Home Away from Home

Htet Htet Nay Aung explores the places in Singapore that remind foreigners of home and their significance in helping them cope with homesickness.

Photo courtesy of Noreen Shazreen.

 

BY
Htet Htet Nay Aung
People and npTribune Section Editor
Hype Issue #54

Published on
December 1, 2021

Locals may miss their holidays abroad, but foreigners ache even deeper for home. Anxious, helpless and often alone due to travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore’s foreigners seek solace in enclaves for some semblance of home.

The psychological effects that come with relocating to a foreign country are undeniable. The experience can be taunting for both youths and adults, regardless of their emotional capacity to cope with the shift in lifestyle, culture shock and a deep sense of longing for home.

Peninsula Plaza

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Peninsula Plaza is evidently a popular place for Burmese residents with its various Burmese owned stores all around the plaza. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

A quick search of Peninsula Plaza on Google will reveal that this is a hotspot for Burmese residents in Singapore. From the basement level up to the fifth story of this high-rise building at City Hall, you will find a variety of provision shops and restaurants that are mostly owned by Burmese people.

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Peninsula Plaza’s Burmese visitors tend to frequent provision shops that sell imported food from Myanmar such as dried foods and snacks which are unavailable anywhere else. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

“The crowd of Burmese people there, the mannerisms and the familiar smell of this place is really comforting. After all, there is strength in solidarity and physical togetherness… Although they are strangers, I do feel at home,” said Moe Yin Zaw, 20, a university student.

The crowd of Burmese people there, the mannerisms and the familiar smell of this place is really comforting. After all, there is strength in solidarity and physical togetherness… Although they are strangers, I do feel at home.

- Moe Yin Zaw, 20

University student

With the ongoing military coup in Myanmar on top of the rise in COVID-19 cases, Yin Zaw is one of the many Burmese in Singapore who feels helpless due to the limited support she can offer to those back home such as raising awareness and donating money.

“At one point, all my family members had COVID-19… I really broke down at how helpless I was,” Yin Zaw added.

The mental distress from this and severe burnout from not being able to visit home only made the desire to find support in a welcoming and familiar environment like Peninsula Plaza even stronger.

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Restaurants in Peninsula Plaza serve a wide array of Burmese dishes to comfort the homesick hearts of patrons with familiar tastes and smells. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

In order to help deal with feelings derived from survivors’ guilt just like Yin Zaw, visiting Peninsula Plaza has started to feel more like a short getaway to home for most Burmese residents. Visits to the old-school shopping centre may seem simple, but the act of having a delicious meal and interacting with other Burmese people plays a substantial role in helping them to pull through these hard times.

Lucky Plaza

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Located just a five minute walk away from Orchard MRT Station, Lucky Plaza is a popular place amongst Filipinos for social interactions. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

Nestled in the heart of Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza is a popular hangout place for the Filipino community in Singapore to maintain a sense of belonging. Filipinos visit the stores in Lucky Plaza to get their fair share of their home country’s imported toiletries, snacks and even a taste of their renowned fried chicken chain, Jollibee.

“I was feeling very scared and worried but I have made friends with other Filipinos [at Lucky Plaza] and now I feel less alone,” said Ms Emelie Lauza Gesultura, 37, a domestic helper who had just moved to Singapore in March this year.

I was feeling very scared and worried but I have made friends with other Filipinos [at Lucky Plaza] and now I feel less alone.

- Ms Emelie Lauza Gesultura, 37

Domestic helper

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Filipinos who visit Lucky Plaza can choose from a variety of stores to buy their favourite imported snacks and toiletries. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

Ms Gesultura mentioned that she has been finding comfort in the little things such as spending time with her fellow Filipino friends and buying her favourite snacks from the stores at Lucky Plaza which are unavailable anywhere else in Singapore.

“I feel like I am back in The Philippines when I go there as everything feels very familiar and I feel happy,” she added.

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Since most stores are owned by Filipinos, the shelves are always stacked with a huge selection of Filipino foods that are popular back home. Photo by Htet Htet Nay Aung.

Having a simple conversation with a fellow Filipino while enjoying the familiar flavours from home can go a long way when you are miles away from home. Anyone who enters the plaza will be able to feel how Singapore’s Filipino community has managed to transform this place into their second home.

Woodlands Waterfront Park

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Other than the numerous activities that can be done here, such as running and cycling, many Malaysians often visit this place to get a glimpse of home. Picture taken from Flickr.

Meanwhile, Malaysians such as Lee Zu Wei, 23, have been visiting Woodlands Waterfront Park to enjoy the vast view of the Straits of Johor.

While Zu Wei feels fortunate to get a glimpse of home, he mentioned that it feels suffocating as all he can do is reminisce about the times spent in those places such as Johor Bahru City Square as he watches them develop over time.

“Many of my Malaysian friends and I get to observe the changes that are happening in Johor Bahru day by day. It’s quite comforting, yet bittersweet,” said the polytechnic student.

Many of my Malaysian friends and I get to observe the changes that are happening in Johor Bahru day by day. It’s quite comforting, yet bittersweet.

- Lee Zu Wei, 23

Polytechnic student

While there are many locals who frequent the park, take a closer look and you will find many Malaysians sitting along the jetty as they make video calls with their families or admire their home from afar.

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Rasa Istimewa, located in Woodlands Waterfront Park, is the only restaurant in Singapore that offers diners a breathtaking view of the Straits of Johor. Photo taken from Flickr.

Foreigners have been able to experience their own culture and confide in others with similar backgrounds due to their sentimental attachments to these places.

After all, birds of the same feather flock together. There is undoubtedly a certain level of heart-warming comfort in being around people who share your language, joys, as well as your sorrows.

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