5 Minutes With...He

"5 Minutes With" is a new series featuring the everyday people with stories we never bother getting to know. Exploring Singapore's social fabric to understand its people better, the series will feature anyone from fruit sellers, cleaners, housewives to immigrants.

He, who only wants to be known by her surname, is a good-natured 55 year old Chinese woman who immigrated to Singapore from China to raise her grandchild. Both of her children have been in the country for more than a decade and have since started their lives here as Permanent Residents. She speaks to me about her worries when she might eventually have to leave the country, her thoughts on Singapore and more. (Our conversation was entirely in Chinese and below is a translation)

Rachel:  Where are you from and why have you moved to Singapore?
He: I am from China and I came here to take care of my grandson.  If I didn't have to take care of my grandson, I wouldn't be here. (laughs)

Rachel: Are you enjoying Singapore?
He: I...How can I say this...I would enjoy it more if I had my own house. Right now I stay with my son and daughter-in-law...(laughs) If I had my own house, I would definitely like Singapore more! 

Rachel: Haha, what do you enjoy doing here then?
He: What do I like doing? There's nothing much I enjoy doing (laughs) or can do except to take care of my grandson. 

Rachel: But if you didn't have to take care of your grandson...?
He: Well, if I didn't have to take care of my grandson, I'd probably be enjoying my time outside going out or working even. There's nothing much to do for me except to keep the dishes and clean the house. Nothing much...

Rachel: What did you do before you moved to Singapore?
He: In the past, I used to be a housekeeper. I cleaned people's homes like sweeping the floor, washing the clothes and all that.
Rachel: Sorry, my Chinese is bad so I'll have to go home and Google translate some of the things you told me (we both laugh).

Rachel: What brings your son to Singapore?
He: My son studied here, found love and decided to start his life in Singapore. He's been here for a decade. 

Rachel: Are there any aspects of China you wish Singapore had?
He: I don't like the weather here very much and I wish Singapore's weather was more like China's. We have hot weather here but cold weather...(chuckles) I wish it was cold here sometimes. 

Rachel: So is there a country you prefer more than the other?
He: I don't really like nor really dislike any country. It's just that because my two sons are here, I just naturally am here. As I said, I would really love and enjoy Singapore a lot more if I had my own home and the freedom that comes with it. 

Rachel: Wait, so are you a Permanent Resident (PR) here then?
He: I'm not, unfortunately. I've tried to apply twice but I've been rejected both times.

Rachel: Oh no...how long have you been staying here?
He: I've been here for about seven years already. 

He: With my kind of lifestyle, do you think I have a chance to become a PR? I'm here to raise my grandson, you see. 
Rachel: I'm not too sure...in the past, it was really quite easy to migrate to Singapore but with the stricter rules in place, I think the government is trying to be more selective. 

He: But what can I do? Both my children are here...when I'm old and Singapore tells me it's time to go back to China, I will have to head back all alone. Who will take care of me when I'm all alone there? That's why I really need to get a PR here. I don't want to be in that position...if I'm actually one, even my sons will find it more convenient with me being around!
Rachel: How about your sons then? Are they also PRs?

He: They're both Singaporeans actually.
Rachel: Oh, can't you sons...hmm how do I say this...

He: When I go back to China, there's no one to take care of me you see. Who's going to take care of me when I'm old?
Rachel: How about your relatives? 

He: I only have one younger brother back in China.
Rachel: Oh, just one younger brother?

He: Yes, I don't have many relatives, my family is here. My two sons are here...it's going to be very troublesome when I'm older (chuckles). Even if I manage to stay here and get a PR status, my son can't take care of me anyway and I'd still have to head back to China. How worrisome... 

long pause 

Rachel: Maybe you can go for the neighbourhood's weekly meeting session with the minister? Perhaps that would help. 
He: Weekly meetings? Where is that?

conversation ends with Rachel giving directions to the session 



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