A group of women from Bangladesh has become the first to arrive in Hong Kong from the mainly Muslim nation to officially work as maids.
The arrival of the 11 women, who will begin working tomorrow after a two-day orientation, marks the beginning of the official importation of maids from the country, which it is hoped will ease a shortage of domestic workers in Hong Kong.
After flying in yesterday, they were eager to show their determination to turn the foreign into the familiar.
"Nei ho ma?" they asked of the gathered reporters, offering the traditional Cantonese greeting.
Most of the group are Muslims, while a few are Buddhists. Two are a mother-daughter pair - Mowsami Akter, 23, and Sefali Akter, 35.
"The family that I am going to work for is expecting a baby … while my mother will go to a family with two big children," said Mowsami Akter, beaming.
She will be earning nearly HK$4,000 a month, compared with the HK$500 she earns in her home country, where she also worked as a domestic helper.
The Bangladeshi women were wearing purple T-shirts printed with the name of the agency that has arranged their employment. At home, most would wear outfits conforming with their beliefs.
The Muslim women had to agree to cut their hair, which previously touched their waists, and also agree to cook pork for their employers. Mowsami Akter said she did not mind, although her mother was a bit unhappy about the changes in the beginning.
Rokeya Akter, 23, expressed mixed feelings about the new life awaiting her. "I want to earn more money," she said, trying her best to hold her tears after having been crying on the flight. She said it was her first time away from home, and she missed her family.
"I plan to stay here for four years, so that I can earn money for my family and set aside some money to open a Chinese restaurant when I go back to Bangladesh," she said.
Prior to their arrival, the women undertook three months' training supervised by the Bangladeshi labour ministry, which included learning Cantonese, Chinese cooking and household chores. But the language barrier is clearly a headache for them and their employers, as most can only speak a handful of English and Cantonese phrases.
Another 75 Bangladeshi workers will arrive over the next three months, followed by 150 to 200 every month after that.
Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporting country in the world after China, and women can make about HK$500 to HK$700 a month in garment factories. But Bangladesh's garment industry has been plagued by disasters in recent months, including the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building last month that shocked the world and killed more than 1,000 workers.