Serangoon Gardens – foreign attitudes

Siva Govindasamy / Guest Writer

Emotions usually run high when Singaporeans discuss foreigners, but irrationality has reared its silly head in the ongoing debate involving the Serangoon Gardens housing estate.

Many residents are against a plan to house foreign workers at a disused school, which will be converted into a dormitory, in the estate. Given that I live nearby and have been going to the estate regularly for several years, the issue is close to my heart. Unfortunately, it has also resulted in some worrying views being aired during morning talk radio, television news programmes, and the residents’ feedback sessions.

Hold your breath! The foreign workers will litter and dirty the place, say some. Here is a reality check. The Keep Singapore Clean campaign has failed, and this country appears spick and span only because cleaners – many of them foreigners – are at work much earlier than most people to pick up after us.

Lock the women in! The local ladies will be stared at and harm could befall them when they come home late at night, say others. Most men I know, regardless of nationality, look at women, even leer at them. Women could be harmed anywhere, and not necessarily because there are foreign workers in the vicinity. Do not let your guard down, but do not be paranoid either. This is Singapore, for god’s sake.

Keep it original! Serangoon Gardens’ unique identity will change due to these foreign workers, several mutter. Unfortunately, the arrival of many “outsiders” has already transformed the estate over the years, and the ridiculous plans to redevelop it in the coming years will do a lot more harm to the ambience than foreign workers will.

Drunken louts! The workers will hold loud parties, consume copious amounts of alcohol, and invite strange women to their rooms. Just how is this very different from what their ostensibly more respectable counterparts – or even Singaporeans – are doing at, say Clarke Quay or Orchard Towers, or in their houses or condominium units? Expecting better behaviour from them just because they are in a workers’ dormitory sounds a tad bit hypocritical.

Anyone but them! The building is better utilised as, say, an international school than a dormitory, say a few. So it really boils down to status and asset values in this country, does it not?

Stereotypes are well and truly alive in this modern multi-ethnic metropolis. We want our own space and are selective about which foreigners will be allowed into it, making a serious dent in the attempts to evolve into a tolerant multi-cultural society.

Amid the racially tinted din, the one thing that actually makes this proposal an extremely bad idea has not had a proper hearing. The traffic in Serangoon Gardens is terrible enough as it is, and it would simply be ridiculous to increase the estate’s population without doing something about that first. The doofus who first thought up the idea has probably not been to Serangoon Gardens during peak periods.

Unfortunately, a rational reason I would have expected this pragmatic country to come up with has not had a proper hearing amid the xenophobia that engulfs the discussion.

And the bigger tragedy is that this attitude is possibly a truer reflection of what Singapore is becoming.

*Siva Govindasamy is a journalist. You can read more of his views at


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