In Transit: 12 Poems about Travel and Transportation by Young Asian Writers (Asian Voices)

These poems about travel and transportation were originally posted on the AsianVoices Website (1997-2004), a site I created that featured poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. 


A firedrake brushes
past the subway of darkness
The lights of souls growl

~ by Norah Chung (Hong Kong)

Without Gravity

finger lingers on the window of this giant iron bird
and feels the coldness of mother nature
loneliness passes from finger to soul
i try to grab for something
like gravity—so i can fear no more
reflections overlapped on the window pane
i can hardly recognize myself

trembling, i search for help
for loneliness has engulfed me
eyes meet—yet coldness i find
two ponds of water without ripples—looking straight forward
monuments do i find in this giant iron bird
in the wide gaps between strangers
the reading light overhead is a pool of moonlight
shining down on my planet without gravity

~ by Katie Luk Wai-yu (Hong Kong, USA)

Knitting (for Dino)

Alighting westward
in the grey dawn
you gained seven hours, like seven
stitches cast on: unnoticing, passed through
time zones and customs checks
grit-eyed and dreaming, with a freight of gifts.

Returning eastward, wrenched
against the sun,
after five days
your brother’s wedding
family meeting, parting –
filled to the brim
with special dishes, drinking, love and tears
and then squeezed tight, so tight –

undone tasks
wait for you at the airport
a hangover of carelessly invited
unwanted grumbling guests.
Seven hours slip off
the flashing needles, as the wool pulls taut –
one plain, one purl, knit two, knit three together –
clicking your frantic knitting against time
where gaps like this, dropped stitches
let in the daylight.
This is a pattern only you could make.

You once lent me
one of these sweaters of your own design.
Over my shoulders, sleeves
casually tied in front, it kept me warm
through a harsh winter.

~ Pauline Burton (Hong Kong)


We took out the masts one by one
and then the booms, rudders,
and daggerboards

Rigging a topper was not an easy task,
but by helping one another,
we tasted happiness

We leaned out when the boat heeled up,
and eased up the main sheet when the wind roared.
We fell into the water suddenly,
and laughed crazily
while we were climbing back into the cockpit.

~ Eunice Chu (Hong Kong)

Taxi Ride

Comfort never had so many meanings.
The quilted soft PVC pads provide a mended cell,
for the loose screws and shortdecks,
when they are the ones ranting how crazy
we are, because we are not them, we whisper
quietly in shameful pride.
we did as our mothers told
we studied!

And so the cinderella convoy never appears;
one minute before…always that one minute after.
Tips seldom produce the shorter route:
everyday’s fairprice rises with metered grace.

But pandan cools the air.
Reminding, perhaps of sweet riceballs Amah slaved over,
perhaps that flaky cake Gold-Tooth Uncle used to bring
or maybe it was rumpy Third Aunt, bracelets tangling?
A leathery face stares back through the rearview mirror:
his yellowed eyes are not laughing.
And so we sit, mousy, set to inherit the earth,
staring desperately offscreen; hoping our lives
do not crash at this taxied-intersection.

~ by Tan Tiong-cheng (Singapore)

To the lady in the MRT cabin

to the lady in the MRT cabin
on the way to Tanjong Pagar

on my first glance
your eyes were hooked
on a Fyodor Dostoyevsky book.

on my second glance
our eyes met
and froze for just a little while.

then in a flash
for some twisted reasons
our eyes looked in opposite directions.

and when again I looked
you were already gone
and I was confused
but for just a little while.

life is like a glance
we see beauty we feel joy
but for just a little while.

then in a flash
for some twisted reasons
confused, we look
in different directions.

~ Jose Alibone A. Naboya (Singapore)

Model of Rail Transportation: An Ode to MRT

Shovels built tracks of sweat and dew
Lines trundle by, like two snakes hissing
Hands now tied, controlled and cruised
Below, above soil, triumph is hooting
Passengers queue, enter and alight
Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English
Pregnancy cares and elderly woes
Babies’ cries and lovers under light
Hebrew, Eurasian, Sikh or Singlish
Poems and Confucious greet, listen:

A rats’ race begins on the grounds
Into the cabin, grace, peace flows
Neither chewing gum dumps nor smoky rounds
Say “Halo!” to those controls
Tracks touch each otther across the youthful sun
The model of Real Transition
Cares for the woman with an unknown blush
A cup of kopi before each screeching run
The Models of Real Transformation
Link for the marsh and link for a march.

Ask what is the root of the first ride thought
Not the oriental train from Johor or Ipoh
Not the slow train from Beijing to Hohhot
Friends all over built up tracks now in Entrepot
To fall in love with rails stirs memories countless
As I’ve learn’t to lead forever above ponds
Progress and happiness is love of a nation
To learn from mistakes like Confucious years countless
A bullet train from Changi to Jurong
Salute to the Model of Rail Transportation.

~ by Kucinta Setia (Singapore)

The Freight Office in Hatyai Station

The way to run a good freight office is
To let as little as is possible
Pass through the door to your domain.
Your office is no bottomless abyss;
Far better to leave the mountain off the train
Right on the platform, though it may compel

Cream-cracker-skinned backpackers to tread round,
Or olive locals straining to catch the shrill
Cry of the whistle over blaring Thai
Announcements to let loose the clatter found
In panic; poor lost souls, these goods piled high,
These reclamations on a wandering will –

You do not spend your only cool of morning
Bringing them into the fold, you watch
Them from your desk, they are not yours, you need
Not save them from the prying eyes and yawning
Heat of midday, neither do you heed
The hawkers, or the children playing catch

Or stepping on the hulking weighing scale.
You are an Argos in a sideline cave,
Although the souls that pass from you pass on
To where they had been destined, and the rails
That sleep on so many intervene for none;
There’s not a single one that you can save.

~ by Toh Hsien-min (Singapore). Originally published in Oxford Poetry Vol XI No. 1 (2000). Reprinted with permission of the author. The reference to Argos refers to the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Hatyai is a a Thai city near Singapore and Malaysia.


Look into the crowded compartment
dozens of unfamilar gazes
in the evening, at ten.

March into the cabinet with heavy footsteps
I yawn and yawn, feeling lucky
being able to survive another day.

Standing there holding the steel bar
thinking about nothing else
but the warm yet cold bed.

A peculiar, yet uncertain
weird circular movement
near my upper thigh.

Turn back.
an old man, seventy,
with his right eye closed,
his left hand raised a little.

Puzzled, I was slow to respond
I warn him
in a relatively low voice.
He nods.
The door opens.
He walks out.

I feel nauseous as
the same episode rewinds and plays repeatedly
I finally realise my stupidity.

Feeling disgusted and awkward
uncontrollable thoughts
continuously replay inside my mind

I shiver.
The odd touch remains.
Furious at this senseless outrage
yet powerless to defend.

Hear the fading voice in the announcement,
my neighbourhood in front of the window.
I sigh.
The door opens.
I walk out
and disappear into
the crowd.

~ by Vivian Chiang (Hong Kong)

On My Way To School

It stops to squeeze.
Don’t push me please!
I find I’m stranded in a train.
There’s no distance I can maintain.

Masked faces meet
Without nods greet.
Familiar sights wonder to hide.
I turn away and look outside.

~ by Chor Yiu-ching (Hong Kong)

On the Way Home

Sitting on the bus
I am waiting for no one
to sit beside me

~ by Chor Yiu-ching (Hong Kong)

Guilliam Apollinaire Motors Along The Avenue de St. Mandé

To celebrate the modern dawn
poet and motor car perform an air,
the antique motor of Appollinaire:
O guantlets, goggles, klaxon horn!

I crave rude couplings of history and myth
in morning sunlight of the Paris June.

I note with scarcely opened eyes
our centuries’ glossed finishes
of old fiacres, steaming dung, new-fangled motor cars,
drugged girls who sell their flesh to faceless men.

Past and present swarm with future years
along a poet’s avenue of open wounds
offered like mouths to speak our fears.

Appollinaire sings of old and new, of dusk and whores,
of Tre-panned head, of death the no-man’s land,
of shell-shocked relics from impending wars.

St. Mandé’s courtyards shade their jazz-age loves
where now the needles or discarded condoms lie
and martyrs of the resistance rest among the doves.

Look! Now a paper dart from a nineteen-nineties hand
in morning sunlight dips toward old buttoned leatherware,
comes gliding in to land,
and rides that rattling motor of Appollinaire.

~ by Andrew Parkin (Hong Kong)

AsianVoices Archives: These poems were originally posted on the now-defunct AsianVoices website (1997-2004), which featured poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. Copyright belongs to the original authors. If you are the writer and would like to remove, add or edit this work, please contact me at and I will promptly carry out your request.

  1. Bloodlines: Family
  2. Passions: Love & heartbreak
  3. Edible Words: Food
  4. Life’s Journey: Innocence & experience
  5. Scenes: Everyday life
  6. Requiem: Death & remembrance
  7. Reflections: Self-discovery & spirituality
  8. In Class: School life & education
  9. In Transit: Travel & transportation
  10. Destinations: Places
  11. Nature: Animals & the environment
  12. Muses: The creative process
  13. Conflict: War and its effects
  14. Kids’ Corner: For younger readers
  15. Pets: About, for and by pets
  16. Friendship: Cherished bonds
  17. Emotions: Emotional states
  18. Haiku: Concise poems
  19. Brushstrokes: Chinese-language works
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