13 July 2011

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 2 女傭在港-下卷

When Loretta left the Philippines in the 1980s, she didn’t have any training in cooking or housekeeping. What she did have was an eight-year-old son she had to feed back in Quezon City.

Loretta got pregnant when she was 17 and soon thereafter her boyfriend disappeared. Left with no other choice, the single mother – a title she carried in her hometown for eight years like a scarlet letter – turned her child over to his grandmother and headed to Hong Kong in 1983.

Chinese live-in maids back in the days with their signature cues



In the past 30 years, she has served twelve local Chinese families across the city. The Chans, the Wongs and the Leungs – Loretta has seen it all. For a quarter of a century, she cleaned their apartments, ate in their kitchen and listened to the radio by herself in the maid’s quarter. Most of her employers treated her well enough, though none of them ever considered her one of their own. Not once have they invited her to eat with them, watch television with them, or simply have a chat with them. Loretta has heard that back in the day those Chinese maids with their braided queues – “amah” (媽姐) as they were called – often became their employers’ best friends and confidants. When it comes to Filipinas, however...

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Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


32 comments:

  1. Two great writeups Maid in Hong Kong. I wish you could publish this to a wider Hong Kong audience.

    TF

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  2. Thank you, both. These will hopefully make it to my second book.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  3. Jason, thanks for this article. It was written objectively but with respect and compassion. I will share this with my contacts and those who are working with Filipino migrants in Hong Kong and other countries. Please keep me updated about the second book so I can inform my networks here and abroad. I have worked with migrants (Filipinos and other nationalities) in Europe connection with my work with Oxfam Netherlands and since I moved here last 2009, I am still trying to understand migration issues in Hong Kong context.

    LRN

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  4. Thanks, LRN. My first book came out several months ago and so the second one won't be for another year or so. But I will keep you posted in any event. Do check in from time to time for updates and new articles!

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  5. Jason, if the second book is about the Filipino maids and migration issues both in the Philippine and Hong Kong context and would include articles on social costs and the positive sides of migration (e.g. money sent home,impact on the family and the country as a whole). I am sure international organizations such as MPI (Migration Policy Institute), World Bank, and other international organizations I know in Europe would be interested to circulate it with their networks as well.

    How nice if there is a book launching with a small symposium when the book is released. The second book is worth waiting. You know, I have been trying to buy your first book but I cannot find it here in the bookshop in Elements (nearest bookshop to our apartment). I do check your blog regularly.

    LRN

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  6. Jason,

    Thanks for the moving stories. You have well outlined the domestic helpers' plight, conditions and extreme treatments (good and bad) by various sections of HK families as employers.

    In Hong Kong, as Indonesian maids now far exceeded their Filipina counterparts, their untold stories are similar and not much different.

    Besides the ill-treatment by some unscrupulous employers' family members who abuse their domestic helpers verbally or physically and treat them like modern time slavery, there are also some grateful employers who treat their domestic helpers as family members with dignity and appreciation for their help in the households.

    My friends, the couple are both professionals, kept a Filipino domestic helper that help raised their daughter since birth till 18 years of age. Only then the maid left the family for marriage and relocation to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the close relationships never broke off but blossomed till today. As of now, boxes of noodles in parcels and money are still sent during birthdays and festivities to the maid. The daughter, while studying in the UK for A levels and then university, would visit the maid in the Netherlands during vacation and gifted her an expensive digital camera without the parents' knowledge. Such is the cordial relationship. The family today still have a domestic helper in their household who is a cousin of the same maid.

    My current (flat) neighbour family - a local TV commentator, have kept a Filipina maid for 16 years. While the maid is treated as a family member, she took charge - spick and span - of the entire household chores for 4 adults. Lately, the maid delivered her baby boy in the employer's flat - now one and the half years old. The family treat the child as their own and enjoy taking him out for walks or play with him at home.

    Many maids, suffer personal and emotional stress during their work in Hong Kong while making ends meet back home in the Philippines or Indonesia. My last Indonesian maid went for home leave to Indonesia to marry after completion of her first contract. During her second contract in Hong Kong, she learnt that her husband flirted with her younger sister and had a daughter out of wedlock in Indonesia. It was absolutely nightmare and it took over a year for her to come to terms with reality. Now she had returned home to Indonesia since the passing of my aged mother - nearing the end of her fourth contract. She is now living happily in Indonesia and have a daughter of her own with that same husband. I witnessed another similar story with one of my middle-age Filipina maids too whose husband had a mistress while she was working in Hong Kong for me and that he ousted their two grown up children (boys) from the house, so it was a traumatic experience for my maid.

    In the past, I know of many Filipino professional friends wanting to work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. I always wonder why.

    There are numerous reasons for people in Hong Kong to keep domestic helpers in their households. No matter what, they should always be given due respect, dignity and humanity.

    Martie

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  7. I admire these people. They give up so much to help others, family and friends, and in the process unfortunately often put up with some quite horrible situations. I have personally witnessed a DH being told off in the street. The employer, in my view on this occasion, was irrational and ended up making a fool of herself. Had it been me, I would have told her in no uncertain terms what to do with her job, but I’m not in the position that most DH’s find themselves. A great piece Jason, thanks for that. Just a shame it’s about something quite sad that is all around us.
    Don

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  8. Thanks, Martie, for sharing your own helper experiences. I find the stories you told very touching as well.

    Two points:

    1. I didn't include "happy" stories like your friend's maid who moved to the Netherlands, mainly because unfortunately they tend to be few and far between. Let's face it, the majority of helpers aren't treated very well in Hong Kong. Even if they are, they are rarely considered part of the family. I didn't want to "skew" my articles with happy stories for fear that the reader would come away with the wrong impression.

    2. As I pointed out in Part 1, spousal infidelity is an extremely rampant social problem in the Philippines. In fact, many Filipinas I talked to told me that the moment they left the country, they pretty much gave up on their relationships. Many of them didn't blame the men, as they found it quite unfair to the men to be without a woman by their side for extended periods of time.

    Jason

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  9. Thanks, Don. You hit the nail right on its head when you pointed out that this whole phenomenon is quite sad and is all around us. The sadness is truly all around us, so much so that we stop paying attention to it altogether. That's what motivated me to write the article in the first place.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  10. The stories of these two Filipinas are really touching and I can't get them out of my mind.

    LM

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  11. LM, those stories speak for themselves -- all I did was organize the information. You can imagine what it was like for me to hear their accounts *first hand* from the women themselves.

    Jason

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  12. so true,'life goes on and you must do something for yourself' - whatever you encounter you still get up and go ahead.

    thanks for two ladies' sharing, and jason's interpretation of their stories.

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  13. Dear Jason,

    Brilliant as it is (as your articles always are) it is even more heartbreaking than Part 1. As I mentioned earlier, I felt my eyes welling up as I traversed the piece, and I kept on asking myself whether I am treating my helper properly enough, or whether I have been too mean and nasty to her all along.

    Speaking of trust, it is so very sad, so true, and sensitive. Indeed Chinese, Cantonese, don't trust the others. Nor do the Shanghainese maybe given their commercial / trading background. Don't know whether there is any similarity with the Jews (no offence). It's almost like as if they are always scheming against each other and think the others are scheming against them. We are schooled to be cautious and wary and not to be easily taken in as a kid, whether to strangers; or for people we know, never trust them too much in any event. "Better safe than sorry" never rings truer in the Chinese sociology.

    And your statement sums it up very well. "Why is it that they had everything they needed but none of them seemed very happy?". On the one hand, you can say the Chinese are very ambitious and a go-getter, but the flip side of the coin points to our avarice and never being satisfied with what we have got. How many of us do really appreciate our blessings in ways big and small and treasure what we already have? As I asked in my earlier comments to you, what is it that anyone (in Hong Kong) really want in and with their lives? Maybe we should all ask ourselves.

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  14. Speaking of Loretta, that reminds me of lots of folks out there sexually harassing their colleagues or people negotiating business deals in doggy places. I once had to draw up the sexual harassment policy for the firm I was with before. Lots of action or words would disturb another though they may be mindless comments or actions despatched casually by anyone. And those could be viewed as sexual harassment. No doubt coming from another nation as helpers to us may make them think they are "inferior" to us and I bet lots of people look upon them with a discriminatory eye to be taken advantaged of, whether to attend to our chores, or for their gratification. And for the portrayal of Anna, I can feel the boulders on her shoulders. Even here or elsewhere in the world, people taken advantage of another if they can, whether in monetary terms or in emotional terms. And what it takes to fight for one life, the life one wants to and sees right to pursue, and to be mature and strong enough to pursue it. Anna deserves a big round of applause. I personally know a helper who was working in Hong Kong and her boyfriend or fiance was in Philippines. At first they were alright, but the guy wants the girl to return to Philippines so the two of them could get married. She stayed on in Hong Kong wanting to earn a bit more to help support her family. Eventually her fiance refused to wait and I didn't ask, but they have broken up the engagement, and most likely the relationship as well. How much more do each of them have to give up just so that they can earn a proper shelter and to feed their family back home?


    I have to admit sometimes their manner does annoy me a bit, but when you consider what they have given up to find a livelihood in our society, and which has proved to be such an enormous help to the society in Hong Kong, I guess all (at least almost all) can certainly be forgiven. They deserve our respect as human beings, and much more our applause for their strength and courage and sacrifice.


    Love,

    Christine

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  15. This time, I'd give my observation instead of commenting on the two articles. Quite often, I see the "maids" giving up their seats in the MTR or buses to elderly while the youngster (yes, Hong Kong Chinese) stay put glue to their seats with their iPhones in their hands. I am not sure that is because those "maid" cannot get out of their "serving mode". But I'd like to consider albeit different cultural upbringings, they respect the elders.

    On Part 1, Jason mentioned seeing swamps of "maids" in public places on public holidays. So much so, it becomes a tourist attraction. But have you ever notice they may sit in gardens or under footbridges no matter how hot it is outside? They will not sit in the food courts of shopping malls (unless they are being customers of course). I always wonder whether they were briefed by a veteran like Loretta when they arrive on how to behave in public places.

    Of course, I fondly remember an urban myth I heard over 20 years ago about maids washing their hairs in the Statue Square. Also, the story about my aunt's maid got accepted and immigrated to the US long before my aunt immigrating to Australia. They still keep in touch all these years!

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  16. Hi Jason,

    Ive been following your blog (albeit silently) for a few weeks, and I must say that I enjoy your writing thoroughly.

    The latest 2 posts on "Maid in Hong Kong" are particularly good reads. I have bought your book as well, and I was just sharing with my friends on how much I like the chapter on "Why must all our Minibuses be yellow?". I like how you initially introduced the minibus in a seemingly innocent manner ("invariably painted a soft hue of yellow..."), and then proceeded to conclude the chapter with an impactful and meaningful ending paragraph, "perhaps every minibus should be repainted in rainbow colors as a reminder to all of us that yellow, after all, is no longer the only color around here". This... couldn't be written any better.

    Thank you for sharing these insightful thoughts. You are indeed a great observer and writer (like seriously, a well-written chapter conceptualized from merely a walk along Pedder's street? Well done!) I look forward to your next posts.

    Cheers,

    Ski

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  17. Hi Christine,

    Thank you for another round of great comments. I particularly liked it that you focused on the ending of Loretta's story, when she asked, "why is it that [Hong Kongers] had everything they needed but none of them seemed very happy?"

    That was indeed one of the most important lessons I personally learned from talking to the Filipinas and writing the two-part article. The lesson is: their hardship and struggles notwithstanding, these foreign domestic workers really do hold up a mirror to our society and force us to examine the way we live our lives and the way we treat each other. It is a chilling lesson.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  18. Phil, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think the main reason why domestic helpers don't sit in food courts is that they get kicked out. If mall management see you playing cards and selling handicraft, they will chase you out within minutes.

    Jaosn

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  19. Hi Ski,

    Thank you for supporting my blog and my book, and for your well thought out comment on my earlier articles -- two of my personal favorite. More importantly, you took the time to pick up on the nuances in my writing and the way I planned and developed my stories. Comments like yours motivate me to continue to write more and to write better.

    Please keep reading and commenting.

    With warm regards,

    Jason

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  20. Dear Jason,

    I think this has got to be one of the most touching articles I have read thus far. I really enjoyed the interview of these two Filipina woman and this will certainly make me think twice next time I see a Filipina in public.

    I think the idea of having Filipina maid makes this place unique - Hong Kong is truly one of its kind in the world.

    With love,
    AB

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  21. I enjoy reading your stories, but I do hope you would interview two Hong Kong employers about their experiences in hiring DHs.

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  22. Thanks, AB. I really do hope that my article will change the way some of my readers look at domestic helpers.

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  23. Anonymous, you just gave me an idea about Part 3!!

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  24. Jason,

    I very much enjoy reading your article. I like your succinct conclusion. In a certain extent, it's a kind of reflection on humanitarian. Hope your compelling write up is reaching to various readership in bulk.

    Hiring a maid in HK, we've basically got two types of employers, one is very affluent people (expats occupy the most i guess) and the other one is working parents(mainly in the middle class). Most likely for those living in mid-level or HK island people is more affordable to hire more DH, the quality of maid, like educational level, appearance, housekeeping skills sth like that would be relatively higher. Think about when your employer can provide you more in terms of financial support, spacious work environment, etc. Of course, the DH is more willingly to work with the employers longer and harder.

    The cultural difference makes people easier to convey a message that expats are more friendly and local people in HK are more indifference to their maid. My brother is hiring a maid to look after their 3 year-old daughter. They are just a typical HK family, working parents spend much on their own child, the maid stays at home looking after the child and do the housework. My bro's family treat her so well, they even let her have dinner together but it's so weird that she's afraid of doing so, and having her own meal in the kitchen herself. I sometimes chat with her, and she told me her friend taught her like this. Eventually, the maid is only working til the end of contract and go back to her home country.

    R

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  25. R,

    I think that says a lot, about the DH's fear of even eating with your brother's family and shuts herself up for meals and things. It just shows how the general populace have been treating their DH to the point of brain-washing that they are to expect that type of treatment and certainly no more, but probably a lot less. What a lot of "manipulation" and pressure must have gone into her to make her act like that; and the one who inflict the whip? The answer speaks for itself.

    Certainly time we reflect on how we are treating another human being, and as Jason said, how we are approaching and fighting for our own lives, and our true values.

    Christine

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  26. Jason,

    Found your blog by chance but fascinating reading. I am visiting Hong Kong for the first time over Xmas/new year and like to get under the skin of places and not just the tourist bits. Your blog allows me to do that.

    Sally

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  27. Here's an alternative view :

    http://hongkong.asiaxpat.com/forums/hong-kong-domestic-help/threads/119776/found-maid-asleep-while-minding-child/

    Perhaps Anna & Loretta are hard working and conscientious, yet don't run into the trap of thinking all are like them.

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  28. I really enjoyed reading this, Jason! I wish more Hong Kong people could read your articles. Perhaps would you consider translating your work into Chinese, and sending it to local newspapers? Just a suggestion.

    And I look forward to reading more of your work!

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  29. Jason

    Found this article by coincidence whilst doing research on domestic helpers in Hong Kong since the arrival of my domestic helper last Friday - my first time having one. Glad that there are people who share my view on the way we treat them. May be they are just unsophisticated people hired to do simple domestic tasks but shouldn't forget that they are also someone's precious mothers/wives back in their country.

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  30. Hi Jason,

    We're all human being and no doubt many domestic helpers have been mistreated.
    On the counterpart, I've heard so many not so delightful stories that I would be glad to find someone as Loreta.

    From my own single experience, it is a pain in the butt to have to repeat everything everyday, the broken objects, the lack of intimacy. I still don't understand someone who claims to have 15 years of experience AND you need to tell her to wash her hands after her poopoo BEFORE touching my baby!! (among other strange hygiene behaviours I will keep for myself per respect to your readers.

    As a final I ironically ended on your blog as I was searching for an alternative for domestic helpers in HK.

    Regards,
    Antoine.

    PS: Stop complaining about HK people, it's they're right not to trust anyone.

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  31. Found this commodity by accompaniment whilst accomplishing analysis on calm cadre in Hong Kong aback the accession of my calm abettor endure Friday - my aboriginal time accepting one. Glad that there are humans who allotment my appearance on the way we amusement them. May be they are just artless humans assassin to do simple calm tasks but shouldn't overlook that they are aswell someone's adored mothers/wives aback in their country.

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