SINGAPORE - At 11pm last Thursday, as festivities for the first day of the Chinese New Year were drawing to a close, a group of foreign workers from a Jurong East dormitory started on a special trip.
"I have never gone overseas for a holiday before," construction worker Suyambulingam said as he boarded a tour bus. "Singapore does not count as I am here for work."
The 30-year-old Indian was among 120 workers who spent the festive break on a trip to Malaysia, organised and subsidised by dorm operator Westlite - the first time it was doing so. Travelling on three buses, the men from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 7am on Friday.
They visited Batu Caves with its famous Hindu temple, and also went to landmarks such as the Petronas Towers and Perdana Putra in Putrajaya, having meals in Indian restaurants, before spending the night in a hotel.
Yesterday morning, they went to Genting Highlands for more sightseeing and visited a few farms in the afternoon on the way back to Singapore.
Mr Sadheesh, a 31-year-old construction worker from India, said: "My favourite part was the temple at Batu Caves. I felt at peace after praying for my family there."
Mr K.P. Sabarinath, a purchaser in the marine industry, said he felt less homesick as he found the landscape in Malaysia a lot like in India.
All 120 spots for the two-day, two-night trip were snapped up, said Westlite's Toh Guan dorm manager, Mr M. Arasu, 49. "We have done local excursions, but we wanted something special this year because of the long weekend."
The workers paid $140 each while Westlite - which runs three dorms and is expected to open another this year - topped up more than $200 per worker.
"It sounded like a good deal," said 55-year-old construction worker Liu Yi Jian, the only Chinese national on the trip. "We got to stay in a hotel, and we had a bus to take us everywhere."
Having a tour guide was another plus, said Mr Sabarinath. The 34-year-old remembers cutting short a trip to Batam four years ago because he and his friends could not understand the language.
Mr Nuruzzaman, 25, from Bangladesh, said: "If we didn't go, we would have nothing to do in Singapore anyway. It was also a chance to get another stamp on my passport, other than from Singapore and Bangladesh."
It was a tiring two days, especially after the late-night end to the trip yesterday, but they returned rejuvenated. Mr Suyambulingam said: "When your heart is happy, your body is too."
This article was first published on February 22, 2015.
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