CITY Plaza on Sundays is a very different mall from its quiet weekdays.
Outside, at a nearby field, as many as 100 picnicking Indonesian maids and other foreign workers sit under the shade of trees, or on the pavement for a view of the Geylang River. They eat, chit-chat, and even dance to music from portable radios.
Inside, the 33-year-old mall, known for being Singapore's largest fashion wholesale centre, is bustling. More than a dozen mobile phone, travel and halal food shops enjoy a spike in takings.
"Without them (the foreign workers), we won't have much business at all," says Mr Choo Eng Kim, a supervisor at Indonesian food outlet Es Teler 77, where Sunday's business makes up about 90 per cent of each week's revenue.
Since the last decade, City Plaza in Paya Lebar has been a popular hang-out for maids, especially those from Indonesia.
But in recent years, the number of foreigners there on Sundays has been growing, according to tenants and maids, such as Ms Yuli, who frequent the place.
"This could be due to more foreigners working here, or more maids having a day off," said the 31-year-old, who has worked here for 13 years as a maid and meets friends at City Plaza almost every week.
Since the start of last year, maids on new contracts have to be given a mandatory day off every week or a day's wages in lieu.
City Plaza is also popular among Bangladeshi workers.
Said 26-year-old construction worker Jahid Hassan, who was there on Sunday with his Indonesian girlfriend and two other friends: "Those with Filipino girlfriends go to Lucky Plaza (in Orchard). Those with Indonesian girlfriends go to City Plaza."
Shopkeepers welcome the extra business.
Hawa Restaurant supervisor Rahima Safiee said: "For business, it's good that we have more foreigners.
"But sometimes we have to tell them not to bring food from other places into our restaurant, and some may not listen."
Ms Candy Sim, owner of Lucky Fine Unisex Saloon, has been working in the mall for about 20 years. Her shopfront faces the park at the junction of Geylang Road and Guillemard Road where many Indonesians gather.
"They're just here to party and eat, and many of them are women, so I'm not really worried," she said, adding that she expects even more foreigners to frequent the area.
"Occasionally, I see some people get drunk, then I'd get a bit concerned."
For the maids who gather there, the five-storey mall's proximity to Geylang Serai, a predominantly Malay precinct, is a plus. They also say it is convenient to buy Indonesian products and remit money at City Plaza.
Best of all, it is a place where they can come together.
"We come here just to relax, eat, chit-chat. It's nice to meet up with friends," said Indonesian maid Suyarmini, 38, while on a picnic at the field.
She goes there about once or twice a month with her friend Tumiem, who also works as a maid.
Said Ms Tumiem, 39: "It's nice to come out here. It's like having a fresh outlook on life after working for a week. There's cheap food, and there are many Indonesians here. This is like our kampung."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 14, 2014
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