Thursday, September 04, 2008


I wrote about foreigners in our midst some time ago. It appears to be haunting residents in Serangoon Gardens, especially those that are living in the semi-detached private houses. A petition has even been started to stop the government's plans to relocate some 1000 foreign workers to a dis-used school compound nearby. The stated concern is that these people will probably clog up their roads. Some even view it as a security concern, as if the government is moving a bunch of misfits and shady characters into their neighbourhood. I think these people have lost sense of reality and are showing their prejudicial and snobbish side all too obviously.

If these foreigners are not welcomed in their midst, do they then think that somebody else's neighbourhood is more suitable? Who do they think they are? The heavenly host up there whose peace cannot be disturbed no matter what? That the rest of Singapore, where the minions live, are more suitable for such (dare I say), 'low life'? Well, ok, many of these people do have million dollar properties they are sitting on. Are they worried that the value of their properties will drop a notch if 'low life foreign workers' move into their neighbourhood? Are they worried that these 'low life' will roam their neighbourhood to steal, rob and rape, or at least swagger around drunk and noisy in their neighbourhood? 

Well, yes, they are foreigners and may have habits that we are not used to. They may congregate more and speak a decibel louder than us. But these do not make them criminal. Our fathers were once foreigners in this land, and they managed to rise up to own property and land, which they have passed down to us, their children. Truly we have forgotten our roots. So instead of petitioning against these people, they should try to make these people feel at home, or at least not treat them as 'low lives' and suspects. Many of them probably have families in faraway lands, families they are supporting and feeding by coming to this place to toil and sweat. If we treat others shabbily, they will always be shabby as far as we are concerned. If we treat them well, we may get rewarded. How do we know that amidst all the sea of brown, black and yellow, there is not an angel amongst them who might save and protect us someday? 

We are talking of a gracious society. There is an opportunity to show our graces. We should practice charity, for surely it must begin at home. Otherwise, whatever civility we may have cultivated among ourselves is only skin deep, and that skin is particularly thin for people living in the private houses in Serangoon Gardens.


Image source: Author: LaRae


Anonymous said...

I think the gahment should lead by example.

Build a workers' dorm at Oxley Rise.

Afterall, these 1000 foreign talents are as important as the Ministers themselves in building our economy.

They should live together and exchange notes. A close cooperation between them will definitely bring singapore to greater heights.

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Anonymous said...

The best is to move the foreign workers quarter to tuas areas, out of residential areas. They can occupy the former Tanjong Gul camp. The compound is huge and can easily accomodate a few thousands workers. Gahmen can also build some shops in the premises so the workers do not have to leave their dormitory.

john said...

It is unfortunate that you were not in the rain when the residents of Serangoon Gardens met the Ministers. You would have been better informed. Your thoughts and their subsequent explication on the matter would perhaps have done greater service to discourse on this matter. The issues raised by the residents were not motivated by economic concerns or prejudices against foreigners or the economically disadvantaged.
There were two main groups of issues raised by the residents. These relate to security and infrastructure. The first group of issues raised by the residents concerned the safety of two segments in society, the young and the elderly. Serangoon Gardens has a larger population of both. The parks in the estate are filled with children especially in the evenings. One of these parks is along Chartwell drive just up the road from the proposed dormitory. Children walk to the convent and kindergartens and back home. The elderly can be seen pottering in their gardens, taking morning and evening walks, as well as going about their daily routines. During the day, the elderly take care of grand-children returning from school. In some homes, maids take care of both the elderly and young during the day. At no point in the discussion were foreign workers labeled as criminals. Instead evidences of unreasonable and unruly behavior of some foreign workers as surfaced in the newspapers were used to substantiate claims. The residents were asking whether the Ministry of National Development has looked into this issue. If they have then what were the measures they would take to ensure the safety of the young and elderly in the estate. In doing so, provide the young and elderly with the sense of safety to carry on with their daily routines; and their parents, sons and daughters the peace of mind to leave them at home.
The second issue raised by the residents relate to the infrastructure of the estate. The roads in the estate are predominantly single lane thoroughfares. In the early mornings and evenings the roads in the estate are at present very well utilized. Traffic jams are a common sight at these hours along Burghley drive, Carisbrooke groove and Chartwell drive. Can these thoroughfares cope with the increase in traffic from lorries and buses ferrying workers going to and returning from their worksites? At the moment there is one feeder bus that services the estate. This bus arrives once every 15 minutes. Is the public transportation service in the estate able to meet the capacity of the population of workers living in the new dormitory especially on weekends, where the population of the estate swells with the influx of the religious attending Saturday and Sunday services in one of the 4 churches in this estate? How about the demand for daily goods? The estate is served by a small NTUC supermarket. Does it have the capacity to support the influx of new foreign workers in the estate? Let us not forget recreation. The residents do not expect the foreign workers to be cooped up in the dormitories on the weekends. What forms of recreation are available to them? Are there open spaces for them to congregate and socialize? In short, aside from a location being available has the Ministry of National Development carried out a feasibility study of the locating the dormitory in the estate? And in doing so, looking into measures that will minimize the impact of locating the dormitory on the residents and infrastructure of a potential estate; as well as maximizing the experience of the foreign workers living in the estate.
September the 4th was an important date in the governance of Serangoon gardens. The meet the people session was probably an eye-opener for the ministers and for the general tow-the-line reticent population. The meeting was the culmination of the efforts of the residents who felt strongly about an issue. Through their smses, phone calls and door to door canvassing they brought the issue to the attention of the public. In the spirit of a more open and civil society they sought to be heard. In the heavy downpour with their umbrellas they came, bringing with them their emotions, facts and figures to engage the ministers in passionate debate. Kudos to BG George Yeo for dispensing with the agenda and getting to the heart of the matter. He gave nearly everyone an opportunity to be heard. The meeting was a good start for bringing civility to the resolution of the matter and demonstrated how a community gracefully deals with complex issues affecting them.
Perhaps you should re-frame your thoughts about the residents of the estate.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but wonder if this is some ulu and old estate in some other parts of Singapore, would a minister of George Yeo's calibre be even present to hear the citizens out?

I know, in this world money talks. Singapore is no different despite its pledge of equality.

john said...

FYI, this was a scheduled meet the residents potluck dinner. BG Yeo was scheduled to meet the residents as part of his duties in his GRC. So his attendance was not "extraordinary" or bought by money. He told the audience that night that he only heard about the item being on the agenda of the meeting on his way to work the morning itself. He also informed the audience that he received a brief from Mrs Lim later that morning.
So did BG Yeo make an exception to his routine to attend to the residents of the estate? The evidence shows not.

Lam Chun See said...

I don't have any comment on foreign workers. But I do have some bad impression of those who drive them around. I often travel along AYE in the evenings. Often I see lorries used to ferry these workers. Only one word to describe their driving style. Reckless. Can you imagine letting lose such trucks in Serangoon Gardens where the roads are mightly narrow.

Anonymous said...

Well said John. I applaud the way your community, our community, stands up on this. Keep up the pressure, don't allow this to happen to wonderful Serangoon Gardens or any other estates in Singapore!

Anonymous said...

Last I read, this whole saga is a wayang put up by the Papee to entertain us and win votes from the serangoon gardeners!!!

Then, no worry lah ... sure will end in a happy ending one.

Some may even get National Day awards for their fine acting.

Anonymous said...

"We are talking of a gracious society. There is an opportunity to show our graces. We should practice charity, for surely it must begin at home. Otherwise, whatever civility we may have cultivated among ourselves is only skin deep, and that skin is particularly thin for people living in the private houses in Serangoon Gardens."

Sure, why don't you open up your home and take in a foreigner? Charity yah? So walk the talk.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. the critical thinking aspect of this article is too narrow. It's not as simple as 'those' rich people being racist. I used to stay there, Serangoon Gardens have many 30 to 50 years old (maybe more) single storey units that housed three generations. And many retirees there are not considered rich or even middle class. Take a drive along the lanes from the proposed dorm to the main roads and you will immediately see that it's a narrow single lane with vehicles parked on the right and left side. People walking etc. On the weekends and weekday evenings, the place is packed with people, cars, from all over Singapore. There are already jams during the morning and evenings. If the authorities want to house foreign workers, they better think properly how they are going to provide the infrastructure and not say lame things like their dorms will have shops and all. Afterall, foreign workers are not animals... you cannot stop them from going out and having a drink or two in their freetime.

Epilogos said...

Dear John, and all who have commented:

I would like to have been more informed, but I gather my impressions from what the press reports. So do thousands of fellow Singaporeans, who form their opinion based on what they read (and hear) in the press.

Thank you for clarifying some of the issues. Yes, the press has reported in the past about unruly behaviour by foreign workers amongst us, and even cases of murder involving them recently. But they do not have a monopoly here. Singaporeans have been reported to have been unruly (I daresay more often) and murdered people also. Why is a Singaporean thug less threatening than a foreign one? Is this not prejudice?

Which brings me back to my experience living among foreigners in the Naval Base when I was a toddler till I was 15. I have blogged about this before. There were bachelors living just across the block where I lived – in single room units, mostly Indians, but some Chinese. They took their showers in common bathrooms. These baths had no locks. We could just walk into these communal baths and see people bathing. On reflection now, it did seem na├»ve that we sensed no danger, we were never on our guard because as it turned out, these were decent people here to earn a living so that they can return to where they came from one day to be with their families again. Maybe as adults now, we instinctively raise our protective 'shields' first, but the problem is we never lower it thereafter. My point is whether it is fair to foreigner workers for us to have formed a negative perception of them in the first place, and probably a permanent one at that because we don’t ever want them to be around anyway? Should our kids and their grandmas and grandpas be worried that these foreigners share our parks? Perhaps, but I would submit that they will be no more of a threat than any Singaporean who is a stranger to the neighbourhood.

I would admit that several pertinent issues were raised, including vehicular movement and congestion, the lack of recreational facilities and grocery stores in the vicinity, and the social spaces for these people to interact. But in Singapore, besides faraway places like Tuas and Changi, which alternative location is not getting increasingly congested? Even Changi will lose its 'sleepy' image soon. Which place has the wide grounds and shopping that will not soon be swamped? It is either your house or mine. I am not suggesting that it is better your house than mine. If our roles were reversed and we exchanged living places, I suppose I will feel a little uneasy at first at this ‘intrusion’ into my living space, but on reflection, this wouldn’t be too different from what I had when I was a child living in the Naval Base. Which comes back to the point I made earlier whether we have forgotten our roots...

Anonymous said...

All the residents' concerns seem to stem from the unspoken presumption that foreign workers will jam their roads, overrun their parks, and deprive them of recreational facilities. I doubt that this perception would change even if the govt doubled the density of roads, opened more green areas, and constructed more facilities...

Maybe they should construct more facilities, parks, and roads so that the foreign workers don't have to travel to work and can build an exclusive space for themselves to lock the pesky Singaporeans out.

Anonymous said...

All the residents' concerns seem to stem from the unspoken presumption that foreign workers will jam their roads, overrun their parks, and deprive them of recreational facilities. I doubt that this perception would change even if the govt doubled the density of roads, opened more green areas, and constructed more facilities...

Why would people's perceptions change when little india and boon lay areas stand out as shining examples of what can happen to their neighbourhood? And the situation is spreading to other parts of the island.

If the authorities can clean up these areas, then you can say Serangoon Garden residents' perceptions are unfounded.