By TWC2 volunteer Nicola W, based on an interview in February 2021
Having grown up on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, Rana Md. Masud came to Singapore for the first time in 2015 when he was just a 19-year-old boy. Sent by his family, his mission was to earn money to support his family back home and eventually to save up for his own future.
By the time I meet him in February 2021, it is six years later and Masud is in his third job in Singapore. Though not fluent in English, he makes an impression on me as a polite, well-spoken and confident young man. Tall and slim, with slender hands and a handsome face — from what could be seen beyond the edges of his mask — Masud tells me about his initial impressions of Singapore when he first came.
When he arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2015, he was happy to find his friend from Bangladesh, who at the time had been in Singapore for two years already, picking him up. The first thing Masud did after landing was to borrow his friend’s phone to call home and assure his family that he had arrived safely.
Masud’s new home as a construction worker was in a dormitory in Singapore’s north-western district Sungei Kadut. On Sundays, his one free day in the week, he — like the thousands of other migrant workers from South Asia who live on the fringes of Singapore — would make the journey to Little India, which is located close to the city centre.
On this weekly highlight, he would meet with friends, have a tasty meal in one of the small restaurants serving Bengali cuisine, and stock up on groceries for the coming week. This Sunday purchase of fresh fish and vegetables at the wet market in Little India would allow Masud to cook healthy meals for himself, while avoiding the pricey store inside the dormitory compound and the less nutritious catered meals — an option if he signed on for it. Though, as Masud explained, Little India is catering mostly to Indian people and palates and not so much to people from Bangladesh, it’s still the place in Singapore that’s closest to his home culture.
For the journey, he would catch a bus on the street outside his dormitory, which would take him all the way to Little India. Paying a fare of $3, he would get a seat and through the clean windows, take in the sights. On his first trips, as he remembered, he was struck by the many tall residential and commercial buildings and the cleanliness of Singapore’s streets. This was a sharp contrast to his home country, he says, where crowded buses and congested streets filled with vehicles and people are the norm. The way Masud describes his first impressions of Singapore, he clearly seems to appreciate the city’s cleanliness as well as the simplicity of getting around.
The journey from Sungei Kadut to Little India became even better and cheaper for Masud after a new metro line opened at the end of 2015. The Downtown MRT has a station a short hop from his dorm and takes him directly to Little India.
Describing his experience with getting around in Singapore, Masud says he was also impressed by the simplicity of payments for public transport. Compared to Bangladesh, where you need to pay for each trip with a handful of coins, Singapore’s system of using cashless cards to tap in and out when entering or alighting is very simple and convenient, he explains. The cashless fare cards are easily topped up from bank cards at any metro station, bus terminal and convenience store. Another thing Masud liked about his weekly shopping trips to Little India was that prices of items in stores are clearly labelled, making it easy to decide on a purchase without having to haggle over prices as is common in his home country.
Over the past six years, Masud has single-handedly supported his family in Bangladesh — including his parents as well as an older brother and a younger sister. They all depend on his monthly money transfers. He even financed the weddings of his brother and sister, a fact he seems to be quite proud of given that weddings in Bangladesh come with huge expenses. While continuing to support his family, he also began saving up money with the goal of one day starting a business and a family of his own in Dhaka.
Unfortunately, his plans have been interrupted when he received news recently that his mother was diagnosed with cancer. To be with her, he resigned from his current employment in Singapore to fly home by the end of the month. However, he plans to come back to Singapore in a few months for another two to three years of work, hoping to finally save up enough for his dreams to come true.