NB: If your acceptance of cultural diversity extends no further than tolerating Austin's love of barbequed meat during SxSW, then you may not want to read this. But if you realize that this planet has had a very long history before the recent brief flowering of sentient mammals, and a far briefer time when people lived much long than thirty years but that we still have a whole lot of growth left to do, then there may be food for thought here.
Hong Kong, like other developed economies in Asia, draws many young women for domestic work from places with fewer options, such as the Phillippines, Thailand and Indonesia. Such a life as a foreign maid/nanny is difficult, removed from family, isolated in a different language and culture, long days of duties, and there are frequent newspaper scandals of abuse. But such domestic workers can send cash home to support a larger family, and strive to realize a dream or two. A tough life, but often a better option.
The foreign domestic workers usually have Sunday off. They congregate in crowds, some in Central, Thais up north in Kowloon, varied little Sunday-only single-gender communities. It's a holiday, a party time, one day of the week to live their life as they wish.
Yesterday I took the MTR from Jordan to Central, on my way to Kennedy Town. Even at 9am the subways were jampacked, whooshing out when we reached the center of Hong Kong Island. Up on the street there were masses of domestic workers greeting friends, sending bags and packages off to the family at home, laughing and carousing, excited to be having fun on their own terms. The less-expensive shopping centers were filled with young women trying on clothes, looking in the mirror with a critical eye, trying to make the best purchase. Street stalls of cloth and beads were crowded with groups advising each other on purchases. Some just sat and people-watched, reading, waiting for friends to arrive.
It was an amazing scene, so many people, living in a foreign environment, with just one day of the week to be themselves. If you're ever in Hong Kong, I'd recommend a Sunday in Central, just to see large numbers of people laughing, excited, having fun.
There's another side of it, though. If Hong Kong offers more opportunity than Manila, then citizenship in USA, Australia or Europe offers even more. Sunday is also catch-a-western-husband day in Hong Kong.
I'm a pretty innocent fella, but even for me it was easy to enter into a half-dozen conversations... someone looks you in the eye, smiles back, asks what your name is, where you come from, how long you in Hong Kong. Within five minutes it's are-you-married, you-have-kids, and why-not. It probably gets a little more direct if you're not just passing through on a few days' vacation -- someone who will be in Hong Kong for awhile offers better chances for their success.
There's one bar in particular which is an eye-opener. It's the Laguna on Fenwick in Wan Chai, and combines a rambunctious afternoon dance club with a boyfriend hall. You've heard of "Ladies Night" in the west, where women are waved through the line without fee? Here western guys are passed through, while locals pay the door fee. I've never been in such a situation before... it was novel to feel like prime meat.
Inside there's little reticence. Women outnumber men five-to-one, ten-to-one. And some of the guys are, well, pretty loathsome. Definitely not a scene for the squeamish. But the domestics have fine radar on who just entered, who is not yet surrounded by hunter and wingwomen, and are not shy about rubbing up against you, asking you to buy them a redbull-and-wine. The dancing gets pretty raunchy, with lots of eye contact with the available men sitting on the barstools -- YouTube has many videos of the Sunday afternoon dance scene at the Laguna.
I spoke with a few, but kept my hands to myself, and tried not to watch the impromptu lapdances a few tables away. Hard to talk though, with the loud volume on the dance music, as well as the accented English. Nice people, out for some fun on a Sunday, but also very direct about seeking a longterm relationship, even a remote one. Sunday is the chance they get to angle for a greencard.
If you're a western guy, it's definitely something to experience. It's hard not to be ambivalent about it, even though I saw some guys exploiting their status. On the other hand, I've seen some guys in the States with foreign wives, and the scene at the Laguna made everything click into place. Each has something the other genuinely desires.
Nice people, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, but even at cost of getting connected with someone that western society would not think too highly of. It's culturally insensitive, even cruel, to condemn one of their few options for a better situation. And they _are_ having fun, laughing with their friends, enjoying their one day off from domestic duty... good to be around. But such a difference in worldviews, in options, hard to see how it would work.
Sundays in Central -- definitely recommended for anyone, just to see the sheer joy in living, the fun people are having, how much more real it is than a strained and proper Sunday in San Francisco. Sundays in Laguna -- well, if you're a western guy, you really should experience it at least once, it's different than anything else, any guy can feel like a rockstar. I'm still puzzled and ambivalent about it though. The best thing we can do is clearly to provide better options for _everyone_, to improve things so that anyone on the planet has more choices than they currently do. We'll get there eventually, but it's still only the early 21st century today.
The Maids' Day Off in large Asian cities -- a very different perspective. Live and learn, live and learn.