Social Problems and Globalization: of foreign workers in Singapore

by insonear

Articles:
Singapore’s Jaywalk central : Boon or Bane? http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20080423-61304.html
Foreign workers at void decks leave residents seething
http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_180230.html

The influx of foreign of workers, largely due to globalization, seems to have caused some problems for the local community.

Some problems highlighted in the articles are
1. Jaywalking
2. Littering
3. Urinating in public places
 
If you ask me, I would say that all these boils down to the fact that the foreign workers’ way of life is different from the locals’ and the ignorance of both parties on each others way of life.

The interesting thing is that all that the ‘problems’ that the foreign workers are causing are all deemed perfectly acceptable back home. That is, jaywalking, littering, gathering in large groups, are all social norms in their society. This is not to say that jaywalking and littering are right but that it is simply part of their lifestyle.

These ‘problems’ only become problems when they are shifted out of their usual social contexts tinto a foreign society(like Singapore) where these acts are not accpetable because they are against the social norms of that society.

And why are they shifted out of their usual social contexts? Because of globalisation, because globalisation gave these workers a chance to work in a foreign society with the promise of a better paycheck. So in a way, this is a probem caused by globalisation and unique to globalization.

I believe that the ignorance and expectations of the local community on the foreign workers also contributed to the severity of this social problem. Perhaps the locals had thought that the impact of the influx of foreign workers were simply restricted to having more unfamiliar faces speaking unfamiliar tongues. Or in any other way that does not affect their daily lives. But when reality proved drastically contrary to these expectations, it becomes a problem.

Perhaps, being the incumbents, the locals feel that it is the responsibility of the foreign workers to adapt to the Singapore society instead of vice versa. This may be the case if the number of foreign workers is small. After all, would you expect others to adapt to your ways when you are the odd one out? But when the population and concentration of these foreign workers are such that they can form a community by themselves instead of feeling out of place in a foreign land, why should they even try to adapt?

So what exactly is wrong? To the foreign workers, they are just doing what they have always been doing. The problem, as they see, is that the locals are trying to deprive them of something as basic as having a gathering with their friends. The problem, as the locals see, is not with the gathering but with the mess they leave behind and the disruption they cause to their lives. The problem, as I see, is that both parties are looking at this problem selectively to their benefit instead of looking at it as a whole.

Looking closely at the reactions and response of locals to the influx of foreign workers, I noticed the disturbing power of ignorance especially from the fact that ‘some accused the foreign workers of stealing’ when ‘none could provide proof’. When something goes wrong, it’s always easy to point the finger at the new kids on the block because you don’t know them and you cannot identify with them. And when these new kids also happen to engage in activities you disagree with, it becomes all too easy to direct baseless accusations towards them.

So, isn’t it paradoxical how with globalization, we are all supposed to be more knowledgeable about the world given the amount of information easily available, yet we show how ignorant we are with regards to foreign culture when they reach our shores sailing the flag of globalization?

What about solutions? Can this problem be solved? I would say yes. Will it be solved? That I cannot answer. How to solve? My answer is mutual understanding. It should not be just the foreign workers who have to adapt, so should the locals. It is only when they understand each other’s definition of social norms and accept(not just tolerate) the differences that the first step can be taken to integrate the two communities.

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