Stolen Homelands is a Hong Kong TV series in which 4 celebrities travelled to the Philippines and Indonesia to visit their ex-domestic workers. Having lived together with their workers for more than a decade, the celebrities knew very little about their workers’ life back at home. During the visit, celebrities came to understand more about the hardships and sacrifices their workers made in order to provide for their families and to give their children a brighter future.
In Hong Kong, 1 in 10 families has a domestic worker to take care of the household, children or the elder. Having been raised by domestic workers from birth, I echoed a lot while watching the TV series. I remember how I see the worker more than my own parents when I was young. I was so close to my worker that I would deliberately call her my "mum". We listened to the same old portable CD player and ate Filipino snacks together. She kept my secrets such as not finishing my lunch boxes or coming home late from my mother. To me, she was more than a caretaker, but also a sister and a mother. I remember how heartbroken I was when my mother decided not to renew her contract. I went to her bed and cried myself to sleep after she was gone. At that time, I missed her care and her presence.
It was not until I become older that I am more aware of the hardships they undergo for their family. I realized how difficult it is to survive in a city that speaks a foreign language. I observed how they send gifts and money back home, leaving so little for themselves. I saw how they struggled to find a resting place on a rainy holiday. The more I know about their lives, the more I am amazed by their perseverance and faithfulness. It was shocking for me to see netizens’ comments on the series saying the workers chose to come to work in Hong Kong and they could earn enough money for such a glamorous house just by working for 10 years, while such is a hopeless dream for a Hong Kong. I could not believe how naïve and shallow those netizens were.
With little employment opportunities in her hometown, my current worker came to Hong Kong for the promising salary. From time to time she showed me photos of her home under renovation: using the money she sent back. She is just one year older than me but she already has a child. Perhaps she is really going to have a big and luxurious house, but I can never forget the look on her face when her son refused to call her “mum” or even talking to her on a video call, and the helplessness when her husband “sought her permission” to have an affair while she was away (to fulfil his physical needs). A house and a seemingly brighter future at the expense of the relationship with her own son and spouse. Is that a burden that a 26-year-old should bear? I honestly do not know.
I have heard people complaining their worker being lazy, or not obedient, or not smart enough. In worse cases, they accuse their workers for stealing, or taking out loans and eloping with the money. I believe these claims may be valid and real, but there are a lot more to the surface of things. One person does not speak for all. In the end, we are all imperfect humans with families to take care and shortcomings to work on. It is my hope that we get rid of our master-slave hierarchy attitude, and start treating each other with respect and dignity.