Enrolling in a government-approved language center such as ShrDa, therefore, provides a way of staying here legally.

Having surmounted the first hurdle, the African faces yet another. Remember his first priority is not studying Chinese. It is to find a menial job either in construction or in a factory. In most cases, he chooses the former because it pays higher.

By law, employers who take on those foreigners without work permits can face up to five years in jail and/or pay a hefty fine. But like the African foreigners, some employers are mavericks. They are prepared to take risks. For one thing, they can exploit these desperate aliens and get away with it. They can boost their overall productivity, turnover and profits due to the foreigners’ hard labor but meager pay. And when these foreigners are apprehended, their employers can disclaim them. All in all, the Taiwanese employer emerges winner.

Jackson had been employed by one such employer. He’d work in the day and study Chinese at night. For a while, things seemed to be going just fine for Jackson, even tough nothing is perfect in this world. He’d become more plumb and even had a regular girl-friend.

But like many others, Jackson was scared. Scared of the police. Not because of drugs or some other vice. He was scared of the police catching him and deporting him because he was working without a permit. Taiwan mightn’t be the best of places, but Jackson had acquired some dignity: money was coming in, he could buy all the cool outfit from America and he was able to support his Canadian girlfriend and maybe his parents back home. Why would he go back? Why?

That’s how afraid Jackson was that one day when the police came looking for overstayers, he ran for his life, even though he wasn’t one of them. In his fright he jumped off the building and injured

himself. He was taken to the hospital. It was news his employer did not want to hear. He’d have to spend money on Jackson. He may as well leave him for dead. For that employer, it’d be financially better if Jackson had landed on his head and broken his skull in the process.

But Jackson didn’t appear terribly hurt, though the hospital bill was running into US$4,000. The employer could pay no more. And Jackson himself hadn’t saved up enough money to foot the bill. Working illegally, he was not eligible for national health care that’s become mandatory on the island.

Jackson went home whereas he should have stayed in the hospital some more. But the internal bleeding didn’t stop. It reached a point where he was in such pain that he went back to the hospital. But that was too late for Jackson. He died. That came as a shock to me and other Africans who knew him.

Jackson was in his mid twenties.