By Bingo Xu
My first encounter with domestic workers in Hong Kong was in central, under the footbridge. They were sitting on the ground, clustered in groups, just as how they appeared if you googled the keywords “domestic worker, HK”. I am a Sophomore, having been studying and living in Hong Kong as a non-local student. Sometimes I still wonder who I am in this city and what I could do for Hong Kong. During my quest, I joined The Wandering Voice, where I met these amazing people, Arlene, Joan, Kay and Rociel, and luckily got the chance to learn how biased my perceptions were, and how others strived to find their way.
On the very first day, we went to the St. Joseph Church to experience the festive activities during the Sinulog Festival and visit a domestic worker prayer group. With the kind help of group and the church, I had a fruitful discussion with group members, first with Delia, and later with Theresa. It was all about their life stories, their struggles and their victories. Words were flashing into my mind: conflagration, domestic violence, bad employers, loneliness, homesickness, and the separation with their children. And I realized that I was talking to great ladies who had overcome these up and downs and finally embraced life with their brave soul and love.
One could tell it from the smile on their faces which are so touching and penetrating, reflecting the confidence and tranquillity inside their hearts. Between the discussion, I had the precious chance to hear the prayers practicing and do the morning mass. As dear Delia told me, for them, chanting is like praying for twice, offering people a cure for broken hearts and a place of belonging. Indeed, anyone who had heard the melody would be convinced by her words. They sang songs of joy and love, which brought me to a peaceful land on that Sunday morning after a busy week in school. Then we joined the Sinulog dance, a unique Filipino way to do the prayer. Ellen, the choir leader, was leading the dance. She danced elegantly to the rhyme of drums, followed by a group of dancers with. Such celebration of had been adopted by the church for five years.
I could rarely find a place outside the church where non-local culture can integrate into the local practice in such a short time. How the church provided them with a place to gather as a community, and how they served the community, delivered their love and their culture, became the most unexpected thing I learnt during the visit. Later, Arlene, Joan, Kay and Rociel brought me to their “secret Sunday places”: we encountered people napping or chatting by the street, passed the Filipino market, watched the singing contest and the costume show, and joined regional groups gatherings. There were some many things that I have never noticed before and I felt as if I left Hong Kong temporarily and travelled to a different country.
Someone brought out what was exactly in my mind at last month’s sharing session: we were there with little to provide and so much to learn. They are like my big sisters, full of wisdom, and much experienced than me in terms of living the life. On the week after the church visit, we went hiking in the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, which was Arlene’s first hike in years. And it turned out that everyone was much more adventurous and energetic than me, and they ended up dragging me all the way up the hill. The view looked so delicious that I never regretted climbing up the steep hillside, and I could never manage to the top without their encouragement and that I would not dare never to do it again. And then after that week, I witnessed them breaking the world record in the CPR relay. It was truly an venture to the colorful Filipino culture, an opportunity to learn from others’ life wisdom, and a spiritual feast that enriched my poor perception.
I shouldn’t have said “perception”. What I learnt indeed was that one should never judge people with his or her mindset with simplified tags. It’s just the same as using the word “student” or “ethnic Chinese” to represent me. They are part of my identity, but they are definitely not “me”. I pondered upon their quest in Hong Kong, and was amazed by how people seek their meaning of life and identity in their own ways, whether others noticed it or not. Yet, as mentioned by Arlene, Ellen and Theresa, not everyone is privileged to do so as there are people who do not meet good employers, work overtime and don't get enough sleep, which makes me feel really sorry for them.
For people who live in and together construct this fascinating city, I wish that one day their rights to seek their identity and voice could be accepted, and that people get to know each individual through getting closer, instead of adding tags and relying simply on what. Thanks to everyone who has put their effort and been so hearty to help, we are making progress, yet, there is still a long way to go.