A Causeway too far

The closing of the border has directly impacted the lives of those who live in Johor and are unable to commute to Singapore for work


Amirul Suffian found a circle of friends to do recreational activities together like cycling – Pic courtesy of Amirul Suffian

IN THE five years that he has been working in Singapore, never once had Amirul Suffian Abd Malik thought about spending a night there, as he would commute daily between Johor and Singapore.

However, no thanks to the pandemic, Amirul Suffian has been stranded in The Lion City for almost seven months, leaving his beloved wife and two-year-old daughter across the border.

During the first month of his stay in Singapore, the 32-year-old bus captain had a bout of depression and had to take a one-week break from work.

“It was not easy at first. I missed my family a lot and my health was affected. My supervisor thought I was infected with Covid-19 and asked me to take a swab test.

“However, the doctor said I did not have Covid-19, but depression. The company offered to send me back to Malaysia, but I could lose my job,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a phone interview.

Thinking of his family and other commitments under his belt, Amirul Suffian chose to stay and keep his job.

“My family is both my strength and my weakness. I must endure this. I decided not to think too much and handled the stress. I make video calls to my wife and daughter whenever I have free time.

“Luckily, I found a circle of friends to do recreational activities together like cycling, to stay healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. We even have a group name and special t-shirts,” he added.

Two weeks ago, the group, mostly Malaysians, cycled for 80km. They have formed a strong bond and a support system for each other.

As if fruitful to his perseverance, Amirul Suffian said he could not wait for November, when he is able to go home to his family under the Periodic Commuting Arrangements (PCA).

Indeed, the closing of the border has directly impacted the lives of those who live in Johor Baru and are unable to commute to Singapore for work.

Amirul Suffian is considered luckier than some fellow Malaysians who have been reportedly sleeping by the roadside or on public benches, and having to bathe in public toilets.

Apparently, hundreds of Malaysians who are working in Singapore, had to rough it out as a result of the closure of the Malaysia-Singapore border.

The high cost of living in the republic, exacerbated by pay cuts, forced many Malaysians to resort to drastic measures to scrimp on whatever they have to survive.

Malaysians working in Singpore also have to adhere to regulations set by their employers which, in turn, have forced them to remain in Singapore, despite the permission to return to the country as stipulated by the PCA.

Among others, the workers need to comply with the 14-day mandatory quarantine upon returning to Malaysia, and another round of quarantine when they return to Singapore.

Mohd Syafiq Mohd Ramadzan, 35, who is a warehouse assistant at J&T Express Singapore said he did not even have a chance to pack anything when the Circuit Breaker was announced.

Prior to the Circuit Breaker, Mohd Syafid chose to commute daily from Johor to Singapore since he started working there last year.

He is, however, relieved that his employer provided all the basic needs and accommodation throughout the Circuit Breaker.

To overcome homesickness and loneliness, Mohd Syafiq goes fishing at East Coast Park with his friends – Pic courtesy of Mohd Syafiq

“Of course, I miss my wife, but at some point, we got used to it. I plan to take a long holiday and go home. I cannot wait to eat my wife’s special ayam asam pedas,” he told TMR.

To overcome homesickness and loneliness, Mohd Syafiq would go fishing at East Coast Park and Changi Village with his friends.

“We usually fish from 8pm to 8am. Our biggest catch was a stingray, which we brought home and cooked,” he said.

Meanwhile, Joanne Chong is experiencing a different situation. The public relations consultant from Kuala Lumpur who has been working and staying in Singapore since October last year used to visit her family once a month.

“The last time I was back in my hometown was in February. I miss the warmth and kindness of Malaysians who always make people feel like they are at home.

“These days, I keep in touch with friends in Malaysia through social media and I will call my family once a week,” she told TMR.

Chong spends her free time visiting new places in Singapore and working out with her friends at MacRitchie Reservoir.

“I am always looking for Malaysian food when I go out, like banana leaf rice, pan mee and nasi lemak.

“I hope I can go home for the next Chinese New Year and stay for a longer period. I need to eat all the food and see everyone that I miss,” she said.

Tan Jung Yee, an account director with a communications consultant company did not anticipate the situation would be this long drawn.

Apart from her loved ones, Tan also missed the vibe of Malaysia, the openness of the beach and forests, and the food.

“Cooking and eating together over a video call really kept me sane. During the height of the lockdown, I did a lot of cooking with loved ones and even learned to cook healthy Indian meals with @simplyindi_an over Zoom. Cooking has always been therapeutic for me.

“Now that we can go out, I spend a lot of time outdoors, exploring and riding a bumboat to places like Pulau Ubin. It is absolutely gorgeous and reminds me of the islands back home” she added.

Tan plans to go home as soon as an air travel bubble beyond business opens between Malaysia and Singapore, or when home quarantine is allowed at the very least.

Otherwise, she said, it could be costly back and forth in terms of money and time.

“I am really hoping to go home soon to be with my family and ensure they get the care they need. Time is passing quickly, and it is time we will never get back.

“Ultimately though, safety is the main priority for me and family members. So, for now, we wait,” she said.