Xi Ni Er
Xi Ni’Er （希尼尔）, also known as Chia Hwee Pheng, has won the NBDCS Book Awards (1990 & 1994) and the Singapore Literature Prize (2008). He was the recipient of the National Cultural Medallion in 2008 and the Southeast Asia Write Award in 2009. He has published 8 books，including The Stretched Credulity (poetry) and The Unbearable Heaviness of Life (mini-fiction). He is currently President of the Singapore Association of Writers.
Clarissa Oon, Senior Political Correspondent of The Straits Times, Singapore. She is also a theatre critic and the author of Theatre Life!: A History of English-language Theatre in Singapore.
This river, history told him it should have flowed backwards, back
to the colour of the earth.
—— "Kallang River", 1986
On the tail of a steamship's fate
South China Sea monsoon hurtles him
on towards the Malay Peninsula' s southernmost tip
On an island's south river bank he
sets foot. In a wooden hut on the river he
rests, adapts, ekes out a living
He becomes as emaciated as a reed
perpetually drooping over the water surface
gazing beyond the receding shore where the occasional crocodile lurks
Like Han Wen Gong's* clansmen, exiled to the South
Watchful, lonely, ill-starred
A drifter among men, leaving behind a
A nation in the south, but the heart lies north
unable to form any coherent attachment
to the island, yet the yearning for the home village
is always in sharp relief, the waves of longing
Years later, he chose to end his wanderings
a thicket of mangrove trees in the marshy river
marked the spot of my accidental homeland. In dreams
memories of the Great River of the North coil around
the homesickness he takes pains to conceal, buried
on disputed soil in the Tropic of Cancer
The disputes of the soil
I grasped from early on; the Great River's melancholic eastward flows
across shrinking emotional terrain, had formed
a single bittergourd vine on the equator
lowly yet steadfast. Enduring suffering without complaint
that life was slowly whittled away, in the degenerate South.
*Han Yu (768-824), also known as Han Wen Gong, was a leading philosopher,
statesman and poet of China's Tang Dynasty, and a venerated literary figure.