Little India at Night (A Home away from Home Part 5)

Workers queuing up for the bus back to their hostels. Little India, Singapore

Workers queuing up for the bus back to their hostels. Little India, Singapore

This was an entirely unplanned trip. The most logical thing to do on a late Sunday evening was to go home earlier to rest, especially since I had already spent an afternoon in the gym, plus a light swim, and a comfortable 2 hours inside Starbucks reading.

There was certainly no need to photograph today. At least that was not in the pipeline. This was supposed to be a take-it-easy kind of day. And besides, my team Manchester United was taking on their bitter rivals (too bitter to type out the name here!) in the Manchester derby and I wanted to be home to watch it.

Posters advertising call rates back to Blangadesh and India. That's targeted advertising for this part of Singapore filled with foreign workers from these countries.

Posters advertising call rates back to Blangadesh and India. That's targeted advertising for this part of Singapore filled with foreign workers from these countries.

But when I boarded the North East Line heading from Vivo City, an inner instinct took over. It was a sense, a subconsciousness that overrode all thoughts of reason, and I found myself dropping off at Little India Station. I always have my camera with me. Sometimes, even when walking my dog. I have 3 lenses with me,  24mm, 35mm and 50mm. In the end I just used the 35mm for all the shots you see here. (In fact, most of my photos on this blog are shot with the 35mm lens..)

Two men and a Chinese lady. Little India, Singapore.

Two men and a Chinese lady. Little India, Singapore.

What was there to see at night in Little India, on a Sunday, when everybody would be winding down and going home to prepare for another week? Apparently, a LOT.

A orderly queue was found near the main road, where migrant workers queued up for buses to go back to their hostels / apartments after a Sunday of shopping and dining.

A orderly queue was found near the main road, where migrant workers queued up for buses to go back to their hostels / apartments after a Sunday of shopping and dining.

While waiting for their bus, a group of Indian workers regaled tales of the day and inspect their day's purchases.

While waiting for their bus, a group of Indian workers regaled tales of the day and inspect their day's purchases.

A bus drives into a little street off the main road, waiting to load hundreds of foreign workers waiting for their ride home.

A bus drives into a little street off the main road, waiting to load hundreds of foreign workers waiting for their ride home.

Hordes of foreign migrant workers waited for buses that would ferry them all over Singapore after a day of shopping, fellowshipping and dining in this part of Singapore which functions as a Tamil enclave. Like ants, they congregate on open grass patches, eating dinner, talking, socializing, and then, as the never-ending stream of company-organized buses came, they would scramble to take their places on the huge air-conditioned machines, at $2 a trip, to go back to their hostels and apartments.

It wasn't always so orderly. The buses that drove into a small road further from the main road do not enjoy orderly queues.

It wasn't always so orderly. The buses that drove into a small road further from the main road do not enjoy orderly queues.

Indian workers waiting for their turn on the buses that will bring them home.

Indian workers waiting for their turn on the buses that will bring them home. They were from Chennai. In fact, most Indian workers I've spoken to so far were all from Chennai.

A migrant worker carrying a TV on his shoulders, waiting for his ride home.

A migrant worker carrying a TV on his shoulders, waiting for his ride home.

Along the main road, orderly queues can be seen as workers clambered on board buses headed for different parts of Singapore. The organizers, all Chinese, were using loud hailers and shouting instructions at the workers to get them organized. One of them, upon seeing me photographing, came over and asked if I was “from the Union”. (Which workers’ union was he referring to, I wonder?) In fact, I encountered friendly smiles from the workers, but had to endure suspicious glares and stares from the organizers of these buses.

This bus goes to Yishun. You can see 2 of the organizers of the buses in the picture.

This bus goes to Yishun. You can see 2 of the organizers of the buses in the picture.

A bus driver watches as foreign workers boarded the bus heading for Sungei Kadut. That is a long way from Little India.

A bus driver watches as foreign workers boarded the bus heading for Sungei Kadut. That is a long way from Little India.

The person who asked if I was from “the union” didn’t seem to believe me. At one point I felt more in danger of being accosted by him than being knocked down by the constant stream of huge metal beasts – the buses that kept turning and plying this small stretch of road picking up the foreign workers.

A bus turning into the narrow road to ferry foreign workers back to their hostels / apartments.

A bus turning into the narrow road to ferry foreign workers back to their hostels / apartments.

Men walking to their buses. The buses were all organized to bring them back to different parts of Singapore.

Men walking to their buses. The buses were all organized to bring them back to different parts of Singapore.

This guy was happy to get onto the bus!

This guy was happy to get onto the bus!

There was even a line of mobile toilets setup along the road to cater for the needs of these workers. Obviously this is a very organized setup, complete with minders ushering the workers onto the buses, as well as traffic controllers.

A migrant worker entering a mobile public toilet while waiting for his bus.

A migrant worker entering a mobile public toilet while waiting for his bus.

 A traffic controller directing the waves of buses coming into the street.

A traffic controller directing the waves of buses coming into the street.

A man carrying a load boarding the bus with other foreign workers.

A man carrying a load boarding the bus with other foreign workers.

A group of foreign workers waiting outside the construction site for yet another train line.

A group of foreign workers waiting outside the construction site for yet another train line.

It was a fascinating sight, not unlike a school where hundred of kids mingle and wait for school buses. The buses that came here tonight may have ferried school kids in the day, but at night, they become comfortable air-conditioned rides home after a day of shopping and dining.

There's still time to chat before the bus leaves.

There's still time to chat before the bus leaves.

Many ate down on grass patches, eating their dinner and chatting before their bus ride home.

Many ate down on grass patches, eating their dinner and chatting before their bus ride home.

Queuing up for the long ride home - these workers mostly only have Sunday as their only day off.

Queuing up for the long ride home - these workers mostly only have Sunday as their only day off.

In the end, I’m glad I followed my intuition and got off the train. Yes, United didn’t win the game (managed to watch half of the game in the end on my mobile phone) – but I had a blast documenting what I saw.

Workers relaxing as the bus drives off to its destination. It would be one week later when they will be back here again.

Workers relaxing as the bus drives off to its destination. It would be one week later when they will be back here again.

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the other parts of this on-going series on migrant workers in Little India. Click on any of the links below to catch up on the earlier parts.

A Home Away from Home – Part 1
A Home Away from Home – Part 2
A Home Away from Home – Part 3
A Home Away from Home – Part 4

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