The Price Paid for My Dream—The Heart’s Voice of a Guest Worker

by Lin Liang, Japan

The Words of My Child Distressed and Saddened Me

One day in December of 2016, I opened the computer as ever, preparing to have a webcam chat with my child. After it connected, my mother-in-law pointed at me and said to my child, “This is your daddy. Call him daddy quickly.” However, my child avoided the webcam, unwilling to see me. Then my mother-in-law tried again to persuade her to chat with me, and I also called her in front of the screen. But suddenly, my child said, “No, I don’t know him.” At the moment when I heard that, I was stunned. I simply felt my nose twitched and tears nearly started falling. Fearing that my family would notice, I tried to be casual about it, saying, “No matter, maybe next time.”

After finishing the webcam chat, I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. It had never occurred to me that my two-year-old child actually said such words as “I don’t know him.” In that instant, I felt grieved, really grieved. In order to create a happy life for my family, however hard my work and however great the pressure, I had never cried. But today, my child’s words … her words shattered my dream, and I felt these two years of hardship and toil became totally meaningless. At that time, lying on the bed feebly, I thought back on every little detail along the way …

Holding a Cherished Dream I Came to Japan

I don’t know when, but at some point there arose a craze for working abroad in my hometown. Seeing my relatives and some friends around me had earned some money through working in Japan, I was unable to resist the temptation, thinking to myself, “I’m no worse than them. I have a skill. I need only to endure hardships, and I will surely make a fortune after several years of struggling. Moreover, as a man, it is my responsibility to give my family a happy life.” So, after discussing it with my family members, I chose to work abroad.

By May of 2014, I had made all the arrangements for working abroad. Then, with my family and friends’ expectations for me, I boarded a plane to Japan. Looking at the blue sky through the cabin window, I was extremely excited. It was the first time that I fought abroad for my dream. I thought: As long as I’m willing to work hard and manage to repay the housing loan in a year, then I will be able to save money beginning from the second year. Afterward, I can buy some storefronts to rent out or to start a restaurant business myself. Gradually, our life will be happier and happier.

Two hours later, the plane arrived at Hiroshima Airport. I was dumbfounded immediately after stepping off the plane. The surrounding men all spoke Japanese, and I couldn’t understand any of their words. It was not until I saw my boss at the exit that I breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing my boss drive a BMW to pick me up, I was somewhat excited, thinking that my working place should also be good since the boss was so rich. At that time, those flourishing, bustling, and dazzling cities, like Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, began to flicker in my mind. What will my working place be like? It, at the very least, should be a building with hotel suites. … I dreamed excitedly in the car.

So Great Was the Distance Between My Dream and the Reality

After an hour and a half or so, my boss told me with gestures that in front of us was the city where I would work. Looking up at everything around me, I didn’t see the expected high buildings or a flourishing city. Instead, the streets grew constantly narrower and I felt as though I was entering a remote county town. At this time, my heart sank. When the car stopped, I was stunned. I was greeted by a restaurant just over 100 square meters. Is this the place where I’ll realize my dream? I was at a loss whether to cry or to laugh, but I had to face the reality. After I was settled, I was informed that I would be paid only 180,000 yen every month. Excluding the rent, living expenses, the utilities, and other miscellaneous expenses, there would be not much left. My enthusiasm dampened at once. However, thinking that I left home with my family’s expectations and with high aspirations, in order for my family to live a happy life, I determined to carry on anyhow.

After I started to work, because I did not know Japanese, many problems in my work and life defied solution. I was thus very worried. I couldn’t understand what others said or make myself understood. These practical difficulties I confronted pained me a little. What’s more, the goods in the supermarkets were all priced at hundreds or thousands of yen, and even a handful of leeks would cost over one hundred yen. I felt upset about this. I often pedaled my bicycle, traveling long distances, just for finding cheaper goods. When resting from my labors, I would take food home from the restaurant or whip up some noodles for dinner. At times, having worked hard for a whole day, I had no appetite and would eat only a few mouthfuls of food. Occasionally, when I was too busy with the restaurant business, I even didn’t have time for a meal. My weight was reduced by 10 kg in two months. Later, I began to get a pain in my stomach. Sometimes I suffered so much that sweat dripped from my face, yet I could only grit my teeth and persevere. In order to earn more money, I usually worked overtime. Having stood for over ten hours every day, I was so tired that I had a sore back. Moreover, as time went by, the veins in my legs became swollen and painful. Despite working like hell and living frugally, I still failed to earn much money when half a year was over. I got somewhat discouraged: If this continues, I will be unable to repay the mortgage, not to mention giving my family a happy life. The language barrier, the pressure of being in debt, and bodily discomfort—all of this assailed me with pain and depression. Many a time I was desirous to return home, but when I thought of my child to be born soon and my wife full of expectations of me, as well as the mortgage to be paid, I had no choice but to grit my teeth and continue with the work.

For My Child’s Sake, I Readily Sacrificed

In November of 2014, my child was born and I was finally a dad. I felt exceedingly excited, itching to fly back home to see my child and keep my wife company. However, as a new worker here, I didn’t have a vacation to go back yet. Therefore, I could only bury my yearning for them in my heart and stay here to continue making money. After my child was born, I watched her photos every day and felt myself full of juice. I told myself that I had to strive to earn more money so my child could grow up happily and joyfully since birth. Hence, I requested to work overtime on my own initiative. The boss said I would break down if I went on like this. But it was nothing for me to suffer the pain and exhaustion, as long as I could earn more money. Thus, from the time my child was born until then, during which she had learned to creep and walk, I had never gone back and never stopped striving hard for my dream. But today, when my child said, “I don’t know him,” I really felt all the painstaking effort I had made appeared meaningless. All the price I had paid actually brought me pain; it brought no happiness to anyone, including myself.

Reflections After My Child’s Words Struck My Heart

In the following days, my child’s words echoed inside my head every day. Besides, my wife also blamed me for not having accompanied her when she needed me most. Thinking back, since I came to Japan, my thoughts had been fixed on how to earn money and I had been entangled with all sorts of trivial things, such that I was in no mood to consider my family’s feelings at all. But I, as a husband and a father, had done my utmost to give my family a good life; there was nothing wrong with what I did. But why were things like this? I felt myself limp and weak and lost my life direction. Just then, I was told by my colleague that our restaurant was going to change hands. The news hit me like another thunderbolt out of a clear sky. Can I continue to work here when we have a new boss? My work visa will expire before long; can I renew it successfully? If not, I will have no choice but to return home. What should I do then? All of this was beyond my control, and I suddenly felt somewhat at a loss. Only then did I perceive the fact that I merely possessed a dream and I could control nothing in actual life.

One day in January of 2017, as I was surfing WeChat, feeling bored, a friend who believed in God sent a message to me and asked what had become of me. Thereupon we started to talk and I poured all my distress out. Then my friend asked me, “What have you gained in the process of obsessively pursuing a happy life? And what have you lost? Even if your dream comes true, will you feel real happiness?” My friend’s questions spoke right to my heart. It is true! I work so desperately, but what have I got? And what have I lost? In these three years I have skimped on everything, worked overtime, and thus got some money in return. Nonetheless, my health has been deteriorating. I have lost my health and been unable to accompany my family, and my life has also become increasingly stressful. Now even my own child disowns me. Over these past few years, I not only have failed to obtain happiness but have been plunged into deeper misery.

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