Monday, May 28, 2012

Death of A Burmese in Singapore

            (Direct translation of Aye Nyein's Article in Burmese from Myanmar in Singapore.)

Jurong Shipyards.
One day in 2004 Myint Thein telephoned me. He was giving me the bad news about his close friend Min Thawda who was also working at their Jurong Shipyard and now having a serious health problem.

According to him Min Thawda had had a severe tummy-ache. So he went to the Shipyard Clinic and saw the doctor there. But the doctor didn’t think it was serious and only gave him some pills to relieve the stomach pain. His stomach-ache was getting worse and he went to the same doctor again.

Still the stupid doctor didn’t do much for him. So finally Min Thawda went to the Burmese Clinic at the Peninsular Plaza and the elderly Burmese nurse there urged him to go to a hospital immediately by taxi and wrote a referral for him. Once he was at the hospital the doctors there took a CAT scan of his stomach and then admitted him.

Stomach Ulcers and A Hefty Hospital Bill

And his troubles began from there. For the CAT scan and a few days in hospital the bill was Singapore Dollars 5,000 and he didn’t have that much money. So he begged his bosses that he will return the money once he got well again and so the Company paid his hospital bill.

Container Homes.
Later he was discharged from the hospital but his condition wasn’t getting better at all. When his severe tummy-pain came back he went back to the hospital second time. After a few days he discharged himself again. When that was going on none of his friends knew how badly he was suffering.

After that his conditions really deteriorated. But he still had to go work every day. He had to as he now owed the Company 5,000 dollars and he had to pay it back. By then his stomach couldn’t take the solid food no more. He could eat only a little bit of rice-congee or noodle-soup as his stomach was by then rotting away inside, I guess. Soon he couldn’t eat no more.

When my friend Myint Thein found out his situation he went to their company and asked them to release Min Thawda to go back to his families in Burma as his condition was getting worse day by day. But his bosses refused to release him and let him go home as he still owed money.

They told Myint Thein that they would let Min Thawda go home only if the Burmese gave them that money. So it was impossible for Min Thaw Dar to go home.

Inside Container Homes.
He and other Burmese workers were living in a modified-container and finally he soiled himself real bad as he was too weak to go to the communal toilets outside and no one was willing to take care of him. Because of the putrid smell of urine and feces all his co-workers moved out of the container and he was left alone dying.

When Myint Thein found out he didn’t know what to do at first. Then he called the police. Cops said since it was not a crime they were not responsible and told him to call SCDF or an ambulance. Singapore Civil Defense Force is responsible for the fire-fighting and public emergencies in Singapore. So Myint Thein called SCDF.

First the SCDF refused to act as the case was not directly a public emergency. But Myint Thein didn’t give up and tried again and again and luckily he got finally connected to a kind woman officer. She took up the case and sent an ambulance and put Min Thawda at the Singapore General Hospital.

And that was the gist of his bad news and he then told me Min Thawda’s room number and ward number at the hospital.

Dying Min Thawda

So I followed them to the Hospital at Outram Park and found Min Thawda in and out of semi-consciousness. According to Myin Thein there his situation was already too late as his stomach was almost gone and whatever little left of it were just stuck to the other parts and bones inside.

Singapore General Hospital.
I didn’t really know how he ended so messed up like that. What Myint Thein told me was that they were very close since back in Burma and Min Thawda had been saving most of what little he earned here for the family back home in Burma and ate hardly anything but that awful instant noodle packages. And to make the matter worse he already had had stomach ulcers since back in Burma.

He didn’t last too long at all in the Outram Park SGH. Three or four days later he died in his hospital bed. Just before he passed away his wife called us from Burma. I couldn’t answer her when she asked me about her husband’s condition.

I had to hand over the phone to others as tears came down on my cheeks and my voice had completely disappeared. I didn’t have enough strength to tell the wife that her husband was dying right in front of me.

That afternoon just before he died his boss the Company-owner and other officials from the Jurong Shipyard visited the Hospital. I didn’t feel like talking to the people who had cruelly left one of their workers to suffer alone in a container. So I just stood away from them and stared at them.

Later our kind employment-agent brought in a reporter from the Straits Times Newspaper to report the whole unjust thing. The reporter warned me that the hospitals usually dislike bad publicity and we had to do the whole interviewing thing quietly as they do not like the reporters visiting and taking photos in the hospitals.

Peninsular Plaza (Little Burma).
So I quietly took a photo of dying Min Thawda and then told the reporter in a quiet corner away from people whatever I knew about Min Thawda and why he was now dying. The reporter even wanted to know what the wife sadly felt and thus I called her in Burma and let the reporter interview her over the phone.

That night I came back home after telling Myint Thein to call me anytime as I would leave my mobile on the whole night. Early morning about 4 Myint Thein called me and told me Min Thwda had just died. I went to the Hospital that morning to arrange everything necessary.

Actually there was not much to do at all. Our agent had already called up the undertakers and what I had to do was getting the Death Certificate from the Hospital’s Morgue and doing whatever the undertakers asked me to do. Nothing that difficult.

One undertaker asked me what I wanted to do with the corpse and I told him to send it back to Burma. So me and my friends began to collect donations for sending Min Thawda back home dead not alive.

One of them told me about an elderly Burmese woman doctor working for the Kidney or Cancer Foundation in the Hospital and gave me her telephone number. I already forgot her name now. When I called her and told her about Min Thawda she promised to cover the cost of sending back him home in a coffin.

Then I went to work. After work and taking shower and then dinner my phone rang at about 9 that night. From the undertaker. He said the corpse had no clothes on. I immediately dressed and rushed to the Peninsular Plaza.

Burmese Shops inside Peninsular Plaza.
Shops there were closing soon after 9:30. I was lucky. Some Burmese shops were still open and I managed to buy a shirt and pasoe (sarong). After that I had to go to the Funeral Home at some faraway place I never been before. Choa Chu Kang, I think. I don’t remember it now.

I had to take MRT to the closest station and then take a taxi there. As I got there and after giving them the new clothes I asked them what they were gonna do to stop the body rotting. Injection was their answer. When I wasn’t so confident with their answer and let them know my doubts they just dismissed me.

According to them the body would be fresh at least three days. We had done it before so many times was their reply.  Wait a sec, how you guys gonna send the body to Burma. By a cargo plane they answered. When I asked how much it would cost us they said about 3,000 dollars.

We had to find that money and we were lucky. Singaporeans are kind and generous!

His Death in Newspaper & Generous Singaporeans

Min Thawda’s story was in next day Straits Times Newspapers. The news was inside in the Home Section. But my photograph of dying Min Thawda was large and prominent. And as usual the reporter had written a sensational story and it was a very good read. Especially the mourning wife’s interview could really sadden and seriously affect the mind of any reader.

And it didn’t take long at all for my mobile to ring non-stop. All the calls were from the Singaporeans who read the story and thus wanted to help the bereaving family. Wait a sec, how did you get my number? I asked them as I was curious. Easy, we called the newspaper and the reporter gave us your number. They replied.

By the way, I would like to talk a bit about the way these Singaporeans donate money for a good cause.

Aljunied MRT Station.
These people were giving money to Min Thawda’s family basing alone on their trust of me after reading the story. They wouldn’t even take the receipts from me for their money. Please send the family our donation was what they said. No need was their answers when I asked for their names.

Normally they called me and fixed a place to meet. Mostly at the Aljunied MRT Station since I was then living on Kallang Way. So I went and waited for them and they called me from inside the Station. Once I was confirmed as the same person I claimed to be they came straight up to me and gave me the money.

One Chinese Singaporean woman called me and said she was sorry and she didn’t have time to come and she was now in Raffles City and asked me to come and see her at 8 that night. So I went and met her.

She counted out a thousand dollars and gave me right there. I was so happy and asked her name so that I could tell the family. But she said no need, just send the family my money. And she then left me there standing with my mouth open wide as I didn’t even have time to reply.

Then the Myanmar Club here in Singapore heard about me collecting donations for Min Thawda’s family and they called me and I went and met them. U Sein Win and U Zaw Htun, I still remember. They were talking about collecting donations widely here through them and also from other countries. But I didn’t get a cent from them and later I lost contact with them.

Altogether well over six million kyat donations were collected here in Singapore from the Singaporeans and our Burmese friends working here. Most were from the Singaporeans. I sent all the money through my elder sister in Burma to Min Thawda’s family.

That reporter from Straits Times also promised one thousand dollars from the Newspaper but I didn’t get it. Believing him I even told Min Thawda’s wife that a thousand dollars more was coming and later I had to explain to her it was not.

Min Thawda left behind a son and daughter. My big sister took me to their house when I was back in Burma. They appeared to be doing well. With the money from us they opened a small grocery shop at their house and they were selling firewood and charcoal too. And the family had a commercial flower-nursery on their ground.

I was so happy then that they were doing fine!