The Shandong man who shot to internet stardom after he was seen making himself a meal with his rice cooker on Sunday morning at Hong Kong International Airport is now safe at home, and he has only good things to say about the people of Hong Kong.
Speaking to journalists in his hometown of Laiwu, in central Shandong province, ‘Rice Cooker Bro’ as he is now known in the Chinese press, said he would not have made it home if not for the kind souls who came to offer him their helping hand.
“I was famished, and they bought me something to eat and drink,” added the migrant worker, whose real name is Wu Jiayong. “Lost in a strange land, I didn’t know where to go. I’d really like to thank all these people from the bottom of my heart who gave me so much help.”
According to Hong Kong reporters who reached out to him, Wu said he had not had a proper meal in all his time in Singapore, where he had been working the previous month. When asked what he’d like to eat, Wu said he would be happy just to have a bowl of wonton noodles. The reporters later helped to set him up at a hotel, and to put him on a plane to Shandong.
Now home in Laiwu, Wu says the first thing he needs to do is to get back the 5,000 yuan he had paid to a labour broker who promised that he would earn a monthly salary equivalent to 11,000 yuan in Singapore. “After arriving in Singapore, the other workers who arrived earlier than I did told me there was no chance I could make this much, so I decided to quit after a month.”
Wu had previously worked overseas for some time in 2009, and decided to go work abroad again because his elderly parents were now aged and infirm. His wife did not make much money working at a supermarket and their daughter was now studying at a university.
The frugal man only had 200 yuan on him as he made his way back to Shandong via Hong Kong as he had earlier remitted all of his money home to his family. “My wages were very low, and even the money for my return flight was deducted from my pay,” he said.
While transiting in Hong Kong, Wu connected with his family over an internet call to complain of his time in Singapore, before taking a rest. When he arrived at the gate, he was horrified to discover that the plane had departed at 12.05pm instead of the 12.55pm he thought he was scheduled to fly. “I was in a state of panic, and had no idea what I should do,” he said.
Not having had anything to eat or drink, Wu walked into the convenience store and was shocked to see that a bottle of mineral water would set him back by HK$17. Unwilling to spend that money, Wu took out the rice he still had in his bag, put it in the rice cooker that he was carrying and ran to the public bathroom to fill it up with water. “I cooked a lot of rice all at once, but didn’t dare to eat it all in one go,” he said. “I was fretting over when I could finally make it home, and had intended to take a rest after having some rice.” It was at this point that reporters got in touch with Wu and helped to put him on his way home.
According to a report by the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, many of the Chinese migrant workers employed in Singapore have had to pay hefty fees to agents just to get into the country. The employment contracts they are made to sign often contain onerous conditions and even illegal clauses that place them at the mercy of their employers. Many of these migrant workers are made to work long working hours with no overtime payment and rights violations are frequently reported in the local press.
In 2012, 171 Chinese bus drivers employed by public transport operator SMRT staged Singapore’s first strike in nearly three decades, unhappy that they were paid less than their Malaysian counterparts. 29 bus drivers were deported without trial in that incident and four alleged ringleaders were given jail terms of up to seven weeks after pleading guilty to instigating the strike.