A Home Away From Home – Part 1

Street Crossing at Little India

Street Crossing at Little India

For many years, Singapore has had an influx of foreign talent (also known as the “FT”s in recent political / election lingo), with many coming from China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, India and other Asian countries. What they left behind were their homes, their families in exchange¬†for better jobs, financial security and possibly, a better future here.

A mainland Chinese worker perches precariously on top a lorry helping to load old cardboard boxes.

A mainland Chinese worker perches precariously on top a lorry helping to load old cardboard boxes. Little India, Singapore

Places like Little India in Singapore are examples of places where many such migrant workers congregate on Sundays, where it is often a holiday for them, a day of rest, of recreation and fellowshipping with fellow countrymen and women.

Faces of migrant workers in Singapore

Faces of migrant workers lounging at Little India in Singapore. They told me they were from Tamil Nadu.

Manual Labour

A migrant worker hauls a heavy load crossing the street. This picture could easily be dated as from the 1980s, but it is in fact taken in 2011 – a sight rarely seen in built up Singapore.

In the recent General Elections, FTs have become a hot topic – with overcrowding in Singapore reaching a critical point, citizens are resenting the very real fact that our public transport and service infrastructure are straining under the burden of an explosive population growth, fueled in part by the appetite of our government for luring in more and more foreigners to bolster our aging population, oblivious to the cries of the native population who feel that citizen privileges are being stripped away in favor of the “foreign invaders”.

Migrant workers in a pickup truck along Little India, Singapore

Migrant workers in a pickup truck along Little India, Singapore

Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers getting off the bus near Little India on a Sunday afternoon. This is their only off day.

Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers getting off the bus near Little India on a Sunday afternoon. This is their only off day.

Walking along Little India on a Sunday afternoon

Walking along Little India on a Sunday afternoon – Sunday is a holiday for most of the migrant Indian workers (as well as most Bangladeshi workers). They congregate at Little India for a day of fellowship, shopping and recreation.

Away from the constant debate on the merits of bringing in foreign workers or foreign talents, I decided to explore the subculture of these foreign workers living and working in our little island country. I took a visit to Little India two weeks ago to see for myself the life on the streets, and what a rich tapestry of live I discovered – this bustling little “India” in Singapore has road construction and sanitation works which takes after India rather than the more clinical methods devised for the rest of the Singapore. Life on the streets is rich, with people congregating in the open, chatting, shopping and milling around, compared to the rest of the country where street life has been replaced by mall life that is confined within the air-conditioned boundaries of a man-made building.

Faces at Little India

Faces at Little India, Singapore

At the newspaper stand at Little India, Singapore

At the newspaper stand at Little India, Singapore

3 men at an alley along Little India, Singapore

3 men at an alley along Little India, Singapore

This little ethnic neighborhood that is Little India, like the KTM railway I documented a few weeks back, has been nestled in the heart of Singapore all these years, at the confluence of Serangoon Road and Sungei Road, but it’s an area I’ve not really visited or frequented. Here, as a Chinese among the hordes of dark skinned Indians, I stand out like a sore thumb, but at the same time, the warm and friendly smiles of the people around me allowed me to settle in very quickly – yes, it feels like India, but yet, you know in your heart that this is still Singapore, where the government has efficiently dispersed ethnic groups evenly over the public housing areas of Singapore to preserve and encourage racial harmony. There is no longer any area specifically designated for any one ethnic group, but Little India remains a gathering place for local Tamils and Indians alike, a home away from their natural home, where they could feel belonged.

A bus with an advertisement for the Singapore Zoo going past Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore.

A bus with an advertisement for the Singapore Zoo going past Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore.

At a junction along Veerasamy Road, Little India

At a junction along Veerasamy Road, Little India

Shopping at Little India, Singapore

Shopping at Little India, Singapore 

Chit-Chatting among a group of friends along the open streets of Little India, SIngapore

Chit-Chatting among a group of friends along the open streets of Little India, SIngapore

This place feels real – unlike the virtual spaces of Facebook, Google+, Twitter; this is THE gathering where someone can come to in Singapore to get a feel of what India is like. Legion are the many tales from Singaporeans talking about shoving and pushing in crowded buses passing by Little India on a Sunday, or the hordes of human bodies crossing the road simultaneously. I feel photographically inspired and challenged – this will be a place I will come back to again and again!

A horde of Indians crossing Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore

A horde of Indians crossing Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore

Pushing a loaded cart along the streets of Little India

Pushing a loaded cart along the streets of Little India

This is the first in a multi-part series of posts where I document immigrant workers and FTs living and working in Singapore. Watch this space for part 2 coming soon!

Edit: Part 2 is now online!

9 comments for “A Home Away From Home – Part 1

  1. October 12, 2011 at 01:32

    Nice pics plus beautiful commentary !

    • October 12, 2011 at 02:03

      Hi

      thanks!!! Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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