• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:41am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 2:38am

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


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

Michael, you are dead-on.
The problem starts already with the upbringing of our children. Many are trained to depend on a maid: they don't carry their own school bags, don't tidy up their own rooms, don't get their own glass of water from the kitchen etc. etc.
My kid's friends are in shock when I ask them to help my kid to tidy up the room after they had a good time playing and messing up the room.
Parents need to learn to teach their children to be independent of maids.
How much can one to work smart if you are expected (or forced) to babysit your boss and not your kids after regular hours? Hong Kong must establish law to limit working hours. I can guarantee that with such law, productivity will be up and number of domestic helpers down. And most importantly everyone is happy.
HKongers do not like to do housework, period.
Most treat their helpers as inferior beings, despite depending on them for their daily needs. As for their spoilt offsprings, most prefer to return here for work since they cannot function by themselves......
A cheap shot at MC about his failed marriage. It doesn’t illuminate on our home problem in Hong Kong.
Some decades ago a survey reported that most devoices in US were due to disputes rose from unequal share in housework. This is a modern problem when women take up work outside of home. Social studies also found that while man still handles outdoor work little do they do indoor housework. The studies attributed the divide due to the absent of role model for male and the stereotyping woman for housework. So urban family may be still clinging on the divide and rendering the male partner irresponsible and lazy when come to housework.
In Hong Kong those who were brought up with live-in servants probably can’t live without a live-in again in the future. I don’t think it is an honor to brat about.
Employers treat employees like slaves, employees treat their DHs as slaves
At the end of the day, even though most locals think that Hong Kong is a very convenient place, it really isn't. Try buying groceries after 6:30pm on a weekday, there really isn't much left on offer, given the small size of most homes, there isn't much room for a pantry to keep groceries either.
Add to that the labour policies of most employers in Hong Kong - no concept of daycare, 6 day weeks is still prevalent in locally owned companies, the "need" for maids becomes more apparent. I think what is needed is a sea change in the culture of Hong Kong, there are too many people who think the most important thing is to work hard and many hours rather than work smart, leading to some of the most unproductive people for a "rich nation".
Many issues should be reignited out of the shame Hong Kong must bear of the insidious treatment of a foreign servant. It is still foggy if mistreatment of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong is widespread. What is sure is that Hong Kong’s cramped living environment does not warrant an extra grownup especially unrelated to live in a shoebox size flat. What is also sure, the mere little more than 3,000 dollar a month salary albeit plus benefits is financially exploitation of the poor. Hong Kong basically is unfit and unqualified to hire domestic helpers. New law and standard must be instituted that would address the immediate problems (including occupy Central and Victoria Park) but equally important policy that will assist families not depending on domestic helper. For the latter, study what has been done in US would help.
While I don't disagree with Mr. Chugani's main point that we have become a maid-dependent society, I don't think he made a very clear case of how this is related to incidents of abuse.
There's not much hope that our culture will change. If we really wanted to lower the number of maids (an unlikely movement, since it is assumed to hurt the economy by lowering overall productivity), the solution would be for the government to raise the minimum monthly wage for domestic helpers. As the way things stand now, even people who are not particularly high earners reason that the cost of hiring a maid is still significantly less than a parent not working.
PCC - you miss the point completely - perhaps you are the kind of parent that plays on his phone while the child is being looked after by the maid - please also learn to spell.
"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 really can't tell if this statement is intended to be a joke, but if not then I trust that you would gladly surrender your career to become a house husband if your woman earned more than you?




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