Migrant Workers in Taiwan
'Staying in Taiwan is good, But Returning to My Homeland is Better'
Read the story of Ainy–a migrant, a teacher, a student, and a mother, who had her 3-year bitter-sweet journey in Taiwan, and is finally counting her days to return to Indonesia.
'Staying in Taiwan is good, But Returning to My Homeland is Better'By One-Forty
Editor's note: The original Chinese article is an op-ed from Crossing, which was written on December 14th, 2017.
This is Ainy, a migrant worker, and a teacher.
“Boys and girls, time to sit down! Class is starting.”
“Who can tell me what we Muslims should say before we eat?”
“Why, how could you take off your headscarf? Don’t know how to put it back on? Come, I’ll give you a hand.”
In a small classroom scattered a few Muslim pupils, aged from three to ten. This is a Quran study class for beginners, hosted by a mosque in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Starting from the basics–Arabic, the language of Quran, the teacher explains to the children how these caterpillar-like letters are pronounced, how they combine into words, and most importantly, how to read the Shahada, a declaration that all Muslims must make when they pray, they eat, they step into the doors of their home, or before they sleep.
The pupils can be attentive listeners, but sometimes they get pretty naughty, too. This is when the teacher must take on a mother’s role to deal with all the troubles, for example, tidying up a little girl’s headscarf, or asking a little boy to behave when he was not paying attention to class but scribbling on his textbook.
This mother-like teacher is Ainy, an Indonesian migrant worker who once took courses from One-Forty, an NGO that focuses on offering practical business-oriented classes to migrants in Taiwan.
Once the bell rings, Ainy would write the words بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم (In the name of of Allah the Merciful) on the white board. Source: Kenny Mori.
‘Treat Your Students As Your Own Children, Then You’ll Be Patient’
That day, before 8:30 in the morning, I took a train from Taipei, and swayed my way to Taoyuan. As soon as I hopped out of the station, I quickened my pace, caught a bus heading to Zhong zhen (忠貞, Loyalty) Street, and finally, after a 30 minute ride, arrived at Longgang Mosque (龍岡清真寺). I took a glimpse at my watch. Good, not 10 yet. I strolled through the alley, and the first person I came across, was Ainy.
Ainy and I met on a class at One-Forty. I was the teacher’s assistant, while she was the student who traveled all the way from Taoyuan to Taipei for this course. Today, we switched roles. I came to the mosque where she taught classes.
She started from this February, she told me, teaching children Quran in the Mosque for 2 hours every weekend. I’d always been saying that I wanted to come and have a look, but our schedules never met. Luckily, I was able to catch a glimpse of the charm of this loving teacher, before she returns to Indonesia this December.
Each time the class comes to a halt, Ainy would walk off stage to sit by the side of the children, patiently helping them with their exercises. To those who were too shy to read aloud, Ainy would say, “Come on, don’t be shy. We will read them together.” Not until she made sure all the pronunciations were correct would she move on to help her next student. Once again, she would read with her children, on and on.
Once the bell rang, the children would rush out the classroom, to play with their friends from the other class. Ainy and I leaned against the wall, looking at the smiling faces of the children who were running through the halls. We chatted about almost everything, including her son.
Source: Kenny Mori.
“Oh, my son. I think he’s grown a little. Look. That child over there is five, same age as my son, but my son is a bit skinnier. He is now studying at a Mosque, too, learning about the same things as the children here do.” Speaking of her good boy, Ainy couldn’t hide the beam in her eyes.
“I’ve actually taught Quran in Indonesia before. Of course, in Indonesian though. When I came to Taiwan, the Ahok (governor) here asked me if I could teach children Quran, and I said ‘Sure! I’d be happy to.’”
“I love children. Those in my class are still very young, so it’s natural for them not to be able to hold themselves for a long time. I would be very patient to them, treating them as my own children. Give them a little more time, help them with their practices, and you’ll see. They do understand. They can learn.”
The 25 Year-Old Mother of A 5 Year-Old Child
Ainy has big eyes that crinkle into a pair of crescents when she smiles, making each conversation with her a pleasant one. As a young lady who had just turned 25 this year, she is already a mother of a 5 year-old boy. When her son was 2, she decided to leave for Taiwan, in order to financially support the family. Since then, years passed. 3 years might not sound unbearable, but long enough to change many things.
Though she seemed positive, her life in Taiwan didn’t start off well. Ainy was first employed as a caregiver. Since she had never taken care of an elderly before, she became assisting the employer’s private family business without getting paid for months, which she later reported to the labor administrations with a phone call that took her a lot of courage to make. After a series of twists and turns, she finally settled down with her present job in a foundation for the disabled.
Source: Kenny Mori.
I asked her why she wanted to return at this particular time.
She thought for a while, and answered me.“It’s time for me to go back. Every time I video call my son, he would say ‘Mommy, when are you coming back? I miss you!’And every time I can only tell him ‘I’ll be heading home soon!’ This time, I am really heading home. We can never make enough money, so why can’t we just let be? Watching our children grow is way more important.”
‘I Will Miss Everything in Taiwan, But Still I Have to Go Home.’
“December 18th is the date of my flight home. If you ask me, I would say I want to stay in Indonesia for the rest of my life. I’ve gone through so much these years working in Taiwan. Some were bitter, like my first employment, and my divorce. But some were sweet, like my encounter with One-Forty, and my chance to learn Chinese with you all. These made me feel blessed,” said Ainy.
Source: Kenny Mori.
Ainy became a student of One-Forty not long after the organization was founded. As long as there were classes, she would ride a bike to the nearest bus stop, catch a bus to Zhongli (中壢) or Neili (內壢), and take a train all the way to Taipei, just to attend a Chinese class in One-Forty. After class was dismissed, she would not stick around, but head directly back to her workplace, rest for a while, and run her night shift.
“At first, I heard from a friend that there were well-round Chinese classes offered in Taipei. I’ve always wanted to learn Chinese writing, but our agency would say ‘Your ability to speak in Chinese would be useful enough. Chinese characters are too difficult, you won’t be able to pick them up.’ So I never had a chance to learn the Phonetic Symbol System for Chinese before I came to One-Forty. I never knew how to spell Chinese characters, and how one same spelling can be shared by several different characters. Learning these was so much fun. I saw quick progress.”
I asked her to recall which class impressed her the most. It would be her first day, she answered, when they learned a song from Weibird Wei (韋禮安) –“Keep Waiting Slowly (慢慢等).” When she was bewildered by the Phonetic Symbols which she never encountered before, luckily one of her classmates, Yusni, gave her a hand. Perhaps it was the words of encouragement from the teachers and the friendliness of her classmates that fostered both her interest in Chinese, and her progress. She bought her own Chinese textbook to review her learning every time work comes to a halt. After class, she would often carry her book around chasing after teachers to ask questions.
“I used to have stage fright. I don’t like being stared by so many people off stage. But since I went to One-Forty, I realized that I had grown stronger, and more open to others.” This reminded me of the days, when every time an Indonesian student who was still a beginner to Chinese came to One-Forty and got very nervous, Ainy would walk on stage and translate for the newcomer, giving her heart-warming support, just as how Yusni helped her in the beginning.”
Counting The Days to Go Home
“Lately, when I call back home, my son and I would cheerfully count the days before my return, from 30 days left to less than 10 days now. He would tell me ‘Mommy, I’m so glad that you’re really coming back!’” Ainy later told me that the first thing she wanted to do as soon as she lands in Indonesia, would be picking up her son from her ex-husband's place.
“I want to keep my son company, every day, from home to school. I’ve even bought some books about Phonetic Symbols of Chinese for him. In our free time, I would want to teach him Chinese. Most importantly, I want to be at his side every single day.”
During the days of countdown, once Ainy gets off work, she would go for a big shopping.
“I just bought a huge suitcase from an Indonesian store (Editor’s note: Stores in Taiwan run and owned by Indonesians), because I have so many things to bring home, like shoes and clothes for my son...and frying pans. I’m bringing numbers of them.” The excitement of a mother made us burst into laughter. “I just can’t help! Frying pans in Taiwan are so good-looking and useful. I’m so used to these now, so I must carry some home.”
A wash of laughter diluted our sad feelings for our parting. When I gently gave her a hug, telling her that I would definitely miss her, she gave me a playful wink. “Hey, don’t be sad! When I get married, you must come to Indonesia. We’ll meet again!”
Ainy started a new relationship a year ago. Her boyfriend is in a stationary store in Indonesia, waiting to marry her. They attended the same elementary school, lived in the same village, but never had the courage to talk to each other back when they were young. Ainy told me in a smile that she had nearly forgotten him, before destiny had brought them together once again.
“After we get married, I can run the stationary store with him. My boyfriend told me that working in Taiwan was too hard for me. Let him do the hard work. I took business courses in One-Forty. I believe they will come in handy when I get back.” Speaking of her plans for the future, her eyes beamed with delight, and her smile widened.
Seeing her so excited about the future, I felt happy for her, though still reluctant to watch her leave. Her 3-year journey in Taiwan has come to an end. A new chapter of life with her family, her child, and her future husband, is awaiting her return. No one can ever really tell what will happen in the future, but I believe that this strong woman I see before me now can someday lead herself to where she wants.
Translated by Sharon Tseng.
Crossing features more than 200 (still increasing) Taiwanese new generation from over 110 cities around the globe. They have no fancy rhetoric and sophisticated knowledge, just genuine views and sincere narratives. They are simply our friends who happen to stay abroad, generously and naturally sharing their stories, experience and perspectives. See also CrossingNYC.
Original content of the Chinese Article can be found at the website of One-Forty
This article is reproduced under the permission of One-Forty. It presents the opinion or perspective of the original author / organization, which does not represent the standpoint of CommonWealth magazine.