Hong Kong is helper haven with nearly 300,000 domestic helpers, largely from the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, India with newcomers added from Bangladesh and now Myanmar. Their strength can be gauged on weekends when every available open and public space becomes their personal fiefdom. It is impossible to walk or stroll around in Central, the parks and now even the remotest corners of the New Territories.
Weekends are their off days and they have full liberty to their space and enjoyment. Some prefer to work, such as the Filipino who doubled as a masseur on house calls, after her earlier employers had housed her at the YWCA. She was not only earning extra cash, but it was a change from long hours managing kids.
According to her not all helpers from her home country are maids by profession, but better opportunities in Hong Kong make them take the maid route out to improve their lifestyle. Some search for simpler means, or the ‘Cinderella’ transformation, for evening out in Wan Chai or Lan Kwai Fong,’ something closer to what David Mitchell writes in Ghostwritten in the chapter on Hong Kong: “There was a circle of men at Cavendish who were into hiring maids willing to do more than fluff pillows and take the kids to school….Most of the men at Cavendish’s hired Filipinos because they had no permanent residency and so had to be more compliant'”
Whatever their nationality, the helpers usually live in their employer’s residence, and there are cases of verbal and physical abuse. Generally, however, they manage to hang on, to save and remit to their families. Their escape from daily work is going to church, shopping sprees with friends on off days, splurging at MacDonald and KFC or music soirees in different parks.
There are welfare and activity groups recognising their value and contribution, but when it came to granting permanent residency the Hong Kong government baulked. The recent case of two Filipino helpers wanting permanent residences backfired and to even out the place value, helpers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and now Myanmar are being added to the roll call.
No matter who is to blame or what the circumstances are an excerpt from “A’s Life – A Closer Look by Catherine M” sums up the life of a maid in a foreign land: “18 years in Hong Kong made me see both extremes of life. The good and bad….From being called stupid on a daily basis to working for someone who encouraged, inspired and motivated me to grow to become a better person and employee……
“Life abroad is a playing field where double-faced individuals are plentiful. You will never know which face you will be dealing with next time, which one to trust. Do I judge them? No. We are all the result of life’s tapestry, and whilst we have all had many trials to face and overcome differently, I can say that they make us a better person. Stronger and more understanding, far less cynical and made us more willing now than ever before, to be tolerant and spend a while walking in other people’s shoes.”
It is time to change our mindset of people who help us follow our dreams.Related article at this author’s website: Travtrails – Pretty Maids in a Row – Japan
- Hong Kong: 65 percent of parents believe foreign English teachers offer better education (chinadailymail.com)
- Burmese Maids Prepare for Work in Hong Kong (irrawaddy.org)
- Hong Kong treats domestic workers like slaves – Amnesty report (trust.org)
- Hong Kong domestic workers treated as ‘slaves’ – Amnesty (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Maids In Asia Fight Back; Demand Better Pay And Working Conditions (valuewalk.com)
- Filipinos mobilise to help Haiyan victims (arabtimesonline.com)
- Hong Kong Christmas Day (bhavinbharadwa.wordpress.com)
- New Market Study, “Books, News and Stationery Retailing in Hong Kong: Databook to 2017”, Has Been Published (sbwire.com)
- Hong Kong in quest for youth as ageing population looms (straitstimes.com)
- Typhoon Haiyan also hits Hong Kong (vannarindaily.wordpress.com)
- Hong Kong stocks rise on strong U.S. data (marketwatch.com)