Why this foreign worker doesn't have Singaporean friends

A mall put up a sign last month banning construction workers from its toilets. Then a picture of a worker eating on the ground made headlines.NG JUN SEN (ngjunsen@sph.com.sg) looks at the social consciousness of transient workers here

FAREWELL: Construction worker Mohammad Zahirul Islam writing his final poem near Jurong East MRT station before leaving Singapore.

It is his last week in Singapore, after about eight years working in the construction sector.

Mr Mohammad Zahirul Islam's work permit expired on Friday, and by law, he has to return to his small village home in Comilla, Bangladesh, on that day.

But ask the 38-year-old if he is willing to leave and he sighs wistfully.

His heart, Mr Zahirul Islam says, belongs in Singapore. He does not know if he will be able to come back here to work.

"The land is beautiful, I remember all the places (I have been to). The bus, the worksites, the dormitory," he tells The New Paper on Sunday.

The aspiring poet has even penned more than 350 Bengali poems, with a majority of them written here.

Despite his ardent love for the country, Mr Zahirul Islam says he was unable to make a true Singaporean friend.

It is not for the lack of trying either.

Mr Zahirul Islam says: "I have friends, but all are Bangladeshi or foreign workers. Singaporean friends too, like colleagues and boss. But they not really friends, more like outsiders.

"When they ask us to go out, go drinking, they buy bottle, eat good food. But I don't make money like them, my income is little.

"I am Muslim and cannot drink, so I (get) shy and ashamed. We don't pass time with Singapore friends because they got money, we no money. My salary is not high."

Still, he tries, sharing about his hobbies and dreams to earn a literature degree in France and become a poet, and how he put those dreams on hold to make money for his wife and two daughters.

He keeps his notes and poems in a corporate diary - a gift - and he takes it out while on public transport, during downtimes at worksites or in the workers' dormitory, to write down his thoughts.


Every weekend, he visits Dibashram, a shelter and art space for Bangladeshi workers in Little India, and meets a group of Bangladeshi artists and writers to talk about culture and poetry.

That was also where TNPS met him for the first time.

Yet, he says most locals see him as defined by his job - a construction worker - and nothing more.

He says: "When I tell some Singaporeans who are (more) educated, I am poet, they think it is very interesting.

"But most ordinary people no really understand poem. I translate to English, tell them about Bangladesh culture. But they no interested in Bangladesh. Some think it is funny. They say, 'Oh you are writer? Then what are you doing here?'"

Mr Zahirul Islam says he is saddened whenever he hears such quick dismissals of his lofty dreams.

He adds: "I can write here too, I have space in Dibashram, I go every week. I am still writer, why they say I am construction worker only?"

Just before his flight home, Mr Zahirul Islam wrote his final poem here under the train tracks at Jurong East MRT station, which he titled Oh Singapore.

One excerpt from the poem, translated from Bengali, goes as follows:

"Oh Singapore, you will remain in my heart, in my poems forever.

If possible, let your people know that I love you so much

Yet nobody knows that I have penned my life's diary here."

Oh Singapore, you will remain in my heart, in my poems forever.

If possible, 
let your people know that I love you so much

Yet nobody knows that I have penned my life's diary here.

- An excerpt from a poem by Mr Mohammad Zahirul Islam, translated from Bengali



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PM Lee praises SCDF ambulance crew

COOL, PROFESSIONAL: The ambulance crew who rushed to the Istana when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat collapsed on Thursday and were commended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (From right) Staff Sergeants Janice Lee and Mohd Imran, trainee Sheena Chiang and Corporal Ian Lok.
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Zika patient had minimal contact with others

FIRST CASE: The Zika patient lives in Watten Estate in Bukit Timah.
An edes aegypti mosquito is seen inside a test tube as part of a research on preventing the spread of the Zika virus

The first person in Singapore to contract the Zika virus mostly stayed home and had minimal contact with the public between his return from Brazil and his admission to hospital, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

The 48-year-old permanent resident returned on May 7 from a business trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil, where there is an outbreak of the virus.

He did not go to work between May 7 and May 12, the day he was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and isolated.

The man also did not take public transport to the hospital, reducing the chances that a mosquito might have bitten him, then bitten someone else nearby and spread the virus.

Fumigation and checks for mosquitoes are under way for 800 homes in and around Watten Estate, where he lives.

White fumes cloaked the estate yesterday morning as the National Environment Agency (NEA) stepped up efforts to stamp out mosquitoes in the area around his home in Bukit Timah.

At a press briefing, NEA said it checked 35 premises in the area for mosquito breeding sites on Friday.

It found seven sites - three in public areas and four in homes - and they were destroyed.

The agency has also distributed anti-mosquito flyers and insect repellent in the area.

NEA will be serving notices to those who live on premises which its officers could not access, to arrange appointments for inspections.

The agency said it may need to enter inaccessible premises by force from early next week if residents do not respond.

The authorities have asked residents of Watten Estate, Casa Perla, Hillcrest Arcadia, The Arcadia and Watten Hill Condominium to monitor their health and seek medical help if they develop fever and rash.

Zika is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. It causes mostly mild symptoms but is linked to birth defects in newborns if women contract it during pregnancy.

Debunking myths on autism

They are adults but with autism they may not behave like one.

Those with severe autism may not even be able to speak, and they can get aggressive and violent if put under stress.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, says it is important to know how to communicate with someone with autism.

He says talking patiently to an autistic person who is acting aggressively can defuse the situation.

He tells The New Paper on Sunday: "If there is no imminent danger, do not use physical force. Instead, try talking and listening to how the person responds. It might help you get an inkling of whether the person has special needs.

"If talking one-on-one does not work, get more people to surround the person. It might calm him down and make him more self-aware of his anger."

Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre, says there is still a lot to be done when it comes to autism awareness here.

Ms Phua, who is also MP for Jalan Besar GRC, says: "I fully empathise with Kah Ying and Sebastien." (See report)

"This incident shows there is more that can be done as a society in terms of awareness and training.

"But it will take the effort and resolve of all of us - government agencies, schools, families, voluntary welfare organisations and members of the public who will take action with us by joining awareness events such as The Purple Parade."

Five tips for interacting with someone who has autism, according to the Autism Resource Centre:

• Visually show or write what you want to say

• Speak clearly

• Pause to allow time for response

• Remember that each individual is unique and may act differently from others

• Give praise to reinforce good actions

Her son put his fingers in stranger's mee goreng

When Madam Aw Bee Koon takes her autistic son Zachary Lim, 17, out for meals, she often keeps a close eye on him as he has a habit of staring closely at other people's food.

Madam Aw, 51, a pharmacist, says whenever it happens, she worries that people will lash out at him.

She recalls one incident where she had to face an irate man after Zachary stuck his fingers into the man's plate of mee goreng before walking away.

Speaking to The New Paper on Sunday, she recounts: "The man said, 'Do you know what your son did? Buy me a new bowl, I am not going to eat this.'"

Zachary, a student at Pathlight School, was behind his mother when the drama ensued.

She says: "I apologised and explained that my son is autistic. I said I would buy him another plate of mee goreng, but he was still furious.

"It was only when I was queueing for his food that he calmed down and apologised for his outburst."

Madam Aw is married to an information technology director, and they also have a 19-year-old daughter, who is studying at Nanyang Technological University.

She says it is challenging having Zachary out with them on family outings.

She says: "When we are at restaurants, he tends to spin around or peer closely at other people's food.

"We get smiles from understanding people. But other times, we get disgusted looks."

She wishes people would be more accepting of older children with autism.

She explains: "People tend to be more forgiving towards autistic children than autistic teenagers."


Madam Aw says she will still take Zachary out to public places as it will help him adjust better to other people.

"I want him to be desensitised to public spaces so that he can learn how to behave appropriately," says Madam Aw.

"Some families might feel ashamed for taking their children with special needs out.

"But taking them out shows people that autistic people exist, and that they should be accepted."

When asked what she wishes for her son, she says: "My aim for him is that he will be independent one day.

"I hope he will be able to buy his own meals and go out on his own.

"In the meantime, I will love him no matter what."

Plum sauce chicken wings

Grilled wings with aromatic tang

There is no need to fire up the barbecue grill to get that taste of smoky wings on the weekend.

Your oven grill can give you that barbecue effect with the charred edges. Grilled chicken wings is something you can cook up any time with minimal effort and fuss.

Frozen chicken wings are available at the supermarket. Marinating the wings in plum sauce gives it that aromatic tang. Balance it with a honey glaze.


  • 12 mid-joint wings
  • 3 tbsp plum sauce
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • Few dashes of white pepper
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced into a paste
  • 20g ginger, finely chopped



1. Rinse and dry the mid-joint wings. Place them in a dish.


2. In a bowl, add the garlic paste, chopped ginger, plum sauce, Chinese rice wine, sesame oil, fish sauce, light soy sauce and pepper. (Above)


3. Mix well and pour the mixture over the chicken wings. Marinate for two hours. (Above)


4. Arrange the wings on metal rack on baking tray. (Above)

5. Glaze with honey and grill the wings on medium heat for 8 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn over.

6. Baste with remaining marinade, glaze with honey again and continue grilling until the chicken wings are cooked through.


About the competition

The Get Lean, Get Strong Challenge 2016 is a fitness competition that challenges 10 participants to lose as much weight as they can.

Under the supervision of noted local trainer David Devito, contestants will undergo an intensive six-month training regime worth $5,000. This consists of one-hour classes at least twice a week at Mr Devito's gym, The Fitness Protocol.

Rather than focus solely on cardiovascular exercises like running, Mr Devito's methods have a strong emphasis on technique. They feature the use of a kettlebell.

Participants also have to watch what they eat and adhere to a strict diet that Mr Devito and his team will plan and monitor.

The winner will get prizes worth more than $6,000. There are also prizes for the second- and third-placed contestants and consolation prizes for the other seven contestants.

Changing diets to get lean

Besides training, Get Lean, Get Strong Challenge contestants change their diets

Food was never something he thought twice about.

Breakfast could be anything from nasi lemak to prata for Mr Justin David. He also loved briyani, and ate it at least twice a week for dinner.

But after he joined the Get Lean, Get Strong Challenge 2016 in early April and started watching what he ate, the 33-year-old warehouse assistant has managed to shed 4kg.

The challenge is jointly presented by The New Paper and fitness equipment specialist AIBI.
Last month, Mr David and nine other contestants were selected from a pool of more than 80 applicants for the Challenge.

He tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Last time, I would whack any kind of food I wanted. But those days are over, I monitor what I eat closely now."



His diet now mainly consists of lean meats, such as chicken breast, and vegetables. He also eats less rice and noodles because he was told to cut down on them by the Get Lean, Get Strong Challenge trainer David Devito.

As part of the challenge, Mr Devito is strictly monitoring what the 10 contestants eat every day. The contestants have to consume mainly protein and vegetables, with only a small amount of carbohydrates.

Says Mr Devito: "Protein is the main building block for people, and 90 per cent of people out there are not getting enough protein."

He adds it is also important to reduce their intake of carbohydrates and processed foods as they are a main cause for weight gain.

To make sure the contestants adhere to their diets, Mr Devito makes his contestants upload photos of their meals to a Facebook group, where he and his team post comments to advise them.


According to Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association accredited dietitian Jaclyn Reutens, food intake is an important consideration for weight management.

"Weight is 80 per cent diet and 20 per cent exercise. Many times people say they exercise five times a week but still don't lose weight, and it's because they don't change their diet," she says.

Breakfast for Mr David now is just two half-boiled eggs.

Making changes to his meals is a "big sacrifice," he says, but he feels that all the effort will be worth it when the competition ends in September.

He adds: "I am already seeing the results, so I will keep going till the end."


OED did not invent 'Chinese Helicopter'

No, Oxford English Dictionary didn't invent this S'porean term

Look! Up in the sky.

It's a bird!

It's a Chinese helicopter!

It's 19 new Singapore English words in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Actually, it's only 17 words because "lepak" and "sabo" were each counted twice as a verb and a noun.

Wait. "Sabo" can be used as a noun? Really? I think Oxford kena sabo.

Also, the inclusion of "lepaking" and "sabo king" seems rather random as "blur" is also added but not "blur king". Why so sotong?

By the way, "sotong" is another new entry but is counted only as a noun. Shouldn't it be counted as an adjective as well? Don't be such a sotong king, Oxford.

And how is "HDB" a word? It's just an abbreviation for Housing and Development Board.

Might as well include MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), CPF (Central Provident Fund) and CMI (cannot make it).

And if names of local food and beverage like "char siu", "chilli crab" and "teh tarik" can qualify to be in the dictionary, where does it end?

Is it only a matter of time before "bo bo cha cha", "McDonald's curry sauce" and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim's favourite, "orh lua", all become Oxford-approved words?

By the way, remember how a few years ago, the Malaysian tourism minister claimed that chilli crab is a Malaysian dish, sparking a debate over its true origin?

In one fell swoop, Oxford pretty much settles it by defining "chilli crab" as "a dish originating in Singapore but also popular in Malaysia".

Ha! Take that, Malaysia.

Unfortunately, there's no word yet from Oxford on the origin of Hainanese chicken rice, which the Malaysian minister also claimed to be Malaysian, so that's still up in the air.

As a Hainanese person, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the origin of Hainanese chicken rice is… Hainanese?

Food origins aside, probably the most controversial addition to the dictionary is "Chinese helicopter", which has nothing to do with China or aviation.

Oxford defines it as "a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English".

According to the 1985 book, Army Daze, by Michael Chiang: "The story goes that a Chinese-educated recruit, when asked what school he came from, answered 'Chinese helucated', which went down in the army annals as Chinese helicopter."


Yet it seems that many Singaporeans have never heard of the term. One person in an online forum accused Oxford of making it up: "Oxford invent new Singlish slang for us?"

A headline on the AsiaOne website asks: "What's a 'Chinese helicopter'? Latest Singlish entry in Oxford Dictionary has us scratching our heads."

A BBC headline says: "'Chinese helicopter': Singlish OED entry baffles Singaporeans."

I am baffled that Singaporeans are baffled by "Chinese helicopter". Maybe they didn't do national service.

Even Chinese helicopters know what "Chinese helicopter" means.

In 2005, film-maker and performer Jack Neo starred in a one-man stage show called The Last Chinese Helicopter.

He said at the time: "I look at things from the perspective of a Chinese helicopter. But some things are always the same, no matter how you look at it. If you get a traffic summons, it's still the same experience, no matter what you're educated in."

In a 2004 interview with The Straits Times, Neo's frequent collaborator, Mark Lee, was asked: "Are you really a Chinese helicopter? You were a student at Jurong Secondary School which is an English-medium school, no? So how come your English is so like that?"

Lee replied: "My first language is Hokkien and I was (in) the last batch of Chinese-educated students in the school. So really, I am really Chinese helicopter."

Wait, does this mean that Lee, 47, is among the last generation of Singaporeans to be schooled in the Chinese medium?

So no new Chinese helicopters have been produced since then?

No wonder many (younger?) Singaporeans have never heard the term.

Chinese helicopters are a dying breed.

So it's good they have now been memorialised in the Oxford English Dictionary.

At least we'll still have Ah Bengs. They will never die out.

I can't wait for "Ah Beng" to get into Oxford.

And maybe "Ah Lian" too.

Then we can all say in unison another new word in the dictionary: "Wah".