How one of Hong Kong's first maids from Myanmar won over jaded employer

Amy Lee says she has had problems with domestic helpers in the past, but Thida Soe has already won her over - despite the language barrier

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 3:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 11:56am

Amy Lee Hoi-yin has hired so many foreign domestic helpers over the past two decades that she has lost count.

"Some of them borrowed a lot of money from others and got me in trouble," Lee, 60, said. "I still get calls from strangers every now and then, demanding that I pay off the debts that my previous maids owe them."

But Lee says her latest helper, Thida Soe, 38, is different. Just a few days into her new job at Lee's Mei Foo flat, the Myanmese maid has won over her jaded employer with her courteous manner.

"She is very polite. When it comes to communicating, we talk slowly and use body language. She nods her head respectfully when I tell her to do something," Lee said. "I point at the clothes and she understands what I want her to do."

The first group of 19 helpers hired from Myanmar arrived in Hong Kong late last month, and Lee is among the city's first to employ one of them.

Like the rest of her compatriots who came to the city to work as maids, Thida Soe is excited to be here - even though she is saddled with a HK$16,000 debt to a job agency in her home country.

The helper is looking forward to her monthly wage of HK$4,010, she says. At almost four times her previous earnings at a hotel in the former pariah state, the higher salary she will receive is the reason she chose to come to Hong Kong to work.

Thida Soe and the other Myanmese helpers took classes for three months before they arrived in Chinese cooking, English and Putonghua. Cantonese was not part of their training as a teacher could not be found, but it will be taught to future groups of Myanmese maids bound for Hong Kong.

Despite the lessons, Thida Soe can manage only a smattering of English. She communicates with her employer in short sentences and through body language.

"I don't need her to do a lot of work," Lee said. "I mostly just need her to clean the house and wash the clothes." She does not even know whether her new helper is a good cook as she likes to do all the cooking herself.

Lee shudders at the bad experiences she has had with workers from other countries. Once, she woke up and found her then helper missing, she said.

"She later complained to the Labour Department that I had underpaid her," Lee said, insisting that she had been maligned. Another maid stole money and clothes from her, she said.

Eni Lestari, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body, said her group had discussed with the Myanmese community in Hong Kong how they could ensure better protection for the helpers.

"One thing the government can do is to offer brochures in Myanmese so that they will know where to get help when they need it," Lestari said.