The “Bridge” between East and West

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Brian Lo

Macau; literally means “Bay Gate” (in Portuguese, which is widely mentioned or referred in the city) besides Macau could be spelled Macao (in English), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is well-known for its developed Casino industry (Xi & Wei 2010). Other than that due to its own special and unique culture and history, appealing recreation and entertainments, Macau has turned into a popular tourist destination (Zhang 2012). However, Macau was unbefitting to become a world-famous tourism destination before one-thousandth anniversary. In general assumption many people assume that Macau has been unattractive in contrast to its close neighbour, peripheral the Pearl of the Orient – Hong Kong (Ung & Vong 2010). According to Rooke (Ung & Vong 2010), described Macau as a ‘sleep little back water near Hong Kong’ and additionally Ngai (1999) stated that “even in the mainland, people are more familiar with Hong Kong” (Ngai 1999), and used to combine Hong Kong and Macau together as one which labeled as “Kong Ou”. This indicated that at that period of time Macau was insignificant and imperceptible.

Nevertheless, in 2002, the Macau government has loosen the restrictions of its gambling industry, which has changed the development of Macau and leaded it to a different direction; as a world-class gambling casino industry (Xi & Wei 2010). Furthermore, Macau offered and contributed to the world history as a “bridge” (Ngai 1999 and South China Morning Post 2002), by presenting two different civilization and cultures (the junction of Portuguese and Chinese culture). These multi-sensory experiences of aesthetic, history, architectural, religion(s) from the two-contrastive/ divergent regions, allow to add eventually improvise new aspects to Macau and strengthen in representing its own unique cultural history, identity and heritage.

In regards to the term “heritage”, Dr Ien Ang (Ang 2001) has mentioned that the interpretation or definition of heritage is still debatable and undetermined. Heritage is more than what the general desire to preserve and save from the past, it is an invaluable property that “can be ‘built’ and ‘created’ out of a critical and creative engagement with the myriad intertwining histories,” (Ang 2001). The contemporary meaning of heritage can be differed from various perspectives, however it is more about how every individual did value and cherish the past and how could heritage and culture implement to the community at the present time or even in the future.

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The Cathedral of Saint Paul (São Paulo) would be one of the iconic design initiative and cultural heritage of Macau that influences the harmonization to develop and enhance Macau’s distinct cultural identity and social status within the world. The Ruins of St. Paul is the site of St. Paul Church and built from the 1602 to 1640 by the Jesuit. Other than that, this church was adjoined with the Jesuit College of St Paul, which was the first Western-style university in the Far East during that time (Ngai 1999). This remarkable architecture has become a significant medium to encourage the religious and cultural exchanges between Europe and China. Visitors or tourists would able to experience the harmonization of Chinese and Portuguese spatial concepts which evident and demonstrate in this unique building; the St. Paul’s Ruins.

This significant construction not just only convey the importance of the coexistence of cultural sediments of eastern and western origin, beside this also motivates the influence to enhance the perspective of the public general, and ultimately provide them to physically experience the unique and individual practices from Macau. This design initiative ensures and at the same time challenges the development and transformation of Macau, particularly in regarding to the aspects of colonialism and capitalism (China) within the past five centuries. Nowadays, Macau has eventually become a “multi-racial” and “multi-cultural” society (Ngai 1999) and also become the major gateway of economic within Mainland China and South East Asia and Europe.

 

Reference:

Ang, L. 2001, ‘Intertwining histories: heritage and diversity’, The Annual History Lecture History Council of New South Wales, lecture notes, History Council of NSW, Sydney, viewed 19 January 2017.

Hao, Z. 2011, Macau: history and society, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong.

Jarosz, A. 2013, ‘Macau beyond the roulette wheel’, BBC, 19 September, viewed 18 January 2017, <http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20130724-macau-beyond-the-roulette-wheel>.

Ngai, G. 1999, ‘Cultural heritage traditional bonds hold key to identity’, South China Morning Post Ltd., 19 December.

South China Morning Post 2002, ‘Recognise macau’s Portuguese heritage or lose it’, South China Morning Post Ltd., 27 September, p. 19.

Springer, K. 2015, ‘A 400-year-old-port – with no boats’, BBC, 12 November, viewed 18 January 2017, <http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20151110-preserving-macaus-seafaring-soul>.

The State of Administration of Cultural Heritage of the People’s of Republic of China 2005, The Historic Monuments of Macao, viewed 19 January 2017, .

UNESCO World Heritage Center 2017, Historic center of Macao, viewed 19 January 2017, <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1110>.

Ung, A. & Vong, T.N. 2010, ‘Tourist experience of heritage tourism in macau sar, china’, Journal of Heritage Tourism, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 157-168.

Xi, L. & Wei, C.S. 2010, ‘The way to the diversification of macau’s social economy: a study on macau’s cultural tourism development’, International Journal of Trade, Economics and Finance, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 131-135.

Zhang, M. 2012, ‘Reading different cultures through cultural translation’, John Benjamins Publishing Company, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 205-219.

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History Facilitating Creativity: The Reinvention of Cockatoo Island

Elizabeth Smith

Through its rich and diverse heritage, Cockatoo Island manages to encapsulate several different histories within the confines of its shores and has developed and its own unique purpose due to having such a multifaceted identity. While the conservation of the island is integral for us as the public to understand the history of the Sydney Harbour, the island has also developed a new, renewed purpose in facilitating contemporary installation art for special events.

The past of Cockatoo Island carries several different intertwined histories, each influencing the architecture of the island in a particular way. Initially, the island was used as a convict settlement, which then evolved into a girl’s reformatory with these earlier buildings using stone quarried from the island itself. The shipyards later added to the evolving landscape of the island, facilitating a demand for architecture that was vast and industrial in order to cope with the nature of the work undertaken. This period lasted from the early 1900s up until the Shipyard’s closure in 1991 (Sydney Harbour Federation Trust 2017), the island developing a variety of industrial architecture throughout time.

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Figure 1: Cockatoo Island’s vast industrial spaces (Marchant 2013)

When the island reopened in 2007 its purpose was much different, allowing the public to experience and educate themselves on the island’s history though experiencing the diversity and atmosphere of the spaces themselves. It also became a space used by the Sydney Biennale, the event utilising the vast interiors of the shipyards and the characteristics of various areas of the island with the aim of “exploring how we perceive reality in our increasingly digitised era” (Biennale of Sydney 2016). These ideas of the relationship between space, physicality and experiencing alternative realities can be seen in the works during the biennale – and example being Chiharu Shiota’s installation “Conscious Sleep”. The work, pictured below, draws on the island’s heritage as a convict prison and girls refuge, the beds intending to “evoke notions of dreams, sleep, and memory, while the knotted threads can be read as bundles of nerves connecting the conscious mind to the world of dreams” (Forrest 2016). The work is a manifestation of both the artists own context combined with the complex heritage of the island, creating a work that forces us to actively engage with the immediate environment in a critical way.

Figure 2: Chiharu Shiota’s Conscious Sleep (ABC 2016).

Site specific installations are said to “shift the world around us, creating unfamiliar terrain in our everyday surroundings while forcing a reconsideration of history in light of the present day” (Frock 2014). With the Biennale being housed by the island since 2007, the site-specific installations held on the island have facilitated a more critical understanding of the heritage of the island. Cockatoo Island can therefore be used as a model for future reinventions – giving us an understanding as to how we can transform dilapidated, yet historically rich spaces into ones that encourage artists to build on that history to create engaging and provocative works.

While the circumstances and history shaping Cockatoo Island are certainly different to those we will encounter in Singapore, the transformation of the space from a derelict industrial shipyard and prison into one that provides an immersive, critical understanding of the island’s history can be a catalyst for future ideas we explore, especially regarding how we can both preserve the heritage of a space while reinventing it for a new audience.


Reference List:

Biennale of Sydney 2017, Cockatoo Island – 20th Biennale of Sydney, viewed 21 January 2017 <https://www.biennaleofsydney.com.au/20bos/venues/cockatoo-island/>

Cockatoo Island, Sydney 2013, photographed by C. Marchant, Flickr, viewed 21 January 2017 <https://www.flickr.com/photos/forayinto35mm/11750049574>

Forrest, N. 2016, Video: Chiharu Shiota’s Surreal Sydney Biennale Installation, Blouin Artinfo, viewed 21 January 2017, <http://au.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1387249/video-chiharu-shiotas-surreal-sydney-biennale-installation>

Frock, C. 2014 ‘Introduction – Site Specific Installation: Some Historic Context’ in J. Spring (ed.), Unexpected Art: Serendipitous Installations, Site-Specific Works, and Surprising Interventions, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, pp. 8-11

Om J.2016, Sydney Biennale: Past and future collide, ABC News, viewed 21 January 2016 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-14/biennale/7245068?pfmredir=sm>

Sydney Harbour Federation Trust 2017, Our History – World Heritage List – Cockatoo Island, Australian Government, Sydney, viewed 21 January 2017 <http://www.cockatooisland.gov.au/visit/our-history>

 

Singlish

With the melting pot of different races coming together in Singapore, one of the most unique outcomes found is Singlish. Singlish or Singaporean English, is the ‘street’ language of Singapore and derives from various languages, such as Malay, Hokkien and English. Although Singapore’s national language is considered as English, many Singaporeans used Singlish in informal, casual situations, and it is now considered as a symbol of national identity. If one does not understand Singlish, it can be considered that one is not Singaporean and it may be hard to be form closer bonds with those who use Singlish. According to BBC, various campaigns promoting the proper use of English has been deflected by Singlish, as Singaporeans still prefer to use Singlish in their casual environments over proper English (2015). This illustrates how deeply rooted Singlish is in their identity and heritage.

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Image Source: University of Pennsylvania, (n.d.). Singlish. [image] Available at: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/~bgzimmer/singlish.jpg [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

As Singlish is the melting pot of languages and cultures, the combination of words from different languages form a ‘new’, colorful and unique language formed, ranging from the tone and emphasis of the words spoken to the vocabulary and grammar used. It can be said that Singlish illustrates the personality of Singapore; a country full of vibrant and friendly people from various backgrounds. This can be seen through the 1991 rap song, ‘Why you so like dat?’. It is a song illustrating the conversation between two school boys as they bicker about various issues.

It can be seen, that Singlish reflects and supports the intimacy between people, as people who speak Singlish to each other are shown to be closer compared to those who speak formal English. This can be shown by comparing the Singlish lyrics to the formal English counterpart. When Siva Choy sings, “You tell me dat you don’t like girl, I also dunno why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice go up damn high!” (Ming 2007), it can be seen, that more slangs are used and it is much more intimate as it seems the friends are quite close to one another. The English counterpart can be formal as it can be translated as such, ‘You told me you do not like girls, I do not understand why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice pitch becomes higher’. Even the usage of Singlish amongst strangers, supports a friendlier and more intimate conversation than using formal English, as Singaporeans tend to act friendlier with those who can speak Singlish. The usage of Singlish indicates a more casual and comedic tone, which allows people to become friendlier to one another.

Another significant and interesting change, as shown in the lyrics, is the use of particles at the end of the sentence such as ‘ah’. ‘Ah’, alongside other particles as ‘lah’ or ‘leh’, can change the tone of the sentence. These particles change the overall attitude of the sentence. Compared to the English counterpart, ‘Why are you like that’, which can sound more formal and assert a more frustrated tone, the Singlish counterpart, ‘Why are you like that ah’, asserts more of a friendlier tone and supports a lighter atmosphere.  The vocabulary used in the song is also quite interesting as it shows how words derived from other languages replace English words, can change the overall tone and can also shorten sentences or phrases in some cases. The usage of words such as ‘alamak’, support a closer relationship between people who understand the meaning of the words compare to those who do not. It also supports a lighter and more comedic tone.db1a23c4c7853e628e6ecbbf3934b468.jpg

Image Source: Pinterest, (n.d.). My English. [image] Available at: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/db/1a/23/db1a23c4c7853e628e6ecbbf3934b468.jpg [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

As shown in the song, Singlish is an important part of living and socializing in Singapore. This is supported by James Wong, a Singaporean who isn’t fluent in Singlish as his parents supported the usage of formal English in everyday context and frowns upon Singlish. Due to this, in social contexts, such as ordering food at food stalls or socializing with others was much more difficult, as they either couldn’t understand him or they considered him ‘posh’ for using English instead of Singlish (BBC 2015).

 

References:

Choy, S. (1991). Why You So Like Dat?. [Youtube Video] Singapore: Viyo Records. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra7xt9eLLIk [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

Wong, T. (2015). The Rise of Singlish. BBC. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33809914 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

 

Design and Context

Good design is significantly shaped by local context. Designer Alexander Baum said that, design“is a practice with a philosophy of putting people first and involving them in every step of the design process” (The Guardian, 2016). As the very purpose of design is to meet the needs of the consumer, it is vital for designers to understand and take into consideration the external factors, may it be cultural, political, social or environmental, related to the target market. Consider the influence of climate in architecture, designers need to consider the type of materials used that can be suitable against the climate, the size of openings, location, and so forth. Therefore, it can be said that if a design is not shaped and influenced by the local context, it is unlikely that it will a successful and meaningful to the target market or community.

Singapore has always had a rich culture and heritage, as shown through various aspects including architecture, language, and local customs. Throughout their history, from being ruled by various countries to independence, all is reflected through their culture. One prime example would be seen through their architecture, such as shophouses. Shophouses are building types, most commonly found in Southeast Asia, that were built in the 19th century and early 20th century. They are narrow, two story or three story houses with a terrace and sheltered walkway in the front. These buildings are a type of vernacular architecture, which are buildings designed based on needs and social identity of the community, and current construction technology. As time goes by, these shophouses not only remain as a testament to Singapore’s cultural identity and heritage, but it still serves its original purpose of being both a shop and a house. With the 21st century, these shophouses are still being renovated and new ones are even being build with modern construction technology, adapting in terms of aesthetics and representing current culture.

The shophouses were designed in various aspects, taking into consideration the different contexts of Singapore during that time. Ranging from the patterns on the buildings to the materials to how the building itself was designed. As seen, the shophouses illustrate the various cultural influences of the time on design in Singapore. The French and shuttered windows, and the paneled doors are from European influence, the flowers from Chinese culture, and the fretwork from Malaysian culture.

0cf84c7e-b517-4c97-b6df-23baa16339dd-singapore-koon-seng-road-vincent-ng_destinationmain_1438355876142Image Source: Apa Publication Ltd, (n.d.). Singapore Shophouses. [image] Available at: https://www.insightguides.com/destinations/asia-pacific/singapore/cultural-features/singapore-shophouses [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

In terms of technological context, due to constraints in construction methods and building materials during the time, shophouses were usually only two or three stories high; with the first floor being a shop providing goods and services, whereas the second and third floors are usually residential areas. Furthermore, the roofs were built using clay roof tiles, which shifts away from previous organic construction materials, particularly the ‘attap’. The combination of a shop and house, as indicated by the name, may have been due to the increase in immigrants, notably from China. As Singapore was a small developing country during that time, economically and geographically; in order to support the needs of the growing population, it was necessary for building to be built up and didn’t require large spaces. In terms of taking into consideration the climate and economic condition of the citizens, features such as the covered walkway in front of the shophouses that serves as a shelter for pedestrians against sun and rain, and that open spaces that allow natural light and air to enter.

 

 

References:

Sahabuddin, M. (n.d.). How Important Is Context In Contemporary Architectural Design. 1st ed. [ebook] Edinburgh, pp.2-3. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/2040500/How_Important_Is_Context_In_Contemporary_Architectural_Design [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].

The Guardian, (2016). Why human centred design matters. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/ing-direct-being-human-in-a-digital-world/2016/nov/14/why-human-centred-design-matters [Accessed 15 Jan. 2017].

Ura.gov.sg. (2016). The Shophouse. [online] Available at: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/vision-and-principles/The-Shophouse [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

Singapore: The Evident Poverty

When the name ‘Singapore’ is mentioned in a conversation, it is often connoted as a lively tourist-hub that attracts travellers from all around the world; or as the article Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism suggests:

“…the jewel of Southeast Asia where residents enjoy a high standard of living and a stable socio-political environment.” (Hong et al. 2014)

This blogpost will explore to what extent this statement is true, and go deeper into how and why Singaporean residents are able to enjoy such high standards of living. It will be done so by revealing an evident poverty line in its society, containing illegal domestic workers that are exploited by those who can afford to.

On the surface, most social media websites promote Singapore as a bustling, tourist-filled country that is rich in food culture and diverse in race (Destination Flavour Singapore 2016), as seen in this video below of a commercial television program that showcases the ‘unique flavours’ of Singapore, hosted by Adam Liaw.

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Screenshot of Destination Flavour Singapore

However, as diverse and multicultural and multi-racial a country can be, Singapore’s racial hierarchy draws a border between itself and its female migrant domestic workers who have much less freedom in a thriving and wealthy nation (Kobayashi 2015). An everyday life for a migrant domestic worker is far from ‘enjoying a high standard of living’, as they are not only in the house for domestic service, but also of domestic abuse (Huang & Yeoh 2007).

From this short informative documentary provided by Al Jazeera English, it can be seen that young non-Singaporean girls from poor families are taken advantage of when they dream of being employed to earn money for a decent living. Girls, as young as 15 years old are interviewed in this video, had to live under a false identity in order to gain employment as a domestic worker in Singapore. As Steve Chow investigates the illegal workers’ circumstances, he highlights the fact that there are Myanmar and Singapore laws that were “written to protect [these] girls”, however not a single authority has taken action. (Al Jazeera English 2016, 22:40)

According to Timothy Mcdonald reporting on BBC News,

“Singapore is famous for its strict rules, discipline can have a very real impact [on the country’s economic state].. Doing business is easy and corruption is minimal.” (BBC 2015)

And yet there are still infamous exploitations of young domestic workers, placed in Singapore under illegal working visas and are often beaten, abused or even locked away.

So the statement: ‘Singaporean residents enjoy a high standard of living and live in a stable socio-political environment’ could be  considered fairly true, and a third party would also agree upon brief glance, however, with deeper understanding and research on the social hierarchy that stands in this multicultural country, it can be seen that there is a transparent mask that attempts to hide the young cogs that aid in a flourishing society. The evidence is there and the world can see what is being done to the illegal female migrant domestic workers, but they can also see what is not being done to solve it. This issue has been brought to light for over a decade now and yet the Singaporean government are more concerned about the economic and commercial impression it has to its surrounding countries (BBC 2015).


Reference List:

Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – Maid in Singapore, video recording, Youtube, viewed 19 January 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQbd2XZGyXg>

BBC 2015, Singapore: From third world to first, United Kingdom, viewed 17 January 2017,< http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32012069>

Destination Flavour Singapore 2016, television program, SBS On Demand, Australia, 12 January.

Hong, J., Leong, C., Lim, S. & Yang, W.W. 2014, ‘Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 43, part A, November 2014, pp. 13-21.

Huang, S. & Yeoh, B.S.A. 2007, ‘Emotional Labour and Transnational Domestic Work: The Moving Geographies of ‘Maid Abuse’ in Singapore’, Mobilities, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 195-217.

Kobayashi, Y. H. 2015, ‘Renationalisation of space in everyday life in Singapore’, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 410-422.

Singapore: A Global City, A Designed City

Elizabeth Smith

Context defines the way cities are planned and formed – it must be adaptive, evolving the with the needs of the people, economy and environment from differing from place to place. As cites are living, breathing organisms (Kallidaikurichi, & Yuen 2014), they thrive not on long term, detailed planning but rather a combination of a long term trajectory and more immediate design responses that adapt and evolve with the ever changing social, economic and environmental climate of the city itself. The planning and treatment of Singapore as an ever evolving metropolis has led to it being known as one of Asia’s most forward thinking cities, however it is feared that gentrification of the city over the last fifty years and the value put on the external image the government wishes to portray has degraded the strong and complex cultural underpinnings that developed the foundation of the city itself.

To cope with Singapore’s rapid economic growth post-independence, the Singapore Master Plan was implemented in 1971, aiming to make the it a “thriving, world-class city” (Chew 2009). This plan was integral in the development of Singapore as a modern metropolis, conceptualising the “entire island as one single planning and functioning entity” (Beng Huat 2011) and thus developing a trajectory for the city over the long term. Liu Thai Ker, who worked with the Singaporean government for urban redevelopment in its earliest stages, stated that Singapore was their “urban laboratory” (World Architecture Festival 2016) –  allowing city planners to experiment and learn the fundamentals of city development through molding Singapore into their own vision of the future.  This constant planning and articulation however raises the question of whether Singapore is a city the responds to the modern needs of its population, or rather, it’s aspiring to respond to a much more postmodern ideology than a modern one.

Figure 1: Singapore’s 2011 Concept Plan (Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2016)

Certainly, from an objective perspective Singapore functions well – it’s the definition of a “liveable city”. Its geographic context has inevitably influenced the way in which the city has been shifted and evolved over time, the city’s success leveraged by the placement of industrial centres, amenities and infrastructure which allowed for strong population growth while retaining the economic benefits of the industrial sector. While it does lack the land resources of other nations, the designed layout of the city-state has allowed for an economy that thrives on the global market, while still being able to retain its own economy through industry as well.

While meticulous city planning has given Singapore the title of being one of the most liveable cities in Asia (Chua 2014), there’s a constant tension due to the gentrification resulting from high economic growth, and the loss of important cultural values and heritage creating a generational divide in the population. If Singapore wishes to cultivate its identity as such a global and liveable metropolis, it must conserve this cultural heritage, Kallidaikurichi, & Yuen (2014) stating that “Cultural heritage conservation can be an effective antidote the increasing ‘globalising sameness’ that is engulfing many cities in Asia.”. Through having a more homogenous relationship between generations, perhaps the city-state would open up a new channel for communication reinvigorate the desire for the younger generation to engage with its rich past. However, the class divide within the state prevents this, with much of the social and economic imbalances being hidden by the “visual homogeneity of the physical environment of public housing estates” (Beng Huat 2011).

While designed to fulfil the aspiration of being a prosperous economic state, Singapore is still a flawed model. The class divide and neglect of the aged perpetuated by the image of Singapore being a “modern metropolis” means that, without intervention, the cultural fabric of the city state will begin to fray. Therefore, the design of the city itself must respond to the social and cultural heritage underpinning its rich multicultural foundations, rather than disregarding it in favour of gentrification and economic growth.


Reference List:

Beng Huat C. 2011, ‘Singapore as a Model: Planning Innovation, Knowledge Experts’, in Ong A. & Roy A. (eds), Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Beling Global, Blackwell Publishing Limited, Hoboken, pp. 27-54

Chew, V. 2009, History of Urban Planning in Singapore, National Library Board, Singapore, viewed 20 January 2017 <http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1564_2009-09-08.html>

Chua, G. 2014, Singapore is ‘fourth most liveable city’ in Asia, The Straits Times, viewed 20 January 2017 <http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-is-fourth-most-liveable-city-in-asia>

Kallidaikurichi, S. & Yuen, B. (eds) 2014, Developing Living Cities: From Analysis to Action, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore

Urban Redevelopment Authority 2016, Concept Plan 2011 and Mnd’s Land Use Plan, 21 January 2017 <https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/concept-plan.aspx?p1=View-Concept-Plan&p2=Land-Use-Plan-2013>

World Architecture Festival 2016, WAF Podcast – Liu Thai Ker (Senior Director – RSP)¸ audio podcast, viewed 20 January 2017 <https://soundcloud.com/waf-podcast/waf-podcast-liu-thai-ker-senior-director-rsp>

Illegal Maids: Foreign Domestic Workers

Written by Joanne Lee

From Chilli Mud Crabs to ending sentences in lah, Singapore has a rooted history of what makes the country liberated from Malaysia, Britain and Japan. Since its independence, the country has constantly remained as a potential working ground for labourers, resulting in a “large influx of immigrants from all over Asia” including China, India and Malay Archipelago (Leyl, 2015). This presented a new socio-cultural environment and perhaps acceptance of multiple backgrounds and religions. Although Singapore is viewed rich in culture, language and tradition, foreign domestic workers face possible repatriation due to several laws that dictate their ability to work in the country. This is particularly applied to low-skilled foreign workers due to the fear of resource scarcity, excessive permanent residence and extreme poverty.

From 101 East’s video Maid in Singapore, female foreign domestic workers (FDW), especially from Myanmar, are often exploited. Baited by recruitment agencies and guaranteed high income, these workers are employed illegally and may experience an abusive environment – sexually and physically.

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-11-45-00-pmScreenshot from video “101 East – Maid in Singapore”

Born in a country with no large opportunity to discover well paid work, women are persuaded by the rumoured high income. In saying this, they are given a chance to work in Singapore in return with a large salary that may benefit their family’s finances. Although there is evidence of respectable employers, many are lead to unfortunate circumstances. For example, an agent promised a fifteen year old girl a job as a domestic worker. However, it was under Singaporean law that foreign domestic workers must be at least at the age of twenty-four. Despite this, the agency provided false passports for underaged girls and an intensive house job that would affect their mental state as they would become prone to homesickness due to their immaturity as Mary, recruitment agent states “…even if they can work, they can’t stand the pressure and get homesick” (Al Jazeera English 2016).

As mentioned above, employee treatment scaled from respect to contempt. Experience as a foreign domestic worker has escalated from threats to sexual abuse as a result of under-protection by both Burmese and Singaporean governments. They were beaten, sexually assaulted and kept in captivity as one former worker confesses, “I had to touch him down there…whatever I was doing, I had to go to him whenever he called. If I refused, he would slap me” (Al Jazeera English 2016). Due to their adolescence, their vulnerability becomes transparent to their employer. The agency blackmails to prevent these girls from running away or seeking assistance. As the worker admits, “The agent said if I ran away during those eight months, they would ask my parents to pay”, the agency refused release until their debt had been paid. Therefore, the debt compels the workers to remain obedient as their family may be harassed.

With the mediocre skills and little knowledge, workers are perceived with “common problems…lacking issues and a lack of efficiency in housekeeping and cooking,” stated one agent recruitment. This affected their potential to grow in life skills, thus this agent declared training to build a foundation for the freshly scouted females as she says “That’s why I’m doing this” (Al Jazeera English 2016).

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Screenshot from video “101 East – Maid in Singapore”

While the laws of mutual countries are set to prevent exploitation and protect FDWs, there is a clear loophole in the work-permit system as there is little to no action in providing safeguards for these young employees. As Jolovan Wham (2016) states “It’s an issue with both sources and destination countries have to have the political will to do something about it…there has to be a lot more bilateral operation to ensure that this kind of exploitation by recruitment agents don’t happen,” exposing the corruption behind the working conditions of foreign domestic workers.

References

Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – maid in Singapore, videorecording, YouTube, viewed 16 January 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQbd2XZGyXg&gt;

Brenda Yeoh & Weiqiang Lin, 2012, Rapid growth in Singapore’s immigrant population brings policy challenges, MPI, viewed 16 January 2017, <http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/rapid-growth-singapores-immigrant-population-brings-policy-challenges&gt;

Sharanjit Leyl, 2015, Singapore at 50, BBC, viewed 16 January 2017, <http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31626174>

Michael Malay, 2014, Singapore needs to address its treatment of migrant workers, theguardian, viewed 17 January 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/apr/21/singapore-address-treatment-migrant-workers&gt;

Ministry of Manpower, 2017, Employment rules for foreign domestic workers, Singapore government, viewed 17 January 2017, <http://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/work-permit-for-foreign-domestic-worker/employers-guide/employment-rules>