By Dawn Tay
ALL was quiet along a new 200m road off Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 yesterday.
Newly planted trees hid the trickle of pedestrians - the first residents of the newly opened foreign workers' dormitory there - from the view of residents in a nearby condominium.
Some were on a walk to get their bearings.
Others had already discovered the nearby supermarket in Serangoon Gardens and returned bearing bags of groceries.
There was no hint of the controversy that had surrounded the setting up of the building, which opened its doors to the first batch of workers this month.
Last year, more than 1,400 Serangoon Gardens residents, alarmed at the prospect of having foreign workers as neighbours, signed a petition against the dormitory, which they handed to National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.
They cited concerns of higher crime rates and lower property values, and sparked off a debate on the attitudes of Singaporeans towards foreign workers and the issue of integration.
The Government relented partially, making various changes to the development plan, including building a $2 million access road so that buses transporting the workers to the dormitory could bypass the congested Serangoon Gardens.
Run by dormitory operator Maxi Consultancy, the dormitory will run on a five-year lease and house about 600 male and female workers from the services and manufacturing sector.
The Ministry of National Development will consider increasing this to up to 1,000 workers.
Dormitory residents were surprised to hear about the furore that had erupted previously.
Factory worker Li Feng, 31, said: 'When people from different cultures first meet, there will naturally be wariness. But over time and interaction, I hope things will improve.'
Added his colleague and roommate, Mr Zu Nan, 25: 'I think the residents' fears are unfounded. We're here to make a living after all. I hope we can live in peace together.'
Mr Li and Mr Zu, both from China's Henan province, moved into the dormitory last Saturday and share a room with six other workers.
China national Lu Xian Ning, 20, who works in a hotel, said: 'Singaporeans whom we've met on the street and asked for directions have been friendly so far.'
Dormitory conditions are satisfactory, said the workers.
About eight people are housed in a room, and food is available from a canteen.
Security is tight. Residents have to use passes to access the only entrance.
No drinking, smoking or fighting is tolerated, and visitors are allowed only in the canteen.
A 70m or so buffer zone - another measure to allay residents' fears - separates the back of the dormitory from the residents of Burghley Drive, a 10-minute walk away.
The fence is covered with blue tarpaulin, which shields residents of the private housing estate and those of the dormitory from one another.
Residents there said that they felt reassured now.
Mrs Pauline Leong, a housewife, has had no complaints since the dormitory opened.
She admitted: 'Initially, I was worried. Previously, all of us were quite biased, because we were a bit scared of foreign workers.
'But now that they've come, I'm not scared any more. There is no reason for them to disturb us. As humans, we have to be compassionate and learn how to live together.'
Another resident, 18-yearold student Joshua Tan, said: 'The workers have not affected me and my family. Even the buses driving past are louder than them.'
However, for a resident who wanted to be known only as Mrs Lim, the arrival of the dormitory spells the end of her barely year-long stay in the area.
The 58-year-old housewife, who bought a two-storey bungalow last year in the adjacent Blandford Drive - which does not face the dorm ' said: 'Although it's still early days and there have been no complaints, I still feel unsafe.
'Now, I don't allow my maid to open the gates and leave the house without my permission.
My family is also planning to sell the house because we don't want to live with such worries.'
Additional reporting by Jake Chng
For more my paper stories, click here.