The Icon of Boat Quay

The Merlion can move over. This icon is the real deal.


He slinks up to the prata stall Golum like: he’s nimble but peers around a bit apprehensive. There isn’t an ounce of body fat on him. He wears shorts but otherwise a collection of tattoos makes do for clothing. He’s looking for his dinner.

“What’s your name?”

The question takes a few attempts. He speaks neither English nor Mandarin. He prefers Hokkien and Malay.

“What’s your name?”

He extends his left fist. The letters “T” “O” “N” “Y” are tattooed across his knuckles.

His volume is almost a shout. He wants everyone nearby to hear the answer: “TONY!”


His presence causes a bit of a stir. Soon, guys are walking by greeting him.

“Hey Tony!”

“You guys know him?”

“I’ve known him 5 years.”
“I’ve known him 10 years!”
“I’ve known him 35 years!”

It’s a mark of status – how long you’ve known the man.


He has parked himself next to us with a bowl of soup. Tony explains, after a fashion, that he has no more teeth – can’t even eat roti. So he just has soup.

The owner of the prata stall always feeds him free of charge. But tonight, a neighbour along Circular Road drops by saying, “Let me pay for Tony tonight.” The residents of Boat Quay have been feeding Tony for years. And this evening, two more familiar with the chope food movement give the owner $10 each to cover Tony in future.

The guy footing the bill then turns to us sounding a bit serious.

“Don’t mess with the man!”


“Back in the day, Tony was in charge around here. When he was young, you would never mess with the man! But now he’s an old man. He’s been on Boat Quay for 50 years. He still gets respect.”


Tony has finished his soup and is dragging on a cigarette. He’s happy with all the attention… as his picture is taken, more guys pass by saying ‘hi’. He’s a local celebrity. He’s full of animation and opinions.

The people we talk to are sketchy about his infamous past. Most know him as a larger than life little man who always has an opinion.

But they all agree on one thing:

“He’s the icon of Boat Quay. He’s the real Boat Quay.”

And it has been pointed out that the man has serious meme potential…


You are welcome to use the Tony pictures for any derivative artwork… 🙂

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