The entire community is filled with Indian slogans and Indian-style food. You can see a large number of Indian communities that are completely unmatched with census data.
Such scenarios are not uncommon in Singapore. Cuisines from certain ethnicities would concentrate in certain communities. However, those enclaves can only get caught by the eyes of people or heard from others’ stories.

Seemingly Homogenous Singapore

Data resourse:Here

Data resourse:Here

When hearing the name Singapore, it’s likely to inspire an image of a tiny but prosperous country not only rich in business, but also in the aspect of ethnicity.

Made up of Chinese, Malay, Indian and various other ethnicities, this island-type immigrant society is what makes Singapore a unique set of diverse cultures coexisting in one country.

In 1965 when the country became independent, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said it is “not a Malay nation, not a Chinese nation, not an Indian nation. Everybody will have a place in Singapore”. So compared to the racial segregation maps of American cities, Singapore shows an obvious pattern of homogeneity.

This is because Singapore also shares the imagination of “melting pot”, a powerful image of a pluralistic society; an integrated and mixed country; a platform where different races, cultures and identities are not only free to co-exist, but also to mingle and blend, to merge and combine. Some people even proclaim, with glee or with horror, that Singapore will one day consist solely of expatriates and immigrants.

Mandatory positive racial policy

Hiding and life

The immigrant workers try their best to hide from all the census, regulations and punishments. According to statistics from the Singapore Manpower Bureau, foreign workers who are not included in the population statistics account for 31% of Singapore’s total population. These foreign workers and those who did not get visa have been living in this city for long time.

  • What work do they do?
    Most of them work long hours at physically demanding jobs, with unguaranteed salaries.
  • Where do they live?
    They live in illegal Airbnbs, hiding from the fully-controlled public housing system.
  • What do they eat?
    They choose the cheapest hawker centres around, while it would be a delight to resist homesickness with a flavour of home.

Revelation in A Gentle Way

To make these migrant labor more visible, but also avoid their exposure to the government, a way is to find some facts closely related to daily life, apart from the controlled housing and language. As a result, religion and food are taken into consideration. More specifically, temples and hawker centers as the spatial representation of religion and food culture are perfect for mapping.

For many transnational workers, migration to Singapore is probably the first time they’ve stepped out of their country. Take the low-wage Indian and Bangladeshi workers for example, they’ve been left out of society and suffering from nostalgia, thus Little India became the ideal place providing homely feelings for comfort.

Region: Religion and social historical environment

This map uses hotspot cluster analysis to show the possible spatial locations of clusters of various religious places. Data resourse:Here

Temples, the spatial features of religion, are the unimpeachable landmarks that serve surrounding communities as a materialization of religious space. And religious orientations in Singapore largely correlate with people’s ethnicities. Most Malays are Muslim, Indians are generally Hindu and Chinese Singaporeans are largely Buddhist, Taoist or Christian. It is the people who use these places of worship that shape its religious identity, and it is deeply rooted that will not be affected by compulsory policies.
As is shown on the map, there are obvious patterns of different religious places. Chinese temples, have the widest distribution all over Singapore, mainly in the downtown and Kallang areas. While the mosques which represent the religion of the Malay population, are allocated in the Geylang and Bukit Merah districts. As for Indian temples, they have the smallest clusters in the downtown and Novena subzones.
Temples not only reveal the current enclaves of different ethnic groups but also serve as urban palimpsest and the springhead of community culture throughout history. Before Singapore’s independence in 1959, the British colonial government segregated the various races into specific locations across the island. The Chinese lived in the downtown area, the Malays in Kampong Glam and Geylang Serai, and the Indians in Serangoon and Sembawang. This segregation was thought to be one of the reasons for the racial riots that occurred in 1964. By comparison, the Indians got relocated due to the public housing policy, while some of the Chinese and Malaysian enclaves were not broken down.

Neighborhood: hawker center and modern enclave

Hawker centres are food courts that house many stalls selling a variety of cuisines, typically found throughout Singapore and near public housing. Besides, hawker centres are the first choice for migrant workers who have relatively low income. So the data from hawker centres can make this population visible in maps.

Data resourse:Here

We selected four hawker centres with the largest deviations from demographic data as research cases. The figures of migrant workers from China, Malaysia, and South Asia can be seen from these. They are:

  • Geylang Serai Food Centre (enclave of Malaysians and Indians)
  • Tekka Centre (enclave of Indians)
  • Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre (enclave of Chinese)
  • Alexandra Village Food Centre (enclave of Malaysians and Indians)

Geylang Serai Food Centre

Situated together with the Malay Market, this hawker centre specialises in the best Malay and Muslim food in Singapore. Most of the food stalls here serve Malay and Indian cuisines. Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang and Geylang Briyani Hall are among the most famous stalls, where you can taste Asam Pedas stingray, chicken turmeric rice and other delicacies. If the visit time is at breakfast time, GS Oli Thosei & Food Stall is a great place to taste Indian Appom, Thosai and Masala chicken.

The picture on the left is the estimated distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the hawker center based on the demographic data of the subzone, GEYLANG EAST, in 2020. The picture on the right is the distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the existing hawker center.
Malaysian flavor stall exceeded expectations by 412.5%. This implies that the hawker center here may have more Malaysian customers than expected.

Heterotopia in singapore

Geylang area is a special area with the only legal red-light district, foreign domestic helper dormitories, karaoke lounges, etc. in Singapore which is in sharp contrast to the image of a “garden city” given by Singapore. After the British colonial government moved the Malays and indigenous people from the mouth of the Singapore River to Geylang in the early years of the opening of the port, this area became a concentration of Malays in Singapore. There have been many pure Malay areas, such as Kampong Melayu (Malay Village). Now it has gradually become a gathering place for a large number of foreign guest workers and tourists.

More job opportunities

The Geylang area has gradually become one of the must-visit neighbourhoods for tourists in Singapore because of the large number of snacks and hawker centres. In addition, many small temples, guild halls, Buddhist associations and civil society have also moved to the Geylang area, which has led the scale of the night market to get bigger and bigger. There are nearly 1,000 stalls in Geylang nowadays. In other words, to make the night market open, at least 3,000 workers are needed to help. The monthly rent for the stalls ranges from S$3,000 (RM9,300) to S$15,000 (RM46,500). In order to solve the shortage of manpower and save expenses, many stall owners do not hesitate to hire Migrant workers who only have a Travel visa. The night market has been banned 76 times, and the spokesperson of the Singapore government said that 257 “illegal” workers have been arrested in the past two years. Most of them came from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and entered Singapore on social and tourist visas. A reporter from The Straits Times of Singapore went to the night market to investigate and found that before the market opened, about 10 foreign men “beating the floor” slept in the stalls overnight, hanging their clothes on the railings. When the reporter tried to find out about the situation with several men, Found that none of them speaks English.

Where do they live

Singapore is said to have the most cost-effective housing conditions. However, the HDB housing policy has not benefited foreign workers, but it has further caused segregation of foreign workers. HDB flats are public housing in Singapore. More than 80% of locals live in HDB flats. Some homeowners will sublet the room at home and live with their tenants. The Housing and Development Board of Singapore stipulates the number of guests that can be rented in accordance with the types of HDB flats. For example, a 4-room HDB cannot rent more than 6 non-blood relatives. The purpose is to “maintain a good quality of life.” However, there are few tenants and the rent to be shared is relatively high. For foreign workers living in a foreign country, renting a bed allows them to save more savings. Therefore, there will be a large number of stickers on the walls of Geylang Street. Malay-language rental advertisements; these dormitories are almost illegally over-rented. The limited indoor space is filled with bunk beds and it is impossible to put them on the rental website. The high-density ancestral homes in Geylang and Hokkien-style townhouses provide many foreign workers with more private, safe, independent and cheap living spaces.

Tekka Centre

A building complex comprising a wet market, food centre and shops, Tekka Centre is situated in the heart of Little India. It is mostly known for its array of Indian food, such as briyani, prata and rojak. It is truly a melting pot of cultures as there are also stalls selling Chinese, Malay, Thai and Japanese food.

The picture on the left is the estimated distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the hawker center based on the demographic data of the subzone, FERNVALE, in 2020. The picture on the right is the distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the existing hawker center.
Malaysian flavor stall exceeded expectations by 1650.5%. Indian flavor stall exceeded expectations by 150.0%. This implies that the hawker center here may have more Malaysian and Indian customers than expected.

Migrant workers from South Asian

“Little India” is a community full of Indian style with many shops and restaurants. At the weekend, Little India was packed with people, and South Asian workers from Bangladesh and India gathered here to spend their time. Except for some of them with high academic qualifications and working in large enterprises, most of them are engaged in low-skilled jobs that Singaporeans do not want to do, including junior construction workers, truck drivers, and cleaners. The monthly salary is more than 1500-2500 SGD. It is clearly a low-income group in Singapore. There are also some workers who choose to smuggle and resell electronic products such as mobile phones to make a profit.

Alcohol and emotional depression

According to Lianhe Wanbao, there were less than 10 wineries in Little India 5 years ago, and there were not so many guest workers who came to Little India at that time. Nowadays, the number and density of bars near Little India far exceed that of downtown Singapore. Because this business is so attractive, more and more businesses have joined the ranks of wine sellers in recent years to grab a share of the pie. According to Shicheng news, a winery can sell 6000 SGD wine in 7 hours on Sunday alone! Foreign workers account for about 70% of the customers of these wineries. The social ethos of migrant workers gathering and alcoholism may be the culprit of the 2013 Little India riot.

2013 Little India riot

At 9:23 pm Singapore time, an Indian guest worker was killed on the spot after being knocked down by a private bus at the intersection of Race Course Rd and Hampshire Rd in Little India. This caused dissatisfaction among workers and passers-by. The crowd surrounded and attacked the vehicle. The police car and the ambulance arrived later. More than 300 foreign guest workers participated in the incident, and the riot lasted for more than two hours. Singapore’s “Lianhe Zaobao” quoted police sources on the 9th that an Indian worker was killed by a bus at the intersection of Paomapo Road and Hansa Road on the evening of the 8th. Due to a large number of onlookers, most of whom were foreign workers from South Asia, the emotions of the personnel rapidly intensified. Onlookers started attacking medical staff and police with wine bottles and some flower pots placed in nearby shops, smashing police cars. Injured 27 police officers and 12 members of the Civil Defense Forces, and several police cars and ambulances were burned. Although Yi Huaren, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, emphasized that the Little India riots were “isolated incidents” and should not lead to xenophobic sentiments. However, the media and online comments believe that there may be deeper reasons for the riots, including Singapore’s over-reliance on foreign workers, the government’s failure to immediately detect the problems that may be caused by the gathering of guest workers, and the accumulation of dissatisfaction among guest workers in the face of unequal treatment by employers mood. This incident is the second riot since Singapore’s independence, and the first riot in more than 40 years after the ethnic riots in 1969. Bellville Singh, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, believes that the riots may be a watershed, and such incidents may happen one after another in the future, because “Singaporeans will become more and more insecure and narrow nationalism when their confidence about multiculturalism declines in the future.

Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre

With a long history, this hawker centre has many popular stalls that regulars and foodies will swear by. Famous stalls that sell good carrot cake, chicken rice and fish soup make it be known as a foodie’s paradise. While it may be far away from touristic spots, it is very near the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and many hikers drop by this hawker centre before and after their hikes!

The picture on the left is the estimated distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the hawker center based on the demographic data of the subzone, ANAK BUKIT, in 2020. The picture on the right is the distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the existing hawker center.
Chinese flavor stall exceeded expectations by 12.5%. This implies that the hawker center here may have more Chinese customers than expected.

Luxury housing

Bukit Timah, literally means Mountain and field, once is a Malay community. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bukit Timah was a major industrial centre. Today, these have been replaced by luxurious bungalows, terraces and apartments, becoming the top residential area in Bukit Timah, Singapore. There are many international schools in the area because of the large number of foreign Chinese and immigrants living in the area. Compared with the glamorous luxury housing areas outside, the labour dormitories and western industrial areas here are the targets of most foreign Chinese labourers. Because of having urban fabrics such as single-family bungalows, private landlords are more willing to rent it out to foreign labourers privately, providing them with private asylum while also profiting from it. The more bunk beds in the house, the higher the income.

Their dormitory is located in a flat in the western part of Singapore near the industrial zone. When taking the elevator upstairs, Xiao Shi always said, “The environment here is more difficult, I hope you don’t mind.” When he arrived at the door, he took out the key and turned on the iron door lock. He whispered that it is illegal to live with so many people. For fear of being seen, remember to close the door. When I opened the door, a thick odour mixed with sweat, oily smoke, and cooking fragrant rushed out. For a moment, I hesitated whether to wait for the air to circulate before closing the iron door, but Xiao Shi repeatedly reminded me to close the door. Walking into the dormitory, the little living room which can’t see the outside light is greeted, and the ceiling fan is spinning hard and faltering. Walking through the floor tiles in the living room with shoes on, you can still vaguely feel the stickiness of the floor that has not been cleaned for a long time through the footsteps of the soles. There are 4 rooms in this migrant worker’s dormitory. Each room has iron bunks. There are currently 13 Chinese guest workers. When the number of people was the largest, 17 people lived in. Everyone lives and rests differently. Go home from the late shift at 2 in the morning, and some people have to go to the morning shift at 4 in the morning.

Piglet House

And this kind of labour dormitory environment is almost the same as the “Piglet House” of Chinese workers in Singapore in the 19th century. Piggy refers to labourers who were abducted from China to Singapore to work as coolies. They were lured by brokers to sign an English labour contract. Once they arrived in Singapore, they were taken by human traffickers to the poor environment “Piggy House” for centralized management. In 1901, of the 59 rooms on Pagoda Street in Chinatown, 12 were piglets. Local historians inspected the old site of the famous piglet hall “Guangheyuan” and found that there was a small shop which has 5 toilets, you can imagine the crowded environment with high density. And such a story will still be staged in 2021.

Alexandra Village Food Centre

Located close to Queenstown MRT station with 10 minutes by bus, Alexandra Village Food Centre is one of the most famous Hawker Centre in Singapore. It is home to numerous famous Hawkers. It is a great location to visit if you would to have a taste of authentic Singapore flavor.

The picture on the left is the estimated distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the hawker center based on the demographic data of the subzone, ALEXANDRA HILL, in 2020. The picture on the right is the distribution of national flavors of various stalls in the existing hawker center.
Malaysian flavor stall exceeded expectations by 100%. This implies that the hawker center here may have more Malaysian customers than expected.

Job opportunities

Alexandria has gradually evolved from a bustling plantation into a thriving industrial park and an industrial centre in a science and technology park, as well as a large enterprise for Mitsubishi Electric, IKEA, PSA Building, Mercedes, Peugeot, Ford, Land Rover and BMW. To keep up with the development of Alexandra Road, several other buildings such as shopping malls, housing estates and apartment houses quickly took shape. Therefore, Alexandra is a high-density compromise combination of industrial centre, part shopping centre, part residential area and part shop location. The factories and service industries here are thirsty for a large number of labourers.

Lower prize

Alexandria Village attracts migrant workers not only for job opportunities but also for areas with low living consumption levels in Singapore. The Economist’s Global Cost of Living Index ranked Singapore as the world’s most expensive city for four consecutive years. Alexandra Hill not only has landlords who own HDB flats and are willing to rent out to workers, but also has low population density and price levels, as well as a loose monitoring mechanism.

Airport migrant village

In Alexandria Village, most people get the work visa with the lowest threshold, that is, work permits (Work Permit, WP) that cannot freely change employers and cannot apply for permanent residency. Workers with higher salaries have the opportunity to obtain S Pass and Employment Pass (EP). In the early years, the application conditions were relatively loose, but as the locals’ anxiety about the increase in the number of immigrants intensified, in recent years Singapore’s door to immigrants has become narrower and narrower. You can often see such questions in Singapore’s local Chinese forums and Bahasa Malaysia forums. : The renewal was rejected again. Should I stay in Singapore or return to my hometown? In this case, some workers chose to continue hiding in the village of Alexandria near the airport.

Now 31%+, Once 100%

Singapore is a country built on migrant workers, while Singaporean citizens are living upon privileged ignorance against them. Such an ambivalent attitude is rooted in the structural inequalities hidden behind governmental compulsory policies and the seemingly homogeneous census.

Conflict is never a rare thing between Singapore citizens and migrant workers. In a hawker centre, there was a precedent that a customer shouted at a Chinese saleswoman for being unable to communicate in English. “You don’t speak English, go back to your country, OK?”He complained impatiently,” This is my country, I’m from Singapore, OK?” Not to be outdone, the woman struck back saying “Is Singapore the only place where Singaporeans can be?” It’s not only about the language barrier, but also the long-lasting unease of some Singaporeans living with migrant workers.

For decades, the old enclaves were demolished and gone, but right on Singapore’s road to multiculturalism, there are actually new ones forming. Because the migrant workers find no leeway to integrate into a wider context and they have been experiencing marginalization throughout history. Their workplace, living space and even their social media habits are different from those of Singaporeans, thus exacerbating the differences in their understanding of each other.

They make up for Singapore’s shortage of workforce, earn much lower wages than the citizens, but what they get in turn is the isolation from the local community. Migrant workers serve as the undercurrents of Singapore that nourish the society, invisible, but still exist, and should never be denied. As a result, it’s necessary to unmask official data, reveal the plight of this invisible population and show the future possible segregation.