First person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am


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Etsuko Konjiki, 33, works for a luxury property leasing company as a social organiser and 'agony aunt' for newly arrived expatriate housewives. She says that wealth cannot insulate the women against the angst of relocating abroad.

I'm an expatriate myself. I am originally from Japan and I came to Hong Kong in 1996. That makes my job easier because I know how people feel when they first arrive in this city. Everything is so new.

Our clients live in very luxurious properties with monthly rental ranging from $40,000 to around $120,000. They are people who can afford two helpers. They are financially secure, so although some choose to continue to work, most of them enjoy their leisure time. But having too much spare time is one of the things that can make them feel a little lonely.

In the beginning they don't really feel lonely because they are so preoccupied and they have so many things to do, buying furniture and getting the home prepared. By the time they settle down - after a month or so - they start to feel lonely and realise they don't have any friends close at hand. Some of them can get very stressed by the change.

They want to know the culture of Hong Kong but they also want to continue their own lifestyle now that they are out here. If they do yoga in their home country, they want to do it here but they don't know where to go.

British people have their particular tastes. I've realised that they like pork pies a lot - in fact I think they are obsessed by them. When they first see a moon cake they think it is a pork pie and they ask where they can buy one. I put them in touch with a British cook in Hong Kong who makes them and personally introduce them to her.

Americans can be the most demanding clients but mostly because they are usually very well travelled. They may have lived in Tokyo, Singapore or the Philippines before coming to Hong Kong. They have been very well looked after in the past so they need to be very well looked after in Hong Kong as well. Their expectations are very high and if we don't look after them well they will move to another property.

It is very obvious when you see people who have never been out of their country compared to people who have been in several countries. They are so different. People who are outside their home country for the first time are more nervous. They ask many questions. They don't know how to fit into the very different culture here.

We introduce them to other expatriates, from their own country if possible. We invite them to a dim sum restaurant, a very local one, to make sure they won't get panicked when they are invited to one. We start with simple dishes. Eating is very important in Hong Kong and that is one of the things they can enjoy the most in Hong Kong.

Gradually we tell them how to deal with people in the market, or how to shop in Mongkok if they want to go bargain hunting. We give them tips. We organise language classes for them as well. We plan to do Tagalog and Indonesian classes as well so they can communicate better with their helpers. They really appreciate helpers cleaning their big house and caring for their children and they want to show their appreciation by communicating better with them. At the same time they have a great interest in learning Chinese - particularly Putonghua, which is easier to learn for English speakers.

Some people want to be left alone. We don't want to cross any lines; everyone is different. A lot of our clients have high expectations. If something needs fixing they want someone to be sent straight away. If not they can get very frustrated. They want to be assured that someone is looking after them.

We are like friends. We share their birthdays and anniversaries with them. We know which wines they drink and whether they are vegetarian. We are more than friends - we are like family to a lot of them.'

As told to Simon Parry