Lynda loves Sunday because she's free, at last, from her employer's constant beck and call. The Filipina caregiver gets up early, puts on her best clothes and a little makeup before taking the one-hour bus ride to Taipei's Zhongshan North Road. The service at St. Christopher's Church often moves her to tears and she lights a candle to pray for her family and a better life.
She likes to spend the rest of the day chatting to friends and window-shopping. She sends money or a parcel home to her mother and she eats at a restaurant that serves Filipino food. She might even go to one of the basement discos that open in the afternoon, but will always make it back to the suburb of Neihu where she lives by her 9pm curfew. Until she gets another Sunday off, usually twice a month, she belongs to the family that employs her.
Like many other Asian workers the pretty 35-year-old, who asks that only her Christian name is used, says she would be lost if there was no "Little Manila." The colorful community near the intersection of Nongan Street and Zhongshan North Road springs to life on the Christian day of rest. It is a place to meet compatriots and browse at the Won Won Department Store (萬萬百貨公司), with its beauty parlors and specialist stores.
Food shops sell tins of arroz caldo, bagoong fish paste and even Spam with cheese. International phone cards are sold cheaply and the newsstands are racked with Philippine gossip magazines like Yes! Hi! and the Precious Hearts Romance series of novels. Women buy cheap whitening creams and moisturizers called "love in the night." Outside, banks open so workers can send home their remittances and freight store workers stack boxes of electrical goods. Vendors spread out cloths on the pavement to sell cheap watches, trinkets and clothes.
Take a 10-minute bus ride to Taipei Main Station and there are thousands of Indonesians, Thais and Vietnamese sitting on the tiled floors, or outside. Unlike Filipinos, they do not generally revolve their life around church, so they settle near the station because this is an easy place to get to. To cater for these foreign workers, there used to be small businesses on the second floor of the station, but it was shut down a year ago and is being redeveloped.
"Little Jakarta" is tucked behind the train station in the lanes off Zhongxiao East Road. It froths with life around dusk, when mostly Indonesian and Thai workers gather to eat at the restaurants and party at the simple bars and karaoke halls. Some women wear hijabs, most wear disco outfits from the 1980s, with tiny tops, flared jeans and platform shoes. Men stare and drink. There are a few black and white faces. Occasionally the police flash by on motorcycles, checking IDs and chasing runaway maids, some of whom earn money through prostitution.
In the same way that Chinatowns function for Chinese and Taiwanese in other countries, Little Manila and Little Jakarta are homes from home for tens of thousands of Asian workers in Taipei. The difference is that whereas Chinatowns have become fixtures on the maps of many cities around the world, Asian migrants in Taipei are actively prevented from settling in Taipei.
They are not allowed to operate businesses, rent or buy stores, unless they become citizens. Usually, marrying a local or having dual nationality can only achieve this. Many of the businesspeople at the Won Won Department Store are hua chiao (華僑), or Taiwanese from the Philippines. Equally, many of the store or restaurant owners in Little Jakarta are Taiwanese from Indonesia or Thailand.