updated 17 Sep 2013, 10:59
Login password
Thu, Jan 21, 2010
The New Paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Legally married, but life like a mistress


UNDER the shade of the zinc awning of a house, women and their children milled around a large greasy table.

The women were tying green plastic strings to plastic bags – the kind used for take-away drinks at hawker centres and coffee shops in Singapore – as their young children played around them.

“We don’t work, so we do this to supplement the money we get from our husbands. We do this from morning till night, sometimes up to 9pm, every day,” said one of the women, adding that they earn about $100 a month.

These women could have passed off as a group of mothers chatting and going about their chores as they waited for their husbands to come home from work – except that most of their men are home only a day or two every few weeks.

They seemed bemused by our interest in their mundane lives. Why, they ask.

Are we worried they would kill another Singaporean man, one woman said jokingly, referring to the death of a Singaporean man last week.

He was allegedly stabbed by his Indonesian wife in another part of the island.

Among the women was Madam Yeni, 40. Despite being legally married to a Singaporean, there is little difference between her life and those of mistresses of foreign men.

She sees her 58-year-old husband only briefly once every two weeks.

Her children, like those born out of wedlock, spend very little time with their dad.

Like the other women there, she has little idea about her husband’s work. It doesn’t matter as long as her husband continues giving her an allowance.

Madam Yeni, from Bogor in West Java, met her husband 13 years ago at a coffee shop she worked in.

She said in Bahasa Indonesia: “He used to come with friends on weekends and we got to know each other.”

The couple married in 2004, after she bore him two children. Their son is now 11, and daughter, 8. It was the first marriage for both. They now have another daughter, 6.

They see each other once every two weeks.

“Sometimes I go to Singapore if he’s busy with work, sometimes he comes here,” she said.

In 2005, her husband took their son to Singapore for his studies. He now lives with his father and his uncle in a Sungei Road flat.

Why didn’t she move to Singapore with her daughters?

She said: “I don’t like Singapore. I prefer Batam, I’ve lived her for 13 years, and my relatives live nearby here. In Singapore, my relatives are far away.”

Does she feel sad about living apart from her husband and her son?

Can’t help it

“I’m all right with it. I can’t help it if it’s for work,” she replied, adding that her husband works on a ship that sometimes requires him to travel to other countries.

What does she do while her husband is away?

In the morning, she said, she sends her daughters to school, and then shops at the market, before returning home to do household chores.

In the afternoon, she takes her children home from school and chats with other women in the estate.

Madam Yeni showed us her room which she shares with her two daughters. Her rent is 400,000 rupiah ($60) a month.

Hers is one of seven partitioned rooms in a dimly-lit and poorly-ventilated one-storey terrace house.

It is so small that only a queen-size mattress, a plastic cabinet and a small TV set can fit in.

Still, she’s better off than some of the other women. They live in a makeshift row of 3-metre by 3-metre box rooms that become unbearably hot in the afternoon.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

Read also:

readers' comments

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.