Emigrants in Singapore's 'little Myanmar' eye their homeland

Myanmar dresses and fabrics for sale inside Peninsula Plaza.
PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review

SINGAPORE - It was no more than a glance, but Aye Aye Win's respectful mid-sentence nod toward her 83-year-old father said as much as anything else about why she wants to remain in Singapore after three decades in the city-state, away from her family in Myanmar.

The old man, Maung Htay, had been in Singapore "for a few weeks" to get medical treatment that Aye Aye Win said was out of his reach at home -- a legacy of decades of meager health spending by Myanmar's long-ruling military junta.

She runs a small shop in Peninsula Plaza, a vibrant commercial complex that is the centre of Myanmar life in Singapore. Women, their cheeks painted with cream-coloured thanaka -- a Myanmar cosmetic made from tree bark -- perch on high stools behind shop counters selling cellphones. Other shops selling longyi -- a Myanmar version of the sarong -- sit alongside restaurants dishing up Myanmar staples such as tea-leaf salad and mohinga, a popular curried fish and noodle soup.

"I plan to stay here, though I know a lot of people who are going back," said Aye Aye Win, discussing the reasons why some of her compatriots in Singapore have returned since Myanmar's military-backed regime launched sweeping political and economic reforms five years ago.

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