Saturday 3rd October 2009

Adventures of a Tai Tai:  Maid in Hong Kong?

Weekly musings of an expat wife

One thing that my non-expat friends find quite interesting is the concept of having a maid. Here in Hong Kong, and in many popular expat destinations, it is extremely common for people to have live-in maids, aka domestic helpers. These maids usually come from countries such as The Philippines, Indonesia or Thailand and are sent away by their families to earn money that they can remit back home. Although the USD equivalent of a maid’s salary seems very low to us (the minimum wage in HK is currently set at approximately $450 USD per month), this money does make a significant difference back in their home country and that is how many people justify having a maid. In exchange for somewhere to live, food and their basic salary the girls work six days a week from early morning until late at night and perform all sorts of domestic chores. Just last weekend, for example, my husband was returning from a late night walk with the dog when he came across a maid washing her owner’s car at 01:00am in the morning!

The majority of apartments in Hong Kong have what is termed a “maid’s room” although the actual size and quality of these areas differ enormously- some don’t qualify as rooms at all. I personally remember one maid’s room my husband and I were shown around when we first arrived in Hong Kong. The real estate agent who, incidentally, had the people skills of a Pitt Bull, opened a door in the kitchen and declared, “here is the maid’s room”. I looked inside and all I could see was a washing machine and tumble dryer side by side. I took a good look around the room before asking the obvious:

“Where does the maid sleep?” I asked.
“There”, the estate agent replied.
“But where?” my husband said, clearly as confused as I was.
“On top of the washing machine” she snapped back in a manner that implied my husband and I were depriving a village somewhere of a couple of idiots.

I took another look and finally spotted a plank of wood across the top of the two appliances. “I could never ask someone to sleep on top of there” I said, eyes wide with shock.
“Why not?’ she asked in a puzzled manner, “my maid sleeps on the kitchen floor”.

Later that night, my husband, who is not usually one to negatively comment of the behavior of others, amused me enormously when he suddenly declared, “If I was in a room with that estate agent, a werewolf and a gun with only two silver bullets, do you know what I would do? I would choose to shoot her twice!” Needless to say we didn’t rent an apartment from her.

My husband is extremely popular with many of the maids living in our apartment complex and he often stops to talk to them when he is out walking the dog at night. He just loves to flirt joke around with them and impress them with his world knowledge. You see he is indeed like a human Wikipedia- he knows a million facts but most of them are, of course, wrong. The young girls, however, are clearly oblivious to this and love his eccentric bumbling nature. For some reason they don’t seem to greet me with the same enthusiasm that they have for him, charmer that he is ;o)

Whilst my husband and I don’t have a maid, I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with it provided you treat her well. For some, the opportunity to work as a helper in a place such as Hong Kong, offers a chance to escape the extreme poverty of their home country and make an honest living that doesn’t involve participating in the sex trade (one of the few alternatives). So, if I am so much in favor of maids, you may be wondering why I don’t have one. The answer to this is extremely simple. I currently use the maid’s room in my apartment as a walk-in wardrobe and, quite frankly, I could never give up the shoe space!

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