The Window

I was brought up in a rural area in Southern Taiwan. When I was in senior high school, Philippine migrant workers were the first foreigners to find work in Taiwan. My classmates and I were always keen to "spot" a migrant worker so that we could practise our English with him. For us, migrant workers opened a window to the outside world in our small island of Taiwan. At HealthServe, a group of Chinese migrant workers come every Sunday to learn English from volunteer teachers, of whom I was one. In class, besides learning and practising basic conversational English, they also shared their stories - stories about why they decided to work in a foreign land and how they coped with less-than favourable labour conditions. If learning English means for them a way to better fit in with Singapore society, their stories, on the other hand, offer me a peek into their world. Mainland China and Taiwan have been isolated from each other for decades; we did not have connections with people on the other side of the Taiwan Straits until recently. These migrant workers opened a window for me to the reality of overseas Chinese labour migration. Interestingly enough, and somewhat ironically, English serves as a medium again. I leave for Taiwan with new perspectives on Singapore, China and migration.

~Tseng Han Sheng

Humility Through Art

I have facilitated creative art classes for youth and young women, but never for a group of middle-aged men, specifically Chinese migrant workers, most of whom are now jobless because of a work injury or a salary dispute. The men were reluctant to draw initially, citing reasons like they've not held a colour pencil since they were kids. I decided to take a different approach during the first lesson instead of drawing, I got them to talk about life back home and how different it is from life here. There was a torrent of comments, and arguments even. Then I got them to draw things that make them happy. Gradually, they unleashed their creativity, which is at its best whenever they draw their homes in China. The lessons have been going on for some two months now. My classes aren't so much about learning skills and techniques as they are about using art to express one's thoughts, feelings and ideas. As an art facilitator/educator, I realised the importance of learning the thought portals to which my participants "the migrant workers" were able to articulate themselves. I learned to connect with them through conversations about their work, families and homes. It is always a nice surprise to view some of their unconventional and interesting drawings, and how their thought processes influence their art pieces. Their artworks were eye-openers to their lives in Singapore and in China, with many images depicting individual hopes and dreams. I am grateful that these men gave me the opportunity to work with them. While I was the "teacher", I was also a student who learned from their experiences. It humbles me whenever I look at their pictures and think about their struggles and anxieties. Yet, despite their hardship, they never fail to break into a grin whenever I ask them to share about their drawings.

~Tai Shuxia