Hanoi’s Red Bridge is iconic of the city

Your writer sees a migrant worker in TWC2’s office. He is at a table doing his salary calculations, obviously in preparation for making a salary claim. Let’s call him Jack for this article.

Jack looks up and we exchange greetings. He has a wide smile.

“How come you’re looking so happy?” your writer asks. “You’ve obviously got a salary claim to fight.”

Jack doesn’t quite answer to the point, but in the following minutes, he speaks of the ten or eleven years he’s been in Singapore since he was twenty years old, and he clearly likes being here. Sure, there was one employer who didn’t pay him correctly, and that’s why he is now filing a claim, but overall – he’s in his fourth employer now – it’s been a good run. He’s come to love Singapore.

The mind-blowing story he has is about the five years he was with his second employer (not the one that short-paid him) for whom he worked in the years just before Covid-19.

“We had a company holiday in Vietnam,” he tells your writer, beaming widely as he recalls those happy times.

Naturally, your writer goes, “Tell me more!”

It was the second company holiday he was on. This first was to Indonesia but clearly the Vietnam trip is the one he remembers more fondly. Vietnam would have been incredibly different from Bangladesh or Singapore, and he had the time of his life.

The employer was a sign-making firm that had a workshop manufacturing signboards and an installation team. There were 45 employees on the trip – nearly the entire workforce except for a handful who chose not to join – comprising Singaporeans, Malaysians, ten Bangladeshi workers, Chinese and Filipinos. They were mainly men in the group, with a few women from the administration team. They one-week trip took them to Hanoi, Hoi An and Danang (he remembers the beautiful beaches).

They had a whale of a time. Shopping was cheap, the weather pleasant (it was March), and the Vietnamese people very nice, Jack said. They stayed in nice hotels, in twin-share rooms, and the boss arranged for halal meals for them. By the end of the week, their bellies were stuffed with seafood and their phones stuffed with photos.

Jack has kept in touch with his former boss and colleagues. He tells your writer that in other years, the company organised trips to China, and this year, there will be one going to Japan. But alas, post-Covid, he has not been with that company anymore.

And there’s more!

There was one time when he and some friends organised a private trip to Thailand. They saved up for it from their Work Permit salaries. Sure, they weren’t in the lowest-paid jobs, but they weren’t unusually well-paid either by migrant-worker standards. They were just fortunate that they had had steady work and managed to save, and their bosses gave them time off.

“Thailand! Why Thailand?” your writer asks.

Jack’s broad smile gets even broader, perhaps in reminiscence of the even more wonderful time he had. He doesn’t directly answer the question, though.

Having waited long enough for a reply, your writer tries a different tack to elicit a response. “Ah, Thailand,” he sighs and throws Jack a wink.

Jack’s smile turns sheepish, but he winks back.

“But you were not married then,” your writer adds. “Now you are.”

Jack sighs.