Case struck a chord for expat tai-tais

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am

Watching Nancy Kissel's retrial almost every day were a group of women who didn't know Kissel or her murdered investment-banker husband, but felt they identified with some issues raised in it.

They were tai-tais - expatriates who described ambitious husbands, isolation and the abandonment of their own careers back home as elements in their lives.

They also said they regretted the loss of their roles as mothers because their children were being cared for by domestic helpers.

The trial, which ended yesterday with a unanimous verdict of guilty, saw a steady stream of seven to 10 of these well-heeled, well-dressed women attending the hearings in the Court of First Instance, some on a daily basis.

Several of the spectator tai-tais - the Chinese term for well-off married women who do not need to work - said they became fascinated by the case through newspaper accounts.

They had also read the book about the case by Joe McGinniss entitled Never Enough, which was published after Kissel's conviction in her first trial in 2005.

One of the women, Nikki, told the South China Morning Post she identified with some of the themes of expat life that appeared in the retrial.

Nikki, who used to be a teacher in Britain, came to Hong Kong with her banker husband 18 years ago. She declined to give her last name because her husband was well-known in the banking sector.

In the eyes of many local Chinese women, expatriate tai-tais live enviable lives - a likely whirlwind of shopping, group meetings for high tea and daily sessions in the gym and beauty salon.

Their domestic helpers take care of their children and handle all the household chores.

But Nikki, like others, told a different story.

She said many tai-tais felt isolated living such a life. 'We have no family or relatives here and we have to rely on our friends to give support,' she said.

'It is difficult for expatriate wives to give up their jobs in their country and move to Hong Kong with their husbands.

'Amahs are very helpful when you have a full-time job, but you start to lose your role as a mother and you feel a bit useless.'

Some women saw it more positively. 'Sure, there are difficulties, but you can deal with the difficulties,' said Di, another expat.

'You also get a lot of rewards for living that life. It's not all bad.'

Di and two friends who attended the trial with her - they have been in Hong Kong for less than a year - said they were able to deal with the difficulties with the help of other expats.

Prue, a former nurse from Melbourne, Australia, whose husband is a banker, said she could relate to some of the psychological issues raised in the trial because people close to her had experienced them.

She was also interested to witness a court case in action. 'It's been such an experience. I've learned so much,' she said.

Prue, who has lived in Australia, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore for several years at a time, said: 'Yes, it can be hard.

'You can feel very isolated and lonely and down, but there are a lot of people doing the same thing.'