All for the sake of family

Staying put: Sheikh Mohd Aridz is making less money but he is happy running his beverage business at a restaurant in Johor Baru. — VENESA DEVI/The Star

Sheikh Mohd Aridz Sheikh Ramdzan, 39, worked as a barista in Singapore for over a decade, earning a comfortable five-figure salary that could sustain him and his family well.

Every day, he spent about six hours commuting back and forth between Johor Baru and the island republic via public transport and completed his eight-hour shift with no complaints.

However, everything changed in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, prompting the closure of the border between Malaysia and Singapore.

ALSO READ: Rising cost of living sending Johoreans back to Singapore

“It was a very difficult time for me,” said Sheikh Mohd Aridz who has two children aged seven and two.

“All of a sudden, I could no longer return home to be with my family every day. I could not see my wife and children face to face or hold them.

“I did not mind taking the long commute home daily to be with my family, no matter how tired I was after my shift. They mean the world to me.

“Being separated from my family for so long was distressing,” he told StarMetro.

In March 2021 after being apart from his family in Johor Baru for a year, he decided to leave his job in Singapore for good.

“I missed my family dearly and I knew that they missed me too. My children kept asking my wife when I would come home.

“The last straw was when I lost my grandmother in August 2020 and was not able to be with her during the final days.

“I also lost my aunt, whom I was very fond of, just a few months before that.

“I then began seriously thinking about resigning from my job and talked to my wife and parents about it,” he said.

Sheikh Mohd Aridz was unemployed for about four months upon returning from Singapore. He then started his own home-based business selling bottled beverages.

“It was not easy. I finished up all of my savings in the first few months after leaving Singapore.

“My first earnings from the home-based business was less than RM1,000. This was a huge drop from the five-figure salary I earned in Singapore.

“Despite the struggle, it was worth it as I can still be close to my family,” he said.

In November last year, he started operating his beverage business from a restaurant owned by his friend.

“The situation has improved slowly but there are still challenges. I earn not even half of what I used to.

“However, I have made up my mind not to return to Singapore no matter the circumstances.

“Some may say that it is an unwise decision but being happy and close to my loved ones is most important to me.

“I am not as young as I used to be and who knows how long I can continue tackling the long daily commute.

“I have to start doing something here now,” he said, noting that the fear of another border closure had convinced him to stay on in Johor Baru.

Another Johorean who left a high-paying job in Singapore and came back for good was Lo Shaw Ping, 35. He worked 14 years on the island republic as a cook.

“My work permit expired in April 2020, about a month after the border closure. I took that as a sign for me to go home and did not extend the permit.

“I was separated from my children for a month but it felt longer than that,” said Lo, who used to travel by motorcycle across the Causeway every day.

He started a pan mee business in his house in Mutiara Rini and sold the dish to his neighbours.

“After operating from home for about a year, I was able to secure a stall at a restaurant not far from my house.

“A few months later, I got another stall at a different restaurant just a few blocks from the first one.

“I now operate the two stalls with my wife and mother-in-law,” he said.

The father of two operates the first stall from 7.30am to 1pm and the second one from 5pm to 9.30pm.

“It is exhausting as I have only a few hours of rest in between my shifts at the two stalls, but it is worth it as I get to spend more time with my family now.

“Most importantly, I know that no matter what happens, I can still go home and be with my family every day,” Lo added.

Meanwhile, Crystal Ng, 33, whose husband Goh Chin Yong, 32, is away working in Singapore for over two years, has started a business in Johor Baru so that their family can be together.

“Initially, my mother was selling home-cooked meals at a stall. We decided to expand the business into a restaurant for my husband to manage when he returns,” she said.

“The restaurant is also a platform to help other Malaysians working in Singapore who want to start their own food business here to be near their families.

“Currently, we have three people renting stalls at our shop. Two of them used to work in Singapore,” said Ng, who has a full-time job as the deputy head of leasing and events for a property company.

Goh, who worked as a technician in Singapore, recently handed in his one-month notice and would soon return to Johor for good.

“It was not a plan that was made overnight.

“We waited until our restaurant business improved before my husband took the huge step to leave his job in Singapore,” said Ng.

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