Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back from Singapore

I have been silent for over a week now, which usually either means that something really big is happening, or I am away from Hanoi and trying to avoid a break-in at my home by keeping quiet about it.

For the last week, I have been in Singapore talking about Blue Dragon with schools and groups who are interested in our work. Some of the older 'kids' came with me - three boys who used to shine shoes, but now have good jobs and are doing well for themselves.

We received a warm reception everywhere we went; this is not the first time we have been to Singapore, and it sure won't be the last. It's great to spend time in a place where everything works and is so clean!

We stayed at the Betel Box hostel again - and again, the owner Tony Tan gave us free board for the whole week. Apart from the great service and facilities, the Betel Box is fascinating for its location. Despite all the highrises of Orchard Road and endless building developments in the city, parts of the country have preserved heritage buildings and quaint villages where families have lived for generations. Joo Chiat Road, where the Betel Box is located, happens to be one of those areas.

Just a few doors down, a family makes Singapore's best popiah - a traditional food resembling a spring roll. They've been there for decades and have even been visited by Mother Theresa! There's a beautiful mosque down the street, and because of Ramadan one whole end of Joo Chiat Road turned into a huge festival every night.

But I got a real surprise to also see a seedier side to Singapore. Considering the kind of work that I am involved in here in Vietnam, seeing prostitutes working the streets isn't particularly shocking. What blew me away, though, was to see it so openly in a country as conservative as Singapore seems to be.

And what got me really interested was seeing the very large number of Vietnamese women working the streets around Joo Chiat Road. For Vietnamese, a trip to Singapore is fairly cheap and easy: no visa is required, and flights are being sold for as little as $50 each way.

For a country reputed to be so strict, it was strange to see parts of the city where the streets were lined with women - and sometimes men - outside residential apartments, along busy roads and side streets, and all around budget hotels that were springing up everywhere.

Along Joo Chiat Road, which has such a rich history, room-by-the-hour hotels have sprung up since I was last there 2 years ago, and all the good restuarants are being pushed aside by nightclubs and 'coffee shops' where the women went from table to table, even when the tables were out on the footpath.

Local residents and long-term businesspeople are in despair to see their community being turned into a red-light district. As a visitor to the area, I couldn't understand how this rapid change in the area has been allowed to happen.

Sometimes, even the most beautiful places are not as they seem to be...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear comrade, you have visited Singalore where you saw many of your compatriots walking the streets, making good money. Just tell them not to take the sin home to Vietnam. Recently, I was at Hanoi for a few days, fell in love with the simple lifestyles; as is said, simplicity is indeed beauty, spiritually speaking. I witnessed a great culture while at your Nation; from a singaporean.