Stories

Hardships in a Foreign Land

For those who had the opportunity to interact with Li Zhen An, I believe most of us would agree that speaking to him is tough because of his heavy accent. The words he uses are in different intonations from what we have learnt in school, making it difficult for us to understand him at times despite having him repeat what he has said. Previously, we were asked to cover the migrants’ stories and I remember being really intrigued by Zhen An because he was the only migrant brother who was not staying at any of the shelters.

I flinched when I heard that Zhen An had a workplace injury where a cement board weighing 700 pounds fell and hit him and two other workers. It shocked me to know that there was no supervision from a senior worker and all three injured workers (including himself) were new workers. Zhen An’s injuries were the most serious as he was hit on his eye, rib, head and finger, resulting him in slipping into an unconscious state, while the two other workers were hit on the leg and arm respectively. Zhen An was sent to the nearest hospital, where he was taken care of and had his operation done there. He was admitted into the hospital for 5 days, after which he was not allowed to stay longer as advised by a hospital staff.

For Zhen An’s situation, his employer did not take good care of him despite his workplace injuries, and insisted for him to work although he had yet to recover from his injuries. Not only was he not well taken care of, his safety officer and manager pretended not to know him and denied their identities when he approached them for help. After the accident, Zhen An has since been suffering from constant headaches and he wanted to seek for medical treatment but was rejected by a nurse at the hospital because he was only allowed for consultation via appointment. He then transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for medical consultations about a month after his injury incident. 

He is currently consulting a pain specialist for his headache, and I was given another opportunity to interact with him individually on a more personal level when I accompanied him for his medical appointment with the pain specialist a few days back. During his consultation, I noticed that he was not paying much attention to what the doctor was saying, and I could not understand the reason for his behaviour. Zhen An explained that all he wanted was to be healed of his headaches so that he could go back to work, and he felt that whatever the specialist had said was of no use to him. Although I understood what the specialist told Zhen An could be help to reduce the intensity of his headaches, I could also understand Zhen An’s desperation to recover as soon as possible. I believe that is the only thing that is hindering him from doing anything.  Despite that, I encouraged Zhen An to heed the specialist’s advice and contemplate on his next step if his headache continues to persist.

Although Zhen An has been receiving MC wages from his employer, he was worried about his family as he was afraid that they do not have enough to cover for their daily expenses. He has been remitting two-third of the wages back to his family, which meant that he only has one-third of his wages to cover for his daily expenses. That made me curious why he came to Singapore to work since he could stay in China to work and at the same time, be with his family. He explained that although the money earned overseas and in China were almost the same, working in China meant that they only get paid when they get work done, while in other countries like Singapore, no matter how busy they are, they will always get paid.

It was heart-wrenching to hear his story because as a daughter to my parents, I cannot imagine my father having to experience such hardships in a foreign land, let alone understand how difficult it must be for Zhen An, as a husband to his wife and a father to his three kids. Yet, he does not complain about the hardships he faced despite being the sole breadwinner of the family. I could see how family-oriented he was through his concern for his family and his anxiousness to go back to them. All I can do now is to hope that soon enough, he recovers from his headaches and goes back to his family in China.

It was comforting to hear that coming to HealthServe has been beneficial for Zhen An. He told me that the biggest help he received from HealthServe was being able to receive MC for his injuries instead of only being diagnosed to light duty. Through HealthServe, he has gone to Gardens by the Bay a few times and got to admire the sakuras and other Japaneses flowers. He also got to experience making dumplings and having volunteers sing and perform for him. He also mentioned that interactions with the volunteers and interns at HealthServe has been comforting for him because he felt accompanied during this period of time. Hearing how comforted he feels motivates me to come back to HealthServe even after my internship ends as I would love to bring comfort to the other migrant workers too.

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