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.
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.
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”.
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in the open, chatting, shopping and milling around, compared to the rest of the country where street life has been replaced by mall life that is confined within the air-conditioned boundaries of a man-made building.
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.
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!
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!