By all accounts, 26 January 2017 should have been just like any other ordinary day in Wan Jun’s life. His 16 years of experience in doing plastering work, especially in Singapore, made him incredibly seasoned at his job, and he knew the ins-and-outs of the business intimately. And this construction work was the sole source of what paid the bills for his two elderly parents, wife and two children back in China. Yet what he did not know was that a single mistake was about to ruin this tenuous arrangement completely.
On 26 January, Wan Jun was tasked with ascending the side of a building in order to do his usual plastering work. He took one look at the small, narrow platform that was afforded him, and instinctively knew that it would be dangerous. He tried to refuse, but the manager ignored his concerns. By nature gentle and never one for a confrontation, Wan Jun finally relented and got onto the narrow platform, despite having misgivings about this arrangement.
“I knew I would be sure to lose my balance,” Wan Jun recounts. His tone is mellow and calm as per normal, but a slight but noticeable tension troubles his expression as he shares about his accident. “And sure enough – one sharp jerk of the platform, and I fell.”
At 48 years old, Wan Jun exudes a dependable steadiness, and even a restful fatherliness, regarding his lot in life. Yet, for a younger, 18-year-old Wan Jun, construction work had not been his first option for a livelihood. It only became his chosen path in life when his family no longer had the finances to support his education after high school.
When asked about his favourite subject in school, Wan Jun’s eyes light up. “Physics,” he says confidently, and for a brief second, he is lost in the moment. “I loved to learn about electricity. About currents, and circuits, and how electricity flows through them.” He moves his hands about in the air in a fluid motion, as if tracing imaginary currents in the air, invisible patterns that he is enamoured with. “I wanted to become an engineer, but that would require a university education. We didn’t have the money for that.”
Despite putting aside his dreams of becoming an engineer, it was still hard to find a job in China. When he went to the city to look for a job, his bag was stolen, and in it, his precious high school certificate. Even so, life has not made Wan Jun bitter – only resolute and accepting of the cards he has been dealt with in life. His daughter and son are now 16 years old and 23 years old respectively, and thus far he has been funding their education in the hopes that they can have a better future than he did.
When Wan Jun came to HealthServe, he was in great distress. His manager had no regard for his work injury, and Wan Jun had only been given 2 days’ MC and 14 days of light duty despite its severity. Moreover, his boss refused to pay him his wages of S$1,500 and did not report his work injury to the Ministry of Manpower. Wan Jun had become too scared to ask him after getting scolded for stirring up trouble for the company.
For the past three months, Wan Jun has been relying on the Geylang Food Project for his lunch and dinner every day, and the HealthServe MRT top-up of $20 for his transportation fare, for which he has expressed his gratefulness again and again. Just recently, he was evicted from his dormitory after being unable to pay a month’s worth of rental fees. Turning up lost and confused with his belongings at HealthServe, our fellow migrant brothers comforted him through his tears. He is currently staying in our HealthServe emergency shelter at Mountbatten, even as the staff workers at HealthServe are walking him through his claim processes. He is currently awaiting his lawyer’s advice on how to proceed with his case.
Yet Wan Jun is always willing to lend a helping hand to his migrant brothers, or offer up a smile and a friendly conversation with the HealthServe staff. One can often catch him willingly cleaning the HealthServe office in the mornings, keeping it as spick and span as possible. He joins us in sending off fellow migrant brothers at the airport as they return to China, and he comes with us on outings. One of his favourite pastimes is to play Saboteur, a team-player card game centred on building (or blocking) a path towards the desired end goal, during our HealthServe Happy Hours.
It is precious moments like these that introduce some humour and light-heartedness in his life. Although Wan Jun is still grappling with the very real uncertainty that shrouds his claims process, his worries fall by the wayside, forgotten, if just for a moment. Pondering his Saboteur cards intently, he chooses another path.