They work with pay, we say. It is voluntary, we make them say. Behind the facade of Hong Kong's glamorous cityscape, is the undercurrent of slavery. This city is fueled by love that is not our own. With capitalism forcing parents to work 50+ hours a week, Hong Kong knows no home can be idle for this long. So, we borrow love from our neighbours. We invite women of the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand to leave their family so that they can build ours.
As the concept of slavery evolves, its inherent invisibility and changeability are exactly what we have to be careful of. The history of slavery traces back to the Abrahamic traditions. Back then it was legal. The lifeblood of slavery was so intertwined with its extending economic system; it was impossible to separate what was, or wasn't slavery-free.
I am not here to claim the Foreign Domestic Helper system is modern slavery. That is another discussion for another time. Here, I am suggesting, if we do not intentionally pour more love, we are dangerously close to enslaving this group of women. I am not here to throw you legal terms; I am not here to justify or disqualify the system. I am, however, here, to offer the minimum you can do to help your maid feel more comfortable living under your roof.
ASK HER ABOUT HER DAY. Our maid, Suwarti, has been working with us for twenty years. And this is not uncommon. With the money she saved, she bought three houses, multiple land, and several cars. Her daughter is running her store back home, and I am ecstatic to hear how their business grows through the years. Suwarti tells me amazing stories about the movies she used to watch with her young love. She tells me the love letters she used to write to her first boyfriend. She is a boy-pro. She says I am no good with boys so she would craft the texts for me. With emojis, she would always say. "And be honest, tell them how you really feel." She added she believes not in games, but in romance. Her advice is so new it is refreshing. So, ask her how her day went. Not only do you get to follow her storyline, but you also get to become part of it too.
TELL HER ABOUT YOUR DAY. Suwarti is my best friend. She fed me when I was a toddler, and she continues to feed me today. She cooks the best comfort food. My favourite part of the day when is when she makes me lunch before school. I'd stand next to her as she blends her spices and I would tell her how I am not looking forward to another day of non-stop case reading. She would laugh and give me tips, "Have your paragraphs written inside pads and tell your teacher you need the toilet". She is very very smart.
BRUSH HER HAIR. This is my favourite activity when my parents are away. As a kid, I would sneak in her blankets during the winter and braid her. Now, I would pluck her white hair while she plays me Indonesian music from her iPad. Human touch is powerful.
Show your lady you are grateful you have her in your home life. Give her more than a voice, give her your ears. Listen to her hopes and dreams. The truth is, we can never repay them for the time they lost with their family. What we can offer, within our capacity, is raw human honesty. More than bracelets or earrings, I find the brief moments of kitchen talks the most connecting and authentic. The battles faced by Hong Kong's Foreign Domestic Helpers are great and steep. Show them they are not just maids, they are members. Most importantly, show them they are neither foreign nor domestic - They are homemakers.
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Membership Manager, NeueHouse Madison Square