Like everyone, I was mesmerized by Singapore. Landing at the small Penang airport was anticlimactic after the glamorous Changi Airport. Everything was less glittery, less efficient, and ATM’s tended to eat up cards. I could see from everyone’s faces that after travelling for two weeks, people weren’t excited for Penang. However, the initial impressions would change and Penang started to grow on us all!
Time changes perspectives and impressions.
We stayed in Singapore for around 4 days and by the end of it all, I could argue that we had seen most of the major landmarks. With each passing day, and Professor Henry’s “drinking the kool-aid” lectures, we got more critical of Singapore. However, with Penang it was the other way around.
People were friendly. Random strangers struck up a conversation. There were “unplanned” surprises in many street corners. Like the elderly man making incense, a veteran journalist sharing stories. Penang didn’t feel as “touristic” and it felt like you could explore and uncover new experiences not in a travel brochure. Penang didn’t wow me with first impressions but with time I began to love Penang more and more!
Bangladeshis, Bangladeshis everywhere!
The first night in Penang I was shocked to hear one of our food vendors counting money in Bengali, my mother tongue! Striking up a conversation, I got to learn that he is a Bangladeshi like me and has been working in Penang for the last two years. He further told me that there were a lot more Bangladeshis in Penang. I didn't need to wait long to find more. Our hostel, restaurants, shops, Bangladeshis were everywhere. I was enthralled! I never knew so many Bangladeshis lived and worked in Penang. Speaking to a few of them gave me a unique perspective on migration and South East Asia’s immigration policies. Most of the Bangladeshi workers come through a work visa that is tied to a specific employer. Once here, they have limited options to change employment, they can only do so with the approval of their employer. Furthermore, they can stay a maximum of ten years without any opportunity for residency or citizenship. One of our hostel staff, who had been working in Penang last eight years is now concerned on what he should do after his permit expires. After, all he has lived a significant portion of his life here and soon he has to go back.
Like them, I’m also currently a migrant worker in Canada. I can’t fathom the possibility of not getting a residency after ten years of living in my new home. Your new home becomes your one and true home and it must be very difficult for them. To be always on the bridge between two places. Migration can be lucrative for those with limited opportunities, but amongst the economic opportunities it presents, there are a lot of psychological and emotional costs that needs to be taken into account.