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Tue, Jan 19, 2010
The New Paper
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Batam women open up on life as wives or mistresses of foreigners
by Lediati Tan and Kelvin Chng


IT’S like any other working-class neighbourhood in the city.

The streets are dusty and lined with litter. Paint is peeling from many of the single-storey terrace houses. Motorcycles sit idle under the few trees.

But this place – known to the locals as Happy Garden – also has an underbelly that is known to the residents but seldom talked about.

Many women living here are in relationships – either legitimately or otherwise – with foreign men.

Locals told The New Paper on Sunday that the same thing occurs in other residential estates in Batam.

A man who runs a brothel in Nagoya town said there are more women in the area living off foreign men than there are prostitutes.

We arrived in Happy Garden, near the centre of Nagoya, just after noon and asked to see the head of the neighbourhood association, known as Pak RT – Bahasa Indonesia abbreviation for Rukun Tetangga or Mr Neighbourhood Harmony.

His wife, who greeted us, said he had gone for Friday prayers at the nearby mosque. When we told her about the purpose of our visit, she said with a hint of bashfulness: “Wait for my husband to return.”

Moments later, a man in a checked sarong showed up. Introducing himself as Mr Jumadi, 40, the Pak RT spoke openly about the unique households in the village and even introduced us to some of them.

In this estate of 313 households, he is in charge of 112.

Of them, about 10 households comprise Indonesian women and Singaporean men who have proper marriage certificates, he said, but he knows of at least another 10 households without the proper documents.

“Most of the men are over 50 years old while the wives are mostly between 25 and 30-plus and come from places such as Java, Medan and Kalimantan,” said Mr Jumadi in Bahasa Indonesia.

The Pak RT said there used to be more such households before 2008, but many moved out after a crackdown that year as it is illegal for unmarried couples to be living together.

Mr Jumadi, who has lived there for 15 years, said the neighbourhood used to be rather rough. There were drug addicts and robbery used to be common.

Though the neighbourhood is much safer these days, he said the situation for women married to older Singaporean men – Apek Singapore – has remained dire.

He said: “Many of these women move out after three to four months as most of them live in rented accommodation.

“Some have children with the men, some don’t.”

Madam Tan Ah Un, 40, a housewife from Medan, is one of those who ended up having a child.

She’s the mistress of a 60-year-old Malaysian man and claims she had no idea he was married until she was pregnant with his daughter.

Said Madam Tan in Bahasa Indonesia: “I was four months pregnant when he told me he had a family in Malaysia. I couldn’t do anything about it.”

She said her lover’s family in Malaysia does not know about her or their 7-year-old daughter.

She first met the man in a jackpot centre in Batam eight years ago.

It was her second day working as a cashier at the place owned by her first husband’s brother.

Said Madam Tan: “My first husband died of an illness more than 10 years ago. My three sons were still so young.

“So if these men came and offered to help us with money, who would turn it down?”

Most of the women interviewed told us similar stories of how they met their foreign partners.

It almost always starts with a chance meeting between the two in places ranging from kopitiams to shopping centres and entertainment outlets.

They fall in love and the woman becomes pregnant. They claim they continue staying with the men for years after that because of love.

But they admitted that the financial security provided by the men is also a major factor.

These women receive a monthly allowance of a few hundred dollars.

Madam Tan said: “Sure, some women have a comfortable life, but most of us here are struggling.

“The men who come here are poor themselves. If they’re rich, why would they want to marry Indonesian women?

“Singaporean women don’t want them because they’re poor, that’s why they are here.”

What would she do if she is abandoned one day?

“I have no plans. I’m definitely scared. But I won’t find another man. I’m old, I don’t think about things like that any more.

“I hope to grow old with him, he’s helped me a lot. When he’s old, I will take care of him.”

The women feel insecure.

Madam Tan said: “The men would never leave their wives in Singapore. Women here are constantly worried that they would abandon us for their wives. The wives here do not get enough affection.”

Do they see other men too?

No, they said. Madam Tan added: “We’re all housewives who stay at home. We need money to go out (with other men). How would we have the money to do so?”

But Mr Jumadi disputed this. He said he has seen some of the women with other men when their foreign partners are away.

The women appear to be almost resigned to their fate and are unapologetic about the way in which they choose to live.

When we asked if they hope to get out of this place in the future, one of them who is married to a Singaporean replied: “Of course, if we strike 4-D or our men strike it rich.”

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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readers' comments
Almost all of these ladies live in poverty conditions. They should use their contacts with Singaporeans men to learn skills to do some small scale businesses to prepare for the time when income from the men dry up. However, there is under currents in their environment such as the village head might dictate what they can do.
Posted by last_laugh on Fri, 22 Jan 2010 at 11:44 AM
Can't blame Singaporean ladies for wanting to marry rich. No one in her right mind fancies a life struggling from dawn to dusk juggling the stress of job, housework, child-rearing responsibilities and even husband-minding that can often be made worse by a nagging sense of guilt over not doing a good job in any of these areas. Compare this with that of a tai tai's, with a maid at her service, she can leisurely zip around in a car apportioning her day among quality time with kids, doting on her hubby, catching up with friends,taking care of her looks and even pursuing a personal hobby.
Posted by RuZeDUDz on Fri, 22 Jan 2010 at 09:33 AM
Singaporean ladies are too tough to get along. Most of them think that their future boyfriend must come from a rich family or holding a very senior post in either the private or public sector. Most Singaporean men have no choice but resign to their fate.
Singapore Girl is A Great Way To Fly and Singapore Boy is a great one to fry!
Posted by Superidiot on Thu, 21 Jan 2010 at 23:30 PM
Most asked for it so I've no sympathy for them. If the very few could marry our Singapore men legally, then, the rest should learn their to check on their men first before starting an illicit affair.
Posted by malinablu on Thu, 21 Jan 2010 at 13:49 PM

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