[This question came up in a chat group I’m in. My response below.]
Let’s think about how the words “migrant” and “foreign” are used.
When I am dealing with an idea that is completely unfamiliar, I say that “the idea is foreign to me”. When an object that does not belong in a human body enters it — like a sharp piece of something — we say something like “the foreign object entered his body, causing injury”.
When we think of “migrants”, on the other hand, we think of migrant birds, migrant animals — or the fact that the vast majority of us (Singaporeans) are either descendants of people who migrated from lands some distance away or first-generation migrants.
Describing people as “foreign workers”, therefore, foregrounds the differences between “us” and “them” — they are foreign, they are alien, they are something other than us.
But when we say “migrant workers”, we leave more linguistic space to acknowledge commonalities. They are migrants, and we are migrants and the children of migrants.
I suspect we’ll end up thinking of yesterday’s announcements as a little too gentle for how the crisis will play out in Singapore, and part of why I’m saying that is because I really hope that I end up wrong (my immediate family members are in the at-risk groups, and I really hate that). I think Malaysia’s decisions have been more appropriate in comparison to ours, and even more than 2 weeks after their MCO or movement control order (remember the mad causeway rush?), their Covid-19 cases are still increasing rapidly. They announced their MCO on 16 March when they had 566 cases, and Singapore announced our “circuit breaker” on 3 April, when we had 1114 cases. Quick maths: considering that Malaysia’s population is roughly 6 times of ours, we have considerably more cases per person. And our version of their MCO is still less drastic than theirs, with the Malaysia arresting those who refuse to go home, but with no mention of Singapore doing the same.
To remind us of our government’s message from yesterday (even though I clearly don’t agree with the extent of our measures):
Members of the public are strongly advised to stay home and avoid going out unnecessarily, except for daily necessities, essential services or urgent medical needs. Social contact should be limited to immediate family members in the same household. (Not I say one, is gahmen say one.)
MR SEAH’S CIRCUIT BREAKER
It is with sadness, therefore, that I have decided to move all of my tuition sessions online. I will be using a combination of Google Drive, video calls on various apps (Zoom, perhaps), and my usual practice of answering questions over text.
It is a sad thing to do, because I really value my time with my students. (I hope they do to!) When I don’t feel overworked, tuition sessions are a highlight of my day. I get into a flow state, and I suspect that some of my students do too. As a tutor, I always pay careful attention to non-verbal communication, which includes everything from body language to eye movements. I think my body language probably conveys a whole lot of information to my students, and we’re going to lose that. We’re also going to lose the joy that we get from the fact of face-to-face social contact.
Because non-verbal communication is so important in my teaching, I suspect that the quality of my teaching will drop, at least for awhile, while I learn how to teach at the same level as I would in person. I’m going to be learning as quickly as I can, that I promise.
I understand that some of you may not want to pay the full rate for tuition online, and that some of us may be having financial issues as this crisis drags on. While I hope that everyone continues paying my full rates, I won’t be dropping any student if their parents decide not to pay me in full. However, we all have to continue to pay our bills, and I will eventually have to give priority to those who pay me in full.
I welcome questions and comments from everyone. Agree or disagree with my choices and evaluation of the situation? Let me know! Let’s hope this all plays out as happily as it can.