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半生在港打工,成長烙印能否輕易抹走? 《印尼移工回國之路》專題九之三

30/07/2018 - 4:56pm
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<印尼移工回國之路>專題
前言:落葉歸根還是無盡漂泊
1.Avid的故事:衣錦還鄉的包袱
2.Eaga的故事:被性別身份左右的人生
3.半生在港打工,成長烙印能否輕易抹走?
4.計算打工之旅的得失,不得不看這4組數字
5.一望無際的農田,過山車般的生計 
6. 外出打工後能享清福?看看移工回國如何維生
7. 不想種田又不想越洋,到了城市可怎樣生存?
8. 重回那溫馨而局促的家鄉,移工如何自救?
9. 移工為香港承擔了多少?


2000年左右,來港當家務工的印尼人越來越多,Kristin是其中的一個。

認識她時,她的打扮與香港人很相似。腳踏帆布鞋,寬腰窄腳褲,略長的貼身T恤,戴牛仔帽或者露出稍斜的劉海。其實只是很稀鬆平常的打扮,但有時竟令人覺得大膽。正如,聽到印尼移工口裡吐出地道的廣東話,會被嚇了一跳。

也許不應該如此驚奇,畢竟,她有差不多半輩子的時間都在香港過。

1997年亞洲金融危機,印尼盾大幅貶值,為了賺取外匯挽救國家經濟,印尼政府更加積極輸出勞工,香港開始大量輸入印尼家務工。由於需求大增,印尼當地的中介公司派出「牛頭」,四出搜羅願意出國打工的女孩,貧窮農村是重點開拓地區。

2000年,Kristin還是個未讀完中學的黃毛丫頭,家裡最大的財產就是用竹枝編搭而成的屋子。他們窮得鐘也買不起,每天早上四點鐘左右,村裡的寺廟(mosque)廣播晨禱,就是起床的鬧鐘。下雨天,風吹進來呼呼作響,雨水從疏洞滴漏入屋。時日久了,部份竹枝浸濕發霉甚至爛掉。「有的地方爛得穿了洞,我曾經在睡覺時掉了出去屋外面呢!嚇得媽媽立即拉住我。哈哈,很搞笑,無端端滾了出去,可能那時我在做夢吧!」後來Kristin憑自己努力為家人蓋了穩固的房子,過去的辛酸此時成為了獨特的回憶。

Kristin一家六口,靠爸爸租田耕作、媽媽嘗試做不同的小本生意以維生,吃飯也不容易。那年,牛頭得知她家的情況,前來招募。但是她年紀太小了,父母不願放行。Kristin心裡糾結:我有什麼理由繼續讀書呢?姐姐幸運地得到姨媽照顧,但家裡還有兩個年僅一歲和兩歲的弟妹,媽媽也患了關節炎、糖尿病、中風等多種不同的疾病,爸爸一邊照顧媽媽一邊賺錢養家,生活著實難過。

牛頭三番四次遊說她父母,沒有問題的,沒有問題的。Kristin盤算著,反正都決定了不再去上學,那麼,即使在印尼國內其他城市打工,也是要離開家人,出國打工也不是差很遠吧,還可以賺多點呢。最終,父母簽下同意書,答應讓她到香港打工。

七個老闆只有一個好 始於異鄉的自由與抗爭

十五年間,Kristin做了七份合約。每份合約的年份、每個老闆的名字她都能如數家珍地道出,直到最後一份合約,她才遇到一個較為合理的僱主。

在她來港的第一年,法例規定最低工資是3,670元(除非特別註明,以下銀碼皆為港元)。第一位僱主扣走了一半有多的工資,Kristin每月只拿到1,800元。

在印尼移工進入香港市場的初期,中介除了打造「服從、單純」的形像推銷,還以較低廉的價格招徠。儘管香港政府早於1973年已有規定外傭最低工資,支付低於規定的工資額實屬違法。可是,政府規管中介及僱主的力度太低,另一邊廂,中介也會向僱主建議安全保險的做法。僱主通常會把薪金存入移工的本地銀行戶口,然後著工人提款出來,再拿走部份現金。嚴謹一點的,會叫工人簽下收據證實已收全額工資。在重視文件多於人的香港社會,這些招數萬試萬靈。我們訪問了十多位已歸鄉的移工,大部份初次外出工作的移工也曾被扣減工資,這變成了印尼移工默默承受的潛規則,有移工甚至戲言中介的推銷方法為「買一送一大優惠」。

近年,在移工組織的努力推動下,很多問題已經改善,印尼移工短付薪金的情況已屬少見。但是,在其他社群中仍然存在這種剝削。根據在港尼泊爾家務工工會在2016年作的調查,近半尼泊爾藉家務工得不到法定工資,最低的每月只有1,700元,而當年的法定最低工資是4,310元。

2000年最初來港工作的兩年合約裡,Kristin總共被扣減了四萬多元。諷刺的是,到2015年離港回鄉之時,她銀行戶口儲到錢也就是四萬多元。簡單來說,她自己最後得到的,就是一開始被剝奪的。難道這不是一場毫無意義的復仇遊戲嗎?除了復仇,實在想不到有其他情節可用來解釋這種程度的諷刺。整個香港社會扮演著復仇者的角色,被報復的則是這個無辜的異鄉人。復仇的動機無處稽查,但被報復者明顯傷痕累累。她這十多年來的辛勞犧牲,到底是為了什麼?為了儲這筆錢,她花費了多少時間?如果當初不是那無良僱主,她可以提早多少年回去家鄉?她的命運會如何改寫?有多少失去了的東西可以挽回?她媽媽可以得到更及時更好的治療嗎?或者,她可以在媽媽離世之前就結束打工之旅,回去陪伴左右嗎?

來港工作第七年,2007年,Kristin的媽媽因病去世了。痛定思痛,她開始規劃這趟旅程該何時終結。

一般來說,外出打工的人通常會計劃兩年或四年。Kristin數一數自己的任務:家人的生活費、弟妹學費、父親經營生意的成本、建屋費,然後做多幾年自己儲錢......深呼吸一口氣:反正都已經在香港了,就把事情通通做好吧,要做到這些,大概就是需要十幾年。就這樣辦吧。

十五年間,好的不好的她都經歷過。

2003年,完了第一份合約,她付了六千大元給中介,從吸血鬼身邊逃離,轉了新僱主。一個月終於有一天假期,朋友帶她去維園玩。難得的聚會,是她們釋放自我互解鄉愁的時間。那時她們玩得可瘋了。維園草地無遮無擋自成小氣候,好天晒落雨淋,冬天特別冷夏天特別熱,可是,除了公共空間,她們還有什麼地方可以去呢?到處都要花錢,而且又沒有同聲同氣的社區氛圍。下雨了,與其琵縮一角不知等到何時,不如硬著頭皮衝出去。那些年,她們膽敢在雨中的草地上跳舞,追逐。天大地大,只要夠膽,哪裡都可以是我的天地。與自然與土地日漸疏離的港人,斥責她們佔用了公園和街道,卻從沒想到,她們活化了多少公共空間。

在朋友引介下,Kristin加入了ATKI(印尼移工協會),從小的貧窮生活讓她很容易對其他身處困境的人產生同情同理心,她慢慢成為了核心的組織者,積極推動改善家務工處境的運動。但是,這些無助於她避過工作中種種困險。被中介超收中介費、等待新護照期間被誤會成偷渡者被捉進警局坐了大半天冤獄、拒絕應僱主要求做合約以外的工作而被解僱、遇上斤斤計較的僱主連豉油用量也有嚴謹限度、逃離犯法工作反遭僱主誣衊偷錢......直到最後一個僱主,她才做得較為安穩,有足夠的薪金、假期、食物。不過,四年後也就完了。

2015年,kristin三十多歲,在印尼可算是大年紀,家人催促她回家結婚。移工有個習慣,回鄉之前會宴請朋友大吃一頓。在雲南米線的店子裡,她打開餐牌:「來來來,想吃什麼就叫吧。」吃著吃著,那時很不識相的我沖口而出問道,你會不捨得這裡嗎?她一瞬間遲疑了,復又笑著吐出那時常掛在口邊的說話:「當然會啊,我有差不多一半的人生都在這裡過呢。」答案簡短,但那笑容語氣意味深長。當我兩年後再到印尼探望她,她提起昔日與ATKI的朋友一起聚會、拼搏、談心的光景,眼淚便不由自主地落下。這教我沉思,那時,在遲疑與笑容之間,我的魯莽令她按捺下怎樣的感情?

她最重要的成長階段並不在家鄉這裡,十五年間,她已經習慣了香港的文化,談吐衣著也無異於一般香港人,而且,在長期的抗爭運動及社群互助中,她已經建立了相當飽滿的自信與獨立。用老人家的話語來說,就是心放野了。回到印尼之後,她可以怎樣適應?

回鄉以後 語言成隔閡

原本她回鄉是為了照顧日漸年邁的父親,可是,嫁人也意味著她要去别的地方住。即使回到印尼,她還是沒有回到自己的家。雖然丈夫所在的村子離自己家只有半小時車程,但對於那邊的社群而言,自己終究是外人。

語言竟然是她融入社群的一大難題。印尼是幅員遼闊的多元文化國家,有700多種語言,到香港工作的印尼人來自不同的地區,因此他們溝通時多會採取較為通用的印尼國語(類似是普通話的概念)而非自己家鄉的語言。十多年來,Kristin已習慣了說印尼國語,自己家鄉的爪哇語反而生疏了不少,以至於回鄉後,她說爪哇語之前總要多想想才說得出。即使是敬她疼她的丈夫Danang也有時會取笑:「你到底是不是印尼人啊?懂不懂說爪哇語的?」村裡不認識她的人更質疑道:「你去香港多久了?怎麼會不懂說爪哇語?」言下之意暗罵她假裝不懂當地語言自抬身價。

村中常有共同勞動的日子,例如是誰家親人死去了、誰家有人生了小孩,村中的女人就要聚到那家裡幫忙煮食,為宗教儀式所需作準備。Kristin曾試過一個月裡有十天要花在這些事情上,共同勞動之時少不免閑聊,Kristin也希望多點付出令大家接受她進入社群,但是當她提出意見時,卻會被嗆道:「你又不是這條村的人,你懂什麼呢?」

可幸的是,日子並非全然難過。畢竟Kristin是一名經驗豐富的組織者,在有意無意之中,她和丈夫把家門前的小賣店修築成一個適宜久待的地方。小賣店屋頂與屋子相連,延伸出一大片有瓦遮頭的開放空間。前年颱風來襲,擊落不少粗壯樹枝,Kristin與丈夫用斷枝砌成枱和凳,擺在小賣店與家門之間,畫面頗為愜意。他們把牆油上黑漆,變成可供塗鴉的黑板。見到年輕人飲啤酒,Danang勤他們,不如我請你們飲咖啡好了。慢慢地,小賣店竟變成了年輕人借用WIFI或是飲茶閑聊的聚腳點、出外打工諮詢處、小學生功課輔導處之類的地方。村人有事沒事會來串門,點一杯茶就坐一兩小時,Kristin吱吱喳喳的,幾個人有講有笑,小賣店化身成有機社區中心。

然而,拉扯總是存在。

我們待在Kristin家那幾天,她三不五時會冒出些奇怪的問題。有一天,她帶我們去拜訪一位曾到台灣工作的移工,那一帶山谷種滿了長有香花的樹,用以制作印尼的「白花油」。回程時她問我,「是不是『雪林』?雪...雪林...樹林?樹林吧?」我不明所以,對那片香花樹看似是白色的,但總不至於是雪林吧?她想問什麼呢?「是這樣讀吧?樹...林...樹...林...還是雪林?」這時我才知道,原來她在問我廣東話讀音。

「為什麼你還要記住廣東話怎讀呢?你不是回印尼了嗎?」我恃熟賣熟耍出無賴狀,實際上找不到更好的問法。她還是明快地答道:「但是我還有好多朋友在香港啊。」然後,她逐一數出我們之間共同認識的人名。那幾天,她煮了好幾餐中菜給我們。「我一想念香港就會煲糖水,雪梨、紅棗、木瓜、雪耳、杞子嘛。」

我問她,有沒有想過留在香港不回來?她說,沒有。

這對話純屬浪費時間。早在2013年,香港人就用血盤大口扼殺了移工申請居留權的可能。

建屋代表有錢? 只是脫離赤貧 

從Kristin自己的屋子裡,我們由另一個角度看到那十五年打工之旅的足跡。建屋,是Kristin到香港工作的其中一個主要目標,也是很多人對於移工歸鄉美好生活的幻想的象徵。事實上,所謂「起大屋」只不過是由赤貧改善為較合理的生活環境。

放眼望去,Kristin家鄉的小村已經清一色是磚屋,惟一的竹屋是政府為一名盲人搭建。沿路上Kristin向我介紹:「這間屋的人去了馬來西亞工作,這間屋的人去了台灣,這間也是台灣,這間是香港,這間是阿拉伯,這間屋的人還在台灣工作......」每一個建了磚屋的家庭都有人出外打工,除了村長那家。

由丈夫家到自己家,約半小時車程。停定摩托車,下來,kristin不無腼腆地介紹:「這就是我的家啦,是不是很普通呢?」

誠然,這間屋子與附近其他同類型的屋子相比,只是一般的水準。我們圍著屋子外面走了一圈,那是一所長形的房子,紅瓦片屋頂。只有正門及屋內的地板舖有瓷磚,其他部份則只見紅磚頭。地面的是粉橘色瓷磚,正門貼有褐色花紋的瓷磚,側邊掛了一片紅色的竹廉,遮擋斜陽,歲月沖擦出道道斑駁的白色灰色淺粉色。門外前庭,由四條結實的柚木撐起屋頂,Kristin說那是太婆為他們留下的。正門及側牆共有三組窗,每組都足有一個人的高度,打開窗便是滿屋通爽的風。

這間屋子並非一次過建成,建築材料以Kristin每月寄回來的錢逐樣買下,直到Kristin外出工作第三年,才儲夠錢開始建屋。那時,她每月只為自己留下500元生活費。地上的瓷磚是最後才買的。幾年前姐姐不夠錢辦婚禮,Kristin便用了原本打算買瓷磚的錢為姐姐辦婚禮,因此買瓷磚的事延後了好一段時間。

走進屋子裡,牆壁油了綠色的漆,配以水藍色的光面窗廉布。Kristin說,牆壁是回來之後才與爸爸、妹妹、弟弟一起上油漆的:「未油之前是水泥牆,下雨很容易壞,上了油漆可以保護得持久一點。」

Kristin房門外的牆上,掛了張一看就知道在影樓拍的藝術照。相片中的她穿著婚紗,笑容甜美。瘦得很,營養不足那種。那是2005年在深圳等待辦理護照時拍攝的,中介安排她們住在酒店裡,四十多人睡一間房。帶她們去拍美美的照片,也是收費項目。雖然期間有一天被警察誤以為是無證偷渡者而拘禁了大半天,但說起來在深圳的日子,Kristin一臉雀躍:「我還記得啊,東門買衣服很便宜!真的記得呢。」

她的房間沒有裝上門,也沒有燈。拜訪的時候是晚上七時多,Kristin摸黑把烏絲燈插在電掣上,燈光微弱。她得意洋洋:「這燈泡是在香港的兩元店買回來的!」她用鎖匙打開靠牆的柚木衣櫃,打開手機電筒照著看,半個櫃都是ATKI頒給她的獎杯獎狀,上面寫著她全名。牆上掛了結婚照,窗邊有一個玻璃相架,最後那僱主送她的禮物,相架中夾著的是與僱主一家的合照。

穿過大廳來到廚房和廁所,這部份的地下是水泥地,沒有瓷磚。從香港回來後,才添置了爐具和餐具,母親不在了,弟妹又在外讀書,屋子長時間只有父親獨居,很少煮食。爐具旁是一口井,貓兒喜歡到井邊逛。由於引水需要用電,為了省錢,他們現在還會從井裡打水。沖涼房和廁所的門老舊得掉了下來,擱在外面勉強遮掩。沖涼房廁所裡面也沒有裝電燈,他們在爐具邊備了電筒用以照明。

那麼,在建這間屋之前,又是怎樣的光景?

由某段時間開始,村人要給錢政府來買地契,獲得使用那土地的認證。Kristin媽媽11歲就出外為中國人打工,做家居清潔。Kristin說:「那時媽媽扎了兩條麻花辮,長長的,很漂亮。」全靠媽媽打工,婆婆才買到地契,因此媽媽分到較大塊地,這惹來了叔叔的不滿,親人之間搶地是時有發生的事。

1982年,Kristin父母結婚,四年後在媽媽分到的地上建了竹屋。竹屋由爸爸、媽媽及鄰居幫手建成。竹屋有洞,不能完全防水,哪裡漏水就要把家具移到安全的地方,不過,家裡也沒有什大型家具。Kristin出外打工前,他們家還沒有通電,晚上做作業,要靠近煤油燈來看。上面說過,經過長年累月的日晒雨淋,竹子發霉會爛掉,kristin就曾在睡覺中途跌出屋外。在建磚屋之前,他們數次把竹屋拆掉重建。

只是脫離赤貧,便是這個意思。面對外間幻想移工回鄉建大屋享清福,Kristin放下了腼腆,毫不忌諱地說道:「如果說屋子漂亮就代表好有錢,那是騙人的。」

千方百計維生 堅持留在鄉下與弱者共同奮鬥

2015年回來,Kristin至今在印尼待了兩年有多,朋友們對此感到驚訝,很多人回印尼後都待不久,幾個月後就再出去打工。Kristin攤開手板數算:「有個朋友做外賣食物的,回印尼一年結婚生小孩後就走。有朋友回來幾個月,忍不住又回去香港。有朋友在家鄉搞剪頭髮、洗電單車的,也做不住,要回去香港工作。」印尼與香港生活節奏很不同,習慣了香港生活的,會覺得印尼很悶,在家無所事事,而且回來以後,越來越難維生,也越來越多人再度外出工作。

Kristin儲了四萬多元,單是結婚就用了大半。她並非盲信傳統,卻害怕村人說了難聽的話,令爸爸難過,因此再貴的儀式她也要跟足。剩下那筆錢不會夠生活,僅僅足以用來開始小本生意。Kristin廚藝有一手,回來印尼後,她曾在市中心開了間小餐館,賣麵、飯、飲品。一年租金索價一萬七千多元,為免一舖清袋,她只是租了三個月來試試。那店子開在醫院旁,料想應該有不少人流,但實際光顧的人卻很少,收支僅僅平衡。見沒能賺錢,他們決定關閉店子。這樣的下場並非獨獨是他們運氣差,經過市中心,沿路上破舊的店面有不少。當地的消費市場還不蓬勃,但競爭卻很大。每個回鄉的移工都想做生意,業主乘機抬升租金。

現在他們兩夫婦嘗試在生活中尋找各種不同的可能來維生:放棄市中心扎根在村裡,在家門前開小賣店,每天天未光就起床來煮飯賣給小學生,賺買巨量WIFI計劃來分銷給村人,在網上開店售賣食物予海外移工,在雨季借洗衣機幫人洗衣乾衣。兩夫婦都是曾外出打工的人,然而,想盡辦法,生活僅僅能維持,村人不少閑言閑語。Kristin的朋友們笑說:「兩年哦,如果在香港,都已經完成一份合約了。」前僱主還跟她保持聯繫,說她離去後換了幾個工人都不太相處到,問她願不願意回來。

Kristin堅持留在印尼,除了對自己家鄉的感情,還有很大部份的動力來自於旁人難以明瞭的理想。

「即使窮,我也想體會窮人的滋味,想知道他們的感受,跟他們在一起。」

單從表面來看,她的生命軌跡平平無奇:出外打工、回鄉、結婚。然而,她沒有放棄任何一個掙扎的機會。在香港,她是積極的組織者,與同伴一起反抗不義制度。回到印尼,被要求結婚,她找了認識多年的異性朋友,問他:「要是我們結婚,可以平等地溝通相處嗎?我還可以繼續參與組織參與運動嗎?」這是結婚的前提,在印尼鄉村這麼一個父權的環境氣氛中,這是一個多麼大膽的要求。幸運地,對方也是願意講道理的人,甚至相處下來互相影響,兩人一同成為了歸鄉移工組織KABAR BUMI的成員。

出外打工不是解決問題的方法,越來越多人歸鄉後又再外出打工,就是明證。惟有改變本國的社會狀況,令人們可以選擇留在本國,令「外出工作」成為其中一個選擇而不是無奈被逼,才可能扭轉命運。

因此,Kristin很希望留在印尼,實踐出生存的方法。賺錢有很多方式,損人利己的事他們幹不出,想賺錢也就更不客易。「就算我們是開小賣店,我們也會照顧其他人。有小孩想補習,我們會教他們,像補習班一樣,不過是不收錢的。曾有小孩來做功課,要用WIFI,他很坦白說,姐姐,我不會付錢的。我說,知道啦,不要緊啦。然後他拿出釀木薯給我,他媽媽不好意思白用我們的東西。」

留在印尼想幹什麼呢?「我不只是想幫人,而是想教育他們。印尼人的思想還停留在傳統,被政府騙了很多年。其實印尼很大,有很多土地可以用,但是政府就不斷搶地。電視不會播,只播八掛消息,不講事實。」

「我也不知道自己會不會做不下去呢,我不會說永遠不會回香港。最重要是可以食飯就夠了,而且KABAR BUMI也很需要人手。我想體會生活困難、肚餓時是怎樣。你餓我也餓,你關心我,我也關心你。」

小時的貧窮生活是種子,在香港十多年的組織經歷則是澆灌的水,印尼波諾羅戈的小村裡,長出了一朵艷美得驚人的花。

「在組織就是會有這種在一起的感覺。我心入面一定會想念香港,想念ATKI。尤其是想念星期日聚會、一起吃飯、說不開心的事,一想起就會哭。」

女人要結婚生子,在印尼社會仍然是牢固的觀念,做不到這點會承受很大壓力。很多人認定,Kristin回來以後很快會結婚生小孩,繼續搞組織什麼的都是不切實際的幻想。他們猜對了一半,的確,村裡的人說不到三兩句就問她何時生小孩,在集體勞動的相處裡,一個未生小孩的已婚婦人更是異類,丈夫的母親經常故意抱著別人的孩子在她面前無聲施壓,但是,她腦海裡的帆已漂到很遠。

對她而言,家,有一種更廣闊的意義。「好多人需要我們去抱住,要抱住所有的人,不一定要立即結婚立即生小孩。如果我的生活太多東西要煩心,那麼我就無法關心其他人了。」其實我不懂。我不懂,每日受著旁人明裡暗裡的轟炸,可以如何承受得住,為什麼還有力去想其他人?她是幸運的,有一個願意溝通的丈夫,但是,這又能為她抵擋多少攻擊呢?

後來,她在fb寫了這段字。

這幾天,和朋友談到生活、政策、社會鴻溝、宗教、文化
用另一種語言(廣東話)
為什麼我選擇留在村裡,而不是去城市?
我答道
因為我想在村裡學習,這裡有很多東西我要學習
做農夫/工人是怎樣的困難
年輕人找工作是怎樣的困難,農夫賣作物是怎樣的困難,如何面對主流社會的保守、村裡的社群
還有如何教育和教導村裡的小孩
還有很多

在這裡我有很多東西可以做
我愛這條村,我會學習、聆聽人們的感受、人們在想什麼
還有人們需要什麼!!!
還有我想做自己而不是其他人
愛他們,抱著他們所有人

我想成為飢餓的人的一份子。不是成為那些只想到自己的胃的人們。
然後我會說
住在這裡,我愛我的國家
這就是我住在這裡的方法

Soyi ngo cau haito cui ..
Hi og jun. Hi ngo ko ka
Cau hai yannei
(以英語拼廣東話音,意譯:
所以我就在這裡住
在村裡,在我國家
就是印尼)

每每看到她奮力發聲,我感受到的,更多是孤獨。我不期然擔心起來,她可以捱多久呢?在這樣一個地方堅持運動堅持掙扎,到底是怎樣一回事?她付出的代價是我們難以想像,也不是這篇文章能夠容納。打後,會有一篇文章詳細敘述在印尼搞運動面對的困境,與及人們迎難而上的嘗試,敬請期待。

延伸閱讀:
工會發表調查報告 近半受訪尼泊爾家務工不獲最低工資
https://wknews.org/node/1236


"I have almost spent half of my life in Hong Kong." Story of a daughter, bread winner and activist

In the early 2000s, more and more Indonesian people came to Hong Kong for a job. Kristin was one of them.

When I first met her, her fashion style was similar to that of Hong Kong people.She wore  canvas shoes, slim-fit pants, long-fitting T-shirts, cowboy hats, with a slightly side-swept fringe. It was a very common dress code but bold for an Indonesian. I was shocked when I heard fluent Cantonese spoken by her.

Perhaps it should not be too surprising. After all, she spent almost half of her life in Hong Kong.

During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Indonesian Rupiah devalued sharply. In order to gain foreign exchange, the Indonesian government has been more actively exporting labor, and Hong Kong has begun to import large numbers of Indonesian domestic workers. Because of the sudden increase in demand, Indonesian employment companies sent agents to look for girls who were willing to work abroad. Poor rural areas were their targeted areas.

At that time, Kristin was still a teen girl who had not yet finished secondary school. Her family’s most precious property was a house made of bamboo sticks. They couldn't even afford to buy a proper clock. Around four o'clock in the morning, prayer broadcast of mosque in the village were their alarm clock. During rainy days, the wind blew in and the rain dribbled through holes. As time goes by, some bamboo shoots were soggy and rotten. "Some places worn out, so I fell out of the house while sleeping. I was so scared that my mother immediately pulled me in. Haha. It was funny, maybe I was dreaming!" Years later, Kristin paid for a solid house for her family all by herself. The past became a unique memory.

Kristin has a family of six. Her dad rent a field for farming; her mother tried to do various small business to make ends meet. The agent learned about her family's situation and came to persuade her to work overseas. As she was too young, her parents were not willing to let her go. Kristin was entangled and thinking to herself - "Why do I have to continue studying? My sister was lucky to have been looking after by her aunt, but I still have a brother and sister who are only one and two years old. My mother suffered from arthritis, diabetes, and stroke. My father took care of her and made an honest living. His life was difficult ."

The agent kept persuading her parents. Kristin decided not to go to school anymore. Considering that she had to leave her family no matter where she go, she begged her parents to sign the consent form, so she could go working in Hong Kong.

15 years for 7 bosses, Only the last one was reasonable

Kristin had 7 contracts during her 15 years in Hong Kong. She could tell us stories of every employer. It was only until the last contract that she met a more reasonable employer.

The minimum wage was $3,670 (unless otherwise specified, the following amount of money are all in Hong Kong dollars) in her first year in Hong Kong. The first employer took away half of her wages. Kristin only got $1,800 a month.

When Indonesia began exporting workers to Hong Kong, employment agencies not only promoted the image of Indonesian migrant workers as "submissive and simple," but also encouraged  lower wages. Hong Kong government had already stipulated the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers in 1973. It should be illegal to pay below the prescribed amount of wages. However, the strength of regulation on the employment agencies and employers was not enough. The agencies advised employers to make use of the loophole. Employers first deposited the salaries in local bank accounts; they then asked the migrant workers to withdraw it and took away a part of their cash. Some would even request a receipt from the workers to confirm the latter had received their full wages. These tricks with documents and files never failed in Hong Kong. We visited more than a dozen of returning migrant workers, most of them experienced underpayment. This has become the unspoken rules that Indonesian workers were silently enduring. A worker described it as "Buy one get one free."

In recent years, situation have been greatly improved with the efforts of migrant worker organizations. Now Indonesian migrant workers were seldom underpaid. However, such exploitation still exists in other communities. According to a survey conducted by the Union of Nepalese Domestic Workers in Hong Kong in 2016, almost half of the Nepalese domestic workers did not receive legal wages. The lowest salary was only $1,700, while statutory minimum wage at that time was $ 4,310.

Kristin's salary was deducted by more than $40,000 in her first two-year contract in 2000-2002. Ironically, by the time she came back to Indonesia in 2015, her savings was also $40,000. What she finally got was what being deprived at the beginning. Wasn't this a pointless game of revenge? There was no other words to describe this cruel satire. Hongkongers as the avengers against the innocent outsiders. The motive was unknown but the victims were badly scarred. What did her hard working life for more than a decades mean? Did the society realise how long does she take to save that much? If she was not underpaid by the unscrupulous employer, could she return to her hometown years earlier? How will her fate be rewritten? Could her mother get better medical treatment? Or can she get back early enough and stand by her dying mother's bed?

Kristin’s mother died of illness in 2007, her seventh year working in Hong Kong. She began to plan when the journey should end.

Statistically, people worked overseas for two to four years. Kristin counted her tasks: family expenses, siblings' tuition, father's business costs, house building costs and her own savings... She decided to spent 15 years in Hong Kong to wind them all down.

She had good and bad times in these fifteen years.

In 2003, after the first contract was completed, Kristin paid $6,000 to the agency. She fled from the bloodsucker and received a new contract. Finally she had a day off once a month, so her friends took her to Victoria Park. They had fun and party hard at this rare occasion to overcome their homesickness. The park had no shelter, but it didn't matter if it's sunny, rainy or freezing, Kristin enjoyed the time with her friends. Humid subtropical climate were particularly unbearable, but where else could they go? One had to spend a fortune to get in a low spirited private space. When the raining didn’t seem to stop, they would rather dance on the grassland than waiting in a gloomy corner. Everywhere could be their playground. Hongkongers were alienated from nature thus accused them for occupying parks and streets. 

Also in Victoria Park, Kristin met an old friend from the same hometown, who later introduced her to join the Indonesian Migrant Workers Association in Hong Kong (Asosiasi Buruh Migran Indonesia di Hong Kong, ATKI). Being raised in a poor family, she easily empathizes with others who are in difficulties. She gradually became the core organizer and actively involved in campaigns for migrant workers’ working condition. However, these did not guarantee her a safe working environment. She was overcharged by employment agencies. She was misunderstood as a smuggler and trapped in a police station when waiting for a new passport. She had to wait half a day before being release.  She was fired because she refused to do job not mentioned in the contract. Her next employer was mean with everything - even counting on the amount of cooking oil used. Kristin tried to escape from illegal work but her employer accused her of theft...Only until her last employer, Kristin finally had a stable working environment. She was given stable salary, holidays, and nourishment. However, these were all over four years later.

In 2015, Kristin was in her thirties. It was considered getting old in Indonesia. Her father urged her to go home and get married. It is a popular custom for a migrant worker to have a farewell feast with their friends before getting back. We were invited at a yunnan rice noodle restaurant. She showed us the menu, "Let's order anything you want." When I was eating, I asked if she miss Hong Kong. She hesitated for a moment, gave me a smile and repeated her mantra, “Of course, I have almost spent half of my life here.”  I didn't know what the smile meant then. Two years later, I went to Indonesia to visit her. She broke into tears when she recalled the scenes of gatherings, protests, and chatting with friends from ATKI. This took me back to the farewell feast, under the hesitated smile, what did she tried to hide from my silly question?

Kristin’s most important stage of development was not in her hometown. In the past fifteen years, she has become accustomed to Hong Kong culture. Her gesture was no different from typical Hongkongers. She had established confidence and independence from long-term activist movement movement and mutual help from the community. In old Chinese sayings, " She walked on the wild side." How can she adapt after returning to Indonesia?

Language is just the first obstacle

Her original plan was to take care of her aging father, but her marriage also meant she has to go elsewhere. Even if she returned to Indonesia, she could not go back to her home. She was an outsider to her husband’s village which was half an hour away from her home.

Language turned out to be a big problem for her integration into the community. Indonesia was a vast, multicultural country. Indonesians working in Hong Kong came from different parts of the country. Therefore, they adopted a more general Indonesian language, Bahasa Indonesia,  instead of the languages of their hometowns. For more than a decade, Kristin had accustomed to Bahasa Indonesian. The Javanese language of her village became so unfamiliar to her that even after going back home, she had to think twice before she speak. Even her husband Danang, who loves her and respects her, would make fun of her. "Aren't you an Indonesian? How come you don't understand Javanese?" People in the village questioned her, "How long have you been to Hong Kong? How could you forget Javanese?” They believed Kristin tried to act posh by pretending to forgot the local language.

There were events required joint labor from the village. Women from the whole village gathered in a house to cook and prepare for the religious ceremonies of funeral and childbirth. Kristin spent ten days a month for these ceremonies in which she tried hard to blend in. "You do not belong to our village. You simply know nothing" She would be criticised everytime she had an opinion.

Fortunately, there were high tides and low tides. Kristin was an experienced organizer, she and her husband transformed the tuck shop in front of their house into a nice place to stay. The roof of the tuck shop was connected to the house and extends into a large open space with roof coverings. The previous year a typhoon struck down a lot of branches. Kristin and her husband built tables and chairs with broken branches and placed them between the tuck shop and their house. That was quite a pleasant scenario.They painted the wall black and turned it into a graffiti-ready blackboard. Her husband, Danang, treated the youngster coffee when he saw them drinking beers. Their tuck shop slowly became a place for teens to use WIFI and have a cup of tea.  It also becomes a job consultation office, homeschooling kids as well. The villagers turned up, ordered a cup of tea and sat for an hour or two. Kristin shared laughters with her neighbours. The store was transformed into an organic community center.

The sun also rises, tension always exists.

We stayed in Kristin's house for a few days. She had some unexpected questions from time to time. One day, she took us to visit a friend who worked in Taiwan before. The valley was filled with fragrant trees used to make oil for medical use. On the return journey she asked, "Isn't that a Suetlam (means snow forest in Cantonese)? Syut...Syut Lam...Syulam? Is it a shuelam?" I didn't understand. The fragrant flower trees were pale white, but they certainly didn't look like snow. "How should I pronounce? Syu...Lam...Syu...Lam...or Syutlam?"  I realised that she was asking me how to pronounce “forest” in Cantonese.

"Why do you have to remember Cantonese? You have already come back to Indonesia!" I couldn't find a better way to ask. "I still have friends in Hong Kong." She began to count the names of people we both knew. She also prepared several dishes of Cantonese cuisine for us during our stay. "When I miss Hong Kong, I will make Tong Sui (a Cantonese desert)."

I asked her if she had ever thought of staying in Hong Kong and not coming back to Indonesia. She said never.

This conversation was indeed meaningless. In 2013, Hongkongers denied the migrant workers' right of abode.

Family house built and siblings sent to school

After visiting Kristin's house, we glimpsed from a different angle of returning migrant worker's life. Building a house was one of Kristin's main goals for working in Hong Kong, and it was also an illusion about returning workers' life in Indonesia shared by Hongkongers, that they can build luxurious houses after working for a few years in Hong Kong. In fact, the so-called "luxurious house" was merely an escape from extreme poverty to a more reasonable living environment.

Strolling around Kristin’s village, we found that every houses were made of brick. The only bamboo house was built by the government for a blind person. Kristin introduced me along the way. “People in this house went to work in Malaysia. This one went to Taiwan. This ...also  went to Taiwan. That one went to Hong Kong. That one went to middle East. The people in this house are still working in Taiwan." Every family who built a brick house had a family member working abroad, except for the village chief.

It took us half an hour drive from Kristin's husband’s home to her parent's house. Getting off her motorbike,  Kristin got off her bike and was a bit shy, "This is my home, is it just... so-so?"
Kristin's house wasn't particularly bright when compared to nearby houses. We walked around the house for a better look. It was an elongated house with red tiled roofs. Only the front door and the floor in the house were tiled, while the rest of the house was only covered with red bricks. The ground was covered with pink orange tiles. The front door was affixed with brown pattern ceramic tiles, a red bamboo hanging on its side, blocking the sun and the washed out mottled scratches. In front of the entrance was a roof supported by four strong teakwoods. Kristin told us the woods were the present of great-grandmother. There are three sets of windows taller than a person on the main entrance and the side walls. Cool breeze blew through the opened window.

This house was not built in one go. The building materials were bought every single month by Kristin's savings. Until Kristi went working abroad for the third year,  they had enough money to start building the house. At that time, she could only spend $500 each month. The tiles on the floor were bought recently. A few years ago her sister needed urgent money for her wedding,  Kristin used the savings which was originally for the tiles to pay the wedding bill for her sister. The purchase of ceramic tiles was delayed.

The wall was painted in green and paired with an aqua-blue glossy curtain. Kristin told us that her father, siblings and she painted the wall after she came back to Indonesia. "It was a concrete wall, It was easily damaged in rains, the paint could make it last longer."

On the wall outside the door of Kristin's room, a photo shot in professional studio was displayed. It was Kristin wearing a wedding dress with a sweet smile, relatively thin caused by malnutrition. It was shot in Shenzhen in 2005 while Kristin was waiting for her passport. The agency arranged for her and more than 40 workers in a hotel room for a night, then had them pay for a studio shooting. Although she was detained for a day by a police officer who thought that she had been an illegal immigrant, Kristin commented on the day in Shenzhen with a look of joy, “I still remember it! East Gate was cheap to buy clothes! I really remember it.”

Kristin's room was not equipped with doors nor lights. We visited her at 7 p.m. she plugged a light bulb on in total darkness, the light was pale. She flashed a triumphant smile, "This light bulb was bought in Hong Kong's two-dollar shop!" She opened a teak wardrobe against the wall with a key, pulled out a flashlight to light up a cupboard which was half-filled with trophies and awards presented to her by ATKI. They all had her name written on. There was a wedding photo hanging on the wall and a glass frame by the window. Her last employer sent her a gift -  a framed photo with the employer's family.

We walked through the hall to the kitchen and toilet.The concrete ground had no tiles. Kristin bought some stoves and cutlery after she came back. Now her mother was gone, her siblings went to school, there was only her father living alone in the house and he rarely cooked. Next to the stove was a well popular among cats.Their water diversion facility required electricity, in order to save money they drew water from the well (otherwise they will need an electric pump). The aged door of the bathroom fell out and hanged around the front of stall. There are no lights, they prepared a flashlight on the side of the stove for lighting.

So what kind of situation was it before building this house?

Several decades ago, the villagers purchased the land titles from the government. Kristin’s mother worked as domestic worker in a Chinese family at the age of 11. "My mother used to have two long braids. She was beautiful." Thanks to her mother's work, her grandmother bought the land titles and assigned a larger block to Kristin's mother. Her uncle was dissatisfied. Families arguing over land titles happened from time to time.

In 1982, Kristin's parents got married. Four years later, Kristin's parents and neighbours put together a bamboo house on the land Kristin's mother had been assigned. There were holes in the bamboo house, so the furnitures had to be move away whenever there was a leakage. They didn't have any bulky furniture at home. Before Kristin worked overseas, they had no electricity and had to finish their homework at night by the dim light glowing from a kerosene lamp. The moldy bamboo finally rotted away, Kristin once fell out of the house during sleep. They rebuilt the bamboo house several times before building the brick house.

This was what it meant by "escaping from extreme poverty". It is simply an illusion that returning migrant workers all live in huge country houses. "It's a lie if you say that having a pretty house is privileged." Kristin put aside the embarrassment and said without hesitation.

Going home to do business so the wealth stays in the village

Kristin came back to Indonesia in 2015. Her friends were surprised that she stayed there for more than two years. Many returning migrant workers stayed in Indonesia shortly and work abroad again after a few months. Kristin told me while counting her fingers, "A friend of mine ran a takes-out store. She came back for one year, getting married, having a child, then she left for work again. Some stayed for a few months longer and they can't help but return to Hong Kong. Some ran a salon or motorbike-washing businesses,  they couldn't endure it either and flew back to Hong Kong. "The rhythm of life in Indonesia and Hong Kong were distinctively different. Once you were accustomed to living in Hong Kong, you found that Indonesia was mundane. The returning workers worked abroad again shortly after they struggled to survive in Indonesia .

Kristin saved more than $40,000. She spent most of it on her marriage. She wasn't blindly believe in traditions, but she fears that the people in the village gossiped and broke her father's heart. She thus has to follow the expensive wedding custom. The rest of her savings was just enough to start a small business. Kristin was a handy chef, she decided to open a small restaurant selling noodles, rice and drinks in the city center after coming back to Indonesia. A year's rent costed $17,000, therefore she only rented it for three months. Their restaurant was next to the hospital, it was expected that there should be a consistent flow of people, which didn't happen to be the case. They could barely break even so they decided to close the business. They were not one of a kind. There were a lot of dilapidated stores throughout the city center. This Indonesian town doesn’t have a vibrant local consumer market, but competition is fierce. Almost all the returning workers are eager to start their own business, few of them could withstand the increasing rent.

The couple are finding a variety of possibilities to make their living. Abandoning the city center, they stayed in the village and open a tuck shop in front of their house. They get up early and cook for elementary school students every day. They purchase WIFI plan and distribute to villagers. They sell food to overseas workers via internet. During rainy season, they lend their washing machines for people to wash and dry clothes. Both of them had worked abroad and were trying to do their best to make ends meet.  Gossip about the couple was flying in the village. “Two years! You could have finish a contract if you were in Hong Kong!” Kristin’s friends laughed and said. The former employer kept in touch with Kristin. She said that after Kristin left, several workers came and they were not able to get along. She asked if Kristin would like to come back and work for her again.

Kristin insisted on staying in Indonesia. It was not only because Indonesia was her country, she had an extraordinary dream.

"I want to be part of the poor people. I want to feel what they feel and live where they live."

Kristin's life track was unremarkable. Working abroad, coming back home, and get married. However, she did not give up her struggle. In Hong Kong, she was an active organizer who fought against the unjust system with her peers. After going back to Indonesia, she was asked to get married. She came across a friend of the opposite sex who had known her for many years and asked him, "If we are married, can we get along with each other peacefully? Can I continue to participate in workers' organization?" This was her term for marriage. In the patriarchal Indonesia's suburban village, this was a very bold request. Fortunately, her partner was a reasonable man. They get along with each other and both became the member of the Family of Indonesian Migrant Workers (Keluarga Besar Buruh Migran Indonesia, KABAR BUMI), a returning workers' organization.

Working overseas should not be the only way out. More and more people came back,  but soon are leaving to work again. Only by changing the country’s social conditions such that the Indonesian choose to stay or work abroad, they will be free to decide their fate.

Kristin and Danang stayed in Indonesia and practiced her method of survival. They tried hard to make an honest living. "Even if we were to open a tuck shop, we still want to take care of our neighbours. There are children who want to study so we teach them like a language school, for free. Some used our wifi to do their homework. He frankly told me he had nothing to pay. I said I know, it doesn't matter. Then his mother asked him to give me a piece of cassava."

I asked Kristin the reason for staying in Indonesia. "I want to help and educate people. The Indonesian has been deceived by the government and tradition for far too many years. Indonesia is in fact a large country, there are much more useful lands than we think, but the government continues to steal them from us. Television is not telling the truth.”

"I don't know how far I can go. I wouldn't say that I will never come back to Hong Kong. The most important thing is that I still live well!  KABAR BUMI needs me. I want to experience how hard it is for the ordinary people here in Indonesia. I will be starving if they starve, they will take care of me if I care about them."

Kristin lived a tough life at very young age, this was the "seed". Her experience of  participating In Hong Kong workers' organization for more than a decade is the "water". In the small village of Ponorogo, Indonesia, an amazingly beautiful flower started to grow.

"In the organization, there was a feeling of unity. I definitely miss Hong Kong and ATKI. Especially the Sunday meetings when we used to have lunch and talk about sad things together. I cry everytime I think of it."

Indonesian society still believed women have to get married and have children. Failure to do so can be stressful. Many people believed that Kristin would soon marry and have children after she came back, there wouldn't be a chance for her to organize campaign. They were partly correct. People in the village kept asking her when to have a child. In a village gathering, a married woman who had no children was a weird heterogeneous. Her mother in law deliberately held the children of other people in front of her, though her mind had drifted far away.

Home meant a lot more to her. "A lot of people need us. We must cling to all the people. We shouldn't get marry and have children immediately. There are too many things and people in life to care about." I don't understand, at all. How could she withstand the pressure by her own? Why she still have the power to consider other people? She was fortunate to have a husband who was willing to communicate. But, how much more did she has to withstand?

Later, she posted her thoughts on facebook:

In these days, I chatted with friends about life, policies, social barriers, religion, and culture.
In another language. (Cantonese)
Why do I choose to stay in the suburban instead of going to the city?
I replied,
Because I want to study in the village, there are many things I want to learn
How difficult to be farmer/worker?
How difficult is it for teens to find a job? How difficult is it for farmers to sell crops? How to deal with the preservative  mainstream society? What does the community in the village look like?
And, how to educate  children living in the village?
There are a lot more things...

I have a lot to do in my suburban village.
I love this village, I will learn and listen to people's feelings and thoughts.
What else do people need? ! !
And I don't want to be anyone but myself.
Love them and hold them all.

I want to be a part of a starving community. 
Not to be those who only think of their own stomach.
Then I will say
Stay here, I love my country.
This is how I live here.

Soyi ngo cau haito cui ..
Hi og jun. Hi ngo ko ka
Cau hai yannei

(Cantonese romanized, it means:
Here I live
In the village, in my country
In Indonesia.)

I felt solitary every time I saw her struggling to let her voice out. I worried about how long can she stay in Indonesia. I wondered the meaning of activism in a village faraway. The price she paid was beyond words and imagination. There will be a follow-up article focusing on the difficulties faced by Indonesian activists, and how they overcome that. 

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