Vietnamese woman in process of taking up S’pore citizenship recounts xenophobic experience with e-hailing driver in the wake of KTV cluster

In the aftermath of the rapidly-growing KTV cluster involving Vietnamese hostesses in Singapore, which has 120 known cases linked to it as of Friday, individuals originating from the country have become the subject of scrutiny from the public.

Jolin Dang, a woman in the process of taking up Singapore citizenship, took to Facebook on Friday (16 July) alleging that a Grab driver had subjected her to “ill-judged” questions en route to the Embassy of Vietnam.

Noting that she had taken the ride from her office, Ms Dang said that the driver had asked her if she was Vietnamese, to which she replied in the affirmative, as she found “no reason” to deny her country of origin.

She said that she was initially “under the impression that the driver was trying to be nice to me” as someone who was perusing his e-hailing service.

“Besides, I am used to being asked by the drivers where I came from too since I can speak fluently in English and Chinese, another language. And I don’t sound like Local,” said Ms Dang.

What took her aback, however, was when the driver asked her if she was working in a KTV.

“I assume he must be supposedly aware of the fact that he picked me up at an office estate, not elsewhere in the middle of the road side. Moreover, I was wearing formal office wear, not an outing outfit, so I absolutely could not find one reason to sympathize with his question,” she said.

After the trip, Ms Dang said that she gave him a one-star rating and reported the incident to Grab. She said that she was “very appreciative” of the company’s “immediate excellent response”.

Touching on why she decided to speak up regarding what had happened to her, Ms Dang said that the incident does not only concern herself “but also the Vietnamese community in Singapore, and other foreigners in general”.

Ms Dang’s case does not appear to be the sole case of apparent xenophobia against individuals of Vietnamese descent or nationality since reports of the KTV cluster surfaced in the media.

The Project X Singapore, a non-profit organisation supporting sex workers in Singapore, said that photographs alleging the identity of the hostesses in one of the KTVs linked to the cluster “are being circulated without their consent”.

Even one of The Project X Singapore’s Vietnamese volunteers, the organisation added, “was reportedly shouted at when she was at the market shopping for groceries”.

“Since the start of the pandemic in November 2019, we have constantly made the costly mistake of singling out or highlighting people’s nationalities, which have led to spikes in xenophobic and racists actions and mindsets, and thereby exacerbating societal fractures.

“From what we have seen and heard, this time it is no different,” said The Project X Singapore.

The Project X Singapore said that it ran an Emergency Safety Net Fund that offered financial assistance to 90 sex workers in need between Apr and Sept last year.

“The recipients included workers engaged in street-based, brothel-based (licensed and unlicensed) work, hostess work at entertainment venues, and online spaces. 20% were from entertainment work,” said the NGO.

The aforementioned workers do not have access to government grants and subsidies due to their migrant status, and “had to rely on the goodwill of their employers, regular customers, and/or friends and family back home”, said The Project X Singapore.

“To make matters worse, there were either no flights home or that they simply could not afford them,” the organisation added.

The Project X Singapore urged the public to “extend the compassion and empathy we have shown to other hidden populations and marginalised groups to the workers of the KTVs”.

“Let’s move beyond moral policing and focus on creating access to vaccines, regular testing, and demanding safer working environments,” said the NGO, adding that KTV workers are “merely trying to eke out a living”.

KTV cluster sheds light on how crucial it is to ensure everyone in S’pore is vaccinated regardless of nationality or visa status

Journalist Kirsten Han said that the KTV cluster has revealed the importance of ensuring that everyone in Singapore “has access to vaccines, regardless of nationality or visa status or anything else”.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Ms Han said that putting aside the means through which the patient zero in the cluster had entered Singapore, it is crucial to address how short-term visit pass holder such as the Vietnamese lady are ineligible for vaccines “even if she is willing to pay for one”.

“I worry that this cluster might lead to people heaping hate and blame on migrant women, especially those who work in the entertainment and/or sex work industries, but honestly, if it wasn’t at the KTV lounges, short-term pass holders could still have been infected somewhere else, and unwittingly passed it to others,” she said.

The index case in question has been in Singapore on a short-term visit pass since February. She frequented several KTV lounges meant to be temporarily pivoted to eateries as a hostess.

“Regardless of what anyone thinks about how she came in, her job, or anything else, the fact remains that *she is here*. And, as we can see for ourselves now, that is all that matters when we’re talking about a highly contagious virus,” said Ms Han.

Only Singapore citizens, permanent residents, and long-term pass holders are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Singapore.

Citing her own husband’s situation as a short-term pass holder of British nationality, Ms Han reiterated the importance of “vaccinating as many people as can be vaccinated in Singapore” and to not sideline individuals by their visa status.

“How many short-term visit pass holders are there in Singapore right now? How many have been in Singapore for a long/long-ish time now because of COVID-19? Would it make such a great difference to our supply if they were granted access to vaccines?”

“If getting a vaccine is a case of not just protecting oneself, but protecting one another, then we *all* benefit and get more protection the more people are able to get jabbed,” she stressed.

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