Home is different.

Lessons from a series of rejections

The weather wasn’t cooperating again. The afternoon rain had eliminated all hopes of bringing the conversation further into the city. Instead, we took a walk to a reservoir nearby.

Shanmugam Muthukumar, 40 | Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India

“ I have been working in Singapore for 8 years. I hope to work till I am well settled. If we stay well and our company likes us, we can stay up to 18 to 22 years.”

What would you do after you are well settled?

“ I want to head back to my hometown. My wife is a tailor. I hope to set up a tailoring school with her for the underprivileged kids in my town.

That’s is the plan for now. I am not sure if I can succeed in it. I must also be very cautious that I don’t fall into debt. The risk is always high when you have such plans.”

What do you do during your free time here?

“ I like to come here to exercise.”

Do you go to Tekka?

“ Not much. If I go to Tekka, the transport and other costs will come up to 5- 6 dollars. I need to be thrifty so that I can save up money.

But, it is also important to take care of myself now. I do hard work. So, it is important to eat healthy and good food. If I am not healthy, the medical costs will be very high. So, I spend enough money to eat healthily.

Md Hosen Akram, 23 | Dhaka, Bangladesh

“ This is my second time in this park. The last time I here was Hari Raya. I here now because I have stomach pain for the last three days and doctor give me leave.

It is 6pm now. At 7pm, I will go to the mosque for my prayer. As Muslims, we have to pray 5 times a day. I do it once at 6am when I wake up. Once at 1pm, 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. Sometimes I have to work at 1pm, then I will pray during tea time at 3pm.”

“ I have been here for 4 years. I have not gone back. But I will in Feb 2016. I will take leave for 3 months, find a wife, marry and return to Singapore.

Before coming to Singapore, I was studying Electrical Engineering. After that, I had some training, I passed an interview by the company and came here.”

Md Sohel Sheikh, 28 (Blue) & Imam Hasan, 29 (Green) | Bangladesh

How long have you been in Singapore?

“ I have been here for the past 2 years and this is my cousin, Imam. He came here 6 months after I arrived.”

Do both of you work together?

“ We both work in a shipyard but in different departments.”

“ I (Imam) feel my work is more demanding physically. My job involves pulling cables which is very tiring.”

Would you come back to Singapore after you head back home?

(Laughs) “ For honeymoon maybe, but not permanently. I want to stay in my home country. Home is different.”

What about you Imam?

“ Singapore as a place is good. The food here is great, especially chicken rice. But there is nothing like home.”

Abul Kalam, 23 | Comilla, Bangladesh

Do you like this place?

“ Yes. I come here during my free time. It is very peaceful here.”

What else do you do during your free time?

“ I like to watch Bollywood movies, Hollywood movies and listen to songs.”

What are some of your favourites?

“ I love Sharukh Khan. My favourite movie is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It means Somethings Happen in Hindi. I like Hollywood movies also, but I don’t know the names.”

Favourite song?

“ That depends on my mood and situation. When I am worried, I listen to some songs. When I am happy, I listen to some songs.”

If you could do something you like, what would it be?

“ I want to travel. I want to go to Punjab and Mumbai in India.”

Why these cities?

“ Punjab is a very historical city. Mumbai has Bollywood.”

What were you doing before coming to Singapore?

“ From 2009 to 2013, I was a primary school teacher. I taught 6th and 7th standard.”

Can you teach me some Bengali? How do I say hello and thank you?

“ In Bangladesh, Muslims greet each other with Salaam. Hindus greet each other with Namaste. Thank you is the same as Hindi — Dhanyavad.”

A. K. | Dhaka, Bangladesh (declined to be photographed)

“ I like to come here, sit down, talk friend. Then finish already. Sometimes I go Marina Barrage. But I not so free one. I work on most days. Even on Sundays. Sundays got double salary.”

Do you have any life plans?

“ I want to earn money, and get married with my own money. I don’t want to depend on my family.”

Do you like Singapore?

“ I am a foreigner. Not a Singaporean. I like also no use. I don’t like also no use.”

Can we take a photo of you?

“ No. Talk can. Photo cannot.”

A. K. was the first to reject our request, and unfortunately not the last. Along our way, there several individuals who were reluctant to even converse with us. Some who spoke with us had short, precise and cautiously selected answers.

This was particularly disheartening. We thought we were getting better at initiating conversations with strangers. We had assumed that a recreational setting would mean that they will be more receptive towards talking with us.

However, we were proven wrong. The reservoir was clearly a sanctuary which the workers sought for some peace and quiet. It was away from the hustle and bustle of their workplaces. We realised we had to create and recreate a environment of comfort and trust. We are still learning how to do that.

On hindsight, maybe we should have just sat there with them to enjoy the silence and serenity. We would have appreciated what they saw and felt in the reservoir.

Further Reading

Waiting for Lorry is two guys’ effort to highlight the stories of the builders of Singapore. Do Recommend and Share if you appreciate this project. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or email us at waiting4lorry@gmail.com .