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The cultural slow cooker | Inside Singapore Study Tour

Faculty of Arts students Rebecca Pearson and Helen McNeill give their insights into the Inside Singapore Study Tour:

Singapore is a rapidly evolving city, high-rise constructions jutt up across the skyline and new MRT stations pop up from the veins of the city’s transport system below. Each morning as we stroll from our hotel to the Ngee Ann – Adelaide Education Centre, we pass several of these developments where migrant workers toil from day-break to sunset and even throughout the night, creating the future Singapore.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a Singaporean Non-Governmental Organisation, came to explain the plight of these migrants to us this morning. Many of these men we pass are migrant workers from countries such as India and Bangladesh. They are work permit holders who come to Singapore to seek money for their families at home, performing manual labour in the construction industry. These migrants face what TWC2 describe as the 3 Ds: difficult, demeaning, and dangerous work. TWC2 provide direct assistance services, like food handouts and legal advice, as well as advocating for fair rights for these workers, including injury assistance and fair salary payments. We were invited by the speakers to join them late in the day to see their work first hand.

Before reconvening with TWC2 volunteers in the evening, we experienced another aspect of Singaporean culture, history and identity at the Peranakan Museum. The displays taught us about the vibrant, unique culture of the Peranakans, an ethnic group born through a melange of predominantly Chinese and Malay cultures. The two combined created some gorgeous examples of tapestry, wood carving and fine china art.  The most notable character in Singapore’s recent history, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a Peranakan, a fact not largely acknowledged. We perused an array of galleries dedicated to the intricacies of this hybrid culture whose existence came about simply because Singapore is a trading port full of migrants.

One of the main direct services provided by TWC2 is a food program named the Cuff Road Project. Its aim is to provide migrant workers who are unable to work due to injuries or disputes with employers with a free breakfast and dinner. After our afternoon visit to the Peranakan Museum we met with TWC2 volunteers in Little India for a tour of the area, to see the conditions under which migrant workers live in Singapore and to experience the service offered by the project. The tour concluded at a small shop in Little India where we were invited to try the basic free meals that TWC2 manages to supply to migrant workers in need. A truly humbling experience.

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