something about merry

starving

1. Alexander spelt her name Merry but he pronounced it right, so his mother didn’t bother correcting him. Besides it suited her, thought Sophie– Mary was a cheerful little soul.
2. Mary cleaned their house, took care of Alexander, now five, and walked Heather, their poodle. Mary wasn’t the most eloquent but she loved Alexander like a son; she saw more of him than her own. She left her hometown ten years ago to work in Hong Kong, earning four times what she would have if she stayed in her country.
3. The Hong Kong government was not known for its fair treatment of domestic helpers. Maids were imported out of necessity. At lunch with other wives, Sophie was the first to mention that there was room for improvement in the system. Later she would add, but we can’t ignore that these women chose to come here to work. No one forced them.
4. On Sundays– a mandatory holiday– maids numbering in the hundreds of thousands gathered in pockets all over the city– parks, walkways, the pier, taking over every shaded public space. Sophie and Mary however had a special arrangement: Mary gave up two Sundays of every month to offset her slightly higher salary. Sophie often pointed out that the minimum wage was ridiculous (even before taking inflation into account). She liked to quote Rob Connelly, a well-known human rights lawyer: “domestic workers are probably the most undervalued workers to work in Hong Kong.” Sophie was adamant that it was the moral responsibility of the employer to pay her maid more, even if they had to work around the law.
5. Mary had been in Sophie’s employ for five years and understood the parameters of Sophie’s generosity. She felt fortunate to escape the physical and psychological abuse common within her community. The worst she endured was Sophie’s genteel irritation when once Mary burnt the quiche for Sunday lunch. She was newly hired and still learning to prepare western dishes.
6. Mary was a stoic soul.
7. When Hong Kong’s highest court ruled against granting eligible domestic helpers permanent residency, she accepted this with equanimity.
8. Mary listened to Sophie argue that this decision was unconstitutional and yet another form of discrimination and oppression. Mary sighed but did not offer an opinion.
9. When Sophie was done, Mary asked if she would like a gin and tonic. Sophie said, yes, Mary, thank you. Use the Bombay Sapphire and not too much ice, please.

 

You can read more about the treatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong here and here.

About listentothebabe

writing is the teeth that gnaw on my bones.

19 comments

  1. Jesus. Their conditions are appalling. This was something I never even knew about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not a side of HK you see unless you live there. Then it’s inescapable. The apathy surprised me. Then again why should I be surprised? It’s human nature to trivialise suffering. Or maybe not human nature. Just a function of the world we live in.

      Like

  2. Great piece! Love the social commentary and the bringing of awareness of this issue. I also had no idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I forgot about this. I remember being in HK on Sunday afternoons and seeing them all camped out on the walkways near Central.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never heard anything like it, how horrid (the circumstance, not your story!). I really like the form you chose to present it in, it gives it the right balance of matter-of-fact stoicism and an underlying essence of freedom fighting. I hope what I just said makes sense…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was trying to write with a light hand because the issue itself is already dramatic. I didn’t want a story that reflected reality, I wanted to write something that hinted at it. I also wanted to flag that it’s not just the abuse that’s the problem but more fundamentally how people view domestic helpers. So even if Mary isn’t being abused, she’s still viewed and treated as a second-class citizen by Sophie– someone who considers herself a liberal. I made it very subtle, not sure if it came across…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t know how to respond to this. I know it has gone on and is going on, this is not something new to me. It’s just that… Well, I don’t have the words for it.

    Like

  6. markrenney2

    A subtle and affective piece Cat.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, a really-eye opening and important piece.

    Like

  8. It is another world isn’t it? Sometimes I forget how privileged many if us are 😦 and for that I am ashamed.

    Liked by 1 person

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