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