Normally quiet and serious, Zhai Fu Min was visibly shaken as he stepped into the HealthServe Geylang office on 6 June 2017, the long-anticipated day that he was due to fly back to Xi An, China. As he talked to Willy, one of the HealthServe staff, his tragic story unfolded.
The night before, he had been on the phone with his elderly parents and grandmother, who were helping to look after his four-year-old daughter at home. For 7 months, he had kept his worksite injury from them, for fear that this news would be too much for them to bear. That night, he finally broke the news to them. But he had not been the only one who had been keeping secrets. His parents confessed that his older cousin had taken his own life almost a year ago – only two days after Fu Min had flown to Singapore.
When Fu Min had reached the Geylang office that morning, his eyes were red-rimmed from the grief of this late-discovered loss. He had grown up with this cousin, and they were close; they used to work together in Beijing before Fu Min had moved to Singapore to support his family. The shocking news had unsettled him, and he was looking for someone to share his pain with.
A family man, homesickness had hit Fu Min particularly hard ever since he reached Singapore. Each meal with dumplings brought back unconscious reminders of family dinners, and he would miss home terribly. “Once, I was just sitting on the MRT, and then my tears just kept flowing,” Fu Min shares unabashedly, rubbing his eyes a little. “I couldn’t stop. I just missed my family too much.”
Misfortune struck soon enough. Not even two months in Singapore had passed before Fu Min was involved in a workplace accident. He was standing at a height, trying to pry out one of the metal panels on the side of a building, when all the panels that had been stacked together suddenly collapsed onto his right hand, wedging it against the wall. If there had not been a support board bracing him from behind, he might have fallen 4 meters to the ground, and been pierced by the metal bars and panels below. In fact, the other workers had earlier suggested that he do without the board; it was only by his dogged insistence that he had been able to preserve his safety.
At first, his boss had refused to pay him his MC wages. Faced with no income, he was driven to despair. “I thought to myself, what is my four-year-old daughter going to eat?” Fu Min says, the emotion evident in his quiet and solemn voice. He felt so lost and hopeless that he even contemplated suicide.
He became reacquainted with hope again, however, when he encountered HealthServe. Through HealthServe’s assistance, his boss eventually paid him the MC wages that he was due. HealthServe also supported his practical needs, providing him with daily meals at the Geylang Food Project and a monthly MRT transportation fare, which he constantly expresses gratitude for. “You can borrow a few ten dollars from your friends, but how long can you do that? Everyone works so that they can feed their family back at home, so you cannot be asking too much of your friends. I find it unthinkable – if there was no HealthServe, what would happen to all the migrant brothers?” Fu Min wonders out loud, then shakes his head at the thought. “I really cannot imagine.”
Most memorable for him are the encouraging conversations and friends he has made at HealthServe. He recalls the simple games that the HealthServe interns and volunteers play with the migrants during “Happy Hour”, mentioning how the camaraderie helped to take his mind off his worries. “I feel like I’ve found a family in HealthServe,” Fu Min shares. As one of the youngest Chinese migrant brothers at the Geylang centre, the rest of the migrants also treat him as a younger brother, and look out for him.
After encountering such love and care, Fu Min was inspired to show the same kind of love and care to others. “Since I’ve come to HealthServe, I feel like I’ve changed a lot. Before, I did help people, but I always lacked the initiative,” Fu Min admits. “Now, when I hear that the other migrant brothers are sad, I will try to encourage them. Even though I may not be the best with words, I still hope I can bring joy to others.” Fu Min started to use his rudimentary skills in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to cure his dormitory friends of their common ailments, like allergic rashes, nosebleeds and stomach-aches. When he goes back to China, he is emphatic that he wants to continue to impact others with his life.
Fu Min turns to Willy, one of the HealthServe staff that he has become friends with ever since he first came to HealthServe. “To be honest, ever since I found out about the news of my cousin’s death yesterday, you’re the very first person I told. I’m very grateful to you.” Fu Min quietly wipes away his tears. “I’m so happy to have met you, Willy, and that I’m able to share honestly with you what is on my mind.”
That Tuesday night, a small band of HealthServe staff, interns and migrant friends follows Fu Min to the airport to see him off. Fu Min is seeking his compensation through common law, which will take time to process. For the moment, he is headed back home to wait for the results of his appeal.
At the food court, Fu Min is now noticeably less emotional, laughing and sharing stories about his hobbies and interests. Around the table, everyone takes turns to offer their well-wishes to Fu Min, wishing him a safe trip and the good health of his family. The atmosphere turns sombre when the time to bid farewell arrives. One of the more senior migrant brothers clasps Fu Min’s hand for a long while, his normally gruff exterior slipping for a moment as he reveals his sadness.
Despite the sorrow in parting, Fu Min is grateful that dear friends have come to see him off. Knowing that some of the HealthServe staff pay visits to migrant brothers who have returned to China, Fu Min extends his invitation to visit his home. “If you are ever in China, just message me, and I will be there to receive you. If you don’t mind our food, I will personally cook the dishes for you,” Fu Min insists in all seriousness, even as a smile graces his face.
At HealthServe, many of our friendships are enduring, our farewells impermanent. There is always the chance of a see-you-again, for Fu Min and our other migrant brothers alike.