Postcards from Chinatown - Analysis

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In “Postcards from Chinatown”, the poet examines how, in a place that had been renovated as a tourist attraction, the past lurks in the shadows of the present, which is unauthentic and seemingly all just a performance for entertainment. “An Empty Cinema”, on the other hand, laments the vanishing of Singapore’s past and heritage, likening the past to no more than just a cinematic film, where it is just a hologram projected onto a screen. In “Postcards from Chinatown”, the poet calls our daily lives “our performance”, and our proclaimed culture as merely a “stage”. But what can we draw from the poet assimilating the past to a stage performance? Firstly, stage performances provide the audience with a sense of intimacy as well as reality. The performance is acted out live in front of the audience, with the characters in close proximity to us and the actors’ stage presence being palpable and tactile. This draws the audience into the show, momentarily allowing them to imbibe in the performance. The poet using this metaphor to relate the present to a stage performance is making a mockery of the present, which has pulled people into its deception which is nothing more thana tourist attraction. The line in the third stanza, “Souvenir shops selling Chinese hats and fake pigtails stapled to the end. Umbrellas for holding water” scoffs at this charlatan modern-day Chinatown, which is now nothing but a huge stage putting up a performance for tourists. The idea of dimensions on stage allows the poet to toy with the idea that the past is still lurking in the shadows of the present’s folly. In the second stanza, “background” is repeated so many times while the poet is relating the past, “Background of the closed down emporium, background of the foreign worker outside an unopened shophouse”. The emphasis on “background” insinuates that the past has not quite completely vanished yet, but it has just been pushed into the background and backstage, while the present takes...
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