It’s a response common to people around the world who don’t have much. When a stranger arrives, Abhie immediately and instinctively offers him a seat and a plate of food. The seat is a flattened blue shopping bag that acts as a thin cushion from the concrete. The plastic plate is quickly filled with aromatic pork adobo, fried rice and a hash of egg, onion and tomato.
We eat and talk as traffic thunders past beneath us, locals wandering past without a glance, occasional bemused looks from tourists. Then comes the rain. When you’re outside for ten hours in 85-degree heat and 87% humidity, you’re wet even before it starts raining. When it does begin to fall, there’s no cover other than cheap and flimsy umbrellas, wedged awkwardly in between railings or ineffectively taped to pillars.
The lucky ones staked their claim early, prime real estate where concrete flyovers and elevated walkways provide vague protection from whatever the elements decide to throw down that day. Outside, there’s no air conditioning in the brutal, relentless heat of summer, no warmth in the surprisingly cold winters. This is how 300,000 women spend every Sunday of the year, sitting in the streets of Hong Kong, eating from plastic boxes and looking up at the skyline of famous multi-billion dollar skyscrapers.
Precious and Abhie having lunch on the steps of a stairwell. Photo: Chris Dwyer
These women – they’re almost all women – are ‘foreign domestic helpers,’ their nationalities split equally between Filipinas and Indonesians. The commonly used term ‘helper’ is too benign, however. The reality faced by many of these women is far, far starker. They’re workers. Serious, hard workers. They’re required by law to live in their employer’s already-cramped residences from where they redefine multi-tasking: cooking, childcare, cleaning, laundry and much more, often for 18 hours a day, six days a week. All for HKD 4,110: about $530 a month.
Sunday is the one day in the week – the only day – that they get to rest. On Hong Kong Island the Filipino helpers congregate in and around Central, the city’s commercial and tourist heart, while the Indonesians favor Causeway Bay around Victoria Park. Impromptu nail salons and hairdressers, Koran study groups, dance workshops, card games and bingo all spring up for a few brief hours. But above all, it’s the food.