Notes on a (Slightly) New Direction

And Another Case of Cruelty

Weather Vane, by Leo Reynolds, with Creative Commons licenceChange, even the slightest redirection, is what keeps us aware that we’ve moved, that we might move again. We look back, reconsider, and move forward. Or, as the Maori have it, we look ahead at the past in plain view, and then anticipate the future behind us, as yet out of sight. In either case we take our bearings and make new decisions, tempered by experience. Now that the Vicky Flores case has closed, at least for the time being, I’m winding down the blog dedicated to it, which has also carried news on the many difficulties face by foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong that hasn’t appeared on Greetings Earthlings. But so much of my family’s everyday life is dedicated to helping these women that I’ve decided to post about them more often here.

One of my most enduring impressions of domestic helpers in Hong Kong is their dignity in the face of adversity, their ability to suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunate” as Shakespeare had Hamlet lament. And there is something Shakespearian in the many little tragedies they face, the love they leave behind, the hope bottled for decades, the grind of their lives as virtually indentured workers. But there’s also much joy and company in the quiet moments, over the phone, in person, on their one day off a week.

To stretch the literary metaphor, these women exist in a sort of Dickensian social landscape, in a space between the poverty of their origins and the relatively meager payment they receive for their troubles. The ‘satanic mills’ of Guangdong might well be away to the north, but the relations into which they are sometimes forced are not always far removed from the wash-housery of Oliver Twist. There is, for many domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the potential for cruelty in every day.

Consider the case of a woman who arrived here from the north of the Philippines only four months ago. And think, as you read, that a senior staff member at the Philippine Consulate told my wife today that this is a common occurrence in Hong Kong. On the weekend this woman was accused of molesting one of her two charges (both aged under ten). Now this is a serious case for concern, but perhaps not for the reason you might be imagining.

The woman was duly arrested, taken to the local police station and held for the maximum allowable period of 48 hours. She has since been freed and is waiting the results of a police investigation to find out whether she will actually face any charges. Perhaps she will, but that’s by no means and indication of guilt. And the story is a little shaky anyway – her employers have asked her to return to work, looking after the kids.

What sort of right-minded parent would ask that after one of their kids has been molested? The answer is simple – one who knows that nothing happened.

Regardless of the reason for the turnaround, I invite you to consider again what the person at the Philippine consulate said. This is a common occurrence. Whether to break a contract on terms favourable to the employer, to terminate a contract without otherwise sufficiTwo Handed, by Darwin Bell, with Creative Commons licence (Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic)ent reason or to simply ‘discipline’ a helper for imagined indiscretions, false allegations of molestation happen again and again. Most are never discussed, only endured by the helper involved. It’s Dickensian, as I mentioned.

The woman is in good hands now, and won’t be going back to her employers. She’s with a helper aid agency, and the Consulate is ready to do all it can as well. She may face criminal charges or may not, but she’ll survive and move on.

The future is still behind her, unknown and out of sight.

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