Category Archives: Hong Kong

Servant or Slave?

atlantic monthlyThe cover story for the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic chronicles the life of an Asian woman who was an indentured servant for an American family.  The story is written by Alix Tizon.  Reading it I was reminded of a story I wrote about domestic helpers in Hong Kong for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

“I pray to God and the burdens on my heart are lifted.” I am visiting with some workers from the Philippines who have gathered along with thousands of their countrywomen in Hong Kong’s Statue Square. There are groups enjoying each other’s company everywhere you look. Some are eating, visiting, playing cards, styling one another’s hair and trading romance novels. Others are praying, reading their Bibles and singing hymns. There are an estimated 200,000 female workers from the Philippines living and working in family homes in Hong Kong. These ‘helpers’ (the common term for domestic laborers in Hong Kong) are expected to work twenty four hours a day, six days a week, but government regulations dictate they must be given twelve consecutive hours of free time each Sunday. Since the women cannot afford to go to movies or eat in restaurants on their day off, they gather in Hong Kong’s train stations and parks or outside public buildings.

maids hkOne Sunday morning I went down to the heart of Hong Kong’s business district to spend some time talking with the Filipino women in a central plaza there. One group readily agreed to let me take their picture and when I told them I was writing a story for a newspaper in Canada they were happy to answer my questions.

The ten women I spoke with all come from the same rural area in the Philippines. They work in homes in different sections of Hong Kong but on Sundays they meet at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. After mass they gather on the porch of the near by law courts building to spend the afternoon eating and visiting. They tell me their faith in God is what helps them survive the separation from their families in the Philippines and the sometimes cruel and indifferent treatment of their employers. “I pray to God and the burdens on my heart are lifted” one woman tells me passionately, as she lifts her hands and eyes heavenward.

As we visit I discover some of the women in the group have been here for as little as four months while others have lived in Hong Kong for as long as twelve years. Most have young children at home and are university educated. They are nurses, teachers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, computer programmers and businesswomen. They speak several languages. However they can make three times more money in Hong Kong (the government dictated salary is about $600 Canadian a month) than they can practicing their professions in the Philippines. They tell me they need money to pay for their children’s education. “To give our kids hope for the future”, one woman says. They all send a substantial portion of their salary home to their families.

maids hkNot all employers treat their Filipino maids as they should. “They really have incredible power over the women” says Sue Farley who works for an organization that provides support to foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.  She tells me sometimes the domestic helpers have already been taken advantage of by unscrupulous middlemen in the Philippines who charge them exorbitant prices for work visas and transportation to Hong Kong. As a result they arrive in the city already owing a large amount of money. If they land up with an employer who is cruel and abusive they hesitate to report them to the authorities. They need to keep their job to pay back their travel loan and send money home to their families who are depending on them. 

Farley tells me some women are sexually harassed. One maid confided she slips a chair under the knob of the door in her room before going to bed, to keep her boss out. Others aren’t as lucky because they have to sleep on a mat on the kitchen floor. One of the Filipino women I spoke to said she sleeps on the floor between the beds of the children in the household where she is employed. That same maid told me she is often hungry. “I can only eat what is left over after my employers have had dinner.”

“We want to go home”, the group of women I talked with told me. “We want to be with our families. But until then God is watching over us.”

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Spacious Places in Hong Kong

During October a set of seven reflections I wrote were featured in Rejoice magazine. The theme of the issue was Faith in the City.  Here is one of my reflections.

rejoiceO God you have tested us. . . . Yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

Psalm 66: 10-12

Read: Psalm 66: 1-12

Reflect: We moved to Hong Kong when the city was still reeling from the SARS epidemic. People had become virtual prisoners in their homes. Medical professionals who had risked their lives caring for SARS patients remained isolated from their own families. Businesses were recording millions in losses. Real estate prices had plummeted. Tourism had ground to a halt.

Students at teachers at our school during SARS

Students and teachers at our school during SARS

Schools, places of worship, restaurants, and concert halls had shut their doors. People in our Hong Kong church said SARS was a time when the faith of many was severely tested.   

Hong Kong street sweeper

Hong Kong street sweeper

Yet during the six years we lived in Hong Kong, we watched the city make a remarkable recovery. Expanded sanitation and security departments quickly restored its reputation as a clean, safe place. Slowly the tourism industry blossomed and the economy improved.

chestnut-sellers-hong-kong

Chestnut vendors in Hong Kong

Schools, temples, churches and cultural venues reopened and people confidently returned to the routines of daily life.  

Verses 10-12 of Psalm 66 describe a time of severe testing for the community of God’s people. They have been through fire and water. They have been forced to bear heavy burdens. They have felt trapped. the many faces of hong kongPsalm 66 is a prayer of thanksgiving because God has delivered the people from their time of testing and led them to a place of spaciousness and calm.  

Cities, like the community of God’s people in Psalm 66, often go through times of testing. It may be a natural disaster, political unrest, or a medical emergency. The psalmist encourages people to remember to draw close to God as they go through hard times. God can lead them to a more peaceful place.

Other posts…….

Hong Kong Inspiration

Chestnuts Roasting in Hong Kong

Rejoice

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Filed under Health, Hong Kong, Religion

Ubi caritas et amour

Ubi caritas et amor,  ubi caritas Deus ibi est

Wherever there is true compassion and love, that’s where God is. 

On Saturday I listened to the boys’ choir my daughter-in-law conducts, sing a beautiful version of this hymn which dates back to the fourth century. It brought back some wonderful memories.

tao fong shan_1024In Hong Kong we attended a church called  Tao Fong Shan or Mountain of the Christ Wind. We always sang the taize version of the ubi caritas hymn as our final parting song after our communal meal.  The song was a blessing for people as they left the church each Sunday. We were to remember that no matter where we went in the coming week we would find God whenever we witnessed or expressed true compassion and love. 

Other posts……….

Do Buildings Have Souls?

The Value of Silence

A Tiny Church

 

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Filed under Hong Kong, Music

Hong Kong Connection at a Winnipeg Church

all saints churchWhile visiting the All Saints Anglican Church at the corner of Osborne and Broadway here in Winnipeg I was surprised to find………hong kong veterans all saints church

this banner with Chinese style lettering saying Hong Kong Veterans hanging from the church’s ceiling. I knew  a regiment from Manitoba, The Winnipeg Grenadiers, had served in Hong Kong during World War II and that many Manitobans had been killed there when Japan attacked and captured Hong Kong. I also knew many more Winnipeg soldiers had died in Japanese prisoner of war camps.sai wan war cemetery hong kong

Many Manitoba soldiers are buried in the Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong and it was a place I visited frequently during the six years I lived in Hong Kongcanadian soldiers grave sai wan

I even wrote an article about the cemetery for the Winnipeg Free Press. winnipeg grenadiers veterans
This plaque  is on the wall at All Saints and pays tribute to individual members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers regiment that served in Hong Kong. I learned that for many decades after the war veterans of the Manitoba regiment got together for an annual memorial service and meal at All Saints Church.all saints church winnipeg 2It was intriguing to find evidence of a connection between a church in my home city of Winnipeg, and a cemetery in Hong Kong, the city that was my home before I moved here. 

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Matching Macau and St. Boniface

Hong Kong Inspiration

The Amazing Race Canada- Where They SHOULD Have Gone in Hong Kong

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Dave’s Christmas Orchestral Debut

One Christmas in Hong Kong Dave was a guest reader at our school Christmas concert.  He read The Night Before Christmas while the middle school orchestra played an accompainment.  Click on the picture below to listen. Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 1.37.26 PM

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Driedger Santas

Christmas Day in Hell

This Christmas Will Be Different

 

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Filed under Holidays, Hong Kong, Music

My Movie Debut

I made my film debut in Hong Kong when my husband Dave asked me to appear with him in a reenactment of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #138. Dave was giving his high school English class an assignment to write a modern-day version of a Shakespearean sonnet and he wanted to perform one himself as a sample for the students.

I was a little hesitant to give it a try but I think I didn’t do too badly in my first screen role.  See for yourself by clicking on the photo below. There are some breaks in the film but do watch till the end where Dave does a great recitation of the sonnet. 

driedgers acting out shakespeares sonnet 138

Other posts…….

My Modeling Debut

So Proud of Them- Visiting My Students in New York

Multi- Tasking- Wisdom From A Former Student

She’s Done It Again- Proud of my Former Student

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Filed under Education, Family, Hong Kong, Movies, Poetry

Matching Macau and St. Boniface

We had a visitor from Hong Kong recently and we took him on a cruise down Winnipeg’s Red River. When we passed the St. Boniface Basilica we explained how the cathedral had burned down in 1968 and only the front facade of the original church remains. It has become a well-known Winnipeg landmark.  Our guest said, “That’s just like in Macau.” We had never thought of the comparison but it was very apt.  

At the church facade in Macau with my parents

At the church facade in Macau with my parents

We visited the island of Macau many times during the six years we lived in Hong Kong. There is a famous church there The Church of St. Paul built by the Jesuits. church facade in macauIt was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in  1835. The facade remains and is probably the most photographed spot in Macau. 

We watched a play behind the St. Boniface Basilica facade at the Fringe Festival last year.

We watched a play behind the St. Boniface Basilica facade at the Fringe Festival last year.

Two famous church facades a world apart. It makes me think of a phrase you hear often when you travel in Asia- same-same-but different. 

Other posts….

Quo Vadis A Perfect Setting

Hong Kong Visitors

Winnipeg’s French Quarter- St.  Boniface

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