In passing by Arthur Yap

What is your impression of the visitor and the hosts in the poem? From this poem, I can tell that the visitor was an avid traveler, and had been to many places in the world. He was born in New York, and has visited Italy, K. L, Singapore and many other places, proving him to be very well-traveled. “Yesterday you were at k. l, the day before you were somewhere else, now you are here”. Having been to three different states in a matter of three days, it is evident that the visitor enjoyed traveling, and was a very hurried man.

The host described him as being “somewhere else” the day before, because this globe-trotter went to so many places, that even his friends or relatives could not keep track of where he went, or where he was. His hurried and hasty nature led to him being very abrupt and aloof. As he was constantly pressed for time, he did not take care in refining his conversation so that it included elaboration and clarity. Furthermore, as he was an American, he was, by nature, somewhat straightforward and did not watch his words.

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His comments were thus inexplicit, sounding superficial on the surface, but in fact very deep when read between the lines. For example, when feasting on the chilli-crabs, the visitor mentioned that it was “so unlike the spaghetti I had in Italy”. Well, both Singaporean chilli-crab and Italian Spaghetti are very similar in that they are tomato-based. Yet, albeit a common main ingredient, both specialties taste a world of a difference. Always in a rush for time, the visitor collapsed these multiple ideas into a quick phrase, in turn sounding very abrupt and insincere.

Another example of the visitor’s haste is found on the last line of the poem. At the airport while the hosts were desperately trying to make conversation, the visitor could not care less and was “fumbling” his bag for his sweater. He was too caught up preparing for his next destination that he seemed to be cold and distant, although he may have been listening to them. The hosts and the visitor did not seem to be very close. This could be due to their different cultures, and also the fact that they rarely meet each other. The hosts described the visitor as being “somewhere else”, not even being familiar with his holiday plan.

Furthermore, the tone of the poem is very cold and distant, further accentuating the cultural gap between the two. The hosts on the other hand, were very gracious towards the visitor, taking him around the whole time he was in Singapore. They even took the effort to bring him to “the seaside restaurant” and “feted” him on the “speciality of chili-crabs and fried noodles”. “Feted” suggests that the hosts arranged an elaborate feast for the visitor, proving them to be very generous. They were also very hospitable and brought the visitor to Chinatown, where he exclaimed that “it was all so intriguing”.

The hosts respected the visitor, and left him to his intrigue, “not wanting to be perfunctory”. The hosts were also very polite and gave him all the attention whilst he was in Singapore. They brought him to places of interest and elaborate eateries although they were not very close. Being the affable hosts at the airport, they continued “talking and talking” to the visitor, trying to strike a conversation. However, he was too caught up in his own affairs to even bother responding, nor commenting on the airport, which was supposed to be one of the best in the world.

(b) How does the poet convey the restlessness of the modern world? The poet conveys the restlessness of the modern world mainly in three ways: firstly, by the title itself, secondly, haphazard structure of the poem, and lastly through the hectic ways of the visitor. At the end of the day, it brings out that the world in this day and age is never still and forever bustling with changes. The title “In Passing” says it all. It suggests that people in this generation are forever “running” and constantly “in passing”, not taking time to stop and think.

This relates to how the modern world has become so restless, with events and people rushing by too quickly to keep track of, and the world stays forever in motion. The most obvious feature of the poem is its run-on lines. If reading it ignoring its structure, the poem would naturally flow as if in paragraphs. However, the poet deliberately broke up this paragraph into many lines, creating jerky breaks in the reading of the poem. This makes the tone of the poem very insincere and abrupt. Another prominent feature of the poem is that of the stanzas.

There are only two main stanzas in the poem, and on closer observation, each stanza is actually one entire sentence, although without a capital letter to start with. Such a long complicated sentence makes reading the poem very difficult and tedious. The poet also did not start the poem with a capital letter, nor end it with a full stop. This probably implied that the reader was simply listening in halfway to the host’s account, and there was actually much more to it. This unusual structure thus ties in wholly with the notion of a restless modern world.

The long tedious sentences showed that so much activity happened in just one day, back to back. Due to the lack of time, people were also very abrupt and indirect, and even relationships became distant and people seemed insincere while consumed in their own haste. One characteristic of the modern world is the superb level of technology. Transportation between continents gets more advanced day by day and some people board aeroplanes so often, as if they were busses, be it for leisure or for business. In this way, the world can be considered getting smaller and even more restless with the advance in technology.

One classic example is the visitor in the poem. “Yesterday you were at k. l, the day before you were somewhere else, now, you are here… ” This reveals the fast pace of life and how hurried one can get. Like the visitor, each day is spent in a different place, but all still too hasty. Even in verbal speech, everything appears so abrupt and hurried. For instance, when the visitor commented about the Singapore specialties saying “it’s so unlike the spaghetti I had in Italy”, his words seemed so simple, short and sweet but was quite deep if read between the lines.

In the airport, the visitor too, was caught up in preparing for his next flight that he did not even bother talking to the visitors for one last time. By writing the poem in 2nd person, with all the “you”s, the poet incorporates a lot of reader participation. This enables the reader to relate even more to the restlessness of the modern world as he / she virtually becomes the visitor, taking the stand of the visitor and “experiences” what he has gone through.