Haunt on a hill

This small hill in Orchard is a favourite hang-out spot with foreign women.

SINGAPORE - A small hill in Orchard Road is abuzz with activity every Sunday.

From around 11am, dozens of foreign women — most of whom are believed to be Filipino domestic helpers — start filling a vacant plot of land next to Overseas Family School at Paterson Road.

Some have moved away from their usual haunts like Lucky Plaza to seek refuge from the crowds on this hill opposite ION Orchard.

Here, they either put up tents or sit under trees.

Many of them were eating, chatting, singing and taking pictures when The New Paper went there on Sunday.

There was even a makeshift flea market selling old clothes and goods handmade by maids.

Some Filipinos who frequent the place on Sundays told TNP that the hill can get really crowded between noon and 4pm.

When TNP arrived at around 1pm, nearly 300 people were in the space, which is about half the size of a football field.

For Filipinos like Ms Tess Saruno and her friends, who were there on Sunday afternoon, it is a place to meet familiar faces after a busy work week.

said Ms Saruno, who has worked here for 10 years: “We come here once a month. It is a good place to relax and meet friends after working hard for six days.”

The group was there to celebrate Ms Saruno’s 35th birthday.

They had arrived early to find a cosy spot on the hill and had a birthday cake and a spread of goodies to while away the hours.

“You see all sorts of people here on a Sunday. Some people sell clothes and there is even a fortune teller who walks around, offering to tell our fortunes for $10,” she added.

Another domestic helper, who has worked here for three years and who wanted to be known only as Marie, agreed that the hill was an ideal place to meet friends.

Said the 32-year-old: “You don’t need to spend much here. You just need a picnic mat and some snacks and you can sit down the whole day.”

None of the people TNP spoke to was sure exactly when the place became a favourite Sunday haunt.

Before ION Orchard was built, Filipino maids also gathered at the busy junction on Orchard Road and held picnics on the grass patch behind Orchard MRT station on Sundays.

“Some of them moved to this hill when construction of ION Orchard started. They come here to get away from busy Lucky Plaza,” said a Singaporean, who wanted to be known only as John.

The 45-year-old, who is unemployed, was at the park to meet some friends who are domestic helpers.

“At this hill, the atmosphere is always friendly. People come to meet friends, share food and relax,” he said.

But what of reports of gambling happening in the area? Two weeks ago, a team from the Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao spotted some maids openly gambling on the hill on a Sunday.

While TNP did not see any such activities during our visit on Sunday, some of the women declined to say if such activities took place regularly.

A Filipino domestic helper, who wanted to be known only as Vivian, 34, said: “People play card games to pass the time away, but that doesn’t mean we are gambling. We don’t earn enough to do that.”

zothman@sph.com.sg

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