Sun, Jun 20, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Foreign workers join boat race

VISIBLE INDIVIDUALISM TIWA, an organization supporting international workers, organized this year's team by overcoming barriers of language and scheduling

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF WRITER

Dragon Boat Festival viewers at Taipei's Dajia Riverside Park (大佳河濱公園) today will see representatives of Taipei's migrant community rowing alongside national and international athletes in the first day of this year's races.

After preparing for the Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championship, the Hello Taipei Foreign Workers Team will have its first race at 4pm. The team was organized and trained by the Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA).

As the Taipei City Government invited the group to participate in this year's competition, TIWA organized a team to introduce members of the migrant community to this aspect of Taiwanese culture.

"We thought it would be a good idea to let them understand the history and customs behind the Dragon Boat Festival by joining in a race. The team is also a good way for the migrant community to get together and have fun," said Meg Huang (黃惠偵), the team's drummer and TIWA secretary, in an interview at the group's Taipei headquarters on Friday.

This year is the second time that a team of foreign workers will be in Taipei City's dragon boat competition. Two years ago, TIWA put together a team of Indonesian workers to enter the race.

One of the team's main struggles was scheduling time to practice.

"Most foreign laborers in Taipei City work in homes, which made finding team members difficult. In Taiwan, household helpers do not come under the protection of laws that regulate working hours, so often employers just expect them to work all year round with no days off," Huang said.

As a result, TIWA looked for its team from among factory workers, a group for whom the law does guarantee at least a day off per week. Because there are few factories in Taipei, this year's team comes from around northern Taiwan, with team members coming from Taipei, Chilung and Taoyuan counties.

Because of further scheduling difficulties, the team managed only one training session before the race today.

"I think it's safe to say we probably won't win our first race. We've heard that the team we're competing against is really good and has had lots of time to train," Huang said.

Huang also spoke of other difficulties, such as language differences.

"We have both Philippine and Indonesian workers on the team. Training last Sunday was really funny, because the coach and I spoke Chinese, the Filipinos spoke English and the Indonesians spoke Indonesian. The translators definitely had their work cut out for them," said Huang.

The team also had potential gender problems. Although the team will be competing in the men's rowing competition, their difficulties in finding enough team members who had time to compete and train meant that they have several women in their reserve ranks. The team has 24 members in total, with 18 who will be rowing.

"If nothing goes wrong, we'll have all guys rowing on Sunday. If not, then the race officials understand. But hopefully, all our young, strong guys will make it," said Huang.

Participating in the races has special meaning for migrant workers, said Huang.

"It means a lot to the rowers to be able to compete. It makes them feel like athletes and country representatives instead of just foreign workers. When the first team lost two years ago, many of the girls cried and the team got really down," she said.

Many Taiwanese, she explained, think of the Southeast Asian workers in factories and homes only in terms of their blue-collar status, instead of as individuals with personalities and cultural backgrounds.

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