Geylang is like her second home

Geylang is like her second home
Mr Koh Soon Hong with his 14-year-old daughter.

SINGAPORE - Every Friday evening, she makes her way to Geylang - alone.

There, she surfs the Internet and chats to her Papa. On Sunday, she returns to her guardian's flat in the north of Singapore.

This routine started when she was just eight years old. Sara (we're not using her real name, to protect her identity) is now 14.

Asked about Geylang's seedy reputation, she says: "There's nothing to be worried about. I've been travelling like this since young. I'm used to it."

In the estate that she said was like a second home, people leave her alone. Ditto for the men who wander in and out of the workshop past midnight. "They (Papa's friends) know who I am. After all, they've seen me since I was a little kid."

Sara recounted: "There was only once when a taxi driver wanted to know what I was doing in Geylang so late. He had no more questions after I said I was visiting my father's house."

She likes visiting her father as she can surf the Net to her heart's content and sleep late. Her guardian, to whom Mr Koh pays a $300 monthly stipend, "is rather strict".

Sara's wish - to live with her father in their own place - is a distant hope, for now. "Papa says there's no money, so we have to wait until things get better."

Her biological mother is a taboo topic. "Papa says he doesn't know (when I ask about her)," Sara added.

"My birth cert has her name and age but that's all. I don't know how they met. She's in Thailand and I don't even know how to start looking for her." There is no photo to refer to, nothing except the observation: "Papa said I have her lips".

She has an equally vague memory of linking her father with the Chinese masseuse, as he claimed.

"I met China mum in Shenzhen. Papa asked who among the foot reflexologist staff I preferred," Sara recalled. "I didn't know what was going on, so I just anyhow pointed."

She has little interaction with her father's ex-wife and paternal relatives in Singapore. Neither does she keep in touch with her Batam stepmother or step-siblings, as she does not speak Bahasa Indonesia.

The self-described average Express-stream student likes maths but is "not very good at it". To which her father remarked: "No point studying so much, unless you're among the top students. Better to work instead."

But Sara has her own dream: "I don't really know what to study in future but I hope I can be a star because I like to dance."

 

This article was published on May 4 in The New Paper.

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