Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I find the idea of a township for blue-collared foreign workers odd. Minister George Yeo made the announcement on Sunday that the Ministry of National Development is looking into establishing 'self-contained' living spaces for our swelling numbers of foreign workers apparently so that they do not encroach on the living comforts of the rest of Singapore, as starkly highlighted in the recent (and ongoing) incident of Serangoon Gardens residents signing a petition to the government to shelf its plans to make use of the dis-used Serangoon Gardens Technical School to house up to 1000 workers. See also Today Online.

Why do I find it odd? Well, I know that the Ministry of Education has been pushing schools to mount overseas trips so that our students can learn about the social, cultural and historical characteristics of our neighbours, in order to appreciate their people and their way of life better. Our schools have already begun to do this in droves, so I heard, including those in the tertiary institutions such as the Polytechnics. I also heard that the cost of these trips is not trivial. A trip to India, for example, will set you back by S$1,800 for a 5 day / 4 night jaunt. Quite a lot of money goes towards subsidizing these programmes. As I understand it, one of the objectives of these trips is to help our students appreciate our foreign neighbours better in terms of their economy, their businesses and their socio-cultural settings. But more importantly, these trips hope to give them the initial impetus to uproot themselves in years to come to work in foreign lands, as and when the opportunity, or necessity, presents itself.

Ironically, when these foreigners come to our land to live and work, at no initial expense to us but great expense to them, we try our level best to keep them away from our children and ourselves, fearing (with little basis) the harm these people will bring to us. We make a big deal out of these expensive overseas study visits just so that we can look at foreigners through a glass tank but are unwilling to swim with them when they present themselves in our own soil. Now, we are suggesting to confine these same people in a fish-tank of a township, thereby perpetuating the perception that they are to be seen and not heard, that they should go about doing what they are paid to do and nothing more. I would have thought that interacting with these people on a daily basis on our own soil will show that we are indeed sincere in knowing and appreciating our neighbours, that it will enrich our lives (not threaten it) and that we would, as a result, not feel any inhibition in going to their lands one day to work. Instead, we would rather they not trample on our tranquility, and our way of life. We leave behind a legacy of insularity, which in this globalised world, our children can hardly afford to follow.

As it stands, if we treat foreigners in this way, I wonder if they would not have the right to 'return the favour' when our roles are reversed? Given our parochial outlook and attitudes, we still have a long way to go towards becoming global citizens. It would appear that our government ministries, politicians and people are all working at cross-purposes. I therefore do not envy Minister Yeo's job at this moment. Hopefully, good sense and good neighbourliness will prevail, or are we doomed perpetually to our kampong mentality?


Image source: morgueFile.com. Author: Kevin Connors


Anonymous said...

A further debate on this topic can be found at:
Singapore Kopitiam

jupilier said...

"Township" is a lousy word to choose. We won't have space for a township just for foreign workers.

However, if you go to Kranji industrial estate now, you can see the place is almost a foreign worker township.

proofreader said...

Thought that was a great article. I highlight your interesting orthography though. First, why have you spelled 'subsidized' but paraphrased 'return the favour' (instead of 'return the favor')? Second, why have you spelled polytechnics with a capital 'P'? Finally, the misspelling 'threat' for 'treat' in the last paragraph. You're an Americanised writer mocking Singaporean institutes of higher education and who makes unwitting slips of the tongue.

Epilogos said...

Dear proofreader:

I am schooled in the British tradition but am using an Americanized software to do spell-checking. I do sometimes drop an 'h' here or tere (since corrected) and I think the polytechnics deserve a 'P'.

Thank you for your observation. I guess I am the one who is schizophrenic.

Epilogos said...

But it does show that we need to be all things to all people in order that we can co-exist and welcome strangers in our midst, schizoid or not.

Epilogos said...

I agree. Township is a lousy word to use. If the government is going to go ahead with it, they should call it something else. Wherever the word township is mentioned, I associate it with what I have read of the apartheid situation back in the 70s and 80s in South Africa. And we would want to avoid anything remotely similar to that in Singapore where our foreign workers are involved vis-a-vis ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I love how my photo looks on your web page. Thanks for the credit.

- Kevin