Wednesday, September 03, 2008

From China with love

I spoke to her because she’s a foreigner in this land. She cleans, wipes, mops, flushes and empties without a gripe. Silently, with a forlorn look, she goes about her duties.

I spoke to her because I thought she could do with a little warm conversation. What time do you start work? ‘7.00am.’ And what time do you end? ‘8.30pm.’ Golly, that’s long! ‘Yes.’

Which province in China do you come from? ‘Huqing,’ she replied. And where is that near, in China? ‘Near Xiamen.’ Oh Xiamen, that I know. It’s in the south, isn’t it? ‘Oh, that I’m not sure. I don’t know many places.’

How many children have you got? ‘Two – one aged twelve and another aged seven.’ How often do you go back to China to visit them? ‘I’m not sure’ and fiddles with her pocket, taking out her purse and fishing out a work permit card.

‘It says here two years, yes?’ Yes, that’s right, two years. So your contract is for two years. ‘Yes, and if my employer is pleased with my work at the end of two years, he might consider extending my employment.’

You’ll visit your children in five months’ time, during Chinese New Year, won’t you? ‘Really, I may not. I work very hard here, and if I were to go back for a visit, I will have to spend a sum of hard-earned money. So I may not go back.’ But you’ll miss your children, wouldn’t you? ‘Yes, very much. During the initial months here, I would cry at the thought of them…’ She fishes out two photographs of adorable red-flushed and dimpled faces of a boy and a girl. Oh, they are adorable. ‘Yes, this photograph here, this was taken when he was four months old. That’s his sister carrying him. And this other photograph here, this was taken when he was three years old.’

Her eyes were red as she held back tears. ‘It’s not so bad now. I talk to them once a week.’ Is it expensive to call home to China? ‘Oh it’s alright – it is pretty cheap actually. My international call card affords me some 300 over minutes of talk time.’

Oh that’s good, that’s good. Not wanting to hold up her work, I excused myself, and said I’ll talk to her again. As I turned to walk out of the washroom, she said, ‘Singaporeans are very nice and courteous people. I noticed that in my initial months of working here – people will talk to me and ask after me. Very nice of them.’

Immediately my recent conversation with a Singaporean friend of mine who took a year off to study Chinese in Hangzhou, China, flashed through my mind. She lamented how the Chinese in China lack civility.

And I understand what it means for this Chinese washroom cleaner – to have civility lavished on her, a foreigner, working to provide a little better for her family back in China. As I spoke with her, I reflected on the many blessings I have – not being separated but being near my family and loved ones, working in a land of abundant opportunities that I need not look offshore for work and better pay. This is a place of tremendous growth – and I am humbled by my immense blessings.


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