Today is a momentous occasion.

Today, I am drinking Complan for the very first time in my life.


Complan is gross. Okay, I’m biased. I’ve never been a very big fan of these… products.

In any case, I just thought I’d mark this occasion with a poem because of how Complan has been immortalised (to me, at least) in Arthur Yap’s “2 mothers in a hdb playground”:

2 mothers in a hdb playground

ah beng is so smart,
already he can watch tv & know the whole story.
your kim cheong is also quite smart,
what boy is he in the exam?

this playground is not too bad, but i’m always
so worried, car here, car there.
at exam time, it’s worse.
because you know why?
kim cheong eats so little.

give him some complan. my ah beng was like that,
now he’s different. if you give him anything
he’s sure to finish it all up.

sure, sure. cheong’s father buys him
vitamins but he keeps it inside his mouth
& later gives it to the cat.
i scold like mad but what for?
if i don’t see it, how can i scold?

on Saturday, tv showed a new type,
special for children. why don’t you call
his father buy some? maybe they are better.

money’s no problem. it’s not that
we want to save. if we buy it
& he doesn’t eat it, throwing money
into the jamban is the same.
ah beng’s father spends so much,
takes out the mosaic floor & wants
to make terazzo or what.

we also got new furniture, bought from diethelm.
the sofa is so soft. i dare not sit. they all
sit like don’t want to get up. so expensive.
nearly two thousand dollars, sure must be good.

that you can’t say. my toa-soh
bought an expensive sewing machine,
after 6 months, it is already spoilt.
she took it back but … beng,
come here, come, don’t play the fool.
your tuition teacher is coming.
wah! kim cheong, now you’re quite big.

come, cheong, quick go home & bathe.
ah pah wants to take you chya-hong in new motor-car.

— Arthur Yap

I can’t remember if the original had any stanzas but I thought I’d delineate the text into stanzas so you can see the conversation between the mothers (a la Peter Tan’s webpage).

In case you are not very intelligent and don’t know why this poem is meaningful, please allow me to highlight a few significant aspects of the poem to you:

  • Captures the use of English in Singapore, especially how Chinese Singaporeans speak English (wrongly or otherwise) in modern Singapore’s early years (look at the title: it’s “a hdb” instead of “an hdb”. So you’ve got to be adamantine when you read out the title i.e. “a haitch-dee-bee” instead of “an aitch-dee-bee”).
  • Demonstrates changing class aspirations in Singapore, from a Chinese perspective, at least.
  • Depicts the urbanisation of the Singapore landscape vis-a-vis economic progress.


Well, I still maintain that Complan is gross but beggars whose mouths have been wired shut cannot be choosers.

BTW, whoever is coming over to my place to visit me – you’re gonna be served Complan.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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