Something very interesting and something that I never expected to see happens here in Hong Kong on Sunday.
To set the stage, there are close to 400,000 Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, and Sunday is their one day off. Foreign Domestic Helpers come to Hong Kong on special work visas and are called Foreign Domestic Helpers. As part of the deal, an FDH can only help with domestic chores, only for one employer, and must live in the house where they perform their duties. The law requires that they receive their own room, are guaranteed a minimum wage, have a day off, and receive other time off throughout the year. As an employer, you are required to
pay for your FDH’s way to Hong Kong, flights, other travel expenses, accident insurance, at least the minimum monthly wage, and usually cover food. The current minimum allowable wage to pay an FDH in Hong Kong is $4,210 Hong Kong Dollars a month, which is about $550 US Dollars per month. For a little over $6,000 US Dollars a year and the cost to house someone you have an FDH who works full time for you all day, every day, except on Sunday. Duties range from cleaning, cooking, shopping, childcare, dog walking, etc.
Since they have to live with the family they work for, they don’t really have their own space, so every Sunday on their day off thousands of them sit on the streets in Central Hong Kong. They mainly gather around the banking district and high-end shopping streets, and in any public place surrounding the area. There are even some streets that are closed every Sunday to help accommodate the number of people. It is such a crazy sight, and the mood is ecstatic. They form little groups, hang out with friends, build little cardboard huts to rest in, eat, play cards, sing, dance, give manicures and pedicures, sell things, call home, etc.
This entire event creates a very strong Filipino and Indonesian community in Hong Kong. Every Sunday they are no longer domestic helpers but get to reconnect with their friends, family, and culture. Their culture and numbers are so strong that Filipino President hopeful Mar Roxas even showed up to campaign. Those in Hong Kong still remain citizens of their home countries and are never actually citizens of Hong Kong. With strong ties back home, most of the money they make in Hong Kong is sent back to family. This is very apparent by the lines for the Western Union in Central on Sunday.
The FDH plan is arranged on a two-year contract, which means visits home to family and friends are very rare, if at all, between the contract periods. The Sunday meet up is really the main social circle and link to life for FDHs in Hong Kong, their one day a week to focus on their culture, and bond with their friends they have in Hong Kong. You could also see many of them video messaging with family back home, some even had the phone or tablet set up in their circle so they were essentially part of the hang out.
I never imagined witnessing such an event in Hong Kong, and this is one of the reasons I love to travel. You never know what or who you are going to learn about while out in the world. There are always lessons to be learned from any situation. What stood out to me about the FDHs in Hong Kong and their Sunday off was the strong community they had in Hong Kong. Community and a sense of belonging are so important to all of us. Some part of me was even a little jealous of their very tight-knit community; I didn’t have as strong of ties to a community in Hong Kong as they did. Our sense of community, whether close family, friends, towns, regions, or nationalities, offers us so much support and sense of belonging. I realized that these relationships and connections are key to our happiness; great importance should be placed on fostering and growing these links with other people.