story Elaine Li, Contributing Reporter

Cleaning Auntie's Photo - Photography by Unknown Source

Auntie Huang and team in Japan enjoying a meal together. (Auntie Huang)

Auntie Huang, a janitor from mainland China at Yale-NUS College, tells us about her job and life here, differences between working in China, Japan and Singapore, and how she sees herself as a mainland Chinese in foreign societies.

Excerpts from this interview were translated from Mandarin. She does not wish to disclose her full name for fear of it affecting her job.

How long have you worked in Singapore?

It will be my fifth month in Singapore on the 19th … I found my first job in this school; my husband works here as well in the architecture sector. My family and kids live in Jiangsu Province. I’ve worked for three years in Japan previously, in a clothing factory in Okayama-ken. I wanted to switch jobs mostly because of my allergic rhinitis. I spent three years in Japan, three years in China, and then moved to Singapore.

What do you think of the environment in Japan?

Japan is even cleaner than Singapore … In Singapore, the city is clean but all the rubbish is lumped together. In Japan, the waste disposal is speedy and the separation intricate. Even bottles and caps are separated. In China, the situation is much worse.

How was your experience working in Japan?

I took three months of Japanese before moving there, and I picked up a lot more Japanese while working there. In the clothing factory, there were nine of us from mainland China. We were all in our thirties; the Japanese workers were much older. It’s similar in Singapore; the aunties here are all in their sixties and seventies.

Bearing in mind the historical conflict between Japan and China, did you personally experience any hostility while you were working in Japan?

Chinese people think about the hostility between the two countries constantly—it’s impossible for there to be any hostility really, unless you do something wrong. Chinese people come here [to Japan] and do bad things, tearing off expensive price tags and stealing—we shouldn’t do that.

Our boss was a Japanese man who was extremely nice to us. On weekends, he would take us around Yokohama to places like the Bay Bridge. He said he wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so once we returned to China. How do I put this—in Japan, employers aren’t just employers. Our boss works with us, and just as hard as us. Work is highly structured and clearly distributed.

Did you find it hard to assimilate here in Singapore?

I take things slow, I guess. I’ve been here for five months already and everything is pretty good. I used to have skin problems—the weather is too hot.

How different are China and Singapore to you?

The commute to and from work every day is difficult—[Yale-NUS] does not provide accommodation for workers. The weather here takes some getting used to as well. The biggest merit here as compared to back home is that salary is always issued on time. In China, employers don’t give out salaries on a monthly basis. It usually comes irregularly, every two months or more.

What are the implications of you being from mainland China here?

As for the people, I think the people in the two places are pretty similar. It remains up to you to establish connections and interact with people. The Singaporean aunties here are very nice to us.

Fondest memory: The Japanese elders in the factory we worked in treated us really well. They took us under their wing and treated us like one big family. They shared rice and vegetables with us, and during holidays they brought us the rice cakes they cooked in their own homes. There was one elderly man who was especially nice—he would deliver fresh meals he cooked himself straight to our worker dormitories. “Now that you’re here, we are your parents,” he would tell us. The Japanese are not as horrible as people think.

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