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The New Paper
Monday, May 30, 2016
He came here from Vietnam with a dream: to give his family back home a better life.
With his $1,000 a month salary as a dishwasher, Mr Phan Duc Thang, 32, would remit $700 to his wife for the upkeep of his family, which included two young sons, seven siblings and an elderly mother.
But that dream ended on May 21 when Mr Phan died of head injuries following an altercation with another man.
His death has devastated his family.
Not only are they in grief and shock, they have also lost their main breadwinner and are saddled with what is, by their standards, a mountain of debt.
Soon after flying in from Vietnam last Friday evening, his wife, Madam Bui Thi Thu Ha, 32, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "Our whole family was depending on him. He was everything to us."
The frail-looking Madam Bui, who works in a glove factory back home, added: "What are we going to do now? We don't know how to even begin to move on."
Mr Phan's brothers arrived last week to collect Mr Phan's body and do the funeral rites, which undertaker Roland Tay helped to arrange for free.
Speaking between occasional pauses to compose herself, Madam Bui said her husband, the seventh of eight siblings, was from a village in Nghe An province in northern Vietnam.
The couple married 14 years ago and have two sons, aged 13, and 10 months.
Making ends meet every month was tough, she said, especially when jobs in the countryside earned them just over S$100 a month.
So they looked for better prospects overseas.
About five years ago, the couple went to Taiwan to work as dishwashers. That was where they learnt Mandarin.
"But the money we earned there was not enough. So we did illegal jobs on the side," she said.
One of the jobs was looking after elderly patients at a hospital.
Their Taiwan stint ended after three years, in 2014, when the authorities caught them moonlighting at the hospital.
They were immediately repatriated to Vietnam, where Mr Phan resumed doing odd jobs.
Madam Bui found a job at a glove factory, earning about US$100 (S$140) a month.
Last year, Mr Phan decided to come to Singapore to work.
To get here, he borrowed about US$8,000 to pay the agent, travel and administrative fees, said Madam Bui.
She said: "I would have travelled here with him, but we have two sons. The younger one is just 10 months old, too young to travel. I didn't want my husband to come here alone, but his mind was made up.
"He was always very responsible towards the family. Too responsible. He did not want me to help shoulder his burden."
After arriving here in December last year, Mr Phan worked as a dishwasher at a coffee shop in Marsiling.
He sent back most of his salary, keeping only about $300 for his personal expenses, she said.