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On April 1st, the land borders between Singapore and Malaysia were finally opened, allowing our Malaysian friends to easily return to visit their families after more than two years apart.
Even their pets were happy to finally see their owners again!
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And we’ve all seen scenes of Malaysians rushing to clear customs, or queuing up at immigration. Not to mention something that Singaporeans seem to have forgotten after more than two years of Covid — the Sunday night rush to re-enter Singapore from JB!
The Pride caught up with some Malaysians who have been stuck living in Singapore, unable to return home for the past two years, to hear how they coped with their struggles and to hear their future plans now that returning home is easier.
John: Tough to be away from home at age 19
He’s 22 now, and he hasn’t been able to spend his last three birthdays with his parents and sister.
“I was sad, very sad,” says John Methius Lukas, who came to Singapore in 2019 at age 19 to work.
It was tough, leaving Malaysia to work in Singapore at such a young age but he quickly adapted. It was also easier because he had an uncle in Singapore who gave him a place to stay.
Through family contacts, he managed to secure a full time job at a gelato cafe.
But it wasn’t as easy to cope when the pandemic hit.
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John tells The Pride how before the lockdown, he would go home to see his family in Johor Bahru at least twice a week.
“On my days off, I would go back to Malaysia to meet friends and family. But then the lockdown happened and I could not go home,” he recounts sadly.
During the lockdown, he would video call his family often to stay in touch. With the help of technology, the gap between two countries was not so great. Yet being able to see his family on the phone wasn’t the same as getting to spend time with them.
His biggest difficulty was learning to adapt in a foreign country at such a young age.
Not only that, shares John, he wasn’t used to the cost of living here.
“The living expenses in Singapore are expensive, so it was hard at first to cope as a Malaysian,” he explains, adding that this taught him the importance of having emergency funds for unexpected scenarios.
He spends most of his time in Singapore working. On his days off, he spends time with his Malaysian friends here. He admits that he often feels bad staying at his uncle’s home for too long, which is why he spends most of his time at work or out with his friends.
With the borders reopened, it’s no surprise that John is back in Malaysia right now with his family for the week. He is exceptionally happy that he can finally spend time with his only sibling, a younger sister whom he is very close to.
Even now, his family is very supportive of his decision to work in Singapore. The past two years have shown how independent he is and John says they trust him more to make his own decisions for his future.
He is also super excited over the re-opened borders because this means that he can easily return to Malaysia to see his family again.
“I can finally balik kampong (go home in Malay)!” says John happily.
A TikTok tearful reunion
On TikTok, a video of a Malay dad returning to his family in Malaysia after more than a year has gone viral, racking up more than 21,000 likes and over a thousand comments.
The heartwarming moment between his son and him was captured by his wife, who had told her son to get the food from the “delivery man”, who turned out to be the boy’s father.
The text in the video explained how after more than a year, the man returned home, unknown to his son, called Awish.
Awish had not expected his dad to come home that day. His mother Yantie had kept it a secret from him for over a month so that she could capture his reaction and post it on her Tik Tok account.
On the clip, which showed an overjoyed Awish hugging his father, she wrote Penantian Yang Berakhir…… Perpisahan Angkara Pandemik (or “The wait is over, goodbye pandemic” in Malay)
The clip demonstrates how much their family misses their father, who had been in Singapore for more than a year and a half. Yanti also stated in the video how Awish asked every day when his dad would return home.
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In the comments, many users shared how they were touched by the heartwarming video. Some said how it made them emotional, thinking of their families and others sharing blessings with Awish and his parents.
One user, Nur, commented in Malay that she was watching this clip with tears in her eyes, much like many users who said that they, like her, teared while watching this clip.
One user, Ayu, wrote in Malay “Alhamdulillah saya dan anak-anak masih menunggu kepulangan suami (God bless you, my children and I are still waiting for our husband to come home)”, highlighting the number of families that have been separated by Covid over the past two years.
Nicole: Finally, my family can meet my fiance
Nicole Chong came to Singapore in 2014 for a fresh start and a new job.
Today, the 25-year-old is a supervisor at a gelato eatery, is renting a room with her Malaysian fiance who was too shy to give his name. The couple had met in Singapore.
Due to the relaxed international travel restrictions, Nicole tells the Pride that she and her fiance could finally take a trip back to her hometown in Sarawak.
Under the new simplified travel framework announced by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, it is much easier for Nicole and others like her to fly home.
Nicole recalls how when the lockdown was announced in 2020, she felt lost — and she was not alone. She says many of her Malaysian friends also did not know when they could return home.
During the past two years, quarantine rules meant that it was unfeasible for Malaysian workers to return home because many of them were unsure if their jobs allowed them so much time off.
Worse, rental prices in Singapore started to increase as the demand rose.
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“Lucky for me, I already had a room in Singapore, but I know of some Malaysians who used to work in Singapore and stay in JB. They had a hard time finding a place to stay,” says Nicole.
Technology was a huge help during the lockdown. “I video called my family more often than before,” says Nicole. “I suppose you never realise how much you miss your loved ones until you realise that seeing them may not be a given.”
Thankfully, she wasn’t alone in Singapore, and her then-boyfriend helped her deal with her loneliness.
The pair got engaged in Singapore during the lockdown and even then, the celebratory feel was dampened by the fact that her family couldn’t meet her fiance.
That was why the relaxing of travel restrictions was so important to her. It was a chance for a family reunion — complete with her plus one in tow!
Asked about her happiest thoughts about the new rules, her answer was simple: “I am happy I can finally go home.”