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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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Letter to China

I’ve been told that people might inteprete this as a REAL letter from a bus driver to his wife in China. Well, it isn’t.

It’s just me imagining what he MIGHT write home about….



Dear wife,

I hope everything is fine with you at home. Are the children eating well? Studying hard? How are my parents? Did you get the money I remitted to you? It is not very much, but enough I think for the whole family to live better than before. How I long for home! I feel like a stranger in this country. I am treated like one, even though I look like the rest of them.
Do not worry about me. Don’t believe everything you read on RenRen and Weibo. You know what netizens are like. Small things become big things.

I know you asked me whether I am doing well here in my last letter. I am working hard. Driving is easier than in China because of traffic rules but the hours are long. I work six days a week, and have to drive the bus several times a day. I think other non-Chinese drivers drive for a shorter period. I don’t know exactly because they don’t talk to us and the company doesn’t tell us anything. I am put on the morning shift now and I wish those of the night shift will not make so much noise when they return to the dorm. I need my sleep.

The dormitory itself is fine. Don’t worry, we are not sleeping on the cold hard floor. But there are bed bugs, and my arms used to itch. Yesterday, the company hired some pest controllers to fumigate the rooms. It’s better now even though I still share my room with six or seven others. The company’s big boss said that we will be moving out of the dorm soon when the lease expires. Perhaps we will be put in more comfortable accomodations, like those in the other company. I know you want to come to Singapore, live in those flats you hear so much about and put Bao Pei in a school here. We have to think about it more. Please be patient and wait for my two-year contract to end. I don’t know if the company will renew it. The company thinks that we Chinese are trouble-makers.

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I know you have heard that some of us have been arrested. The police think that our four compatriots were the ring leaders, who got us all to stop work on Monday and Tuesday. Some of us didn’t want to take part at first but we were convinced that we should stick together. Unity is strength! It’s no different from the time we stopped work in the village when we didn’t get our salaries or how we marched to the police station to demand that we get what was our due in overtime. It seems like these things do not happen in Singapore. The police stopped us but at least they didn’t beat us. They said it was illegal to strike. In fact, striking is illegal! Do you think we have the same laws in China? Imagine! We have to tell the village administrator a week in advance that we want to stop work!

But I think we have got our point across. Our company boss actually flew back from America to talk to us. The Singapore Government also thinks that the company should do something. Our big boss said we were actually going to get a pay increase but the company didn’t have time to tell us about it. Funny. Singapore is so small but it takes a long time for someone to tell us anything. Now they have groups of people whose job is to talk to us. There is also a hotline we can call. They should have done that long ago.

Actually, all the bus drivers here have a difficult life, including the locals. Over the years, they have been asking for better salaries and now, they have to work six days when everyone is Singapore is working five days. Something has happened to their over-time claims. I am not sure what but I promise to look at my contract again to see if I am affected.

You know, when they gave us our letters to tell us about our pay? They actually said we Chinese won’t get more money. Not applicable or something like that in English. So we Chinese are singled out. The Malaysians get the same as the locals. The company says it is because the Malaysians don’t have to live in the dorm. Also, Malaysians have a higher cost of living. What is China’s cost of living now? Have things got more expensive? Maybe we can say that we also need a better salary to feed our families.

Please tell me about home. Please also tell me about whether there are other jobs at home with a good salary. The newspapers say Chinese bus drivers at home are still paid much less than we are here. But China is strong. China is big. A lot of locals actually want to work in China. And here we are, in Singapore. Maybe the netizens are right, we should go home. If we go home, the locals will have to do the driving. If they can’t find locals, then there will be fewer bus services. Forever! Very different from the 100 or so of us who stopped work. And that’s only for two days.
I cannot write any longer. The company people want to talk to me.
Give my regards to all at home. Stay safe.
Your loving husband.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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