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Eight - Grasping life on the margins

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

Sonia McKay
Affiliation:
University of the West of England
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Summary

“But my experience so far tells me that, for people like us who landed in the UK, once you started out on a certain type of work, you’re almost bound to tie yourself there; it won't be easy for you to move away from it. In fact I don’t like working in the kitchen; it feels suffocating for me to stay inside the kitchen for too long. This is because of the smoke in there. The noise [that] comes from the extraction fan is horrible. You can't hear anything if you speak in the kitchen like what we are talking now. The fire from the ovens is so fierce. Having worked in the kitchen for this long, I understand why the kitchen is said to be one of the high-risk work environments. Puffs from the steam can cause breathing problems. I actually wanted to change job; because I feel pain in my chest if I stayed in the kitchen for too long without a break.” (Cheung, male, from China)

We begin the final chapter of this book with a quote from Cheung, who is 48 years of age and who had arrived in the UK three years earlier. Cheung describes his experiences of working as an undocumented migrant in one of London's many Chinese restaurants. He had been a driver in China and had met people who had already migrated and who had encouraged him to do the same. He came on a tourist visa and was put in contact with a job agent to whom he paid £100, getting work almost immediately. He initially worked outside London in a restaurant, on a 12-hour day for 180 a week, including meals and accommodation. He says that he was treated badly because his employers knew he had no status. A restaurant customer, also from China, advised him to learn cooking skills and gradually he improved his earnings, eventually earning £1,200 a month. However, at the time of the interview he had injured his leg and was out of work. Although his networks have grown and have helped him to get work, he says that there are only a few people, all Chinese, whom he counts as friends and with whom he would socialise.

Type
Chapter
Information
Living on the Margins
Undocumented Migrants in a Global City
, pp. 177 - 190
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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