Back on the Block

One Woman’s Brief Interlude in Indonesia

Big Wheel, by kevindooley, with Creative Commons licence (Attribution 2.0 Generic)The capacity to surprise is more often praised than panned. We tend to see it as a valuable characteristic, the mark of a person who can change the way other people think, guide them into new ways of understanding the world. Surprise is a synonym for excitement, adventure – those things that make our days unusual, or at least more pleasant. But that’s not always the case, and confusion, disappointment and despair can follow. At the minimum, an unpleasant or unwelcome surprise can cause a good deal of inconvenience and frustration. Consider the case of M, whose travails with a loan scam I mentioned recently.

M is a domestic helper here in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, on the block in which my family lives. Recently she woke unusually early at the urging of her panicking employer who had received a letter from the Immigration Department asking why his live-in employee had not left Hong Kong in four years. Foreign domestic helpers are required to leave town at the end of each two year contract, which doesn’t give them right to residency, unlike standard work visas (which can be renewed here). It was a problem that could have waited a while but it suggested an illegality on the employer’s part – he hadn’t actually ‘granted’ the two weeks holiday that was due at the end of M’s last contract.

Still, M took the situation in her stride and suggested she travel to mainland China that day – she could have been in downtown Shenzhen in a couple of hours. But, and this was the big whammy, her employer insisted that she return to Indonesia, where she’s from, which is what the law requires. Okay, not a real problem, but he insisted that she go straight away. Now. She had to book a ticket, get to the airport and leave.

M was in Jakarta that night, but four days later she was back on the block, at what passes for home in Discovery Bay. Not much of a break. Fortunately, she saw her daughters for a few days but the experience of being a human pinball was tiring, to say the least. What impresses me most about M is that she takes whatever life throws at her calmly, which is more than can be said for her less than considerate, law-breaking employer.

In cases such as this, surprise is so very often just the bastard child of caprice.

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