Hong Kong hooked on helpers

Michael Chugani says the shock of the latest maid abuse case will soon fade, but Hong Kong's addiction to helpers will continue

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 2:38am

Shake my head in shocked disbelief - that was all I could do as the sickening details unfolded in court about how a couple so abused their Indonesian helper over a two-year period that she had multiple scars on her body.

Hot irons, bicycle chains and a paper cutter were some of the weapons Tai Chi-wai and wife Catherine Au Yuk-shan used to mutilate Kartika Puspitasari. The judge described the attacks as cruel and vicious and slapped the couple with lengthy jail terms.

How anyone aside from trained torturers and psychopaths can put a hot iron on another person, I don't know. But I do know that we'll soon forget about Tai and Au - dubbed Mr and Mrs Evil by some - until the next cruelty case hits the headlines.

It'll sting our conscience for a day or two but we'll again convince ourselves that such horrific cases are rare. It won't make us stop and ask ourselves why we have become such a maid-dependent society. Why can't we clean our own toilets, cook our own food and look after our children instead of dumping them into the arms of helpers?

Maybe I am not qualified to ask this question since I live alone in a serviced flat. But when I lived in the US, my ex-wife and I cleaned our two-storey house, cut the grass, shovelled the snow, cleared the roof gutters and cooked our meals by ourselves. And we both had full-time jobs. I still make my own meals and didn't have a maid even when I was not in a serviced flat.

But it seems every family in Hong Kong, whether they live in luxury homes or tiny cubicles, has a maid. Hong Kong has so many that all I see in Central on Sundays are foreign domestic helpers and mainland tourists. Often, these helpers have to sleep on the floor or share beds with the children they look after. I am waiting for a story to break that a family in a subdivided flat has hired a maid.

Having a maid enables couples to work. So goes the argument. But unless the woman has a high-paying job, why sacrifice the family life you can give your children for a measly salary that you must share with your helper?

I once received a reader e-mail from an Indonesian maid who told me the husband and wife she worked for so preferred playing with their mobile phones than with their child when they got home from work that the child took to her instead. This made the couple so jealous that they constantly scolded her.

Parents reading newspapers, talking on the phone or chatting with friends in restaurants while maids tend to their children are a common sight here.

It is bizarre that, every Sunday, the city is so visibly swamped with helpers, as if they have been let out of their cages for a day so that tourists can take pictures.

After the cruel couple was jailed this week, I heard a representative of a helpers' group reminding bosses on the radio that they had hired maids, not slaves. Is it even normal for a city of seven million to have nearly 300,000 foreign maids? That's about 4 per cent of our population.

We're hooked on maids. It's time we tried to wean ourselves off.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com