Friday 5 October 2012


Chinese New Year
always comes in February.

This is the last
of the twelve year cycle;
the Year of the Pig.

Processions, dragon dances,
fireworks and smoke,
cymbals and drums.

The Chinese close their shops,
do not sweep their houses
and pay respect
to the Ancestors.
They put a spray
of cream and purple orchids
on car radiators.
They put peacock-eye feathers
in the Spirit House of Chao Ti.

This year
a thin woman
hung up her baby
by its left ankle.
She let it bob and scream
as an entertainment.
A silver coloured bowl
collected offerings.
The string broke.
Someone caught the baby.

Muslims exploded bombs,
killed an army major,
burned Buddhist schools.

Someone stole our telephone wire.
(Copper is making a hundred baht a kilo.)


Looking neither left nor right,
a proud and sensitive Chinese face,
here by the Lotus Pond Market,
seems a little out of place.
Straight back, head held high,
adjusts her hair with manicured hand;
red panung, blue-and-white print shirt,
manouvres with care her sandalled feet,
as though she has stepped down from a higher band
into the squalor and dirt
of Chumporn Street.
But, as she passes the open shop,
something makes her stop
and look up where
she sees the fat Chinese,
above the street, at her table there.

The Chinese gestures, the girl hesitates,
thinks to walk on, stands and waits;
then steps up with an embarrassed smile
and sits down in the other chair.
The Chinese gives her a deck of cards,
talking all the while,
which the girl shuffles with surprising skill
and hands them back.
Without looking, the Chinese cuts the pack
and deals them professionally,
mostly to herself, occasionally
one or two to the girl, who looks carefully
at the cards she collects.
The Chinese gathers up her hand,
fans them face down
and invites the girl to select.
Hesitating, she takes two
and adds them to her own.
She watches the Chinese who
touches the girl’s cards, talking in a monotone
suddenly broken by a sharp question.
The girl raises her eyes in surprise
and starts to reply,
stops, looks down again
and pronounces one word.
Slowly, she begins to speak.
An eddy of excitement
spirals up and straightens her back.
She points to this card and that
and taps them with delight.
She slaps her knee.
She bangs the table.
She stamps her feet,
bounces up and down on her chair,
laughing and flushed.
The Chinese watches her
with a slowly flowering smile.
The girl chatters on
and, with a final slap,
puts her head back and laughs.
Then she counts out thirty baht
for the Chinese, scrapes her chair
and walks on down Chumporn Street,
looking neither left nor right.

You see them striding everywhere
from where there’s here to somewhere there
with a box made of two shallow trays
which open out like a folding table,
like those in which a lepidopterist displays
dead butterflies each pinned down with its label.

The old Chinese has sat all day long
on that low wall in Surawong
with his box, staring intently
at the lottery tickets laid out neatly.
He takes a 1000 baht note from his pocket
and touches each ticket
stroking it thoroughly but gently.
Is he trying to magnetise them
to draw in a man who comes and (sometimes) buys them?


Blue shorts, stained white shirt,
street market playground of dust and dirt.
Without the moral imperative of must
and the enforced need to understand,
he dances in a circle,
holding a yellowed bodhi leaf in each hand.
With all the self-assurance of thirty inches high,
he has no need to wonder how or when or why.

From 'Bamboo Leaves' by Brian Taylor

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