By Sunny Tan
The average Singaporean might be surprised to find out that there are Myanmarese people in Singapore, 150,000 strong, who want to go back to their own country after working here.
They will wonder why the Myanmarese prefer to live in their own country, a Least Developed Country, and are not trying to become permanent residents or citizens in our wealthy, clean and safe city.
Most Myanmarese in Singapore congregate at their haunt here, Peninsula Plaza, a shopping centre in the vicinity of City Hall MRT station that looks dated compared to the glitzy-looking malls in the area.
Peninsula Plaza serves the needs of the local Myanmarese, with its employment agencies, maid recruiters, Myanmar restaurants, real estate offices, hair saloons, sundry shops, air ticketing agencies, moneychangers and legal offices.
One of the Myanmarese business owners in the shopping centre is Pho Li, 30, who manages a branded watch shop. She said she would like to stay on in Singapore, provided that she is allowed to bring over her six-year-old son to attend the local school.
But, because her husband and she earn less than S$4,500 per month, they fall below the threshold of the Ministry of Education, and her son has to stay in Myanmar.
Faced with such a situation, they have decided to work on in Singapore for four more years, save some money and then return to Myanmar.
What is important to her is to forge a deep mother-son bond. She is afraid that the longer she postpones her return to Myanmar; she runs the risk of missing out on the precious growing years of her son.
For Min Tu, who has been working in Singapore for 15 years with an aerospace company, he is happy with his work and life here. But he is planning to go back to Myanmar in six years’ time when his son, who is staying in Singapore, becomes 10 years old.
Uppermost in his mind is to get his son to be fully immersed in his native society so he can grow up as a Myanmarese. He is sure that his son will not become a Myanmar person as long as he grows up in Singapore and in spite of his wife and he imparting Myanmarese values to him.
Even for a long stayer like Min Tian, 60, who has been in Singapore for 30 years, there is still the strong pull of going back to Myanmar for good.
She operates a thriving business, dealing in air tickets and import-export of goods. But she has already made plans to sell her business in four years’ time.
Her plan, she said, is not an isolated case as her other business colleagues, also long stayers like her, also have such plans to return.
At the end of the day, the only group of Myanmarese who opt to stay on are the younger generation who have stayed in Singapore long enough to attend tertiary institutions here.
When they socialise with their Singaporean school mates, they unconsciously absorb the ways of the locals and over the years become like the locals.
They feel more at home in Singapore than Myanmar and it is natural for them to go on to work and settle down in this city state.
There must be something about Myanmar that most of the Myanmar diaspora here share the same idea of going back to their homeland.
Being back in Myanmar, with money to last their retirement days, to be with their loved ones, and to live in an entirely Myanmarese ambience, must be an irresistible dream.
When they are in Singapore they know they are in in the midst of a first world country’s infrastructure, miles ahead of that of any Least Developed Country.
But, living in a sanitised and efficient urban landscape is small beer to the joy that they can get from bonding emotionally with the members of their nuclear family and extended kin group.