Revolving Doors of Dispossession
Revolving Doors of Dispossession
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter writes an ethnography of eviction that highlights the ambiguous position of Indonesian migrant labor in the Growth Triangle. More specifically, it demonstrates not only a process of eviction, but also a kind of revolving door of accruing dispossession. This suggests that the position of Indonesian migrant labor in the Growth Triangle should be located at the historically contingent intersections between state regimes of deportation, a gendered transnational labor market, and the emotional economy that keeps migrants on the move. Moreover, taking the experiences of migrants seriously, and situating them historically, illustrates how state strategies and migrant tactics form part of an interconnected system that keeps people on the move in the borderlands.
Lina grew up in a village in South Sumatra, a few hours’ drive from the city of Palembang. The daughter of impoverished farmers, she received only a few years of schooling and, at the age of fifteen, following her parents’ prompting, was married to a man twice her age. Lina moved with him to Palembang, but the marriage ended a couple of years later. Unwilling to return home with nothing and still angry with her parents, she found a job cleaning in a hotel and a year later married a man of her own choosing. They had two children before the marriage ended in divorce in 1996. Lina complained that he never worked and was often gone all night, drinking, gambling, and seeing other women. Lacking skills, she was anxious about finding a job that would help support her children and herself.
Through a friend she was introduced to a man looking for women to work as maids in Malaysia. “Think of your children,” he told her. “In Malaysia you can make much more than you ever could here. Don’t worry about paying for the trip. That will be taken care of.” Lina could tell that he was a preman (thug) and that he was most likely untrustworthy. However, knowing that she had little or no chance of finding a job that would support her, much less her children, she quickly agreed, left her children with her mother-in-law, and promised to send money as soon as she received her first salary. The man brought her to an agent in the Sumatran city of Pekanbaru, where she was placed in a house with other women who were being sent to Malaysia. After one month Lina left for Peninsular Malaysia on a ferry from the Sumatran port of Dumai with her agent and twelve other women. During the first three months, she was told, her whole salary would be deducted in order to pay off her trip, her passport, and the fees of the first middleman who had brought her to the agent. Throughout the journey her passport remained in the hands of the middleman.
Upon arrival in the city of Malacca, Lina was placed with an ethnic Chinese (p.119) family with six children. For two years she worked every day from 5:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. without getting a single day off. She was allowed beyond the grounds of the house only every other Sunday, when she would join the family on a trip to the market. During these two years she never received a salary. Instead Lina’s employer promised her a lump sum when she returned to Indonesia at the end of her contract; that way, he told her, she would not waste it. While Lina claimed that her boss treated her well, his wife would often call her “pig” (babi) and give her pork to eat, knowing that she was a Muslim. Isolated, she had nowhere to turn.
One day in June 1998, when Lina was taking out the trash, she saw a police officer outside on the street whom she recognized as an acquaintance of her boss. He asked her to come along to the nearby police station, where she was told that they had to get in touch with the agent who had brought her to Malaysia and that she would be sent back to Indonesia. When she complained that she had not received a salary for the past two years, the officer told her that she had to wait to talk with the agent. She was put in jail for a few days before being taken to one of the detention camps where thousands of Indonesians were waiting to be deported. Lina had been caught in the Malaysian government’s Operation Go Away, and although she had entered the country with a passport, it was still with her agent, and she never saw it again.1 In order to make more money, Lina’s agent had probably never processed a work permit for her, and she was therefore in the country on a tourist visa working illegally. In spite of his negligence, it was Lina who suffered the consequences. However, what outraged her most was the suspicion that her boss had set her up in order to avoid having to pay the money that he owed her.
Lina spent two weeks in the detention camp before she was deported to Dumai, the same port from where she had left Indonesia. Upon hearing her story, one of her co-passengers took pity on her and brought her along to Batam, where he said it would be easy to find work. Without any money and with nothing to show from her two years in Malaysia, Lina was malu to return home and decided to go along with him. As she put it, “People will ask, ‘You have been gone for years. Where have you been? Where did you work? What do you have to show for it?’”
The man brought Lina to Nagoya, where he left her on her own in a dingy hotel area, a center for both prostitution and Indonesians moving in and out of Singapore and Malaysia. Within a few days the money Lina had been given was gone and she was already in debt for her hotel room. “I was (p.120) already out of money and I saw that selling myself (jual diri) was the only way to survive. So, there was this guy who liked me and I went with him and he paid me.”
I first met Lina in June 1998 along the strip of hotels and warungs (food stalls) where she was staying. I found that it was a place where it was easy to meet people moving across the border. When I last saw her in August 1999 she was still in the same place, trying to make money as a liar prostitute, still talking of returning home. Waiting in the lobby of her hotel room for clients by day or searching for them in the discos around town by night, she was making enough to survive. A year later, when I returned again, I learned she had gone back to Malaysia with her boyfriend and a passport in hand.
Moving Beyond the “Borderless World”
The aim of this chapter is to write an ethnography of eviction that highlights the ambiguous position of Indonesian migrant labor in the Growth Triangle. More specifically, Lina’s story highlights not only a process of eviction, but also a kind of revolving door of accruing dispossession. This suggests that the position of Indonesian migrant labor in the Growth Triangle should be located at the historically contingent intersections between state regimes of deportation, a gendered transnational labor market, and the emotional economy that keeps migrants on the move.
The fact that these national borders are regulated, not closed, makes the position of Indonesian labor more complicated than might first appear. First, migrant mobility in the context of state regulation is made possible by an “immigration industry” (Wong 2005) that cuts through “legal” and “illegal” forms of labor and is constituted through various forms of middlemen and documents—most notably passports—that both facilitate and constrain mobility. Second, both Malaysia and Singapore depend heavily on “illegal” Indonesian men who work for low wages in industries such as construction and plantation agriculture (in Malaysia). Identifying migrants as “illegal” is a form of de-legitimation that allows the “host” country to deport them without acknowledging any rights or entitlements (e.g., Sassen 1998; De Genova 2002). The regular cycles of amnesties and mass deportations in Malaysia and Singapore, which have tended to coincide with periods of crisis, makes this particularly clear. Third, a large number (p.121) of the “legal” workers crossing the border are women who work as maids for the rapidly expanding middle classes in Malaysia and Singapore. Through the 1990s and the first years of the 2000s the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” migrants in the context of unskilled Indonesian labor migration increasingly became a gendered one. This has not, however, necessarily offered women a more livable situation, as Lina’s story illustrates. Instead, it has merely guaranteed a regular flow of maids to Malaysia and Singapore. Maids, in fact, have lower salaries and are more isolated than many of the illegal male laborers, who often live and work with others in the same situation. Fourth, as Lina’s story shows, there is a form of transnational exchangeability of female labor within (and beyond) the Growth Triangle. These are the gendered dynamics of inequality that have emerged in this transnational space, which position factory and sex workers on one side of the border and maids on the other. The formal and informal outsourcing of brothels and factories to the Indonesian side of the border has been matched by the dramatic increase in maids in Malaysian and Singaporean homes in the context of an emerging “care deficit” (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2002).
Lina’s story allows us to consider these groups together, not only as a gendered system of transnational labor, but also—following from earlier chapters—as part of a common emotional economy in which the relationship between malu and merantau is critical. More generally, taking the experiences of migrants seriously, and situating them historically, illustrates how state strategies and migrant tactics form part of an interconnected system that keeps people on the move in the borderlands (cf. De Certeau 1988).
Historicizing Border Control
As I described in chapter 1, at the turn of the twentieth century Singapore straddled the geographical boundary between the Dutch and English colonial empires. In terms of economic influence, however, it transgressed these boundaries as an entrepôt for colonial trade between China and India, and as a center of capitalist expansion as the production of tin and rubber fueled the industrial revolution in Europe and the United States. While Chinese and Indian migrant labor dramatically transformed Singapore into a frontier town and its surrounding regions—including Peninsular Malaysia and Riau—into sites of capitalist extraction, migrants from the Dutch (p.122) East Indies (contemporary Indonesia) found work as smallholders and merchants or worked as coolies on the Dutch side of the border in Riau.
Stricter immigration regulations were first enforced by the British colonial government during the world depression in the early 1930s, but it was first after independence in 1957 that the politics of nation building virtually stopped Chinese and Indian migration, while the flow of migrants from Indonesia slowed considerably (Spaan, van Naerssen, and Koh 2002, 165). During Konfrontasi—the defining moment in postcolonial state formation in the region—the border between Indonesia and Singapore and Malaysia was temporarily closed (Hugo 1993, 39). The long-term effects were, however, to be enduring.
Konfrontasi affected not only mobility across the border, but also much of the trade between Batam and neighboring islands and Singapore. Fishermen and farmers who had bartered and sold their goods directly in Singapore’s markets increasingly handed over their goods to middlemen, signaling new forms of control over traditional trade. Beyond the transformation of economy and space, Konfrontasi also signaled emergent forms of citizenship in the postcolonial era. As one elderly informant on Batam told me, “Before they would call us the ‘island people’ (orang pulau) in Singapore but today we have become Indonesians (orang Indonesia). Before I would take my own boat to Singapore; today I need a passport.”
In the 1970s the Malaysian and Singaporean export economies expanded rapidly. Malaysia saw its first labor shortages in rural palm oil plantations, and within a decade the same trends were evident in urban areas as foreign workers, the majority of them Indonesian, began to fill this gap (Hugo 1993, 39; Abella 1995, 125; Pillai 1995, 225). By 1997 estimates suggested that foreign workers made up a full 20 percent of the work force (Pillai 1998, 264). Similar changes were evident in Singapore. After initial restrictions during the post-independence era, immigration controls were relaxed in 1968 as a result of labor shortages. As early as 1973 foreigners with work permits made up 13 percent of the work force; by 2000 this figure had reached almost 30 percent (Yeoh 2007).
Following patterns of need and anxiety, both Singapore and Malaysia have frequently changed their policies toward foreign workers. In Malaysia, Indonesian labor has been a political issue since the recession of the mid-1980s, but policies have lacked long-term vision, being primarily reactions to short-term labor shortages (S. Jones 2000, 9–28; Gurowitz 2000). In Singapore the government has introduced levies for hiring and an explicit (p.123) hierarchy that offers incentives to skilled workers (Wong 1997, 141)2 while strictly regulating unskilled migration in gendered terms, granting the great majority of work visas to women working as domestic servants.3
Particularly since the Asian economic crisis that began in 1997, new regulations to control the flow of Indonesians have emerged. Punishments against undocumented migrants and over-stayers and increasing border patrols have become pervasive and are used to regulate the flow of migrants across the border (Hui 1998, 212; Pillai 1998, 271). In Malaysia recurring deportation programs have generated massive flows of Indonesians in and out of the country (Ford 2006). In Singapore a combination of strategies has been employed: raids against illegal workers and stricter punishments for smuggling or hiring illegals (Straits Times, July 3, 1998); sharp (though never official) increases in the required uang tunjuk (money to be shown at immigration), at times up to twelve hundred U.S. dollars; and shorter visas and outright denial of entry. Videos on ferries from Batam and Bintan showed police raiding worksites in Singapore (Straits Times, June 5, 1998); flyers and articles handed out at the World Trade Center pictured illegal workers being arrested. In the Singapore press, articles asked if the city-state would witness a similar form of “exodus” as during the 1970s, when many Vietnamese refugees arrived (Straits Times, March 28, 1998).
The intensifying regulation of Indonesians across the border, as well as in Malaysia and Singapore, has led to the emergence of “illegality” as a problem, much as the liar has emerged as an effect of “development” on Batam.4 But illegality is also productive as a system of regulation, a kind of “revolving door (Heyman 1998; De Genova 2002, 237), that allows the state to deport (and then re-import) migrants at historical moments that are deemed appropriate. Thus while Singaporean managers who commute to Batam daily have exchanged their passports for “smart cards,”5 which reduce the time “wasted” in immigration, for Indonesian migrants who attempt to enter Malaysia and Singapore time is not money, but rather an opportunity that must be seized in order to cross the border (cf. De Certeau 1988, xix).
In the 1990s Batam became a favorite exit point for Indonesians attempting to enter Malaysia and Singapore, in part because of the island’s (p.124)
(p.125) proximity, but also because Riau province passport holders who leave from Batam are exempt from paying the exit tax that is compulsory for all other Indonesian citizens and residents (see chap. 1).6 This has created a lucrative economy—it is common knowledge that for an extra fee immigration officers around the archipelago will provide a Riau passport under any name. Acquiring a passport is therefore more a matter of economic exchange, which allows the bearer to be identified as a person who has the right to cross the border, than a sign of an inherent identity (cf. Das and Poole 2004, 15). In this economy middlemen (calos), who facilitate access to bureaucratic oknums (bureaucrats who exercise discretion in their line of duty to bend rules) and orang dalam (bureaucratic insiders), become key actors.
“The contours of citizenship,” Aihwa Ong (1999, 120) has noted, “are represented by the passport—the regulatory instrument of residence, travel and belonging.” It is, similarly, “perhaps, the most important symbol of the nation-state system” (O’Byrne 2001, 403; italics in original). The passport describes a history of cross-border movement and allows immigration officers to make qualified guesses about whether or not a person has been working “illegally.” For instance, many of my informants who worked in Singapore would get a two-week tourist visa the first time they entered the country. After their time was up they would go passing7 to Malaysia for a day before heading back to Singapore, where their visa was renewed on arrival. In the early 1990s they generally faced few problems, but by the mid-1990s Indonesians would see their renewed visas decline from two weeks, to ten days, to a week, and so on, until they were often denied entry.
The narrative of travel that is inscribed in the passport can, however—to a certain degree, at least—be formulated by its holder. With enough money one can acquire multiple Indonesian passports with different identities, thereby creating a kind of inverse and illicit form of “flexible citizenship” that Aihwa Ong (1999) attributes to elite dual-passport holders. Other well-known tactics aim at the immigration officer’s interpretive ability. Anwar, a thirty-five-year-old Acehnese man, claims that “you have to take care of your passport so that it is clean (bersih). It is crucial to avoid passing to other countries to renew your visa.” Several common techniques keep the passport “clean”: leave before the visa has expired, wait several weeks before crossing the border again, or carry several different passports. Sofi, a twenty-eight-year-old woman from North Sumatra who frequently entered Singapore to work as a prostitute, was refused entry on occasion and decided to bring her passport to a dukun (traditional healer) on Batam. (p.126) She claimed that his prayers helped her pass through immigration the next time she crossed to Singapore.
However, the passport is only the first step in entering Malaysia or Singapore legally. It is also considered important to choose the proper immigration officer: one who is Malay, because they are ethnically the “same,” or ethnic Chinese, because they are considered “honest,” while an ethnic Indian is to be avoided at all costs, because they appear more foreign and therefore unpredictable. By talking with other Indonesians moving in and out of Singapore, it becomes possible to piece together which immigration officers are working at particular times and who is considered particularly easygoing. The problem of uang tunjuk, of having money to show immigration officers, is resolved by renting money either on Batam or on the actual ferry to Singapore or Malaysia. The money is then returned to someone who is waiting outside the immigration post on the other side. The amount rented depends on what is generally considered the going rate for getting into the country.8
Johny, an ethnic Chinese from the island of Bintan who had been living on Batam since he was a teenager, argued that having the formal documents was only the first step in passing through immigration. Performing in the correct manner appears crucial, since even someone carrying a passport and enough money can be refused entry. Johny always wears a jacket with a tie and carries a briefcase and speaks only English, telling the immigration officer that he is on his way to a business meeting. He admitted that it was easier for ethnic Chinese to enter, but this had not prevented him from being refused entry on a couple of occasions. The reason for those failures, he suspected, was that he had been rather sloppily dressed. But some considered the tie and jacket a bad tactic. Another informant told me that he would often see men wearing ties and jackets, although it was obvious that they did not usually wear them. “The tie says that they want to go to a meeting, but their faces want to work construction. It doesn’t fit (tidak cocok).”
Women who enter Singapore or Malaysia to work as prostitutes often wear a jilbab. Many argue, however, that this tactic is now so common that it does more harm than good. Sari, for instance, who traveled to Malaysia from Batam for more than five years, revealed that an immigration officer, suspecting that her jilbab was a facade and that she might be a prostitute, asked her, “I see that you are covered on top, but are you open from the bottom?” But in this case the officer let her through, as he could correctly identify the stereotype, but not her intentions.
(p.127) Lina has realized, however, that the jilbab does not actually fit any of the official identities of the Growth Triangle. Despite its modernity, it reads as “tradition” and is thus located outside the market-driven economic zone. Instead she carries a cell phone and dresses like a businesswoman. Mega, a woman we met in chapter 3, said she had once been refused entry into Singapore even though she was carrying twelve hundred dollars. She believed that because she was wearing nail polish the officer suspected she was a prostitute. When we talked about it with a few of her friends, most of them agreed.
The Indonesian who performs for immigration officers does so in order to be identified as someone who should be allowed to cross the border as an official member of the Growth Triangle: the “businessman” who travels to Singapore for a meeting or the “tourist” who carries one thousand Singapore dollars to purchase goods unavailable in Indonesia. The more ambiguous woman wearing the jilbab presents a stereotypical religious identity that could not possibly be involved in “illegal” activities, but is positioned outside of the market-driven economy.
The local (yet transnational) forms of knowledges and sensibilities outlined above, which, like the global economy are constantly changing, are learned from friends or acquaintances and acquired through practice. These forms of performance should be understood in relation to those that I discussed in chapters 2 and 3, the “pious female factory worker” and the “female prostitute.” In these cases ambiguous identities are to be avoided at all costs, and acting as though one belongs is crucial. Through experiences and discussions a number of ideal figures of border crossing are constituted, only to run the risk of collapsing as “performance” in the eyes of the officer. As we shall see later in the chapter, the failure to perform identities correctly can end violently, usually at the hands of the state.
Here it is helpful to recall De Certeau’s (1988, xix) distinction between “strategy” and “tactic.” In the case of border crossings, state strategies aim to circumscribe and control space, while migrant tactics depend on opportunities—on time and trickery—as they do not have a proper place. Thus the tactics of Indonesian migrants in the Growth Triangle appear as responses to state strategies that aim to regulate the environment at its disposal. The Indonesian migrant produces himself or herself as a tactician who moves through space and boundaries that are restricted but never closed. As the Malaysian and Singaporean states increasingly regulate their territorial borders and identify the individuals inside those borders as “citizens” or “noncitizens,” as “legal” or “illegal,” the Indonesian migrant must (p.128) either play by the “proper” rules, which as we shall see are often not available or worth waiting for, or “seize the moment.”9
Passing through immigration becomes a kind of game. As Irwan, a man in his mid-thirties from South Sumatra, put it, “The immigration officers have knowledge about psychology (ilmu psikologi), so you have to be able to beat them at their game.” Having a feel for the game, however, also means taking it seriously and believing that one’s actions can have an effect on the world.
But while the ability to pass through immigration can be read as a sign of successful tactics, it would also be underestimating the abilities of Malaysian and Singaporean immigration officers to claim that they are incapable of reading these signs.10 From this perspective it is important to ask if the Indonesian who is crossing the border is not in fact “seizing the moment,” but rather is being “given a place” by the Singaporean state that only appears to be an effect of the Indonesian’s own tactics and deception. This is recognized by some Indonesians. As Handoyo, originally from the island of Lombok and a resident of Batam for ten years, argued, “It doesn’t matter what we do. The immigration officials already know that we are looking for work. All they have to do is look at the number of stamps in our passports.” It did not surprise me when he revealed that he had stopped trying. More generally, by claiming that the state sees everything, Handoyo’s comment dissolves the distinction between “strategy” and “tactic.” The state appears to control not only space but time, and the game becomes meaningless and absurd (Bourdieu 1990, 66–67).11
This would, however, be taking the state’s self-presentation too seriously and forgetting Abrams’ (1988, 81) suggestion that “the state is at most a message of domination—an ideological artifact attributing unity, morality and independence to the disunited, amoral and dependent workings of the practice of government.” Migrants who choose to enter Singapore and Malaysia consume this message where it is arguably made most explicit. It is clear, however, that they take the idea of the state quite seriously, for good reason, as we shall see in the next section.
Entering the Global City
After successfully passing through immigration at the World Trade Center in Singapore, Anwar, like most other Indonesians looking for work, (p.129) would take the bus to Little India, always going straight to the same address where a network of Acehnese kept a room. “Sometimes there would be five people, other times ten. Sometimes I knew someone, other times I didn’t, but the same room was always available.” Others, who did not want to spend five Singapore dollars, might stay in one of the few abandoned buildings in the area, such as the infamous rumah hantu, or ghost house, where one would, in order to avoid police raids, enter after dark and leave before dawn. It was also well known that residence was divided along ethnic lines; for instance, the Acehnese could be found in one part of Little India and people from the city of Palembang in South Sumatra in another. Anwar put it this way: “If you are on your own in a foreign country it is someone from home who is most likely to help you.”
Finding work was easy.
Early in the morning, around 6:00 a.m., we would be on stand-by. After we had finished drinking our coffee the bosses, the tow kays, would show up and ask if we wanted to work. We would ask: What kind of job is it? How many days is it for? What is the salary? If we agreed they would tell us to get into the truck. Those people need us. It is not like in Indonesia where we have to look for a job and it is not certain that we will find one. In Singapore they come looking for us and pay us well. Of course that makes us happy.
In the late 1990s the salary for undocumented, unskilled Indonesians in Singapore was around forty Singapore dollars per day, about four times the average rate in Malaysia and eight times that on Batam. The kinds of jobs available varied widely, as did the duration. For instance, Anwar had worked in construction and as a gardener, mover, plumber, and electrician, to name but a few of his positions. Some jobs lasted for only a day, while others went on indefinitely.
I first met Anwar on Batam, in one of the squatter settlements near the Batamindo Industrial Park. Using money he had made in Singapore he bought several crates of orange soda from a store that had gone out of business, and he was now peddling these to small shops and stands around the park. This was in late 1998, and it was increasingly difficult and lucrative to get into Singapore. He had already been denied entry once and was now waiting for the restrictions to be eased again. “Most days I will go down to this one cafe and ask around. There will always be someone with news (p.130) about what the deal is with Singaporean immigration. Everyone wants to go now because the exchange rate is so good and opportunities for work here are so bad.” This is the temporal form of the tactic, a response to changing regulations.
Like many people on Batam, Anwar moved in and out of Singapore for several years, but, unlike most, he had managed to save a fair amount of money in a bank account. “I just want to keep going for a few more years and I will have enough money to marry my girlfriend and start a small business. I have already almost finished building a house in Aceh and it all comes from Singapore dollars.” Always wary of being arrested, Anwar never overstayed his visa for fear of being imprisoned or caned. He knew that if he was caught with a valid visa he would risk only deportation.
Indonesian female prostitutes who move back and forth between Singapore, Malaysia, and Batam tend to go to one of two particular areas of Singapore; the choice depends on their linguistic skills. Those who speak only Indonesian choose Geylang in the Malay part of Singapore, the best-known red-light district in the city, where hotel rooms are rented by the hour, and which sometimes is called “Batam Mini” because of the large number of prostitutes from Batam (Riau Pos, July 29, 2000). Many women can be found in a few of the small alleys behind the quasi-official brothels or in a couple of the Malay discos in the area. Those who speak English can find far more lucrative work in the bars along Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping street.
As I noted in chapter 4, Singaporean men travel to Batam to buy sex not only because of the lower prices, but also for the open-ended nature of the interaction. Both in terms of time and money, a visit to a prostitute in Singapore is a much more regulated transaction, even outside the government-regulated brothel areas. This difference also affects the experiences of Indonesian prostitutes. Siti, for instance, has been going to Singapore once every other month for four years.
Sometimes I go to a disco and other times I am on the street. It depends on how much money I have and if there are any people in the club. On the street you always have to watch out for the Anti-Vice; we call them ghosts (hantu). If I am on the street my heart always beats faster. Every day there are raids and you can see the women in the street running in different directions to get away.
(p.131) It is important to blend in, or disappear, when Anti-Vice approaches. Compared with the men whom I have already described, female prostitutes are more vulnerable to arrest because they work in public spaces in well-defined parts of the city. For many, even the experience of sex is different in Singapore than on Batam, much less open-ended and more focused on a rapid economic transaction. If you are doing short-time, Siti said, “they always pay first and it is expres. We are frightened, even the clients, since many of them are foreigners working illegally as well, so they quickly finish their business and leave. I always charge forty [Singapore] dollars: ten for the room, two for the condom, and the rest for me.”
On Batam, Siti works in one of the island’s brothel complexes and says that she feels more comfortable there despite the fact that she makes far less money than in Singapore. However, while using a condom is the norm in Singapore, she uses them much less frequently on Batam, a statement that resonates with those of other women. When I asked her why that was the case she could only answer, “That is the way they do it in Singapore.” Like the Singaporean men who experience Ecstasy differently in Singapore compared with Batam, the power of the state shows itself in situations that can be understood as “private” or even “intimate.” In both cases power is inculcated through self-regulation, as the state makes itself felt in the lives of both citizens and foreigners (cf. Rose 1999).
Rouse (1992, 35) has described how the practices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the United States influence Mexican migrants’ use of space. The INS commonly targets bars and illegal activities such as gambling and cock fighting; Rouse argues that this influences many migrants to confine their movements between the workplace and home. Moreover, because migrants on the street are more noticeable, and therefore are checked more frequently, if they wear cheap clothing or drive old and damaged cars, this gives many an incentive to become “good consumers” while diverting attention from themselves as potential “illegals.” The fantasy of the omnipresent Singaporean state structures the experiences of Indonesians working there illegally, influencing their movement through space while leading them to form new habits and dispositions. In the Singaporean context we can see how this affects not only the way migrants walk through the city, or the fear they experience, but also how they act in what appears to be an intimate situation outside the gaze of the state.
Once in Singapore, all that matters is work. As Irwan put it,
(p.132) Everything is extremely expensive and you are always afraid. There is not a single Indonesian who enjoys working in Singapore. It is not free, you are afraid of working, afraid of being caught. If your visa is alive (hidup) it is all right to walk down the street because if the police check you, then you are all right. But, if your visa is dead (mati) or if they catch you while you are working then they have got you.
Most wary and frightened are the people who have chosen to “kill” (matikan) their visas, remaining in the country after they have expired, which means running the risk of being imprisoned or caned. Doing so also means having to leave the country illegally again, perhaps by hitching a ride on one of the Indonesian boats that dock at the Singapore harbors, something that has become increasingly difficult since the mid-1990s. Irwan once overstayed his visa for three months and paid a man, whom he had heard about from other Indonesians in Singapore, to give him an immigration stamp in his passport so that he could leave the country legally. In immigration, however, the officer noticed that it was a counterfeit, and he was arrested and sentenced to prison for three months.
Despite his suffering Irwan appreciates the Singaporean legal system since the tow kays, the bosses who hire them, are punished more harshly than the workers and their names and photographs are published in the newspaper. “In Indonesia it is the other way around. The weak are punished and those with money walk away.” Even Indra claimed that justice had been done in Singapore when every cent that he was carrying was returned to him after he was caned, although it left three permanent marks on his back. The pain that Indra suffered and Irwan’s prison sentence are forms of “justice” that both of them accept as long as the money they have made is returned to them. Beyond any formal language of human rights, this, if anything, hints at the importance of monetary success in the rantau. It is a serious game indeed.
Moving Through Crisis
Periods of crisis put into particular relief the ambivalent position of Indonesian labor within the Growth Triangle. The effects of the Asian economic crisis hit Batam months after the riots in Jakarta and the collapse of the Suharto regime in May 1998. As Malaysia and Singapore closed (p.133) their borders to Indonesians, other forms of violence emerged on Batam and neighboring islands along the border. In Malaysia, in particular, Operation Go Away attempted to cleanse the country of Indonesian workers such as Lina. Channeled to camps throughout Peninsular Malaysia, many were deported to towns such as Selatpanjang and Dumai along the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. Lured by rumors of work or perhaps hoping for another chance to enter Malaysia, many came to Batam. Meanwhile, Singapore created stricter regulations to halt the expected flood of refugees and turned away increasing numbers of Indonesians as they attempted to enter the country legally.
By mid-1998 Batam was flooded with Indonesians who had been deported from Malaysia, joining the influx of migrants from all over Indonesia who had fled economic hardship hoping to find work in Batam’s booming economy. Unwilling to return to their homes in Indonesia with nothing to show for their time there, or waiting for a chance to return once things had settled down, deported Indonesians converged on Batam.
In this context, it is important to point out, as I did in chapter 1, that these effects did not represent something radically new, but merely accelerated particular processes of labor mobility and regulation that were ongoing since the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, these mass deportations were repeated in 2002 and 2005 and have in an important sense become institutionalized. Devoid of labor rights, Indonesian migrants have in fact become the most “flexible” form of labor in the Growth Triangle.
Felix comes from the eastern part of the island of Flores in Eastern Indonesia, a well-known sending area for male migrants to Malaysia, where wives who remain behind are transformed into the acronym jamal, short for janda Malaysia, meaning literally “Malaysia widows.” In early 1997, after spending several years working on the island of Sumbawa and in Kupang in West Timor, both in Eastern Indonesia, Felix decided to try his luck on Batam. His brother, who had returned home for the first time after many years in Malaysia, had decided to settle temporarily on Batam. He suggested that Felix join him and offered the use of his motorcycle so that he could operate an ojek (motorcycle taxi) at the Batamindo Industrial Park. Struggling to survive, much less saving any money, Felix found the offer too good to refuse and decided to join him. The boat they took from Flores to Tanjung (p.134) Pinang, just a half-hour from Batam, was packed; during the trip, which took a week, he quickly realized that many of his fellow passengers had Malaysia as their final destination. While some were on their own or in small groups, most were led by labor recruiters, or tai kong, from East Flores who had earlier worked in Malaysia.12 By the time Felix reached Batam he had been affected by the anticipation and had already decided to travel to Malaysia. “A few people even invited me to come along right away but I decided that I wanted to see what Batam was like first.”
Although he did well on Batam as a motorcycle taxi driver, Felix would hear stories about Malaysia every day in the liar squatter area where he lived with his brother. Most of the people in the area were from Flores, and almost all the men had been to Malaysia at one time or another. Every week someone would either be going there or coming back. However, it was primarily those who were successful who spoke. As Felix put it, “I knew that there were risks but I was so excited I didn’t think about it.”
Six months after he arrived Felix had saved enough money to look for a tai kong who would take him to Malaysia. After asking around with a friend he found a man who promised to smuggle him across once he had at least forty people, with each paying two hundred thousand rupiah,13 which at the time was approximately two weeks’ salary. For three weeks they waited in the man’s house as the number of people grew, many of them also from Flores, several of them having just been thrown out but ready to return. “It seemed unreasonable to make a passport. Just getting one would have cost me more than paying the tai kong and even if I had one it wouldn’t help me get a job in Malaysia. If I were caught in a raid there people told me it was better not to have an identity card so that the authorities wouldn’t know who I was.”
There is general support for Felix’s opinion. One observer notes that “it is often easier and cheaper for an Indonesian illegal to be caught, detained, and deported and then come back to Malaysia illegally with the help of a tai kong, a smuggler, than to pay the high fees necessary to get the proper documents and avoid deportation in the first place” (S. Jones 2000, 89). Indeed, acquiring a work permit in Malaysia is a long and expensive process, and this has facilitated the increase of migrant smuggling into Malaysia from Indonesia (Pillai 1995, 230; Hugo 1995, 277). However, often no clear distinction is made between “legal” and “illegal” labor recruitment, as legal agencies and documents are often mixed with illegal ones (S. Jones 2000, 39–49). Thus many Indonesian migrants who believe that their papers are (p.135) “in order” are in fact working “illegally.” Lina’s story offers one obvious example.
Felix took the five-hour trip to Johor with fifty other people, where they were dropped one hundred meters from land. As they waded to the beach a Malaysian middleman was waiting with a pickup truck to take them to a safe house. After two days they were taken to a coconut plantation, where they were forced to work until they had paid off the three hundred U.S. dollars they owed. After six weeks Felix had settled his debt and chose to move to another vegetable plantation. The salary was half of what he could have made working construction in the city, but he felt that it still was safer to remain in the countryside where it was easy to flee into the jungle if the police raided them. Despite this, he was always afraid. “At night when we were sleeping and someone heard a suspicious noise we got up to run and hide.” For six months Felix did not leave the fields for fear of being arrested.
Most illegal migration to Malaysia is based on a system of contract labor that involves various forms of recruiters, middlemen, and contractors (e.g., Guinness 1990; Hugo 1993; S. Jones 2000). This means that the employer pays a contractor, who in turn pays the workers. The employer is thereby able to access inexpensive labor while avoiding any responsibility for the workers’ welfare, and the contractor can become involved in a highly profitable industry, most often recruiting workers who have to pay them back through future salaries, while the Indonesian workers can access a network that will bring them to Malaysia (S. Jones 2000, chap. 4). This is a system of debt-bondage labor that characterizes most forms of legal and illegal transnational migration from Indonesia—ranging from plantation work to domestic service and prostitution.
By August 1997 the economic crisis had just begun to affect the Indonesian rupiah. Because his salary was paid in ringgit and therefore rapidly increasing in value compared to the Indonesian rupiah, Felix was excited to be making more than he had hoped. By this time, however, the Malaysian authorities were already beginning to crack down on foreign workers, and one night Felix was caught in a surprise raid at the plantation. “I wasn’t even allowed to put on long pants, much less get the money that I had stashed in a chair. Not that it mattered because the police took the money away from those who had any.”
Felix had been caught in Operation Go Away. For three weeks he was placed in a deportation camp before he was sent to the port of Dumai in (p.136) Indonesian South Sumatra. Without any money he was forced to hire a man to escort him to Batam; this man was paid three hundred thousand rupiah (about thirty-three U.S. dollars) upon arrival by his brother. With obvious anger Felix claimed that “in Dumai there are people who are like animals waiting for us. Waiting for people from Malaysia who come back with nothing so that they can make money off of them.”
Felix, however, was one of the lucky ones, since he had a family member to help him when he lacked money and resources. Others, like Lina, were not so fortunate. Yahya and Amir worked on a construction site down the street from where I lived. Neither of them wanted to return to Malaysia, even when things had settled down, but they felt they could not return home with nothing. Hartanto, from Central Java, had ended up in the hotel area where Lina lived. After spending twenty years in Malaysia without a passport, and even marrying a Malaysian woman with whom he had children, he, too, was caught in Operation Go Away a few months after Felix. He was forced to wait for almost a month before a relative from Malaysia brought him enough money to buy a passport and return to what, after such a long period of time, had become “home.”
It is again important to point out that these episodes were not restricted to the economic crisis but are rather associated with broader changes in the regulation of Indonesian migrants. For instance, Handoyo had been deported from Malaysia five times over a period of ten years. Nearly every time he lost all the money he had saved either because he was forced to leave it behind or hand it over to corrupt police officers.
While some “illegal” Indonesians like Hartanto became so completely integrated into society—easily adding a Malaysian dialect to their Indonesian—that they were identified as Malaysian, many others, such as Felix, remained at their workplaces and lived in constant fear of being caught. The fear was not merely limited to being deported and losing the money one had earned; there were also rumors of Malaysian police giving illegal migrants suntik gila, literally the “crazy shot,” which made the person insane. On several occasions I saw men on Batam or other islands in the area who were obviously mentally ill. When I asked what was wrong, people would invariably reply that he had received a suntik gila upon being deported from Malaysia.
Importantly these fears localized Felix and others to particular spaces where they were concerned with the task at hand: working. But the same was also true of Hartanto, who avoided deportation for twenty years by (p.137) becoming part of a local community. “It was only when I was in the village that I could sometimes forget that I didn’t have an IC (identity card). Those few times that I traveled to the city I was always wary and careful to dress well.” Once again it becomes obvious that the movement of undocumented Indonesians is structured by the fear of being arrested and deported and, more important, of losing earned money. Like Rouse’s (1992, 35) discussion of Mexicans and my earlier description of Indonesians in Singapore, in Malaysia these migrants perform as model citizens of a particular form of transnational labor market.
While men dominated migration to Malaysia and Singapore during earlier periods, since the 1990s the number of transnational female migrants has been steadily increasing. Most work as documented maids and pass through various types of Indonesian labor recruitment companies that organize their passports, visas, and place of work (Rudnyckyj 2004; Silvey 2004). Agencies in Malaysia and Singapore compete by offering discounts, which eventually are taken out of the maids’ own salaries—in effect, also a form of debt-bondage labor.14 The formation of the maid industry should be understood in the context of the growth of the middle class in Malaysia and Singapore (Chin 1998; Sassen 1998). Maids thus form part of a new transnational underclass (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2002).
While the Philippines has lobbied for maids’ rights in Malaysia and Singapore, the Indonesian government has shown little interest in defending its citizens’ rights abroad (Gurowitz 2000, 871). This exacerbates the vulnerable position of maids in Malaysia and Singapore, who are far removed from the public eye in their domestic workplaces (e.g., Chin 1998; Human Rights Watch 2005). Furthermore, in Singapore maids are offered limited legal protection since they are not covered by the Employment Act (Yeoh and Huang 1998, 588–589; Human Rights Watch 2005).
In both Singapore and Malaysia anxieties are obvious concerning the sexuality of female maids and their potential relationships with local citizens. In Singapore a female work-permit holder must sign a contract stating that she will not cohabit with a citizen and that any such forbidden relationship will not result in a child (Wong 1997, 161). In Malaysia women are tested three times for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases during (p.138) a two-year contract, and a foreign maid is subject to deportation within twenty-four hours of a positive pregnancy test (Chin 1998, 110; Gurowitz 2000, 869).
In other words, work permits give the Malaysian and Singaporean governments an opportunity to enforce intimate gendered forms of bodily control that are not possible in relation to male migrants. More generally, both the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” migrants in Malaysia and Singapore and the contraction and expansion of particular labor markets in the wake of the Asian economic crisis shared common gendered dimensions.15 I have already suggested as much through Lina’s story; she worked as a maid in Malaysia before moving, with apparent ease, into the only industry expanding during the crisis that depended on female labor: prostitution.
From Maid to Prostitute
Putri’s clothing, style, and demeanor did not really fit with many of the other women who waited for clients near the front desks or on the porches of the long row of hotels where I first met Lina. It turned out that Putri had been there for only a month. She previously had been working as a maid in Singapore, she told me, but her employers had decided to get rid of her and she was deported to Batam. I was interested in her story, but it took a month or so before I asked her to tell me what had happened. I explained that I was researching the effects that processes of globalization were having on people in the region and that I felt as though her story was one that should be told. She agreed.
Putri was born in a small village on Lombok in 1970, part of a Balinese Hindu family. Her father died when she was still a child, and since her mother couldn’t afford to take care of her, she began working as a maid (pembantu) after just a few years of elementary school. The family for whom she worked raised her in exchange for her services, and, as she put it, “all I could do was wait for someone who would marry me.” By the time she was eighteen a Balinese man was chosen as her husband, and “though I didn’t like him I said nothing. I didn’t dare say anything.” After four years she had her first child, but by the time she was pregnant for the second time she discovered that her husband had a mistress who was also pregnant. “It broke my heart (sakit hati),” she said. “Never giving me any money for the (p.139) household or showing any interest in me or the children was one thing, but this I could not take.”
When a tai kong (labor recruiter) came to her village one day looking for women who wanted to work as maids in Singapore, Putri and a couple of her friends quickly decided to go together. “Rather than stay in the village and watch my husband remarry, I decided to leave and also make some money for my children.” She had seen and heard people who came back from Malaysia and Singapore and built large houses, and she hoped to do the same. The tai kong promised her that she would also be able to make a lot of money and that passports, visas, and transportation would be covered.16
Along with twelve other women, Putri left for Batam, where they were “trained” to cook “Singaporean” food and use electric kitchen equipment over a six-week period. The tai kong who had brought them from Lombok was paid 500,000 rupiah (55 U.S. dollars) for each woman when he transferred them to the agent who ran the company. For the first four months in Singapore, they were told, they would not receive any salary in order to pay for all the preparation costs. After that they would be paid 230 Singapore dollars (135 U.S. dollars) per month.17
Upon arrival in Singapore it turned out that Putri would not just be cooking, as she had been told, but also cleaning, washing, and taking care of a young child and her elderly grandmother. Living in an upscale residential area in Singapore, she began work at 5:30 a.m. and was not permitted to sleep until 11:00 p.m. She slept on a mat in the living room and was strictly forbidden to use the telephone.18
After four months, when she was supposed to receive her first salary, Putri sent a letter to her mother telling her that she would be sending a money order. Her boss agreed to do this for her but would not let her come along to the bank, even though she tried to insist. A couple of months later, however, a letter arrived from her mother claiming that she had not received the money. When Putri confronted her boss about this he claimed that he did not know what was wrong, but he was unwilling to make any further inquiries. Distressed, she began phoning the other women in Singapore who had come from Indonesia with her and tried calling her village on Lombok. When her boss discovered her using the phone, she called the agent who was in charge of the maid company and asked to terminate her contract. One day, after seven months in Singapore, her agent arrived to pick her up. She was taken back without having been paid her salary.19
(p.140) Putri’s agent told her that she would have to “train” again on Batam before she could return to Singapore. After a month and a half of working and cleaning in different houses on Batam, Putri was paid a little more than one hundred thousand rupiah (about eleven U.S. dollars at the time), but hearing that no money had arrived in her village, she was malu. Her agent still could not give her a clear answer about when she would be going back to Singapore. Feeling trapped because she was working all the time, she decided to leave the agent, who had her passport and identity card, and try her chances elsewhere. “It drove me crazy to wait day after day knowing that I wasn’t making any money and that my mother and children were waiting for it. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.”
After receiving her first salary Putri fled from the agent with another woman from the company who had also been waiting to go to Singapore. They ended up in the hotel area where I first met her. For a few days she asked around for factory work, but with thousands of other job seekers crowding the industrial estates and her limited education, she had little hope of finding work.
It did not take long before the man working at the front desk asked if she wanted a client. Within a few days Putri had decided to sell sex. “Of course I felt malu at first, but it was nothing compared to the malu and responsibility that I felt toward my children. It didn’t take long before I got used to it.” It was clear that it would be difficult for Putri to make enough money to send to her children, much less return home. The economic crisis had led to a rapid increase in the number of women working as prostitutes, and competition for clients intensified. Initially, she would go to the discos around the main town of Nagoya, but she claimed that this made her pusing (literally “dizzy”). Like Dewi in chapter 3, she refused to “dress like a prostitute,” preferring instead to wait in the hotel lobby for potential clients.
I first met Putri a few months before my main round of fieldwork ended. When I saw her six months later on a return trip she had stopped working as a prostitute and was helping out at a small food stall across the street. She was pregnant and was involved in a relationship with the child’s father. Like Lina and Felix, he had been thrown out of Malaysia during Operation Go Away and was planning to return as soon as things cooled down. Putri told me with some optimism, “He is a good man and I trust him. When he goes back to Malaysia and makes some money we will get (p.141) married.” When I asked her if she was planning on going home to Lombok, however, she looked away and didn’t answer.
Conclusion: Closed Systems
The movement of transnational Indonesian migrants in Malaysia and Singapore is formally governed by a legal distinction—increasingly gendered—between “legal” and “illegal” workers—a distinction that has become a global “generalized fact” (De Genova 2002, 419). Holston and Appa durai (1999,13) argue that these processes “render significant segments of the transnational low-income labor force illegal using the system of national boundaries to criminalize the immigrants it attracts for low-wage work.” The formation of an “immigration industry” (Wong 2005), however, has made this an ambiguous distinction, one that is used or bypassed in various ways by migrants and brokers in order to facilitate cross-border mobility or by states in order to deport excess labor. This has created a more or less illicit form of flexible citizenship, quite the opposite of the elite dual passport holders that Aihwa Ong has described (1999).
Paying ethnographic attention to the transnational mobility of Indonesian migrants turns the Growth Triangle’s official discourse of borderlessness on its head. Historically, in fact, the formation of the Growth Triangle has led to intensifying state attempts in the regulation of territory and citizenry, even expanding beyond its national boundaries, as in the case of Singaporeans who are tested for drug use upon return to the country (see chap. 4).
Arguably Putri and Lina represent extreme cases, but their stories help clarify certain processes at work in the Growth Triangle. One is that being a legal worker within the context of the domestic sphere does not guarantee any form of basic rights (e.g., Chin 1998). Ironically, it would seem, both of these women were more isolated and easily exploited than any of the undocumented Indonesians I described in the chapter. In the domestic sphere, the state that undocumented workers feared was nowhere to be found; this very absence allowed them to be thrown out of the country without their salaries.
One customer writing to the website for the Singaporean maid agency Noble Maids to complain about the greediness of maids indicates the historical (p.142) shift that has taken place. “For the last 20 years or so when Singaporeans, Malaysians and Thais are not [sic] longer interested in working as domestics, my maids have come from the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Indonesia.”20 Taking a step back in history, James Warren (1986, 1993) and Carl Trocki (1990) remind us that one hundred years ago Singapore was a coolie town and a center of prostitution in Southeast Asia. Most of the women were Chinese or Japanese, a situation that many people have difficulty imagining today.
Much has changed in Indonesia as well. The days have passed when women stayed at home and the men went on merantau to gain experiences before returning to the village to marry. In contemporary Indonesia women travel to places like Batam or abroad to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. My aim in recounting Putri’s and Lina’s stories is thus not to reveal “the truth” concerning the experiences of Indonesian female migrants in the Growth Triangle, nor is it to present a kind of downward-spiral type of story on the effects of the economic crisis. It is, rather, a suggestion that we bring together different worlds that are generally kept separate—most notably “domestic service” and “prostitution.” This merging permits us to think about Lina and Putri not as either one type or the other, but in relation to their moral worlds (cf. Kleinman 1995, 45)—worlds that are increasingly translocal. Putri’s story, in particular, describes a circuit of debt and servitude that leads from a small village in Indonesia to the Singaporean global city, and then on to Batam. This specific circuit, which comes into being through Putri’s mobility, brings together practices of servitude in both Indonesia and Singapore, a changing regional economy that demands large numbers of unskilled women and the most intimate forms of experience and emotional debt.
As I have argued earlier, the links between malu and merantau are crucial in understanding what is at stake in the lives of migrants on Batam. While malu is a pervasive theme in narratives of Indonesians who leave Malaysia or Singapore without saving enough money, feelings of fear or isolation are often expressed by migrants who have worked there. Both fear and malu keep migrants on the move. The emotional economy of merantau demands economic success. But referring to economic success is not enough. It retains a model of analysis that is too general. Putri and others carry burdens and scars, and it is not clear if any form of success would lessen that pain. Soon she will have a new family and may well become, as Mrázek (1994, 11) has phrased it, “destitute in rantau.”
(p.143) What is most striking when we turn to stories such as the ones that Lina and Putri tell is that there is a powerful and contradictory form of emotional economy at work. The tension between the demands of migration, sending money back to their children, and the malu they experience when they cannot do this is one that forces them to make choices in the context of intense constraints. Putri and Lina are—needless to say—far from being “women without morals”; rather, they are intensely engaged in a moral economy in which economic success is an imperative. It is precisely this engagement, and the affect associated with it, that is missing from many accounts of globalization.
(1.) “The biggest complaint from [Indonesian] migrants [to Malaysia] has not been their treatment by police during the raids but the fact that legal workers are too often caught in the net, either because their employers hold their passports or because the frequent change of forms and regulations leads to one part of the bureaucracy not knowing what the other is doing” (S. Jones 2000, 69).
(2.) Singapore distinguishes between “work permit holders” and “holders of professional passes.” The former are repatriated after their permits expire and are usually not allowed to bring dependents. In contrast, holders of professional passes are those whose “skills are in high demand” and who are allowed to bring their dependents with them (Soon-Beng and Chew 1995, 197; see also Kaur 2006, 36–38). Singapore has tended to increase the levies for “work permit holders” and to decrease the levies for “holders of professional passes” (Hui 1998, 207–208), a strategy in keeping with the government’s attempt to transform Singapore into a “global city.” For instance, levies for maids more than doubled in the 1990s (Yeoh, Huang, and Gonzalez 1999, 117–118).
(3.) Indonesia is identified as a “Non-traditional Source” of labor by the government, and Indonesians are permitted to work only in the construction, marine, and domestic service sectors (Wong 1997, 150). Once again there are no official figures on the number of Indonesian men working legally in Singapore, but most sources, as well as my discussions with Indonesians who have worked in Singapore, suggest that men are rarely granted work permits.
(4.) In Malaysia there has been a notable shift in terminology during the last thirty years. “Irregular migrants” in the 1970s became “illegal migrants” in the 1980s and “illegals” or “aliens” in the 1990s (Healey 2000, 231).
(5.) “Smart cards” were developed on Batam so that foreign managers, primarily working at the Batamindo Industrial Park, could move more easily between Batam and Singapore, entering Indonesia through a special line. However, the distribution of these cards remains very limited.
(6.) The tax for leaving the country by plane is 1 million rupiah, or approximately 110 U.S. dollars.
(7.) Indonesians use the term passing to refer to exiting and reentering Singapore or Malaysia in order to renew visas.
(8.) The amount is always considerably higher for Malaysia than Singapore. It has never been a secret that money can be rented at the ports on Batam. For instance, the Jakarta daily Kompas had a report on the topic on January 17, 1996, claiming (p.168) that it cost between 50,000 and 100,000 rupiah to rent money; on December 12, 1998, Sijori Pos reported in a prominently displayed article that it cost up to 200,000 rupiah. In 2005 it could cost up to 100 Singapore dollars to rent 1,000. One man said that he had been tempted to keep the money, but “there is no point in trying to take the money and run. They copy your passport number and they know where all the Indonesians go, so it is easy for them to track you down.”
(10.) Immigration is a sensitive political issue in Singapore. I attempted to organize interviews on the subject with several government officials there but was refused each time.
(11.) The following account, from one of Mariam Ali’s (1996, 136) informants who was refused entry to Malaysia, supports this position. “Look, you have to give me a reason. I am dressed well. I am wearing a Camel shirt, a [sic] Padini pants, I am carrying a two hundred dollar brief case, and five thousand cash and two million rupiahs. I have enough money just working in Indonesia and am not interested in working in Singapore. Why can’t I enter?” The immigration officer he was talking to remained unconvinced, however, and he was turned away.
(12.) For discussions of the extensive networks that bring Indonesians to Malaysia, see S. Jones (2000). See also Ali’s (1996) ethnographic account of how Baweanese migrants travel to Malaysia and Singapore.
(13.) The going rate on Batam appears to fluctuate. At the time Felix crossed, 200,000 rupiah was equivalent to 90 U.S. dollars, but at the time I got to know him it was only 20 U.S. dollars.
(14.) In 2000 an estimated 150,000 Indonesian maids were working in Malaysia (Hugo 2000, 108). This is compared to 585 in 1991 (S. Jones 2000, 65). In Singapore there were 20,000 Indonesian maids in 1995. There were a total of 100,000 foreign maids, which amounts to one for every eight households in the city (Yeoh, Huang, and Gonzalez 1999, 117). By 2005 there were 150,000 foreign maids in the country, of which 60,000 were Indonesians (Human Rights Watch 2005).
(17.) In comparison, workers in the government category “cleaners and labourers,” the occupational group with the lowest gross wages in Singapore, on average made 827 U.S. dollars per month in 2000 (http://www.gov.sg/mom/manpower/manrs/wages/ows_highlight.pdf, accessed on November 19, 2001).
(18.) As Human Rights Watch (2005, 66–68) shows, these are within the normal working hours for domestic servants in Singapore. In fact, a widely available handbook on hiring and dealing with foreign maids in Singapore suggests that employers should expect their maids to work these long hours (Chew 2004, 68–69).
(19.) Indonesian maids who have problems in Singapore are often sent to Batam, since it is cheaper than paying for the ticket to return home. This is often explicitly stated in contracts that I have seen.