A breath of fresh air, that’s the first female sewer worker in Hong Kong
Cockroaches, snakes and that smell are all part of a ‘very special’ job under the city streets for Chu Wun-chau
Chu Wun-chau is greeted by a stink, dozens of cockroaches and even the odd snake on some occasions, but that’s all in a day’s work.
For 58-year-old Chu is the one and only female sewer worker to be employed by the Drainage Services Department since it was established in 1989.
She is always lifting up manhole covers because she is responsible for testing gases and unblocking drains on Hong Kong Island and the outlying islands.
“It can be hot and sweaty, but I’m pretty used to my job,” said Chu, who has worked in the department for 19 years.
There are 80 sewer workers in the city, according to the department, and Chu made history last year when she was promoted from workman, who is responsible for getting equipment ready for those who work down in the sewers.
She was the only woman out of 25 candidates to be interviewed, during which she was tested about road and occupational safety, for the positions available.
“I didn’t want to do the exam at first. I thought I should let men to do the job.,” Chu said.
“But my colleagues and bosses were very encouraging, saying I was good at my job and should try it out. So I gave it a shot.”
Before joining the department, Chu worked as an airport cleaner. She said she was not well-educated and needed a stable income.
She moved to the department because she found the job “very special”.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for me to serve the public. I sometimes receive thank-you letters, and that allows me to enjoy my job very much,” she said.
But a sewer worker does not always get compliments.
“Our job, obviously, has to deal with a strong smell and some nasty stuff on streets. Some pedestrians will walk past us very quickly and show they are disgusted,” Chu said. “But I have no hard feelings.”
Apart from cockroaches and the smell, Chu said she sometimes sees snakes while carrying out her duties in the countryside.
In February, after months of on-the-job training, it took Chu only 10 minutes to unblock her first drain at Shau Kei Wan.
Her teammates immediately took a snapshot for celebration.
“I was really happy and satisfied,” Chu, the shortest worker in her team of five, said.
Boss Hon Yat-keung, a drain chargeman, said of her: “Her only weakness is she is not as strong as a man, but she is hard working and eager to learn, and that’s why she is better than a man.”