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Tea Leaves

Singapore reaps literary dividend from migrant culture

Island state's 'temporary' workers use creative talents to transcend labels and boundaries

MD Sharif Uddin, author of the prizewinning memoir ‘Stranger to Myself’ and a finalist in the 2018 migrant worker poetry award (Photo by Peter Guest)

Of the 30 people who share MD Sharif Uddin's workers' barracks in Singapore, only a handful know that he writes. Uddin, who owned a bookshop in Bangladesh, moved to Singapore in 2008 to join the many thousands of his countrymen who come to the city-state to work in the construction sector -- paying $10,000 to an agent for the privilege.

But then, his memoir of a decade on building sites and in barrack rooms, "Stranger To Myself," recently won the non-fiction category in the Singapore Book Awards. It is a chronicle of the strange duality of the life of a migrant construction worker, building the city's skyscrapers and train lines without ever being considered a part of its social fabric.

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