Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Hired Help and Samsui Chicken

I start early. My aim is to be in the office by 7:20 am each morning. I am not however the first to get there as the cleaning staff commence their duties a good quarter hour before my arrival.

The cleaners are in the main a mix of Malays and Indians as well as a smattering of Chinese "Aunties" seeking extra retirement income. What I didn't fully appreciate was that many of our cleaning staff don't actually live in Singapore - they reside in Malaysia's state of Johore Bahru and come across The Causeway each day to take up their employment.

Their day starts at 7 am and doesn't finish until 7 pm (Monday to Saturday) and they then face a two hour bus journey back across the border. I questioned one of the younger Indian cleaners and discovered that she rises at 3:20 am each morning to ensure she catches her bus. She doesn't usually get back to her home until about 9:30 pm so by my calculation ,after completing a full days work, she gets about five and a half hours sleep before the cycle starts all over again.

It is therefore little wonder that there is a high staff turnover and our cleaning contractors are recruiting replacements all the time.

But why is it necessary for 25,000 Malaysians to cross the border to fulfill these necessary services? The short answer is that few, if any, Singaporeans wish to underatke these menial tasks anymore.

The same applies to other service areas and the construction industry. To overcome this shortage Singapore has an active policy of fostering 'foreign manpower'. These are temporary residents and in the year 2000 government statisitics indicated that 29% of the workforce were in this category.

Not to be forgotten are the 160,000 domestic helpers, mainly comprised of women from the Philippines and Indonesia, although there are also a significant number from the Indian sub continent. The former gather each Sunday at Lucky Plaza and spill out onto the footpaths of Orchard Road in gregarious huddles.

Today's food recommendation is The Soup Restaurant in Basement Two of Centrepoint on Orchard Road. The set lunch for two is $38++ and has a wonderful home-cooked quality to it with traditional (they term it heritage) cuisine of the Cantonese variety. Despite the name, soup it just one hearty component of the menu and their Samsui Ginger Chicken is excellent. Their sliced cod dish is equally yummy!

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