Sunday, August 19, 2007
The Chinese as migrant worker in the Philippines
Two weeks ago, I was at the UP University Press Bookstore looking for Nick Joaquin's biography of Senator Angara when, while browsing the shelves, I came across Bai Ren's Lagalag sa Nanyang translated from the Chinese to Filipino by Joaquin Sy.
Lagalag sa Nanyang (Nanyang Piaoliuji) is an autobiographical novel, a Bildungsroman, told by A Song, a boy from a small village in China who left the country in 1932 when he was only ten years old to look for work in the Philippines. He took on the jobs of apprentice in a Chinese dry-goods store in the Visayas, newspaper boy in Binondo, salesman of katol (anti-mosquito coils), and later translator of English news reports for a local Chinese publication in Manila.
Lagalag sa Nanyang chronicles the hardship experienced by A Song as a poor migrant worker in the Philippines, how he had to scrimp in order to eat and send remittance to China, how he deliberately spent each centimo as though it were a whole peso.
The novel has such a huge impact on me because I imagine that my maternal and paternal grandfathers must have had the same experience as A Song's. They came here about the same time A Song left China for the Philippines. At the beginning of the novel when A Song was describing the boat packed with Chinese all bound for the Philippines and all vomiting because of the violent seas, I imagine the boat where the brother of my maternal grandfather perished somewhere near Batanes, almost reaching the Philippines.
A Song fell in love in the Philippines, was brokenhearted here and, at the end of the novel, left the Philippines to join the Chinese resistance against the Japanese in World War II. Lagalag sa Nanyang is such a sad and lonely book it is likely you'll find yourself in tears in several episodes. The last time I felt as heartbroken reading a novel was more than ten years ago with George Eliot's Silas Marner.
I've finished reading Lagalag sa Nanyang today and it has become one of my favorite novels. The novel has such huge love both for the Philippines and China. I wish I could thank Joaquin Sy myself for translating this wonderful book. If you have a Chinese-Filipino friend, do him a favor and give Lagalag sa Nanyang as a gift.