“Void Deck” by Alfian Bin Sa’at Essay
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In the poem “Void Deck” by Alfian Bin Sa’at, the poet establishes the Singaporean Identity by using the term “void deck” as the title of the poem. The term is unique to the Singapore context as it is not used in any other country. The poem is also filled with the ‘voices’ from the HDB heartland which many Singaporean readers can closely relate to. The poet uses phrases such as “wet market” (stanza 1, verse 2), “stone-table chessboard” (stanza 5, verse7) and “caged birds” (stanza3, verse3) to portray the familiar sight at the void decks of HDB flats.
The poem also reflects the nature of Singapore housewives in the verse 1 and 4, where it states that the “neighbourhood wives” “trade snatches of gossip” “after a morning at the wet market”. Its shows that the wives are gossipmongers and had plenty of time on their hand to be able to laze around after the marketing session in the morning.
The verse “Lazy daughters, who by some miracle or mistake always score well in class” is reflecting that the mindset of many Singaporeans, especially the older generation, who favour boys over girls in the family. This issue is very true especially for the older Chinese, as it is in their culture that they perceive boys as being superior due to the fact that they carry down the family name, and should be treated better than girls who ‘belong’ to the husband’s family once they are married.
In stanza 3 verse 1, the poet describes the elderly as sages. This suggests that the elders are respected by the younger generation, or it could also suggest that the elderly perceive themselves as very wise beings and more knowledgeable than the young. The elderly are often very obstinate and would insist that their way of handling matters are better, as the one of the Chinese saying “the amount of salt I ate is more than the amount of rice you ate” shows.
The local issue of “high-rise killer litter” that arises several years back, are mentioned in “And that mad women who throws things from her window” (stanza 1, verse 9 and 10). The locals could relate to the issue very well as this was a problem that make a uproar years ago when a number of people are killed or injured by litter thrown from high-rise flats. This clearly reflects the thoughtlessness and inconsideration of the nation.
The verse “when words falter and gestures take over” (stanza 1, verse 15 and 16) shows that the women are insinuating to the others to look at the direction of the person wearing many pieces of jewellery. The syndrome of people wearing many pieces of jewellery (stanza 1, verse17 and 18) signifies the nature of shallow women who wanted to show off their wealth.
“Teenage rhetoric scrawled, in liquid paper” (stanza 5, verse 6) refers to the graffiti that could be found on the stone-table chessboards. The inconsiderate nature of the teens in Singapore is evident in the mindless scribbling. “Where the king used to sit” tell us that the chessboards, which used to be for the purpose of playing chess is now used as “an outlet” for the teens to “express their feelings” through vandalism.
In the last stanza, the poet looks at the residents of the neighbourhood who “rushed through void decks”. They are probably those who are working and have no time to while away at the void deck. The working adults would be exhausted after work and would rather rest in the comfort of their homes than to spend time in the void deck.