray nor the peeled mandarins managed to put a sock in it. One thing after another from the side-lines like dripping water on rock.

— Di di da da da, ba ba ti da, until the man finally produced the twitch he was seeking.

             …Nothing like coherent enough.
             What say you Beefy? What was that?...
             Once more the man repeated it again in that strange construction.

Beefy had not learned all his English inside during self-improvement lessons; Robert Ludlum had not come into the hands of an illiterate in the cells. Yet formal schooling had been mighty light-on for Beef. Who would have thought him any kind of reader at all? Leaning back in his chair. Often the man slots one chair upon the other at these pavement tables for very good reason. Not to wonder. Leaning, belly leading, face up-tilted. Shortly before Beef’s attention had been drawn to the crescent moon over his head at the zenith. What was it, three day old now? Trusty old bright lamp of gold.

Bulan sabit. Bulan was moon. Sabit they called the thing you used in the jungle abutting the kampung for razoring the greenery. Beef didn’t know that much English.
             — The hand scythe, Beef. The sickle…Yeah, yeah. We used the same in my kampung, believe-you-me.

That was shortly before. Now, leaning, belly leading, said Beefy the following, more or less word for word.
             — My heart say why have no rain.
The gist most certainly correct; ten to one the syntax likewise. (Beefy was a man of the track.) Just like that, poetical without trying or straining. Sounds like made-up literary palaver the author most certainly accepts and understands.
             (Resist your yawn Dear Reader. Bear with us two some.)
Beefy heard his heart speak of itself. Only the man could attempt to answer how the beating organ could be heard like that from within. From the author’s side of the table there had been nothing audible. Next thing, in the same stride, Beefy has placed his hand on his chest as he repeated the words, coyote-like, head back-tilted.
             — My heart say why have no rain.
Almost the Red Indian chief out on a hill-top prairie minus his feathers, toward the clear, darkened sky. (Moon behind high.)
             Beefy contemplative and heart-sore.
The author can be trusted when he reports Beefy did not possess a crop sown in the recent past. Nor was there any fruit on the branch awaiting a sign from the heavens. In the luscious richness of the Equator, farming was never of the sort to which we are accustomed in the temperate zones. In all his born days Beefy had never bent over a garden-hoe; the crescent scythe or sickle he may know, but only from a distant acquaintance. The usual, conventional, honest day’s toil aint ever been Beef’s line. Running opium in kero tins last days of late-late Empire, snatch-and-grab was more like. Inside the man read Robert Ludlum and now fancied himself something of a literary critic, advocating smoothness, sweetness, above all return to the square.

Back to the square—round-arm action Beefy usually signing the accompanying sketch. Back to the square.             
             First base. Where you started. Where one was at.
             The prison compound exercise-yard originally in mind, possibly.
             The simple truth. Essence. Something of this kind Beef appeared to mean.
             Remarkable the blubber actually talked a good bit of sense usually.

Grieving heart here small wonder. Three weeks now and more in this gross misnomer of a monsoon athwart the Equator in Singapore, without a single drop of rain. The Nor-Easter was always the heaviest wet of the year, teeming, pouring and flooding across the island. Nada this year so long. Zilch. Grievous and difficult to credit.

- Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic has spent eight years living in SE Asia. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals, including Ambit, Big Bridge, Panoply, New World Writing Quarterly and Citron & Antigonish Reviews

Copyright©2022 by Pavle Radonic. All Rights Reserved.