SINGAPORE: Growing up in a small remote village in India, Mr Balakrishnan Gopal had to walk to find water every day - a far cry from the urbanised lifestyle that his family of four, who are new Singapore citizens, have embraced today.
But now, this managing director worries that his oldest daughter Priya, seven, is having too easy a life and is taking things for granted.
He said: “When she comes out of the room, she’ll never switch off the fan or light. And when she turns on the tap, it will be full on. So, I tell her, 'you are wasting the water'. When I was young, we used to walk far to get water.”
And so, to give their children a taste of what life was like for them, Mr Balakrishnan and two other immigrant parents from China and the Philippines took their kids back to their old homeland on a revealing journey documented by the programme On The Red Dot.
The four-part special, In My Parents’ Shoes, shows the children, aged 7 to 11, trying their hand for the first time at tasks like plucking fruits, helping to kill a chicken and riding on a motorised tricycle in their parents’ native countries.
The series premieres on Friday (Mar 10) at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.
"IS IT SAFE?"
Every year, about 50,000 foreigners make Singapore their adopted home, becoming either citizens or permanent residents (PRs). But some worry their children are too well-adjusted here and know little of their roots.
In India, Priya had to help her father irrigate the fields. Mr Balakrishnan used to help his father with this chore when he was a boy, diverting water to a few hundred banana trees every day.
Priya complained: “It was hard to make the water flow. I had to hold the spade for so long. And I had to dig and bend my body for so long too.” But she was proud that her dad had done this every day as a boy.
Wenxuan, nine, journeyed to her family’s hometown in Hainan, China with her dad, businessman Mo Kaisi, a Singapore PR.
School there was a culture shock for the young Westwood Primary student. With about 50 students crammed into a small classroom, the noise during lessons - where it is normal for students and teachers to shout out phrases being learnt - was almost overwhelming for Wenxuan. She looked confused and distressed.
Nina, 11, travelled to Pililla in the Philippines - a country she left when she was only three months old.
Mother Amy Nora, a Singapore PR, said she was concerned about her two children growing up used to creature comforts in a city “where everything is efficient”. “Hopefully, living in the Philippines, those adverse situations will teach them something else,” she said.
Nina was particularly disgusted when she saw a water tank her grandmother’s house in Pililla, and realised the water they had been drinking came from it.
Making a face, she wondered if it was safe to drink. “No wonder it tastes so weird,” exclaimed the city girl who is used to Singapore’s chlorinated tap water.
THE LITTLE FARMER
But the children learnt, adapted and had fun as well.
Priya and her father spent five days in his hometown and many things were an eye-opener for the seven-year-old. Take the lack of supermarkets, for example, and her discovery that tapioca and onions grew underground, and were grown by the villagers on their own farms.
Priya enjoyed helping them harvest the produce. She was impressed by “how hard farmers work to grow it - I think she has a new respect and regard for them,” said producer Naleeza Ebrahim, who also noted that Priya adjusted quickly, running around barefoot at school with the other children and eating off a plate on the bare floor.
Senior executive producer Susanna Kulatissa said that Singaporeans do not usually get a glimpse into the world of new immigrants here, how they adapt to their new host country, and why they worry that their children may grow up too “soft” living in the city.
She said: “This series hopes to do that, highlighting not only the challenges they face adapting to a new place, but also revealing the dreams they hold in starting a new life.”
Catch the series premiere of In My Parents’ Shoes, on On The Red Dot on Mar 10, Friday, 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5. Watch the trailer: