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Mon, Apr 07, 2014
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Fresh misfortune for family of sole breadwinner after two tragedies in the past
by Esther Teo

In the small village of Majiazhuang in northern Hebei's Dingzhou city, one family, the Wangs, have long been the subject of local talk due to two suicides.

The wife of family elder Wang Jiancheng, 55, committed suicide four years ago by drinking pesticide. She was in pain due to an illness, neighbours told The Straits Times. More than 10 years earlier, his sister-in-law was driven to kill herself, worn down by a life of poverty.

Now, misfortune has struck the family again. Mr Wang's only son and the family's sole breadwinner, Mr Wang Yongqiang, is one of the 153 Chinese passengers on missing Flight MH370.

Mr Wang, 29, was a construction worker in Singapore and was heading home at the end of his year-long contract.

His wife, their five-year-old daughter and his father had prepared a feast of fish and chicken dishes to await his arrival.

After Mr Wang's flight went missing, they journeyed to Beijing. His father insisted on going despite having a bad back that makes walking difficult.

Since then, they have been cooped up in a hotel with hundreds of other anguished relatives, awaiting news.

The family is not the only one from Dingzhou hit by the disaster.

Besides Mr Wang, seven others among the Chinese passengers are menfolk from Dingzhou's towns and villages. They left their families to work in Singapore as construction workers, in a long-held tradition of venturing abroad that began in the 1980s.

A 50-year-old neighbour of the Wangs, who wanted to be known only as Madam Ma, told The Straits Times: "Our hearts break for the Dingzhou passengers, especially for the Wang family who have already endured so much. Yongqiang is the sole breadwinner so this misfortune is equivalent to the sky falling down on them."

It is likely that of the Chinese passengers, the city of 1.2 million people had the highest number on board the plane. In the small town of Ziwei alone, three men - Mr Ding Lijun, Mr Di Jiabin and Mr Li Zhixin - were on the plane.

Reflecting the strong tradition of seeking work abroad, 500 locals out of a population of 3,000 in Lvjiazhuang are reportedly making a living in countries in South-east Asia and Africa. It is no wonder the village is known as Hebei's top labour exporter.

There are notices and posters put up at minimarts and other places in many of Dingzhou's 200 villages and towns offering middlemen services for those interested in overseas jobs. The fees typically range from 15,000 yuan (S$3,000) to 20,000 yuan.

In Mr Wang's village of Majiazhuang - where at least 50 people out of a population of 2,600 are estimated to be working overseas - the mood has been sombre since March 8. Many residents gather in the streets at night after toiling in the wheat fields, updating one another on the latest information about the missing plane, and news about the Wangs.

The Wangs' brick house sits at the end of a dusty and quiet road, with its gates shut tightly as the family deals with their latest loss.

Perhaps it was the tough years he faced while growing up that led the younger Mr Wang to acquire a "filial and down-to-earth" character, said his neighbours.

"I've watched him grow up and he's not like other children who are playful. I've never seen him and his wife get into an argument in their seven years of marriage," said Madam Ma.

She recalled his wife running to her house on March 8, crying hysterically over news of the plane's disappearance. "I told her it was probably a rumour at first and not to believe it," she said.

Fellow villager Ma Taoqian, 64, told The Straits Times that Mr Wang had bought his wife a ring in Singapore which reportedly cost 1,800 yuan, and had sent a picture of it to her.

Villagers said it was the financial burden of his father's medical bills and school fees for his daughter, who recently enrolled in kindergarten, that led Mr Wang to seek overseas employment for the first time instead of sticking to life as a farmer, which earned him a monthly income of about 2,000 yuan.

This was a far cry from the 7,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan he could earn overseas, they added.

Mr Wang's brother-in-law Tang Liming, 35, who lives in nearby Tangjiazhuang village, said Mr Wang picked Singapore as he felt "it was safer and had rule of law".

The case of the missing Flight MH370 has caused some poor villagers in Dingzhou to reconsider going overseas to work.

In nearby Anjiazhuang village, 25-year-old Mr Zhang Chenguang, whose friend Zhao Peng was one of the eight Dingzhou passengers on board, told Chinese newspaper The Mirror that he has changed his mind about going for a second work stint abroad.

His year-long contract in Singapore ended recently, and he was on a two-month break while considering another overseas opportunity. "But I won't be going any more. Earning all that money - it's better to (stay and) spend it with my wife and children."

But Majiazhuang village's Mr Ma said that while the case has shaken him and his family, his 40-year-old son is still planning to leave for Namibia in the next few weeks. "I'm worried, but my son has already committed to the job, so there won't be any change of plans," he said.

For now, the young Mr Wang's sister Wang Weihong, 31, and her husband's family are helping to tend his land.

They are hoping against hope that he is still alive. His sister said: "We haven't made plans for our father and brother's wife yet - the most important thing now is to find him. That's our priority."


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This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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