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In The Golden Chersonese
by [?]

A Peep at the City of Singapore.

Could an American boy, like a prince in the Arabian Nights, be taken by a genie from his warm bed in San Francisco or New York and awakened in the centre of Raffles Square, in Singapore, I will wager that he would be sadly puzzled to even give the name of the continent on which he had alighted.

Neither the buildings, the people, or the vehicles would aid him in the least to decide.

Enclosing the four sides of the little banian-tree shaded park in which he stands are rows of brick, white-faced, high-jointed go-downs. Through their glassless windows great white punkahs swing back and forth with a ceaseless regularity. Standing outside of each window, a tall, graceful punkah-wallah tugs at a rattan withe, his naked limbs shining like polished ebony in the fierce glare of the Malayan sun.

For a moment, perhaps, the boy thinks himself in India, possibly at Simla, for he has read some of Rudyard Kipling’s stories.

Back under the portico-like verandas, whose narrow breadths take the place of sidewalks, are little booths that look like bay windows turned inside out. On the floor of each sits a Turk, cross-legged, or an Arab, surrounded by a heterogeneous assortment of wares, fez caps, brass finger-bowls, a praying rug, a few boxes of Japanese tooth-picks, some rare little bottles of Arab essence, a betel-nut box, and a half dozen piles of big copper cents, for all shopkeepers are money-changers.

The merchant gathers his flowing party-colored robes about him, tightens the turban head, and draws calmly at his water-pipe while a bevy of Hindu and Tamil women bargain for a new stud for their noses, a showy amulet, or a silver ring for their toes.

Squatting right in the way of all passers is a Chinese travelling restaurant that looks like two flour barrels, one filled with drawers, the other containing a small charcoal fire. The old cookee, with his queue tied neatly up about his shaven head, takes a variety of mixtures from the drawers,–bits of dried fish, seaweed, a handful of spaghetti, possibly a piece of shark’s fin, or better still a lump of bird’s nest, places them in the kettle, as he yells from time to time, “Machen, machen” (eating, eating).

Next to the Arab booth is a Chinese lamp shop, then a European dry-goods store, an Armenian law office, a Japanese bazaar, a foreign consulate.

A babble of strange sounds and a jargon of languages salute the astonished boy’s ears.

In the broad well-paved streets about him a Malay syce, or driver, is trying to urge his spotted Deli pony, which is not larger than a Newfoundland dog, in between a big, lumbering two-wheeled bullock-cart, laden with oozing bags of vile-smelling gambier, and a great patient water buffalo that stands sleepily whipping the gnats from its black, almost hairless hide, while its naked driver is seated under the trees in the square quarrelling and gambling by turns.

The gharry, which resembles a dry-goods box on wheels, set in with latticed windows, smashes up against the ponderous hubs of the bullock-cart. The meek-eyed bullocks close their eyes and chew their cuds, regardless of the fierce screams of the Malay or the frenzied objurgations of their driver.

But no one pays any attention to the momentary confusion. A party of Jews dressed in robes of purple and red that sweep the street pass by, without giving a glance at the wild plunging of the half-wild pony. A Singhalese jeweller is showing his rubies and cat’s-eyes to a party of Eurasian, or half-caste clerks, that are taking advantage of their master’s absence from the godown to come out into the court to smoke a Manila cigarette and gossip. The mottled tortoise-shell comb in the vender’s black hair, and his womanish draperies, give him a feminine aspect.

An Indian chitty, or money-lender, stands talking to a brother, supremely unconscious of the eddying throng about. These chitties are fully six feet tall, with closely shaven heads and nude bodies. Their dress of a few yards of gauze wound about their waists, and red sandals, would not lead one to think that they handle more money than any other class of people in the East. They borrow from the great English banks without security save that of their caste name, and lend to the Eurasian clerks just behind them at twelve per cent a month. If a chitty fails, he is driven out of the caste and becomes a pariah. The caste make up his losses.