2 Mothers in an HDB Playground by Arthur Yap

2 Mothers in an HDB Playground is about the conversation held between two mother at a park, as the title suggests. The names that are used in the poem give away its Singapore routes. Names like Beng and Kim Cheong.


Form and Tone

2 Mothers in an HDB Playground is in one stanza and presents itself with no rhyming pattern, meaning that the poem is written in free-verse. This is an appropriate as that represents the “rambling nature of parents when they meet in the eponymous playground. The poem’s tone is lighthearted and playful, almost comic at times.


2 Mothers in an HDB Playground Analysis

Lines 1-2

From the off of the poem, 2 Mothers in an HDB Playground, which can be read in full here, the narrator creates an element of tension by creating doubt as to the validity of their own words. They describe the child, Beng, as being so smart but then give the reason for this as he fact that they watch TV. It is generally accepted that watching a lot of TV does not make you smart. In fact some people describe a television as the “idiot box”


Lines 3-4

Here the narrator turns their attention to the other character’s child describing him as being “quite smart” this could be construed as being a little condescending and paints a picture of a this character as being somebody who is full of self-importance.


Lines 5-8

Once again the “gossipy” nature of the narrator comes to the fore. This time as she complains about the playground in which they have met. She complains about the traffic surrounding it. The idea of exams is once again bought to the fore. What is this saying? Is it a commentary on the importance of exams on a child’s cerebral development? Judging by the poets own extensive education this may well be the case.


Line 9

kim cheong eats so little.

For this singe line the narrative voice appears to shift to the other woman who features in 2 Mothers in an HDB Playground. She is not allowed to say much about her son before being cut off.


Lines 10-12

It would appear the narrator is playing games of one-upsmanship with the other mother. She acts like she has all the answers. She seems to think her child smarter and also better at eating! This is a concept that it seems crazy to be competitive over but yet the mother seems to be that way anyway.


Lines 13-15

This is interesting as in this section of the stanza the narrator appears to mitigate what she has said. No longer is she just highlighting her sons prowess. Now she is instead focusing on a negative. However, whilst it would appear she is being critical of her son, is she in fact just celebrating his cunning?


Lines 16-17

i scold like mad but what for?

if I don’t see it, how can I scold?

She then talks of how his actions go unpunished and tries to justify that decision.


Lines 18-20

Once again we see the superiority complex come to the fore. We also see the TV mentioned again. Could it be that the narrator’s view is warped because so much of what she believes is inspired by TV. Is this a case of dramatic irony as we, the reader can see that she is really just “waffling on” and actually talking nonsense. Perhaps this is an allusion to the effectiveness of TV as an educational tool in general?


Lines 21-24

Here it seems like once again the narrator is quick to talk about how good her situation is by dismissing the importance of money. She states that if their child wastes their vitamins they just as well take their money and throw it into the jamban, which is a type of carnivorous plant, similar to a Venus Fly Trap.


Lines 25-27

In this section of 2 Mothers in an HDB Playground the narrative voice switches for the second time to the other narrator. She gets to give her opinion on her husband’s wasting of money. Suggesting that he wants to get rid of the mosaic floor and replace it with terrazzo, which is almost identical to a mosaic floor in many ways! The insinuation being that he’s happy to spend money on pointless endeavors. Once again the second mother is not afforded much time to speak as she is interrupted.


Lines 28-31

Once again the main narrative voice, the first mother, is bragging. This time showing off about her expensive furniture.


Line 32

that you can’t say, my toa-soh

It is interesting that her daughter is named this. This is a play on words, Toa-Soh are some of the phrases associated with trigonometry. Despite having a sneaky son, seemingly raised by the television, there is a suggestion that there is an intelligent member of the family.


Lines 33-35

Once again things revolve around money. Another opportunity for the mother to brag of her wealth.


Lines 36-37

The mother interrupts herself to call her son who is “playing the fool” this is typical of Arthur yaps poetry as he uses the clever play on words. Do we really think the child is “playing” the fool, or is he actually foolish? This is shrouded in ambiguity.


Line 38

your tuition teacher is coming,

this seems to be the first others final display of wealth having a private tutor for her son.


Lines 39-41

Although, quite brilliantly the second narrator gets the last laugh as she calls her son over and announces that he has to go home to get washed as they are going for a ride in their dads new car! In this we see an example of the singapore/english slang that Yap is famed for, Singlish as it is known. Chya-yong means “eat wind” and is slang for going for a drive


About Arthur Yap

Arthur Yap was a Singapore poet. He came from a large family. He studied at Singapore university and secured a scholarship to study at Leeds University where he eventually became a lecturer. Yap is famous for his linguistic prowess. He often using subtle plays on words in his poems and using whimsy and humour to delight his fans.

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  • Avatar Leon says:

    And btw Jamban means toilet in Malaysia. But it was really helpful thx very much.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thanks – that’s really interesting. I actually really struggled with this poem so it’s nice to get positive feedback!

  • Avatar Lin MH says:

    Dear LJ
    I would like to enquire about LINE 32.
    “toa-soh” is “big sister-in-law” (as in Big / Elder Brother’s Wife” in Hokkien/Teochew (dialects).
    Are you sure it is referring to a daughter’s name?

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