There’s a lot of construction, or some would say upgrading, work being done in my small neighbourhood. First it was the ‘renewal’ of the playground and adult exercise corners, some of which weren’t more than 5 years old.
Then kilometres of grassy hedges were hacked up to build parallel cycling paths. Now they are smashing up the perpendicular paths and filling them up again. So we see all sorts of diggers and today, chanced upon a cement mixer at work.
Since we had time, we paused to look. I got a chance to explain to K why the barrel of the cement mixer had to keep moving, what it contained, and how the liquid would eventually solidfy.
We even took a video of the cement spewing out, and the workers spreading it out with hoes.
After we came back from our errand, it was all nicely spread out.
Here’s how it looked when it had completely dried. I appreciated the fact that it was rougher gravel this time, instead of smooth slippery cement. There was even a row of tactile tiles for the blind, indicating steps. Great teaching moment, for K to witness first hand how pavements are made!
As a result of all this building work, there are quite a number of construction workers around our estate too. Most Singaporeans hurry past such foreign workers, either treating them like they don’t exist, or wishing they didn’t exist.
For us, I feel that having very young children is a good ice-breaker. We’ve started with the cleaners in our estate. Instead of treating them like pariahs, we have the children chirp “Hello Uncle!” and wave bye-bye when we meet. It’s harder with K, but she does agree with wave bye, and I’d smile and say “Good morning” too. It’s a bit harder without children around, but usually I still manage a small smile, and deliberately not veer away from them, as most might. Such shunning might be virtually imperceptible, but I’m sure those who experience it feel it keenly.
Whilst children have to be aware of safety issues, I find that most times, we see danger where there is none. (The general rule we tell the kids to observe, is not to talk to strangers when we are not around. But at this age, we are always with them anyway.) These construction workers and cleaners may be alien to us because they are from foreign countries, but I’d say that most of them are hardworking people just like us, trying to eke a decent living out in a foreign land.
Their jobs may be menial, but all the more we should appreciate them for doing work that no one else born and bred here is willing to do. The least we could do is treat them as equals, instead of suspecting all as would-be criminals.
I want my children to grow up understanding that there is dignity in every job, no matter how low-paying or undesirable it may seem to the world. I want them to grow up giving respect to every human being, and not discriminating against those who were born with fewer opportunities than us.
So I am glad, when 2 year old B shouts “Hello Uncle!” without prompting when she spots a bright yellow tee. And I grin, when he smiles and yells “Hello little baby!” back. He probably has a family that he dearly misses back home. He might even have children of the same age that he is working day and night here to support.
It doesn’t take much to make the world a kinder place. A smile, a nod of acknowledgement, a gesture to let them know their work is appreciated. Tiny steps towards a more gracious Singapore.