Filipino woman, 36, who left sons behind 10 years ago to work in S'pore: 'I do this for my family'

Kaypoh-ing Strangers: A foreigner in Singapore shares about the sacrifices she had to make to give her two sons a better life.

Mothership | June 26, 2022, 11:58 AM

KAYPOH-ING STRANGERS: What is going through the mind of the person standing in front of you in the bubble tea shop queue? What are the fears and hopes of the person sitting next to you on the MRT? When did the person walking past you on the street feel the proudest in their life?

Kaypoh-ing Strangers is a Mothership series in which we approach ordinary people in Singapore to explore their stories and find out how they see the world.

We came across Christine, 36, at Pasir Ris Bus Interchange on Apr. 20, 2022. She was sitting alone, watching videos on her phone during her lunch break as a full-timer at Old Chang Kee in White Sands Mall.

Christine, who is a Filipino, has been in Singapore for 10 years on a Work Permit. She left behind her parents and two sons to work in Singapore for a better salary. Better pay is important to her as she had wanted to save for her family's future.

Christine shared what it's like being over a thousand miles from her loved ones, and how she has adapted to life in Singapore on her own.

By Christine, as told to Syahindah Ishak

Can you share a bit more about yourself?

I’m quite outspoken. I’m also very emotional and honest. I'm just very open lah. If I’m sad, people can see it. If I’m happy, people can see it too. I don't hide anything.

What was the happiest moment in your life?

Happiest moment was when I had my anak-anak ("children" in Malay).

How many children do you have?

I have two.

How old are they?

My first one is 18 and my second one is 16.

Are they in Singapore?

No. They’re in Philippines.

So do you live here alone?

Yes. I’m renting and staying on my own. But I have a lot of relatives who are already PRs (Permanent Residents) and Singaporeans. They stay far away lah but at least I still have them here, you know?

They live around Boon Lay, Dhoby Ghaut, Potong Pasir, and Hougang. For me, I’m staying nearby [in Bedok]. It's near to my workplace and very easy for me to go to work lah.

What about your husband?

My husband is in the Philippines with our children. He was actually working here in Singapore last time. We came here together to work and to get better salaries for our family.

But then, the restaurant he worked at shut down. He could not find another job, and he also could not overstay here because we both [are] Work Pass Holders. So he had no choice but to go back [to the Philippines].

So that’s why I’m alone here now. He’s been back in the Philippines for close to three years now.

You didn’t experience the same issues as him?

Luckily no. I still had my [work] contract in Old Chang Kee. It was difficult for every company because of the pandemic. Owners need to stretch out to save the company and the employees.

It's still hard for my boss but they are doing their best for everyone else. It’s not easy, we are all struggling to earn a living and in this tough time, we should have more patience and more understanding to help one another so everyone can move forward towards better days.

I also know that in the Philippines, jobs were also affected by the pandemic. So I told myself, since I still have my job, my salary is okay, and my colleagues okay, I just stay lah. So my husband went home and I stayed.

But my husband said that if there’s an opportunity for him to come back to Singapore, he would lah.

What's it like to be in another country, away from your family?

It's not easy, of course. I first left Philippines 10 years ago to come here. I left my parents and my children. My parents took care of my children back then because they were still very small. It was very hard. Every day, I miss them. Especially my anak. But we always video call.

Actually, for every school holiday that they have, and if I have enough savings, I ask them to come by [to Singapore]. So every year, they will come to visit. Sometimes I will also go back to get a break. But since Covid, we could not travel. So we only video call lah.

When my husband was here, he also feel same. But we are here to work for our families and to give them good life. So we always stayed strong.

10 years ago means you were 26 years old when you came here, right?


A recent photo of Christine that she shared with us.

Can you share more about your decision to work here in Singapore?

The first time I came [to Singapore] was just as a tourist. But then my aunt, who lives in Singapore, told me that I could actually apply for work here. She said the salary will be better for my children.

So after she told me that, I went home and I asked my mum about it. I asked if she okay with me working in Singapore and if she can take care of my children. My mother agree, thankfully. She also said lah, that if I work in Singapore, the salary is better for my family and we can save more for the future, for my children to go school and all.

Ya so since then, I work here and live here.

Do you ever regret your decision?

(*Laughs*) No lah. I do this for my family. All for my family, they are my inspiration, most especially my children. In life, you must always make sacrifices for better living, because if not, you cannot improve or achieve more for yourself and for the people you love.

Life is tough but we have to be more tougher. Problems will always be there but you have to take it easy and leave everything to God, for He will not forsake us. We have to take it easy and just go with the flow, be an inspiration to others and always choose to be kind and happy.

I have to choose to stay in Singapore for the future of my children. If I didn’t come here, my children ah.. how to go to school?

When was the last time you cried?

Yesterday. My son ah...he sprained his leg. He got sprained ankle because he went to play basketball. I mean, I understand lah because when playing sports, accidents do happen, right? So it’s normal lah.

But of course, for me as a mum, I cannot go back and take care of my anak. So that made me sad and I teared up.

Is his injury serious?

No, not so serious. It was a sprain only. He already went doctor and the doctor bandaged his ankle and gave some antibiotics and painkillers. Lucky no need any operation lah.

But it was still something that affected me lah.

When was the last time you felt proud?

Recently, on Apr. 15.

My oldest son just started working part-time while studying in school. So in the morning, he’s studying and in the afternoon, he’s working at McDonald's as a part-timer.

So on the 15th, he got his first salary. I was so so so happy and proud of his achievement. He called me and told me: "Mama I got my salary!"

I was very very happy. His achievement is like my achievement as a mother, you know?

When he told me about getting his first salary, I told him: "I cannot always give you the fish. You must learn to catch the fish on your own. I cannot always protect you. You go and spread your wings and do your own thing because from that, you will learn about life."

That’s what I want [my children] to understand. If they don't experience these things on their own, they will never learn about life and they will take things for granted.

Did you ask him what he'd do with the money?

He told me he will belanja ("treat" in Malay) grandma and grandpa. Then I asked him what else he wanted to buy, and he told me he wants to save [the rest of the money].

He’s graduating soon. He told me he wants to go Japan. So he wants to save for Japan, he wants to explore Japan on his own. He said he doesn’t want me to spend the ticket for him so he will use his own money.

I can’t help but notice that you slipped in some Malay words and also a bit of Singlish. Can you share more about how you had to adapt here when you first arrived?

I’ve been here for 10 years already, I already adapt to how Singaporeans speak, their gestures. I can speak Malay a bit. Mandarin a bit also. And Singlish. (*Laughs*)

But of course, when I first came here. I was a bit bodoh-bodoh ("stupid" in Malay). (*Laughs*)

I was always confused when I hear people talking. I’ll be like: "Huh? What are they saying?"

So I challenged myself. I know I must learn to adapt because I don’t want people to talk behind my back. It's not nice lah. And I also don't want to feel like outsider when I work with my colleagues.

I wanted to stay connected with the different races, different characters and attitudes, but we have to compromise and build a happy workplace and treat everyone as our family. So I asked my colleagues for help to teach me Mandarin and Malay, as well as learning to speak Singlish lah. But after a while, it turned to be some good laugh at our workplace to make work load lighter. And after that, I got used to it already.

I'm used to the life here lah. Singapore is like my second home.

Top image via Unsplash.